Well ladies and gentlemen, there seems to be a flickering light at the end of the tunnel beginning to appear for the Cubs. That light is Arismendy Alcantara.
First things first: his name is pronounced: “Air-es-men-dee Ill-con-tuh-ruh.”
Now we have that clarified, let’s talk about this 22-year-old who has tore into the big leagues with authority.
Called up when Darwin Barney went on paternity leave (he’s since been designated for assignment), Arismendy was only scheduled to be with the Cubs for two days and then be sent right back to Iowa. However, he had different plans, and in only his second major league game he went 4/5 with three RBIs. He finished that game only a home run short of the Cubs first cyle since Mark Grace back in 1993.
With his lethal combination of speed and what I call “sneaky power,” it won’t be the last time he flirts with the cycle.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Arismendy has been able to literally hit the ground running under the tuteledge of the Spanish-speaking Rick Renteria. That ability to hear all of the criticism and praise straight from the horse’s mouth makes all of the difference.
Listed rather generously at 5’10”, 170-pounds (probably his metrics straight out of the pool), ‘Mendy reminds me a lot of a young Jose Reyes. He has the speed on the base paths, slick glove in the field, and a surprising pop off the bat that keeps the pitchers honest. Alcantara swiped 52 bases between Triple-A and Double-A the last season and a half, while being caught only nine times.
With the way Rick Renteria likes to be aggressive on the base paths it would be no surprise to see that number continue to climb in the majors. He already has three since being called up.
Even when he doesn’t steal, he is making pitchers adjust their approach. Whether it’s causing them to hold the ball longer, throwing over to first base, or having to slide step, his speed on the bases is something this team hasn’t really seen since the days of Juan Pierre.
With the Cubs having a short-term plan at middle infield for the past couple seasons, they were able to get Alcantara the necessary at-bats at the minor league level. This really helped with his patience and ability to draw more walks. From 2010 to 2012 he only drew 44 walks which wasn’t acceptable.
He grew patience in his approach and drew 62 walks last season alone.
His next approach is to cut down on the strikeouts. His 125 strikeouts last season was high but Theo Epstein and company have made it clear they’ll live with the K’s so long the player continues to get on base. ‘Mendy had an .890 OPS in his half season in the minors this year, so that will definitely be a stat to keep your eye on the latter part of the year.
Alcantara is a prime switch-hitting two-hole option, making him Rick Renteria’s wet dream (sorry for the visual). He provides a variety of different lineup options depending on pitcher, and could bat leadoff if needed. He’s smarter on the paths than most 22-year-old rookies, and watching him run the bases just showcases that this kid is a spark plug. And he knows it.
He may pull a Yasiel Puig and make a jackass of himself every once and a while, but seems to understand when to be aggressive and when not to be. Of course this is within a small sample size with the Cubs, but so far so good.
His fielding is versatile as well. While he’s widely regarded as a second baseman, the Cubs have a major log jam at middle infield moving forward, so there’s a good chance his primary position when the dust settles will be center field. With his impeccable baseball IQ and natural athletic ability, he’d have little problem manning the outfield in Wrigley for years to come.
There is a chance we see Arismendy sent back down to Triple-A at times, but that’s simply because of the multitude of different pitchers needing to be called up after the Samardzija trade. Just know that it’s temporary. Arismendy Alcantara has been an awesome spark plug that Cubs fans and the front office alike have yearned for for some time. He has nightmarish speed and creates his own runs.
The Cubs are still two years away from seriously competing, but the first step towards the future has been called up.
He’s been fun to watch already.
(Photo from Joel Dinda)