‘Risk’ and reward: Cubs’ Reginald Preciado showcasing versatility

Switch-hitting prospect Reginald Preciado is honing his left-handed swing and trying out new infield positions in minicamp.

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Cubs infield prospect Reginald Preciado awaits his turn in the batting cages during minor league mini camp at the Cubs Spring Training complex in Mesa, AZ.

Cubs infield prospect Reginald Preciado awaits his turn in the batting cages during minor league mini camp at the Cubs Spring Training complex in Mesa, AZ.

John Antonoff / Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Reginald Preciado jogged out to second base for ground balls Friday, setting up on the side of the field that’s much less familiar to him.

The next day of minicamp, the Cubs infield prospect lined up at shortstop.

“It’s really important to have that versatility positionally,” Preciado said this week. “It gets you in the lineup, which is something that’s important to me. And it also helps speed up going through the [farm] system.”

That concept itself isn’t new. Prospects who can play multiple positions aren’t waiting for one specific spot at the next level to open up when they’re on the verge of a call-up. For a player as young as Preciado, 18, versatility can push his potential even higher. And the Cubs clearly valued young players with high ceilings when they traded Yu Darvish to the Padres a year ago.

Preciado was one of four prospects the Cubs acquired, along with starting pitcher Zach Davies, for Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini. Of the four, two are ranked among the Cubs’ top 10 prospects, according to mlb.com: Preciado (No. 8) and outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 9).

In a notably youthful group of prospect acquisitions, Preciado is the youngest. And he’s not just versatile on the field. He’s also a switch hitter.

“There’s no question when you look at this return, you’re going to say it’s young and there’s risk involved,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said after the trade in December 2020. “And I think that’s a fair thing to say. But you also could say, these are four really talented young players.

“Given where they were drafted, given the amount of money that they signed for, where they rank in their [home] countries, these are four really talented kids that I can’t wait to turn over to high performance, I can’t wait to turn over to our player-development guys.”

Preciado, who at 16 signed with the Padres out of Panama in 2019, has mostly played shortstop and third base. He got time at both spots in rookie ball last season. But now he’s mixing in at second base during batting practice and infield drills.

“I really think that playing shortstop is something that helps you play any other position in the infield,” Preciado said, “because you have to be used to the movement, so I think that’s really helped me out with playing second base.”

Preciado is also making adjustments to his left-handed swing. He’s naturally right-handed and said his swing from that side is more “comfortable.” But he has the potential for power from the left side. He hit three home runs left-handed last year and none from the right side.

Working with the Cubs’ development staff, Preciado has moved his hands lower to start his left-handed swing.

“When I had my hands higher, I didn’t have enough space,” Preciado said. “And now with my hands lower, when I’m about to connect with the ball, the launch angle’s a little bit higher.”

Preciado already has noticed the adjustment improving his ground-ball rate. He said he also gained 10 pounds in prospect camp during the offseason with a focus on weight lifting. His physical gains should help his power at the plate.

Right after the Darvish trade, Hoyer called judging the return “a fool’s errand.” It was too soon to tell how the prospects would develop.

That’s still the case. But if Caissie continues flashing his power in the batter’s box and Preciado keeps sharpening his versatility, they could set the tone for that evaluation, whenever it’s wise to judge.

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