Last week, the Chicago Cubs signed (well, “reportedly” signed, as the team has yet to make an official announcement) 19-year-old Cuban lefty Gerardo Concepcion to a $7 million Major League deal, which could reach $8 million in value with certain incentives.
Spending that kind of money and guaranteeing a 40-man roster spot to a 19-year-old kid suggests the Cubs think quite highly of Concepcion. To our eyes, though, there has been very little available on the lefty, thanks in large part to the restrictive nature of his home country. In other words: we haven’t really been able to watch the kid pitch. But the Cubs’ front office has been able to see him a number of times, and they clearly liked what they saw.
So, how did everyone else feel about the deal? About Concepcion’s future? Here are a number of notable bits on the Cubs’ newest, possibly best, left-handed pitching prospect:
- Most scouting reports have Concepcion as a very mature pitcher for his age. He is very polished, and has outstanding control. His fastball sits in the upper-80s/lower-90s, though that could tick higher in a couple years. He’s got a good breaking ball, and he also throws a changeup. Few believe he’s got an upside beyond a back-end of the rotation starter (though I highly doubt the Cubs would have spent so lavishly (even in the shadow of the new CBA) if they didn’t think there was a chance that he could be a three or a two), but he’s also thought to have a very high floor (i.e., low probability of completely busting).
- Baseball America had this to say: “Concepcion is a slender 6-foot-2 with long arms, sloped shoulders and an athletic, wiry build that could have some projection remaining. He has advanced feel for pitching for his age and has shown the ability to pitch with his fastball to both sides of the plate, though he doesn’t have the stuff to miss many bats. At times his fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, though some scouts have said they’ve seen him dip to 86-90 mph at times. Concepcion has had success in Cuba by being able to change speeds to keep hitters off balance. Some scouts like Concepcion’s mid-70s curveball, which shows good depth at times, but others say it gets loopy. He throws slightly across his body, which provides him with a little deception, but it’s a concern for some scouts who think his mechanics hamper his ability to get to the front side of his delivery and show consistency with his breaking ball. Concepcion also throws a changeup (some scouts have called it a splitter), though like many young pitchers it’s still a work in progress. While some scouts view Concepcion’s upside as a No. 5 starter, others see a bit more, though with his present stuff it’s hard to project more than a back-end starter for now.
- Concepcion was the rookie of the year at Cuba’s highest professional level last year, putting up a 3.36 ERA – 11th best in the league – in a little over 100 innings of work. He didn’t strike out too many, just 4.7 per 9, but didn’t walk a ton either (about 3.8 per 9). Numbers aren’t everything, but Concepcion’s are impressive. Even if you consider professional Cuban baseball to be the equivalent of High-A ball here, I’d be thrilled to see one of the Cubs’ 18-year-old pitching prospects put up those kind of numbers in Daytona.
- BP’s Kevin Goldstein weighed in both on the signing and on Concepcion as a prospect. As for Concepcion as a prospect, Goldstein would rank the lefty sixth in the Cubs’ system, but that doesn’t mean Goldstein is a huge fan. “This is not a guy to get crazy excited about,” Goldstein said on MLBN Radio. “This is not a guy who, if I had to re-do my Top 101 prospects list, I would put on. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider it. He wouldn’t even sniff the list …. His ceiling is probably as a four or five starter and that’s it. But, he does have a safer floor than most teenaged pitchers just because of how crazy polished he is. You talk to people who went to his private workouts and not-so-private workouts, he doesn’t show a ton of stuff.”
- Because of his age, Goldstein doesn’t think Concepcion will pitch beyond A-ball this year (recall, the Cubs can get a fourth option year if Concepcion spends this entire year at Low-A ball, so don’t be discouraged if that’s where he stays – if pitches at a higher level this year, he’s likely to get only three option years, which means the Cubs would have to call him up by 2015, when he’s just 22).
- As for the signing, Goldstein wasn’t impressed with the price paid by the Cubs, believing that the $7 million was far more than other teams offered (he hasn’t heard of an offer over $2.5 million), and was simply craziness associated with the upcoming changes to the CBA (to which I say … um, yeah, so? If that’s what it costs to ensure you get some of these kids before spending limits kick in, and you’ve got the money, why not use it?). Absent the CBA changes, Goldstein guessed that Concepcion would have been paid in the $1.5 to $2 million range.
- FanGraphs sees the signing as a good one, even if it was an “overpay”: “The lofty price tag does not mean the Chicago Cubs made a poor signing, though. Concepcion may not have a high ceiling, but he is an extremely polished young pitcher and is considered a safe bet to reach the big leagues in some capacity. Any big league talent that will be under team control for at least six seasons provides substantial value for a rebuilding club, like the Cubs, and if the organization has money to burn and overpay for a probable back-end starter, more power to them. It will ultimately help.”