Coming into Sunday, Cubs top prospect Javier Baez was having a rough time in his first week of Triple-A baseball with the Iowa Cubs.

Baez was 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, although the final strikeout was a very questionable one, as it appeared he held up his bat on a check swing (I actually happened to be watching on MiLB.TV). The first base umpire thought otherwise, and rung up Baez for strike three. It was the kind of call that would frustrate any batter, but especially Baez after the start to his season. So Baez didn't take too kindly to the call and was soon ejected from Saturday's game by the home plate umpire.

Iowa manager Marty Pevey kept Baez out of the lineup on Sunday. Not for disciplinary reasons or anything, but just to give the SuperProspect a mental rest. The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch tweeted the following before the game:
And perhaps the veterans' words of wisdom/encouragement paid off for Baez already. In the seventh inning, Baez came to the plate as a pinch-hitter with Iowa trailing Memphis 2-1, and launched a breaking ball offering over the left-center field wall for a home run to tie the game:

(Thanks to @PhilKJames for the video)

Not a bad way for him to respond to yesterday and pick up his first Triple-A hit, right?

Then in the eighth inning, Baez got another at-bat and came up just a few feet short of a grand slam on a well-hit flyball to the center field warning track:

(Thanks to @jaketoobie for the Vine)

Iowa won the game 4-3, so Baez's solo shot obviously played a big part in the victory too.

Hopefully Javy can build off of what he was able to do Sunday at the dish and swing the bat like we all know he can for Iowa. If he can, we'll see him playing at Wrigley within a few months.

Related: Kris Bryant hits his first two two home runs for Double-A Tennessee

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While the Cubs are really struggling to produce offense at the big-league level in 2014, the good news is that they are loaded with exciting bats in the farm system.

One such example is of course Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, and Baseball America's No. 8 overall prospect in 2014. The 6'5" Bryant is in his first season at Double-A, playing for the Tennessee Smokies.

And in Bryant's first double-A at-bat, he took Cincinnati Reds ace Mat Latos (making a rehab start) deep:



Then in Bryant's second game in double-A, he hit home run No. 2:



WAY TO GO KRIS! WAY TO GO! WOOOOOOO!

That guy was pretty excited, but so are we when it comes to Kris Bryant. Bryant's likely to have a pretty short stay in Double-A if he keeps mashing like this.

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Editor's Note: We are very excited to now have 'The Cubs Word' writing for us here at The Blogfines. Many of you are likely familiar with his terrific Cubs/baseball commentary on Twitter, and if you aren't, get on that now and give him a follow: @TheCubsWord.

The Cubs and Pirates just completed the first series of the 2014 season. The Pirates took the series 2 games to 1. 

The Good

Emilio Bonifacio  (pictured above) beginning 11 for 16, 2 2B, 4-4 SB attempts (although he did get picked off twice, almost three times – but let’s forget about that for now)
Cubs have a real steal on their hands with Bonifacio. He can play MIF, OF, switch-hit, steal bases and apparently get on base as well. He showing the type of talent he displayed in his 2011 breakout season and lets enjoy it while it lasts.

Justin Grimm, Brian Schlitter, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and James Russell all combined for 9 IP, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11K.
Most of these five were very good in the bullpen. I would’ve included Wesley Wright but he did walk a few and put us in a tough situation that he eventually got out of (and hey, Matt Clapp got a Wesley Wright jersey out of the deal!)

Luis Valbuena going 3 for 7, 1 RBI, 3 BB.
We all love Mike Olt but Valbuena had an exceptional series including a clutch hit on Wednesday. There’s no reason to root against him and he offers the Cubs versatility in the lineup as well as a nice bat off the bench assuming Olt gets the majority of 3B ABs going forward.

Cubs pitchers held Pirates to a team AVG of .175, .219 SLG and allowed only three XBH.

Despite having Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Pittsburgh didn’t steal a base in the three games.

The Cubs turned an MLB-leading (as of now) six double plays.

Cubs starting pitchers combined for two quality starts, 19 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 13 K, 7 BB.

