Cubs prospect Daniel Palencia’s inspiring journey to become a professional pitcher
Daniel Palencia walked out of the conversation frustrated and determined.
The Cubs pitching prospect — ranked 22nd in Lance Brozdowski’s Top 25 Cubs Prospects list —was young and he had just spoken to an area scout in his native Venezuela and the message he got from him would prove to be a motivation for him the rest of his life.
“You’ll never throw more than 90 miles-per-hour,” the scout told Palencia.
“I took that to heart,” Palencia said.
So, Palencia worked harder and harder to prove that scout wrong. He was never discouraged. Not after that meeting with a scout and not after other academies in his native Venezuela would release him, telling him he’d never go pro in baseball.
That stubbornness came from his father, Damaso Palencia.
“No, hijo, never give up,” the elder Palencia would tell him.
He was and continues to be his biggest supporter.
When Palencia wanted to throw and improve his game, his father would drive him to baseball fields across San Carlos, Venezuela to throw. And on days when all he wanted to do was sit back and be a kid, it was his dad who pushed him.
“He would say, ‘Son, if this is your dream, go for it,’” Palencia remembered.
So, Palencia continued to work and refine his craft. He wasn’t discouraged when at 16 years old — an age when most international free agents are signed — he wasn’t with an organization. Heck, he wasn’t even dejected when his 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays all passed, and he wasn’t signed.
He continued to work with his father, improve his craft and know that he would prove that scout wrong. At the age of 20, a rare age for signing international free agents, the hard work that both Palencia’s put in was rewarded. He had finally hit 90-mph on the radar gun with his fastball.
He signed with the A’s in February 2020, just a little over a week after his 20th birthday.
“That was a huge sense of happiness,” Palencia said.
When the deal was finalized, he called Damaso Palencia, his number one supporter, to share the good news.
“He started crying and yelled all throughout the house and in the street. It was a great relief,” Palencia said. “Seriously, it was something indescribable.”
But that elation quickly turned into uncertainty. Less than a month after he signed, the whole world shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, the minor league season was wiped out — his long-awaited dream hit a roadblock.
In 2021, Palencia finally pitched in organized ball, starting the year with the A’s Dominican Summer League team before being called up to Class-A Stockton in June. He found a good rhythm after a whirlwind few years.
“I had good friends [in the A’s organization],” Palencia said.
Then in July, he was told he was being dealt to the Cubs as part of a package deal for reliever Andrew Chafin.
“It was a surprise,” Palencia admitted. “It was something I didn’t expect because it was my first year.”
Palencia called his family and girlfriend to share the news. They could tell the uneasiness in his voice.
“They told me, ‘It’s a great trade that just happened to you. It’s something new for you,’” Palencia said.
That was the confidence that he needed to overcome the shock of being dealt in his first season pitching in affiliated ball.
“It gave me more confidence that another team wanted me on their team and the appreciation the team gave me and the confidence to play my game every time I’m on the mound,” Palencia said. “That helped me a lot and it made me feel better.”
That translated on the field, too.
In Stockton, Palencia pitched to a 6.91 ERA in six games allowing 17 hits in 14.1 innings of work. Hitters hit .309 off him. When he reported to Class-A Myrtle Beach he saw immediate success, pitching to a 1.67 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and striking out 38 batters in 27 innings of work.
“I regained confidence in myself and that’s when I was able to do the things I wanted to do,” Palencia said.
He built on that offseason, refining his routine, getting stronger and fine-tuning his pitch-mix which includes a fastball that topped off at 97-mph in 2021, an 88-mph changeup, an 88-mph cutter, an 85-mph slider and a 79-mph curveball.
His offseason work has paid off. Palencia was assigned to High-A South Bend to start the year and he’s pitched 5.2 innings across 2 starts, allowing 1 earned run and striking out 9. He’s allowed just 3 hits to go along with a 1.59 ERA.
Palencia hopes that can allow him to improve and work his way up the Cubs’ minor league ladder. One day he hopes his velocity and refined control will land him a spot with the Cubs in the majors. And it’ll prove that scout and those academies who told him what he couldn’t do wrong.
“My dad is super proud of me, of being able to watch me play, to do my thing,” Palencia said. “I think it would be a great happiness for my family.”