The Cubs Top International Prospects

Scouting Director Tim Wilken gets a lot of love on this site but we haven’t given enough attention to Oneiri Fleita, the Cubs Farm Director and the man in charge of the Cubs international scouting efforts.  Fleita has done remarkably well in the past with a limited Cubs international budget.  Some of the Cubs best players over the last few seasons — Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol, and Carlos Zambrano were the results of the Cubs efforts overseas.  Now that owner Tom Ricketts has infused some cash into the international budget, it figures to get even better.  The past two years the Cubs have signed some premium international prospects and the hope is that they will give the Cubs farm system a huge boost.

Here’s a look at some of the Cubs best international prospects…

1. Jeimer Candelario (3b), Dominican Republic.  Technically Candelario was born in New York City but his family has since moved back to the Dominican Republic where he played baseball.  Candelario is a remarkably advanced hitter for his age (17).  The switch-hitter has dominated the DSL with his combination of hitting skills, emerging power, and plate discipline.  Candelario is not as advanced on defense but he has plenty of time to improve.  Even if he doesn’t, he has the bat to profile in LF or 1B should he need to switch positions.  The 6’1″, 180 lbs Candelario had a slash line of .340/.447/.471 and has just 41 strikeouts in almost 300 plate appearances.

2. Rafael Dolis (RHP), Dominican Republic.  Originally drafted as a SS, Dolis is the Cubs top closer prospect and has the potential to make Carlos Marmol exendable.  He throws in the upper 90s and has hit 101 mph.  He also throws a mid 80s slider.   At 6’4″, 220 lbs he has an intimidating presence on the mound.  His biggest weakness is command and control, but he has made some strides in that area.  There’s a good chance we may see Dolis this September.

3.  Welington Castillo (C), Dominican Republic.  Castillo has already had a couple of cups of coffee in the majors.  His standout tool is a cannon arm behind the plate.  Overall defensively, Castillo has the chance to be an above average defensive catcher.  His offense, however, has taken the biggest strides.  Castillo has shown better plate discipline this season and his improved patience has paid off.  He is hitting .284 with 15 HRs in AAA.  Castillo’s biggest obstacle now is Geovanny Soto, who is still the better overall player.  With another solid catching prospect in Steve Clevenger, Castillo’s biggest value may be as trade bait.  He has a chance to be a starting catcher if given the opportunity but that isn’t likely to come with the Cubs.

4. Dae Un Rhee (RHP), South Korea.  Rhee came to the Cubs as a well-rounded pitcher with a low 90s fastball.  He was advanced enough to start with full-season Class A Peoria at just 19.   He not only held his own — he flat out dominated with a 4-1 record and a 1.80 ERA.  Hitters managed to hit only .194 against Rhee.  Unfortunately, he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.  He lost two years trying to make it back, but in 2011 he has begun to show flashes of his old dominant self.  What’s more he can now get his fastball up into the mid-90s, so his overall stuff has improved.  It’s now just a matter of commanding it consistently.  Rhee once profiled as a #2 starter, but the Cubs are scaling back expectations for now.

5. Enrique Acosta (3B-LF), Dominican Republic.  Although he has yet to play a game, the 16 year old Acosta already has advanced hitting skills.  He played SS as an amateur but there is little of hope of him actually staying there.  He’s almost certain to outgrow the position quickly.  The Cubs considered him the best pure bat in this year’s international class with the best power potential — a better overall hitter than a couple of more publicized names who got between 3-5 times his signing bonus.

6. Frank Del Valle (LHP), Cuba.  A bit undersized at 5’11”, the 21 year old Del Valle nevertheless generates tremendous velocity from his small frame.  He reportedly touched 98 mph in a recent game.   He was recently promoted to High A where he was absolutely rocked in his debut, but lefties who throw that hard don’t grow on trees, so he is a unique prospect to say the least.  Overall this season he sports a 3.93 ERA with 45 strikeouts vs. 16 walks in 53 innings.  His size works against him, but Billy Wagner had the same build and was perhaps the best lefty closer in the game during his prime.  The Cubs are starting Del Valle for now, however, and the hope is that he can stay there.

