Position Analysis – Right Field
The organizational position analysis continues with a look at a position that may hold the key to how the system is shaped for 2016: Right Field.
While its number 9 on your scorecard, right field is not a position of least importance as most teams look for major run production out of this position. That is true of the Cubs, who began the season with young Jorge Soler in right. Injuries limited his time during the regular season, but fans across the country saw both the good and the bad in the playoffs, as he hit some key home runs but his defense left a little to be desired. The 23-year old displayed some strike zone discipline but still struck out 121 times in 101 games. However, Soler also demonstrated his future potential as a run producer by going .262/.324/.399/.723 with 18 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs, and 47 RBI. When Soler was on the DL, Major League vets Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia filled in. Late in the season and in the playoffs, Kyle Schwarber also saw some limited duty. Whoever starts come 2016, defense will be an issue as all of the above have their flaws.
How the Cubs handle the right field position for Triple-A Iowa will be an early clue as to how the front office wishes to deploy their prospects for 2016. That’s because I-Cubs’ primary right fielder for this past season, Rubi Silva, has been released. Considering that after baseball’s winter meetings, the organization may have none of the players that populated the outfield for Iowa in 2015, there are few options. The Cubs can simply sign minor league veteran/fringe Major Leaguers to a minor league contract. Or, management could make a bold move and promote their entire 2015 Double-A Tennessee outfield, including right fielder Bijan Rademacher.
With the high profile prospects of Albert Almora, Jacob Hannemann, and Billy McKinney part of the Smokies outfield, Rademacher, at times, received a short shrift. The 24-year had eeked his way into many Top 20 prospect lists after an outstanding performance in last year’s Arizona Fall League. But almost as soon as Rademacher was assigned to Tennessee, his playing time was sacrificed as first Hannemann and then McKinney were promoted. Rademacher would only see action in two-thirds of the Smokies games in the first three months of the season. This led to a .234 average for the months of April, May, and June. But injuries to his fellow outfielders would free up playing time, to which Rademacher used to his advantage. In July, August, and September, the lefty batted .285 to raise his season totals to .261/.379/.370/.748 with 19 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 47 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 113 games. While Hannemann made the highlight reels and Almora had the reputation among the national scouts, Rademacher was probably the Smokies best overall defensive outfielder. Rademacher, at times, had to make up for the lack of experience or lack of ability of his outfield cohorts. This meant Rademacher had to take more chances, which led to his .981 fielding average over all outfield positions. What separates Rademacher from the rest of his teammates is his strong and accurate throwing arm, which is one of the best in the entire organization.
Once considered a possible breakthrough prospect, Anthony Giansanti has settled into being a very valuable system player. A player who has lined up at every position, including pitcher, during his six-year minor league career, the 27-year old has established himself as a person any manager can rely on to get the job done. Playing first base, third base, left, and right fields for both Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2015, Giansanti hit .226/.293/.269/.562 with six doubles, a triple, 24 RBI, and three stolen bases in 69 games. Giansanti is also considered a positive influence in the locker room and capable of performing in several off-the-field roles once he decides to end his playing days.
Leaving his catching days behind him for good, Mark Zagunis began 2015 taking on a new challenge, being a full-time outfielder. The 2014 third round draft choice had a sparkling debut after signing, batting .288 with 32 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 57 games over three levels. In his first full professional season, the 22-year old remained entirely at High-A Myrtle Beach, helping them claim a league championship. As the primary leadoff hitter for the Pelicans, Zagunis used his incredible plate discipline to post a .271/.406/.412/.818 batting line with 24 doubles, five triples, eight home runs, 54 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 115 games. Zagunis lost some time after getting beaned late in the season, but was back for the playoffs and is currently making up for lost at bats in the Arizona Fall League. Zagunis’ remains a work in progress defensively, but the prognosis is promising. In 100 games started in the outfield, Zagunis fielded .982 over all three outfield positions and had five assists.
It was a tale of two seasons for Jeffrey Baez, as he used an outstanding second half to thrust himself into the conversation of the best prospects in the organization. Bogged down by visa problems and an unstable political situation, the Venezuelan got a late start on 2015 which translated into a .190 first half average. Baez was also adjusting to his first full season stateside as well as a new role of run producer. An injury to another player led to the 22-year old being reinstalled as the Low-A South Bend Cubs’ leadoff hitter. Baez responded by hitting .348 with eight home runs and 25 stolen bases in the second half of the season. That led to a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach just in time for the start of the playoffs. Overall, Baez hit .280/.321/.422/.743 with 17 doubles, six triples, nine home runs, 35 RBI, and a system leading 36 stolen bases in 106 games. Baez has a rare blend of power and speed, but will need to curb some of his free-swinging tendencies in order to advance. Baez is also a gifted outfielder that needs to learn how to play under control a little better in order to take advantage of his natural abilities. Baez is capable of fielding better than his .970 overall average but his 17 assists will make base runners think twice about taking any liberties.
