The memory of playing in cold weather last spring caused Kevin Alcantara to wrap his arms tightly around the middle of his 6-6, 188-pound frame in mid-90-degree Arizona heat.
“It was my first time playing in the cold,” Alcantara, a native of the Dominican Republic, said about the uncomfortable elements when he played for the Cubs’ High-A South Bend affiliate. “Your hands feel so bad.
“But I’m more experienced now. Next year, I know I’ll be working through it. It’s a long year, and I’ll keep learning day by day.”
As the weather warmed up, so did Alcantara’s production, and he earned a mid-September promotion to Double-A Tennessee.
Playing for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League has given the multitalented Alcantara, 21, another opportunity to improve his plate discipline and increase his versatility in the outfield.
With Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki possessing no-trade rights and being signed through 2026 and top outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong reaching the majors in late September, there’s no rush to accelerate Alcantara’s development.
But there’s plenty of time and room for improvement, which is why the AFL represents a solid foundation for Alcantara to continue his development.
In an Oct. 14 game against Surprise, Alcantara struck out twice on mid-90s fastballs against left-hander Ricky Tiedemann, the Blue Jays’ top prospect. But in his next at-bat against Jacob Wallace, Alcantara fouled off an 0-2 pitch before poking a grounder through a big hole at second base for an RBI single.
And with the Solar Sox down to their last out in a seven-inning game, Alcantara kept their hopes alive by ripping a line drive down the right-field line off Reds minor-league left-hander Andrew Moore for a double.
“The focus for Alcantara is continuing to get reps and making good decisions in the box,” said Jared Banner, the Cubs’ vice president of player development. “We think he has the athleticism and tools to impact the game in many ways. All we focus on is making sure we have a plan to help him get better every day.”
Alcantara confirmed that Banner’s main message before reporting to Arizona was improving his pitch selection. Alcantara had a 23.8% strikeout rate in 408 plate appearances at South Bend.
“I feel good right now,” Alcantara said. “My focus is thinking about hitting up the middle and keeping my stroke shorter. Sometimes I swing at a bad pitch because I’m seeing a lot of pitchers. But I try to work every day on improving my strike zone.”
Alcantara adjusted slowly to the cold spring weather in the upper Midwest. He batted .218 with a .255 on-base percentage and 39 strikeouts in 132 at-bats through May 23.
Baseball America dropped Alcantara from third to 11th in its top-30 organizational rankings. Alcantara’s slow start didn’t help, but pitching prospects Cade Horton and Ben Brown had breakout seasons, 2023 first-round pick Matt Shaw made an instant impact and Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie showed considerable progress.
Alcantara eventually regained his productivity with a 1.146 OPS in 42 at-bats in July before a strained left leg sidelined him for three weeks.
He returned for the last five weeks and finished with 12 home runs, 66 RBI and an .807 OPS at South Bend. That was good enough for a promotion to Tennessee, where he went 4-for-8 with two doubles in two playoff games in helping lead the Smokies to the Southern League championship. He relished the playoff experience.
Alcantara has had mixed results through his first 11 games for Mesa. He has driven in 12 runs, including a walk-off, two-run homer Monday to cap a four-RBI game. But he has struck out 16 times in his first 44 at-bats.
“The tools are there,” one veteran American League scout said. “They haven’t translated yet, but there’s time.”
With Crow-Armstrong emerging as an option in center field if the Cubs don’t re-sign Cody Bellinger, Alcantara has received occasional playing time in right field after playing center most of his minor-league career.
The AL scout believes playing multiple outfield positions would help Alcantara, especially because the Cubs have used only one minor-league option on him and have plenty of time to develop him while Happ and Suzuki start at the corner positions at Wrigley.
Alcantara made a textbook play against Surprise when he ran toward the right-field line and took a peek to see how much space he had before catching Cam Cauley’s fly with little room to spare.
“If you have the chance, keep working,” Alcantara said. “I’m working in whatever position the Cubs want. I’m playing right field. I believe I played left field and right field in spring training sometimes.”
For one of the few times in recent history, the Cubs have young outfield depth. Alexander Canario received a September promotion and will get a few at-bats in the Dominican Winter League. He has one option remaining.
Brennen Davis, who has been saddled with injuries, and Alcantara have two options left.
“Kevin is a center fielder, but we’ll give him some reps in the corners, as well,” Banner said. “You never know where the opportunity will be. We want to make sure he’s ready to play all three [outfield] positions.”