Holy Andreoli: Can WBC Star Have an MLB Career?

Team Italy was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Monday night, but their run made quite an impression. Arguably the best player for Italy  and the whole tournament, for that matter — was Cubs farmhand John Andreoli. The long-tenured minor leaguer hit .316 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI in four games, nearly lifting his team to an improbable win with a late go-ahead homer in a tiebreaker against Venezuela.

Evan has already discussed the difficult path Andreoli faces to crack the Cubs roster, but I want to ask a different question about the Worcester, Massachusetts native. Can Andreoli have a productive major league career somewhere?

Selected by the Cubs in the 17th round of the 2011 draft, the last of the Jim Hendry era, the primary assets the young outfielder brought to the table were speed and athleticism. He was a perfect fit for Hendry, who coveted that raw ability in need of polishing.

Being a professional athlete appears to run in Andreoli’s family. His father, John Andreoli Sr., was a linebacker for the New England Patriots in the 80’s and former Cub Daniel Bard is also his cousin.

The UConn alum got off to a very good start in his minor league career, putting up OBP marks of .402 and .379 between A and AA in 2012 and ’13, respectively. Once he got on base, Andreoli used his great speed to steal a total of 95 bags those two seasons.

An injury-shortened 2014 sent Andreoli’s numbers tumbling down. His batting average and OBP dipped noticeably and his counting stats were obviously impacted in a big way. A subsequent poor performance in the 2014 Puerto Rican winter league and his relatively advanced age (24 in 2014) combined to navigate Andreoli right off the prospect map.

Ah, but what a difference a year can make in the world of baseball. Back to full health in 2015, Andreoli had a breakout year at AAA Iowa. His slash line of .277/.374/.401 was back to those earlier levels and he even stole 33 bases. In 2016, the average took a dip but the OBP held steady and the speedster swiped 43 bases.

Another development in 2016 may be more important to Andreoli’s MLB chances than anything. He hit 12 homers last year in Des Moines, which might not seem like a lot until you consider that he had a grand total of eight his whole career prior to that.

In order to really assess Andreoli’s chances at making a go of it, perhaps it’s best to look at another Hendry draft pick who followed a similar path to the big leagues. Matt Szczur was selected in the 5th round of the 2010 MLB draft as a player from a cold weather college with raw athletic ability.

As with Andreoli, Szczur relied primarily on his speed early in his minor league career. Then, in 2015, Szczur made a swing adjustment and saw his slugging percentage take a 100-point jump. Now the Villanova product is a key cog on the Cubs bench, and would undoubtedly start for several major league teams.

It’s not a perfect comparison, as Szczur is much more of a contact hitter with fewer strikeouts and walks than Andreoli. Actually, Andreoli may have some advantages over his teammate that would make him more appealing to MLB clubs.

Despite a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, Andreoli had 94 walks in 2016. On base skills of that caliber are highly sought after by MLB teams. It’s another imperfect comp, but Dexter Fowler had 154 K’s in 2015 but those 84 walks got him paid.

The other big check in Andreoli’s favor is that he’s also a very good defender. He has seen time at all three outfield positions and plays them well. Add in the baserunning prowess and suddenly you’re presented with a very intriguing package.

It seems highly likely to me that the Cubs will move Andreoli soon, probably as part of a deal for a pitching prospect with high upside. Given a chance to be a leadoff hitter for a rebuilding team, I think he could develop into a very good player. For his sake, I hope that he gets the chance very soon.

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