There are three new Chicago Cubs (minor league players)! Things to discuss!
Per Baseball America, the Chicago Cubs have signed 27-year-old right-handed pitcher Maikel Cleto, 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Daniel Corcino, and 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Jhondaniel Medina.
Okay, so maybe three new Minor League signings of mostly unknown players isn’t the most interesting development in the Cubs’ first offseason following their World Series win, but they are each noteworthy in their own right and could plausibly eventually turn into players who, one day, have an impact on the Major League team.
So, let’s do what we always do and take a quick look at each, yes?
And since age always comes before beauty (that’s why Brett’s name is always listed before mine), let’s start with Maikel Cleto.
Cleto was originally signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the New York Mets back in 2006. Then, he began his moving career. In the ten years that followed his first contract with the Mets, Cleto was traded to the Mariners and then the Cardinals, before being claimed off waivers by the Royals, and eventually by the White Sox. Last May, he signed with the Vaqueros Laguna (Mexican Baseball League) in May, before signing with the Braves in July. He entered the offseason as a free agent and the Cubs took a chance on him.
Despite the journeyman story, Cleto was (once upon a time) considered to be a pretty good prospect, ranking as high 14th on the Cardinals list in 2011, before making his debut with them later that season. However, he hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since his time with the Sox back in 2014. That year (29.1 IP – his highest inning total in the Majors) he finished with just a 4.60 ERA and a 16.7% walk rate (yikes), but an above average 23.2% strikeout rate. He isn’t particularly adept at inducing groundballs or weak contact, but he can throw 100 MPH and that, I suspect, is what the Cubs are hoping he can do for them after a solid minor league and Mexican League campaign in 2016.
Here’s what his stuff looks like:
Next up, we have Daniel Corcino.
Corcino was also signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the Cincinnati Reds back in 2008. He spent six seasons as a top prospect in the Reds organization (we’ll get to that in a minute) before making his debut in August, 2014 (against the Chicago Cubs!). In 2015, he was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he entered the 2016 season as a free agent.
But before we get into more of his professional stats, let’s take a look at that prospect history with the Reds. After the 2011 season, Corcino was ranked as the 6th best prospect in the Reds organization, and had his fastball identified as the best in the system at the time (his slider was distinguished similarly the following year). Although he was brought up as a starter, the Dodgers instigated his switch the pen, which is presumably something the Cubs will look to continue. He tossed 35.2 innings in Double-A for the Dodgers in 2016, finishing with a 3.53 ERA and a 3.91 FIP. There, he wasn’t much of a strikeout artist (21.2%), but he did limit the walks with some success (6.9%).
Unlike Cleto, Corcino doesn’t have much in the velocity department, averaging out at about 89 MPH in 2014, but, with nice cutting action, it can be quite successful. Combined with his also highly ranked slider, Corcino might be able to turn into a nice two-pitch reliever for the Cubs.
And finally, we have the youngster of the trio, Jhondaniel Medina.
Medina was an IFA signing out of Venezuela for the Orioles back in 2009. He spent three years in the Orioles organization before being traded to the Pirates after the 2012 season.
Medina started a few games for the Orioles back in rookie league, but has been a reliever ever since. With the Pirates, he even ascended all the way up to Triple-A this past season, before becoming a free agent and signing with the Cubs, per BA. At Triple-A, Medina got some solid results (2.63 ERA) despite peripherals that suggested some regression was in order (4.41 FIP). He struggled to strike many batters out (16.4%) and walked a bit too many for my tastes (11.5%).
But, like the rest of these signings, the Cubs noticed that he had a couple of above average pitchers and decided to take a chance. According to Kiley McDaniel (then at FanGraphs), Medina routinely sits between 92-94 MPH with his fastball with an above average splitter and a solidly average curveball.
Here he is in action:
The Cubs are clearly targeting relievers with good stuff and hoping their organizational infrastructure can turn them into something useful at the Major League level if they break out, or if a need develops. Any of these pitchers are capable of reaching the Majors this season, and it’ll simply be up to them to perform.
If the Cubs hit on just one guy like this, it’ll be like striking gold – a rare occurrence, sure, but when it happens, it can pay off big.