All in all it was a good season for the Cubs down on the farm. On the field, four of the organization’s minor league teams made the playoffs. And several players graduated to the majors, made their big league debuts and are helping the Cubs win games at the highest level.
Player development had its ups and downs. Many of the Cubs top position player prospects appeared to stay on their development path while on the pitching side, injuries and poor performance opened opportunities for other players to improve their standing and stock in the organization.
In the coming weeks, reviews highlighting the good and, well, not-so-good, from the season that was in the Cubs system will be posted.
First up on the Cubs prospect review … 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario.
Jeimer Candelario went from a question mark a year ago to earning a spot on the 40-man roster last fall. Candelario had an excellent season with High-A Myrtle Beach before a promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Candelario excelled at the higher level and was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, along with teammate Willson Contreras.
Candelario turned in an MVP-type performance with the Mesa Solar Sox and sealed the front office’s decision to add him to the Major League reserve roster.
Jeimer Candelario impressed Joe Maddon and the coaching staff in his first big league Spring Training. Maddon mixed in the switch-hitting third baseman with his regulars even after he was sent out. At one point, Maddon called Candelario the best hitter in the Cactus League.
The Cubs optioned Candelario to Double-A Tennessee and not Triple-A Iowa as many expected. Candelario got off to a slow start with the Smokies, failing to put up the numbers in the Southern League that he did at the end of the 2015 season. Even with his so-called struggles, Candelario was named a Mid-Season Southern League All-Star.
Candelario hit .219/.324/.367 with 17 doubles, a triple and four home runs for a .690 OPS in 56 games for Double-A Tennessee. Candelario walked 32 times with 46 strikeouts in 210 at bats. Candelario stayed with the process and his approach. And the numbers caught up with his actual performance once he was sent to Iowa.
The Cubs finally promoted Candelario to Triple-A Iowa on June 8. Candelario moved up a level but was unable to participate in the Southern League All-Star Game.
Two weeks after he made his Triple-A debut, Candelario was named to the World Team for SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
Candelario hit .348/.471/.542 in his first 23 games with the Iowa Cubs. And Candelario received the Call in early July. Candelario was called up to The Show while the Cubs were in New York taking on the Mets. Candelario was born in New York and made his big league debut on July 3.
Candelario played in five games for the Cubs before he was optioned down to Iowa. Candelario looked overmatched at the plate as expected during his cup of coffee. Candelario went 1-for-11 with two walks. In the field, he made several nice plays at third base and was charged with an error.
The Cubs sent Candelario back to Iowa on July 9. Due to the timing of his unexpected call up and subsequent demotion, Candelario was not able to participate in the All-Star Futures Game.
Jeimer Candelario returned to Iowa and went to work. Candelario hit extremely well from both sides of the plate in the Pacific Coast League.
In the 51 games after he was back in Iowa, Candelario hit .333/.403/.519 with 15 doubles, a triple and six home runs. Candelario had 39 RBI and scored 32 runs with 24 walks and 32 strikeouts.
Before the Cubs made it official that Candelario would not spend September in the majors, Candelario tweeted that he was on his way home to the Dominican.
It came as quite the surprise to many that Candelario was not part of the September call-ups. And Joe Maddon was asked why he was recalled once Iowa’s season ended.
“That came from the guys upstairs, and I was good with it,” Maddon said to Mark Gonzales. “With Candelario and anybody else, it would be hard to give them a role right now. You talk rotationally, it would be hard to get them involved, and it’s nice to have an extra catcher.”
Jeimer Candelario hit .351/.427/.558 with seven doubles and three home runs for a .985 OPS against left-handed pitchers with Iowa. Against right-handers, Candelario batted .326/.414/.535 with 15 doubles, three triples and six home runs for a .948.
Candelario played in 76 games for Triple-A Iowa and batted .333/.417/.542 with 22 doubles, three triples and nine home runs for a .959 OPS. Candelario ended the season riding a nine-game hitting streak and he reached safely with either a hit or a walk in 40 of his last 41 games.
Defensively, Candelario spent a majority of his time at third base (54 games for the Smokies, 67 games for the I-Cubs) this season. Candelario got experience at first base, playing two games across the diamond with the Smokies, and 10 games (seven starts) with the I-Cubs.
Jeimer Candelario played in 132 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa this past season. Candelario hit a combined .283/.376/.464 with 39 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs for a .840 OPS. Candelario scored 74 runs and drove in 77 runs with 70 walks and 99 strikeouts in 474 at bats.
Candelario has two minor league option years left. The Cubs have time to further evaluate him in the spring without having to force a decision based on lack of options. It will be interesting to see in Spring Training how the Cubs mix him in with the big league regulars, that is if he’s still with the organization.
Jeimer Candelario does not turn 23 until Nov. 24 and whether it’s with the Cubs or another team, he has a bright future ahead of him in baseball.