The last few days, I’ve seen a whole lot of prospect nerds saying the same thing about Nelson Maldonado: it’s bonkers that he is still at Double-A Tennessee.
Sure, the 25-year-old first base-ish prospect has played only 12 games at Tennessee this year, but he also played 67 there last year, and he has been obliterating the ball to such an extreme extent that it was clear there was no developmental value for him at Double-A anymore. Thus, even though it’s only April – rare for non-injury/non-roster-related prospect promotions – it was high time for Maldonado to get the bump.
And he just did:
Some big news. Nelson Maldonado has been promoted from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa.
Maldonado hit.465/.500/.837 with 7 doubles in 12 games with Tennessee this season.
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) April 27, 2022
Maldonado, a smaller guy listed at 5’10”, was a college senior when the Cubs drafted him in 21st round in 2019, and all he ever did was hit. In college and as a pro. He’s been the kind of offensive prospect we’ve wanted the Cubs to develop for a long time – cheaply-acquired big bat, figure out the rest later – and I love that he’s already forced his way to Triple-A after barely 100 pro games. As Bryan wrote last year, Maldonado really started hitting his stride in the second half of last season at Double-A (.303/.371/.467 overall last year, 134 wRC+).
Before you get too geeked about Maldonado being the next big thing, though, there are at least a few things you have to consider:
1.) Maldonado is roundly considered a bat-only guy. Though he was an outfielder in college at Florida, he has played first base and DH, exclusively, in the Cubs’ system. Bryan noted that Maldonado had arm surgery in college, and maybe the arm strength didn’t come back.
2.) Although he has played on teams routinely full up in the outfield, the reality is that if the Cubs thought he had a possible future as a corner outfield contributor, I’m thinking he would’ve seen some game action there by now. By a contrasting example, Alfonso Rivas had seen a lot of action in left field by the time he reached Triple-A with the A’s, and has seen time there at Iowa with the Cubs. I think it would be AWESOME if Maldonado could handle a corner outfield spot in a pinch, but the usage suggests he cannot.
3.) Speaking of which, I think it’s only fair to caution that, if the Cubs believed the bat would definitely translate to the big leagues, they would be trying him out in the outfield sooner rather than later. So either they already know it’s just impossible for him to handle it, or they aren’t as in love with the bat as a future big league contributor as the statistical lines suggest.
4.) This is the first year the power is really showing up, and it’s been only 12 games. Yes, it’s been 12 games of EXTREME power (like, what is going on?), but this is a guy who was previously more of a gap-to-gap, line drive hitter. A really good one! But not necessarily a guy with much power projection.
All that said, if a guy just hits and hits and hits – and if Maldonado’s power surge this year is indicative of some underlying tweak – it’s true that you DO figure it out later. Who knows what will happen on the big league roster next year and beyond? Maybe there will be starts available at first base or regularly at DH?
As for now, the Cubs must have some plan for how to get Maldonado plenty of ABs at Iowa, even with the presence of Jared Young (he can at least play some corner outfield). Does this mean the Cubs don’t expect Alfonso Rivas to go back down to Iowa any time soon? That would make me very happy.