The Bad

Junior Lake: 6 K, 0 BB.
He does have four hits in 13 AB, but this means he’s gotten out nine times and six of those have been by strikeout. Lake is going to strikeout, but he needs to walk more for Ks to be somewhat acceptable. All in all, I didn’t have much of a problem with Lake and he’s even accounted for four saved runs (according to @fieldingbible)

Starlin Castro: 1 for 13.
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt coming off an injury and not playing many games in Spring Training. He did drive a single to right today; exactly what I want to see more of from him this year. He was much more compact and short to the ball in 2010 and 2011, his wide-open stance and leg kick are worrisome.

Dropping the series 1-2.

The Ugly

Jose Veras and Carlos Villanueva
A couple of bad outings. Whatever. They’ll be better in time.

Neil Walker!

All in all it was a tough-fought series, including a 16-inning game that shaved a few years off of all our lives. Cubs take on the Philadelphia Phillies Friday at 1:20 PM CT for their home opener at Wrigley Field.

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On Thursday afternoon at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Cubs outfielder Junior Lake wore the wrong Cubs jersey in the first inning of the team's game against the Pirates. Because, you know, #Cubes.

While the rest of the Cubs team was wearing the new road jersesy with 'C-U-B-S' on the front, Lake had on the 'C-H-I-C-A-G-O' one:


Cubs reliever Justin Grimm alerted Lake about the jersey from the bullpen, and Lake soon realized this, as he looked down at his jersey and then at teammate Emilio Bonifacio's jersey in center field. That realization was fantastic and can be seen at about the 50-second mark of the video above. When that half-inning ended, Lake returned to the Cubs' locker room to put on the correct jersey.

Lake explained after the game about when he realized he had on the wrong jersey:

The fact that Lake refers to Grimm as "bullpen guy" may be the best part of all of this. 

Oh, and somehow the Cubs actually won this game 3-2, for their first win of the season.

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With the Chicago Cubs beginning their 2014 season on Monday in Pittsburgh, Justin Agla (@CubsFella) and I decided to put together some "Over/Under" predictions in regards to statistics for some key Cubs players, the team's win total, etc.

Here they are...

Starlin Castro Batting Average: .285 (From Bovada)

Matt: UNDER. After last year's mess (.245/.284/.347 line), it's hard to say Starlin is going to be a .285+ hitter in 2014, although it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. We just have to see it first. Ask me this question again in a month and I could easily say "over". The Cubs' front office and coaching staff are not going to be in Starlin's ear about plate discipline this year, even though it would be great if he'd take a few more walks and get into better hitter's counts. But they want Starlin going back to the "see the ball, hit the ball", "more reacting, less thinking" approach, and we know he's an incredibly talented hitter as he showed in his first three seasons. So consider me optimistic, but still not ready to say he's going to be a .285+ hitter in 2014.

Justin: OVER. Castro was a .295 hitter over his first 3 seasons and I like his chances to get back on track this year after a dreadful season last year.

Starlin Castro Home Runs: 10.5

Matt: OVER. At least 10 homers for Starlin in each of the last three seasons, and he had 14 homers as a 22-year-old in 2012. And assuming he's a much better hitter in 2014 than the guy he was in 2013, you'd expect the home run total to be higher (than in '13), right? I like 12-15 homers for Starlin this season.

Justin: OVER. Even at his worst he hit 10 and he has shown flashes of developing his raw power. I don't think he is to a point where he can get to 20 yet but I definitely think he hits more than 10 this year.

Starlin Castro OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. Even if his batting average and on-base percentage may not be quite what they were in his first three seasons, I think Starlin could have the best slugging percentage of his career thus far and should do enough overall at the plate to have a .750+ OPS.

Justin: OVER. If he is over on both the first two he almost has to be over on this one. He passed this in each of his first 3 seasons and if he does get back on track he should get over it again this year.


Anthony Rizzo Batting Average: .265

Matt: OVER. Rizzo probably isn't a .285 hitter like he was in 2012 over 368 plate appearances, but he's definitely not the .233 hitter he was in 2013 either. Rizzo suffered from an incredibly unlucky .258 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2013, when the league average for BABIP is typically around .300. Additionally, Rizzo has greatly struggled vs left-handed pitching in his career (.194 batting average), but looked fantastic against southpaws in Spring Training (granted, a very small sample size) and may be on the verge of improving in that department.

