Chicago Cubs’ prospects: Candy Man sweetens fans’ hopes

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We continue with our final batch of 2013 profiles of Chicago Cubs’ prospects with two apiece from the Kane County Cougars and the Daytona Cubs.  Despite a league worst regular season record of 54-80 with one game remaining in the regular season, the Cougars still have some intriguing prospects.  Daytona produced a regular season record of 75-51 and a second half mark of 49-20, good for the second-half North Division title and a playoff berth.
Let’s get to our player profiles.
Kane County Cougars:
Willson Contreras:  During the season, Cubs’ General Manager Jed Hoyer lamented the lack of quality catching in the team’s minor league system.  While Rafael Lopez put together a solid season for AA Tennessee and young backstops Cael Brockmeyer, Lance Rymel and Justin Marra showed promise for Boise, no one appears to have responded to Hoyer’s challenge more than Contreras.  Signed out of Venezuela in December of 2009, the right-handed hitting Contreras is in his third season stateside in the Cubs’ system.  In addition to catcher, where Contreras threw out an exceptional 47% of attempted base stealers last season and has nailed a respectable 28% this year, he has played third base, second base, first base, right field and left field during his three years in the Cubs’ system.
In 239 plate appearances for Boise in 2011, he batted .261 with five doubles, four triples, two home runs, 27 RBI and eleven walks.  His OBP was .305 and slugging percentage .347.  In 266 plate appearances for Boise last season, he averaged .273 with ten doubles, one triple, three homers and 39 RBI.  His OBP climbed to .316 and slugging percentage to .357.  2013 has been a breakthrough year for Contreras offensively.  In 332 plate appearances through Sunday, he had produced a career-high slugging percentage and OBP of .430 and .317, respectively.  Despite a career-low batting average of .250., he had achieved career bests in doubles (eleven), triples (five), home runs (eleven) and RBI (44).  He had even stolen eight bases in eleven attempts.  Contreras’ emerging power, strong throwing arm and extraordinary versatility give him a chance to emerge as a super-utility player if not a blue-chip prospect.
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Jeimer Candelario:  The Candy Man entered this season ranked by MLB.com as the Cubs’ thirteenth best prospect, quite a distinction considering he will not turn 20 until November.  The switch-hitting third baseman was signed as an undrafted free agent in September of 2010 and debuted stateside in the Cubs’ system last year for Boise.  In 310 plate appearances, Candelario hit .281, slugged .396 and produced an OBP of .345.  He had fourteen doubles, six home runs and 47 RBI and added 36 walks.  In 559 plate appearances for Kane County this year, he matched last year’s OBP but increased his slugging percentage to .399.  Though his average has dropped to .253, Candelario has belted 35 doubles, (tied for third in the league), eleven homers and one triple and driven in 57 runs.  His 68 walks through Sunday ranked seventh in the league.  While his 24 errors and .924 fielding percentage indicate he needs to refine his defense, what the Candy Man has accomplished before the age of 20 merits significant praise.  While Candelario’s performance certainly dictates that he should be promoted next season, his youth gives the Cubs the flexibility to err on the side of patience.
Daytona Cubs:
Ben Wells:  Right-handed pitcher Wells, a seventh round selection in the 2010 draft, has quietly produced his best season since debuting in the Cubs’ system in 2011.  Just 22 this month, Wells throws a low 90’s fastball that can reach 94 MPH in addition to a slider, changeup and curveball.  He abandoned a split-finger fastball prior to this season.  In 2011, he pitched 77.1 innings for Boise, allowing 83 hits and 19 walks and striking out 53.  His WHIP was 1.319 and ERA 4.66.  In 2012, he pitched all but one of his 45 total innings for Peoria, the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate.  He allowed 48 hits and 13 walks, leading to a WHIP of 1.356.  His ERA was a career best 3.20.  His season was truncated by a sore elbow, but he has bounced back with aplomb this season.  In 112.1 innings in 23 games (21 starts) covering 112.1 innings, Wells has yielded 96 hits and 40 walks, leading to a career-low WHIP of 1.211.  His H/9 innings of 7.7 is also a career-best.  He has fanned 69, produced an ERA of 3.28 and a record of 9-6.  While his BB/9 of 3.2 and SO/9 of 5.5 are both decent, they lag slightly behind his 2011 and 2012 totals, as does his SO/BB ratio of 1.73.  Nevertheless, in three seasons and over 230 innings, Wells has demonstrated solid control.  We expect Wells to be pitching for AA Tennessee next season.
Frank Del Valle:  Left-handed relief pitcher Del Valle, 24 this month, has produced solidly for the Cubs’ organization since he signed for $800,000 in June of 2011 following his defection from Cuba, where he had been pitching for the Cuban Junior National Team.  Scouts praise the natural movement on his fastball, the velocity of which has been disputed.  Some scouts have clocked it at 98 MPH, while others have been more modest and claim the fastball peaks at 93.  He also has an above-average curveball and changeup and is credited with possessing tremendous poise.
Del Valle split 2011 with the Arizona League Cubs, Peoria and Daytona, covering 57 innings.  He yielded 49 hits and 20 walks, leading to a WHIP of 1.211.  He fanned 47 and produced an ERA of 3.95.  He started twelve of his fourteen games.  Last year, he appeared in 22 games (including fifteen starts) for Daytona covering 99.1 innings.  He allowed only 70 hits and 30 walks, leading to a career-best WHIP of 1.007.  On the downside, he yielded fourteen home runs.  This season, Del Valle has transitioned fulltime to Daytona’s bullpen.  In 51 innings, he has yielded 43 hits and 30 walks, leading to a career-high WHIP of 1.431, but his ERA is a career-best 2.29, demonstrating his ability to extricate himself from dicey situations.  He has allowed 7.6 H/9 and 5.3 BB/9 while producing an astounding 11.3 SO/9 and a SO/BB ratio of 2.29.  Finally, he has allowed only one home run.
We expect Del Valle to pitch for AA Tennessee next season.
Check back tomorrow for two Chicago Cubs’ prospects profiles apiece of players on the Tennessee Smokies and Iowa Cubs.
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