It was a rather lackluster group that took the field in the winter leagues, as only 26 players that belonged to the Cubs system at one time or another in the 2017-18 offseason would play winter ball. The notable performers are inside today’s report.
Organizational Player of the Winter
David Bote, INF/OF: After six long season in the Cubs’ minor league system, thing appear to falling into place for David Bote. The biggest question this coming season may not be whether Bote is ready for the major leagues, but is the Cubs’ front office ready for a player like Bote?
Selected in the eighteenth round of the 2012 draft, the initial draft of the Cubs’ current management, Bote was a high school teammate of supplemental first round pick, RHP Pierce Johnson. Drafted as a shortstop, Cubs player development has always had a hard time deciding where Bote best fits on the diamond.
As a 19 year old, Bote had some modest success in his first taste of pro ball, batting .232 in 38 games in the rookie league and splitting his time between short, second and third base. In his first full training camp in 2013, Bote impressed the Cubs brass with his mature approach as they double promoted him to Advanced-A Daytona to start the season. Although it was a brief stay of four games, the experience seemed to throw Bote off offensively, as he struggled for Low-A Kane County in 17 games before moving down again to Short Season-A Boise. Bote regained some confidence with the Hawks, but an outfield collision with fellow prospect Shawon Dunston Jr. derailed the rest of his season, as Bote finished with a composite .227 batting average with seven home runs and 38 RBI in 90 games.
Bote got off to another bad start in 2014, hitting only .210 in 58 games for Kane County before returning to Boise again and batting .260 in 37 games. Another year brought another turn in A-ball for Bote, as the 2015 season saw him spend the entire year with South Bend. While his batting average was a modest .251 in 98 games, Bote saw an upturn in his defensive production as he fielded .992 in 67 games at second base.
The 2016 season started in a familiar way for Bote, as he bounced between Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, Triple-A Iowa, and Double-A Tennessee before returning to the Pelicans and seeing his career take a sharp turn. About a month after Bote returned to Myrtle Beach, the Cubs front office made a midseason trade that tore the guts out of a Pelican team contending for a playoff spot. Instead of folding under the loss of talent, Bote and teammate Yasiel Balaguert stepped up on and off the field to carry Myrtle Beach to a second straight Carolina League championship. Due to his stints at other levels, Bote did not have enough at bats to qualify for the Carolina batting crown. However, his .337 average was 23 points higher than the eventual league batting champion.
Coming into the 2017 season, little was expected of Bote despite his success. Experts felt that Double-A would neutralize Bote, but more surprises were in store. Spending all season with the Tennessee Smokies, Bote set career highs for games played, at bats, doubles, home runs, and RBI while batting .272 and fielding .988 at second base. Following that up, Bote was invited to the Arizona Fall League and hit.333 with a .931 OPS, four home runs, and 14 RBI in 19games. For all of his improvement, Bote was award a space on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.
While Bote projects to a high leverage back-up at the major league level, capable of spelling a starter at several positions, his pedigree is working against him. For all the attention given to player development and a young core of talent, this current front office has not promoted a player they have selected in other than the first, second, or third round. Will Bote be the first to break that trend?
Organizational Pitcher of the Winter
Jake Stinnett, RHP: You could consider Jake Stinnett’s development within the Cubs’ system sort of a mirror image of fellow honoree David Bote. While Bote has had to squeeze every bit out of his ability, the 25 year old Stinnett has never seemed to tap into his vast potential. And though Bote had to seemingly scratch and claw for every promotion, Stinnett has appeared to get a free pass up the ladder despite mediocre performances.
A former infielder, Stinnett was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. After learning that Stinnett had a groin injury that would need surgery, the Cubs played it safe following his signing. Stinnett appeared in only five games and tossed a mere 11 innings in his pro debut. However, the Cubs seemed to be optimistic with his recovery and progress the following spring, and assigned Stinnett to Low-A South Bend. The results were somewhat less than desired, as Stinnett was only 7-6 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.427 WHIP in 117 innings.
Nevertheless, the Cubs had Stinnett begin the 2016 season with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and the outcome was, well, predictable. Stinnett put up nearly identical numbers to the previous season. In 116 innings, Stinnett had a 4.27 ERA and 1.328 WHIP, although he improved his record to 9-4.
