71. Ulysses Cantu – Infielder
Born: 05/01/1998 – Height: 5’11” – Weight: 220 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Cantu was selected by the Indians in the 6th round of the 2016 Draft out of W.E. Boswell High School (TX), and signed for $270,300. During his senior season he hit .374 (34-for-91) with 6 home runs and 29 RBI in 30 games and was named 5-5A District (TX) Offensive Player of the Year. He had a commitment to attend and play baseball for Texas Tech had he not signed with the Indians.
Offense: What stands out about Cantu is his ability to hit. All summer long in 2015 the Indians watched him and all he did was hit. What impressed the Indians is his unbelievable understanding of the strike zone where he doesn’t chase and there is not much swing-and-miss at all which really limits his strikeout totals. With his short, compact swing to go along with some good balance and pitch recognition skills he shows a very good ability to consistently barrel up the baseball. Despite his 5’11” frame, there is some power in his bat as well. He has some very good bat speed and strength that results in a lot of hard line drives, but he has solid average to plus raw power and can drive the ball out of the park in batting practice, so the Indians think more home run power could surface.
Defense: The Indians plan to develop Cantu at third base and see what he does there. His defensive actions are stiff as he has below average hands, quickness and athleticism for the position, but the Indians like the above average arm strength and feel he has a chance to be average defensively there after some refinement. He pitched some in high school and was up to 91 MPH in showcases, so there is plenty of arm strength, which is why a lot of scouts felt with his body type he might profile better behind the plate. While he profiles behind the plate a little bit and played there some in high school, the Indians currently have no plans to catch him and believe third base is his best defensive position right now – and if that doesn’t work they have mentioned he could end up in the outfield or first base.
Speed & Intangibles: Cantu has a short, stocky build with a mature frame that is near maxed out physically. He does not have a lot of athleticism or much speed, but what he lacks there he makes up with heart and hustle as he is a very hard worker who is a passionate and driven professional.
Focus: The biggest issue for Cantu at the moment is he needs to find a home defensively. While the Indians say they are committed to him at third base, there are questions as to whether he can stay there as there are a lot of limitations with the glove and he battled a tender shoulder last year. He tried to catch last season in high school, but the belief is that is how he hurt his shoulder when working out for teams. When he signed with the Indian and went out to play his first professional games with rookie level Arizona he played his first two games at third base, but he had some shoulder soreness crop up so finished the season at first base in order to eliminate a lot of his throwing. The shoulder issue is not expected to be anything that carries over into this season, but the Indians feel it crept into his offensive performance last season, so if it crops up again he may have to stay at first base or move to the outfield quicker than expected. He didn’t show the advanced approach at the plate or much power in his pro debut, so the Indians just want him to get instruction and game experience to help him solidify his mechanics in order to get him into a better launch position and on time so he can impact the ball more consistently at the professional level and display some of his untapped power.
Future: Cantu was name that really jumped onto the prospect scene in the late summer in 2015 as one of the better high school bats in the upcoming 2016 Draft, but the shoulder injury he suffered through last year saw him lose some of that momentum and his stock took a hit. He disappointed some in his pro debut, but the Indians feel he put a lot of pressure on himself and still had some symptoms from his shoulder he was working through that impacted his performance. Defensive issues and health questions aside, the Indians are banking on the hit tool and will worry about where he fits position-wise later. Right now, they just want to see him come back strong this spring with a healthy, productive showing and continue his development all year in Arizona so that by the end of the year he has established a good foundation to build upon going forward. His lack of a true defensive position really limits his prospect value at the moment, so he has to hit and hit a lot to stay relevant as he moves up the minor league ladder. He should open the season in extended spring training in Arizona and play for the rookie level team in Arizona during the summer again, and could finish the last few weeks of the year at Short-A Mahoning Valley.