Miguel Amaya signed a contract with the Cubs at the age of 16.
Talent attracted scouts to the Panama-born catcher, but his maturity, work ethic and willingness to learn have combined with that talent to place the now 19-year-old at the top of Chicago's prospect ranking -- and No. 94 in all of baseball.
"Miguel is very mature," South Bend Cubs manager Jimmy Gonzalez said. "At the beginning of the season, things weren't going so well for him, but he was the same guy. He's not a guy who won't run a ball out because he got jammed. He always runs as hard as he can."
Amaya shook off a cold start -- and South Bend's cold weather -- to heat up in the summer. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound slugger is hitting .267 with 12 homers, 21 doubles, two triples and 49 RBIs.
Gonzalez said that Amaya's selection to the Midwest League All-Star Game and the Futures Game have helped him understand his capabilities.
"I think being named to the [Midwest League] All-Star Game, and going to the Futures Game, I think that let him know he could do this," Gonzalez said. "It was a confidence booster for him. It was an eye-opener for him. He was around big leaguers at the Futures Game in Washington, and for him, it was like, 'I know I belong here.' Once you have that confidence, you're on auto-pilot from there. You just go, go and keep working, because you have that confidence."
Video: South Bend's Amaya homers
Amaya said that he benefitted from his time at the Futures Game.
"I was able to learn from big leaguers like David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero," Amaya said. "I really learned a lot about hitting from David Ortiz. He talked to me about not wasting my at-bats and told me, for him, he was thinking one pitch, and if a pitcher didn't throw that pitch, he didn't swing at that ball. He was just focused on one pitch. If you have to, take the base on balls."
Amaya has become an everyday catcher for South Bend due to injuries to others at that position. He believes that fighting through the grind will prepare him for that challenge at the Major League level.
"It's hard to catch every day," Amaya said. "Your legs can get sore and tired. Mentally, I have to be strong and get through it. My mentality is to catch every day. I want to be part of the game. I think this experience will help me. I want to get to the big leagues and be a catcher every day."
When Amaya gets a rare break from behind the plate, he's either a designated hitter or playing first base, because South Bend wants to keep its offensive lineup strong. He's proven to be an adept first baseman, with good hands and athletic ability helping him field the position at a high level.
That versatility only adds to his value as a power-hitting catcher.
"Miguel is a hard-worker," Gonzalez said. "What he's done behind the plate is what got him to this level, and then just exploding offensively has really gotten people's attention. The power, obviously, has surpassed what he did last year [at Class A Short Season Eugene]. What he does at the plate, the adjustments he's made, laying off pitches, handling being pitched differently and having the production … other teams see that and pitch him differently. He's aware of where he stands and what he has to do."
Strong-arming the competition: Bryan Abreu, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound right-handed pitcher, was sidelined last season in early August with an elbow injury after going 1-3 with a 7.98 ERA in eight games (six of them starts). Abreu returned to action on June 23 in the New York-Penn League and was promoted to Quad Cities, where he made his first start on July 11. Since rehabbing from the elbow injury, he's 6-0 with three saves and a sparkling 0.63 ERA. He has struck out 69 and walked 13 in 42 2/3 innings. With Quad Cities, Abreu is 4-0 with a 0.34 ERA, striking out 47 and walking only 7.
Red-hot Dragon: Dayton's Alejo Lopez has been punishing Midwest League pitching in the past month. In his last 27 games, Lopez is hitting .378 (37-of-98) and has seen his batting average skyrocket from .247 to .320. His average since July 15 is second in full-season Class A baseball and 17th among all full-season players in the Minors. His 14-game hitting streak ended Sunday (Aug. 12), after he hit .414 during that run.
Hitting the brakes: West Michigan finally was able to halt its losing streak against Bowling Green. The WhiteCaps, who topped the Hot Rods on Sunday by a score of 2-0, only managed 12 runs during its nine-game losing streak against their first-place division rival.