I’m not going to sit here and pretend like the Cubs don’t have a number of more important things going on, but like anything, the world doesn’t stop for the NLCS.
So, it’s worth nothing that Baseball America has continued their journey through the individual Minor Leagues, now reaching the Southern League (where the Double-A Tennessee Smokies play) and the Pacific Coast League (where the Triple-A Iowa Cubs play).
If you subscribe to Baseball America, you can see the full 2016 Southern League list here (with the corresponding chat here) and the 2016 Pacific Coast League here (with its corresponding prospect chat here). I’m guessing you’ll be quite familiar with the Cubs prospects in the upper Minors and even happier with their overall rankings.
You’ll have to subscribe to Baseball America if you’d like to read everything in full, but I can we can discuss a little bit here. Let’s start with the Southern League (Double-A), where the Cubs placed one prospect, Ian Happ, among the top twenty in baseball.
Happ ranked ninth overall, after spending the second half of his season with the Smokies. Although his overall slash line leaves plenty to be desired (.262/.318/.415), this is just Happ’s first full professional – a season where he reached and succeeded (to an extent) in one of the most difficult Minor Leagues. Moreover, as a switch-hitting infielder/outfielder, with a polished/advanced approach at the plate, Happ doesn’t have to be a world-beater to provide value to the Cubs, particularly off the bench and perhaps very shortly. Baseball America likes Happ better from the left side of the plate, and likes his speed, but believes he’ll need to make a bit more contact to reach his ceiling.
In the subsequent prospect chat, Matt Eddy of BA suggested that Cubs catching prospect Victor Caratini just missed the top 20 and would likely fall somewhere in the 21-30 range.
Shifting up to the Pacific Coast League, Baseball America placed three separate Iowa Cubs on their list of top 20 prospects, but all three have made their way up to the Major Leagues this year, and two are on the NLDS roster:
2. Willson Contreras, C
12. Albert Almora Jr., CF
17. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
You may be surprised/confused how Willson Contreras (who was sorta the starting catcher/part-time left fielder for the second half of the 103-win Chicago Cubs) can rank only second on a list of prospects, but the guy ahead of him, the Cardinals’ Alex Reyes, has been very good in his short time at the Major League level, too. Similarly, Albert Almora Jr. ranked 12th overall, but if you check out the list you’ll note that there are a number of other very interesting prospects from other organizations. BA unsurprisingly loves Almora’s defense and even praises his contact ability. Other than that, you know the story: he needs to hit for more power and draw more walks. There’s a chance Almora can be the Cubs opening day center-field starter in 2016, so this is still very nice to see.
And then there’s Jeimer Candelario.
Candelario had a monster Spring Training earlier this year, before heading back to Double-A Tennessee and struggling quite a bit. But, after a promotion to Triple-A Iowa, Candelario found his swing and started doing damage on a daily basis. In the end, he slashed .333/.417/.542 with a 12.3% walk rate and a 17.2% strikeout rate, while playing a solid third base. He did spend some time with the Cubs this season, but didn’t get called up in September and will look instead to make the roster out of Spring Training next season (although Brent Ingram of BA wonders if he might be shopped this winter).
There aren’t many surprises here, but that’s because many of the Cubs upper minor prospects have actually been Major League players already. Some are still there, and some should make it soon, but all will likely have an impact on the 2017 team in one way or another.