Another player new to playing the outfield, Kevonte Mitchell had a little more difficult time making the adjustment. The former high school third baseman was a 13th round selection in the 2014 draft and impressed many with his speed and athleticism. After a strong showing in the Arizona rookie league following his signing, big things were expected out of Mitchell for 2015. But the 20-year old proved to be more of a work in progress as he struggled both offensively and defensively. Beginning the season at Short Season-A Eugene, Mitchell was actually demoted back to the AZL Cubs. For the year, Mitchell hit .176/.279/.248/.527 with eight doubles, two triples, 10 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 54 games. Mitchell saw most of his time in right field, but also played some center as he fielded for a .963 average. Before writing off Mitchell, one must note that he is still very young and just learning how to play.
The Cubs selected a very hard worker in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft in Alex Bautista, who may just end up paying off. The 22-year old signed quickly after being drafted and was able to see time in 46 games between the AZL Cubs and Short Season-A Eugene. Bautista was somewhat impressive in his all-around play as he batted a combined .255/.309/.379/.687 with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs, 21 RBI and a stolen base. Bautista fielded better in a small sample size of 35 outfield starts than his .950 fielding average would indicate. With his work ethic, Bautista figures to be a reliable fourth outfielder at the Low-A level when the 2016 season starts.
A third member of Short Season-A Eugene also saw time in right field, 21 year old Ricardo Marcano. Signed as a 17-year old in 2012, Marcano was trying to build on some modest success he had in the Arizona rookie league last season. Unfortunately, things did not work out as his playing time was squeezed by the large number of high level prospects that passed through the Emeralds’ roster. The lefty played in only 35 games and hit .236/.343/.292/.635 with three doubles, a triple, 14 RBI, and two stolen bases. With a lifetime OBP of .335, Marcano displays the plate discipline the organization is looking for, but he has not found out how to turn that into offensive production. Marcano’s defense can best be described as subpar. While he fielded a perfect 1.000 in 19 right field starts, Marcano had all kinds of trouble in left field and ended with a .952 overall fielding average. For now, Marcano can be a good roster-filler at the lower levels, but he will have to show better offensive production to advance his career.
While he can be considered a little bit of a late bloomer, the Cubs may have an unheralded prospect in Robert Garcia. Signed as a 19-year old in 2013, the now 21-year old has incrementally improved his play as he has risen from the lowest ranks. Progressing from the Dominican Summer League, Garcia was the opening right fielder for the AZL Cubs this past season. In 47 games, Garcia ended up third in the league with a .341 batting average, sixth with a .409 on-base percentage, and tied for sixth with 17 stolen bases. The final line for the switch-hitter was .341/.409/.445/.854 with four doubles, four triples, two home runs, 23 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. Garcia lined up 32 times in right field and had a perfect 1.000 percentage. However, Garcia had some trouble in center field, fielding only .931 in 12 starts. Although he is a bit over-aged, Garcia will probably make the next step and start at Short Season-A Eugene next season, unless injuries to others give him an opportunity further up the chain.
In his first professional season, 18-year old Wander Feliz had a solid beginning to his career. Playing the entire season as a 17-year old, Feliz was the regular right fielder for the DSL Cubs. Showing some advanced strike zone discipline, Feliz had a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38:28 in 54 games. For the season, Feliz batted .235/.375/.33/.708 with nine doubles, two triples, a home run, 21 RBI, and seven stolen bases. Like many young players, Feliz needs to work on his defense, fielding only .944. However, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder appears to have some run producing potential.
Making a big jump in production, 19-year old Luis Ayala looks like he can bypass the DSL and move stateside to the Arizona rookie league for 2016. In his second season playing for the VSL Cubs, Ayala improved in every aspect of the game. Leading the league with 25 stolen bases, Ayala was sixth in hitting and third in on-base percentage with a .285/.410/.412/.822 line. Ayala also had 13 doubles, eight triples, and 23 RBI in 68 games. Ayala has made great strides in his outfield defense, improving to a .988 fielding average in 32 right field starts and .968 in 64 outfield appearances.