Jeimer Candelario: Prospect Du Jour Still Has a Lot of Questions to Answer

I had this article written about Jeimer Candelario and how the injury to Christian Villanueva was not going affect his path through the system. Then Candelario had to go and hit two home runs over four days in major league Spring Training games. As a result, every major Cub blog/site began to publish profiles of the switch-hitting third baseman and how he is the “hot prospect” at the ripe age of 22. In less than a week’s time, he is now getting more attention than Albert Almora and Willson Contreras.

It was assumed that Candelario would start at AA Tennessee in 2016, but all bets are off thanks to his torrid spring bets are. He has looked very good in the batter’s box and, at times, manning third base in the big league camp. The potential can clearly be seen, but so can some things that he needs to work on (fielding the ball cleanly and not airmailing it to first would be a good start).

So when will Jeimer Candelario make it to the majors?

If you had asked me this two years ago, I don’t think I could’ve given you a direct answer. In June 2014, he was reassigned from high-A Daytona to low-A Kane County. For most players, it would’ve been demoralizing to be reassigned down a level. For Candelario, it was a blessing in disguise and just what he needed.

In the first half at Daytona, he hit .193 with 5 HR’s and 25 RBI. For the rest of 2014, Candelario made adjustments to his game, his swing, and his approach at the plate. At Kane County, his average improved to .250, his OBP was over .300, and he helped the team win the Midwest League Championship.

Candelario began 2015 at high A-Myrtle Beach and had a great first half. He hit .270 in a pitcher’s league and showed some power with 5 HR’s. At the break, he was promoted to AA Tennessee, where he performed even better, batting .291 with an outstanding OBP of .375. A stint in the Arizona Fall League — 5 HR’s in 21 games and hit .329 against top-flight competition — resulted in him being placed on the 40-man roster.

Coming into 2016, I thought Candelario might be at AA Tennessee for at least the start of the season before a mid-summer promotion to AAA Iowa. By next spring, I reasoned, he could be knocking on the door to Chicago. FanGraphs said this of Candelario’s game back in January:

Candelario may end up being a better hitter overall on the right side of the plate, though most of his power has come from the left. He has a very quick bat on both sides, though he tends to roll his barrel through the ball, particularly on the left side. When he catches the ball on the barrel, it really jumps off the bat to his pull side, but he will need to show more feel at the plate to tap into his raw strength consistently. His swings on both sides are built for line drives and gappers, though he may naturally add some power as he matures physically.

When things go right, he has the tools to be an exciting above-average big league player. Lingering approach concerns and some swing issues cloud his future as a trusted starting option for me, but I think his bat speed and contact will keep his batted ball quality high enough to be close to an average regular.

The problem for Candelario is the same that Christian Villanueva had before his injury: Kris Bryant is going to be playing third-base for at least the next six years. So, with the injury to Villanueva, what does that really mean for Candelario? Could his development path be accelerated by a year? And what would be the purpose of such acceleration? To sit on the bench? To be a role player? Or would it make him a trade chip this summer?

I don’t think those questions have been answered, nor do they need to be at this point in time. Candelario is still developing, and developing very nicely when it comes to power. I would like to see him get a full year of at-bats at AAA Iowa. Being placed on the 40-man actually protects Candelario as a valued Cub prospect. He doesn’t have to worry about the Rule 5 Draft or options at this point for 2 more years. It should just give him some comfort to know that he can take his time and develop his game in due course.

Nothing much has really changed then, despite his blazing spring training. There is no rush to try and get him ready for something that’s not there. Power is a commodity not easy to come by, and Candelario is developing it a nice pace. When he is ready, the Cubs may have to find a spot for him in Chicago. Last I checked, switch-hitting power hitters don’t grow on trees.

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