It’s simply astounding when you look at the Chicago Cubs wealth of promising infield prospects. Jeimer Candelario fits that bill. As one of 2016’s fast-rising prospects, Candelario rose from Double-A to a quick stint in the big leagues this past season.
The switch-hitting infielder was signed in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic for $500,000 by the Cubs, pocket change in today’s international free agency frenzies. He has developed into a nice third base prospect over the past few seasons, showing middling over-the-fence power, great strike zone recognition and solid use of gap-to-gap hitting. There’s just one problem.
So who is Candelario and where does he fit in to the Chicago Cubs future?
Candelario had a strong debut at the age of 17 in the Dominican Summer League and followed it up with a strong sophomore campaign in 2012 in the Northwest League. His first year at full-season ball — as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League — really caught people’s attention. He slashed .256/.346/.396 finishing third in the Midwest League in doubles with 35, in the top-ten in walks with 68 and breaking the double-digit barrier in home runs for the first time in his career with 11.
With many eyes upon him for 2014, Candelario faltered. He reached High-A, but didn’t look at all like the prospect he had become over the first three years of his career. He slashed .193/.275/.326 over 62 games in the Florida State League, posting his worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career at 44-to-23. Luckily, he would bounce back with a strong 2015.
Candelario played at two levels in 2015, slashing a combined .277/.339/.431 with 10 home runs and 35 doubles. He began the year in the FSL again, but earned a promotion to Double-A. This was what was most promising for the Cubs. A year after struggling with a promotion to the most advanced pitching he had ever seen, he looked comfortable at his highest level yet. Once in Tennessee, he slashed .291/.379/.462 and walked more times (22) than he struck out (21) against the most advanced pitching he had faced to date.
This season was more of the same. He began the year slowly in Double-A, but was promoted to the Pacific Coast League, where he spent the majority of the season with the Iowa Cubs. It isn’t surprising to see an offensive surge in the hitter-friendly ballparks of the PCL, but Candelario showed just that. Over his 76 games with the I-Cubs, he slashed .333/.417/.542, posting a career-best OPS of .959 and a wRC+ of 155. He raked nine home runs and 22 doubles while striking out 53 times and walking 38. Striking out 17.2 percent of the time isn’t awful in today’s game, especially when you can offset it with a 12.3 percent walk rate.
He also showed how he uses all fields to hit successfully, all while making consistent, solid contact from both sides of the plate. He seems to hit southpaws as a right-handed hitter for better average (.320) but the bulk of his power comes as a left-handed hitter against righties, smacking ten of his 13 home runs from the left side of the plate. You can see he spreads the ball around well, hugely advantageous to a switch-hitter.
His play earned him a July Fourth weekend in the bigs. It was only five games and he didn’t do too much, registering just one hit, but he made it. Perhaps it was an audition for the trade deadline as much as need, but Candelario returned to Iowa and played well.
While his bat is a big positive, his play in the field is where problems seem to arise. He is a solid third baseman, a bit error prone earlier in his career, but has settled in as a .960 to .970 fielder at the hot corner. He has a good enough arm to stick there as well, but lacks the speed and footwork to shift to middle infield — where Ian Happ is next in line — or outfield, where Eloy Jiminez eagerly awaits his turn. And he certainly will not be replacing Kris Bryant anytime soon.
It will be interesting to see where Candelario goes from here. The Cubs have many interchangeable parts in their lineup with Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and even Bryant able to play a bevy of positions, so they don’t seem to need another utility player, especially one limited by defensive question marks at other positions. Plus, Candelario seems to have a full-time player role in his future, if he were in the right organization. Don’t be surprised to see his name dangled around at the winter meetings, but you can expect another solid 2017 wherever he lands.