Carolina notes: Higgins builds his resume

Cubs prospect getting comfortable at catcher with Myrtle Beach

A 12th-round pick in 2015, P.J. Higgins is hitting .299 over his first 19 games at the Class A Advanced level. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)

By Damien Sordelett / Special to MiLB.com | May 10, 2017 10:30 AM ET

One golf cart ride changed the trajectory of P.J. Higgins' career.

Higgins, who had recently completed his first season in the Minors after being selected by the Cubs in the 12th round of the 2015 Draft, was going through infield drills in the instructional league in Mesa, Arizona, when he was approached by Tim Cossins.

The organization's Minor League field and catching coordinator saw a position he felt Higgins could thrive in and have a better opportunity to move up through the farm system: catching. It didn't necessarily surprise Higgins -- the move was one he was willing to make after spending time in high school and college behind the plate when he wasn't in the infield.

"Catching was a position I knew how to play -- I just hadn't done it in a long time or as consistently as I'm doing now," said Higgins, who attended Old Dominion. "The transition from playing infield and catching here and there to strictly just catching, that was a process."

Higgins has caught on behind the plate by using a blend of the athletic ability needed to play in the infield and a knowledge he gained from working with pitchers for a full season in 2016 with South Bend in the Midwest League. This season, the 23-year-old Connecticut native is sharing defensive duties with three other backstops at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach.

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"I wouldn't say struggle, but it was a challenge for me because I'm not really the most vocal person out there," Higgins said. "I've gotten a lot more vocal now that I know the guys and I have a good relationship with the pitching staff. It's easier to communicate and work with them and talk to them one-on-one, rather than go off instinct."

Higgins was part of a crowded infield during the instructional league season, which prompted Cossins to pull him aside during drills and broach the idea of moving behind the plate.

The Cubs saw Higgins' ability at catcher during pre-Draft workouts at Wrigley Field. When the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Higgins wasn't showing his skills at second and third base, he was catching bullpens and throwing the bases as a catcher.

The Cubs' No. 28 prospect played second, third and shortstop in 2015 with the Arizona League Cubs and in the Class A Short Season Northwest League with the Eugene Emeralds. Higgins did not fully transition to catcher until January 2016, and he worked with Cossins on catching from that point up until the start of Spring Training.

"He didn't really give me specific advice. He worked with me a lot on catching and catching drills," Higgins said of the work with Cossins. "He pulled me aside and did a lot of extra work during instructs and going into Spring Training. He kind of took me under his wing. ... He taught me what they do in the organization and what they expect their catchers to do, and I just kind of learned off that."

Part of that transition included different ways of setting up behind the plate -- "where to put your glove, stuff I didn't know in college and high school," Higgins added.

Higgins has committed eight errors in 783 1/3 innings the past two seasons, and he's been solid at the plate this season, batting .299 in 19 games for the Pelicans. He drew 72 walks and struck out 75 times last year with South Bend, a statistic he credits with his patient approach in the batter's box and working with umpires during games to know the strike zone.

"Now that I've had a full season of catching under my belt and understand being back there, I understand what to call, recognize hitters' swings," Higgins said.

In brief

Power surge: Buies Creek may be one of the newest teams in the Carolina League, but it's acclimating quite nicely. The first-place Astros tied a Minor League record with seven home runs in Sunday's 12-6 victory at Myrtle Beach. Jason Martin, Houston's No. 27 prospect, tied a Carolina League record by clubbing three homers, and he drove in five runs. Kyle Tucker, the organization's No. 2 prospect, added a pair of homers to give him four in a two-game stretch.

Not just a threat on the bases: Speed is one of the top selling points for Carolina center fielder Corey Ray, who tripled in his debut with the Mudcats, but the Brewers' No. 2 prospect can also deliver with runners on base. Ray recorded his third multi-RBI game Sunday against Frederick, going 2-for-5 while driving in three runs. His final RBI of the game came in the bottom of the 10th on a double to score Carlos Belonis for the walk-off victory.

Video: Ray rips triple in his Mudcats debut

More of the same: A trend continued for Shane Bieber upon his promotion to the Lynchburg Hillcats. The right-hander, who is the Indians' No. 16 prospect, did not issue a walk and struck out seven in his Class A Advanced debut Sunday against Potomac. His lone blemish was a solo homer to Nationals top prospect Victor Robles. In his professional career, Bieber has recorded 59 strikeouts while issuing only three walks in 59 innings.

Damien Sordelett is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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