The CCO’s Cubs Minor League Short-Season Player and Pitcher of the Year for 2016 – INF Isaac Parades and LHP Jose Paulino
The minor league season ended last week for the Cubs affiliates with two league championships. The Eugene Emeralds won the Northwest League for the first time in 41 years and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans defended the cup with its second straight Carolina League Championship. The Pelicans are the first back-to-back league champs in 30 years.
It’s time to shift gears and recognize several Cubs prospects down on the farm that had terrific seasons. First up, The CCO’s Short-Season Player and Pitcher of the Year for 2016.
Chris Pieters and Oscar De La Cruz were our choices a year ago. This season, Isaac Parades and Jose Paulino stood out among the immense talent in the lowest levels of the Cubs’ organization.
The CCO Short Season Player of the Year – INF Isaac Paredes
In the 2015-16 offseason, the Cubs signed a passel of international free agents, including overshadowed infielder Isaac Paredes. The native of Hermosillo, Mexico was supposed to take a back seat to high profile signings Aramis Ademan and Yonathan Perlaza. But the then 16-year old showed that he was a force in the Fall Instructional League, impressing observers with his contact at the plate and instincts in the infield.
Moving on to Spring Training, Paredes got a surprise assignment with the South Bend squad instead the extended Spring Training roster most of his fellow 2016 signees were on. Paredes did not miss a beat in training camp, but an overstocked middle infield throughout the system left him behind in extended Spring Training. As Short-Season baseball began in early-June, Paredes did not receive the expected assignment to the Dominican Academy, but with the AZL Cubs in Arizona Rookie League.
Paredes took over the starting shortstop position for the A-Cubs in the sixth game and never looked back, batting .305/.359/.443/.802 with three doubles, a home run, 26 RBI and four stolen bases in a league in which the average player was three years older than him.
But as the AZL Cubs quickly bowed in the Rookie League playoffs, the season was not over for Paredes. When South Bend’s Andrew Monasterio was injured shortly before the end of the season, management bypassed several older and more experienced players and assigned Paredes to the South Bend Cubs. Paredes demonstrated remarkable poise for a 17-year old in his first professional season. Caught in traffic prior to his first game with South Bend, Paredes had no batting practice and only fielded a dozen or so warm-up grounders a few minutes before the start of the game. Nevertheless, Paredes started, batted second in the lineup and lined a single in his second at bat. Paredes would end up starting the rest of the way for South Bend, including all three playoff games.
In assessing Paredes as a player, he seems to combine some of the best qualities of three recent, highly rated middle infield prospects for the Cubs: Javier Baez, Gleyber Torres, and Chesny Young. At a squatty 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, Paredes is a little reminiscent of Baez at this age, as are his quick hands and powerful arm in the field. Like Torres, Paredes displays an uncommon maturity for a teenager. And Paredes’ ability to stay within his limits, his focus, and his baseball IQ are similar to Young.
The CCO Short Season Pitcher of the Year – LHP Jose Paulino
Prior to this season, Jose Paulino was a rather nondescript left-handed pitcher looking for a way to draw attention in an ever expanding field of pitching prospects. In 2015, Paulino was just 4-6 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.455 WHIP (59 hits, 21 walks, 57 strikeouts) in 12 appearances for Short Season-A Eugene. Paulino would be turning 21 years old just after the start of the 2016 season, and he needed a way to kick start his fledgling baseball career.
The answer came in good, old fashioned hard work as Paulino used the off-season to rebuild himself from the ground up. South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez, who had managed Paulino in the 2014 Arizona Rookie League, saw the difference as soon as Paulino arrived in South Bend this past July.
“Paulino has really improved his mechanics, as well as his focus while he is on the mound, remarked Gonzalez as his team was preparing for the playoffs. “He [Paulino] will be our Game Two starter.”
But that would not come until after Paulino established his new-found form. That began in extended Spring Training, where Paulino wowed onlookers with both his poise and control. Opening back with the Eugene Emeralds, Paulino was ready for his second time around in the Northwest League. Paulino averaged nearly six innings a start and went 4-0 with a 0.51 ERA and a 0.629 WHIP (19 hits, 37 strikeouts, three walks, 35 innings).
Moving to South Bend, Paulino’s numbers came back to earth a little, but were still an impressive 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.150 WHIP. In 40 innings, Paulino allowed 36 hits with 10 walks and 32 strikeouts. All combined, Paulino was 7-1 in 13 starts with a 1.92 ERA and a 0.907 WHIP. Paulino gave up 21 runs, 16 earned runs, 55 hits with 13 walks and 69 strikeouts in 75 innings.
Of his current success, Paulino attributed it to his control and he agreed with Jimmy Gonzalez on his keys for the future.
“I improved control of my slider and finding a way to get on top of batters,” Paulino said. “I need to continue to work on maintaining my focus.”
However, there is some disagreement over what is Paulino’s best pitch. While being able to throw a fastball in the mid-90s, Paulino believes that his change-up is his best pitch. South Bend play-by-play man Darin Pritchett saw it differently, saying that Paulino has an “impressive slider”.
As far as his immediate plans. Paulino was preparing for the Dominican Winter League draft. Paulino and Oscar De La Cruz were drafted by Estrellas.