7. Junior Lake (SS), Dominican Republic.  Lake is the same age as Castro and was signed in the same year and by the same scout.  While Castro is a major league all-star, Lake is currently in AA.  Remarkably, he is actually still one of the younger players in the Southern League.  Lake isn’t the pure hitter that Castro is but he’s the better athlete.  He has the best infield arm in the system, good speed, and developing power.  His biggest weakness is a Soriano-esque approach at the plate that makes Josh Vitters look selective by comparison.  He hit extremely well at the high Class A level and is holding his own at AA.  Overall he is hitting .284 with 12 HRs and 36 SBs, but he has an OBP of just .321.  He has walked just 17 times all year.

8. Jae-Hoon Ha (OF), South Korea.  Ha is a good all-around player.  He can hit, he has some power, some speed, a good arm, and sometimes spectacular defense.  What he doesn’t have is great plate discipline and that may eventually relegate him to 4th outfielder status.  His .316 OBP would be below major league average and, although he has good all-around skills, he doesn’t have one standout tool that could make him a viable starter.  Overall this year he’s hit .280 with 11 HRs and 13 SBs though his steal pct. is less than 50%.

9. Alberto Cabrera (RHP), Dominican Republic.  A big, live-armed pitcher like Dolis, he hasn’t had a successful a season like his countryman.  The upside is that he’s just 22 and has reached AAA. The Cubs have continued to groom Cabrera as a starter.  The reason is that the 6’4 right hander features a fastball that can touch 97 mph with movement that he can carry late into games.  Other than that great fastball, the rest of Cabrera needs a lot of work. He has a slider that varies from outstanding to mediocre and a developing changeup.  His mechanics are inconsistent and he lacks any kind of deception in his delivery.  It’s a lot to put together, but if he does he can be a legitimate starter.  Otherwise, his fastball/slider combination alone would make him a solid relief prospect.  Cabrera’s FIP numbers this year are far lower than his ERA, so Cabrera may have been a victim of some bad luck as well.

10. Carlos Penalver (2b-SS), Venezuela.   Penalver was the Cubs other big signing out of the Dominican last year and he has held his own as a 17 year old.  Like Candelario, he already shows good patience, walking 34 times in less than 300 PAs.   He’s a better athlete than Candelario and he has a chance to stick in the middle infield where his speed (20 SBs) and patience would be an asset.  His power so far, however, is way behind Candelario’s.   His slash line this season is .275/.365/.343.

11. Robinson Lopez (RHP), Dominican Republic.  Lopez is the guy with the million dollar arm and no clue how to use it.  The Braves gave him to the Cubs in exchange for a Derrek Lee rental last season.  Some prospect lists, such as Fangraphs and John Sickels’, had him listed as a Cubs top 10 prospect….overall.  For me, he doesn’t quite crack the Cubs top 10 international list.  Lopez has all the pitches, though, so the potential is there and it’s easy to see why he was rated so highly on other prospect lists.  He has a fastball that can touch 97 mph but usually works in the low 90s.  Lopez also has an advanced change-up and a hard slider with good break.  The problem is he can’t command any of it.  If he figures it out, he has a chance to be a #3 starter.

12. Marck Malave (C), Venezuela.  There was some mixed opinion on Malave in the international market.  Teams who liked him saw a catcher with a powerful arm and a powerful bat.  Those who didn’t like him saw a player that lacked quickness both in his bat speed and behind the plate.  The Cubs will find out in the next couple of years which category fits him best.  If he doesn’t work out, though, the Cubs can always pull a Carlos Marmol and try him as a pitcher.  For right now, the hope is that he can be a power hitting catcher who can cut down the oppositions running game, which would be a pretty valuable commodity.

