For a farm system that is being rebuilt from rock bottom, one thing the Cubs have been able to do is have a player represent the organization in the All Star Futures Game every year since the contest’s debut in 1999. Jae Hoon Ha was selection in 2012 for the World squad and he was preceded by Matt Szczur for the U.S. team in 2011. The 2010 edition featured a pair of Cubs prospects, with Brett Jackson and Hak Ju Lee facing off against each other.
Starlin Castro participated in 2009 when the Game was hosted by St. Louis and of course the short stop has made his way to Majors. Meanwhile Josh Vitters, who also was selected that year, has only managed to get a cup of coffee. Current Cubs catcher Welington Castillo had the privilege of starting behind the plate in 2008 despite being recently being converted from the infield at the time.
The 2013 honors went to Arismendy Alcantara, while Jorge Soler had to unfortunately miss out due to the stress fracture he was diagnosed with a few weeks ago. For Cubs fans hearing of Alcantara for the first time, he has been a bit overshadowed by the likes of the above mentioned Soler and Javier Baez. In fact the switch hitting Alcantara is capable of playing short stop, but he is stuck behind Baez and Castro. The speedy infielder can also play second base and that is exactly where he got the start for the Futures Game.
If you took in the Futures Game on ESPN ahead of the Cubs Cardinals game on Sunday, you got a glimpse of what Alcantara is capable of. After going down on a high fastball in his first at bat, Alcantara flashed a nice, compact swing on a middle of the plate fastball in his second AB and lofted a home run down the right field line and into the second deck of Citi Field. The solo shot had tied the game at one at the time.
In his third showing at the plate, he got a chance to bat right handed and noticeably made a couple of attempts to go the other way with a runner on first. The second attempt led to an inning ending double play, but you have to like the thought process. Alcantara did not have an opportunity to impress on defense, failing to knock down a throw to second on a stolen base attempt and unable to complete a double play with a runner barreling down on him at sack number two.
The compact infielder has drawn comparisons to All Star Jimmy Rollins. Alcantara features speed and some pop, as well as being a switch hitter like Rollins. He is currently hitting .280 at AA Tennessee with a respectable .354 OBP. The OBP has increased each year in the minors along with his home run totals, currently sitting at a minor league career high of 13. The speed part of his game is evidenced by the 22 thefts in 25 attempts, his second straight season of 20 plus swipes.
For Cubs fans that find Darwin Barney‘s bat as a liability (despite his 3 for 4, 4 RBI night on national tv Sunday), Alcantara may be the answer they are looking for. While anything less than a Gold Glove would be considered a drop off compared to Barney’s 2012 season defensively, the one area that is holding Alcantara back is his defense. He already has 23 errors combined at short and second so far this season, with 35 and 40 at Daytona and Peoria respectively in the two seasons prior. To be fair to Alcantara though, he is still just a 21 year old that will have time to shore up the defense.
That is why Alcantara is a name that Cubs fans will want to keep in their memory banks along side the bigger names like Baez, Soler, and now Kris Bryant. Alcantara also represents yet another positive sign that the farm system is on the upswing, even if he is a signing by the previous regime.