Today, we profile three Cubs’ International prospets, including two the team signed after they had defected from Cuba. We also examine the work of another prospect whose acquisition did not require the Cubs to look outside the United States.
Let’s get to work.
RHP Juan Paniagua: The Dominicon native Paniagua, 24, was signed by the Cubs in July of 2012 after an odyssey that makes truth seem stranger than fiction. He was originally acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, but Major League Baseball (MLB) voided the contract due to fraudulent paper work and declared him ineligible to sign another deal for one year.
He then signed a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees in 2011, only to see MLB terminate that contract too because of allegations of falsified documents. After signing with the Cubs for $1.5 million in 2012, the organization then had to wait until last season for his debut due to visa problems.
If the Cubs were hoping the long delay would yield positive results immediately, they were probably disappointed. In six games (two starts) for the Boise Hawks of the short-season Northwest League covering 14 innings, he allowed a staggering 30 hits and 12 walks. His ERA was 11.57 and WHIP 3.000. In 7.2 innings for Class A Kane County of the Midwest League, his ERA (8.22) and WHIP (2.870) were only slightly better.
The results for Paniagua this season have been much improved, and maybe the Cubs can still get a positive yield for their pricey investment. In 49.1 innings pitching for Kane County, Paniagua has allowed 42 hits and 29 walks and produced an ERA of 3.65 and a mediocre WHIP of 1.439.
Significantly, Paniagua has made three consecutive quality starts, and in his most recent effort on June 7, he tossed six shutout innings, allowed three hits and fanned nine against just two walks.
At the time of his signing, reports indicated that the right-hander’s fastball could consistently reach the high 90’s and had been clocked in the triple digits. Recent reports indicate that Paniagua’s fastball is most frequently in the 92 to 94 MPH range and that his complementary pitches, a slider and a changeup, are improving.
RHP Armando Rivero: Rivero has demonstrated the kind of dominance the last two seasons, with his strikeout pitch and velocity, that should make Cubs’ fans excited about his prospects to eventually join the big league team’s bullpen, consisting of an increasing number of hard throwers.
Rivero pitched a couple of seasons in Cuba’s premier amateur league, most recently in 2011. He defected that same year and then experienced a circuitous route to the United States via The Dominican Republic and Haiti while his immigration status was resolved.
The Cubs signed the then 25-year-old for $3.1 million last year.
After an approximately two-year layoff from pitching competitively, Rivero’s numbers last season were relatively impressive. In 30.1 innings pitching out of the bullpens of Kane County, Advanced A Daytona of the Florida State League and AA Tennessee of the Southern League, Rivero allowed 30 hits and 12 walks and fanned 45. His ERA was 4.15, improving with each promotion, and his WHIP a respectable 1.385.
2014 has been a breakout season for Rivero thus far. In 23 relief appearances covering 30.2 innings for Tennessee, he has yielded just 15 hits. He has walked 14 and fanned an impressive 47. His ERA has improved to 1.76 and WHIP to 0.946.
Rivero’s fastball reaches 96 MPH, and he throws a solid curveball and split-finger fastball. Some scouts believe that he could eventually ascend to the Cubs’ closer role.
LHP Gerardo Concepcion: Rivero’s teammate in Cuba, Concepcion, 22, has struggled since signing a $6 million deal before the 2012 season. That season, he made 12 starts covering 52.1 innings for the Cubs’ then Class A affiliate Peoria. He allowed 70 hits and 30 walks and produced an unsightly ERA and WHIP of 7.39 and 1.911, respectively. It was learned that Concepcion was pitching with mononucleosis, and his season was aborted.
Last year, Concepcion was limited to 3.2 innings with the Arizona League Cubs because of back problems. Concepcion is currently on the disabled list for Kane County with a foot injury. In 12 games covering 24.1 innings, he has allowed 26 hits and seven walks while fanning 23. His ERA is 4.81 and WHIP a respectable 1.356.
If Concepcion can ever remain healthy, he has the pitching arsenal to perhaps move up through the system. He sports a low 90’s fastball, a curveball and a change-up and has a deceptive across-the-body delivery.
LHP Rob Zastryzny: Zastryzny, 22, was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft and is a member of Daytona’s starting rotation. The Cubs promoted Zastryzny, 22, past Kane County after he pitched for the Arizona League Cubs and Boise last season. Between the two levels, he appeared in 11 games (seven starts) covering 24 innings. He allowed 24 hits and eights walks and struck out 22. He produced an impressive ERA of 2.25 and WHIP of 1.333.
Zastryzny has struggled for Daytona thus far, but he has pitched better recently. In 11 starts covering 47.2 innings, he has allowed 64 hits but just 11 walks while fanning 50. Zastryzny has produced an ERA of 6.42 and WHIP of 1.573.
However, on June 4, he threw five innings and allowed two runs on five hits while walking one and fanning four; and on June 9, he tossed seven innings and yielded two runs on four hits while walking none and fanning a season-high nine.
Zastryzny sports an impressive pitching repertoire. He can effortlessly add and subtract from his fastball. He throws around 90 mph but can drop his fastball to 86 or elevate its velocity to 95 with four-seamers up in the zone. His secondary pitches are a breaking ball and a change-up.
Hopefully, Zastrynzy can build off the momentum of his recent success.
Check back next week for more Cubs analysis and Cubs’ prospects features.
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