It seems as if the winter leagues opened just yesterday, and we are ready to conclude the Caribbean World Series and the Australian Baseball League playoffs. Altogether, 36 players that belonged to the Cubs system at one time or another in the 2016-17 off-season would play winter ball. The notable performers are inside today’s report.
Organizational Player of the Winter
Chesny Young, INF/OF: It seems that the more exposure Chesny Young gets, the more doubters he collects, and the more he proves those doubters wrong.
Selected in the fourteenth round of the 2014 draft, the 24 year old has not ever batted below .300, save a two games stint in the rookie league, in his entire professional career. After posting a .324 batting average over three minor league levels after signing, Young began his 2015 season with Low-A South Bend. Young didn’t stay with the SB Cubs for long, earning a mid-May promotion to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. As a member of the Pelicans, Young claimed the Carolina League batting title by going .321 and assisting Myrtle Beach in winning the Mills Cup, the league’s championship.
Assigned to Double-A Tennessee to start the 2016 season, Young surprised Southern League advanced scouts by drilling two home run in the first few weeks of play, and batting .402, earning him April Minor League Player of the Month. Young had a downturn in productivity in the following two months, as the misfortunes of teammates left Young a marked man in the Smokies line-up. But Young rebounded in the final two months of the season to end the regular season with the highest batting average in the league at .303. However, an obscure rule led to the Southern League batting crown to be awarded to another player.
Coming to Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League in late November, Young helped propel the Lions to a playoff berth by hitting .351 in the regular season. When Escogido was eliminated in the postseason, Aguilas Cibaenas benched their starting third baseman and signed Young, as he went on to hit .314 in the playoffs. During his time in the DWL, Young showed off the defensive versatility he has displayed as a pro. After playing six positions in 2015 and five in 2016, Young played all four infield positions for both of his teams in the DWL.
Although there will probably be still some doubters, Chesny Young’s perseverance and mental toughness has set him up well for future success.
Organizational Pitcher of the Winter
Corey Black: At one time, the future looked very promising for Corey Black, but a disastrous start to the 2015season had him spinning into obscurity. After a year out of the limelight, Black has used a successful winter league performance as redemption and a return to relevance.
Acquired as a starting pitcher from the New York Yankees in 2013 for outfielder Alfonso Soriano, Black was a non-roster invitee to the Cubs’ spring training in 2015. In his first appearance, Black broke the wrist of Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. Later sent back to minor league camp, Black repeated a previous assignment to Double-A Tennessee to work on a new role, closer. The results were less than stellar, as Black wound up going 3-5 with no saves and a 4.92 ERA, but with 101 strikeouts in 86 innings.
Assigned for a third year to the Smokies in 2016, Black appeared to be turning the corner. After going 0-3 with eight saves in 20 appearances, the 25 year old was sent up to Triple-A Iowa. But with the I-Cubs, Black met his Waterloo again as he was 0-3 with a 5.04 ERA and six saves in 28 chances.
Signing with Santurce of the Roberto Clemente League this winter, Black quickly emerged with the Cangrejeros. Converting 12 of 13 save chances, Black was 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA and a 0.857 WHIP. What was noticeable was that Black improved his effectiveness by cutting down on his strikeouts, recording only 17 in 21 innings. With a fastball that can touch 100 MPH, Black has the stuff to be an effective closer. It is nice to see Black finally embracing the role.
Organizational Comeback Player of the Winter
Gioskar Amaya, INF/C: If you have followed the Cubs’ minor league system for at least the past decade, you would swear the Gioskar Amaya is a player that has been around “forever”. But even though the Venezuelan is in his seventh year in the organization, Amaya is only 24 years old. A one-time highly regarded infield prospect, Amaya was asked to go through the catcher conversion program in the 2014 offseason. The following year, Amaya received a demotion from Advanced-A, becoming a member of the Low-A South Bend Cubs in order to work on his newfound craft. With a career .288 batting average up to that point, Amaya saw his batting dip to .260 in 2015 at a lower level of competition while learning to catch and play first base.
Being rewarded as a “good soldier” in 2016, Amaya was assigned back to Advanced-A this past season and hit .245 while showing some improvement at catcher before being promoted to Double-A Tennessee in early June. As a member of the Smokies, Amaya saw action at four positions, primarily at first base. For the year, Amaya went .215 with 11 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 25 RBI, and four stolen bases in 88 games.
Returning home to Venezuela, Amaya was a member of Tigres de Aragua in the VWL. Returning to more familiar ground in the infield, Amaya was .338/.347./535/.882 with nine doubles, a triple, a home run, and 10 RBI in 22 games playing second and third base for the Tigers. While Amaya’s future as a major leaguer is suspect, he remains a very valuable part of the minor league system. The Cubs has always looked kindly on players like Amaya, and similar circumstances to those such as Ty Wright, Kenny Socorro, Chad Noble, and Ben Carhart resulted in offers to remain with the organization after their playing days. We will have to wait and see whether that will be in the future for Amaya.
Player to Watch
Steve Perakslis, RHP: Up until last week, this award was going to RHP James Farris for not allowing an earned run in eight appearances and striking out 12 in 10 Arizona fall League innings. But last week’s trade of Farris to RHP Eddie Butler sent me scrambling. Among those considered were first baseman Yasiel Balaguert and RHP Greyfer Eregua. Second in the Carolina League with 96 RBI in 2016 for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Balaguert went .277/.323/.353/.676 with four doubles, a triple, a home run, and 10 RBI in 31 games for Carolina of the Roberto Clemente League. As a member of Magallanes of the VWL, Eregua posted a 3-0 record with a 1.76 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. However, Eregua was a spectator for most of the VWL season, having not pitched since mid November.
The last candidate remaining standing was the twenty-first round selection in the 2012 draft, Perakslis. Assigned to Mesa of the AFL mainly to assess him for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, the 25 year old went a combined 2-5 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.227 WHIP, and 58 strikeouts in a career high 75 innings between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Replicating Farris’ numbers somewhat, Perakslis went 1-0 with no earned runs, a 0.632 WHIP, and six strikeouts in 6.1 AFL innings. The scouting report on Perakslis varies, as the story at the beginning of his career was that he combines a low-90s fastball with a curve and a slider. Other reports have Perakslis using both a two and four seam fastballs along with a cutter, a split-fingered pitch, and a knuckle-curve. Some even claim a fastball in the 97 MPH range following blot clot surgery in 2015.
Next Favorite Team
Leones del Escogido: For those new to this coverage, every season a team is selected from the colorful array present in the winter leagues to highlight. This year, the Leones del Escogido was chosen for their prescient signing of Chesny Young at midseason. The Lions were struggling to compete before bringing Young in, and turned their fortunes around to qualify for the playoffs.