Position Analysis – Right Field
The eighth installment of the off-season series to summarize and project how the minor league system looks on a position by position basis focuses on a position that has some of the most interesting players in the system: Right Field.
Currently, the Cubs do not have a solid option in right field for its Triple-A Iowa affiliate. With Jorge Soler looking as if he will be part of the parent club’s Opening Day roster, the most likely option may veteran minor league INF/OF Jonathan Mota, if a player off the wire is not signed. Barring that, the next possible way to turn may be to Rubi Silva. The 25-year old seemed like a sure thing for the I-Cubs in 2014 after batting .284/.310/.483/.793 with a career high 15 homers, 52 RBI, 13 stolen bases as the starting right fielder for Double-A Tennessee in 2013. But for some reason, Silva started last year back with the Smokies and did not take the assignment well, batting only .204 in April before improving to .265 in May and .302 in June. However, Silva suffered an injury and was lost for all of July and most of August. For the year, the lefty hit a disappointing .246/.286/.375/.661 with 13 doubles, four triples, six home runs, 37 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 81 games. Always considered a slasher at the plate, Silva also collected 73 strikeouts while walking only 16 times. The clock is beginning to tick on Silva, as he is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and he is not considered to fit the offensive profile of the current regime.
What Silva does bring to the table is excellent defense. Silva is considered a spectacular defender that takes chances that can bite you at times, or result in a highlight reel play. There is no debate on his laser beam throwing arm, as he racked up nine more outfield assists last season to run his career total to 52 in four seasons.
Quite possibly the hottest prospect name this fall should be lining up in right for Double-A Tennessee, Bijan Rademacher. Drafted in the 13th round in 2012, the lefty has been enjoying a steady rise through the system. After getting a 42-game promotion to High-A Daytona in 2013, the 23-year old returned to Daytona this past season and was the D-Cubs’ most consistent performer. Due to ineffective or uneven performances by his teammates, Rademacher hit in every spot in batting order except the nine-hole. Although he had only ten home runs, Rademacher saw most of his time as the clean-up hitter as the more vaulted Dan Vogelbach struggled. Rademacher hit .306 as a fourth place hitter and batted .365 with runners in scoring position, while his .811 OPS was second in the Florida State League. For the season, Rademacher hit .281/.363/.448/.811 with 22 doubles, six triples, 10 home runs, 56 RBI, and four stolen bases in 111 games.
A former pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, Rademacher’s best defensive asset is his strong arm. There are times when Rademacher is too confident in his throwing, as most of the errors leading to a disappointing .939 fielding average came on throws. Keep in mind that Rademacher is still learning defensively, as he mainly pitched in college. Assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox as a “taxi squad” member (could only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays) in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, Rademacher dazzled the national scouts by batting .350/.404/.525/.929 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, nine RBI and four stolen bases in only 11 games. Rademacher is clearly on the rise, as many national publications are now ranking him among the Cubs’ top 20 prospects.
Floating somewhere between Double-A Tennessee and High-A Myrtle Beach is Pin-Chieh Chen. Signed as an international free agent from Taiwan in 2010, the former second baseman has seen his career stall at this point. After some rather pedestrian numbers for Low-A Kane County to start the 2013 season, Chen was a surprise mid-season promotion to High-A Daytona. He picked up the pace in the second half by batting .281 with 14 stolen bases for the D-Cubs in 51 games and also saw some brief action with Double-A Tennessee. When the 2014 season began the 23-year old was back with the D-Cubs and in a new position, right field. Chen had been playing both left and center field, and his game projects there both offensively and defensively. Chen lacks the arm strength you would prefer out of a right fielder but is excellent at tracking down fly balls, showing steady numbers across the board with a career .989 fielding percentage. This past season, Chen did little to excite with Daytona as he hit .275 with eight stolen bases in 65 games. But with Tennessee desperate for outfielders and lacking a leadoff man since John Andreoli went down with an injury, Chen was given a promotion over a more deserving candidate in Bijan Rademacher. It was hoped that Chen’s speed would be a boost for the Smokies offense but he could not get untracked at the plate, and ended up hitting .232 with five stolen bases in 48 games. Chen’s season totals were .258/.352/.352/.704 with 22 doubles, seven triples, 28 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. At this point, Chen will really have to up his game in order to compete with some of the other outfield prospects in the system. However, a future as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner is not out of the question.
