Despite a few exceptions, I think most would agree that there has been widespread disappointment regarding the Cubs top prospects so far this year.
Sure, Kris Bryant has been the Destroyer of Souls between AA and AAA this year. But Javy Baez and Albert Almora have struggled in their continued development. Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards have spent the majority of the season on the disabled list. Not that any of that is indicative of future success, but it still sucks when things don't go like you'd hoped.
One guy that has been practically as good as advertised this year is AAA Iowa Cubs second baseman and part-time center fielder Arismendy Alcantara (pronounced AL-KAHN-TRA).
He didn't start out absolutely killing the ball, but held his own in the first few months at AAA despite being only 22 years old in a league of mostly older guys. To put it into perspective, he hasn't faced a single pitcher all year that is younger than he is.
But he's come on strong lately. His slash line for the month of June is currently .298/.359/.452 with 1 home run and 7 stolen bases. He's on pace for about 16 home runs, 36 doubles, and a ridiculous 20 triples this season.
During this recent stretch he's held an 8.6% walk rate, which is good for him. It's at 6.4% on the season and 7.2% for his career, so baby steps. His K-rate for the last month is 20.6%, while sitting at 23.2% for the whole season and an even 20% for his career.
For those of you that may not be as familiar with “rate stats”, Fangraphs offers a handy guide that you can read here. In short, he measures as “below average” for his K and walk rates. Fangraphs offers this information as well:
“Power hitters tend to have high strikeout and walk rates, since they may swing and miss often, yet are pitched around by pitchers. Contact hitters are the opposite; they tend to have low strikeout and walk rates...The more a player strikes out, the tougher it is for them to maintain a high batting average since they are putting fewer balls in play.”
Should it be somewhat concerning that he's had a relatively low walk rate AND a higher K rate? He's not a power hitter in the true sense, and he's not a contact hitter either.
The concern would be that if he doesn't walk over 10% of the time and he K's 20% of the time, it'll be tough for him to hold a decent OBP. Well, he is still only 22. And while the K rate has climbed slightly, his walk rate has improved.
I don't think it should keep anyone up at night. Just don't try to talk yourself into the idea that he's a lead-off hitter, and you should be fine. He kind of looks like a lead-off hitter because he's speedy, has a small body type, and plays defense at second base and in center field.
But make no mistake; this guy is more of a doubles and triples hitter than he is a traditional lead-off man. Recently, in the spirit of curiosity regarding Jason Parks' BPTop50 list, I asked him via Twitter in what range of the top 100 Alcantara may fall:
— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) June 24, 2014
That's enough to blow you away right there, even from a guy who once referred to Alcantara as “Jose Reyes lite.” He also answered a solid follow up question by Mike Moody of Cubs Den, who asked if Alcantara could have a high enough OBP to lead-off or if he's a 6/7 hitter:
@mqmoody I don;t see a lead-off type; more down-the-lineup with legit gap pop and speed from 2B
— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) June 24, 2014
I'm pretty sure Parks is extremely sick of constantly hearing from Cubs fans, but it doesn't stop me from bombarding him on a regular basis.
Just to cover my bases, I asked a scout for a Major League organization for his opinion on Alcantara. He also professed love, and agreed with Parks on the lineup positioning. Being a 7th or 8th-place hitter is likely for him in an ideal situation, according to this scout, with a ceiling of possibly being a top-of-the -order hitter.
He also mentioned that he's not overly concerned by the low walk rate, because it was over 10% at AA last year and has improved as this season has progressed.
With the attention that the other hitters in the Cubs farm system have gotten, it was easy to overlook the guy. With the strong season that he's having, combined with the struggles of a few of the other top prospects, it's also easy to get a little over excited too.
What I would take away from all of this is that being excited about Alcantara is completely justified. With continued development from Bryant and Baez in the minors, as well as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in the majors, the Cubs have built a treasure chest of wealth in the infield.
This inventory of highly-projected infielders has necessitated Alcantara learning to play in center field this year, and it may cause Bryant to learn the outfield and Baez to learn a new position as well.
The Cubs haven't had a stable, long-term second baseman since Ryne Sandberg. If Alcantara stays at second, they could finally have developed a legitimate replacement. Even if he never walks a lot.
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