Chicago Cubs: A new prospect ready to work, win with new organization
By Jake Misener
This winter, the Chicago Cubs picked up prospect Kevin Cornelius in the Rule 5 Draft from the New York Yankees. We sat down with him to get to know him a little better.
The Chicago Cubs‘ minor league affiliates have enjoyed a recent bout of success that coincided with the World Series championship of 2016. Despite losing much of its talent to the big leagues, the farm system still has promising talent – including Kevin Cornelius.
We sat down with the 24-year-old corner infielder looking to get to know more about him and his time in professional baseball.
Cornelius, who batted .304/.396/.561 across four seasons in the Yankees’ system, adds even more depth to the Chicago farm system. He’s already recovered from Tommy John surgery and his down-home work ethic is something that meshes perfectly with the Cubs’ desire to build a perennial winner.
"“If you didn’t have work ethic in what you were doing, you wouldn’t survive,” he said of growing up on a ranch in Texas. “And having a dream of playing baseball is no different than any other job really. If you want to succeed you have to work hard. Some people have talent and don’t work hard and some people work hard and don’t have talent. It’s kind of finding that medium of where you stand and how talented you are and how hard you work.”"
A long road back
Cornelius repeatedly talked about the value of hard work during our chat, emphasizing the importance of ‘creating opportunities for yourself.’ Despite his battling injuries in the past, the latest addition to the Chicago organization shows no signs of hesitation as he works toward he end goal: a big-league roster spot.
"“This day and age, it seems like everybody’s had Tommy John. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy, The rehab of what you have to do physically, but the toughest part was going out every single day and watching everyone play. It takes a lot out of you and it’s just tough not being out there. I think the toughest part of it was the mental side of it. The physical, yeah that’s terrible – everyone understands that. But it’s not being out there, not being with your teammates, not having the opportunity to move up in the organization. Like I said, you get passed up when you’re not on the field.”"
Winning, learning along the way
After spending his entire professional career with the Yankees, an organization Cornelius himself described as ‘traditional,’ the Cubs’ atmosphere has been an adjustment. That being said, all that matters to the former 31st-round pick is simple: winning.
He had the opportunity to play in championship series in each of his years with the Yankees’ affiliates, a rarity amongst minor leaguers. That taste of high-caliber baseball has left him hungry to prove himself moving forward.
"I want to win. There’s no doubt about that. No one likes to lose. Whatever team I’m on, I want to play to the best of our abilities and do whatever we can to win ballgames … Just like Gleyber (Torres) and Rashad (Crawford) brought something from the Cubs, I just hope I can bring something."
The Chapman trade
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Although he wasn’t a part of the Aroldis Chapman deal last summer, Cornelius has been affected by the trade that netted Chicago the flame-throwing lefty. He played alongside, most notably, Torres, who ranks as one of the best talents in all of Minor League Baseball.
"It’s always nice to see players from other organizations, see what they can bring to the table. Maybe things they’ve learned through that organization that you haven’t learned through your organization. Gleyber came over. Obviously, he’s a superstar. That’s the best way to put it in my opinion, honestly. He’s 19 years old and he’s a freak athlete. He and, also Rashad, great people. It’s always great to have good people in a clubhouse. They came over and, obviously it’s awkward for them, not knowing anybody. They came in with respect and they got respect back."
A chance to step up on the big stage
Cornelius is yet to appear in a big-league game. But, on Thursday, that all changes. He received a call Wednesday that he’ll be called up for the Cubs’ split-squad action in Arizona. After battling back from injury and changing organizations, Cornelius appears ready for the challenge.
"It’s pretty surreal honestly. I know, for a lot of guys, they’ve played in several big league spring training games – they’ve experienced it. I’m sure they just take it as another day. But for me it’s a new experience, it’s something that I’ve looked forward to for a long time. Tomorrow is gonna be a special day. It’ll be a normal day for a lot of people, but it’ll be special for me. It’s kind of a culmination of a lot of hard work. It’s another step in the right direction, if that’s the best way to put it."
Next: Can Candelario break the big league roster?
Last season, Cornelius played a Rookie-level Pulaski and High-A Tampa. Between the two affiliates, he flirted with a .400 OBP and a .300 average, impressive marks at any level. With spring training winding down, he’s still unsure where he’ll play in 2017.
"I have absolutely no idea. It honestly doesn’t really matter to me. With the Yankees, I was in extended for every year I was with them. It’s never really really bothered me to do that. If I’m in extended, if I’m in the big leauges, I have to do the same thing. I have to go out there and compete and stay consistent."