For whatever reason, the universe seemed to align in a weird way that whenever I went to see South Bend pitch in the first half of 2022, Daniel Palencia was always pitching one of the nights I went that week. I got to see him several times and it was interesting to see him progress throughout the year in his second full minor league season. He’s put himself in my top 10 prospects in the system and he’s definitely on the Cubs radar. Armed with a triple digit fastball and a mid 90s slider, he is going to be something to behold this season.
Palencia will turn 23 on February 5, 2023. Yet, he only has 115 professional innings on his arm. The Cubs have taken their time building that arm as the Cubs limited him to mostly three inning starts to begin the year and they stretched him out over a full season. He got in 75.1 innings in 2022 and that enforces the impact of his 98 strikeouts. The Cubs will likely stretch him out to 110 to 120 innings this year which means we’re gonna get to see a lot more of Mr. Palencia.
Here are five things that you need to know about Palencia for 2023.
Palencia is really intelligent. I talked to Palencia several times throughout the year in the dugout or on the field, and he just astounded me with his English as he speaks it really well, and with how thoughtful his responses were to any question I would ask. Mind you, these were not interviews, these were just casual conversations, and he really took a lot of time to give an appropriate response, even when asking for pictures of himself. But it was also interesting to hear him talk about how he’s developing slowly and the Cubs don’t want to push that arm too much, too soon even though it is pretty potent.
2. Pregame Workout
Palencia’s pregame routine is legendary and I think that describes it quite well. He’ll do some exercises and stretching but when it comes to long toss, I have never seen anything like him. He’ll begin by throwing 40 to 50 feet with Pablo Aliendo in just a nice relaxed manner and then he’ll continue backing up every few pitches. He will get to 60 feet from the right field corner and then 80 feet and 100. Next thing you know he’s at the centerfield wall throwing to Pablo in the right field corner. He’ll keep working his way along the wall and get to left-center. And then when he gets to straight away left field, either a pitching coach, or another catcher will have to come out to be a relay man for Pablo to get to Palencia. Eventually, Palencia will be all the way in the left field corner at the line throwing all the way across the field to the other foul line. Then he’ll slowly work his way back. And it’s just amazing how strong that arm and that explains why he can throw 100 miles an hour and sustain it throughout the game.
3. The Best Is Yet to Come
With the goal of 110 to 120 innings, that’s going to allow him much more time to work on some things like his secondary pitches. Word is he has a new changeup which would be ridiculous and probably come in at 89-92, just speculating there. Maybe this year will also see him throw a cutter at 97-98 to go along with that fastball.
4. The Starter Future
There were a couple of times last year where is Palencia came in out of the bullpen to piggyback off a starter who was rehabbing from the big league club. Each time it did not go well and a lot of that had to probably do with his missing his long toss. It really stretches out his arm. Some people say that he they want to see him come out of the pen, I’d rather he just start the game if he makes it to the big leagues. That’s where his future lies, and if he throwing three pitches that he can control in the zone, then he is going to be a starter.
There’s one thing that playing at the Double-A level does, it tells you exactly where you are and what you need to work on immediately. It’s the most talented level of the minors and if any player will find out what they do well and what they don’t within their first few games. The interesting thing about the Cubs Double-A league is that it only has 8 teams so they will get to know you very well very quickly. And if Palencia can dominate the first half of the year, who knows what’s going to happen.
I am excited to see how he does at this level. The stuff is going to play, it’s just what he is going to use to get hitters out. Ideally, he’s going to use a variety of pitches per plate appearance. He’s not going to be formulaic and he’s just going to have to keep the hitters guessing.