Justin: UNDER. Rizzo still has some holes to fix, and while I do think he bounces back some this year I think batting average might be the last place he catches up.

Anthony Rizzo Home Runs: 25

Matt: OVER. Even in his rough 2013 season, Rizzo still managed to hit 23 home runs, and hit 15 bombs in just 368 2012 plate appearances. In his age-24 season in 2014, look for Rizzo's power numbers to climb closer to the 30-homer mark.

Justin: OVER. Probably not by much, but I like his chances to hit near 30 this year.

Anthony Rizzo OPS:  .800

Matt: OVER. As you can see by now, I'm expecting a very nice season out of Rizzo. I'll go with an .820 OPS for the Cubs' first baseman.

Justin: OVER. Again, not by much, but he is patient at the plate and with his power I think he gets just over .800.


Mike Olt Batting Average: .255

Matt: UNDER. Olt had a great Spring Training, hitting .276 with five homers and an .886 OPS in 63 plate appearances. But he's also coming off a disastrous 2013 season where he hit .201 with a .684 OPS in the minors. However, vision issues (it's assumed) were the main cause the awful numbers and with the vision issues now resolved, he looks like the guy that came into 2013 as Baseball America's No. 22 overall prospect while a member of the Texas Rangers organization. So it's possible Olt has a very nice season with the Cubs at the big-league level, but it's hard to predict him hitting for a high average just yet, anyway. He is a power-hitting, patient guy at the plate, but he also has a low contact rate and may never be a high average hitter (even if he's still highly productive).

Justin: UNDER. Even with perfect eyes Olt was a fairly low contact hitter and didn't have the best average. I think he probably hits in the .240-.250 range.

Mike Olt Home Runs: 15.5

Matt: OVER. His power is real, and when he makes contact, it's usually with authority. He was punishing the ball this spring all over the yard. If he ends up being the primary third baseman/getting 450+ at-bats (which you'd think as the front office wants him playing), you have to like his chances for 18-25 home runs.

Justin: OVER. This one is easy. If he plays enough he is gonna get his home runs.

Mike Olt OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. The average may not be there, but the power and walks should keep the OPS above .750.

Justin: OVER. But probably not by much. His average will probably stay low and he strikes out a lot, but he does take his walks and will get his homers.


Junior Lake Batting Average: .260

Matt: UNDER. No one knows what Junior Lake really is at the plate. We know he has power (as evidenced by the three homers he hit in three consecutive at-bats last week), good speed, a long athletic frame.. he has all the tools. But he has holes and the league began to find those holes as his rookie season went on in 2013. He's going to need to make adjustments and lay off "pitchers'" pitches. Honestly, he could hit anywhere from .200-.300 and I wouldn't be surprised. The skills are there, but they're raw and we don't know if/when the proper adjustments will be made. For now, I'll guess his average lands right in the middle of that .200-.300 range at .250.

Justin: UNDER. Lake has a lot of talent but still lacks a lot of polish. I'll say just under.

Junior Lake Home Runs: 12

Matt: OVER. Similar to what I said about Olt, Lake may not have the high average but he's going to get his fair share of homers if he gets the at-bats (which, again like Olt, he should). I'll guess 13-16 homers for Lake.

Justin: OVER. Lake has tremendous raw power, as we have seen in spring training and got glimpses of last year. If he plays most days I think he can get to 15 HR.

Junior Lake OPS: .735

Matt: UNDER. The slugging numbers may be there, but the on-base percentage probably won't.

Justin: UNDER. Lake doesn't walk a ton and I also expect his average to not be great, so I'll say he finishes under on this one.


Welington Castillo OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. The most underrated guy on the team in my opinion. Castillo now has a solid .748 OPS from the catcher position in over 652 plate appearances in the majors. He'll only be turning 27 in April, and there is much more potential in his bat. He showed a glimpse of that in the second half of 2013 when he had an outstanding .288/.388/.475 line in 165 plate appearances.

