Position Analysis – Right Field
The final look at the position players in the Cubs system shifts to the other corner in the outfield, a spot that could be filled at the Major League level for years to come. The No. 9 position on the scorecard has a lot of talent throughout the organization. Today, the CCO takes focuses on the Cubs’ right fielders.
The big question on the minds of Cubs fans going into the 2017 season is “Which Jason Heyward is going to show up?” Will it be the player the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract last offseason? Or will it be the player that hit a career low .230 and spent a lot of the postseason on the bench? The faithful can hang their hat on Heyward’s Gold Glove.
It has not been that long ago that a player having the season Bijan Rademacher did in 2016 would not only won him the Minor League Player of the Year Award, but a good chance to a part of the Major League roster the following season. But the Cubs now stand a good chance of losing the 25-year old in the Rule 5 Draft. The 13th round pick from the 2012 draft pick began last season at Double-A Tennessee. With no infield experience probably since little league, the former pitcher was asked to add first base to his repertoire, which he gamely did for 14 appearances. During the 2016 season, Rademacher played all three outfield positions and hit in every slot in the batting order. Nothing seemed to faze he left-hander as he batted .313 for the Smokies before being promoted to Triple-A Iowa in August. But Rademacher did not stop as he hit .286 for the I-Cubs to finish at .307/.385/.466/.851 with 22 doubles, 10 home runs and 44 RBI in 108 games. As an outfielder that is willing to take chances, Rademacher comes up with a lot of big plays but occasionally has some glaring mistakes. However, there is no mistaking his throwing arm, which is probably one of the best in the franchise. For those who have been around a while, Rademacher draws a good comparison to former Yankee Roy White, an outfielder during the 1970’s that did a lot of the dirty work while teammates like Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson and Lou Piniella grabbed the headlines.
Actually beating Rademacher to Iowa by two months, Mark Zagunis most likely will spend the bulk of 2017 back in Des Moines. That’s because the former catcher will still be polishing his outfield skills. The 2014 third round draft choice split his season nearly evenly between Tennessee and Iowa, hitting .302 in 51 games for the Smokies before playing 50 games for the I-Cubs. The 23-year old had his season cut short for the second year in a row as a broken foot shelved Zagunis for the final month of the season. For the year Zagunis batted .288/.384/.469/.853 with 25 doubles, five triples, 10 home runs, 49 RBI and five stolen bases in 101 games. Where Zagunis lines up in the field may depend on just how he develops from this point on. Zagunis has been gradually increasing his power numbers, while he failed to record double digit steals for the first time in his career. If Zagunis continues this trend, lining up in the traditionally run-producing position of right field is not out of the question. However, if Zagunis’ numbers remain static, he will make a very productive left fielder. Defensively, Zagunis has to improve on his .958 fielding percentage for right, but showed he has the potential in fielding a perfect 1.000 as a left fielder.
Blessed with four of the five tools of which prospects are judged on (hits for power, speed, defense, throwing arm), Jeffrey Baez is one of the most talented player in the entire Cubs minor league system. However, the 23-year old has never been able to put it all together for an entire season. Completing his sixth year as a Cubs minor-leaguer, Baez spent the year at High-A Myrtle Beach and batted .241/.324/.363/.687 with 15 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 45 RBI and 38 stolen bases in 113 games. Baez had a lot of success early in his career as a leadoff hitter, but his lack of plate discipline and emerging power has dictated him moving down in the order. Baez is a player who seems to have a hard time adjusting, but once he does ends up posting some very good numbers. As an outfielder, Baez can be a little daring and reckless, which is why his fielding averages suffer at times as he had a career high .978 average in 2016. What has never been in question is Baez’s arm strength. After racking up 17 assists in 2015, Baez totaled only five last year. But, having three in one game early on may have also had something to do with that.
It was a tale of two seasons for Daniel Spingola, and just what direction his career goes is uncertain. Coaches for Low-A South Bend considered the 23-year old their first half MVP, as he hit .309 in 39 games, did not commit and error in 40 chances over all three outfield positions, and provided quiet and steady leadership. Spingola was promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach in early June and got caught in a numbers game, finding his way into only 49 more contests for the year and batting .231. For the season, the lefty was .267/.347/.346/.693 with 18 doubles, a triple, a home run, 27 RBI and eight stolen bases in 87 games. Spingola may not be as good as his numbers defensively in South Bend, but he is much more solid than his overall .964 average. Whether Spingola can raise his level of play or be just a good fourth outfielder remains to be seen.
