Catcher P.J. Higgins has rejected an outright assignment from the Cubs in favor of free agency, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post (Twitter link). Chicago designated Higgins for assignment in late December in order to open a spot on the roster for newly signed Tucker Barnhart, and Higgins cleared outright waivers last week. It was the second time in his career he’d gone unclaimed and been assigned outright to a minor league affiliate, however, which granted him the right to reject that assignment and explore his opportunities elsewhere.
Higgins, 29, appeared in 74 games for the Cubs in 2022, batting .229/.310/.383 with six homers, 11 doubles and a triple in 229 plate appearances. He walked at a 9.6% clip and punched out in 25.3% of those trips to the plate. That marked just the second season in which Higgins has had big league experience, with the 2021 season — when he appeared in just nine games — standing as the only other.
A 12th-round pick out of Old Dominion back in 2015, Higgins has been a generally productive hitter in the minors but has never received a particularly long big league look with the Cubs — due in no small part to the presence of Willson Contreras in the Majors for the entirety of his pro career to this point. Higgins has torn through Triple-A pitching at a .338/.429/.535 pace, though that’s come through just 274 plate appearances in a generally hitter-friendly setting. Overall, he’s a career .279/.365/.378 hitter in parts of seven minor league seasons.
Higgins was touted as an average or better defensive catcher back when Baseball America ranked him 22nd among Cubs farmhands in 2017, but he had some struggles in the Majors this past season. Higgins threw out just 16% of runners who attempted to steal against him — well below the league-average 24% — and he ranked near the bottom of the league with his average “pop time” in such situations, per Statcast. Both FanGraphs and Statcast pegged him as a below-average framer, as well, and Defensive Runs Saved dinged him at -6 for his work behind the plate in 2022.
That said, there’s more to Higgins’ defensive skill set than just his work behind the plate. He was an infielder at Old Dominion and in his first season of pro ball, and the Cubs have continued to get him work at other positions throughout his career. Catcher has remained his primary position since 2016, but Higgins has a total of 732 innings at first base, 575 innings at third base and even 93 innings at second and 37 innings at shortstop. He’s unlikely to be viewed as a regular option at any of those infield slots, of course, but it’s a nice bit of versatility to be able to market to other clubs as Higgins looks for a new opportunity as a minor league free agent for the first time in his career.