The Situation: With Chris Coghlan joining the ranks of injured Cubs outfielders, Chicago has chosen to promote yet another acclaimed prospect: Jeimer Candelario. As the Cubs continue to lose veteran position players, the team gets younger and younger. Candelario joins Albert Almora, Carl Edwards Jr., and Willson Contreras on the list of recent internal replacements under 25. Candelario will look to carry on the youth movement in Chicago as they attempt to pull out of a sub-par stretch.
Background: Candelario was born in New York, but grew up in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. His father, Rogelio Candelario, was a farmhand in the Astros system, and gave Jeimer his passion for the game. As a 16-year-old, Candelario participated in a talent showcase where he impressed a number of teams, and in 2010, the Cubs signed him to a minor-league deal. He spent his first season in the organization raking in the Dominican Summer League before ascending to the lower rungs of A-Ball. Candelario continued climbing until 2014, where a stop in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League held him to a .600 OPS. A season later, Candelario had put it together and had made a name for himself at Double-A Tennessee, where he slashed .291/.379/.462 in the final six weeks of the season. In his second stint in Tennessee this year, Candelario struggled out of the gate but caught fire after a promotion to Triple-A Iowa, earning him the call-up in Chicago’s time of need.
Scouting Report: A switch-hitter, Candelario is often praised for his patience at the plate and impressive pitch recognition skills, traits common to students of the Cubs’ player development academy. He starts from an upright stance and uses a leg kick as a timing mechanism before a quick load and short, clean stroke through the zone. Candelario’s swing doesn’t have much loft, and is geared more towards contact, resulting in a reasonable threshold for his strikeout rate. Power is still very much in play here, due to strong wrists that allow him to drive the ball deep into gaps. His patience and pitch recognition skills also limit ugly hacks and vulnerability to offspeed pitches, allowing him to slug without drastically raising his strikeout total. He is more comfortable batting from the right side of the plate, and has had more success against left-handed pitching. He’s attempted to adjust his approach to be more selectively aggressive to boost his power numbers and minimize his bad habit of taking very hittable pitches.
Defensively, Candelario profiles as fringe-average at third base due to inconsistent footwork and limited range. He lacks the quick-twitch instincts that his teammates Javier Baez and Addison Russell so consistently demonstrate but shows enough natural talent to handle third, even if it is less than spectacular. His arm grades out as plus due to both natural strength and accuracy, and should balance out some of the shortcomings in his defensive profile. He’s played a handful of games at first base this season, expanding his versatility, and it’s a rare Cubs rookie that doesn’t get a look in the outfield.
Immediate Big League Future: With Dexter Fowler and Tommy LaStella’s return to the team reportedly just weeks away, the Cubs front office will have some interesting roster decisions to make. Currently the Cubs are carrying 13 pitchers, leaving them with just a four man bench. This should work in Candelario’s favor in the short term, as Joe Maddon will be pressured to use the rookie early and often. In the longer-term, Candelario could be a victim of roster crunch, especially if he struggles to make an impact out of the gate. For now, he’ll have a few weeks to prove to Joe Maddon and the front office that he can regularly contribute on this crowded offense and offset his defensive shortcomings. —Will Haines
Fantasy Take: The 22-year-old doesn’t possess the lofty power upside fantasy owners typically crave from a corner infielder. Therefore, the vast majority of Candelario’s value hinges on his ability to remain at the hot corner defensively while continuing to make consistent contact and drive the ball into the gaps. It’s a skill he’s displayed throughout his minor-league career. Despite hitting just 17 home runs over the last two seasons combined, he led the Cubs organization with 35 doubles across two levels in 2015 and has already laced 24 two-baggers this year. While hitting just .219/.324/.367 (.247 TAv) over 244 plate appearances at Double-A, Candelario has sizzled since a promotion to Triple-A where (in a small sample) he has crushed PCL pitching to the tune of a .333/.452/.600 (.374 TAv) line over 93 plate appearances.
Candelario’s fantasy value is limited to NL-only formats and extremely deep mixed leagues at this point, but he does offer some upside if he retains third base eligibility, continues to be an asset in the batting average department and develops double-digit home run power at the major-league level. This isn’t a fantasy superstar, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a viable contributor in the right format, especially in a loaded Cubs lineup. —George Bissell
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