Five Players to Watch: Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
It is time once again to look beyond the top 20 lists and explore other players in the Cubs’ organization that may have an impact on the Major League club down the road. Over the years, Chicago Cubs Online has profiled such players as Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and Armando Rivero in this series before they were recognized as top prospects.
This is the first in a series of articles highlighting some of the players not noted on off-season prospect lists. The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.
With the attention being placed on the phenomenal season turned in by the Low-A Kane County pitching staff, it was easy to overlook some of the performances of the Cubs other pitchers in the low minors, particularly in their Caribbean academies. One such pitcher is 19-year old left-hander Oscar De La Cruz. A robust teen at 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, De La Cruz was signed by the Cubs for the 2013 season, in which he was 1-0 with a 6.55 ERA, 1.909 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings for the Cubs team in the Dominican Summer League.
Returning to the DSL for the 2014 season, De La Cruz was given an increased workload, tossing 75 innings in 14 games. De La Cruz ended up tied for second in the league for victories with an 8-1 record. His other numbers were also impressive, as De La Cruz had a 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts against 19 walks.
As is typical with most that play in the foreign leagues, there is no information as to the “stuff” that De La Cruz has in his arsenal. As such, it is not certain where De La Cruz will play, in the Dominican or in the rookie league. However, De La Cruz was invited to the Fall Instructional League this past October, which is usually a sign that the organization thinks highly of a player. What is certain is that if De La Cruz keeps putting up numbers like he did this past season, we shall all learn a lot more about him.
While it was off in the baseball hinterlands of Venezuela, Wladimir Galindo had a professional debut that was hard to forget. Not turning 18 years old until after the 2014 season, Galindo was a one-man wrecking crew at the plate. Galindo appeared in the league’s top ten in nearly every offensive category as he led the league with seven home runs. Galindo was third in doubles (18), slugging (.462), and OPS (.818). On top of that, Galindo was sixth with 30 RBI, tied for ninth with a .356 on-base percentage, and tenth with a .278 batting average. Galindo did all of this while being a marked man, as the VSL Cubs finished 28-40, one game out of last place.
Already a big man at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, there are some that feel Galindo is not done growing at this point. The biggest concern is defense. Primarily a third baseman, Galindo was a little ragged as he fielded .857, committing 23 errors in 46 games. However, Galindo did fare a little better at first base, with a .980 average in 11 games.
Galindo made his stateside debut this past October, as he was invited to the Fall Instructional League. That means that the top brass are pretty impressed with Galindo, so it would not be a surprise to see him in the Arizona Rookie League and possibly with Short Season-A Eugene this coming season.
The Cubs identified the position of catcher as one they needed to develop better going into the 2014 season. To that end, the organization drafted and signed three catchers while acquiring a fourth through trade. They were also active in the international market, signing a pair of 17-year olds in Erick Gonzalez and Yohan Matos in July of 2013.
Matos was part of the Cubs’ celebrated international signing class that included OF Eloy Jimenez, INF Gleyber Torres, RHP Erling Moreno, and the now departed RHP Jefferson Mejia (traded to Arizona for catcher Miguel Montero). While Matos is not as advanced as Jimenez or Torres, he may not be very far behind. Assigned to the Dominican Summer League, Matos tied for the lead of the DSL-Cubs with six home runs, which was also tied for seventh in the league. Along with the home runs, Matos had nine doubles and four triples while batting .289/.378/.469/.847 with 39 RBI and seven stolen bases in 53 games.
An area where Matos may require a little more polish is on defense, but he does have tools to work with. Matos fielded .966 at catcher, with 12 passed balls in 36 games. But Matos also threw 43 percent of all base stealers. Matos played decently in ten games at first base, while receiving a look at second base, third base, and left field.
Like De La Cruz and Galindo, Matos was also invited to the Fall Instructional League this past October. With the increased focus on the position, along with his fine showing in the DSL, Matos may be best served in the Arizona Rookie League this summer.
A player that has all the national scouts talking and is on the cusp of the organization’s Top 20, Kevonte Mitchell is a raw talent that bears watching. Long and lanky at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Mitchell was a two sport star (baseball and basketball) at Kennett High School in Kennett, MO when the Cubs drafted him in the 13th round in 2014.
A third baseman in high school, Mitchell was moved to center field by the Cubs when he was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League. The move did not seem to affect Mitchell at the plate, as he was third in the league with 19 stolen bases and eighth in hitting as he batted .294/.374/.371/.745 with three doubles, four triples, and 12 RBI in 39 games. Mitchell spent most of his time batting leadoff or second for the A-Cubs.
While Mitchell is still a work in progress in the outfield, his numbers are deceiving. Mitchell had a .961 fielding average in center, but only made two errors in 54 chances in his first exposure to the position. With further experience in the Fall Instructional League, Mitchell should improve in the field. Mitchell possesses outstanding athletic skills, as anyone who has seen the Twitter video of him jumping over the head of an unsuspecting teammate can attest.
Mitchell should be patrolling an outfield position for the Eugene Emeralds in the 2015 season. And if all goes well, there may be a sighting at Low-A South Bend toward the end of the season.
The Cubs drafted a number of impressive high school arms in 2014, including Carson Sands, Dylan Cease, and Justin Steele. Figuring somewhere between the starting rotation and the bullpen should be 18-year old Austyn Willis.
Selected in the 18th round of the 2014 draft out of Barstow High School in Barstow, CA, Willis is big at 6-foot-6, 205-pounds. As a senior, Willis threw a no-hitter in early April, along with a one-hitter and two-hitter. Willis also showed how good of a baseball player he was by leading his high school league in hitting. For the year, Willis was 5-3 with a 1.81 ERA and 63 strikeouts against 16 walks in 58 innings.
After signing with the Cubs, Willis reported to the Arizona Rookie League. Used sparingly, Willis did well for a player two and a half years younger than the ones he was playing against. Willis was 0-1 in 10 appearances with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP that included nine strikeouts in 15 innings.
A recruiting report of Willis stated that his fastball was clocked at 89 mph, and that he had a sharp slider. His velocity is expected to increase as he matures, and several reports have Willis as very coachable. It is possible that the Cubs can take a conservative approach and have Willis pitch in the rookie league again in 2015, or he may see time in Short-Season A Eugene if he shows well in extended Spring Training.
Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll is underway, but there is only one week left to nominate players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. Beginning next week the 20 players that received the most votes in the preliminary nominations will be in the final voting for the final month of preseason.
The CCO will track the progress of top 10 vote-getters throughout the entire season. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only 10 will eventually be chosen. Nominations and votes can be submitted in the comment section below, on Twitter (@TheCCO_Minors, @TheCCO) or on Facebook.
After three weeks, our readers have cast 111 votes and nominated 45 players. First baseman Dan Vogelbach continues to have a 12 point lead, as RHP Jake Stinnett has joined outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Billy McKinney, and RHP Jen-Ho Tseng in a tie for second place. So from Tyler Alamo to Rob Zastryzny, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.
Race to Wrigley
For the third straight year, I will be competing in the Race to Wrigley 5K run on April 25, 2015. If anyone is interested in joining the CCO team or making a donation, please visit Race to Wrigley – Chicago Cubs Online to register. All proceeds go to Chicago Cubs Charities and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.