One of the first things I keep hearing about Jeimer Candelario is what a good student he is. Indeed, if you sit close enough to the on-deck circle. you can sometimes hear Candelario asking questions of the previous hitter about what the pitcher is throwing.
That cerebral mindset extends to Candelario's approach. He recognizes pitches early and works to get himself in good hitting situations. He understands the importance of getting on base and waiting for pitches he can drive. It is, after all, a basic tenet of the Cubs philosophy when it comes to hitting.
This year has been different, however. Candelario has turned up the intensity. There have been times in the past when he has been patient -- sometimes almost to a fault, but he seems to have adapted his approach to one that is more selectively aggressive. He still recognizes pitches well. He is still mindful about how pitchers are trying to approach him -- but he is also more willing to pounce on pitches early in the count.
Candelario started this fall league season red hot, getting eight hits -- all of them good, hard contact -- in just 10 ABs. He has demonstrated his quick hands, turning on a 97 mph FB and lining it into right field. He has also shown strength in those hands, able to adjust his swing and drive the ball the other way, including an opposite field homer against a strong wind here at Sloan Park.
Defensively, Candelario has come a long way. While he has a strong arm, Candelario is not a quick twitch athlete and has below average speed, so he had to overcome that, putting in extra work on his defense at third. There was once some doubt as to whether Candelario could stick at 3B, but he was worked hard to make himself an average 3B, perhaps even better. Most scouts believe he can stick there.
That work ethic and that willingness to adapt and learn define Candelario almost as much as those good hitting skills. That Candelario was willing to take a step back and return to Kane County after struggling at Daytona in 2014 was a turning point in his career. Not only as he able to adjust and get himself back on track, but his attitude impressed the Cubs brass. Candelario never complained about the demotion, never sulked. He just went down, did his work, and got better.
Once again his patience became an asset. The results didn't show right away. Candelario displayed some improvement at the plate but the numbers at the end of 2014 still weren't quite where they once were. But as we so often say in reference to the Cubs organizational approach -- good results follow good process. Sometimes it just takes a little time.
Candelario improved again in 2015 in his return to advanced A ball, this time with Myrtle Beach, but it wasn't until his promotion to Tennessee that the hard work and patience really paid off in terms of statistical performance. He hit .291/.379/.462 with more walks (12.1% rate) than strikeouts (11.5% rate) after his promotion to AA.
As for what kind of player we can expect, Candelario should be a solid all-around contributor. The swing plane is more conducive to doubles power and Candelario hit 35 of them last year, matching the career high he set in his first go-round at Kane County. The quick, strong hands and the patience to wait for pitches he can drive mean he will likely hit for some HR power in time -- perhaps 15-20 at his peak. Considering his solid tools across the board (except for speed) and his potential as a switch-hitter with OBP skills, that is a valuable asset at 3B.
In the last couple of games, Candelario has cooled off a bit, in part because pitchers have developed the good sense to stop challenging him with fastballs early in the count so often -- in fact, in one recent AB, I counted 4 straight offspeed pitches right from the start. He may have to adapt to the new approach. But given his history, does anybody really doubt he'll make the necessary adjustments?
While it is said that patience is a virtue, especially for hitters in the Cubs organization, Candelario is on a mission. When it comes to breaking through and making it to the big leagues, it looks like Candelario just might get there in a hurry.