But at the onset of the 2017 season, Stinnett was a no-show on opening day rosters. An injury cost Stinnett his first four months, and when he returned to Myrtle Beach in late July, it was in the new role of a relief pitcher. A two game, 3.1 inning tune up with the Pelicans was all that was needed for a bump to Double-A Tennessee, where Stinnett finally began to deliver on some of his promise. Stinnett made nine appearances with the Smokies, pitching 14.2 innings and striking out 14 while putting up a 0.61 ERA and 0.818 WHIP. In order to boost his inning count, Stinnett was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he continued his success. Stinnett fanned 14 and had a 1.80 ERA and 0.900 WHIP in 10 innings over seven appearances.
In moving to the pen, Stinnett can junk his change-up and concentrate on commanding his fastball and slider, both which have potential to be plus pitches. But relievers that toss 92-94 MPH are a dime a dozen, and Stinnett will have to demonstrate an uptick in velocity as well as improved control before he can start thinking about the big leagues.
Organizational Comeback Player of the Winter
Williams Perez, RHP: At 26 years old, it seems a little odd to consider a pitcher that young to be a “comeback” player. But Williams Perez appears to have overcome the injuries and made some of the adjustments to bring him back onto a major league roster.
Signed as an 18 year old way back in 2009 by Atlanta, Perez toiled his way through the Braves’ system until making his first major league appearance. In 2015, Perez was 7-6 with a 4.78 ERA and 1.661 WHIP in 23 appearances (20 starts) for the Tribe. Perez was back in Atlanta to start the 2016 season, but things took a bad turn for the hefty right-hander in June of that year when he was diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain. Perez managed only 11 starts, pitching 53.2 innings and posting a 6.04 ERA and 1.342 WHIP. Following the season Perez was released by the Braves.
The Cubs picked up Perez in January of 2017 and he appeared continue to have some of the issues he displayed over the past few seasons. Known primarily as a ground ball pitcher, Perez surrendered eight home runs over 120.1 innings in 23 starts while going 7-10 with a 5.01 ERA and 1.438 WHIP for Triple-A Iowa. Perez returned to his native Venezuela following the 2017 season and signed on with Cardenales de Lara. Perez finally began to flash some of his pre-injury form as he started 13 games, tossing 59.2 innings and posting a 5-2 record with a 2.72 ERA and 1.575 WHIP.
At 6-foot, 240 pounds, Perez has the frame that just screams “innings eater”. With a low-90’s sinker to go along with a curve and change, all having downward movement, Perez is a pitcher that is most successful when the opposition is beating the ball into the ground. Perez seems to get in trouble is when he falls in love with the strikeout, and leaves his pitches over the heart of the plate. If Perez continues to battle back, and should any starter go down for any length of time this upcoming season, the Cubs may recognize Perez’s experience and tap him as a replacement.
Player to Watch
Manuel Rodriguez, RHP: Even the most ardent follower of the Cubs’ minor league system might say “who?!” when you bring up the name of Manuel Rodriguez. But the 21 year old might be on the tongues of more than fans if he builds on the success he had this winter.
The native of Merida, Mexico began his professional career at age 17, spending three seasons with Yucatan of the Mexican League. As a 20 year old, Rodriguez was signed by the Cubs during the 2016-17 signing period and came stateside to participate in extended spring training. Rodriguez made his affiliate debut with Short Season-A Eugene last June and was 1-0 in 23 innings across 12 appearances and had a 3.52 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts before being promotes to Low-A South Bend. With the SB Cubs, Rodriguez saw only four appearances and 6.2 innings in the final two weeks of the season.
Returning to Mexico this winter, Rodriguez went 2-3 in 15 games through 19 innings with a 2.37 ERA, 0.947 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts with Caneros de Los Mochis. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Rodriguez may be considered a little on the small side to ever become a starting pitcher. But with a fastball that reached 97 MPH to go along with a change-up and a slider, Rodriguez certainly has a starter’s repertoire. With an abundance of starting options at the lower levels, Rodriguez will probably settle in as a high leverage reliever that has closer potential.