One of the aspects of the Cubs organization that has been downplayed in the Theo Epstein Era has been the team’s ability to sign and develop international free agents. Some of that might have to do with the availability of cash funds, but more of it has to do identifying and working with that talent. This year the Cubs will likely have a large influx of talent coming north of the border. Some of it emerged in late August last year in Arizona as a few players get their feet wet stateside.
This year, many more international players will head north to play in Arizona and Eugene. Part of that has to do with the level of talent the Cubs have signed over the last four summers and their willingness to protect their investment in said product. The players in question are a mixture of 18- to 20-year-old kids and lean a bit heavy to the pitching position.
While some prospects are high-profile signings like Wladimir Galindo and Erling Moreno, many more were inked during the 2014-2015 signing period when the Cubs could not sign a player for more than $300,00. Unbeknownst to many, the Cubs went out and quietly brought 40+ players into the fold in that period.
It has been the policy of the Cubs the past two years to sign a player on July 2 and to bring him over to the US either in instructs that same fall or during the next spring training. In 2014, Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez both spent time in Arizona at age 17; Torres made it to Eugene that same summer. Last summer, Carlos Sepulveda and several other prospects made the trip north as well. Now, even with two Dominican Summer League teams, I still think the Cubs are going to stay the course when it comes to how they treat their high-profile prospects that sign for millions of dollars.
Last summer’s signings of Eddy Julio Martinez, Aramis Ademan, Yonathan Sierra, Yonathan Perlaza, Kwang-Min Kwon, Miguel Amaya, and Yunior Perez, to name a few, will be spending their first year in the system at extended spring training and then in the Arizona Rookie League. Most of the them will be 17 in the spring, though Kwan will be 18, and Amaya only 16.
The main reason many will be coming to the states is that the last two draft classes by the Cubs were heavy on college players. As a result, a good number of those who signed are already at low-A South Bend, with a few at high-A Myrtle Beach. Combined with a relative dearth of of high school talent, this has left a void in the lower part of the Cubs’ system.
The Cubs were only able to sign two of the high school players they selected in 2015: Darryl Wilson and Bryan Hudson. John Creston and Rayne Supple, to name only two, went unsigned. In 2014, the Cubs nabbed Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Dylan Cease, Austyn Willis, and Kevonte Mitchell, while 2013 only saw Charcer Burks and Tyler Alamo sign. The Cubs took a HS player, Albert Almora, with their first pick in 2012, then proceed to draft several other preps who are now mostly at high-A and AA, including Duane Underwood and Paul Blackburn. It takes a bit of time to develop those players, but most have moved out of the lowest levels of the system by now.
Last fall, several international signees debuted in the Arizona Rookie League and played most of the season there. Some of those players will go on to Eugene for short-season A ball and play 74 games this year. Many others will be at extended spring training and rookie league. Here are some names you need to keep an eye on this summer.
Wladimir Galindo – Solid 6’3” frame, pounded the ball for two weeks last summer before an injury. Even though he is listed as a 3B, likely a corner OF for the future. The key is for him to be healthy. He’s one of my favorite prospects and could develop quickly.
Robert Garcia – He has a great season in rookie ball at age 20 and made several prospect All-Star teams. Has great speed and can play either corner spot.
Carlos Sepulveda – He’s a prospect I think can really make a name for himself this year. Does a little bit of everything well. A 2B, he hit .281 last summer, finishing strong in August at .333. Only 19.
Andruw Monasterio – Very smooth athlete who may take some time to develop. The hit tool for a SS is still coming together, but he has great footwork on defense and can make solid throws.
Jesus Camargo – As a starting pitcher, he’s a bit undersized but can control the ball. Like Sepulveda, he comes from Mexico and could do really well at Eugene. I think long-term, though, he might be a better reliever. For now, let him start.
Chris Pieters – Last year, the then-20-year-old converted from SP into a 1B/OF in the Dominican Summer League. He did extremely well, hitting over .300 and showing some power potential in his 6’3” frame. Got to see some time in Arizona in late August and should be at Eugene to start the year.
Eddy Julio Martinez will be in the Arizona Rookie League in 2016 according to Rian Watt of BP Wrigleyville. The 20-year old’s purpose for going there is to get acclimated to American society and ease him into American baseball.
Junior Marte, Gabriel Lima, and Pedro Silverio are three pitchers who came north late in August to play in the Arizona Rookie League. Though they got some experience last year, they are likely to stay in Arizona unless that have a great spring training. Lima (6’3″) has the biggest frame at while Silverio (6’2”) and Marte (6’0”) had better success in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) and Venezuelan Summer Leagues. I think one of them will sneak up to Eugene and my money is on Silverio, the oldest of the three at 21.
Erling Moreno has missed the better part of two years with injuries, including TJS. The 19-year-old saw some action last year. Here’s to hoping the 2013 IFA signee can get back this year.
Kwang-Min Kwon won the Home Run Derby in fall instructs and turned quite a few heads with his power. The 18-year-old from South Korea is likely headed to the OF or 1B at Arizona.
Yonathan Sierra draws comparisons to Darryl Strawberry in his appearance and play. Last summer’s top IFA signing, prior to Martinez anyway, is only 17 and the Cubs will look to protect and develop the young OF.
Edgar Rondon is another 2B. A bit undersized, he still led the DSL Cubs in hitting. With the plethora of middle infielders, he might stay one more year in the DSL with last year’s DSL All-Star Game MVP Yeiler Peguero, who is only 17.
Rafael Mejia is a 3B who has some power but needs to hit for more average. Pitchers Andri Rondon, Pablo Ochoa, and Jesus Tejada all pitched for the DSL Cubs and could all be starters this summer.
Jhonny Bethencourt led the Venezuelan Cubs in hitting and played mostly second. He will be 19 in February and it will be interesting to see if he sticks at 2B or goes to OF this year.
There may be more surprises later, depending on whether the Cubs sign more international talent (read: Cubans) before spring training starts. It will be interesting to see just how these prospects develop this spring and where they are assigned come April 4 when minor league play begins.
Potential big breakouts from among those listed above:
Wladimir Galindo – big body, big power, very young
Carlos Sepulveda – looks like he was born to play, a baseball rat
Kwang-Min Kwon – see Galindo
Junior Marte – Dominant year in the DSL last summer – 1.29 ERA
Pablo Ochoa – Hearing he has a nice arsenal (turns 18 on Monday the 11th)