A big free agent signing in the offseason, Eddy Julio Martinez overcame a lot to put together a productive first season in America. Coming to a whole new country and not having played competitive baseball since 2014, the 21-year old had a bumpy start to his professional career, hitting only .224 over the first two months of the season before going .311 in June and July, then tailing off with a .217 August. Overall, Martinez was .254/.331/.380/.711 with 24 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 67 RBI and eight stolen bases in 126 games. While a good debut, Martinez needs to cut down on his 113 strikeouts. Defensively, Martinez has a lot of tools but still needs a lot of work. Playing primarily right, Martinez fielded .978 overall and had 12 assists. Looking forward to next season, expect player development to have Martinez get a long look in center field as well as playing right field for High-A Myrtle Beach.
Both a Northwest League Midseason and Postseason All-Star, Robert Garcia is essentially a centerfielder playing right field. Overshadowed by a sterling pitching staff and high profile prospects Darryl ‘D.J.’ Wilson and Wladimir Galindo, Garcia was the glue that kept Short Season-A Eugene together early in their championship season. When Wilson was overwhelmed at the leadoff position, Garcia took over and batted .265 with four stolen bases before going down with an injury. For the season, the switch-hitter went .283/.345/.418/.763 with 13 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 19 RBI and five stolen bases in 49 games. Garcia had swiped 50 bases in the three years prior to 2016, but was asked to play more within the confines of the offense this past season. On defense, the 22-year old has great range and showed more discipline in posting a career high .988 fielding percentage. Garcia lacks top arm strength, but it can be considered adequate for either right or center field.
Time may be running out on Michael Foster, the 16th round pick from the 2015 draft, as it appears that the front office simply does not know what to do with him. The 23-year old Canadian was drafted as an outfielder and played well there after signing. But Foster struggled in the field last season, fielding .899 and took a turn a catcher while even pitching in three games. Foster hit only .176/.276/.235/.511 with three doubles, five RBI and two stolen bases in 20 games while posting a 9.00 ERA and 1.667 WHIP with six strikeouts in three innings pitched. While Foster is a good athlete, he has not distinguished himself in any area.
The Cubs have signed a number of players out of Mexico recently, but Ruben Reyes seems to be a little rougher around the edges than the others. The 21-year old saw his first action in the United States last season and hit .245/.276/.294/.570 with seven doubles, 11 RBI and a stolen base in 42 games for the AZL Cubs. The left-handed hitter also needs a lot of work in the outfield, posting a .932 average. However, since lefties are usually in short supply, expect the Cubs to have patience with Reyes.
A high profile international signing, Kwang-Min Kwon impressed observers in the Fall Instructional League last year. But when Spring Training rolled around, the native of South Korea had all kinds of trouble catching up with Major League caliber pitching. With no other real option, the Cubs held the 18-year old out of the Arizona Rookie League until they could rebuild his swing. Player Development was finally satisfied at the beginning of August and Kwon participated in nine games, hitting .267/.353/.333/.686 with two doubles, an RBI and a stolen base. Kwon has good athleticism for a player 6-foot-2, 210 pound, but many feel that he will eventually move to first base from the outfield as he matures. Kwon acquitted himself well in the outfield, fielding perfectly and recording two assists.
The front office got little production from teenaged prospects Tony Rijo and Luis Ubiera for the Cubs-2 team in the Dominican Summer League. Nineteen-year old Rijo showed a little more pop this past season, but at the cost of batting average. Rijo hit .161/.303/.271/.574 with eight doubles, a triple, a home run, 15 RBI and six stolen bases in 41 games. Rijo also did not show much improvement in the outfield, fielding only .935.
Twenty-year old Luis Ubiera was the better defensive player of the two, sporting a perfect fielding percentage with four assists in 41 appearances. Like Rijo, Ubiera had trouble getting on-track at the plate, batting .200/.266/.232/.498 with four doubles, 13 RBI and five stolen bases in 42 games. Ubiera did show a better 11:30 walk-to-strikeout ratio, so there is some hope offensively.
One of the prizes of last year’s international signings, Jonathan Sierra had a good professional debut. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, the 18-year old reminds many of Darryl Strawberry physically and with the bat speed he generates. As a 17-year old, Sierra hit .264/.384/.341/.725 with 11 doubles, three triples, 19 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 64 games for Cubs-1. While he could use a little polishing, Sierra fielded a respectable .981 with two assists in 57 outfield appearances.