There were fans who snickered and chortled when the Cubs selected Austin Filiere, a third baseman from MIT, in the 2017 draft. After a few at-bats, however, it was pretty clear why the Cubs selected the corner man. In addition to having some power, Filiere showed an adept eye at the plate.
In his short tenure as a Eugene Emerald in 2017, Filiere batted .261 with an outstanding .392 on base percentage. He hit six home runs and drove in 25 in just 49 games. He is going to rack up almost three times as many plate appearances at South Bend this season, so those offensive numbers could really balloon. He can improve his defense some moving forward, it’s sufficient for the time being.
Maybe the most encouraging sign about Filiere’s development last year was that he seemed to be better every time I saw him. He was one of the best two players on the team over the last month of the season, driving in 14 runs and drawing 17 walks. He also cranked four home runs to go with an OBP of .405 for August.
Through his first seven games with the South Bend Cubs, Filiere is slashing .333/.419/.556 with a homer and three doubles to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
Filiere probably does not have that many people writing about him, but the potential to hit 20 home runs in the Midwest League could change that in first half of the year. Not that he’s necessarily a breakout prospect, but he is definitely on the fringe.
His mix of power and plate discipline reminds me of recent breakouts Zack Short and Ian Rice. However, I think Filiere might have more juice than either of those two, both of whom were at South Bend the previous two seasons. He’s got an excellent approach and plays the kind of cerebral game you might expect from his elite education.
The well-renowned Peter Gammons, a Massachusettes native, profiled Filiere before the Cubs took him in last year’s draft. It is an interesting look at Filiere’s MIT career, his time in the Cape Cod League, and his potential as a pro. What has always stayed with me is this quote from Filiere on the intricacies of plate coverage:
“I know that if it’s 88-90 miles an hour, I can try to handle a ball an inch out of the zone, but I can’t if it’s an inch and a half. Of course, when you’re facing the really good pitchers from the big programs, there’s a major learning curve involved.”
To know your plate coverage down to such minute increments at such an early age is pretty telling of how well he knows the zone and his own strengths and limitations. Perhaps that’s the engineer in him. Regardless of whether the understanding is learned or innate, or both, it bodes well for his performance in 2018.
Here’s the Catch
What might separate Filiere from other prospects will be a full offseason of immersion in the Cubs Way. No offense to MIT coaching, but there’s no comparison between the things he was taught on the college diamond and what he can learn from his professional coaches. Whether that’s nutrition, physical conditioning, or mental skills, he is going to be more prepared as a hitter this year than he was last year. I’m very excited to see how much he’s improved since last August.