It is important to keep in mind that a player's ultimate defensive position, or positions as is often the case with this organization, can be difficult to gauge at the age many of the players participating in Fall Instructs. On Wednesday I covered the corner infielders, but included in that article are three of guys that spent part (Austin Upshaw) or the bulk of their season (Christopher Morel and Orian Nunez) playing up the middle. It is very likely that those players will continue to see time at second base and shortstop. I included them among the corner men partially because of future projection, but also because the size of this article covering the middle infielders was beginning to balloon out of control and I was looking for some logical way to break it into smaller chunks.
His pro career did not get off to the start he no doubt hoped it would, but boy did it ever finish better than even he could dream. Jared Young struggled out of the gate after being chosen in the 15th round out of Old Dominion. He didn't look overmatched or anything, he just couldn't get hits to fall. Late in the year though, they did. In his final five starts he collected 15 hits, including three four-hit games and also cranked his first pro home run. He has a smooth swing and flashed some athleticism at 2B and on the base paths.
Once Young arrived in town Jhonny Bethencourt was often pushed to the left side of the infield and struggled with the transition as he hopped between three positions. He never let it affect him at the plate however as he showed good patience and very little swing and miss. Though he hit just one homer he regularly flashed gap power on his way to leading the team in extra base hits. Bethencourt stole 17 bases as well. Still just 20 years old, Bethencourt has shown enough offensive knack that if he can grow more reliable defensively he could push for increased attention as he moves forward.
Yonathan Perlaza is rocked up, nearly 200 pounds on a sub-six-foot frame, and looks more like a defensive back than a baseball player. And it is his quick twitch and explosive athletic abilities that intrigued John last fall and this spring. Even then he noted that Perlaza is far from a finished product but he and apparently the Cubs were encouraged by the strong numbers he posted as a 17-year old in 2016 because he earned a chance stateside in 2017 but his first year in Arizona saw his plate discipline numbers slip and his productivity along with it. I have yet to see Perlaza in game action but he is another of the touted 2015 IFA class that the Cubs have been aggressive with in their assignments stateside. His playing time was cut down the stretch as the AZL squad saw an influx of infield talent from the 2017 draft. Perlaza did collect a hit in his last 8 games and 11 of his final 12. Likely to remain in short season ball with either Eugene or perhaps a return to the AZL club, Perlaza is the type of player that could see a breakout at any point if he can begin to translate his athleticism into on field skills. One note that John made this spring is that Perlaza lacks the soft hands that you like to see from middle infielders and it may one day force him to the outfield.
A player that could challenge Perlaza for playing time in Mesa next season is Luis Diaz who quietly put together a stellar campaign for the Cubs1 squad in the DSL, finishing second in both HR (8) and SB (25). The stolen bases did not come as a surprise as Diaz is known as one of the fastest players in the system, but the home run total was quite a shock to me given the reports from John in the spring. He was unconvinced that Diaz would ever develop power, which given his 5'9" 160 pound frame and zero home runs his first season in 2016, is not an unexpected conclusion to draw. Diaz's return trip to the DSL saw him improve his numbers in practically every category. He hit for more average, more power, he drew more walks and stole more bases. He cut down his K rate and on his errors in the field. Numbers don't mean much when dealing with teenagers in the DSL but it is still encouraging to see a player contribute across the board in all facets of the game.
One of the newest members of the Cubs organization will be debuting as well. Christian Donahue. signed as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in August. He did not appear in any games after inking his deal. It is difficult to get excited about an undrafted college free agent, but hey, Taylor Davis recently made his Big League debut so there is always hope.
As with Austin Upshaw yesterday, we've discussed Aramis Ademan many times throughout the year and Tom also just put out a feature article on him this week so I am going to move on to the less well known members of the group down in Mesa.
A player the Cubs have quietly challenged with aggressive promotions is Andruw Monasterio. A smooth athlete with a good chance to stick at shortstop thanks to his range and above average arm, Monasterio has also received high marks for his character and coachability. While he lost out on the opening day job at South Bend to Zack Short, when Myrtle Beach was struggling to find defensive stability on their infield the organization initially turned to the 20-year old Monasterio. While he held his own in the field, his offensive game was not quite ready for the challenge. He soon switched places with Short and Monasterio settled into the everyday shortstop job with South Bend until the arrival of Aramis Ademan late in the year when he then transitioned into a utility role. Monasterio solid plate discipline and enough strength to drive the ball into the gaps but often sacrifices power for contact at this point. If he can discover a happy medium in his approach while continuing to improve his defensive consistency in the coming years Monasterio has a chance to work his way into a future utility role.
Rafael Narea bounced between infield positions and in and out of the lineup as Eugene shuffled players through their roster this season. He initially took over for Aramis Ademan as the every day SS after Ademan was promoted to South Bend, but with Jared Young and Austin Filiere entrenching themselves at 2B and 3B respectively Narea soon found himself sharing the spot with Jhonny Bethencourt. While he is a slick fielder and possesses a high-contact, line drive approach at the dish he has yet to make much impact at the plate in his career. Narea does possess a good eye and draws his share of walks but without much power or dynamic speed it raises questions about his offensive ceiling.
A player so enticing they drafted him twice, Delvin Zinn was reportedly among the most improved Cubs during extended spring training this season. It didn't translate to consistent success once the AZL season began but Zinn did finish the season on a high note. Not only did his club win the AZL Championship but he played a big part in their late season push. Known to be a fluid athlete with all the defensive tools to handle any spot on the infield the question remains can Zinn hit enough? John noted Zinn still possessed holes in his swing and an approach that requires improvement, but at 20-years old Zinn still has plenty of time for adjustments.
A 14th round pick out of a Puerto Rican High School, Luis Vazquez quickly earned his way into a share of the SS job in Arizona. He hit well upon arriving but as the season progressed his numbers fell way off. Still, for an 18 year old to step right in and contribute, especially a SS, it bears keeping an eye on his progress moving forward.
Seventeen-year old Josue Huma held his own in the DSL this past season. His numbers won't jump off the page at you but the Cubs showed their faith and commitment to him by hitting the youngster in the heart of the order for the Cubs2 squad all season. One positive from his stat line is the impressively low K rate of 10.0% he posted. As you might expect from someone so young, the switching hitting Huma didn't hit for much power, but at 6'1" and 175 pounds Huma presumably has the frame to grow into more power as he matures.
Only two members of Cubs 2017 IFA class are taking part in Instructs this season and both are shortstops. The lesser known of the two is Fabian Pertuz who the Cubs signed out of Columbia for $300K, the maximum they were allowed to spend this season on a player. I'm always intrigued when a player is signed from outside of the typical hotbeds like the Domincan Republic. We've seen the Cubs heavily involved in Mexico recently and in Venezuela in year's past but they have also signed players from Panama and other areas as well. It is fun to dream that maybe the kids from these areas can be diamonds in the rough that just need greater opportunity and exposure. Pertuz was trained at an academy run by former big league shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
The more well known of the two is Luis Verdugo who continues the Cubs trend of signing top prospects out of Mexico. Unlike players from other Latin American nations the players in Mexico are already the property of Mexican baseball franchises so any MLB club that wants to sign one of those players also needs to compensate the Mexican ball club. Because of this, teams (including those in the "penalty box" like the Cubs) can technically exceed the $300,000 cap placed on them to secure those player's rights. In the case of Verdugo the Cubs paid $1 million dollars, but at least $700K of that was allocated to his Mexican team, so the Cubs did not exceed the maximum allowed to the player. This enabled the Cubs to secure a player in Verdugo that ranked 30th on MLB.com and in the top 50 on Baseball America's international rankings.