Justin: OVER. Castillo was great in the second half last year and has more power than he showed. I think this is the year he shows he can be a good offensive every day catcher.


Nate Schierholtz Home Runs: 19

Matt: UNDER. Schierholtz had 21 homers in 503 plate appearances in a really impressive 2013 season, after never hitting over nine homers in a season before that. Of course, he had never been a full-time starter in his previous seasons either. Still, it's probably more realistic to expect him to be in the 15-17 range than the 19-21 range this time around. Additionally, there's a good chance he's dealt to a contender before the trade deadline and he may end up in a strict platoon in such a situation, preventing him from getting the at-bats to reach this home run total.

Justin: UNDER. I know Nate hit over 20 last year but he had a huge career best year and I think its likely he slips back down a bit this year.


Emilio Bonifacio Stolen Bases: 29.5

Matt: OVER. Bonifacio had 40 steals in 152 2011 games, 30 steals in 64 2012 games, and 28 steals in 136 2013 games. He is likely to play just about everyday with his ability to play pretty much every position, and while batting leadoff frequently. Additionally, it sounds like Rick Renteria wants the team aggressive on the basepaths.

Justin: UNDER. I think he gets close but I'm not sure he is gonna play enough all season to get to 30.


Javier Baez Combined Home Runs Between MLB & Minors: 35.5

Matt: UNDER. I love Baez's power as much as anyone. He is special. And he hit 37 homers in just 130 minor league games in 2013. But 36+ homers is such a high total to predict (injuries happen too), especially given that he'll be playing at the Triple-A (and likely) MLB levels, where he's never played. He's susceptible to offspeed pitches and he'll see better quality of such pitches at the upper levels, as well as pitchers that can execute a plan better.

Justin: OVER. Baez has some of the best power in the entire minor leagues and I expect he will continue to mash while in AAA.

Javier Baez OPS At Triple-A Iowa: .930

Matt: UNDER. This goes back to what I was saying about his home run totals. Even though the Pacific Coast League is where talents like Baez usually put up video game numbers, he may have a few minor slumps/struggles as more advanced pitchers get him off balance with offspeed pitches. I still think he'll OPS over .900, though, in what should just be a couple of months in Iowa.

Justin: UNDER. He doesn't walk a lot so he has to put up a massive slugging number to get this high. He did it in AA last year in limited time but I think he probably sits around .900 in AAA.

Javier Baez OPS At MLB Level: .790

Matt: OVER. Javy is going to mash anyone's fastballs with his insane bat speed and until the league learns this (as well as that he currently has a tendency to chase breaking balls out of the zone) he may go off. He may have rookie struggles late in the year but I think he will  put up big numbers in his first month or two in the majors. And regardless, he's going to hit mistakes a mile too, so the slugging percentage is likely going to be high enough to carry an OPS over .790 even if his on-base percentage isn't great.

Justin: OVER. I think Baez is gonna have a very fast start out of the gate, until people realize that you shouldn't throw him fast balls. I also don't think he will be up til the 2nd half so he could put up some big numbers for a couple months.


Jeff Samardzija ERA: 3.80

Matt: PUSH. A 3.80 ERA (or a little better or worse) is pretty much right what I'd project for Shark. We know he has the potential to be much, much better than this but he hasn't shown enough consistency to predict it. Maybe this is the year he does so? And it may be in another uniform by July 31st as well.

Justin: OVER. Samardzija just hasn't proven he can be a consistent top-of-the-rotation arm. I think he will be solid but not great once again. Probably in the high 3s/low 4s area and is eventually traded this year.


Edwin Jackson ERA: 4.25

Matt: UNDER. Edwin can be maddening because he looks like a front-of-the-rotation guy at times and then looks like a back-of-the-rotation guy at others. But in general he's extremely better than the 4.98 ERA guy he was in 2013, at least, and I think he has a bounceback year of sorts. An ERA right around 4.00 would be my guess.

Justin: UNDER. Some of Jackson's peripherals show that he was probably a little unlucky last year. Most are down on him but I think he has a good chance to keep the ERA around 4.00.


