License to Fly - Roberto Caro Speeds His Way to the Top

An outfielder in a minor league system can get lost in a hurry if he does not find a way to make himself stand out in a crowd. Presently, Roberto Caro is looking for a way to make his mark, and is apparently succeeding.

Caro was signed by the Cubs in 2012 as an 18 year old. The lanky 6-foot, 185-pounder was able to establish himself offensively early. Splitting his time between the Cubs’ two teams in the Dominican Summer League, Caro hit .314 with a .418 on-base percentage and 15 stolen bases in 55 games.

But it was back to the Dominican League in both 2013 and 2014 for Caro, as his thin frame had yet to develop any power. Caro had produced only 27 extra base hits, and no home runs, in his first two years as a professional. Finally, a breakthrough came in the 2014 season. In 66 games, the switch-hitter belted three home runs, six doubles, and 15 triples to go along with 35 stolen bases and a .289 batting average.

However, Caro’s career took both an odd and downward turn the next two seasons. Finally making his way stateside in 2015, Caro hit only .255 in 31 games in the rookie league. But Caro was also promoted up to Triple-A Iowa as a roster-filler, where he went hitless in five plate appearances. Caro was held back again in extended spring training in 2016, but instead of seeing time with Short Season-A Eugene was directly promoted to Low-A South Bend in mid-June. In only 59 games, Caro batted a career low .231, but more importantly, his trademark speed was nowhere to be found. After compiling 68 stolen bases in his first three seasons, Caro slipped to only 12 over the next two seasons.

At 23 years old, it looked as if Caro would be resigned to a career as a “system” player, moving up and down the minor league chain to fill in roster gaps. Such was the case to begin the 2017 season, as Caro was summoned to Double-A Tennessee when outfielder Trey Martin went down with an injury. Once again, Caro struggled with the level of competition, hitting .143 in 22 games.

But in a recent interview, Caro said being at Double-A helped with getting his perspective. “It was a higher level of performance” said Caro, “I realized that I really had to step up my game”. The experience was also noticed by South Bend play-by-play man Darin Pritchett. “Caro seemed more advanced than when he was with the club last year. He has a better knowledge of the strike zone, and is more of a line drive hitter” said Pritchett. An improvement also came on the base paths, as Caro has swiped 14 bases in 16 tries with the S-Cubs to go along with a .306 batting average and a .409 on-base percentage. “Caro has also gotten better at stealing bases” added Pritchett, “he’s getting better jumps and not just relying on his straight speed.

Roberto Caro (L) with teammate Adonis Paula. Both were promoted last week / photo Tom Usiak

Roberto Caro (L) with teammate Adonis Paula. Both were promoted last week / photo Tom Usiak

Early in his professional career, Caro looked like he was going to be a defensive whiz, committing only one error in his debut season. But the twist and turns of his journey also seemed to affect him in the field, as Caro saw his fielding averages go progressively downward from 2013 to 2016. With new found confidence this season, Caro has not had an error in 140 chances. While seeing most of his time in centerfield, Caro admitted that he “liked playing right field, by I can play anywhere”.

For his immediate future, Caro said that he is “working on my bunting” and would “like to hit for a higher average”. In the off-season, Caro expressed a desire to play in the Dominican Winter League, but “I don’t know what the Cubs would like for me to do”. But one thing is on Caro’s mind wherever he plays. “I want more stolen bases!”

With a major trade the middle of last week causing a shake-up in the Cubs’ system, Caro was promoted to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, where he can put his speed and versatility in the outfield to good use.

Comments

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  • A billy Hamilton type?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Maybe not as fast.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    can he knock lights out in bp

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    Sometimes the light goes on after a few years, but also maybe eating better and getting stronger plays a big part too. I see Fernando Kelli in the DSL following the same path. Thanks Tom for highlighting someone who we see in the box score but don't know the back story. It makes it so much more enjoyable to have a history go along with a name.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    You're welcome!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I wholeheartedly agree. With John down in Arizona the past couple of years getting to interact with players down at the complex there and now with Tom and Stephanie providing interviews and insights into the players at South Bend and Myrtle Beach respectively it has been a great addition to coverage here.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I believe that the biggest factor is that John, Michael, Stephanie, and I all seem to be on the same page. We all have our different takes, and together provide the most robust coverage of the Cubs minor league on the internet.

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    It would be really nice to have a fast guy on the roster provided they are not one-trick ponies with nary a clue at the plate beyond slap and dash.

    I've got my eyes on Fernando Kelli. His tools are talking loud this year. Any clue on what type of speed (20-80) we're actually dealing with?

  • In reply to Nick Perry:

    I wish I could give you more information but I think the only one around here that has actually seen him play is John.

    Basically the only reports I have are that he is a speedy switch-hitting CF known for his defense that was rail thin when he signed as a 16 year old and badly needed to add strength. He was a part of the huge 2015 IFA class that included Albertos/Amaya/Ademan/Paredes/Sierra/etc. We can probably assume given his increased output this year that he has put some meat on his bones and is hitting the ball with more authority.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I see so far this year kelli has almost a sb per game hitting .350 with a 400+ obp with 11% walk and 17% k rates. Starting to show a little power too. Switch hitting cf leadoff type. That would be exciting.

    We might see fernando by 21' or 22' Right when we will need him.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    He is leading the DSL in SB and OBP, 2nd in wOBA, 3rd in AVG and OPS, 7th in SLG

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    Lawd that's easy to dream on

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