Smokies third baseman Jeimer Candelario focused on baseball at young age – Knoxville News Sentinel
SEVIERVILLE — It should come as no surprise that Tennessee Smokies third baseman Jeimer Candelario is a top-ranked prospect in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system.
The 21-year old has baseball in his blood.
Candelario was born in New York City, but at the age of 5, his father, Roger, moved his family to the Dominican Republic to open up a baseball training center for Dominican talent. It was an opportunity the younger Candelario wouldn’t let go to waste.
“My dad and my mom are from there, so it was just moving back for them,” Candelario said. “I was a young kid and didn’t know what to expect. I was there every time and started practicing with him. The kids work with my dad so they can get signed (by a Major League Baseball team). I took advantage of it.”
It wasn’t long before Major League Baseball teams came knocking on Candelario’s door. And while as an American citizen he could have taken the opportunity to go to college in the United States and get drafted, it never came to that.
At just 16, Candelario was already being courted by multiple teams, including the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. But it was the Cubs who closed the deal and brought Candelario back to the United States in 2011.
“I never looked at getting drafted, because I’d lived in the Dominican Republic for so long,” Candelario said. “I just tried to be the best player I could be and put myself in the best position to get signed. I signed in September. I was excited to be with a new group of people. My dad always worked hard for me to get me ready. I really appreciate the time he spent with me. I learned a lot.”
What he hadn’t learned at the time was how to bounce back from struggles at the plate.
Candelario had been trained almost from birth to play baseball, but last season with the Cubs’ High-A club, he couldn’t get it together with a bat in his hands. At just 20 years old he stumbled and was far from home and his support system.
After batting .193 in 62 games, he was sent back down to Low-A to finish out the season.
He bounced back, even helping the Kane County Cougars win a Midwest League title, but it was a career setback that Candelario didn’t want to repeat.
“In baseball, you’re going to be in some tough times,” Candelario said. “You’re going to struggle. You have to learn how to handle it because that’s going to happen. I learned a lot about myself. I had to learn that I can’t be perfect every time.”
The lessons he learned from 2014 carried over, and when he got the call up to join the Class AA Smokies earlier this season, he was ready.
In his 19 games coming into Monday night, Candelario is batting .338 with 18 RBIs, three home runs and five doubles. After starting the season as the No. 24-ranked prospect in the Cubs organization, he should expect to be ranked significantly higher next year.
“I couldn’t let negative stuff get in my head,” Candelario said. “I had to stay positive. I had to focus and practice hard. I worked a lot this offseason and now it’s helped me this year. My preparation is better and my focus is better. I’m young and I still have a lot to learn. I’m trying to get better at everything.”
Adam Greene is a freelance contributor.
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