Cubs next homegrown impact starter may be Arismendy Alcantara

Cubs next homegrown impact starter may be Arismendy Alcantara
Arismendy Alcantara (photo by Tim Sheridan, BoysofSpring.com)

While Cubs fans anxiously await the arrival of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, there may be one prospect who beats them both to the show and makes an impact as a starter -- Arismendy Alcantara.

One thing you want to see from prospects at any level is improvement in their game and few Cubs prospects have exemplified that better than Alcantara the last two years.

It's not like Alcantara was a nobody before last year.  It's just that he was still so raw.  He showed quick-twitch athletic ability, speed, a strong arm, and the quick hands to potentially generate better power than you might otherwise expect from a guy who stands 5'10" and weighs 160 lbs.  In fact, according to Baseball America, some scouts have compared him to a young, similarly-sized Jimmy Rollins  The thing is, he never really put that together on the field -- until last year.

I had little chance to see Alcantara play until this year.  A couple of exciting but erratic games as a Peoria Chief in 2011,  a video or two, and some audio feeds from Daytona.   There are also the minor league recaps, which I started last year.  While I'm not a fan of "box score scouting",  I couldn't help but notice early on that Alcantara would do something offensively everyday to help the team -- whether it was stealing a base or putting together some multi-hit games.

On the downside, there were the errors.  He made a whopping 35 in just 80 games last year.  Most of those errors were on throws and, I've been told, the result of rushing plays and getting sloppy with his footwork.   Unfortunately, from what I've seen of Alcantara so far, that hasn't really changed.  He has 8 errors in 16 games at SS and again, nearly all of them are throwing errors.

The temptation is to say, "Hey, he's just 21 and 2 years from the big leagues.  You can coach him up and if he puts the work in, he still has time to improve."  This, of course, is always possible but at the risk of sounding like I'm giving up on him, the hard truth is that not everyone in baseball can be a good shortstop.  The game moves quickly there and it takes more than just great athleticism,  range and a strong arm to succeed.  It's also a very instinctual position and you have to have the ability to slow the game down.  That in itself is a gift and not everyone has it.

The Cubs may feel the same way as we've seen Alcantara play more and more games at 2B with minor league vet Jonathan Mota playing SS.  Alcantara has played 4 games at 2B this year after playing there just once all of last season.  The good news?  He has yet to commit an error there.

But let's get back to Alcantara at the plate, which is where he can really have an impact.  The most marked improvement with Alcantara has been in his ability to work counts and get on base.  This is a trend that started in July of last year -- even a bit earlier as Alcantara had shown some good pitch recognition, and now is starting to apply that skill to draw more walks and get ahead in counts.  The improvement has been remarkable.

I have posted and/or tweeted this before, but Alcantara drew 12 walks in 313 PAs from April of 2012 to June of 2012.  That's a walk rate of 3.8%.  In his 136 PAs since then, he has walked 18 times, a rate of 13.3%.

But before you think that Alcantara goes up with his bat firmly glued to his shoulder, that is not the case either.  He is still an aggressive hitter.  He just does it with better pitch selection now.  On one AB in a recent game, I saw Alcantara work a 2-0 count on a pitcher who was struggling with his command.  The next pitch was a cookie over the middle of the plate and Alcantara ripped it into CF to drive in a key run.

Which brings us to the next exciting aspect of Alcantara's development -- and that is the ability to make hard contact and even show some power.  As mentioned earlier, he's not exactly a physical specimen, but he has very quick hands.  In some ways it reminds me of Shawon Dunston.  Now, we know that Dunston wasn't a great hitter, but that doesn't mean he was without his strengths.  He had very quick hands which allowed him to generate more power than his wiry frame would otherwise suggest.  Those quick hands also allow you to wait longer on pitches.  Despite some of his flaws, Dunston was actually a good breaking ball hitter for this very reason.  Alcantara has the quick hands to have those same strengths.  Then, when you add good pitch selection to the equation, you can see where there is intriguing potential for Alcantara to have an impact as a middle infield bat.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention another one of Alcantara's assets on offense - his legs.  Alcantara stole 25 bases last year in 29 attempts and this  year, since he is getting on base more often, has already stolen 12 bases.  Even more impressively, he has not yet been caught.    That is still another area where Alcantara has shown progress.  In Peoria, he had stolen 8 bases in 16 attempts.  Since then he has stolen 37 bases in 41 attempts over 105 games.

