Position Analysis – Left Field
It’s time to move to the outfield after taking an in depth look at catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and third base in the Cubs’ system. Today, the CCO focuses on a position that has a lot of promise: Left Field.
Left field seemed like a black hole for the Cubs at the major league level when Kyle Schwarber went down to an injury early on. Jorge Soler took over until he was injured, and after that a mash-up of Matt Szczur, Ryan Kalish, Chris Coghlan, and Willson Contreras. The position was finally stabilized in the postseason when Ben Zobrist was moved there. However, Zobrist is not considered a long-term option, rumors of Soler being traded persist, and Schwarber was not ready to play defense in the postseason. Needless to say, this will be a subject addressed by the front office this offseason.
There isn’t much more left for John Andreoli to prove in the minor leagues, and the Cubs will have to wait until after the Rule 5 Draft to see if he returns next year. While Andreoli spent the bulk of his time in center field, he projects best for left but is capable of playing all three outfield positions. With grumbling over his lack of power, the 26-year old seemed determine to silence his critics by slamming 12 home runs this past season. That is 50% more than his career total. And for the third time in his six-year minor league career, Andreoli stole 40 or more bases as he led the Pacific Coast League with 43. Andreoli sacrificed some batting average to achieve his power numbers, but maintained his career .374 on-base percentage. For the year, Andreoli went .256/.374/.396/.770 with 21 doubles, seven triples, 12 home runs, 61 RBI and 43 stolen bases, playing in all 140 games. Andreoli is not the best defensive outfielder, but impressed Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon with his grit and determination in Spring Training. With a diminishing lack of interest in the Rule 5 Draft, teams may bide their time and wait until Andreoli is eligible to become a minor league free agent next season. Until then, Andreoli may be the most useful player in the system not with the Major League club.
The front office took a flyer on former second round draft pick Kelly Dugan, and there were a lot of people who wish they didn’t. Not to say Dugan is a bad guy, but his presence was considered symbolic of some questionable decision making. The core that made up Double-A Tennessee in 2016 had been to three minor league championships, winning two in a row. Yet the front office decided to break up the team a bit and substitute some minor league veterans. The results were low team morale, a downgrade in defense, and the second worst record in the Southern League. In his fourth season at Double-A, Dugan joined the Smokies in June and played so poorly at first base, he had to DH (in a non-automatic DH league) until deemed ready to play the outfield. The lefty batted .266/.354/.471/.825 with 17 doubles, 13 home runs, 50 RBI and a stolen base in 96 games. Dugan has not been able to remain injury-free throughout his career, suffering multiple foot, back, and shoulder injuries. At 26 years old and only 36 games Triple-A experience, Dugan was a minor league free agent and recently signed with the Diamondbacks organization.
Developing nicely for the Cubs has been Charcer Burks. The 2013 ninth round selection played the full season at High-A Myrtle Beach, but was not able to shine until late in the season. With the since traded Rashad Crawford taking over the leadoff spot for the Pelicans, Burks was relegated to batting ninth and hit only .211 in the first half. When Crawford was sent packing to the Yankees, Burks was elevated back to leadoff and batted .275 for the rest of the season. While the 21-year old showed an increase in his power numbers, it came at the price of his batting average as he hit .247/.356/.407/.763 with 28 doubles, five triples, 11 home runs, 43 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 124 games. The on-base percentage, slugging, and OBP numbers all represent increases over the previous season. Burks is also air-tight defensively, winning a minor league Gold Glove this past season. Although Burks has played all over the outfield, he projects best in left due a lack of top arm strength. If Burks can continue his progress and become a little less power conscious, he could develop into a very nice leadoff option.
What do you do for an encore when you are selected to the Future Stars squad, named both your league’s most valuable player and prospect of the year, and Baseball America awards you with Low-A Player of the Year? You get named the CCO’s Minor League Player of the Year, which is what happened to South Bend outfielder Eloy Jimenez. The 19-year old led the Midwest League with 40 doubles, an OPS of .901, and a slugging average of .532. Jimenez was also second with 81 RBI, third with a batting average of .329, and tied for sixth with 14 home runs. The native of the Dominican Republic had eight stolen bases, a .369 on-base percentage, 142 hits, 25 walks and 94 strikeouts in 432 at bats. Jimenez was assigned to High–A Myrtle Beach for the postseason, and was 3-for-11 (.273) with two RBI in three games. The weak part of Jimenez’s game at this point is defense, as he has all the tools of a dominant right fielder, yet struggled to play left field. According to observers close to the team, Jimenez needs more consistency in his play, added maturity, and the ability to deal with “small hurts.”
When injuries and promotions depleted the outfield of Low-A South Bend, management turned to Roberto Caro. The switch-hitter was asked to make the jump straight from the Rookie League, and his play in 2016 sometimes reflected that. In 59 games in South Bend, the 23-year old went .231/.304/.286/.590 with four doubles, three triples, 18 RBI and four stolen bases. While playing all three outfield positions, Caro saw his main duty in left field, posting a below average .962 fielding percentage. Due to his ability to switch-hit and play all over the outfield, expect Caro to hang in as a spare outfielder in the system.
One of the most physically gifted players in the Cubs’ minor leagues, Kevonte Mitchell is starting to learn how to turn that into production. The former basketball standout and high school third baseman has made great strides while returning to Short Season-A Eugene this past season. Showing a dramatic improvement at the plate, Mitchell batted .243/.318/.378/.696 with 12 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 27 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 62 games. The 21-year old was part of a very athletic out field that played very well together during the Emeralds’ Northwest League Championship run. Mitchell is still a work in progress in the outfield, and played equally in both left and right fields. Moving forward, left field seems to be a better home for Mitchell.
Another player learning a new position, Yohan Matos is making strides in his overall play. The former catcher was moved to the outfield to take better advantage of his athletic ability. Although he turned 20 on Oct. 6, it appears that the Cubs may have rushed Matos’ development as he repeated with the AZL Cubs in 2016. Matos struggled at the plate, hitting .241/.346/.343/.689 with five doubles, three triples, 12 RBI and five stolen bases in 39. His outfield play was a cringe-worthy .887 fielding percentage. After Matos batted .289 as a 17-year old in the DSL two years ago, it seemed the sky would be the limit. Now, it’s just a slow exhale and a hope for the best.
Drafted in the 38th round in 2016, little is known about Tolly Filotei other than he bats left-handed, attended Faulkner State Community College (Alabama), and batted .268/.373/.378 with seven stolen bases as a sophomore. In 24 games for the AZL Cubs after signing, the 20-year old hit .161/.299/.179/.477 with a double, 10 RBI, and for stolen bases. Although his played all over the outfield, at 5-foot-6, 155-pounds Filotei projects best for left field.
Showing incremental improvement, 18-year old Jose Jules provides some hope that he may become a player to watch. The second-year pro was the primary left fielder for the Cubs-1 team in the Dominican Summer League and batted .224/.283/.318/.601 with seven doubles, three triples, a home run, 12 RBI and 18 stolen bases in 49 games. Jules made great strides in the field, but still needs to improve on his .973 average.
A player Cubs fans should have on their radar is Abraham Rodriguez. At 17-years old, Rodriguez hit .255/.289/.355/.643 with 11 doubles, four triples, a home run, 33 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 58 games of his first professional season. The left-hander showed some good patience at the plate, striking out only 25 times in 220 at bats for the C-2 team. Defensively, Rodriguez fielded .964 in the outfield, but a decent .990 in 12 starts at first base.