Those of us who write about minor league players are addicted to lists. They give us a chance to write about the major league players of the future and they provide terrific fodder for discussion. But every year, there are players who never showed up on these rankings who end up as solid major leaguers. It still blows my mind that Justin Bour was an All-Star and Marwin Gonzalez is hitting .300 with 20 home runs. Both of those guys are a reminder that sometimes, prospects you never noticed step out from the shadows and shine.
These are really “sleeper” prospects or “under-the-radar” guys that most likely won’t make it on my offseason Top 20 prospect list but that I think should be noticed anyway. But in keeping with the theme of the day, I’ll just call them “eclipsed” prospects. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these players have a significant major league career, but with guys like this, you really never know.
Some of these players are also going to be Rule 5 eligible this offseason, so the Cubs will have to make some decisions on them.
RHP Matt Carasiti
I’m still pretty shocked that the Cubs were able to land Carasiti from the Rockies for Zac Rosscup, who had been designated for assignment. I guess that’s the value of a lefty.
Carasiti made his major league debut in 2016 with Colorado and honestly, he was terrible, posting a 9.19 ERA in 15.2 innings. On the plus side, he struck out 17 batters and allowed just one home run. But he walked too many people and gave up lots of hard contact. The Rockies actually declined to tender him a contract this winter, but he re-signed with Colorado on a minor-league deal.
Carasiti returned to Albuquerque this spring and thrived. He throws a mid-90s fastball with hard, sinking movement that not only gets a lot of swings and misses, but gets ground balls when batters do make contact. He gave up just one home run in homer-happy Albuquerque and only one since coming to Iowa. As a former starter he’s got four pitches, but really, as a one-inning reliever he relies pretty much only on his fastball.
So far this season between Albuquerque and Iowa, Carasiti has thrown 46.1 innings and has struck out 63 and walked 21. He has a 3.11 ERA and has converted a league-leading 19 saves in 23 attempts. In the majors he’s more likely to be a 7th or 8th inning guy than a closer. Carasiti is not on the 40-man roster, but with the Cubs bullpen woes it would not surprise me to see him get a chance to pitch in Wrigley in September.
SS Carlos Penalver
For all of Penalver’s career, the book on him has been the same: major league glove, minor league bat. There’s no question about the Venezuelan’s glove at shortstop: great range, soft hands, solid arm. But he’s never been able to hit enough to give anyone optimism that he has a major league future.
In all likelihood, that’s still the case. But after not hitting above .211 since 2013, Penalver’s got his bat up to a .248/.291/.328 line with three home runs in Double-A Tennessee. That’s still not enough to crack a major league lineup, but at least it is moving in the right direction and he’s still only 23 years old. If his offense develops just a little bit more, his glove will carry him to a utility role at least. He used to steal bases, but that’s stopped since he reached Double-A. Since he doesn’t seem any less quick on defense, I’m going to assume that his lack of steals is because in Double-A he’s batting eighth ahead of the pitcher all the time (instead of batting ninth in a DH league) and not because he’s lost a step.
By the way, if you need any convincing that Penalver’s glove is special, how many other minor leaguers would still have a job after not breaking .211 in a season for three straight years?
2B David Bote
Another Smokie and another good glove. But unlike Penalver, Bote can actually hit a bit with a .273/.355/.427 line this season with 11 home runs in Double-A. Last season he hit .328/.399/.492 with three teams but mostly in Myrtle Beach, although he only played 91 games because of injuries. Baseball America recently polled the managers and coaches of the Southern League and Bote was named the best defensive second baseman in the league.
The knocks on Bote are easy—he’s 24 already and he’s a bit short at 5’11”. He’s not a shortstop, He’s been a bit fortunate in batting average on balls in play over the past two seasons. He really doesn’t have the arm for short or third base and jobs for players who are 2B/LF/1B are hard to come by. But if he continues to hit, teams will find a position for him.
2B Vimael Machin
Second baseman always get overlooked, but Machin has played all four infield positions this year and has the overall tools to be a major league utility player.
Since being drafted as a senior in the 10th round out of VCU, Machin has been a utility player both on the field and in the organization. Last year when Extended Spring Training broke, the Cubs pulled Bote off the bus to the airport and told him that because of injuries, he was going to Triple-A Iowa instead of Short-Season Eugene. Sure, it was a temporary assignment, but he handled it with maturity and went 5 for 18 in limited duty.
This year, Machin started the season in South Bend and got promoted to Myrtle Beach after tearing up the Midwest League with a .320/.371/.500 line with 10 home runs in 72 games. He’s doing well in the tough-to-hit-in Carolina League posting a .293/.354/.362 line, but with only one home run over 33 games.
It’s also easy to see Machin’s flaws. He’s 23 years old and as a left-handed hitter, he struggles with left-handed pitching. He’s more of a second or third baseman than a shortstop, which limits his utility value. (Although he’s not terrible at short.) He doesn’t have great speed which again, cuts into his value as a guy off the bench. It’s going to be up to him to make his bat good enough that they have to make room for him.
LF Kevonte Mitchell
Mitchell has been and remains a lottery ticket. Mitchell is a terrific athlete who had offers to play college basketball after high school in Missouri, but signed with the Cubs for a big $200,000 bonus after they took him in the 13th round in 2014.
Since then, Mitchell has continued to tease the organization with what he might be as he’s struggled to turn those tools into production. Mitchell strikes out about 25% of his plate appearances, which isn’t great but it’s not bad, and his walk rate about 9%, which is acceptable. But his biggest issue is that he makes too much weak contact on the ground. At least this season he’s managed to hit 11 home runs, which more than doubles his previous career-high of 5 last year. He’s always had speed and he’s stolen 18 bases in 23 attempts this year. Mitchell’s overall line of .247/.316/.413 in 103 games in South Bend isn’t going to get him on many top prospect lists, but his tantalizing power/speed combo means that he’s a guy to keep an eye on.