Given that today is the official first day of winter, we thought it would be appropriate to check in on the Cubs’ prospects participating in the various offseason winter leagues. (Actually, I thought about that connection after the fact, but it sure sounded nice!)
By my count, the Cubs have as many as 26 players involved in offseason leagues this year, and we’re going to check in on most of them. However, if someone had fewer than 50 plate appearances (four players) or less than 8.0 IP (five pitchers), we’re going to leave them off the list for now.
That leaves us with 17 Cubs prospects to discuss.
Let’s start with the position players, go in order of number of at-bats, and do this all bullet-style, shall we?
- First up is the youngster with the best first name in the Cubs’ organization, Bryant Flete (2B). Okay, so he may not actually be the most well-known Cubs prospect, but the 23-year-old switch hitting middle infielder has made it up to Double-A with the Cubs, and slashed .248/.328/.345 with two homers in the Venezuelan Winter League (“LVBP”) this winter.
- Yasiel Balaguert (OF/1B), whom the Cubs signed out of Cuba back in 2011, is having a only a slightly better time at the plate in the Puerto Rican Winter League (“PWL”), slashing .269/.321/.356 with just one homer, 1 triple, and four doubles over 104 at-bats. As a 23-year-old corner outfield/first-base type in High-A last season, he’ll have to hit a lot better than that to make in MLB.
- Jacob Hannemann (OF), the Cubs’ third round pick from the 2013 draft, is also struggling in the PWL: .120/.267/.240. We’ve made many results-related excuses for the athletic Hannemann over the years, given that his professional career was delayed a bit and he’s dealt with injuries, but now that he’s nearly 26-years-old and has been in Double-A for two consecutive seasons it’s time for more results to show up. He was recently added to the 40-man roster.
- The Cubs’ second best prospect, Ian Happ (2B), played in the Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) this offseason which is awesome, but had mixed results, which is less awesome. In 19 games (72 PAs), he hit just .236, but thanks to 15 walks, he was able to get on base at an excellent .375 clip. The slugging (.403) was light, but in a very small sample that’s not too discouraging. Given the level of competition there (and the fact that he exploded in the championship game), this was a fine showing overall, but I’m hoping for a big breakout in 2017 (likely split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa).
- Gioskar Amaya (2B) has had a really strong showing in the LVBP, slashing .338/.347/.535. Amaya, 24, made it up to Double-A this past season for the first time, but struggled mightily (51 wRC+).
- Chesny Young (2B) has had a really odd slash line in the Dominican Winter League (“DWL”), hitting .314/.415/.329. He has had just one extra base hit (a double) to go with 21 other singles and 11 walks. He also made it to Double-A for the first time this past season, but had the same no-power problem: .303/.376/.387.
- Victor Caratini (C) slashed .226/.338/.274 in the AFL. Like Hannemann, he was recently added to the 40-man roster.
- Christian Villanueva (3B) slashed .278/.359/.444 in the Mexican Winter League, as well as presumably playing his excellent defense at third base, after missing all of 2016 following a broken leg in Spring Training. The Cubs recently non-tendered Villanueva, and he became a Minor League free agent. Worse yet, although many guys return to their original team after being non-tendered on restructured deals, Villanueva’s Twitter profile seems to indicate that he may have joined the Padres’ organization. We’ll have to keep an eye out for an announcement.
- And finally, for the position players, there’s the Cubs’ top prospect, Eloy Jimenez (OF). After a blistering hot season in A-ball (162 wRC+), Jimenez slashed .255/.323/.491 in the AFL this offseason, which is actually very impressive. The AFL is always stacked with top prospects, many of whom are close to the Major Leagues, and Jimenez is just a 19-year-old who recently finished his first full-season league. He’s well ahead of schedule, and continues to be the brightest star currently in the Cubs’ Minor League system.
- Collecting the most innings in winter ball on the pitching side is recent signee Seth Frankoff (SP). Frankoff was recently converted to starting, and has been mentioned as one of the depth starters for the Major League team. Fortunately, he’s done very well in the LVBP. Through eight starts, Frankoff is 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 29 strikeouts to just 11 walks. Opposing batters have hit just .198 off Frankoff and his WHIP is just 1.09. The LVBP isn’t quite MLB, but it is a professional and competitive league. Plus, you’re supposed to dominate in leagues other than MLB when you’re angling to be a Major Leaguer, so that’s good news.
- Corey Black (RP), the prospect the Cubs picked up in the Alfonso Soriano trade, has 20 relief appearances in the PWL this offseason, combining for a magnificent 0.43 ERA in the process. Acting as the closer, he’s racked up 12 saves in 13 tries, while allowing just a .147 batting average against (although, did allow 8 walks and 3 home runs). Black has the potential to pitch out of the Cubs’ bullpen as soon as 2017 if he can keep the control issues under, well, control.
- Miguel Mejia (RP), whom the Cubs signed last offseason, has had an interesting journey. From 2011 – 2014, Mejia pitched in relief for the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League. Then, in 2015, he pitched a little bit for the Saitama Seibu Lions in the NPB in Japan, before returning to Puerto Rico last offseason. In 2016, Mejia pitched in Triple-A Iowa, but did not get great results (5.70 ERA). His winter league performance in the PWL, however, has been quite solid: 2.00 ERA, 13Ks, 3BBs, 0.94 WHIP. At best, he’s emergency depth for the big league pen.
- Greyger Eregua (RP) 1.76 ERA through 15.1 innings of relief in the LVBP. He’s struck out 16, while walking just 4.
- Ryan McNeil (RP) was the Cubs’ third round pick in the 2012 draft, and just finished a really great season at High-A (2.33 ERA, 27.2% K-rate) … but the AFL wasn’t too nice: 8.18 ERA through 11.0 innings. It’s a small sample and a tough place to pitch, so it’s nothing to get worried about, though I’m sure he hoped for a much better showing.
- James Farris (RP), by contrast, did about as well as someone could do in the AFL, allowing 0 earned runs in his 10.0 innings of work, including a 33.3% strike out rate, to just a 5.6% walk rate. Farris finished at Double-A Tennessee in 2016, his second full season with the organization, and posted a 2.75 ERA (2.76 FIP) through 36.0 IP. At just 24 years old, Farris may quickly turn into a nice option for the Cubs’ big league pen.
- Juan Paniagua (RP) has made a slow and steady ascent through the Cubs’ organization, reaching Double-A for the first time in 2015 and repeating his time there this past season (4.04 ERA, 4.26 FIP). Pitching in the DWL, however, Paniagua has allowed no earned runs on just six hits and two walks against ten strike outs in 9.1 IP. Like many of these players, though, Paniagua is going to have to step up soon if he hopes to make it to Chicago.
- And finally, Armando Rivero (RP) has posted a 1.00 ERA through his 9.0 innings of relief in the LVBP. He struck out five batters, walked two, and allowed seven hits. Rivero has long had a lot of promise, but he was recently selected from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft (Braves). If they can keep him on their Major League roster for the entire season, he’ll stay a Brave. If not, he could return to the Cubs, and head, presumably, to Triple-A Iowa. We’ll see.
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