One of the constants during the Cubs’ Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer-Jason McLeod regime has been the flow of elite level prospects performing under the watchful eye of Spring Training on-lookers.
And while much of that talent is now on the big league roster – having just contributed to the 2016 World Series championship club – the waves of talent continue to descend upon Sloan Park.
Here is the latest …
- What’s next for the Cubs always seems to be a focal point in Spring Training. But after winning a World Series, perspectives can change. Over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma identifies a handful of Cubs prospects who will contribute to the Cubs in one way or another – whether it’s on the field or in a trade. There are four hitters (Jeimer Candelario, Ian Happ, Mark Zagunis, Eloy Jimenez) and three pitchers (Duane Underwood, Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton) to keep an eye on this spring. You’re likely familiar with these names in one way or another and should probably continue to track their progress as the season progresses.
- Candelario and Zagunis are sleepers because they don’t necessarily have the high profiles Happ and Jimenez own, but both have particular skills at the plate that could make them valuable secondary pieces in a trade or help in a pinch at the big league level. Clifton is the kind of pitcher who has continued to work his way up the chain as a late bloomer, who could possibly slot into the Cubs’ rotation one day.
- Over at CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney writes that there is a buzz building around outfielder Eloy Jimenez as the next big thing. Part of the international free agent signing haul in 2013 that also netted Gleyber Torres, Jimenez hit .329 with a .901 OPS in 464 PA at South Bend in his age 19 season. Mooney talked to McLeod in the piece, who said his swing reminded him of Kris Bryant’s when he was a freshman at San Diego. High praise, though remember: Jimenez is just 19 years old, making him about the age of a college freshman.
- And yet, Jimenez isn’t the only prospect worth watching this spring, as once again the Cubs will look and see what they have developing with regards to pitching. The Cubs may have won the World Series last season, but the drive for sustained success could stall if the pitching doesn’t eventually catch up to the hitting. Keeping with CSN, Mooney takes a look at the state of the Cubs’ farm with a focus on pitching. Mooney notes that none of the Cubs’ top four pitching prospects per Baseball America have pitched above Double-A. It’s not as if the Cubs haven’t tried (they have drafted 107 pitchers since 2012) and it’s not as if there isn’t talent (Dylan Cease is a top-100 talent, Duane Underwood also was not too long ago) but the lack of Major League ready (or even upper-Minor League) pitchers underlines the difficulty in finding solutions to the Cubs’ pitching questions after 2017.
- With that being said, Rian Watt of The Athletic writes that the Cubs are widening their scope to pluck pitchers at all levels. Their recent additions of Alec Mills from Kansas City and Eddie Butler from Colorado are just the latest examples of players who could contribute after starting the season in the Minors. Watt talks to Matt Dorey, the team’s director of amateur scouting, who says another pitching-heavy draft is upcoming for an organization that stresses two words: Find Pitching. If the organization continues to add pitching at each level, eventually some quality arms will develop and rise to the top, right? RIGHT?! Right.
- Using FanGraphs’ Steamer600 projections as a guide, Sam Dykstra writes about the prospects most ready to contribute in the NL Central in 2017. And for the second straight season, Pirates right-handed pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow appears to be on the brink of being a difference-maker in Pittsburgh. It isn’t just the 3.1 WAR projection, but the 222 strikeouts in the allotted 200 innings that would rank ninth among Major League pitchers that is eye-opening. That would beat out projections for Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale, among others.
- As for the Cubs, Albert Almora Jr. (who retains prospect status for another 18 MLB at-bats) is listed as the Cubs’ “most ready” prospect, but only projects to a 0.7 WAR in 600 PA. There are three minor league Cubs ahead of him on the list with outfielder Mark Zagunis (1.1), catcher Victor Caratini (1.1) and infielder Jeimer Candelario (0.9) projecting to have a higher WAR than Almora Jr. However, the Wild Card here (as listed by Dykstra) is Ryan Williams – who was the Cubs (and MLB Pipeline’s) Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015. Dykstra writes that Williams is a strike thrower who limits walks despite a fastball being his only plus pitch. Williams has a Spring Training invite and will be worth watching this spring.
- The Iowa Cubs start the home portion of the Triple-A season on April 11, after a five-game road trip in Oklahoma City to start the year. It will be the first of many road trips the I-Cubs embark on in 2017, as is the custom of the Pacific Coast League, which extends as far north as Tacoma, Wash., as far south as El Paso, Texas, and as far east as Nashville, Tennessee. There isn’t a league that covers more ground than the PCL.
- And to that end, Benjamin Hill writes that the miles add up for these players, whose teams undergo quite a juggling act when it comes to travel issues. Among the biggest issue, a lack of off-days compared to their Major League counterparts. For example, the Reno Aces have just five off days – not including the All-Star break – to break up their 144-game schedule. Comparatively, the I-Cubs have eight, which isn’t much better.