Five Players to Watch: Rookie and Short Season-A Ball

Author’s Note: The faithful readers of Cubs Den may not be aware that for the past six preseasons, I have presented a series of articles profiling fifteen players that fall outside most Top Twenty lists that I feel can break through to that level of play. The players are broken down into three levels: rookie and Short Season ball, Single-A and Advanced-A, and Double –A and Triple-A.

Over the years, this series has identified future major league players such as Arismendy Alcantara, Steve Clevenger, Marwin Gonzalez, and Kyle Hendricks; as well as Top Twenty prospects Trevor Clifton, Oscar De La Cruz, Wladimir Galindo, Jacob Hannemann, Ryan McNeil, Felix Pena, Armando Rivero, Chesny Young, Mark Zagunis, and Rob Zastryzny; before they were acknowledged by some of the national scouts.

This is the first in that series of articles, focusing on players in rookie and Short Season-A leagues.  The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.

Faustino Carrera, LHP

Not turning 18 years old until March 9, Faustino Carrera is so far off the charts that even out own John Arguello did not mention him in his extensive look at the Cubs’ minor league system. As part of an effort by Cubs Player Development to tap into all talent streams, Carerra was signed last off-season out of the baseball hotbed of Obregon, Mexico.

At more than two years younger than league level in the Dominican Summer League last year, Carrera ended up fourth with a 1.06 ERA. And among pitchers logging 70 innings or more, the lefty was fourth with a 0.969 WHIP. In 76.1 innings over 13 starts, Carrera posted a 7-2 record with 55 strikeouts against 19 walks.

Information concerning pitchers such as Carrera is always sketchy until the player comes stateside, so stats about his fastball speed and the other pitches he throws is currently unavailable. What is known is that at 5-foot-10, 165-pounds, Carrera will have to continue to mature in order to sustain the success he has already had. However, Carrera has gotten off to a good start as a professional.

Hector Garcia, RHP

You can consider Hector Garcia the right-handed side of the coin of Faustino Carrera, as both the successes and the concerns are similar. The 18 year old started his professional career age the age of 16 as a member of Yucatan in the Mexican League. The native of Mexicali was signed by the Cubs in 2015 and assigned to the Dominican Summer League, were he went 3-2 with a 3.98 ERA, 1.269 WHIP, and 38 strikeouts in 52 innings (14 appearances, seven starts). Garcia then went to the Venezuelan Winter League where he only saw action in one start at first base, but was able to experience how professionals with major league experience prepared themselves.

This past season, Garcia came back to the DSL and was much improved, tying for tenth in the league with a 0.916 WHIP with his ERA of 1.67 being fourth among pitchers with 70-plus innings. For the year, Garcia was 5-1 in 13 starts with 62 strikeouts in 75.1 innings.

Like Carrera, Garcia is on the small side at 6-foot, 157-pounds. However, Garcia is able to generate a fastball up into the low-90’s range, with a big breaking ball and what John reports as an advanced change-up for his age. Last season, Garcia logged more innings than any pitcher in the Arizona Rookie League or at Short Season-A Eugene, so he has shown durability. Whether Garcia can continue as a starter or will need to move to the bullpen remains to be seen. But Garcia has demonstrated he has the ability to provide quality innings.

Yonathan Perlaza, INF

Seeing the generously listed 5-foot-10, 195-pound Yonathan Perlaza may cause some Cubs fans to hearken back to the days of undersized infielders Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. But Perlaza may offer the Cubs a lot more than those two ever did.

One of the bevy of middle infielders signed by the Cubs in the 2016 off-season, the 18 year old got off to a good professional start to his career. Perlaza packs some wallop in his frame, as he went .256/.311/.386/.697 with 12 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 18 RBI, and 17 stolen bases in 60 games for Cubs-1 of the Dominican Summer League.

But if there is one negative that the native of Venezuela has, it is that he is very raw in his overall play. The switch-hitter needs to be more consistent at the plate and gain some discipline, as his 50 strikeouts to 18 walks shows.

