Scouting Director Tim Wilken gets a lot of love on this site but we haven't given enough attention to Oneiri Fleita, the Cubs Farm Director and the man in charge of the Cubs international scouting efforts. Fleita has done remarkably well in the past with a limited Cubs international budget. Some of the Cubs best players over the last few seasons -- Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol, and Carlos Zambrano were the results of the Cubs efforts overseas. Now that owner Tom Ricketts has infused some cash into the international budget, it figures to get even better. The past two years the Cubs have signed some premium international prospects and the hope is that they will give the Cubs farm system a huge boost.
Here's a look at some of the Cubs best international prospects...
1. Jeimer Candelario (3b), Dominican Republic. Technically Candelario was born in New York City but his family has since moved back to the Dominican Republic where he played baseball. Candelario is a remarkably advanced hitter for his age (17). The switch-hitter has dominated the DSL with his combination of hitting skills, emerging power, and plate discipline. Candelario is not as advanced on defense but he has plenty of time to improve. Even if he doesn't, he has the bat to profile in LF or 1B should he need to switch positions. The 6'1", 180 lbs Candelario had a slash line of .340/.447/.471 and has just 41 strikeouts in almost 300 plate appearances.
2. Rafael Dolis (RHP), Dominican Republic. Originally drafted as a SS, Dolis is the Cubs top closer prospect and has the potential to make Carlos Marmol exendable. He throws in the upper 90s and has hit 101 mph. He also throws a mid 80s slider. At 6'4", 220 lbs he has an intimidating presence on the mound. His biggest weakness is command and control, but he has made some strides in that area. There's a good chance we may see Dolis this September.
3. Welington Castillo (C), Dominican Republic. Castillo has already had a couple of cups of coffee in the majors. His standout tool is a cannon arm behind the plate. Overall defensively, Castillo has the chance to be an above average defensive catcher. His offense, however, has taken the biggest strides. Castillo has shown better plate discipline this season and his improved patience has paid off. He is hitting .284 with 15 HRs in AAA. Castillo's biggest obstacle now is Geovanny Soto, who is still the better overall player. With another solid catching prospect in Steve Clevenger, Castillo's biggest value may be as trade bait. He has a chance to be a starting catcher if given the opportunity but that isn't likely to come with the Cubs.
4. Dae Un Rhee (RHP), South Korea. Rhee came to the Cubs as a well-rounded pitcher with a low 90s fastball. He was advanced enough to start with full-season Class A Peoria at just 19. He not only held his own -- he flat out dominated with a 4-1 record and a 1.80 ERA. Hitters managed to hit only .194 against Rhee. Unfortunately, he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He lost two years trying to make it back, but in 2011 he has begun to show flashes of his old dominant self. What's more he can now get his fastball up into the mid-90s, so his overall stuff has improved. It's now just a matter of commanding it consistently. Rhee once profiled as a #2 starter, but the Cubs are scaling back expectations for now.
5. Enrique Acosta (3B-LF), Dominican Republic. Although he has yet to play a game, the 16 year old Acosta already has advanced hitting skills. He played SS as an amateur but there is little of hope of him actually staying there. He's almost certain to outgrow the position quickly. The Cubs considered him the best pure bat in this year's international class with the best power potential -- a better overall hitter than a couple of more publicized names who got between 3-5 times his signing bonus.
6. Frank Del Valle (LHP), Cuba. A bit undersized at 5'11", the 21 year old Del Valle nevertheless generates tremendous velocity from his small frame. He reportedly touched 98 mph in a recent game. He was recently promoted to High A where he was absolutely rocked in his debut, but lefties who throw that hard don't grow on trees, so he is a unique prospect to say the least. Overall this season he sports a 3.93 ERA with 45 strikeouts vs. 16 walks in 53 innings. His size works against him, but Billy Wagner had the same build and was perhaps the best lefty closer in the game during his prime. The Cubs are starting Del Valle for now, however, and the hope is that he can stay there.
7. Junior Lake (SS), Dominican Republic. Lake is the same age as Castro and was signed in the same year and by the same scout. While Castro is a major league all-star, Lake is currently in AA. Remarkably, he is actually still one of the younger players in the Southern League. Lake isn't the pure hitter that Castro is but he's the better athlete. He has the best infield arm in the system, good speed, and developing power. His biggest weakness is a Soriano-esque approach at the plate that makes Josh Vitters look selective by comparison. He hit extremely well at the high Class A level and is holding his own at AA. Overall he is hitting .284 with 12 HRs and 36 SBs, but he has an OBP of just .321. He has walked just 17 times all year.
