Position Analysis – Left Field
The sixth installment of the off-season series to summarize and project how the minor league system looks on a position-by-position basis focuses on left field.
With the parent club seemingly set in the outfield having veterans Chris Coghlan, Justin Ruggiano, and Ryan Sweeney joining Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler, it looks as though Junior Lake will be crowded out. Lake’s hold on the big leagues seems even more tenuous with the organization’s desire to add a veteran outfielder this off-season. With the Cubs holding one more option on Lake, a return to Triple-A appears to be in the cards unless the club trades Lake.
Turning 25 years old just before the 2015 season, Lake struggled mightily in his first attempt at a full big league season. In 108 games, Lake hit only .211 with 110 strikeouts against only 14 walks. That is not the type of on-base percentage that the current management wants from their players. Lake was sent back to Iowa for about two weeks in order to get his swing back together before the roster expanded in September. In 14 games it was more of the same for Lake, hitting .262/.324/.400/.724 with three doubles, two home runs, seven RBI, two stolen bases, and 15 strikeouts. Lake is also putting the front office’s belief that it can move a player to a new position late in their development to the test as his lack of outfield experience is obvious. With only six games of experience before playing in a Major League outfield, Lake posted a dreadful .959 fielding percentage in left field and an even worse .948 percentage as a centerfielder. It is clear that the thing that Lake needs the most is repetitions, both in the field and at the plate, in order to tap into his vast potential. Those repetitions will most likely not happen at the Major League level.
Should Lake make the parent club or is traded, the next player in line for Triple-A Iowa could be John Andreoli. Andreoli actually out-played some higher profile prospects such as Rubi Silva and Matt Szczur when promoted to Double-A in 2013, batting .289 with 17 stolen bases in 59 games. But the 24-year old found himself back with the Tennessee Smokies to start the 2014 season, and gave notice that he didn’t intend to stay their long.
Andreoli came out on fire, batting .297 with a .411 on-base percentage and 12 stolen bases in April. However, Andreoli suffered an undisclosed injury in May and tried to play through it. Andreoli saw his batting average drop to .243 but he swiped another 13 bases. Andreoli was voted a Southern League All-Star starter, but was unable to appear as he was placed on the disabled list in June and missed the rest of the season. His .211 season average doesn’t tell the whole story as Andreoli put up a .329 on-base percentage and stole 28 bases in 30 attempts in only 61 games. Andreoli is the prototypical “grinder” the front office is looking for as a leadoff hitter, capable of working counts, drawing walks, and distracting the other team on the base paths. Andreoli is considered an average outfielder at best, but his .978 career fielding percentage is better that some of the players that populated the 2014 major league outfield.
If one thing is certain for next season, it’s you never know where Anthony Giansanti will be. Signed as a minor league free agent in 2010, the 26-year old has lined up at every position on the diamond, including pitcher. Giansanti has also played at every level, spending 14 games with Triple-A Iowa in 2013. Remaining with Double-A Tennessee for the entire 2014 season, Giansanti became the ultimate super-sub. In 90 appearances, Giansanti saw action 45 times in the outfield, 13 at second base, six at third base, four at first base, and even pitched twice. When blue-chip shortstop Addison Russell was sidelined with a thumb injury, Giansanti stepped in for three games as he claimed “for the first time since little league” and fielded flawlessly. At the plate, Giansanti batted .239/.289/.315/.604 with six doubles, a triple, three home runs, 19 RBI, and three stolen bases. Giansanti biggest plus is as a clubhouse presence, considered to be both a good leader and teammate. Every minor league system needs someone like Giansanti to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, Giansanti can hang around long enough to someday be able to fill a gap in the majors.
Anthony Giansanti may be very useful at the beginning of the 2015 season to help ease in possibly the youngest Smokie on the squad, 20-year old Billy McKinney. The first round draft pick of the Oakland A’s in 2013, McKinney was part of the deal that also brought Addison Russell and RHP Dan Straily to the Cubs for RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Jason Hammel. Struggling at High-A Stockton for the Athletics, McKinney seemed reborn after the trade. In 51 games at High-A Daytona, McKinney batted .301 with 36 RBI. For the season, the lefty went .264 /.354/.412/.766 with 24 doubles, six triples, 11 home runs, 69 RBI and six stolen bases in 126 games. McKinney was nursing a sore arm at the time of the trade, which limited his power and his defensive ability. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, McKinney projects to left field at this time with teammates Albert Almora and Bijan Rademacher in center and right fields. With all of the high profile prospects in the Cubs’ system, McKinney gets overlooked a little. But McKinney has the ability of a top ten prospect.
Another overlooked player who may be a rising star in the system is Shawon Dunston Jr. The 21-year old had his 2013 season truncated after a collision with a teammate sidelined him with a deep thigh bruise. Moving up to Low-A Kane County this past season, Dunston was a rotation outfielder, swapping time with Trey Martin and Yasiel Balaguert while Jacob Hannemann started in centerfield. The inconsistent playing time hurt the left-hander, as he hit only .241 in the first half. After Hannemann was promoted, Dunston took over in left field full-time and his production soared, hitting .288 with 12 doubles and 20 stolen bases in the second half. Dunston also flourished after taking over the leadoff spot, batting .289 with 16 stolen bases in 38 games. For the season, Dunston hit .268/.304/.381/.685 with 17 doubles, seven triples, two home runs, 37 RBI, and 27 stolen bases in 96 games. On defense, Dunston uses his speed to have excellent range to go with an above average arm. While he has played all three outfield spots, he looks most comfortable defensively in left field.