Other prospects who bear watching…

Jeffrey Baez (OF), Dominican Republic:  Baez is a speedy outfielder with decent plate discipline and some power potential.

Ryan Searle (RHP), Australia: A pitcher who lacked experience against top competition, Searle dominated at Class A as a reliever and the Cubs promoted him to AA, where they are revisiting the possibility that he can be a starter.

Gioskar Amaya (2b-ss),  Venezuela:  An 18 year old in the AZL, Amaya is a typical Cubs find in that he is very adept at making contact.  He has hit .370 this year and should have the speed and athleticism to stay in the middle infield.

Marco Hernandez (2b-ss), Dominican Republic:  Like Amaya, Hernandez is just 18 years old.  He’s a lefty bat with better power potential, even more contact ability, and a bit more patience that his DP partner.  His slash line is .333/.375/.486.   His defense isn’t as good as Amaya’s, however.

Marwin Gonzalez (2b-ss), Dominican Republic:  Gonzalez is far more advanced than the previous two infielders.  He has reached AAA this season and has a chance to make it as a utility infielder.  He has a respectable line of .286/.342/.404 between AA and AAA this season.

Abner Abreu (OF), Dominican Republic: Abreu is the position player equivalent of Robinson Lopez — all the tools but no key to the toolbox.  He needs better plate discipline to become a more serious prospect.

Ricardo Marcano (OF), Venezuela: Another international signee this season.  Marcano has been compared to Victor Martinez both in terms of swing and body type.  That may bode a switch to first base down the line.

Pin-Chieh Chen (OF), Taiwan: Chen is an athletic player with some speed and hitting ability.  This season he has a line of .296/.365/.373 with 19 SBs at short season Boise.

Oliver Zapata (OF), Dominican Republic: Undersized at 5’9″, Zapata showed good patience, hitting ability, and speed as an 18 year old in the AZL.  He has since moved up to Boise where he’s struggled, but he has the potential to be a 4th or 5th outfielder.










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  • I have a draft question for you: It was my understanding that North Americans are eligible for the Rule 4 draft. If Candelerio was born in New York, he's an American citizen. Why then was he not selectable in the draft?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Good question. Players have to be residents of the U.S. or Canada as well as Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Although Candelario was born in NY, he resides in the Dominican Republic.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • Where to start....well, first things first...the Del Valle blowup for Daytona doesn't bother me. Pitchers tend to have a rough first outing in their first in a new league, but I expect him to recover just like what happened with Joskisch in AA. Wish we could get an update on the reported 98mph and his overall scouting report though...

    Dolis is a guy who I'm wanting/expecting to be brought up for the first time, as well as a likely contributor in the bullpen next season. Chris Carpenter is a kind of in limbo however...

    There's nothing I need to add about Candelario, you know how high I am on him. He had better be pushed up to the AZL for next season, and depending on his performance, to Boise as well. He'll play all of next season at 18. It's pretty rare for a 17 year old to have more walks than strikeouts....

    Junior Lake has a ton of potential outside of patience, and I can't help but view him as trade bait with a team who is lacking a 3rd baseman who can do anything. He'll produce with power and speed, and have that rocket throw to first.

    I'm projecting Clevenger as the backup catcher next season, which does put Castillo caught between a rock and a hard place....if we are to continue the youth movement, I see him starting the season at AAA again, with the cost-controlled Soto being shopped around and hopefully moved by the trade deadline, and the reigns handed over.

    That's enough for now, I probably have some numbers to pore over.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    oh thank god ... someone else who thinks Soto's time here has run out!!!

  • Getting a complete scouting report on Del Valle has been tough. I'm not even sure some of the big baseball writers out there have one and if they do, they're being awfully stingy with it.

    I think Dolis is better than Carpenter in terms of command. Both have filthy stuff though.

