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jeimer candelario cougarsThird base has emerged as one of the strongest positions in the Cubs’ farm system. The perceived proximity of third base options like Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez (not to mention options who used to play third, like Junior Lake and Josh Vitters) has drawn most of the hot corner prospect talk in those directions. The downside of that, however, is that we might be overlooking some very good infield options who are nearly ready to break out of the low minors.

Heading that list is Jeimer Candelario. Last season Candelario was young for his level, but responded by showing that he is a refined, disciplined switch hitter with plenty of projectable power left in his bat. He made some solid strides as a third baseman as well. Interested yet?

First, though, I offer this disclaimer. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Born: November 24, 1993
Acquired: It cost the Cubs half a million to sign Candelario as an International Free Agent in the summer of 2010.

Season Summary

For his age 19 season Candelario spent the summer playing third base for Low A Kane County. Over 130 games and 572 plate appearances the switch hitter hit .256/.346/.396 with 11 home runs, 35 doubles, a walk rate of 11.9%, and a strikeout rate of 15.4%. By those numbers combined, his wOBA was .346 and his wRC+ was 112.

More Numbers!

Given his age, even the red flags here really aren’t red flags. His SLG was weak, but he finished 3rd in the league in doubles, 26th in home runs, and posted an ISO of .140. And on top of that, we know that power is one of the last tools to develop in most hitters. It is easy to look at Candelario and see 20 to 25 home run power in a few years.

Fans of batting average will sneer at his paltry .256, but the double digit walk rate and low strikeout rate effectively demonstrate that this is a guy who knows his way around the strike zone. He may never hit for a very high average, but between the plate discipline and the projectable power I have little trouble envisioning him posting .800+ OPS figures before he leaves the minors. Candelario is showing nearly all the skills we look for in professional hitters, and he is doing so at a very young age.

Looking at his splits we find still more generally good news. Candelario displays most of his current power as a left handed hitter (.251/.341/.406, 10 HR, .343 wOBA), but that is offset by his higher contact rate and greater OBP as a right handed hitter (.277/.372/.375, 1 HR, .353 wOBA). From either side of the plate the the strikeout rate is healthy, the walk rate is very good, and the numbers project very nicely moving forward.

Candelario’s progress was not just at the plate. He did commit 26 errors in his 121 games at third, but considering he committed 20 errors in just 59 games with Boise the year before it isn’t hard to see some evidence of progress. Counting errors is not a great way to measure defense, but in this case the scouting reports back up the numbers. There are still some questions about his ability to stay at third long term, but those questions are much quieter now than they were a year ago. Now the questions have less to do with his ability to handle the position and more with his ability to find some playing time there in an organization that is simply loaded with third base talent.

Despite that affluence of third base potential, Candelario could force the Cubs into making some complicated decisions this season. He is showing many signs of being a hitter who could move quickly, but he will run into a log jam almost right away. That sort of thing is a good problem for any organization to have, and Candelario hasn’t made it a problem yet, but if he breaks out early next season I suspect there will be some conference calls in which Candelario’s name and future feature prominently.

Prognosis

We’ll start with the easy part. Candelario will open the 2013 season as the regular third baseman for Daytona. He’ll likely continue to have very healthy walk and strikeout rates, will not post a high average but will have a very good OBP, and will probably show more power than he did in 2013 (after we take into consideration league factors). He’ll continue to show improvements with the glove, but at the end of the season he will still likely have positional questions hanging over him.

But let’s say he performs very well. Would the Cubs accelerate him to Tennessee in mid-season?

They might. Candelario is exactly the sort of hitter they would love to have in the majors one day. As a patient switch hitter he offers two things the Cubs are lacking from some of their other high profile prospects – a high OBP and the ability to hit left handed. There is no need to rush Candelario, nor would there be any excuse for doing so, but there is little reason to delay him either.

And that brings us back to position. He is buried at his two most likely positions, third base and first base, but with a strong enough performance at the plate he could conceivably push the rest of the third base candidates who survive into the outfield and claim that job for his own. That is a tall order, though, because he has two current baseball-wide Top 30 prospects ahead of him and another guy (Mike Olt) who was a Top 100 the last time he was healthy still hanging around the system.

So what is the future for Candelario? Good question. His immediate job is to keep improving with the glove, keep developing at the plate, and to make the Cubs find a way to write him in to their future plans. He still has a lot of developing to do, but a major league debut at the age of 21 is very believable for this guy. His development in 2014, his age 20 season, should be one of the bigger stories to watch this summer.

Photo via Cougars Facebook page.

  • Jon

    trade bait

    • Baseball_Writes

      For sure.

    • nkniacc13

      Im not sure he is but I would be surprised if the Cubs don’t make a move at least by trade deadline in regards to their 3rd baseman overload. It may be prospect for prospect but with the depth I think they make a move

  • itzscott

    Been following Candelario a bit. To me he seems to be on the same trajectory and upside as Aramis Ramirez did when he was developing.

    Ramirez’s power came later and they also questioned his defense & ability to remain at 3rd. He didn’t hit for a high average but had a decent OBP.

    I’d like to see the Cubs hold onto this guy and let him develop to the point that he’s knocking at the door before they even consider him excess and trading him.

  • ShootTheGoat

    Luke, You mentioned Vitters at the beginning. Do you think that he (Vitters) will get a chance to start in Left for big league team out of spring training or will he be back at AAA playing Third or Left?

