Diego Cartaya was the Dodgers’ top prospect last season, one of the two best catching prospects in the game, and overall one of the top 30 prospects in MLB entering the 2023 season. Cartaya was seen as a future impact player at the major-league level when the Dodgers signed him for $2.5 million in 2018, but his development has been a bit slower than expected. He struggled offensively in 2023 for Double-A Tulsa, but the team has remained high on the top prospect.
The transition from High-A to Double-A is a large developmental jump for some minor leaguers, and Cartaya has faced some of those so-called growing pains. In 2023, Cartaya’s fourth season in the minor leagues, he took a step backward in his plate discipline and power numbers.
Cartaya’s batting average fell by 70 points, and his OPS plummeted from .892 to .656 from his time in Low-A and High-A in 2022. His 29-percent strikeout rate was the highest of his minor-league career thus far with the Dodgers, and his walk rate dipped as well (9.2 percent).
Speaking of 29 percent, the right-handed hitting catcher’s 2023 wRC+ of 71 is 29 percent worse than an average hitter in the league. Perhaps Cartaya needs some time to adjust to the more difficult pitching as he climbs the ladder of the Dodgers’ minor league organization. Not every prospect has a linear development, but when offensive numbers plummet too much it rightfully raises concern.
It was a disappointing season for the young prospect, but the Dodgers remain high on his skills and potential. The promising news is that Cartaya still has raw power and potential to be a major-league catcher who can hit 20-plus home runs per season. He also has spent time working on his blocking behind the plate and overall catching defense. He has a solid arm from behind the plate, a need for catchers now who must adjust to the larger bases and pitch clock when managing base runners.
GM Brandon Gomes commented on Cartaya’s progress at the GM Meetings. He said that they will be working with him this offseason per Brandon Gomes via The Athletic.
“I think it does get a little bit lost how young he is, especially for (the) level,” Gomes said. “I know his offensive year wasn’t where he would’ve hoped. He took major strides in game planning and receiving and throwing and leading pitchers’ meetings and understanding how to lead a staff, which are all incredibly important and some intangibles that you want to see out of catchers. We did see growth in a lot of areas even though the offensive performance wasn’t where we would’ve wanted it.”
The Venezuelan catcher just turned 22-years old. The Dodgers have the luxury of having All-Star Will Smith catching in the majors with Austin Barnes signed for another season of back-up catching duty, so there’s no urgency for Cartaya to make his MLB debut. It will be interesting to see how much confidence the Dodgers have in Cartaya in the long-term this offseason and whether they’ll use him as a trade chip. He’s obviously a talented player, but it might take some more time for him to reach the major-league level than was previously expected.
Stats: .189/.278/.379/.656, 403 PA, 19 HR, 10 2B, 71 wRC+ in Double-A
Salary: in minors all year (minimum salary for first-year players on a 40-man roster in 2023 was $58,800, per the collective bargaining agreement)
Game of the year
Cartaya started the season with a batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he turned things on offensively in late-May and into June when he hit home runs in four straight games for the Tulsa Drillers.
In the third inning Cartaya lined a home run off Twins’ LHP prospect Aaron Rozek. The Drillers won 5-4 thanks to Cartaya’s home run streak.
“I’m just trying to stay simple at the plate, and just put the ball in play,” Cartaya said after Wednesday’s contest. “And I feel like when I do that, good things happen.”
Cartaya hasn’t yet reached the majors so he has no service time. He has two option years remaining.