Presently, it is not a given that Yasiel Balaguert will be receiving a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach to begin the 2015 season. The Cuban national lost about 50 games this past season to injury, and being advanced at this time may not be good for his overall development. Since being signed in 2012, the organization has had a hard time in determining just how to handle the 21-year old. That season, the Cubs moved too quickly with Balaguert, assigning him to Low-A Peoria where he quickly showed that he was in over his head by batting .208 in 39 games. Taking a step backward in 2013, Balaguert was placed with Short-Season A Boise where he placed among the Northwest League leaders in both home runs (8) and RBI (48). Starting the 2014 season with Low-A Kane County, Balaguert came out of the gate well, hitting .317 with 19 RBI in April. But the league started catching up as he slumped in May and June. Balaguert went on the disabled list in July and saw limited action in August as the Cougars were in the midst of their championship run. His season numbers reflect his career averages, batting .252/.291/.373/.664 with 17 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, and 53 RBI in 96 games.
Seen by some evaluators as a “poor-man’s Jorge Soler,” Balaguert possesses many of the same qualities as his fellow countryman. Balaguert has natural power and has been consistent with his batting average and strikeout totals for a run producer. Also like Soler, Balaguert has functional speed in the outfield and a powerful throwing arm, but can use some cleaning up of his .976 career fielding percentage.
A bit miscast as a right fielder is Charcer Burks. Primarily a left and centerfielder, the 18-year old was moved to right by the Boise Hawks following the promotion of Jeffrey Baez in 2014. A surprise ninth round selection in 2013, most thought Burks would accept one of the numerous football scholarship offers he had, but instead chose to sign with the Cubs. Playing mainly left field, Burks had a good initial showing in the Arizona Rookie League, batting .269 with seven RBI and six stolen bases in 31 games. Burks returned to the AZL Cubs to begin the 2014 season, but that appeared to be a numbers situation as he showed that he was already past that level by hitting .308 with nine stolen bases in 20 games, all in centerfield. What was amazing for such a young player with limited experience was how he maintained his production at the plate, batting .313 with 20 RBI in 37 games with Short-Season A Boise. His overall season totals of .311/.393/.409/.802 with 10 doubles, three triples, a home run, 30 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 57 show the beginnings of what could be a special player. Burks’ defensive numbers reflect both his inexperience and potential, fielding .969 in center but 1.000 in right field. Scouts feel that Burks is nowhere close to reaching his full potential, and that both his defense and baserunning will continue to improve as he matures. Based on his limited playing time, it would not be a surprise to see Burks back in the Northwest League with the Eugene Emeralds next season.
The future of the position for the organization was present in the rookie league last year in Eloy Jimenez. One of the prize international signings by the Cubs in 2013, it was a surprise to see the 17-year old (turns 18 today) that high in the system, as most felt he would begin in the Dominican Academy. But Jimenez showed both glimpses of his future potential and his need for development by batting .227/.268/.367/.635 with eight doubles, two triples, three home runs, 27 RBI, and three stolen bases in 42 games. For his first professional exposure, Jimenez wasn’t terrible defensively. His .976 fielding percentage is a good base to improve on. Unless Jimenez shows great strides in his development this spring, it can be expected that he returns to Arizona for 2015 to further learn his craft.
A former infielder in Jenner Emeterio has made a successful conversion to the outfield and now looks to move his career forward. Signed in 2012, the 21-year old has spent the last three seasons in the Dominican Summer League and has made improvements both offensively and defensively each season. This past season, Emeterio played in 56 games and batted .309/.452/.404/.857 with 11 doubles, three triples, 32 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. You have to like his patience at the plate with 44 walks and only 31 strikeouts. Emeterio may be unconventional as a right fielder, but has posted an overall outfield fielding percentage of .990 with 13 assists the past two seasons. A good spring could have Emeterio with the Short-Season A Eugene Emeralds, but at the least he should end up in the rookie league.
A youngster with a lot of work to do is 18-year old Luis Ayala. In his first professional season, Ayala showed little in the Venezuelan Summer League other than speed. In 53 games, the lefty batted .209/.306/.233/.539 with two triples, 14 RBI, and 14 stolen bases. His defense left a lot to be desired with a .936 fielding percentage, but he did have seven assists.