In 2016 the best Cubs baseball will undoubtedly be in Chicago.
The second best might just be in South Bend. There is a ton of talent up and down the organization, and while we can’t be sure yet where all the players will be assigned to open the season, the odds look very good that the South Bend Cubs have a chance to field a deep, talented, prospect heavy team.
And the best part? It starts with pitching.
The Low A Cubs’ rotation is likely to feature a pair of right handers with front of the rotation potential. Both have a lot of work to do before they can deliver on that possibility, but both Dylan Cease and Oscar De La Cruz have the raw materials necessary to turn into eventual number one or number two starters. Both feature a plus fastball, both have a curve that shows plus potential, and both have third pitches in progress. If they can stay healthy, maintain consistent control, and develop at least an average third pitch, Cease and De La Cruz could be the best pair of pitching prospects to move through the organization in quite some time.
We should learn quite a bit about their mechanics, their stuff, how they attack hitters, and how long it might take them to reach the major leagues this year, thanks in large part to the fact that the South Bend Cubs are hooked into the MiLB.tv service. We will be able to watch these two in all of their home games and many of their road games. It should be a lot of fun to see how they progress.
And, believe it or not, it is possible that I haven’t even named the best pitching prospect who might pitch for South Bend this season.
If you are not familiar with 6’8″ lefty Bryan Hudson, then you may be in for a treat. I think he is more likely to open the year in extended spring training and head to Eugene in June, but it isn’t impossible that the Cubs will send him straight to South Bend. He is very raw, but his curve might already be the best single pitch in the farm system, and that’s despite the fact that he’s only 18 years old. He needs a third pitch and work on his mechanics, but Hudson’s ceiling is right up there with the best in the organization. Among the Cubs’ left-handed pitching prospects, I’m not sure there is anyone all that close to him in terms of potential. We should not count on him turning into a left-handed ace just yet, but a strong showing in 2016 could start those (albeit premature) conversations.
Other very interesting pitching prospects likely to appear in South Bend include tall lefty Ryan Kellogg, hard-throwing reliever Craig Brooks (something of a strikeout artist who could move quickly), undersized right-hander Greyfer Eregua, promising righty Adbert Alzolay, and more. Both the rotation and the bullpen should be talented and deep in South Bend this summer.
And the outfield may not be too far behind. Eloy Jimenez is the biggest name, and one with which all Cubs’ fans should be familiar by now. Jimenez is probably the best slugging prospect still in the farm system. He needs a lot of work, but he has All-Star levels of potential.
Donnie Dewees, drafted by the Cubs in the second round in 2015, is lesser known, but entered the organization as one of the best hitters in Division 1 baseball. It remains to be seen how much game power he shows as a professional, but his high-contact approach and good speed should make him a candidate to move quickly and challenge for a Wrigley Field job in a few years.
D.J. Wilson is longer shot to head to South Bend out of the gate, but reports on his progress out of Arizona this fall were positive enough that I can imagine the Cubs having this young speedster skip Eugene and move directly into full season ball. Wilson is small – 5’9″ is the tallest listing I’ve found for him – but he has the bat speed and base running to be a solid offensive contributor. If he can play average or better defense in center, and the early word is that he can, he could quickly place himself on the prospect radar for a lot of fans this year.
And then we have Eddy Julio Martinez. Once proclaimed one of the best prospects of the 2015 international free agent class, later reports on the young Cuban have been all over the place. Some see him as nothing out of the ordinary, and others as a star in the making. Until he gets some professional statistics and we have some tape to review, I’m not sure what to think. Hopefully he’ll spend time in South Bend (or higher) so we can start to figure out just what this guy can do.
On the infield, keep an eye out for catcher and first baseman Tyler Alamo. There is the promise of power to come in his bat, but so far he hasn’t unlocked it in game. Regardless, he isn’t someone we should forget about quite yet. Ian Rice, a late round signee in 2015, shows some promise and could join Alamo behind the plate.
Corner infielder Matt Rose made a short appearance in South Bend last season, and he should return there to start 2016. Less likely, but not impossible, would be an appearance from the offensively-oriented teenager Wladimir Galindo.
Also not impossible would be an appearance, particularly late in the season, from other 2015 AZL Cubs such as infielders Ho-young Son and Carlos Sepulveda, and third baseman (and Boise State football player) Joe Martarano.
In all honestly, though, the infield will likely be playing second fiddle to the outfielders and the pitching staff, in terms of attention, and that’s ok. There is enough notable talent in those departments to make the SB Cubs quite possibly the most talent dense team in the farm system for 2016.