Third baseman looking to build on strong close to his 2013 campaign
Jeimer Candelario collected eight homers and 33 RBIs in his final 67 games with Kane County last year. (Cougars)
By Danny Wild / MiLB.com | March 28, 2014 10:00 AM
Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2014 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
The switch-hitting infielder has plenty of tools, but he's often overlooked among the top names in a Cubs system that also includes Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant. Born in New York, Candelario grew up in the Dominican Republic learning baseball from his father, who played in the Minors with the Astros. He tweeted about his new workout partner heading into Spring Training this year, a fellow infielder named Robinson Cano, and told MLB.com in October that "We're going to win the World Series" in Chicago.
Big words from a 20-year-old who didn't exactly dominate in 2013 -- in fact, Candelario's MLB.com prospect ranking dropped three spots by the end of his first full season in the Minors. But Brandon Hyde, the Cubs' director of player development, expects big things from the slugging third baseman this summer.
"We're looking for Jeimer Candelarioto do good things," Hyde said. "He had a really good second half of the season."
Candelario finished the year batting .256 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs, 35 doubles, 68 walks and a .346 on-base percentage in 130 games with Class A Kane County but displayed more power in the second half with eight homers, 42 runs scored and 33 RBIs over his final 67 contests.
He'll likely get a chance to work on refining his approach and production numbers this year at Class A Advanced Daytona with a realistic shot at reaching the Majors in 2016.
"He was just 19 years old in the Midwest League, and he had a good season," Hyde said. "He really improved."
Olt was one of the Texas Rangers' top prospects when he was sent to Chicago along with Justin Grimm and C.J. Edwards in exchange for Matt Garza last July. He swapped Pacific Coast League uniforms, moving from Triple-A Round Rock to Iowa, but struggled in 39 games, batting just .168 with three homers, eight RBIs and a .276 OBP for the I-Cubs.
Despite the uninspiring first impression -- he suffered from concussion-related vision problems and a shoulder injury -- Olt entered Spring Training with hopes of earning the starting third base job at Wrigley in 2014, competing with Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, two infielders who are out of Minor League options. He's ranked among the team leaders in both homers and RBIs this spring.
"I think Mike Olt is going to have a bounce-back season," Hyde said. "He'll have a good year next year. We're all excited about having him in the organization, and we all think he's going to bounce back."
"He's obviously swinging the bat really well this spring, and I know he's played third base well in the past," Cubs manager Rick Renteria told the Chicago Sun-Times. "So again, it gets back to the same thing: I need to see him healthy first."
It appears Renteria has seen enough: Reports out of Chicago's camp on Thursday indicate that Olt, who turns 26 in August, will indeed open the season with the Cubs.
Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 prospect, put up monster numbers at two levels last year, showing even more production and a higher average in fewer games after a promotion from Daytona to Double-A Tennessee. A right-handed shortstop, Baez appears to be blocked at Wrigley by Starlin Castro and his eight-year deal through 2019, although his talent and raw power are hard to ignore.
An example? Baez crushed a Spring Training homer on March 19 that landed 452 feet away in dead-center field, enough to make even the most pessimistic of Cubs fans salivate.
Baez will start at Iowa and bash his way to a promotion, if all goes as planned.
"I think he's made a lot of progress," Renteria told MLB.com. "One of the things we talked about is to make sure he continues to work on his defense, continue to go down there and put together some good at-bats, try to get on base a little more through the process and just go out there and be a professional."
"Having the success that he had last year -- really from day one -- [he] came in with more of a purpose this year," Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod told CSN Chicago. "Certainly, we've communicated with him the plan to start the season in Iowa and play shortstop. He wanted to come in and show, like, 'OK, that might be the plan. I'm fine with it. But I'm going to show you guys just how serious I'm taking this.'"
More to keep an eye on: Hindered by injuries, Albert Almora only appeared in 61 games last season but showed why the Cubs made him a first-round pick in 2012. The 6-foot-2 outfielder, who turns 20 on April 16, hit .329 with 82 hits and just 30 strikeouts in 61 games at Class A Kane County, adding 23 RBIs, 24 extra-base hits and a .376 OBP. The Cubs love Almora's maturity -- he captained Team USA prior to being drafted -- making him the youngest player invited to Major League camp this spring. ... Kris Bryant enters the season ranked as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect after hitting .336 with nine homers, 32 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 36 games last season. He was Chicago's top selection in the 2013 Draft. … C.J. Edwards looked sharp in his first few appearances in the Cubs system, owning a 1.96 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 23 innings over six starts with Class A Advanced Daytona last year. Like Olt, he was traded from the Rangers to Chicago in the Matt Garza deal last July.
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow his MLBlog, Minoring in Twitter.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.