This is the belated 3rd installment of examining the Cubs instructional league roster. Today we'll look at the catchers and the infielders. The Cubs catcher crop isn't a strong one and it's likely they'll be jockeying for position to back up Welington Castillo rather than taking his job. As such, their receiving skills and their ability to call games becomes very important, since none of them have the arm or bat potential that Castillo does.
Meanwhile the biggest challenge for the infielders is to stay in the infield as they move up the levels. That is where they have the most value and the best chance at the big leagues.
Chadd Krist: Krist burst on the scene, hitting .328 at Boise and then continuing to hit upon a promotion to Peoria before tailing off late in the season. Despite the hot start with the bat, Krist's strengths are in his abilities as a receiver. As he moves up the chain and faces age-level competition, he'll become more of a bottom of the order hitter who's experience behind the plate will help develop young Cubs pitchers.
Rafael Lopez: Lopez will turn 25 next month and he has yet to play a full season in A ball. Drafted as a college senior, Lopez has an advanced bat but at a slightly built 5'9", isn't going to hit for much power. He made the MWL all-star team before getting hurt, then held his own in Daytona after a promotion. His age dictates that he'll have to move quickly. He's in instructs to speed his development so that he can start next season in AA. His ceiling is as a backup, but his advanced skills on offense and defense gives him the best chance on this list to reach that ceiling.
Justin Marra: Marra has the best bat potential of this group, hitting .337/.467/.474 between AZ and Boise as a 19 year old. As his numbers indicate, Marra has an excellent approach at the plate and some doubles power, though he has not hit a HR as a professional. If Marra can become a solid defensive catcher, then he has a good chance to be a backup who provides some OBP and gap power on offense.
Lance Rymel: An advanced receiver, Rymel has a long way to go with the bat to have a shot at the big leagues. He has some of the intangible skills you like in your catcher. Odds are he's just an organizational player -- but, like Krist and Lopez, a good catcher to have if your system if you're trying to develop young pitching.
Arismendy Alcantara, 20, SS: Yesterday I called Alcantara the biggest surprise among Cubs prospects this year. He's always had talent and I've always had him on my radar, but the athletic SS took a big step forward with the bat last season. He hit a solid .302/.339/.447 in the FSL, a tough environment for hitters. Alcantara's weaknesses are obvious. He's overly aggressive at the plate, drawing just 19 walks last season and he makes a ton of throwing errors. It's not for lack of arm strength, but Alcantara can get sloppy with his footwork, much like Castro did early in the season. Alcantara has true SS skills, giving the Cubs rare depth at the position. They have 4 such players under 22 with that description in Castro, Javier Baez, Alcantara, and Marco Hernandez.
Gioskar Amaya, 19, 2B: Amaya can hit and vastly improved his approach at the plate last season. He also developed some pull power, knocking out 8 HRs. Overall Amaya hit .298/.381/.496 on the year. He has an intense, aggressive style of play and sprays line drives from gap to gap, but it's his defense that will determine his fate as a prospect. He had a tendency to make some careless errors, but he does have good hands and solid range -- so the Cubs will try to coach him up in the field. If he can be an average MLB defender, his bat can be an asset at 2B.
David Bote, 19, SS: One thing that didn't change this draft is the Cubs ability to scout infielders who have strong mental makeup to go with decent skills at the plate and in the field, the kind that always seem to wind up on winning ballclubs. Bote profiles as a utility type but every once in awhile these guys find themselves into the lineup, as we've seen with Ryan Theriot and Darwin Barney in recent years. Bote hit well in college but struggled after being drafted, but did show a nice approach at the plate.
Stephen Bruno, 22, 2B: He's doesn't have great size at 5'9, 165 lbs but he wields a potent bat with some extra base pop. He hit .361/.442/.496 in Boise. Bruno is an aggressive hitter at the plate, walking just 18 times in nearly 300 PAs. His "natural" position is 2B, though he is a baseball rat and athletic enough to move all over the field. I think he has an excellent shot at being a utility infielder on that alone, but his bat makes him intriguing if he can continue to produce at the higher levels.