    Candelario will be in the AZL at the least, but he may be the kind of special talent that the Cubs will try to challenge and perhaps skip a level. If he winds up in Peoria by season's end, I wouldn't be shocked.

    Lake is just a wiry, strong fast-twitch guy who just needs to harness his natural ability. He will frustrate, though, by swinging at some horrible pitches, particularly low and away.

    Clevenger is the more versatile player and better pure hitter and Castillo probably deserves a shot at starting somewhere. If the Cubs try to put together a Garza like package for another young, cost controlled veteran, I 'd have to think that Castillo will be one of the players involved.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And coming back to Jeimer being born in New York, he should have a much easier time coming back state-side and traveling around than someone born and raised in South America. One would assume that he speaks english well enough, but I have no idea when he left the US.

    The issue with Carpenter is that there's really no point having both him and Dolis, if their stuff is so similar, and you could put Samardzija in that same grouping, except that he has more pitches to choose from.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I really have no idea about the language factor but the travel factor is definitely easier for him.

    Carpenter could be another guy who's in that mix to trade prospect depth for a cost-controlled young player with some experience.

  • Very good list John, Dollis is the guy I want to see in September. If the Cubs want to rebuild, then we need to see if he can pitch up here. Candelario is the guy that excites me, he has definite star potential.

  • In reply to rodeosteve:

    Thanks Rodeo...I normally don't like to rank 17 yr old DSL players that high, but Candelario looks like he's the real deal and a player who almost certainly will be put on the fast track.

  • I don't know how I missed Searle. His age and level are in fine correlation, I just don't think I ever opened his page. An an organization the Cubs seem to have an extrememly higher number of pitching prospects with rather average size, very few with stereotypical or desireable size (6'5"+). Not that it's a bad thing, just something I've noticed.

    Rhee is one who I never seem to keep in my eyes, but always looks good when I got back and take another look. Knowing his history helps him in my eyes, in the way that he has consistently improved since coming back. He's pitched a ton of innings at Daytona the last 2 seasons, and next year is his 23 year old year, and I don't see any reason not to promote him. I just worry about the hits, is it all defense, or does his stuff just flatten out too often and he's being driven.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    They do have a lot of pitchers in that mold. Lots of good athletes with average size and velocity. Those guys tend to end up being 4th or 5th starters or possibly middle relievers, but they also have a greater probability of making it. And if you can fill in those spots cheaply, you can use your money in other places.

    As for Rhee, part of it has been defense (he has a solid FIP of 3.56) and part has been his own inconsistency. TJ survivors tend to struggle with their command in their first healthy season back, so I'm thinking that's what's going on with Rhee. Next year is the big test at AA. His stuff and feel for pitching is good enough to better than a 4th or 5th starter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    In my eyes right now, the future of the Cubs in the short term depends heavily on Cashner. If he can come back and be a #2 starter, things start falling into place. Dempster is the #3 for now, and Wells the #4. But Rhee could fill that #3 spot in 2013 or 2014, and there are guys like Struck, Coleman, McNutt, Whitenack, Jokisch, Searle, and Rusin who could all project into the rotation at some point as well.

    Searle is starting tonight, game about to start, so that's nice timing.

    Did you get to watch Coleman earlier? How did he look apart from the numbers?

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Cashner is the biggest key. If he can be a top of the rotation kind of guy it'll make things a lot easier. As you say, lots of candidates to fill the #4 and #5 spots with Wells the favorite to take one of them.

    I did not get to see Coleman pitch so I'll have to watch it later...I'd much rather watch it live but sometimes real life gets in the way! I'm not a big Coleman fan, though. I think some of the advanced arms we have in the upper minors...Struck, Rusin, Jokisch, etc. have a better shot at being long term solutions. We'll have to see how Whitenack recovers...for now he's not in the Cubs immediate plans.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If Whitenack comes back and looks to be the same guy he was...he definitely projects as a 4th or 5th guy once he has the stamina to be a ML starter.

