International Reviews: Chicago Cubs
This is part of Ben Badler's 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total 2018 (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 29
Venezuelan righthander Richard Gallardo ranked as Baseball America's No. 5 international prospect when he signed with the Cubs last year on July 2, with some clubs considering him the best pitcher available in the 2018 class. Gallardo has a great balance of stuff, pitchability, mechanics and future projection for a 17-year-old pitcher. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Gallardo is a good athlete who repeats an easy delivery to throw a lot of strikes with a fastball that sits at 89-93 mph and has late life up in the zone to miss bats. He's even ticked up a little since signing, reaching 95 mph at Dominican instructional league, and with his arm speed and physical projection, there's more upside for his fastball to grow. Gallardo also has one of the better curveballs in the 2018 class. It's a low- to mid-70s curve with late snap, good shape and rotation, flashing as a plus pitch to miss bats. As an amateur, Gallardo mostly attacked hitters with a fastball/curveball combination, but he has already shown an impressive changeup, giving him a change for three above-average or better pitches. Gallardo has considerable pitching experience, including Venezuela's team at the 15U World Cup in Japan in 2016, and he overmatched hitters last year at the MLB international showcase, striking out six of the seven hitters he faced. Beyond the impressive pure stuff, Gallardo has a mature feel for keeping hitters off balance with his ability to hit his spots, change speeds and set up hitters effectively. That level of polish could allow him to make his pro debut this year in the United States. Gallardo trained with Andres Veliz.
The Cubs signed 17-year-old Dominican center fielder Jose Lopez for $1.5 million from Fausto Garcia's program. His 20-year-old brother, Raymond Lopez, is an outfielder with the Royals who played in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year. Jose Lopez is a baseball rat and an athletic, quick-twitch center fielder (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) with the tools to be a quality defender at a premium position. He ran plus as an amateur and right before July 2 was showing 70 speed with good range in center field and an above-average arm. Lopez impressed the Cubs with his instincts and hitting performance in games, though other clubs had more reservations about how his unconventional lefty swing would translate against better pitching. Lopez's swing has a big hitch and an arm bar, which leaves him with a hole on the inner third. Right now, he has the quick hands and bat speed to make up for it, though he may have to shorten and simplify his swing as he moves up. Lopez shows a sound grasp of the strike zone, and he makes hard contact when he centers the ball with 10-15 home run potential.
Another Dominican prospect from the northern region of the country, 17-year-old shortstop Rafael Morel, signed with the Cubs for $850,000 after training with Bolsia. That's a tick more than the $800,000 the Cubs paid to sign his brother, 19-year-old infielder Christopher Morel, in 2015. Their father was a former professional basketball player in the Dominican Republic, and Rafael inherited his athleticism. He's a fast-twitch player with plus speed and a plus arm, projecting to play somewhere in the middle of the diamond. He showcased as a shortstop, where he showed good body control and did a good job reading hops, though some scouts think his speed and athleticism would translate better roaming around center field. Some scouts saw Morel as more of a raw athlete with balance and timing issues at the plate, but the Cubs liked his bat speed, ability to hit to all fields and chance for average power from the right side.
Venezuelan lefthander Joel Machado, 17, signed with the Cubs on July 2 after training with Roberto Vahlis. He's 6 feet, 165 pounds and pitched for Venezuela at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Colombia in 2017. For much of the scouting process, Machado was throwing in the low to mid-80s, though later on he reached 89 mph. He has enough projection where he could be throwing in the low 90s, but his game is more about his poise and feel than having electric stuff. With a fairly loose, clean delivery and arm action, Machado is an athletic strike-thrower with good life on his fastball. He changes speeds well with an advanced changeup to keep mess with hitters' timing, with his changeup further along than his inconsistent curveball.
Yohendrick Pinango, who trained with Jose Montero, is a 16-year-old, lefthanded outfielder the Cubs signed out of Venezuela in July. Pinango has a compact build (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) and hit well in games as an amateur. Pinango has a good eye for the strike zone and a patient approach, not chasing much off the plate. That allows him to swing at pitches he can drive and hit the ball for hard contact to all fields. He's a plus runner who can play center field for now, though with his body type he might slow down and move to right field.
At the end of the 2017-18 signing period last year in May, the Cubs signed a couple of Venezuelan players to low six-figure deals, including Venezuelan shortstop Pedro Martinez. He had a strong pro debut in the DSL last year, batting .310/.398/.404 in 54 games with 26 walks, 26 strikeouts and 31 stolen bases in 40 attempts. Martinez, who turned 18 in January, is a savvy, instinctive player with a lively frame (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), and plus speed. He's a switch-hitter who puts the ball in play with a line-drive stroke and occasional extra-base sock, but his offensive value comes more from his on-base skills and speed. He projects to play somewhere in the middle infield, reading hops well with soft hands and an average arm. Martinez, like Machado, trained with Roberto Vahlis.
Venezuelan catcher Pablo Aliendo, 17, also signed with the Cubs last year in May. He didn't have as much success in the DSL, hitting .182/.270/.237 in 27 games. He's more of a defense-first player with solid catch-and-throw skills for his age, but he will need to add strength to his 6 foot, 155-pound frame.
Chicago Cubs 2020-21 International Signing Preview
The Cubs should soon sign one of the most prized international prospects in the 2020 class, plus a look at other players they're expected to land this year.
See also: 2017-18 Cubs International Review (Notable prospect Luis Verdugo)
See also: 2016-17 Cubs International Review
See also: 2015-16 Cubs International Review (Notable prospects Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Aramis Ademan)
See also: 2014-15 Cubs International Review
See also: 2013-14 Cubs International Review (Notable prospects Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez)
See also: 2012-13 Cubs International Review (Notable prospect Jorge Soler)
See also: 2011-12 NL Central International Review
See also: 2010-11 NL Central International Review