I didn’t make it to the Cubs Convention this year, which means I missed out the Minor League/organization panel, which is annually one of the most interesting discussions throughout the weekend.
Fortunately, both Brett and Luis were there capturing those discussions, adding thoughts of their own, and sharing all of it with the world.
So, I’ve collected some of the notes they took/tweeted about over the weekend, as well as some other articles around the web to put together the following set of prospect notes.
First, let’s start with just some stray notes from the convention:
- As Brett wrote about earlier, Cubs Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod revealed that Cubs’ Minor Leaguers are pulled from games when they don’t hustle. And like Brett mentioned, there are times when it might not be possible, but it isn’t a bad general policy to have, especially for the younger players who are still developing into the type of player they may one day be.
- Ian Happ, the Cubs second best prospect to most, is committed to being a second baseman long-term (as opposed to, presumably, moving back to the outfield). At second base, his switch-hitting, polished approach, with power upside, plays even better than it would in one of the corners. If he believes he can do it, and the Cubs are willing to let him continue to work at it, then I think it’s probably going to happen. Which position Happ will play at the Major League level is not yet a pressing consideration, even if he did reach Double-A Tennessee for the second half of last season.
- And while we’re on Happ, Cubs Scouting Director Matt Dorey praised the Cubs’ most recent first-round pick, noting that although he struggled in the second half (and upon promotion to Double-A), he was a bit worn down from his first full, long professional season. That’s something that we often lose sight of, because most prospects don’t find themselves that far up the ladder by the end of their first season. There are high hopes for 2017.
More from the convention:
- According to McLeod, Eloy Jimenez hits the ball really hard (obviously), but tends to make his contact a little too early in the count. Improving his selective aggression will be something to work on in 2017 – so you might see a bit more strikeouts and walks early in the year, as he adjusts.
- Dylan Cease, arguably the Cubs’ pitching prospect with the biggest ceiling and maybe biggest risk, will start the year out with the South Bend Cubs. He made just 12 starts for the 2016 Eugene Emeralds, but continues to be a guy on the precipice/with the potential to emerge in a very big way. Being another year removed from his Tommy John surgery should help. Although it’s not quite a be-all-end-all, 2017 will be a defining year for Cease (more on him in a bit).
- The upcoming draft, in which the Cubs will finally have a first-round pick again (two, in fact!), appears to be deep in high school pitching. With that said, Dorey doesn’t want his scouts to search with blinders on, so to speak. The implication is that the best overall talent available will always be the Cubs’ strategy in the draft. With that said, a draft deep in high school pitchers could prove beneficial to a Cubs team that isn’t going to pick near the front, but does have an impressive scouting and player development department. It’s much more difficult to find the right high schooler, given how far away they tend to be, so the better the scouting department and information, the more likely you are to hit with your pick.
- Over the weekend, Cubs Director of Player Development Jaron Madison said that Ryan Williams is healthy after making just nine starts in 2016, and will be starting at Triple-A Iowa when the season kicks off. With all of the prospect news (Willson Contreras and Albert Almora’s debuts, Gleyber Torres trade, Eloy Jimenez’s breakout), and the World Series hoopla, it became way too easy to forget how good Ryan Williams looked after his 2015 season. That year, after dominating Low-A so thoroughly that he was promoted all the way to AA, Williams posted a 2.76 ERA (2.86 FIP) across 16 starts (88.0 IP) with a 4.7% walk rate at Tennessee in his first full year of professional ball. He’s not an overpowering pitcher and doesn’t rack up the strikeouts, but we’ve seen firsthand (Kyle Hendricks) that there’s more to pitching than that. Keep an eye on him in 2017.
- Madison also said that Eddy Julio Martinez has all the tools and the physical gifts of a talented player, but still needs more experience seeing and understanding how pitchers are attacking him. Later, he added that “fans will know his name soon.” That’s actually a very encouraging review of the young Cuban outfielder, given that one of the most commonly discussed issues with international free agents (especially young ones) is acclimating to U.S. baseball. The comments are encouraging, then, because you can’t teach raw skill and physicality, but you can gain experience. Soon, he will, and soon we will know his name.
- The Cubs’ first pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, third-rounder Thomas Hatch, was being eased into professional baseball last season after an injury in 2015, and a healthy amount of innings before being drafted in 2016. “It’s a really tough transition for these guys,” Dorey said via Cubs.com. “This was great for Tom, because he could go down to Arizona and relax and build his own routine.” Dorey added that Hatch got a chance to go to Myrtle Beach just to experience the playoff atmosphere there in his new organization. No decision has been made yet on where he’ll begin the season.
- Let’s move back to Cease for a moment, because I really want to drive home how well thought-of he is within the Cubs organization. According to Jason McLeod, Cease has “a special arm” and is unlike any pitcher they’ve had in the organization since Theo Epstein took over the team back in 2011. There is still a long way to go, but his 100 MPH fastball, power curve, and developing supplementary pitches give him the type of ceiling we haven’t seen in a Cubs’ pitching prospect since the early 2000s.
- Sam Dykstra has an excellent and deep dive on Dylan Cease, including his injuries and time in baseball before the Cubs, his time spent in the organization, the struggles he went through once he made it back, and what his future may have in-store. If you are interested in Cease, this is something you’ll want to read.
- And finally, according to Baseball America, Cubs infield prospect Chesny Young is taking big strides towards the Major Leagues after leading all qualified hitters in the Southern League last season with a .303 average, and hitting .350 with a .400+ OBP in the Dominican league this winter. However, and this is hard to believe given the positive results, his offense isn’t what is drawing the most praise. “Most important he’s really come along defensively…” said farm director Jaron Madison via Baseball America. “We’re getting really good reviews about his play at third, which is really good for him because it opens up more opportunities around the infield. As you know, we like to move guys around.” If Young can continue to improve in the field, while hitting the way he has been, he can quite easily (and quickly) play a big role on the Cubs’ Major League bench. And with a manager like Joe Maddon, Young may even be able to draw starts on a semi-regular basis, one way or another. For now, he figures to begin the season at AAA Iowa.
Brett Taylor and Luis Medina contributed to this post.