Defensively, Perlaza is still somewhat of a mystery. While his offense projects well for third base, his size is a detriment. Perlaza almost evenly split his time between shortstop and second base, and showed he needed work at both. Fielding only .935 at short and .959 at second, Perlaza will have to show marked improvement or some consideration for the outfield may need to be made.

Gustavo Polanco, C/1B

If there has been one thing that Gustavo Polanco has demonstrated in his time with the Cubs organization is that he can hit. Whether the other parts of Polanco’s game can catch up with that ability is a question that will have to be answered.

A native of Venezuela, the 19 year old was signed by the Cubs in 2015 and played in the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League. Polanco batted .282 with 23 RBI in 53 games at a very low level of play, so it was somewhat of a surprise that he was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League last season. Polanco was not overwhelmed, as he improved to .322/.351/.390/.741 with seven doubles, a triple, a home run, 22 RBI, and four stolen bases in 46 games.

Strong at 6-foot, 190-pounds, Polanco has not found a way to translate his natural power into offensive production. Polanco will also have to revert back to the plate discipline he showed in Venezuela, as he dropped from a 12:10 strikeout to walk ratio to 21:5 with the jump in competition.

Still a bit of an under-aged prospect as he looks at a possible assignment to Short Season-A Eugene, Polanco still needs to figure things out defensively. A catcher in Venezuela, Polanco had a workable .969 fielding average but only appeared behind the dish eight times for the AZL Cubs. And after fielding perfectly in 11 games at first base in 2015, Polanco struggled with a .956 average in 18 starts at first in the rookie league. Fortunately, with a full-time DH in the Northwest League, Polanco will still have an opportunity to do what he does best while working on being more of a well-rounded player.

Jonathan Sierra, OF

You see the 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame of Jonathan Sierra and are reminded of former major-leaguer Darryl Strawberry. The hope is that this 18 year old can have anywhere near that same level of success.

Signed by the Cubs to a 2.8 million dollar bonus, Sierra had his first professional season with Cubs-1 of the Dominican Summer League. Sierra responded well, hitting .264/.384/.341/.725 with 11 doubles, three triples, 19 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 64 games. On defense, Sierra also played well; fielding .986 with two assists in 40 right field starts.

In the Fall Instructional League, Player Development was working on Sierra being more aggressive at the plate in order to exploit his natural power. As for now, the lefty has good plate discipline to go with above average speed, good defensive instincts, and a strong throwing arm. If Sierra is able to continue to develop his talents while growing into his frame, the Cubs could have a very special player.



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    Looking forward to this series, TomU. Not often that we get insights into minor leaguers even off Cubs Den's radar.

    Looking forward to watching Carrera. While I realize stats at the low minor league level are often not dependable indicators a 55-19 K:BB ratio and 76 IP for a 17 year old is pretty impressive.

    Just out of curiosity, were any of these international signings done while the Cubs were in the "penalty" box?

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    John may know about the penalty box situation more clearly, but I believe Carrera, Garcia, and Perlaza were all signed when the Cubs were on restriction.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Of the players Tom mentioned in this article only Hector Garcia and Gustavo Polanco were signed while the Cubs were under IFA signing restrictions.

    Also, Sierra was signed for $2.5 million not $2.8 million.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Thanks for clarifying.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Anytime, brother. Thanks for the article!

  • Tom. thanks for the nice post. I'm looking forward to Sierra's development. Where do you see him playing next?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I think Sierra will get a long look this spring to see if he is ready for the AZL. If not, going back to the DSL will not be seen as any kind of demotion or setback.

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    Tom, this is one of the reasons I read Cubs den--to hear about off the radar prospects that could lead to being ML players. These are where our scouts are so important, especially since we have a limited budget these gems are to be found for usually thousands of $ instead of millions. Great read!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I hate to be the voice of reason, but just to be clear, Sierra ($2.5 million) and Perlaza ($1 million) were not gems found for thousands, and the other three (Carrera, Garcia and Polanco) are far from gems at this point.

