While most of the Tennessee Smokies are struggling at the plate this April, Bijan Rademacher is off to a scorching start. The young 24-year-old outfielder has been tearing up AA thus far, even winning the Southern League Player of the Week on April 25. For the month, he is hitting .385 with a .515 OBP, 4 HR’s and 13 driven in.
For most prospect hounds, Rademacher’s emergence doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s always been deemed a solid hitter with a powerful arm. I have thought of him all along as a fourth outfielder with a solid bat and great defensive skills, including a powerful arm.
Fangraphs said the following about Rademacher this offseason:
[…] has the potential to play a reserve corner outfield role in the future. His plate discipline numbers have been good throughout his minor league career, but he doesn’t have enough power or the batted ball profile to hit for a serviceable average, likely taking away from his on-base production against more advanced pitchers.
While generally positive, it doesn’t exactly give one a bright take on his future. This spring, Rademacher is changing all that.
Drafted by the Cubs out of Orange Coast College in the 13th round in 2012, Rademacher was an ambidextrous pitcher and two-way player in college, but switched to playing outfield as a Cub. In his first year as a pro, Rademacher advanced from Rookie League to Boise and then Peoria, playing a total of 58 games hitting .278 with an OBP of .320. He also hit 2 HR’s and drove in 20 runs.
I first saw Rademacher in 2013 at Kane County and I was impressed by everything he did because he did it all very well. He could go get a ball in the gap, throw out a runner at the plate, and drive the ball to all parts of the field. While he did not have a lot of power or speed, he was a very good player and his hitting skills were not that much different than they are now.
In 55 games at Kane County, Rademacher hit .303 with a .374 OBP, but a midsummer promotion to Daytona slowed him down a bit. For the next year and a half, Rademacher was challenged. In the second half of 2013, he hit .276 with a .338 OBP. In 2014, he played all year at Daytona hitting .281 with a .363 OBP, but surprisingly hit 10 home runs in 111 games. In addition, he flashed his leather early and often.
After winning a championship at Daytona, where he hit over .400 in the playoffs with a homer and 6 RBI, Rademacher went to the Arizona Fall League. In 11 games, he hit .350 with a .404 OBP, a home run and 9 RBI. The Cubs really thought they had something in him by then, as he was developing nicely.
At Tennessee in 2015, his glove was on display daily:
At the plate, however, Rademacher struggled a bit in AA. He hit only .261 in his first go-round, though a .379 OBP revealed that all was not lost. He just needed to make adjustments.
The fact that his average slipped but his approach did not is striking (no pun intended) because that is the type of hitter the Cubs covet. Rademacher will be the first of the Tennessee contingent of outfielders to make it to Iowa when the time does come. But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. The Cubs system is much deeper than it used to be and they are going to let Rademacher soak in the Southern League for all its worth until at least early June.
I think the test of how much the Cubs like Rademacher will come this fall. I would expect to see quality at-bats every game, along with some outstanding defense because that’s who he is. He could be placed on the 40-man or the Cubs could risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft. Rademacher’s play in the second half of the year will determine the course the organization takes.