Travis Wood ERA: 3.60

Matt: PUSH. I don't think Travis Wood's 2013 was the total fluke that some out there seem to think, but I also think he's closer to maybe a 3.55-3.75 ERA guy than the 3.11  ERA he put up in 2013. He pitches to both sides of the plate so well and changes speeds so well. He's a gamer and you feel good about your chances of winning every time he takes the hill.

Justin: UNDER. Wood is the guy I most trust right now on the Cubs' staff and I think he will continue to pitch well. He isn't an ace but he can be a very good number 3 on a good team.



Jason Hammel ERA: 4.50 

Matt: UNDER. I was a big fan of this signing and think Hammel can be this year's Scott Feldman, where he puts up a solid season and then the Cubs flip him for a nice prospect return at the trade deadline. The 6'6" right-hander had a 4.97 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, but had a terrific 3.43 ERA for them the season before. I think he gets back on the right track and has a sub-4.50 ERA in 2014.

Justin: OVER. I'm not sold on Hammel turning in to this years Feldman, although I'll admit I wasnt sold on Feldman last year either. Still, his career numbers arent great and he isnt getting any younger. I expect an ERA closer to 5.


Jose Veras Saves: 25

Matt: UNDER. I don't see him reaching that total for a couple reasons. One, the Cubs likely aren't going to be winning enough games for Veras to get a ton of save opportunities. And also, I expect the Cubs to trade him to a contender over the next few months. As for whether he could still end up with 25 total saves in that scenario, he would likely be a setup man rather than a closer on a contending team.

Justin: UNDER. I don't think he lasts as a closer long enough to get to 25 because the Cubs will trade him the first time they get a good offer and contenders always want bullpen help.


Number Of Cubs (On Current 25-Man Roster) Traded By July 31st: 3.5

Matt: OVER. There are several candidates to be dealt for prospects, such as Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Jose Veras, Nate Schierholtz, James Russell, Carlos Villanueva, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena, Ryan Sweeney, etc. I think the Cubs trade at least four guys on the current 25-man roster as they want to keep using short-term assets to acquire long-term assets, and they could get some nice offers for the aforementioned players.

Justin: UNDER. I'll guess exactly 3.

Number Of Cubs Players With 15+ Home Runs: 4.5

Matt: UNDER. There are several players that are capable of hitting at least 15 homers, such as Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake, and Luis Valbuena. But I can't comfortably predict that at least five guys will hit that many, though it's certainly possible. Obviously if we knew that Baez would be up fairly soon that would help the chances.

Justin: OVER. Power wasn't a problem for the Cubs last year, as they finished 2nd in the NL in HR, and I don't expect it to be a problem this year either. I think there are 7 or 8 guys with 15 HR potential, maybe more if prospects come up, they won't all get enough playing time or be here long enough to do it, but I'll say 5 guys get to 15.


Total Number Of Cubs Wins: 69.5  (From Bovada)

Matt: OVER. 72. I think they could hit 75 wins or more, if not for inevitable trades of quality players, and if Baez were to come up by May or June.

Justin: OVER. My personal prediction was 70 so I'll say just barely over.

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The Cubs blew a six-run lead to the Rangers in extra innings on Tuesday night in Surprise, Arizona, and lost the game 7-6. But it's Spring Training and we of course don't care about the final score, but rather individual performances and other things of note from the game. Specifically in this game, what Javier Baez and Mike Olt did, and what Josh Vitters didn't do.

In the third inning, the Cubs beat a very good pitcher in Alexi Ogando around for five runs, including back-to-back home runs, and hitting for the cycle over four consecutive batters.The back-to-back homers came from Olt and Baez, with both being extremely impressive opposite field shots:

The homers were the fourth of Spring Training for each player, and really showed off the rare power each player possesses. That's also the third opposite field homer Baez has hit on the spring which is really nice to see.

Baez also roped a double down the left field line, and in his final at-bat, worked a 3-1 count before smoking a line drive right at the shortstop. He struck out in his first at-bat, chasing a couple sliders out of the zone, something that he's done a bit too much of in the last few days. That's going to be the area of his offensive game he really needs to work on when he starts the year in Iowa (assuming this happens), as it's not going to take long for opposing teams to realize he can hit anyone's fastball with his All-World bat speed. He's going to see lots of breaking balls out of the zone at the big-league level and will need to learn to lay off those. Most professional hitters do make adjustments in that department, but we saw for years a guy that didn't make that adjustment in Alfonso Soriano (not that he still hasn't had a fantastic career).

