Diving into Cubs' international prospect signings

January 25th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' farm system has undergone a major upgrade in collective talent over the past couple of seasons. There were the blockbuster trades that shipped core players for prospects, plus the pool of additions through the MLB Draft.

Those are the moves that tend to grab the headlines, but the Cubs have also added impact prospects via the international market. That continued earlier this month, when the signing period opened and the Cubs agreed to terms with three of Pipeline's Top 20 international prospects: Shortstop Derniche Valdez (No. 6) of the Dominican Republic, shortstop Ludwing Espinoza (No. 14) out of Venezuela and shortstop Angel Cepeda (No. 19) from the D.R.

"From our standpoint, this is where we make our money," said Louie Eljaua, the Cubs' vice president of international scouting. "This is where we're relied on and we can be impactful. And, of course, we're excited about the players we've been able to bring into the organization during that span."

Eljaua noted that the Cubs have had their eye on the 16-year-old Valdez for a few years, noting that at an early age he showed an ability to hit for average and power. Valdez, who signed for $2.8 million, is "a guy that you can very easily see growing into a middle-of the-lineup bat."

While Eljaua warned of applying comparisons on any players, he said the thought is that Valdez could grow into a Starlin Castro-type build, but potentially with Hanley Ramirez-level production, if the projections pan out.

"Eventually, we see him growing into that type of animal," said Eljaua, who added that the Cubs think Valdez could "hopefully" stay at shortstop.

Espinoza and Cepeda are both 17 years old and each received a $1 million signing bonus. Like Valdez, they currently play middle infield, but are versatile enough to move to other spots. Eljaua noted that Cepeda also has experience as a center fielder.

Eljaua described both Espinoza and Cepeda as plus runners. Espinoza is a switch-hitter with great contact ability and occasional power, while Cepeda hits from the right side (like Valdez) and has potential to hit for power as well. Eljaua added that Cepeda played baseball on the travel circuit in New York before moving back to the D.R. in 2019. He speaks both English and Spanish, which Eljaua said will not only help him adjust to professional baseball, but could make him a resource for his teammates.

"All these guys have great, great skill-sets," Eljaua said.

Eljaua's thoughts on a few other international signees:

RHP Juan Archbold (Colombia)

"This guy can really pitch. If I had one word to describe him, he's a pitcher. He can add or subtract. He throws strikes. He knows how to use both sides of the plate. He can go up, down. He changes speeds really well. He's got a three-pitch mix again, with his fastball being up to 92 [mph]. So we'll keep him as a starter just to get him going and see where it takes us."

• RHP Eduardo Castillo (Panama)

"He's one of the few guys that you see at that age consistently get swing and miss on the fastball, which is an intriguing attribute. Whether they don't see it well or it has enough movement to it where it's hard, or late movement where it gets on hitters. So, it's going to be a good pitch for him and a pitch that we see increasing in velocity over time. And he's got a really good curveball to go with it."

• RHP Emannoel Madeira (Brazil)

"He's very physical for his age. He's 6-2, about 200 pounds. Strong build, especially in the lower half, but already, he's touching 90-91 [mph]. We see that increasing over time, to where we see a little bit of power down the road. And right now, his secondary stuff is a work in progress. But, we see the makings of a decent slider in there that we project as average to solid-average at some point."

• LHP Santiago Payares (Colombia)

"He's from a town about an hour outside of Cartagena. It's around the same area where Jose Quintana came out of. This kid is also a left-hander. Same area. Really similar body type and delivery. I don't know if this is by design or what, but it kind of resembles Quintana's delivery. It's not a bad comp and not a bad guy to be compared to. He has some of the same attributes. Good fastball, arm works really well. Fastball is probably topping out at 89-90 [mph] right now, but we see more in the tank. Good makings of a slider and a curveball, and also a changeup to go with it."

Other reported signings

• C Daniel Campos (Venezuela)

• LHP Miguel Cruz (D.R)

• 2B Omar Ferrera (D.R)

• RHP Jostin Florentino (D.R)

• 3B Albert Gutierrez (D.R.)

• SS Brailin Pascual (D.R).

• 3B Grenyerbert Velasquez (Venezuela)