    • Voice of Reason

      Vitters is a player without a position because he can’t play defense. That’s going to be his issue moving forward. I suppose they will put him in the outfield knowing there is a log jam at third AND knowing that Vitters will never play 3B in the bigs.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Vitters tendency to swing at unhittable pitches might be a bigger hindrance to his MLB career!

        • Kyle

          His BB rate isn’t that bad.

      • Voice of Reason

        Doc:

        He can get on base and he would hit if given 600 ab’s. He would strike out a lot, but at the same time he will take a walk. He wouldn’t hit for a high average, but his OBP would be decent.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Vitter’s isoD in miLB is less than 0.05. That almost never improves in MLB. So, he’s the kind of guy who could have a decent looking BA while still having an unacceptable OBP.

          • mjhurdle

            So you are saying the Vitters might become the Anti-Rizzo?

          • Scotti

            “Vitter’s isoD in miLB is less than 0.05. That almost never improves in MLB.”

            Both of Vitters AAA seasons (individually and separately) show a marked improvement in his walk rate (6.8% without IBB, overall). 4.8% to 6.8% is a hell of an improvement but his walk rate prior to reaching AAA was only 3.8% (a 79% improvement). Additionally, his last two years are not a small sample–143 games and 569 PA. Add his brief MLB 109 PA (6.4% walk rate) and you’re looking at 179 games and 678 PA of significantly higher walk rates at higher levels.

            There is no reason to believe that Vitters, who’s offensive numbers have improved across the board at AAA, hasn’t, well, improved. There certainly is no reason to believe that the last two years have been some sort of mirage. This Josh Vitters isn’t your father’s Josh Vitters.

            Vitters has issues. He’s played a total of 3 games in the OF and, defensively he wasn’t able to cut it in the infield. But his walk rate is decent enough to assume that he will have a decent enough, or acceptable, OBP if he hits for a good average. He’ll play 2014 at 24 (until late August) so he has some time on his side. Still, it’s the defense that’s his bugaboo.

    • dAn

      I know you didn’t ask me to answer this, but FWIW the sense I get is that Vitters will be the every day LFer at Iowa, learning the OF and getting some much needed, consistent at bats after missing much of 2013 to injury.

      If Vitters has a great first 2-3 months, he can earn another shot with the Cubs. If Lake falters, a resurgent Vitters could take the job in LF, or if Sweeney struggles and Lake and Vitters are both playing very well (and Lake’s defense improves), they could potentially move Lake to CF and bring up Vitters to LF.

      There’s actually quite a few options for Vitters, because Lake has the range to play CF once he is more experienced in the OF, and Vitters has the arm to play RF if necessary–but he also needs OF experience. The key for Vitters is to force the Cubs’ hand by having a breakout offensive season at Iowa and adapting quickly to the OF as a defender.

      The current coterie of Cub outfielders–other than Junior Lake–are all stopgaps, so if Vitters can demonstrate to the Cubs brass that he could be a viable starter as an MLB corner OFer, they will certainly give him a shot. But Vitters may not be capable of doing what he needs to do. We’ll find out in 2014. Hopefully, he can establish himself as at least a platoon guy, but the defensive facet is huge with the Cubs FO, and Vitters doesn’t seem like a good candidate to have even average range in the OF. That could hurt him.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      He’ll probably have a chance to break with the major league team in a platoon role, at worst.

      That doesn’t mean he will, but he’s certainly a candidate.

  • Dumpgobbler

    When I think of Jeimer I think of Kevin Youklis.

  • Baseball_Writes

    Let’s not forget about Villanueva.

    • Scotti

      Another guy (like Olt) who was a top 100 guy before coming to the Cubs (both for the Rangers).

      • Scotti

        Lake and Vitters are done with 3rd, though.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I was wondering how this kid might project for a corner outfielder? It’s obvious that one of these guys will get traded at some point. Tough call between him and Villanueva.

    • Danny Ballgame

      As long as both keep developing and we have a competitive team playing at Wrigley, I don’t really care who is playing where. I’m most excited that we have a good amount of potential impact players at various levels in our system. The next few years should be fun to watch.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I don’t see Candelario as an outfielder. If he ever has to move off third, I think he’ll stop at first.

  • SenorGato

    While he is not the fourth best prospect, Candelario is my fourth favorite in the system. His bat has a higher ceiling than pretty much anyone out of the top 4.

    • SenorGato

      *outside

  • coondawg

    Ok dont get me wrong I appreciate all the advertisers because of them we can enjoy Brett, Luke, Sadahev and the new Bears addition to B/N….that being said I can’t wait till that Old Spice ad runs its course Dude is fricking creepy!!

  • Fastball

    I think it’s important to be realistic about the logjam at 3b. Probably a 3rd of this depth ever actually ends up playing at the ML level. Injuries an unforeseen ceilings just come out of nowhere for most. So I think patience will allow this to all play out. Hope for the best, I will be ecstatic if we end up with a logjam. But doubt we will end up having one in the end.

    • Kyle

      Yeah. There’s no such thing as a logjam until you have two MLB-ready players at the same position and you can’t easily move one to a different position. We don’t have that yet.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        It’s also rarely the case that a 3Bman cannot play another position: many can be moved to 2nd (as the Nats just did with Rendon and as the Pads just did with Gyorko) and if their bats are good enough, then most of them can be moved to corner OF.

        Really, it’s the guys who can play only 1B that cannot be moved down: and the history of baseball is littered with 1Bmen nick-named “Boog,” “Hoss,” “Boomer,” etc. for good reason!

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