Earlier today, the Chicago Cubs announced their 19 (so far) non-roster invitees to big league Spring Training, and Brett ran through the list and notable bits right here.
Among the many names with whom you’ll be familiar are Thomas Hatch, Mike Freeman, Chesny Young, Jacob Hannemann, and veteran backup catcher Chris Gimenez (who just so happens to have a great relationship with Yu Darvish …).
One of the names you might not know, however, is recent Minor League signee, Alberto Baldonado.
Baldonado, 24, is a left-handed relief prospect who originally signed with the Mets as an international free agent back in 2009, but joined the Cubs on a minor league deal this year.
Over the past eight seasons, Baldonado has climbed through every step of the Mets’ Minor League system, reaching Triple-A for the first time in the second half of 2017. He made 39 appearances in Triple-A this season, but struggled quite mightily throughout (6.65 ERA, 6.21 FIP). To be fair, he was hit with an unusually low strand rate and an unusually high 20.0% HR/FB ratio (which is not typically a problem for him), so those numbers could be set to rebound.
During his first half of the season (at Double-A), Baldonado posted a ridiculous 41% strikeout rate with a tiny 8.2% walk rate, which led to a 0.00 ERA (1.13 FIP) over 11 appearances. On top of posting some fairly excellent strikeout rates over the years, Baldonado has been good at inducing ground balls with the exception of a blip in 2016:
2014 Short Season Low-A (47.2 IP): 52.7 GB%
2015 A-Ball (56.2 IP): 54.7 GB%
2016 High-A (19.1 IP): 35.6%
2016 Double-A (40.1 IP): 34.2%
2017 Double-A (16.2 IP): 46.7 GB%
2017 Triple-A (43.1 IP): 48.5 GB%
If you’d like to learn more about Baldonado’s background, here’s a fairly detailed scouting report and video from this past July (just after he made the jump to Triple-A):
Here’s a bit on his pitch mix from that report: “Alberto Baldonado shows a three-pitch mix out of the bullpen from a high three-quarters arm slot: fastball, changeup, and a true overhand curve ball with some depth. The fastball is deceptive at times, sitting 90-92 mph but occasionally exploding to touch 96 mph.” Apparently, both his changeup and curve need a little work.
Perhaps the Cubs scouts saw something they thought they could work with and decided to roll the dice. At just 24-years-old, that’s a risk I’m happy for them to take.
And finally, for what it’s worth, Baldonado was included on the Mets 2018 ZiPS projections, so let’s take a look at those: 56.7 IP. 22.6K%, 13.4 BB%, 5.40 ERA, 5.75 FIP, -0.6 WAR.
So, clearly, he’s not quite a finished product, but he’s also knocking on the door of the big leagues. If the Cubs coaches can get him right, they might unlock a young, talented piece for the Cubs’ bullpen puzzle for 2018 and beyond. It’s never likely with pickups like this, but you gotta take your shots.