Chicago Cubs third base prospect Jeimer Candelario was climbing the prospect rankings heading into the 2014 season. As a switch hitter with a patient approach and power potential, and consistently young for his level with decent results, it was easy to see what there was to like.
A quick bump to High-A last year when he was just 20 was the first serious challenged for Candelario, and, by his slash line, he struggled: .193/.275/.326. After a return to Low-A, Candelario turned things around: .250/.300/.426. Except all that actually changed was a slight uptick in power, a drop in his walk rate, and a huge increase (regression) in his BABIP (from .218 at High-A to .284 at Low-A). Did Candelario need a step back to work some things out and improve the quality of his contact? Maybe. Was some of it small sample better bounces? Maybe.
Whatever the case, Candelario was once again given the challenge of High-A this year, and, after hitting .270/.318/.415 (112 wRC+) for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 343 plate appearances.
That earned him a promotion to AA – again, he’s just 21 – where he’s hit .340/.373/.468 in 14 games so far with the Tennessee Smokies. He’s also become impossible to strike out (7.8%), which has been calling card of Smokies hitters this year for whatever reason, and will probably trend northward as the sample gets larger.
Candelario hit his first AA homer this weekend, a rip job to right:
It’ll be interesting to see how Candelario finishes up his AA season, and then what the Cubs do with him from there.
I’m referring, of course, to the ever-looming Rule 5 threat – Candelario is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, which means the Cubs would have to put him on the 40-man roster if they wanted to protect him from selection. Would another team take the chance on his upside, knowing that there’s almost no chance he’d be ready to contribute meaningfully at the big league level in 2016? Do the Cubs take the risk of not rostering him, expecting the same?
As I sit here today, I don’t know enough about Candelario’s glove and ability to contribute off of the bench at the big league level to speculate on whether he’d be selected. Every year there are talented, high-upside, young and raw prospects exposed to the Rule 5, and every year – almost without exception – those types get passed on. Even for a rebuilding club, it’s simply too difficult to use a 25-man spot on such a player for most of the next season, while simultaneously trying to continue that player’s development (which is typically at a critical stage). One recent counterexample I can think of is Delino Deshields, Jr., whom the Rangers took from the Astros last year, despite his having played only 114 games above A-ball, and none at AAA. He’s actually had a great deal of success with the Rangers this year. So, it does happen, though Deshields is something of an extreme case.
Such is the trouble with stockpiling so much young talent over a multi-year stretch for the Cubs. Not only do the minor leagues swell with talent that cannot all be kept, but the 40-man roster swells with younger, talented players who must be kept.
Candelario won’t be the only tough rostering decision the Cubs have to make after this year, though they may elect to clear up some of that by way of trades in November and early December.
By the way: the Rule 5 eligibility rules (which are tied to the age at which a player signs) sure do make Latin American players (who frequently sign at 16, as opposed to American high school players, who frequently sign at 18) eligible for the Rule 5 draft much younger than other prospects.
Second by the way: Arizona Phil keeps a tidy, updated Rule 5 eligible list over at TCR if you ever want to check it out.