Prospects toward the bottom of lists are typically seen as the system type guy, someone to be a bench player who can pinch hit, pinch run, or give a guy a day off when they get a matchup. These players are usually overlooked, and the Cubs have a couple of organizational type guys that could potentially be more than a platoon or matchup type player. Let’s take a look at Jared Young and Nelson Maldonado and their promising unusual splits during the 2021 minor league season:
Nelson Maldonado- Maldonado batted .303 at AA Tennessee in 2021 where he, believe it or not, lowered his MiLB average down to .317. On top of that, Maldonado’s OBP was .371, he slugged for .467, and he only struck out 49 times in 67 games. If Brennen Davis wasn’t one of the best outfielders in minor league baseball, I would imagine Maldonado runs away with the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year Award pretty easily in 2021. Even FanGraphs ZiPS predicts Maldonado will finish with a much higher batting average than Brennen Davis in 2022, predicting a slash line of .266/.315/.420.
One of the most interesting things about Maldonado’s numbers in 2021, however, were his splits. Against RHP, Maldonado batted .318/.383/.495 opposed to LHP where Maldonado batted .245/.322/.358. These reverse type splits were interesting for Maldonado who in 2019 fared much better against LHP where he batted .373/.418/.471. In a perfect world you have a Nelson Maldonado that takes the best of his splits against righties in 2021 and combine that with Maldonado’s splits against lefties and create a Maldonado Frankenstein in AAA next year who bats .315+ in Iowa before making his debut in Chicago, but that seems unlikely. I would guess the splits even out and his hits better against LHP in 2022 and maybe takes a step back against RHP at a higher level of competition. Either way, you could wind up with a guy who could continue to hit for a high average, due to a high contact rate, and fly under the radar in the system. At a minimum, you have a quality bat that can improve the roster if you can find a way to put him in a lineup.
The only real knock on Maldonado is his lack of a true defensive position, and, depending on the new CBA, if the DH comes to the NL he could be an option at DH with some time at 1B as well. Maldonado will always be a bat first type player, but hitting well against both righties and lefties will give him more opportunities for at-bats. Combine that with the DH potentially coming to the NL, and the Cubs could have someone here.
Jared Young- On the Growing Cubs Podcast we ask all of our guests whether they are announcers, players, or writers to name a guy in the system who isn’t getting talked about enough and Jared Young has to be the most answered guy to that question. Similarly to Maldonado, Young’s splits are a puzzle to piece together. He did slash higher against LHP in 2021 than he did RHP, slashing .302/.362/.528 against LHP versus .286/.360/.453 against RHP. But unlike Maldonado, we have way more data to look at with Jared Young in professional baseball, and Jared Young has had a roller coaster of splits in the system. In 2019 Young in 140 ABs against LHP slashed .186/.240/.250, but back in 2018 he slashed .315/.372/.405 against lefties.
So what do we do with this data? Jared Young in 2019 was more of an outlier than a standard, as his overall year wasn’t great at the plate. Because of his defensive flexibility, Young is usually viewed as a platoon type bat, but if he has success against both righties and lefties, Jared Young’s flexibility is even greater and could have more chances for at-bats when he finally reaches the MLB. In 2021 alone, Young played 1B, 3B, LF, RF, and DH. It would be really easy to plug him into a position and let him have success there.
Jared Young was not added to the 40-man roster this offseason, so there is still a chance another team scoops him up when/if we have the major league phase of the Rule-5 draft. However, if the Cubs hold on to Young he could be the type of player who you stash on your roster and immediately you get more production out of your corner infielders and outfielders. FanGraphs ZiPS projections has Jared Young slashing .249/.301/.395 in 2022.
Feature photo of Jared Young by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)