Apropos of all of the chatter about this year’s increasingly expansive international crop of signees, the Chicago Cubs’ top international prospect from last year’s class is finally, finally, finally in the United States.
Last year, the Chicago Cubs signed Dominican pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua to a $1.5 million contract – a large sum, given their $2.9 million pool – which was actually his third deal with a Major League organization. After signing twice before and having contracts nullified over concerns about his age/identity, the Cubs took a chance on Paniagua’s talent last year. Although Major League Baseball declined to concur with the Cubs about Paniagua’s stated birth date – April 4, 1990 – it did eventually approve his contract in August. Paniagua came to the States, pitched a teeny tiny bit, and eventually headed back home to the Dominican Republic for the Winter.
When it came time to re-enter the States this year, Paniagua had some visa issues as the government investigated his background further. The process was torturous, and we haven’t even really had an update since early May. In the meantime, Paniagua has theoretically been staying sharp while pitching with the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League team.
But huzzah! At long last, the nightmare is over, as Ben Badler reports that Paniagua has finally passed through the visa process, and has arrived in Arizona. The 23-year-old righty is likely to spend some time getting re-acclimated before being assigned. Where he’ll be assigned is something of a mystery, given his strained development but advanced age. With the minor league seasons ending in late August/early September, he’s not going to get in a whole lot of time either way before instructional ball, and he’ll have lost almost another entire development year.
For that reason, and because we’ve seen him so little, it’s hard to say where he falls on the prospect scale. When he signed, there were numerous reports about just how good he was and how quickly he could move up the Cubs’ system. Some folks even said he instantly became the Cubs’ best pitching prospect.
To me, he’s an intriguing but unknown quantity. I have no doubt that he’s got good stuff, but I fear what two years of development purgatory have done to him. Hopefully he’s been keeping extremely sharp and had some good coaching from the Cubs’ staff down in the Dominican Republic (working with raw teenagers is probably quite different from working with a much more polished 22/23-year-old).