Name: Carlos Penalver
Age: 21 (5/17/1994)
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent on July 2, 2010, out of Venezuela for a reported $550,000. Scouted by Hector Ortega and Julio Figueroa
Status: Rule 5 eligible after 2016 season for second time.
Ask anyone in the Cubs minor league system and they’ll tell you Carlos Penalver has a big-league ready glove. Soft hands, great range, and a quick release are just few of the youngster’s defensive qualities. Filling up the highlight reel the past two seasons at Kane County and Myrtle Beach, its not a coincidence both of those teams won championships.
The Cubs signed several Latin American teenagers in 2010 but none received more money than Penalver’s reported $550,000. The Venezuelan made his pro debut on May 28 in the Dominican Summer League, collecting his first pro hit, a single and stealing a base. He played in 72 games, batting .272/.364/.341 with 21 SB, 35 BB and 42 K.
With a new front office in place, Penalver spent his first season stateside in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012, appearing in 49 games with a slash of .273/.341/.322. After starting ‘13 at extended spring training, he earned Northwest League all-star honors at Boise and was second in the league with 43 runs scored, hitting .261/.338/.359 in 68 games. A season in the NWL earned Penalver recognition for his handiwork with the glove.
Penalver’s defense continued to standout in the Midwest League as he anchored the infield on Kane County’s 2014 MWL title team. April was Penalver best month at the plate, hitting .261/.333/.330 but concluded his first full season with a slash line of .211/.263/.270. He displayed his base running skills with 21 steals and 55 runs scored, despite the low on-base average. When the playoffs (seven straight wins) rolled around, Penalver stepped up at the plate, hitting .308/.367/.462 including a homer and three RBI. He capped off the year at fall instructs.
After seeing action in five Cubs spring training games (3-for-5), Penalver headed to Myrtle Beach and turned in another strong defensive season. Making 114 starts at short, he handled 511 chances over 984 innings and was charged with 19 errors for a .963 fielding percentage. Teaming with second baseman Daniel Lockhart, Penalver was involved in 69 double plays and recorded 336 assists. So what do all those numbers mean. He gets to a lot of balls, helps his team win games, and makes it hard to evaluate Cubs pitching prospects because Penalver and his teammates bail them out at least once or twice a game. Last year at Myrtle Beach, Penalver hit .197/.278/.260 in 437 plate appearances. He’s not that bad of a hitter. For starters he saw a slight rise in his walk rate and a drop in his strikeouts, so we’ll start with that plus. He’s has a decent approach at the plate and realizes he’s not a power hitter, does a good job using the whole field, but gets a little pull happy at times. Penalver’s best month was May with a 28-game stretch where he hit .277/.340/.351, knocked in 17 runs and scored 15 times with 10 BB and 13 K. During the stretch, Penalver sported a BABIP of .313—he finished the year at .240. Penalver may never be a .300 hitter, and he doesn’t have to be, but his numbers the past two years are a poor reflection of his abilities. Penalver was promoted to Tennessee in early September and started three games at short against Biloxi, smacking a homer in his AA debut and finishing 4-for-11 with 3 RBI, 3 R, and 3 BB. He capped off the year with a brief stint in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 3-for-19 in six games for Caracas.
Look for the slick-fielding youngster to start the season back in Tennessee as he inches closer to a big league job. With Addison Russell in Chicago and Gleyber Torres considered one of the top shortstop prospects in the minors, one would think the opportunities are limited for Penalver but he provides the Cubs the perfect compliment as a glove first shortstop. Depending on how he hits and how “popular” he becomes in the Southern League this summer, the Cubs may have a tough choice to make before this winter’s Rule 5 draft. Then again, a team in need of a defensive shortstop that’s nearly major league ready may make that decision for them.