Projecting Cubs Call-Up Jeimer Candelario

Over the weekend, the Cubs called up third baseman Jeimer Candelario to replace the injured Chris Coghlan on the roster. Candelario enjoyed a breakout season last year, when he hit .277/.339/.431 as a 21-year-old between High-A and Double-A. He carried some of that success over to 2016 by hitting .249/.359/.428 between Double-A and Triple-A this year. This included a beastly .333/.452/.600 in his 25 game pit stop at Triple-A.

Candelario’s offensive game is largely centered around doubles and walks. He laced 24 doubles in 81 minor-league games this year and walked in an impressive 14% of his trips to the plate. On the downside, he didn’t make a tremendous amount of contact in the high minors, which suggests he may struggle against big-league pitching. His 19% strikeout rate from this year is fine, but you’d like to see a little more bat-to-ball ability from someone with merely OK power numbers.

Despite his strong 2015 campaign, KATOH pegged Candelario for just 2.7 WAR over his first six seasons, making him the 159th-best prospect in KATOH’s eyes. KATOH’s pessimism was largely due to its memory of Candelario’s underwhelming 2014 campaign, when he struggled to get on base in A-Ball. Adding his 2016 numbers to the mix bumps Candelario’s forecast up to 4.5 WAR, placing him in back-end top-100 territory. By succeeding in 2016, Candelario pushed his 2014 season into the rear-view mirror, and proved his 2015 success wasn’t a mirage.

To put some faces to Candelario’s statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the slugging third baseman. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis Distance between Candelario’s Double-A and Triple-A numbers since 2015 and every season at those levels since 1990 in which a third baseman recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Jeimer Candelario’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 3.8 Antone Williamson 4.4 0.0
2 5.8 Brendan Harris 2.9 3.4
3 6.6 Casey McGehee 2.7 4.5
4 6.6 Neil Walker 6.1 13.5
5 7.3 Hank Blalock 4.5 10.4
6 8.0 Scott McClain 2.6 0.0
7 8.4 Willy Aybar 3.7 2.4
8 9.1 Mike Bell 2.5 0.3
9 12.1 Garrett Atkins 5.0 9.7
10 12.7 Andy Thompson 2.7 0.0

Candelario looks like he’ll have a future in the big leagues, but he’s clearly a notch below many of the other young hitters the Cubs have promoted the last couple of years. With Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella all expected to return from the disabled list relatively soon, Candelario probably won’t have much of a role with the 2016 Cubs past the next week or two. But his offensive numbers hint at a promising future. Whether the Cubs will find room for that future in their lineup full of promising young players remains to be seen.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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