8. Jae-Hoon Ha (OF), South Korea. Ha is a good all-around player. He can hit, he has some power, some speed, a good arm, and sometimes spectacular defense. What he doesn't have is great plate discipline and that may eventually relegate him to 4th outfielder status. His .316 OBP would be below major league average and, although he has good all-around skills, he doesn't have one standout tool that could make him a viable starter. Overall this year he's hit .280 with 11 HRs and 13 SBs though his steal pct. is less than 50%.
9. Alberto Cabrera (RHP), Dominican Republic. A big, live-armed pitcher like Dolis, he hasn't had a successful a season like his countryman. The upside is that he's just 22 and has reached AAA. The Cubs have continued to groom Cabrera as a starter. The reason is that the 6'4 right hander features a fastball that can touch 97 mph with movement that he can carry late into games. Other than that great fastball, the rest of Cabrera needs a lot of work. He has a slider that varies from outstanding to mediocre and a developing changeup. His mechanics are inconsistent and he lacks any kind of deception in his delivery. It's a lot to put together, but if he does he can be a legitimate starter. Otherwise, his fastball/slider combination alone would make him a solid relief prospect. Cabrera's FIP numbers this year are far lower than his ERA, so Cabrera may have been a victim of some bad luck as well.
10. Carlos Penalver (2b-SS), Venezuela. Penalver was the Cubs other big signing out of the Dominican last year and he has held his own as a 17 year old. Like Candelario, he already shows good patience, walking 34 times in less than 300 PAs. He's a better athlete than Candelario and he has a chance to stick in the middle infield where his speed (20 SBs) and patience would be an asset. His power so far, however, is way behind Candelario's. His slash line this season is .275/.365/.343.
11. Robinson Lopez (RHP), Dominican Republic. Lopez is the guy with the million dollar arm and no clue how to use it. The Braves gave him to the Cubs in exchange for a Derrek Lee rental last season. Some prospect lists, such as Fangraphs and John Sickels', had him listed as a Cubs top 10 prospect....overall. For me, he doesn't quite crack the Cubs top 10 international list. Lopez has all the pitches, though, so the potential is there and it's easy to see why he was rated so highly on other prospect lists. He has a fastball that can touch 97 mph but usually works in the low 90s. Lopez also has an advanced change-up and a hard slider with good break. The problem is he can't command any of it. If he figures it out, he has a chance to be a #3 starter.
12. Marck Malave (C), Venezuela. There was some mixed opinion on Malave in the international market. Teams who liked him saw a catcher with a powerful arm and a powerful bat. Those who didn't like him saw a player that lacked quickness both in his bat speed and behind the plate. The Cubs will find out in the next couple of years which category fits him best. If he doesn't work out, though, the Cubs can always pull a Carlos Marmol and try him as a pitcher. For right now, the hope is that he can be a power hitting catcher who can cut down the oppositions running game, which would be a pretty valuable commodity.
Other prospects who bear watching...
Jeffrey Baez (OF), Dominican Republic: Baez is a speedy outfielder with decent plate discipline and some power potential.
Ryan Searle (RHP), Australia: A pitcher who lacked experience against top competition, Searle dominated at Class A as a reliever and the Cubs promoted him to AA, where they are revisiting the possibility that he can be a starter.
Gioskar Amaya (2b-ss), Venezuela: An 18 year old in the AZL, Amaya is a typical Cubs find in that he is very adept at making contact. He has hit .370 this year and should have the speed and athleticism to stay in the middle infield.
Marco Hernandez (2b-ss), Dominican Republic: Like Amaya, Hernandez is just 18 years old. He's a lefty bat with better power potential, even more contact ability, and a bit more patience that his DP partner. His slash line is .333/.375/.486. His defense isn't as good as Amaya's, however.
Marwin Gonzalez (2b-ss), Dominican Republic: Gonzalez is far more advanced than the previous two infielders. He has reached AAA this season and has a chance to make it as a utility infielder. He has a respectable line of .286/.342/.404 between AA and AAA this season.
Abner Abreu (OF), Dominican Republic: Abreu is the position player equivalent of Robinson Lopez -- all the tools but no key to the toolbox. He needs better plate discipline to become a more serious prospect.
Ricardo Marcano (OF), Venezuela: Another international signee this season. Marcano has been compared to Victor Martinez both in terms of swing and body type. That may bode a switch to first base down the line.
Pin-Chieh Chen (OF), Taiwan: Chen is an athletic player with some speed and hitting ability. This season he has a line of .296/.365/.373 with 19 SBs at short season Boise.
Oliver Zapata (OF), Dominican Republic: Undersized at 5'9", Zapata showed good patience, hitting ability, and speed as an 18 year old in the AZL. He has since moved up to Boise where he's struggled, but he has the potential to be a 4th or 5th outfielder.
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