    But anyway...the thing with Coleman is that he's got some experience, and if he can just hold it together in April (when he's less likely to give up home runs) then it lets some of those higher ceiling guys get more experience and sort themselves out as to who should be brought up. How many more years of Dempster are we stuck with anyway?

    Struck's meteoric rise has to be noted though. At this rate he should be the #5 guy next season at 23 or so.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Cameron and John ... I watched virtually the entire game. I thought it was some of the best stuff Coleman has had all year - brought back memories of last Sept. He was crisp overall, spotted the ball well.
    The HR to Hart looked, to me, to be a really good job of hitting. Not a pitcher's pitch, but Hart went out and got it and made good contact.
    Coleman got out of the huge jam with a GB DP to Fielder, though it was a superb turn by both Barney and Castro, and a marvelous save by Pena. That was just the kind of pitch Wells has shown himself unable to make all too often. A very encouraging outing.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Thanks for the recap Moneyboy!

    Coleman can be a 5th starter with more consistent command. When he has it, he can be pretty effective. My biggest beef, though is that it hasn't been consistent and his stuff isn't good enough to get away with less than above average command of all pitches.

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    I think if you can have a pitching rotation of
    1. Garza
    2. Cashner
    3. Dempster
    4. Wells.
    5. Anybody out of Struck, Coleman, McNutt, Whitenack, Jokisch, Searle, Rusin (I would go with Coleman based on experience)

    Then that sets up a nice mix of experience and youth in their rotation. I think that would be the best option unless we can add C.J Wilson in free agency or another starting pitcher.

  • In reply to Gabe Hauari:

    I'm hearing CJ Wilson is getting kind of pricey. He.d be a nice addition though. Of the prospects mentioned, I think McNutt has the best stuff, Rusin is the most polished, and Struck has the best combo of both.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't see any reason to really go out and buy a starter. We have enough prospects in AAA/AA that by the time the team is truly competitive, our staff should be fine.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I don't mind buying one. I'm just thinking about value. Maybe there's a comparable pitcher we could get at a lesser deal.

    One of Hendry's best moves for the Cubs was to stay out of the bidding war for Barry Zito and go for Ted Lilly instead. Maybe the new GM can do something similar.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I still have a thing for Rich Harden haha. When he's on, he's still good, had a start a couple weeks ago with 7 shutout innings and 11K's. Too many HR's though. He would likely be a value pick though.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    NO NO NO ... been there, done that. Way too high a pitch count; too many walks, short time in the game, burns up the pen.
    Suffers from "Peavy syndrome" ... arm likely to fall off with next pitch.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you see any Garza type pitchers possibly on the trade market? Young lower upper rotation guys whom could be had because they are in a small market, but would take a couple of high prospects?

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Not at this point, but it's something I plan on tracking. I think the Cubs have some depth to deal from and hopefully it won't be as costly as the Garza deal -- which I think will pay off, but we certainly didn't get a bargain on that one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Some pitchers who might be available this offseason are Jon Danks, Gavin Floyd, Anibel Sanchez, Wandy Rodriguez...just off the top of my head. Not top of the rotation guys but maybe a 3rd starter type.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you think there's any market for Fransisco Liriano or Chad Billingsley. They both seem like they could be bargains.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I've always liked Billingsley, but I fear Liriano and his health issues. He could be worth taking a chance on if you can get him cheap though. He's got frontline starter stuff. They both do.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's why I brought them up. They've both had down years, hence why I brought them up. Minnesota is always gonna be a team to let guys walk if they can't afford the risk of keeping them, and LA is just a mess. They would both only be asked to realisitically be a 3rd (at best) starter. And we could use a lefty arm like Liriano.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I could see the Cubs taking a chance on those guys if they're undervalued this offseason.

