Future looks sweet for prospect Candelario
Most people call Jeimer Candelario "Candy." The players and coaches at the Cubs' academy in the Dominican Republic nicknamed him "Baby Ruth."
He has big dreams, wanting to help the less fortunate in his home country. This year he tweeted: "I won't be happy until we have every boy in Dominican between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove and a bat!"
"I won't be happy until we have every boy in Dominican between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove nd a bat! pic.twitter.com/rZAysEryt6- Jeimer Candelario (@jeimer24C) July 24, 2013
Candelario is one of the top Cubs prospects you haven't heard much about. But you will.
The 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder spent this past season with Class A Kane County, where he batted .256 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 130 games. He was played in the Cubs' instructional league this fall but had to leave early when he was selected in the first round by Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League.
"They're going to give me a chance to play," said Candelario from Mesa, Ariz., in October before leaving. "[Playing in the Dominican Winter League] is not bigger than here, because the Cubs are my life, but it's a good opportunity."
Unfortunately for Candelario, he has only had one pinch-hit at-bat since play started in the Dominican Republic because third baseman Andy Marte, 30, has been doing well and getting most of the starts. In the Dominican Republic, if you keep hitting, you keep playing.
Candelario was born in New York, but San Pedro de Macoris is his home. His father, Rogelio, played in the Astros' Minor League system but never made it to the big leagues. His son could.
"When I was a little kid, I saw him hit," Candelario said of his father. "He was a pitcher, but when he was released, he played in the Dominican, and he started hitting and hitting, and I liked the way he hit. He taught me everything. [The way I am] now, it's because of my father. He put me on a good line."
Candelario always had a glove and didn't have to use half a milk carton, which some Dominican youths do. He knows plenty of kids who had to improvise. That's one of the reasons he'd like to donate gloves on Three Kings Day in January -- which is bigger than Christmas in the Dominican Republic -- to baseball-crazed youth there.
"My family was always in a good position," he said. "I had everything."
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Candelario also became a Cubs fan.
"Every time in the Dominican I would see the games in Chicago, I would see Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou," he said. "I loved those guys when I was a little kid. Sammy Sosa was always hitting bombs and bombs. I loved the Cubs when I was a little kid. I was a big fan."
At the age of 16, he took part in a showcase of young talent in the Dominican Republic, and at least six teams, including the Blue Jays and Yankees, expressed an interest in him. Jose Serra, the Cubs' current director of operations in the Dominican Republic, was a scout at the time and successful in convincing Candelario to sign with the team.
"When I was growing up, I was getting better every day," Candelario said. "The Cubs gave me a chance."
Since he had followed Sosa and Alou, had Candelario secretly been hoping to sign with the Cubs?
"I didn't say that," he said, "but when I was in the showcase, I put my talent out there, and they were the team that talked to me. I liked the way they talked to me and my father. That's why I said I wanted to sign with the Cubs, and I'm here now.
"It wasn't a difficult decision," he said. "I like the Cubs. We're going to win the World Series there."
"Promise," he said.