The sample size is too small to draw too many conclusions this year (.288/.370/.463 with 4 HRs and 12 SBs in 20 games), but even if we go back to last season, we're looking at a middle infielder with a line of .299/.343/.450 with 11 HRs and 37 SBs in his last 452 PAs  -- and he is not yet a finished product.   The most important thing about Alcantara is that he continues to improve as he moves up and faces tougher competition.  That is the sign of a major league ballplayer and, hopefully, one that can m impact the game in a number of ways for the Cubs within the next two years.

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    I remember when BA's rankings came out, you thought (and I agreed with you) that 10 for Alcantara was too high. He wasn't even ranked in Mayo's original top 20. (He took the final spot after the Indians claimed Whitenack.)

    That BA ranking is looking more and more prophetic.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I was surprised. I had him in my top 20 somewhere, I think. Part of that though, was my lack of info. The more I observe and learn, the more I like. I'd easily put him in the top 10 now and I think he's even in that second tier of prospects now behind Soler, Baez, Almora.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I believe he was in the teens which, given that he hadn't played a day above high A and was coming off an injury, seemed about right. He's definitely advanced this year through his play, in my eyes, by showing that he can be an offensive force at the AA level.

    At what point do you start considering a bump to AAA since Edwin Maysonet isn't much of a prospect above him?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I wouldn't consider until mid to late season. I think he needs to face the same pitchers again a couple of times, go through a slump, etc. I think the mistake that Hendry made sometimes was promoting guys before they had a chance to adjust at their level.

  • Nice to see all this home grown talent coming up. I'm proud of all
    the Hispanic/Latin talent.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    They've really come along way and I think they've shown to be among their most coachable players -- that's good, thorough scouting on the part of the Cubs international scouting team. Of all the players I have seen so far, I have been most impressed with the improvement of Alcantara, Candelario, and Contreras.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Regarding Contreras, that reminds me of an article TCR had up the other day on Rule 5 guys after this year. Alcantara, Amaya, Contreras, and Ha are all Rule 5 eligible according to that, so it's going to be a pretty crazy roster crunch come November.

  • Don't they put alcantara in luxury cars? In fact they do.

  • In reply to jack:

    If Alcantara keeps working and improving at this rate, he'll put himself in a luxury car soon.

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    Nice article, and defense is going to be key for Alcantara. He needs to stick at 2B, or his value is more of a 4th OF. I suppose they could try him in CF, but he doesn't have the power to play an OF corner regularly.

    Will be interesting to see if he maintains this hot start, and can settle at a defensive position.

    On a side note, Torreyes struck out yesterday for the first time this season....pretty good streak though.

  • Yes it is going to be a good problem to have. Logan Watkins, Alcantara and Baez all coming up to play 2B in the next couple years. And I don't think Barney is going to give his spot up without a fight. Waves of players are going to bring out the best in these young players. Keep up the good work Theo/Jed.

  • Another middle infielder! Can he play cf?

  • Its better to have too many than not enough talent in the infield

  • Good article, John, thank you... I have been thinking about this recently... While most are focused on Javier Baez as our best prospect and eventually, best SS prospect, Arismendy Alcantara seems to be flying under the radar... It's way too early to tell, but I can imagine that soon he'll be catching the eyes of scouts, he already did so last year, but I assume, if he keeps it up, he'll keep climbing the ranks and make his way up to the 100 top prospect list..

    In fact, while we talk about Logan Watkins and Roni Torreyes, now we also have Alcantara as a possible replacement for Barney in a couple of years... I'd like to see him cut down on his K's and work on his defense at 2B... That would make him an ideal top of the order type of player.

  • I can say Alcantara hit very well in 2011 in the pitching-dominated MWL, and was off to a solid Offensive start with Daytona in 2012 before getting hurt. Havent seen any scouting reports on him, he largely has flown under the radar so far. His defense has to improve for his bat to play if he moves to a corner position, but right now he looks like the most legit 2b prospect in our minor league system.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    I agree. He offers a really great combination of speed and power out of a middle infield position. They have him hitting 3rd in Tennessee which, obviously, isn't going to happen at the major league level. It will be interesting to see if they move him to first or second in the lineup to get used to that position -- which is where his bat/speed plays best at the major league level, IMO. Matt Szczur is also making strikes this year -- I could see them going 1-2 in the 2015 lineup. (Roni Torreyes is a dark horse, but something seems up with him. He may be the guy that Alcantara makes expendable and is moved for a corner guy or a pitcher.)

