In our second look at Cubs prospects who find themselves at a career crossroads in 2016, we turn our focus to Arismendy Alcantara. If you'd like to revisit the first article in this series, I profiled outfielder Billy McKinney here.
Back in November 2015, I took a look at the opposite paths of Alcantara and Albert Almora from July 2015 through the rest of the season. In the event that you don't want to reread that entire article, here is a brief synopsis: Almora started drawing walks and hitting the ball with authority in July, putting himself back onto the serious prospect pathway, whereas Alcantara completely fell apart, throwing his future into question.
Unfortunately for Alcantara, his Winter League experience in the Dominican Republic playing for Tigres del Licey hasn't gone all that much better. Over 34 games, Alcantara posted a .259/.336/.371 batting line with no home runs and 29 strikeouts versus 14 walks. Strikeouts have always been a problem for Alcantara, something that hasn't changed this winter.
As an aside, and speaking of old habits, former Cub Carlos Marmol has issued 12 walks in seven innings in the same league. Nobody ever said that the Dominican Winter League is a place that cures all ills.
Back to Mendy, everyone on here is plenty familiar with him following his extended cup of coffee at the end of the 2014 season and his dreadful time in the Majors at the beginning of the 2015 season. Alcantara has an extremely attractive skill set, one that got him placed 18th on Baseball Prospectus's mid-season top prospects list in 2014, sandwiched by Dodgers mega-prospects Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. We know the attributes, but it's worth repeating: Alcantara has tremendous speed, he has above-average power despite his diminutive frame, and he has the athleticism and polish to plausibly cover second base, center field, third base, and both corner outfield spots, with plus second base defense a reality and solid outfield defense still within the realm of possibility.
Alcantara enjoyed a measured climb through the Cubs system en route to his 2014 Major League debut, showing each of these skills at every level, especially in his rousing half-season at Triple-A in 2014 prior to his promotion. In fact, he blasted 20 home runs (with half of them coming for the big league Cubs) and stole 29 bases over 666 plates appearances split nearly evenly between Chicago and Iowa. Despite some serious on-base struggles in Chicago, Alcantara flashed all of the skills that made him a near-elite prospect.
Of course, we all know that he spent the vast majority of 2015 back at Iowa and that I'm writing about him here. So what's the problem?
It's simple: contact. And more specifically, contact issues against offspeed pitches, particularly changeups and split-fingered fastballs.
The eye test and the advanced metrics agree: Arismendy has been completely overwhelmed by Major League offspeed offerings, hitting fastballs at roughly a league-average rate while struggling horribly against all varieties of non-fastballs. On the whole, this wasn't a terribly damning reality for him at this time last year or even during the middle of the summer given that plenty of 23-year-olds need work on handling upper-level breaking balls before settling into Major League gigs.
But then the second half of the 2015 season happened with minor league pitching completely overwhelming him. I won't pretend to know if an injury or a fully-developed scouting report was the true cause of his downfall, though in reality, it doesn't matter all that much. At this point, Alcantara is a 24-year-old with no real Major League success who is coming off of a 41-game stretch in which he posted a truly dreadful .177/.224/.227 batting line over 141 plate appearances with only five extra-base hits and 35 strikeouts. A lack of contact coupled with no power and a below-average walk rate is a recipe for disaster.
Whereas some other prospects in the Cubs system find themselves at a crossroads that may dictate their projection changing from being a role 60 player to being a role 50 player (those numbers are from the 20-80 scouting scale), Alcantara finds himself in a much more serious situation with his 40-man roster spot squarely on the line. While he would certainly get a chance in another organization even if his 2016 starts poorly, his range of possible outcomes are as great as any player in the organization. He could still plausibly play his way into a Zobrist 2.0 role, providing plus defense all over the diamond and hitting for some pop while getting on base a bit less well than Zobrist but running much better than him. Then again, he could find himself a minor league free agent by June.
Needless to say, Alcantara is truly at a crossroads in his career. Here's hoping for a big 2016 from 'mendy.
What do you think will happen?