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.