It’s not a major signing. Heck, it’s not even a Major League signing. But it is technically A signing, so we’ll give it a look and be happy about it!
Over at The Cub Reporter, Arizona Phil reports that the Cubs have signed 25-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Daniel Camarena to a Minor League deal (a non-roster invitation to Spring Training is still TBD (though you can usually expect it in these situations)). The Cubs have yet to announce their minor league deals, so a small grain of salt here is prudent … but Phil is pretty much never wrong about these things.
According to Phil, Camarena was a two-way player (LHP/OF) at Cathedral Catholic HS in San Diego, before becoming the Yankees’ 20th round draft pick in 2011. Incidentally, he received an over-slot bonus to pass up both pitching and playing the outfield at the University of San Diego, where he would have been a teammate of Kris Bryant.
In 2013, Camarena made 21 starts at the A-ball level, successfully limiting walks, but striking out very few batters, and that trend continued throughout his Minor League career. In fact, the highest strikeout rate he’s recorded outside of rookie ball was the 20.6% mark he posted in Triple-A with the Yankees this past season. Fortunately, as I mentioned, he’s been something of a control artist over the past six seasons, with a particularly impressive 4.0% walk rate over 129.2 innings at Double-A in 2016.
And that elite 2016 control came after the 6’1 210 lbs lefty missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow. He has thrown over 250 innings in the two seasons since that surgery, though, so I think it’s fair to say it’s behind him.
This past season, Camarena split time between Double-A (82.2 IP) and Triple-A (35.2 IP), making 22 total starts:
- Double-A: 3.81 ERA, 3.58 FIP
- Triple-A: 3.28 ERA, 3.76 FIP
Camarena is not much of a ground ball artist (though he’s posted some usable rates over the years), and unfortunately, because he’s not yet debuted in the Majors, we can’t be quite sure if he’s a weak contact guy either. However, I’m willing to bet he is. Not only are the Cubs interested in him despite low strikeout and groundball rates (they must like something about his numbers (and they tend to gravitate towards contact managers)), but he’s also been relatively successful at limiting his HR/FB ratio and his BABIP over the years. It’s an educated guess, to be sure, but I think both stats would look a lot worse if he’s as hittable as his strikeout rate seems to indicate.
Camarena was ranked as the Yankees’ 31st prospect after the 2016 season, but that’s as high as he’s ever reached. Keep in mind, the Yankees – perhaps more than any other organization – have been so overloaded with quality AA/AAA swing pitcher types that it’s not surprising to see a guy like Camarena reach minor league free agency without being put on the 40-man roster. There simply hasn’t been room for the Yankees to protect them all.
And now Camarena will test his mettle in the Cubs organization, where could begin the year in the Triple-A Iowa Cubs’ rotation, serving as emergency depth for the big league squad, should a rash of concurrent injuries force the issue. He’s not an extremely sexy signing, but a young, healthy left-handed starter with solid command, and the potential to be a contact manager is far from something you ignore. As depth, the Cubs could do much worse.
Camarena joins a group of interesting depth pitchers the Cubs have picked up off of the big league roster already this offseason, including Kyle Ryan and Ryan Weber. There are also 40-man guys Dario Alvarez and Luke Farrell. These kinds of no-risk, low-cost additions rarely become stars, but you’ve gotta have ’em, and the Cubs have as much opportunity (because of the need) available as any contender out there.