    Both Carrera and Garcia are still quite young and have plenty of time to develop, but despite putting up good stats in the DSL (an achievement that isn't that meaningful moving forward) neither possess a high ceiling at this point. Unless things change (and they can if they add some velo and improve their secondaries), they each look to be BOR or middle relief guys if they reach their potential.

    Polanco has a decent hit tool but isn't a good defensive catcher and hasn't shown the kind of power to date to make him a viable 1st baseman.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I hate to be the voice of reason, but just to be clear, Sierra was signed for 25,000 thousands and Perlaza for 1,000 thousands. ;)

    *ducking my head to avoid return fire!*

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Sorry, bad math. 2,500 thousands for Sierra.

    *re-ducking my head*

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    In fact, depending on how many decimal places you want to use we could say, "Signed for pennies."

    JK, Quedub. I get your point.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:


  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I think you're on to something here, Joel.

    That would be 250 billion pennies for Sierra. If delivered in post-1982 pennies, that would equal 1 million, 382 thousand, 215 pounds of pennies.

    If they were delivered in bags weighing 50 pounds each, he would have to carry 27,624 50-pound bags to the bank in order to deposit the full amount of his signing bonus.

    Think of the muscle he'd have put on before even showing up to his 1st official workout!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    million, not billion...

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    In reply to Quedub:

    Good. I'm not the only one making decimal place errors.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    So you're saying that he was signed for 27,624 (bags of pennies)? I'd like to see another organization pull that off. LOL

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Quedub, just to give you some history. There was a complaint by an extremely small, shrill, obnoxious, and annoying minority on my previous website that claimed that all I did was champion underdogs and knock top prospects. My response always was, what fun is it to predict "the sun will rise in the east tomorrow"? Making predictions means being bold and not being afraid to be wrong. And, the top prospect will get plenty of hype from other sources.

    In making my selections, I am well aware that they will be longshots to make the majors. Thankfully, baseball has not yet reached the cookie-cutter level in player assignment that there is in other sports. Baseball players still come in all shapes, sizes, and points of origin.

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    In reply to Tom U:

    Thanks for your efforts, Tom U. It is fun to talk about "the other guy" sometimes. For years here we have been talking about Bryant, Russell, etc. But sometimes it is fun to talk about the Willson Contreras' of the world. And sometimes they seem to pan out.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    I'm right there with you, Tom.

    I dream on the lesser known guys, too. Ever since Juan Cruz put it together in Lansing in 2000 after posting ERAs of 6.10 and 5.94 in his first 2 seasons, I've been on the lookout for the next breakout.

    What's so great these days is the Cubs scouting and development staff and philosophy are so much better than most of the rest of the league (and certainly way better than under previous regimes), that these lesser known guys have a better chance than in years past of breaking out.

    I'm just being realistic, as I think you are. The ceilings are what they are at this point with these lesser heralded prospects. Otherwise, they would be more heralded! :-)

  • In reply to Quedub:

    And by "just being realistic", I'm referring to my hesitancy to refer to them as gems.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    That was the word Jonathan used in the comment I was responding to.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    That's what I was waiting for. As usual, it's all Jonathan's fault.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    a gem to me is someone who never was rated that highly. Scouts see something in them and enough to sign them. Now it's up to the individual player to listen and work hard enough and see what happens. Tools are great but if not used correctly they never see the majors. How many 1st round players are never hear of again? If these "unknown" players do enough then they'll be rewarded. I stand by my use of "gems"--these may not be the players but others will be.
    Thanks for having my back BP. I can always count on you. I just wish I had some lyrics to go with it.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I'm glad you got my sarcasm, Jonathan. We all get testy at times. I've been here for a few years, you've been here much longer. I've never seen you lose your cool, and I admire that, my friend. We could all take a lesson from you.

    How's this for some rockin' lyrics:

    "I love you.
    You love me.
    We're a happy family."