Figuring in somewhere between the High-A and Low-A levels will be Kevin Brown. An over-aged prospect at 24 years old, Brown’s major asset is to provide maturity and leadership for his younger teammates. Selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft from tiny Bryant College in Rhode Island, Brown actually started the 2014 season with Short-Season A Boise. After 15 games with the Hawks, Brown was boosted all the way up to Double-A Tennessee where he hit .333 with four RBI in six games before moving down to Low-A Kane County. Brown stayed with the Cougars for 22 games and was not as successful, batting only .221with two home runs and 10 RBI. Brown returned to Boise for the rest of the year and finished the season with a .261/.322/.416/.738 line that included 14 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 37 RBI, and three stolen base in 62 games. For the present, the left-handed hitting Brown will fill in wherever he is needed in the system, being able to line up either in left or right field, as well as first base. Brown supposedly grasps the “Cubs Way” offensive philosophy as well as anyone in the minor league system, and most likely has a future as a minor league instructor or scout.
Vying for playing time in left field for Low-A South Bend will be 2014 draftees Charlie White and Calvin Graves. Selected in the 21st round, the 22-year old White is a local kid, playing for Naperville North High School before attending the University of Maryland. White made somewhat of a legend of himself as a member of the Boise Hawks by twice, quite literally, coming in from left field to pitch the Hawks to victory. In four innings, White gave up an earned run and struck out four batters. In the field, White was also something special, not committing an error in 36 games. It was at the plate that the lefty did not show up well, batting .200/.306/.259/.565 with three doubles, a triple, eight RBI, and two stolen bases.
It is important to note that the Boise outfield was quite crowded with noted players at other positions, such as David Bote, Kyle Schwarber, and Mark Zagunis. The 21 games those players were used in left field significantly cut into other players time in the field. The offensive production of White could possibly improve with more consistent playing time.
In a review of the Cubs’ 2014 draft, Baseball America considered 27th round pick Graves the fastest player the team selected last June. Also assigned to Short-Season A Boise, the organization moved the 23-year old down to the Arizona Rookie League after 15 games in which he batted .222 in order to get more playing time. Graves ended up starting another 15 games for the AZL Cubs, hitting .313 against the younger competition. All totaled, Graves batted .265/.338/.324/.661 with two doubles, a triple, nine RBI, and six stolen bases in 30 games. In an odd twist, Graves started his first game with the A-Cubs at catcher. Like White, Graves fielded flawlessly wherever he played in the field. Where he lines up for the organization in 2015 will be something to watch.
Below the Short-Season A level, the prospects appear to be a lot more raw in their development, as can be seen by the Rookie League’s Ricardo Marcano and Shamil Ubiera. At 20 years old, the left-handed hitting Marcano still has plenty of time to develop as he has shown that he might have some offensive tools to work with. Marcano batted a respectable .265/.301/.368/.669 with 10 doubles, two home runs, 14 RBI, and five stolen bases in 43 games. On defense is where Marcano need to put in some extra work as he fielded only .909 overall in his first trip stateside. The 22-year old Ubiera was a bit of a disappointment after dominating in the Dominican Summer League the past two seasons. After being an offensive machine, Ubiera hit only .206/.259/.299/.558 with seven doubles, a home run, 14 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 34 games with the AZL Cubs. Never considered to be a great defensive player, Ubiera actually played worse than he ever has in the outfield, fielding only at a .870 average.
Speed is always at a premium in the summertime for a player in the Caribbean, as the hot and humid conditions are less conducive to power players. The Cubs had plenty of speed in Robert Garcia and Luis Ubiera, as well as the untapped potential of Luis Acosta at their Dominican Academy. A 20-year old switch-hitter, Garcia showed marked improvement in his second year in the DSL. Garcia swiped 24 bases on 29 attempts while batting .316/.398/.398/.796 with five doubles, three triples, a home run and 25 RBI in 52 games. Like many young players, Garcia needs to be better in the field after posting a .934 fielding percentage. Seventeen-year old Ubiera is just scratching the surface of his potential as he hit .207/.369/.244/.613 with three doubles, seven RBI, and three stolen bases in 30 games splitting his time between left and right field. Nineteen-year old Acosta was a “bonus baby” when he signed as an infielder in 2012. But since playing in 61 games in his initial season, Acosta saw his playing time dwindle to 13 games this past season. Acosta has yet to cross the “Mendoza Line” as a pro, batting .186/.321/.302/.623 with two doubles, a home run, eight RBI, and three stolen bases in 2014. Acosta did show that he has adapted from the infield in his limited time, fielding without an error in 10 games in the outfield.
The Cubs have another teenage prospect that could be something special in Luis Hidalgo. The 18-year old debuted in the Venezuelan Summer League this past season and put up some impressive numbers. Hidalgo batted .318/.370/.430/.800 with eight doubles, three homers, 19 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 46 games. Hidalgo also played well in the field, putting up a .976 percentage after getting initial looks at catcher and first base. Joining Hidalgo in left were a trio of 19-year olds in Victor Gomez, Moises Colasante, and Fidel Matos. Gomez saw action at all three outfield spots but regressed at the plate in his second season, batting .182/.258/.239/.496 with a double, two triples, two RBI, and two stolen bases in 27 games. Colasante was used sparingly in his first season, playing in 17 games and hitting .205/.271/.250/.521 with two doubles, two RBI, and two stolen bases while fielding perfectly. Matos was also in his first season but played a little more, batting .250/.314/.323/.637 with four doubles, a home run, nine RBI, and four stolen base in 34 games, and he did not make an error in the outfield.