With spring training right around the corner, it is almost time for me to wrap up the Prospects Progress series and transition into looking at the organization a little more broadly. Ultimately we are heading for the 2015 pre-season edition of the Top 40 Prospects List, but that is still a few weeks away.
In the meantime, Bijan Rademacher is an outfielder well worth our attention. Long known more for his arm than his bat, Rademacher quietly put together a solid 2014 campaign that has him poised for a potential breakout season this summer.
Prospects Progress, in case you’ve forgotten, is the annual offseason series that focuses on players at all levels of the minors. Each article will take one prospect … maybe a big name you instantly recognize, and maybe a fringe guy you haven’t heard of … and will spend some time looking at his numbers, his risk factors, and how he projects to fit into the Cubs’ future.
Bijan Rademacher , OF
Born: June 15, 1991
Acquired: The Cubs drafted Rademacher in the 13th round in 2012.
It can be tough for a hitter to draw attention to himself in a Cubs farm system that features, arguably, the greatest collection of offensive prospects in the post-strike era. Rademacher, 23, managed to grab a small piece of the spotlight with a successful Daytona campaign in 2014, and if he can repeat that success at Double A he is going to draw more significant notice as one of the best left handed bats in the system and as a potential contributor to the Cubs in 2016 and beyond.
With a Florida State League line of .281/.363/.448, it would probably fair to say that Rademacher quietly enjoyed his breakout season last year. His walk rate over 111 FSL games was strong (9.6%), his strikeout rate was healthy (19.9%), and he ISO’d a respectable .167. Then, as an encore, he went to Arizona and significantly improved on all of those figures in limited action during the Fall League. Interestingly, he stole as many bases in 11 games with the Solar Sox as he did all year with Daytona (four).
Those 2014 figures, despite coming at a higher level, actually beat out his overall 2013 Midwest League numbers by a fair margin. That’s not entirely surprising, stats do not always come down the higher in the minors a hitter goes, but it is always a good sign to see year over year improvement despite stepping up the difficulty. If he can maintain that level of production in Double A, he is going to emerge into a lot of prospect conversations as a part of a crowd of Cubs minor league outfield talent.
Where Does He Fit?
Some of you may be looking at Rademacher’s 2014 line and thinking it looks awfully familiar. And it should. Rademacher came within a few percentage points in each category of matching what Chris Coghlan did for the Cubs last season. That’s not to say that Rademacher is going to equate to Coghlan at the major league level (performing in the majors is vastly more difficult than performing in High A, after all), but it does give a bit of an indicator the sort of player Rademacher can be. I don’t think we’re looking at a future star here, but he does have the potential to emerge as a very nice left handed complement to the Cubs largely right handed collection of young outfield sluggers. If things break right he could be an everyday type in one of the corners, but right now I think his eventual future is as a fourth outfielder who gets plenty of at bats, sees plenty of pitches, drives the ball well, and flashes above average power.
And maybe as the heir to John Baker in the hearts of everyone who occasionally loves to watch position players pitch.
Rademacher was sought after by many teams as a pitcher out of community college, but he wanted to hit. The Cubs agreed to let him, and so far it is hard to argue with that decision despite Rademacher’s perfect ERA.
That’s right, perfect. Rademacher has made three appearances on the mound in professional career, all in 2013, and he has yet to give up an earned run. He has a WHIP of 2.000, a BB/9 of 12, and three runs allowed (none earned), but a pristine ERA of 0.00.
So where does this hybrid of Coghlan and Baker project to play this season? Almost certainly in Tennessee, but right away that answer raises questions. Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will almost certainly be joining Rademacher in Double A and getting regular at bats. Pin-Chieh Chen, a fringe prospect in his own right, will likely be seeing some time off the bench, and I strongly suspect that Kyle Schwarber will spend some time in the outfield when not behind the plate. That is a talented and crowded outfield. I suspect Rademacher will be a starting corner outfielder on the days Schwarber catches (which will be most of them, at least early in the season), but that could change before spring training is over.
He should see regular at bats, regardless of how they come, and when he is at the plate the main thing will be to watch his patience, power, and what he does while on the basepaths. If he continues to hold a good walk rate, then he is likely to maintain a fairly high OBP that should serve him well when he starts fighting for a job in Wrigley in a year and a half or so. His power numbers were likely depressed somewhat by the Florida State League factor, and could notch upwards a bit this season. That would also help out his stock.
It’s his work on the basepaths that I’ll be watching the most closely. Rademacher has never been known for his speed, so his four steals in 47 trips to the plate in the AFL caught me by surprise. If that is an aspect of his game he is able to build on this season, even just to the point of 10 to 15 steals a year, it is just going to make him potentially more valuable.
I wouldn’t list Rademacher as an obvious trade target yet, but I suspect teams will be checking on him when the scout the rest of the talent the Cubs will have in Double A this season. If the Cubs are buyers at the deadline, his will be a name I expect to hear come up in rumors. If he stays with the Cubs, look for a Wrigley Field arrival no earlier than mid 2016.