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    This might sound like the voice of a "glass half full" kind of guy, but I think we're going to have a decent team next year... Soto is a good catcher, our pitching staff has nowhere to go but up, hopefully our outfield will be Campana-Jackson-Colvin (good blend of speed and power), Castro and Barney are both young and learning, Aramis provides power but not much else, and Pena provides power, defense, and leadership. Sounds like a decent recipe for me.

  • In reply to Gabe Hauari:

    I'm not as optimistic, but I do like that Jackson and Castro should be up next year. Got my fingers crossed on Colvin...Soto is a solid C. Barney is a nice player but it's a spot they may want to consider upgrading down the line.

    Pitching is the key...Garza,Cashner need to be the top two starters and slide Dempster down to the #3 guy if they expect to compete with other staffs. Defense has to improve too. Castro needs to get better and the OF defense needs to improve. I prefer Jackson in CF and then moving Byrd to LF with Colvin in RF...I'm thinking they should also find a value, OBP/Defense oriented OF as a fallback....and they've got to dump Soriano one way or the other.

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    Nice list John, and good analysis, as always, Cam. I am a little surprised to not see Delbis Arcila on this list. What gives? He is 18 yo, 6-3/190, L/L, and other than batting average, I don't see a whole lot to complain about. In 2010, he had a slash line of .264/.396/.345, and so far this season, it's .258/.365/.413. That body projects for power as he matures, and if he doesn't stick in the OF, 1B would seem a natural fit.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Good name. I had him on my larger list and pared it down. I tried to limit the DSL guys and Arcila is a little raw. But I really like the plate discipline and the power potential...and as you mentioned, great size.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not a fan of his lack of AVG in the DSL. Granted, it's not much lower than Penalver's though. I honestly can't remember ever looking at his stats either. Work keeping tabs on though.

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  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Good article, always fun to read about outside guys being excited about the Cubs.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Yao-Lin Wang....good pitcher...never really had to face players his age but he has pretty good stuff, low 90s fastball. Should have added him here oversight on my part. I was more focused on guys like Kim and Jung, both of whom have disappointed this year, and somehow skipped Wang.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I've kinda forgotten about Wang as well. His played has dropped off compared to the beginning of the season, but we'll see how he adapts to full season play next year. Just put him in the bin of "Solid, average sized pitchers who need good defense".

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    He has a nice K ratio though. FIP is very good at 3.16 too. He has some upside. He could amount to something...I don't think he's one of the top 10 prospects in the lower minors by any stretch, but he is someone worth keeping an eye on.

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    How are the guys the Cubs gave up for Matt Garza? Can I get an update on:

    Chris Archer
    Brandon Guyer
    Robinson Chirinos
    Hak-Ju Lee
    Sam Fuld


  • In reply to Gabe Hauari:

    Both teams won. Overall I feel like Garza has more value to us than those players, when you analyze our farm situation.

  • In reply to Gabe Hauari:


    Chris Archer was 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA in AA...has had some command problems but he just got promoted to AAA where he pitched a nice game. There's some question as to whether command issues might force him to the bullpen.

    Brandon Guyer is hitting .313 with 13 HRs and 15 SBs. Has a slash line of .313/.386/.513. Best skill is his defense, though. A nice player but not a great one.

    Robinson Chirinos hit .262 with 6 HRs before getting called up to the bigs. For Tampa he's hitting .218 with 1 HR and 2 doubles. Looks like a backup.

    Hak Ju Lee is hitting .317 at Class A Charlotte with 4 HRs. He has 28 SBs but has also been caught 14 times. Defense has been very good but still a little raw. Of all the players traded, most agree he has the most potential and have ranked him among the top 30 prospects in the game.

    Sam Fuld his hitting .238 with 20 SBS in 28 attempts. He's been playing excellent defense but is really the team's 4th or 5th outfielder.

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    Regarding top international prospect "Javier Baez", I presume you mean Jeffrey Baez?

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    Yes, thank you Chris. I went through so many names that they started to blur together ;)

    I went ahead and fixed that.

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