Last week the Oakland Athletics traded veteran INF/OF Chris Coghlan to the Chicago Cubs for 24-year-old INF/OF Arismendy Alcantara. Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year with the Marlins, should provide versatility and bolster the Cubs’ bench as they steamroll their way toward the postseason. Meanwhile, this unheralded little trade could give Alcantara a much-needed boost in fantasy value.
From 2012 through 2014 Alcantara’s prospect stock rose and then fell. In 2012 he made Baseball America’s Top 10 list in a strong Cubs system and then in 2013 cracked the list of Top 100 overall prospects. His callup to the Majors came on July 9, 2014. In his first five games he went 9-for-23 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run. From there, however, things began to unravel. He flashed occasional power and speed, but there was too much swing-and-miss in his game, and the strikeouts mounted at an alarming rate. His average fell below .250 for good in early August, and he finished with a slash line of .205/.254/.367 to go with 17 walks and a ghastly 93 strikeouts in only 300 plate appearances.
Following his failed foray into the Majors, Alcantara spent the better part of the past two seasons toiling at Triple-A Iowa. In 2015 he did manage 12 HR and 16 SB, but those numbers came with a .683 OPS and a 35:125 BB:K ratio. To make matters worse, he was blocked at the Major-League level by Chicago’s talented core of young infielders: Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, not to mention veterans Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward.
2016, however, has brought modest improvement in both performance and fortunes. The strikeout totals (61 in 53 games with Iowa) are still too high, but prior to the trade he already had 21 stolen bases. In the four games since the trade he has added three more steals, along with a homer and a triple. These are small signs, to be sure, but for the first time in several years Alcantara’s arrow could be pointing upward.
Furthermore, Alcantara has found an excellent landing spot. Oakland’s decision to acquire the young INF/OF reminds us that forgotten prospects who flash power and speed will not remain forgotten for long. At 24--he will not turn 25 until October--Alcantara still has some time to develop his best attributes and curb his worst habits. Of course he needs to learn plate discipline, and what better place to learn it than in Moneyball Oakland?
Perhaps I’m overly bullish on the youngster, but I confess to seeing in Alcantara a little bit of Starling Marte--that is, if Marte were three inches shorter, switch-hit, and played the middle infield. In 2012, his age-23 season, Marte hit .286 with 12 HR and 21 SB for Triple-A Indianapolis. He also drew only 28 walks against 91 strikeouts. Today Marte is a Gold-Glove leftfielder and an All-Star caliber player. In 2016 he’s slashing .335/.376/.502 with 6 HR and 19 SB. Imagine what he could do were he to improve upon his 7:55 BB:K ratio.
Given a chance, Alcantara could approach Marte-like power and speed numbers. Pittsburgh kept patience with Marte. Oakland, I hope, will do likewise.
Owners in head-to-head leagues that include penalties for strikeouts will have to be more cautious when considering whether or not to trust Alcantara, but he could be a difference-maker in roto leagues thanks to his power-speed potential. The Athletics are going nowhere in 2016 and do not exactly have the Cubs’ core of young players blocking Alcantara, so we could see him in Oakland as early as this summer.