When the Cubs signed Cuban defector Yasiel Balaguert just days before his 19th birthday, he was a mysterious prospect.
Unlike many of his fellow countrymen, there was little in the way of scouting reports or video of him anywhere on the Internet, yet the Cubs felt comfortable giving him a $400,000 bonus late in 2011 and let him spend half of his time in 2012 in the Midwest League with Class A Peoria.
After struggling in 2012 but showing slight improvement in short-season Class A Boise last year, Balaguert is starting to show what the Cubs saw in him so far this season in Kane County.
The outfielder is hitting a robust .320 and is among the Midwest League leaders with 18 RBI, despite not yet hitting a home run. Like most Cuban hitting prospects, Balaguert has shown the ability to hit the ball the other way and continues to find ways to drive in runs while still working on translating his raw power into game situations.
“He’s gotten some pitches to hit (with runners in scoring position) and he hasn’t missed them,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He makes you pay when you make a mistake up in the zone. He’s got a knack for it right now. (Hitting with runners in scoring position) is not an easy place to hit. Even though you’ve got the pitcher on the ropes, it doesn’t make it easy. He’s pretty calm in those situations.”
Balaguert is a big, strong outfielder with power to spare, yet it has resulted in only 11 home runs in 162 professional games.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Balaguert said through his translator, teammate Danny Canela. “I have so much raw power in my swing, it will come. We are working on certain tweaks and stuff in the cage, but we’re not really worried about it because I know I have it in me.”
Johnson knows it’s only a matter of time before the power comes. In the meantime, Balaguert continues to come through with clutch hit after clutch hit for the Cougars (17-7).
“He doesn’t really understand how to pull the ball yet,” Johnson said. “That’s going to come with experience. He’s got a nice little short swing for a bigger guy. As soon as he starts learning zone recognition and pitch recognition, he’ll be better.”
Balaguert has settled in after a couple of years stateside. His parents are in Miami, though his sister is still in Cuba. Landing in the Cubs’ organization, which has taken great strides to acclimate its wealth of Latin American players to America, also has been a big help.
“I feel real comfortable, especially with the organization I’m with,” Balaguert said. “The Cubs are doing an excellent job, especially translating on the field. That’s what the main goal is, helping each other out, communicating on the field. They’re doing an amazing job with that.”Tags: Baseball, Kane County Cougars