Prospect evaluation is a tricky thing, and the further from the majors the prospects are, the trickier the evaluation. The trickiest cases of them all are the those who are just starting their professional careers in the Caribbean Leagues. In most cases the only data is the data on the stat sheets, and evaluating purely from numbers is never the best practice.
As a result, when looking at Caribbean league numbers, I am generally only looking for standout numbers. It takes a lot for a prospect to even be brought to Arizona, and that sort of talent tends to show by means of unusual stat lines. Maybe they walk more than they strike out, or they post absurdly low hits per nine innings from the mound. Maybe they show a mix of power and speed that is intriguing on its own independent of other numbers. Or maybe the just dominate the rest of the league. Those sorts of standout lines do not always point the way to prospects, but I think looking for them is probably the best way to sift talent out of the statistics.
After the weekly recap of the six mainland minor league teams, I’ll run down a few of the most standout lines from two fairly good looking Caribbean teams.
Iowa Cubs : 42-38
After a good week the Cubs are back to within a game and a half of first place Omaha. With Javier Baez heating up, Kris Bryant being Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara looking like he’s ready for a promotion, and now with the added threat of Manny Ramirez, the Cubs have the lineup to take the division. The only question is if they will still have the pitching after the trade deadline.
The Cubs return home on Monday to face Omaha with first place on the line, and then head out to Oklahoma City for the weekend. They return the visit to Omaha the following week.
Tennessee Smokies : 7-3
Four road wins have carried the Smokies to the best second half record in the Southern League. Their lead is just one game over Huntsville, but since Huntsville won the first half they would not take the second half playoff slot if they were to win the division again. In terms of locking up the second half playoff ticket, Tennessee leads Chattanooga by two.
The Smokies are at home against Montgomery through Thursday. On Friday they open a weekend series in Birmingham.
Daytona Cubs : 7-3
After a miserable first half, the bats are coming to life in Florida and the Daytona Cubs are tied for first with Brevard County. They will need their bats to stay hot, though, if they are to win the division in the second half and then defend their title in the playoffs.
The Cubs have four games against Brevard County this week, split between the two home parks (on alternating nights, actually), so this is a great opportunity for Daytona to take first place out right and open a bit of distance on the competition.
Kane County Cougars : 7-2
Not content with winning the first half title in the Midwest League Western division, Kane County is working on winning the second half title as well. They are in first place by half a game over Peoria.
And after the Cougars wrap up a series in Beloit, they come home on Tuesday to face Peoria in a three game set. If Kyle Schwarber isn’t enough of a reason for Chicago area Cubs fans to pack the Kane County stadium for the midweek series, then consider that Peoria is part of the Cardinals organization.
Boise Hawks : 6-10
A miserable 1-7 record on the road has dropped the Hawks into last place, four games behind the leading Hillsboro Hops.
They have a chance to even out their road record a little as they play in Tri-City through Thursday. On Friday they come home to start a weekend series against Eugene.
Arizona Cubs : 4-3
The AZL Cubs are in a three way tie for first atop the East Division with the Angels and the Giants. Even the last place Athletics are only a game and a half back, though, so this division is still wide open.
The Cubs are at home to start the week, but on July 3 they hit the road for the Padres (and others) and do not return until July 8.
Prospects In The Caribbean
From the Venezuelan Summer League Cubs, third baseman Wladimir Galindo is worth a careful look. He has 39 hits on the season, and over half of them went for extra bases (15 doubles, one triple, and 5 home runs). His strikeout rate is around 22%, and that is a touch high given the level, but given his OPS of .910, I’m perfectly willing to see what might happen to that strikeout rate in higher levels. Best of all, Galindo is just 17 years old. Strong numbers at a young age bode well for his future.
VSL outfielder Luis Hidalgo is a few months older than Galindo, but still young enough for the league. And he trails only Galindo on the VSL Cubs in OPS. Hidalgo, listed as a catcher in some places despite playing just one game at that position this year, is hitting for average (.353) while sporting a tiny strikeout rate of 7.9%. At 5.6% his walk rate is smaller than his K%, but not by much. Hidalgo has some power, as shown by his three home runs and his ISO of .147, but with 5 steals in 8 tries he also has some speed.
The Dominican Summer League Cubs do have a young catcher who is actually playing that position in Yohan Matos, though, and he is notable on a couple of fronts. First, his walk rate of 18.9% eclipses his strikeout rate of 17%. That is a very good sign. Second, his SLG of .512 and his ISO of .209 suggest that he has plenty of power potential. Finally, he is also just 17 years of age.
Oscar De La Cruz caught my eye last year, and at age 19 he is in the league for a second season. His K/9 is around 7.00 through five games, but in the 27 innings he has pitched he has allowed just 15 hits. Combined with his 8 walks, and he is sitting on a WHIP of 0.85. That’s not bad at all.
Carlos A. Rodriguez has been playing in the Summer Leagues since 2012, but despite that he does not turn 19 until mid July. The young lefty is striking out 9.28 per nine innings through 21 innings this year, and is giving up walks at a miniscule 0.84 BB/9. His ERA of 2.11 is very good, but his FIP of 1.83 is even better.
And then we have Santiago Rodriguez, age 20 and in his first year. He is truly a bit of an odd case. Through 26 innings this year his K/9 is an anemic 4.85, his BB/9 is an OK 1.73, and his ERA is a stirling 0.00. After six games this guy has yet to allow an earned run (he does have three unearned on his resume). In cases like this it can be very helpful to look at FIP, but even his FIP of 2.97 is better than I would expect from a guy who does not strike out very many. For now he is a guy to keep an eye on.
This list does not cover all the prospects in the Caribbean leagues, but if you were listing out some names to monitor for coming years, I think this collection would be a good place to start. Of course, had they not already gone to the United States, Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez (who still is oddly absent from any lineups) would likely be right at the top of this list.