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Cougars’ Caratini glad to switch sides

Switch-hitting catcher acquired in recent trade with Braves

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 9:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 10:01 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Kane County Cougars catcher Victor Caratini joined the team from the Atlanta Braves organization last month when the Cubs traded Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell.

GENEVA – Victor Caratini might have sulked had he been traded from the Atlanta Braves organization to the Cubs system when he first started playing baseball in Puerto Rico.

His mood still might have darkened had a deal been struck when Caratini took up switch-hitting.

As it stands, becoming a Cubs prospect when he did – late last month in a deal that sent Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to Atlanta – suits the 20-year-old converted catcher just fine.

"One of the things that I have seen coming into the system and to this team is that they're winning right now," Caratini said through a translator. "With a team that is winning, having a great season, it is always good to come and be with a team that is winning and competing well."

The Cougars entered Wednesday with the Midwest League's best record (75-45) and a silent if not deserved swagger. Only 10 players remain from the Opening Day roster, but the mounting transactions have paralleled the club's climbing win total.

Several would-be teammates knew of Caratini's reputation before he arrived in the clubhouse Aug. 1 with a win against Quad Cities well in progress. The Braves, perennial playoff contenders, drafted him in the second round (65th overall) in June 2013 out of Miami Dade College, and Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus touted Caratini on their updated midseason prospect lists.

Coming to Kane County from Rome (Ga.) of the South Atlantic League, the Midwest League's Class-A cousin, figured to be a smooth transfer, especially with Caratini hitting .279 in 87 games before the trade. Caratini instead approached it with his usual inquisitiveness.

What's the lineup? What pitches does the opposing starter throw? What can he do to help his own starting pitcher through the game?

"And that's great when you've got young guys like that that are keeping their head in the game with responsibility. That's taking responsibility for the role, what they do, and that's the way that this game has to be played," Cougars pitching coach David Rosario said.

"You just don't walk into the field expecting it to happen your way. You've got to prepare for it, and that hopefully will lead you to good positions on the field. And I think he's doing that. I think he's experienced for a kid and he's really positive, willing to learn, good leader, so I feel that he's going on the right track."

Caratini was batting .222 with six RBIs in seven games with the Cougars entering Wednesday. A natural left-handed hitter, he carried a .280 average against left-handers and a .272 mark against right-handers between Rome and Kane County.

He began switch-hitting at 15, and has since found he hits for better average from the left side but with more power from the right. He does not differ his pregame routine from either side and takes the same amount of swings during batting practice.

"I feel OK," Caratini said. "I think that I have done good enough the first 1 1/2 years [in the minors] that I have done a good job."

Caratini grew up admiring countryman Roberto Alomar, a Hall of Famer who also switch hit, and also recalls watching longtime big league righty Javier Vazquez pitch in Puerto Rico.

Neither one of those players were catchers, of course, which could have fooled Cougars manager Mark Johnson, a big league backstop for parts of eight seasons. As with all converted catchers – namely the Cougars' Ben Carhart – Johnson had expectations coming in.

When he first noticed Caratini's fluid movement behind the plate, Johnson, like Cubs executives, knew the organization was onto something.

"You've got to be able to do it physically, and then you look at the mental side. Whether they can be able to follow a game plan, be able to handle a pitching staff, be able to run a game," Johnson said. "And then other than that, it's just tweaking mechanics with receiving and throwing and blocking and all that. But the first thing is seeing if he can actually get back there and do it. And he's proven that he can. He looks really good back there."

Caratini played third base in college and for Rookie League Danville, his first destination after signing with the Braves. Last offseason, the organization elected to move him behind the plate in a bid to keep the system well-stocked with budding catchers.

Braves catcher Evan Gattis is 27, while prospect Christian Bethancourt, 22, is batting .277 at Triple-A Gwinnett.

"There were quite a few good catching prospects over there in Atlanta, so basically I came here and got to understand that they need catching here," Caratini said. "So that's something that might be good for me as far as how quick I can develop in the system and all that. But I am not trying to think too far away, just trying to take care of now, and then hopefully that leads to tomorrow."

Although Caratini was traded for major leaguers, that principle also guards against scoreboard watching. Before Wednesday, the Braves had lost 8 of 10 and were closer to third place than first place in the NL East.

Naturally, the Cubs' World Series drought is well-documented, but Caratini offers an optimistic system one more potential star.

"I"m getting used to it and everything is good," Caratini said. "I'm having fun."

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