Since the Theo Epstein Era began, the Cubs have made a lot of trades involving names like Tyler Colvin, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Feldman, and Jason Hammel, to name a few. Most of those trades seem like they took place long ago. Well, I guess they actually did. Most of the players the Cubs got back have already reached the majors, though there are a few exceptions. Take Corey Black, who is now at AAA Iowa.
However, there is one trade the Cubs made in 2013 that still could begin paying dividends in the next 2-4 more years.
In February of 2013, the Cubs sent somewhat popular outfielder Tony Campana to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a pair of 17-year-old Dominican League, Erick Leal and Jesus Castillo. At the time of the trade, the national media lambasted the Diamondbacks for giving the Cubs the two pitchers. Dayn Perry of CBS Sports was very critical when he said:
As for the return package, the Cubs will receive two 17-year-old right-handers — Erik Leal and Jesus Castillo — who have shown the ability to miss bats at the bottom-most levels of the D-Backs’ system. It’s likely they’ll never achieve much of consequence at the highest level, but parting with even one lottery ticket in exchange for a player like Campana is hard to justify.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the Campana crowd went wild. The parody Twitter account @FacebookCubs listed a few retorts towards the Cubs management (photo courtesy of Chicago Mag):
I understand why people liked Campana: he hustled and he played hard. In my mind, though, that doesn’t necessarily make one a good baseball player. You have to be able to actually hit the ball, something Campana has not been able to do since he left the Cubs.
Three years later…
Tony Campana played a measly 29 games for Arizona in 2013 and 44 between Arizona and Anaheim in 2014. He did not play professional baseball in 2015, but he’s back this year with the Syracuse Chiefs, AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The comeback is not going all that well, as Campana is hitting a paltry .235. He still has the speed, he just can’t get on base much by hitting or walking.
Leal and Castillo, on the other hand, are just now coming into their prime minor league years.
Ben Badler of Baseball America said the following of the 17-year-old Leal at the time of his acquisition:
When Leal signed, he stood out for his size, delivery, ability to throw strikes and spin a breaking ball. He progressed quickly and in some ways became a different pitcher than scouts had expected. He threw from almost straight over the top when he signed, but he’s since dropped down to a lower slot and gotten more life on his fastball, which was 85-88 mph when he signed but now sits around 88-89. Leal’s best pitch is his mid-to-high 70s breaking ball, an advanced pitch for his age with a chance to be plus. He didn’t have a changeup when he signed, but he’s developed feel for that pitch as well giving him the potential for three average or better pitches if his velocity continues to climb.
Now 21, the 6-3 Leal has advanced at a faster pace than his counterpart due to low-to-mid low 90’s heat and good command of three pitches. He performed well in South Bend, once throwing a 9-inning no-hitter last year only to have the team lose it in extras. He is currently in the midst of two-month swing at Myrtle Beach, during which he has posted ERA’s of 2.33 and 2.18 in May and June, respectively.
Leal has thrown 64.1 innings over 12 starts, and has struck out 38 while walking only 16, which is a very good walk rate. The move to AA next year will be the big test as he sees how his stuff plays out against a high level of competition. In fact, he might be the perfect candidate to go to the Arizona Fall League in 2016.
As for the other half of the trade, Badler saw good things in Castillo as well:
He threw in the mid-80s when he signed, but he now touches the low 90s and has a good changeup for his age, though his breaking ball is still a work in progress.
Castillo has taken a little longer to develop and he might be better for it in the long run. Still just 20, he is currently pitching for the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs’ short-season Class A affiliate. I had never seen him pitch until this past Tuesday and I really like what I saw…a lot! He has a tall frame, which could still easily fit more weight, and he works quickly. He sat about 93, touched 94 a couple of times.
What I liked is that he has developed a nice 12-7 breaking ball that is hard to hit. He went 5 innings, gave up 4 hits, 2 runs, and struck out 3. I think he needs to throw his curve and changeup more, but Cubs management always emphasizes fastball command as the primary skill set to learn at this level.
It is nice to see that improvement at such a young age in just three years.
Leal can pitch. His stuff may not blow people away and he doesn’t have an out pitch yet, but he gets batters to get themselves out. Castillo, on the other hand, may be the strikeout pitcher in this deal. As for Campana, well, things did not work out for him. While the Cubs still have not seen total fruition on the deal even three years later, and might not for another two to three years, things are looking good. It’s entirely possible that one of this tandem of pitchers will make the Bigs. Who knows, maybe both will make it in the next few years. That would be quite a deal.