  • I love seeing all these promising young latin players in the Cubs system. If the Cubs get a permanent toehold in latin america, they will have ( like the Rangers and Braves) a perpetual good farm system.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    That would be great. Both of those teams scout Latin America very well.

  • Great article John. Stuff like this is why this site is the best.

    It'll be great if Alcantara can keep this up to the point that he's mentioned in the same breath as Soler and Baez as one of our top prospects. Also hope he gets a little more time at 2B to see if his defense really is stable there.

  • In reply to MrBillySir:

    Thank you. I'd put Alcantara in that second tier of Cubs prospects with Vogelbach, Jackson, and Candelario right now. I'm not sure if he can be as good as Baez or Soler, but I think he may beat them both to the show.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    He can be as good if Baez doesn't cut the strikeouts. I realize it's way early right now, but he needs to cut it.

    It's very difficult to end hacktastic ways (right, Brett Jackson?), so earlier the better

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Baez numbers are actually a lot closer to Patterson's. At least Brett Jackson could always draw a walk.

  • i love that he switch hits and i think his defense at 2b will be good, i think his arm is a little short for ss. the problem here is how are we going to find out until barney is moved, i think with guys like this they need to play everyday for a month or so to see what they have, its not like there gonna give barney a month off. as much as i love barney for his stellar defense, i think that if the cubs think they have their guy who can play solid-good defense and hit significantly better than barney then they need to trade barney elsewhere.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Alcantara has one of the strongest arms in the system. It isn't short for any position. I have been told that because his arm is so strong, he has not had to practice fundamentals for it, and often throws off the wrong foot when there is no reason to do so.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    thanks for info, ive read that it was short but it is very possible that i'm thinking of another player.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Maybe you're thinking of Dela Rosa.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That could be it. De La Rosa doesn't appear to have the arm for SS

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    The switch-hitting is a nice bonus. He does have the arm for SS but as we've seen with Castro, if the footwork isn't there, then it can negate that strong arm.

  • Speaking of CFs (sort of anyway) and prospects,... how's Brett Jackson's K rate going the last few games?

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    16 Ks in 47 PAs overall. .347 OBP.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    He's been hurt, so haven't seen him play much lately.

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    Candelario is the guy I am most intrigued with. While he is in a slump now, Soler is having a very good season. Our other two main prospects are either playing poorly are aren't playing at all. The development of Canderlario and Alcantara, into what could be top 100 talents, plus the draft, could really push this Cubs system to the top.

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    Has Almora picked up a glove yet?

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    I see we got the news about Almora around 5/15/13. He was supposed to be out 3 to 4 weeks before picking up baseball activities. But would remain on the DL until May. I would think he started some kind of activity and should be ready to play in 2 or 3 weeks.

    Anyone hear anything?

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I asked about him the other day and he's on schedule with his rehab in AZ right now. I think hitting will be the last thing on the list, but that should be coming soon too.

  • I don't know about anyone else but I find myself spending more time checking box scores and listening to games on milb.com than watching the Cubs play these days. The number of position prospects that appear to be ready beginning in 2014 is amazing- just hope we can draft Appel and have a good young pitcher to follow too.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    I do both, usually at the same time ;) There are certain hitters/pitchers I'll pay more attention to, so it's easy for me to go back and forth.

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    Terrific piece! I like the depth the Cubs are building in the minors, especially in the middle infield. And Alcantrara could end up being a great example of the Cubs improving their player development from previous regimes.

    If Alcantrara, who appears to have decent range (am I right about that, John?), can improve the footwork you mentioned and subsequently his throws - perhaps he could be a long-range answer at second. Of course, you wouldn't want to give up in run prevention what you gain in offensive production over Barney.

    I have a hunch, and it's just that and nothing more, that once the Cubs build up the system Theo is going to be more active in trading away prospects than most of us might think. Young talent, as important as it is, seems to be a bit overvalued right now and I think high ceiling players like Baez should always be considered as trade bait if the return is right (think Justin Upton from this past offseason). I'm not suggesting trading Baez at this point, just alluding to how many options could present themselves with a stocked system.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    Thanks Greg. Alcantara does have plenty of arm and range to play anywhere in the infield but his bat profiles best in the middle infield. I think he can be a good 2B with some reps there

    Agree that eventually they'll trade young players to get guys like Price, Stanton, etc. (I don't necessarily mean those guys specifically, but certainly players of that caliber and relatively young age).

