Today’s signing actually shows up, retroactively, on the Cubs’ transaction log a couple weeks ago, but it was only just reported today: former Giants shortstop prospect Abiatal Avelino.
Avelino, 25, was part of the mid-2018 Giants-Yankees trade involving Andrew McCutchen, and was then exploding at AA/slowing at AAA. He got a taste of the big leagues with the Giants in 2018 and 2019, but didn’t produce offensively for them at AAA or in MLB. He is a high contact guy, but isn’t hitting for enough power to make it work.
Regarded as a possible future utility man, Avelino has the glove for shortstop, and that’s something the Cubs very much need as depth at AAA. Even if there weren’t upside, the Cubs needed to bring in someone like Avelino.
But is there also upside? Well, it was just last year that Avelino was still regarded as a legit prospect in the booming Giants farm system, and the year before that, he was described very intriguingly by FanGraphs:
Last year, Avelino shuttled back and forth between Double-A (which he crushed) and Triple-A (which he did not) while with the Yankees, then was sent to San Francisco at the end of August as part of the McCutchen trade. He has rare power for a viable defensive shortstop but hits the ball on the ground so much that it’s highly unlikely he does much in-game damage with the bat unless his swing is overhauled. And while solid at short, Avelino’s not so good that you’d live with zero offense and play him everyday. He’ll likely be a glove-first utility guy, but he hasn’t played much second or third base yet and he’s already 24.
Good raw power that has not been actualized because of swing needs? Well, sir, that’s the kind of guy you look to bring into a new organization and see if maybe the right set of (different) voices and tools could unlock something. It’s the kind of thing the Cubs need to be able to do going forward on the player development side, and something they have simply not done (with their own prospects, much less low-cost imports). Nowadays, you just have to win on one of these moves in a very serious way – you take 10 low-cost swings, and over the course of a couple years, one of those ten turns into a productive big leaguer. The Cubs have had a ton of success doing it in the bullpen, but clearly not on the positional side.
As I said, though, having a guy like Avelino around was going to be necessary anyway. It’s not a lock that Nico Hoerner heads to AAA to begin the season, and even if he does, it’s not a lock that he’ll move back to shortstop. Outside of Hoerner and Trent Giambrone, it’s just not at all clear who is going to make up the Iowa infield next year. The Cubs need depth options.