Today I took in more of the Cubs’ new facilities in Mesa, and also headed down to minor league camp, which technically started today. Of course, many of the most recognizable prospects are still with the big league contingent, so some of the guys you see are lesser known. The practice fields where the players were working out today are just fantastic for viewing opportunities, since they sit in a beer-league-softball-field-like clover, where all of the home plates are the center. You can literally look over your shoulder from one field to another.
Among the things I saw today …
- Big-time Dominican signee Eloy Jimenez is in camp, and he’s looking every bit of the “big kid” he’s been described as. At 17, he towers over guys several years older, and is like a miniature Jorge Soler in the making (physically, I mean). He’s not rail skinny either, like you might expect. (I didn’t see fellow big-time signee Gleyber Torres today, though if Jimenez is there, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Torres is, too. They’ll likely do extended Spring Training, and then possibly kick off their professional careers in the Arizona Rookie League – quite a compliment.) Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Jimenez hit, just run. And he ran fine. #Insight
- Juan Carlos Paniagua is here! After a mostly lost 2013 season thanks to visa issues, it looks like there won’t be any such problem this year. Now Paniagua just has to show the stuff that he flashed in the Dominican Republic when he was a bit younger, which led to three teams signing him (but the first two deals being kicked because of identity questions) – and the Cubs making him their big-time signing in the 2012 international class. Paniagua turns 24 in April, so he could be a fast-riser this year.
- Also in camp, Gerardo Concepcion, the Cuban pitcher the Cubs grabbed in early 2012 for a $6 million big-league deal, and who subsequently flopped thanks to mono, arm issues, and stuff that may not have been as good as advertised. So, yes, Concepcion is still with the organization, for those who have wondered. Concepcion only just turned 22 this week, so there’s still some time for him, assuming the troubles of the past two years have really just been health-related. Remember, he was pitching well in the highest league in Cuba when he was just 19. He clearly had some skills.
- Shawon Dunston, Jr. was among those taking batting practice, and he was showing off a very smooth swing. He doesn’t have much pop – the ball didn’t really jump off of the bat – but it was a line-drive swing, and that’s really all he needs in his game. Dunston just turned 21, and although he hasn’t accelerated through the system since being drafted in 2011, he did pull off a fantastic feat last year at Boise: 28 walks and just 25 strikeouts. He also stole 12 bases (2 CS) and had 10 extra base hits, with a .290/.378/.358. If the plate discipline is legit, and if he can add just a little more pop, watch out. He could quickly become a very real top-of-the-order prospect.
- I watched each of Trey Martin and Jacob Hannemann running sprint drills. The two are speedy outfielders who dealt with injury issues last year, and from what little I could tell, they appear healthy right now. They could be ticketed for Kane County to start out the year with a chance to move up quickly. Together with Dunston, though, the Cubs have a bit of a bit of a center field prospect glut below Albert Almora, with all three guys theoretically needing time as the starter at Kane County. And all three are legitimate prospects.
- Yasiel Balaguert isn’t a giant guy, but the ball just flies off of his bat. The somewhat unheralded Cuban defector turned 21 in January, and hit a little bit at Boise last year (.261/.331/.433). I would call it “effortless power,” but I’m not a scout and I don’t want to play one on the Internet.
- Trevor Gretzky is tall and skinny, and showed a little bit of power in BP. Somewhere in between Dunston and Balaguert. He did show off 80 grade niceness to some kids who were watching, making sure to greet them one-by-one and sign autographs.
- I caught a quick glimpse of possible future guy-you-should-know Mark Malave, the Venezuelan bonus baby from 2011 who just turned 19. He was signed as a catcher, then converted to third base, and is now possibly being converted back to catcher. He looked like a catcher to me.
- You can check out my Twitter time line for additional stuff, including a few Vines and a bunch of pictures (warning: most of the pictures are of silly things, because the fences made it hard to get great shots of the players).