  • Great article, John. If you had to guess where would you say Alcantara will fit? He's a really intriguing guy since middle infielders and outfielders are the two strengths of the system. Doubtful he'll be a big league shortstop with the Cubs. Given his skill set, third is unlikely as well. Second baseman of the future? After this year, where do you think his value will be in relation to Didi Gregorious and Aideny Hechevarria's prior to this season?

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Not John but I think he could be their future 2B or a trade chip. I would like to see him at 2B and batting in the 2 spot for them in 2 years.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    I like Arismendy a lot too. He may even turn another guy into a nice trade chip if he continues to perform. His defense likely won't get any worse from here on out either, so that's a plus.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks Ben. I like him best at 2B. I think he could have similar value to Didi and better than Hecevarria.

  • I am a big Alcantara supporter. The only question mark for me has been his Defense, but when I was at ST I saw him rake ground balls with Baez. He is having the problem most young SS it his footwork making the throw. At the plate he has learned to slow down the game. He just has to learn to do in in the field.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Agreed, Kevin.

  • Nice to hear that Alcantara has the arm for SS. Sounds like he might have a hard time as you say "slowing the game down". I liken that to him needin to calm down and not feel rushed. Othewise it could become a mental issue where he is afraid of his throw.

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    It's going to be interesting to see what we do with 3B and 2B in the future. We'll have Baez, Watkins, Vitters, Candelario, Alcantara, Amaya, Villanueva, Torreyes, Devoss, and Barney all battling for 2 positions.

    Great problem to have.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Yea, the cubs have done well with middle infielders. I add the three guys at Daytona to that list too. Bruno, Saunders and Andreoli. Though there is some outfield work for those guys too. Can't wait to have the same problem with pitching.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Can never have too many middle infielders. DeVoss, by the way, has been playing CF exclusively this year. He is much better there than 2B defensively.

  • Anyone remember when Steve Sax couldn't throw to first base? It was hard to watch except that he played for the Dodgers. :-)

  • I have asked John a few times this season about Alcantara. I have watched lots of MILB TV this year and he has been impressive. I think it would be a mistake to push him to AAA this early as he still looks kind of raw for AA. It would be great if he can play a good 2B as I feel that is his best chance. He definitely can't stick at SS. I am most excited about his improvement with plate discipline but the sample size is obviously small. I hope he keeps it up as he has been one of the few bright spots of baseball so far this season.

  • In reply to Tide23:

    I decided to just do a piece on Alcantara. Like you I've been watching with great interest. My favorite player to watch at either the AAA or AAA level right now.

    I hope this piece answered all your questions!

  • I wonder if the Cubs should consider having a dedicated minor league coach just to work with shortstops? We seem to draft a lot of them. Omar Infante should be close to the end of his playing career.

    Its often said that you can easily move a SS to another position. I'm not sure about that. If that were true, then why isn't Theriot playing 3rd for someone this year, considering the dearth of 3b men?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Shgrtstops can move to any position defensively but that doesn't necessarily mean they have the bat to carry the position.

    Also,m Theriot was also not a "true" SS. He was fringy there at best. I've heard some say that there are very few true SS in all of baseball, including the major leagues. It's a difficult position to play physically and mentally, so it's not so much about coaching. It's just that a true SS who can also hit is so rare in baseball. Few players have that complete skill set. There's no shame if a guy like Alcantara can't stick at SS.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Just for clarification: would Castro be considered a "true" SS even with his much publicized defensive lapses, or do those keep him from earning the tag to this point?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I believe he is a true SS. Castro can make every play a SS is expected to make and even the ones he isn't. He lead the league in put outs last year which means more opportunity for errors. He has the range, instincts, footwork, everything you need. Im even fine with the errors.

    My problem with him was when he wouldn't remember to position himself for cut off throws or when he'd forget how many outs there were. Bonehead stuff that he hasn't done in a long time.

    Errors =\= a player isn't focused. Its stuff like the above that show lack of focus. Castro is as focused as anybody else on the field.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'd call him a true SS, though just an average one defensively.

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