Jeimer Candelario, 18, 3B: Held his own against older players but was predictably inconsistent. At times he showed a good approach and some gap power with the ability to pull an occasional pitch over the fence. He also showed good hands and a strong arm on defense, but if you watched him on the wrong day, you might have also seen an aggressive hitter who gets sloppy in the field. Candelario's ticket to the bigs is his bat. He's a switch-hitter with strong hands and an innate feel for hitting that has allowed him to succeed against more advanced pitchers. Once he catches up, he could be a monster.
Ben Carhart, 22, 3B: Carhart has an advanced bat that was simply too good for the AZ rookie league, where he hit .353/.419/.456. He's going to be the kind of guy who hits at every level but will likely always be a little old for his league. In that sense he could be a Greg Rohan type, a good organizational hitter and run producer with an uphill climb to the majors.
Marco Hernandez, 20, SS: After a disastrous start in Peoria, Hernandez was demoted to Boise and struggled to find his stroke all season and was inconsistent on defense. Late in the year, however, he started playing like the player the Cubs saw last year. He finished at .286/.310/.416 showing an aggressive approach but also the potential for some gap power. He also hit 7 HRs between the two leagues. I got a chance to see Hernandez in Peoria and he showed the fluid actions and strong arm you want from your SS, so he has every chance to stick there as a SS with average to above average skills across the board. It's a matter of developing some consistency for him.
Jesse Hodges, 18, 3B: An undrafted free agent, Hodges is already a big kid at 6'2", 215 lbs. and though played SS when they signed him, he has no chance to stick there. I haven't seen much of Hodges other than video and from what little I've seen, he shows some discipline at the plate and seems to have a short compact swing that can generate some power. He did go undrafted, however, so until he proves himself against better competition, I'll reserve judgment. Signed late, he needs to catch up.
Carlos Penalver, 18, SS: We could soon add Penalver to the Cubs growing SS prospect depth chart. He's a good, athletic defender with surprising discipline for such a young kid, particularly toward the end of the year as he got adjusted to the advanced competition. The power isn't there yet, but there's a chance to have some gap power along with some solid OBP skills. Long way to go, but it's easy to forget that the Cubs signed him at the same time as Candelario -- and it was Penalver who got the slightly bigger bonus. Candelario has passed him now, of course, but Penalver is a talented player in his own right, and at a premium position.
Jacob Rogers, 23, 1B: Rogers is a lean, 6'5" hitter with excellent discipline and occasional big time power, becoming the first player ever to plunk the scoreboard in Peoria's O'Brien Field. Rogers is a guy Theo and crew have now drafted twice, this time going in the 40th and last round. He was obviously old for his league and the Cubs will get him some reps and try to bump him up to Daytona with a chance to reach AA if he performs.
Timothy Saunders, 22, SS: A bit of a surprise, Saunders hit .381/.431/.456 across 4 levels, including an .862 OPS in Peoria and holding his own in a brief stint in Daytona , hitting .310 with a .362 OBP. Despite the gaudy numbers, he's not a big time prospect. He's another "gritty" type player with some athleticism and the ability to move around on defense, Saunders has a chance to make it as a utility player in the big leagues. He doesn't have a classic stroke at the plate, but it has worked for him at the amateur level and in his first season of pro ball. As I said with Bote, however, you can't rule these guys out. They find a way to make it to the bigs and surpass expectations.
Dan Vogelbach, 19, 1B: What's there left to say that we haven't said already? Vogelbach surprisingly stayed in extended spring training but he took the instruction and the "Cubs Way" to heart, vastly improving his discipline, pitch recognition, and the ability to hit the ball the other way. The raw power was never questioned, but converting that to usable power can be tricky, as the Cubs have learned the hard way with draft busts like Ryan Harvey and Earl Cunningham. Vogelbach seems to have made that leap successfully, hitting 17 HRs, 21 2Bs, and 3 3Bs in 283 PAs between AZ and Boise. The only question now is whether he can play good enough defense to stick at 1B. If he does and he continues to pummel the baseball, the Cubs will have some decisions to make when he reaches the upper levels.
Filed under: prospects