As for Olt, it sure seems his vision issues have been resolved (as he and the team have been saying all spring). He looks very confident in the box right now and is squaring the ball up extremely well as you could see in the home run video. While the Cubs may want him to get some more time at Iowa after his disastrous 2013 season, it's going to be hard to keep him off the 25-man roster to open the year.

Keep in mind that what Olt shows the Cubs' brass over the next year could really effect the "plan" moving forward, in a good way. Olt's sort of became a forgotten guy on the Cubs' prospect radar with Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, etc in the fold on the positional player front. But in 2012, Olt hit 28 homers and had a .977 OPS for the Rangers' double-A club before the vision issues came along. He's also a rock-solid third baseman defensively. So, you want to see what you have with Olt soon, and it could change the positional outlook for other Cubs prospects, along with giving the front office some more potential trade chips to work with if you have an overload of talent at specific positions and want to use one (or more) of those pieces to acquire a position of need (cough, starting pitching, cough) . It would be a great "problem" to have if Olt progresses as the guy everyone around baseball thought he would after 2012.

But while Baez and Olt provided some exciting highlights in the game, Vitters provided a lowlight that may stick in the minds of anyone that saw the game for a while. It was in the eighth inning, I believe, and a Rangers batter hit a lazy flyball in foul territory down the left field line with Vitters playing left field. Vitters (hardly) jogged towards the flyball, and stopped, while the ball landed maybe five feet in front of him. It was an embarrassing "effort" for a former first-round pick that should be trying to prove as hard as anyone that he deserves to make the Cubs' roster at some point in 2014 and still be considered a part of the prospect conversation.

Wayne Randazzo, the play-by-play announcer for the Kane County Cougars, put it well:

On to some other things we took away from the game...


  • Javier Baez got his second start of the spring at second base, and had a tailor-made double play ball go right through his legs. He simply came up a little too early with the glove and perhaps he already had his mind/eyes on the throw to second base before getting the ball. It happens.
  • Jason Hammel went five innings on the mound, allowing four earned runs, seven hits, two walks, and two strikeouts. He looked really sharp in the first couple innings and keep in mind these guys are working on different pitches and aren't used to going more than a few innings yet. 
  • Hard-throwing right-hander Alberto Cabrera looked really good in two scoreless innings of work. He has nasty stuff and may be best-suited for a bullpen role, where he was full-time a couple years ago. Obviously the Cubs are trying to develop starting pitchers and Cabrera's value would be higher in that role if he could prove to be major-league capable in it, but he may be better off being a mainly two-pitch pitcher in a bullpen role where he can really let it all go. 
  • Armando Rivero is another hard-throwing right-hander that hit 97 mph on the gun with his first pitch of the night. I've seen videos of him pitching and have read all the scouting reports, but this was my first time getting a live (on TV) look at him. He also showed off a dirty breaking ball. Unfortunately, he left a mistake pitch right over the heart of the plate and former Cubs prospect James Adduci hit it about 500 feet for a two-run homer. Still, I really liked what I saw of the 25-year-old Rivero and will definitely be following his development closer. 
  • We've seen the pictures floating around of Dan Vogelbach after he reportedly lost 30 pounds, but seeing him stand up in the batter's box for an at-bat in this game really showed how much he's slimmed down. You wouldn't think anything of his figure at all anymore; just looks like your usual baseball player.
  • Jeimer Candelario is one of my personal favorite prospects and my prime breakout candidate for 2014. At just 19 last season, the switch-hitting Candelario had a .256/.346/.396 line at low-A Kane County, hitting 35 doubles, 11 homers, and walking 66 times. He has a very advanced plate approach for his age and as he keeps developing/getting stronger, may start turning some of those doubles into home runs. Well, Candelario started at third base on Tuesday night, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts but worked the count nicely a couple times. Definitely keep an eye on him this season. 


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