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Amen to that. But just remember, the national scouts have a lot of players to cover, which increases their chances of missing some players. That's why you have us at Cubs Den to fill in the gaps.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Mos Def. I wouldn't know about Jhonny Pereda's defense behind the plate or what kind of stuff Javier Assad or Yunior Perez have if it wasn't for John's reports from Mesa.

    Great stuff. Been coming here for years!

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I have to read your posts more carefully. I thought it said, "Jhonny Peralta's (sp?) defense behind the plate." I thought, "Man, STL is really stretching their defense thin.

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    In reply to Tom U:

    Thanks BP, we are a family here. You want to know one of my ways of keeping cool--if I read something that ticks me off, or even in my day to day life, I say that if that's the worst thing that happens me today I'm ok. Like when someone wants to cut in line or is honking his horn, it really doesn't matter in the long (or short) run.
    My best to you my friend.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thank you Jonathan!

  • To add to Tom U's work, if we count out the obvious prospects (all the million dollar plus bonus babies, Issac Paredes and Brailyn Marquez) the under the radar guys I'm dreaming on from the AZL & DSL are:

    From 2016 AZL:

    C Jhonny Pereda
    RHP Javier Assad

    From 2016 DSL:

    RHP Yunior Perez
    RHP Carlos Ocampo
    OF Jose Gutierrez
    IF Orion Nunez

    And from the has yet to play category:

    IF Christopher Morel

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Great names to keep an eye on. Perhaps Morel makes the watch next year, if he does not make the Top Twenty.

  • Great work, Tom U. This may be one of those articles I search for 4-5 years from now just to say "remember when...?"

    Somewhat OT: I heard something about Carson Sands needing elbow surgery. Not TJS, but bone spurs. I can't find any other info. I figured this would be a good thread to ask on, with the knowledge here. Thanks.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Barleypop, I think you may have the same information we all have at this point. Sands having surgery for bone spurs in his elbow was making the rounds last night on Twitter.

    I did not have a chance to interview Sands one-on-one last year, so I do not have any kind of personal connection.

  • I heard the same thing, but do not know the source. Since it had no details at all, I assume it was a tweet by someone in Mesa when he reported.

    The details could be very interesting. Was the surgery already done, and if so, when. Either way, how long is the recovery period. Will he pitch this year, or is he out for the year. What is the history of success with that particular surgery as far as baseball pitchers are concerned? Lots of other details would be interesting. But probably will not become the near future. Sands is not high enough on the prospect scale to warrant too much media investigation.

    But I have always liked Sands. I hope the bone spurs were the cause of his decline in performance last year, and that the surgery can correct it.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Among things that can go wrong with a pitcher physically, bone spurs are well down the list. Sands should recover well provided there were no complications.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Tom thanks for the article. There was a report that Sands' stuff backed way up last year and his body got soft as well. Do you have any firsthand knowledge from his time in south Bend you can share?
    And I guess while we're at it, do you have an opinion on why Steele struggled like he did as well?

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Ericccs, I do not know about Sands getting soft last season, and that was not something my sources shared with me. However, I can tell you in a midseason interview with manager Jimmy Gonzalez, that the organization was happy with some of what they saw with Sands. Remember, Sands signed as a high school player, and last season was the most baseball he has every played in one year.

    With Steele, his issues were mainly mechanical. Steele had trouble repeating his delivery for whatever reason, causing him to be inconsistent and establishing some other bad habits, such as rushing his pitches. Thankfully, he did not hurt himself in the process. I have not heard of any other problems with Steele. And, like Sands, he also signed out of high school. So having some bumps along the way is not out of the ordinary.

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Sands never looked quite right last year and his stuff did back up as the season progressed.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    That's all I know, a random tweet, and I can't remember where from. Like Tom says, this should be somewhat minor and hpefully not sideline him for the whole season.

    I like Sands as well. And I really like the trio of Cease, Sands, and Steele out of that draft class. I'm sure there's a musical reference there somewhere, probably referring to Normandy, but I'm not on my A-game today. It's Monday.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Cease, Sands and Steele do Crosby Stills and Nash. Wooden Ships.

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