Jeimer Candelario Is Better Than His Numbers (Scouting Report & Video)

Nineteen year old Jeimer Candelario has 3 more walks than he has hits this season. He has a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage. If he were hitting .300 he would be having a monster season, but since he’s not, some people are going to tell you he’s having a rough start to the year. I am not one of those people, even though I’m generally a pretty pessimistic Cubs fan. In today’s prospect profile, I’m going to sing the praises of the young Jeimer Candelario, who is off to an impressive start to his season.

Scouting Video for Candelario:

Jeimer Candelario is a master of the strike zone. He’s walking at a 15.9% clip so far, and he’s striking out exactly as often as he walks. Which is to say, he’s not striking out at an alarming rate. In fact, the whole Midwest League is striking out in over 20% of their plate appearances, so Candelario is actually well better than league average there this year.

Watching Candelario take his at bats has been a joy. He has a very advanced feel for the zone, he recognizes pitches well and adjusts well mid-swing if he is initially fooled. On one of his six doubles this season, I saw him get fooled by a changeup, almost pause mid-swing, and stay back before lacing it down the right-field line. It was like a revelation there on the field, the best – by far – adjustment I’ve seen at the level. For any batter at the level, it would have been impressive. But Jeimer Candelario is just 19 years old and will be for the full year, and seeing someone so young make adjustments like that is remarkable. His approach is already better than scores of past Cubs prospects who made it to the majors. To give you an idea of how he takes at-bats, I’ve compiled every pitch to Candelario I’ve recorded so far this season in one video, embedded below:

If Candelario was taking such great at-bats, why is he hitting only .243? Well, apart from the standard answers – cold weather, frequent rainouts, it’s only been 19 games (all of which are legitimate, by the way) – it is very important to remind ourselves that the first taste of full-season baseball is a big jump, especially for a teenager. We really shouldn’t be focusing on the more direct results right now (batting average and the like), but rather the peripheral numbers that tell a more important story.

Why Am I So Excited About Jeimer?

Walks are a beautiful thing, and not just because they put runners on base. Players who walk a lot reap the benefits of increased selectivity – seeing better pitches to hit, seeing better pitches to drive, strong on-base-percentages, seeing more of a pitcher’s repertoire early in games. Jeimer Candelario is a very selective hitter and has a wonderful shot of making it to the major leagues because of it.

Candelario is a prospect right now because of what his selectivity is going to allow him to become. He has good bat speed, good contact abilities, and should pack on enough muscle to develop good power. But what is going to vault him into a very good ballplayer is waiting for pitches to drive, which will let his power play way up. With such a strong eye he’s going to adjust to advanced stuff quickly, master certain pitchers and pitching styles quickly, and his age gives him ample time to fine tune his approach after making macro-level adjustments. That fine-tuning is enormously important and will give his power and contact abilities very legitimate utility, possibly an entire grade or more. At that point, all the walks will really just be gravy (really valuable gravy).

This is precisely why Candelario’s slow start is of no concern, too. He isn’t lost at the plate, he’s just making some weak contact as he’s feeling out the Midwest League. You can see him working through stuff (good curveballs and changeups that have real movement) he hasn’t encountered yet. As the season progresses he’s going to know when they’re coming, what parts of the zone he can hit them in, and will start to blossom into a fantastic hitter.

Have I mentioned that Jeimer is a switch hitter yet? While this may slightly retard his progress through the Cubs farm system (learning two totally different swings, pitching styles thrown at him, and approaches at the plate is a difficult thing to do), in the end it will pay huge dividends – having the platoon advantage at your side at all times is a huge advantage, and you can’t be forced out of the lineup because you’re facing a tough lefty that day.

About That “Poor” Defense of His…

I haven’t seen a play out of Candelario this season that makes me think he wont stick at 3B long term. He’s not extraordinarily athletic, and as he puts on muscle he will only get slower, but his range is OK and he’s very smooth within his range. His hands are soft, he’s made a few nice diving plays, and he charges the ball well. He looks very comfortable there and has obviously worked extremely hard on his defense in the past year. The only thing that could improve are his reactions to slowly hit balls he has to charge (he gets a very late jump on those) and his arm. His throwing motion is not very efficient, and as a result he cannot fire the ball across the diamond. I attribute that mostly to his mechanics, and I’d imagine the arm strength can be improved with good coaching.

Final Thoughts

I have been very impressed by most of what I have seen Candelario do on a baseball field. He’s not a burner, he doesn’t have great raw power, but he has a fantastic idea of what he is doing at the plate which will help all his tools play up. I’m very excited to see what he can do once the weather starts warming up and he gets more comfortable with full-season ball.

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