A quick glance at Juan Paniagua’s stats and the first thing you see is a 24-year-old pitcher who only has 29 innings as high as the Florida State League (High-A). Dig a little deeper, talk to one of his pitching coaches, and you’ll find something completely different.
“Paniagua has one of the most impressive arms that we have here,” said Kane County pitching coach David Rosario last summer in an interview with NorthSiders Report. “But at the same time, he is a young Dominican player that didn’t get taught a lot at a young age.”
Rosario was quick to point out Paniagua got a large bonus because of his velocity, already clocked at 99-100 mph, but lacked experience.
“His fastball and change-up are already major league quality and he has a good slider. He needs to learn how to pitch inning after inning, how to remember hitters, and work on the the mental aspect of the game. We are teaching him how to pitch.”
“Mechanically he’s good, his stuff is good,” Rosario said of the right-hander. “You are looking at a major league arm. “
Rosario said Paniagua’s adjustments the first few years will be the toughest but if everything clicks, the Cubs could have themselves a pretty good pitcher. He said while Paniagua’s innings at a young age were a set-back to his development, it also helped preserve his arm. “He’s pretty healthy,” Rosario said. “He’s come back here after failing, and he’s competing.”
Name: Juan Paniagua, P
Age: 24 (4/4/1990)
How acquired: Signed as a free agent July 9, 2012, out of the Dominican. Scouted by Louie Eljaua, Jose Serra and Alex Suarez.
Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Low A (17 G, 6-4, 3.36 ERA, 80.1 IP, 36 BB, 75 K, 1.33 WHIP);
Daytona Cubs, Florida State League, High A (8 G, 2-4, 6.14 ERA, 29.1 IP, 21 BB, 23 K, 1.94 WHIP)
Prior to Cubs
Not only does Paniagua have a career before finally signing with the Cubs, he pitched two years in the Dominican Summer League with the Diamondbacks under the name of Juan Carlos Collado. In the DSL, he appeared in 21 games, throwing 35.2 innings with 41 strikeouts. After the 20010 season, MLB terminated the contract due to fraudulent paperwork. After a one-year suspension, he signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million but MLB nixed that deal for falsified documents, and suspended him for another year.
The right-hander was the Cubs’ top 2012 International prospect as the North Siders signed a $1.5 million deal with the Dominican native. He made his U.S. debut with Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League, appearing in two games (3.2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB 4K). He then joined Boise in the NWL playoffs, recording two strikeouts in the final game of the playoffs in 2/3 inning. According to one report, Paniagua hit 100 mph on the gun while with Boise. Not sure what was tougher in 2013, getting a visa to pitch in the states or throwing strikes once he got here. Unable to gain access to the U.S., Paniagua didn’t pitch until July and struggled with Kane County and Boise. (0-2 6.08 ERA, 37 IP, 46 H, 26 BB, 41 K). The 23-year-old got extra work at the fall instructs in Mesa.
Paniagua broke camp with Kane County and didn’t get off to a great start, allowing 20 hits and 12 earned runs in his first 20.1 innings. Named Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June, Paniagua was impressive in seven straight games from May 25 to July 4, going 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA and a .188 BAA with 37 K in 38.2 IP. He made two more starts in July for Kane County before being promoted to Daytona. Commanding the strike zone was a problem for Paniagua in the Florida State League, walking 21 in 29.1 innings (nine games). His best start in a FSL game came against Bradenton is his second outing, blanking the Pirates affiliate for six innings with six punchouts. After only throwing 76.1 innings in his career prior to ’14, Paniagua logged 109.2 innings between the two levels.
Paniagua is a wild card in the Cubs system and no arm may have more upside than his, especially with the ability to push it into the upper 90s. Whether he will work as a starter or out of the bullpen has yet to be decided but this season should go a long ways in determining his future. Regardless of his path, Paniagua’s mound education will need to progress as he’s likely to start the year back in High A at Myrtle Beach. Hopefully the command issues at Daytona were a result of being tired with a career-high in innings and adjusting to a change of scenery in his first full season stateside.