If you caught the news yesterday, you’ll already know that the Cubs’ number two prospect, Ian Happ, was finally cut from big league camp.
And if you take a peek at your calendar, you’ll notice that we’re less than a week away from the start of the regular season.
Given that all Minor Leaguers and prospects want to stay in camp as long as possible (because that means you theoretically still have a chance at the Opening Day roster), that was quite the compliment.
But that’s not where the compliments end for Happ.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer also mentioned that Happ – who slashed a team leading .392/.458/.765 this Spring – will actually start the season out in Triple-A Iowa. Given that he spent just a half-season at Double-A (and even struggled by his standards) last year, that is a serious statement about their belief in his progress and near-readiness for the big leagues.
- Happ hasn’t just impressed the Cubs front office, either. This article at the Chicago Tribune is full of quotes from veteran Jon Lester, who has been constantly impressed by Happ – and a number of young prospects – who not only show up and rake, but act like that’s what they expected to do. There’s no “awe-struck” moment for these guys, or at least they don’t show it. They come up and act like they belong.
- And for Happ, that may be an especially good thing, because he might find himself in the big leagues before he knows it: “Offensively, what was there not to like?” General Manager Jed Hoyer said, per CSN. “I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. Whenever you’re in Triple-A, you’re always [just] a call away.” Hoyer went on to clarify that he doesn’t know precisely when Happ could get the call, but he didn’t expect to see Addison Russell so early in 2015 or Willson Contreras so early in 2016. Obviously, you hope that no injuries force the Cubs’ hand, but it does seem that they’re well-equipped to deal with injury (particularly, because Happ can play multiple positions and switch-hit). God it’s good to be a fan of the Cubs right now.
- Of course, even with all of that praise … Happ is still only the Cubs’ second best prospect, behind Eloy Jimenez. Through his first 16 games of the Spring, Jimenez hit .321 with two homers, two doubles, and two walks. And according to Cubs Director of Player Development Jaron Madison, now it [his ascent to the Majors] is just about seeing better and better pitching, while continuing to deliver good at-bats. And with all due love to Ian Happ – who’s looking bigger and badder every day – Jimenez’s ceiling is a fair bit higher. If and when he makes it to the Major Leagues, it’ll be as an everyday player (whereas Happ could serve in a complimentary role for a while, before taking over a full-time job).
- But because of that and Jimenez’s age (20), the Cubs are in no rush to get him to the Majors. They’re still letting him rest his shoulder, after an awkward throw from right field sidelined him for three weeks. The plan, according to Madison, is to make Jimenez force the issue for the Cubs. He’ll need to rake for several weeks wherever he starts out, before getting a promotion. But don’t worry about too long of a wait, because Madison believes he might even be able to handle Triple-A right now. That’s still probably at least a year away, but that’s another ridiculous compliment from the right person.
- Check out that MiLB.com article for more on Jimenez, Happ, Cease, and others – including pitching prospect Jose Albertos, who’ll be starting the year out by sticking around Arizona. The Cubs intend on playing the very slow, very long game with Albertos who’s still just 18-years-old. But don’t let that discourage you: he’s got the attention of scouts everywhere.
- In fact, according to Madison, Albertos has three Major League quality pitches already, one of which (his fastball) is considered plus-plus. That is downright silly at 18. The Cubs fully intend to bring him along as a starter, whether that takes a long time (it’s not like he doesn’t have it) or not.
- The only pitcher in the Cubs’ system whose ceiling appears on par with, or maybe higher than, Albertos at the moment is Dylan Cease. And, as we know, the Cubs are ready to finally let him loose, so to speak. At 2080 Baseball, John Arguello discusses the improvements in Cease’s mechanics, citing one scout who increased the rating of Cease’s mechanics from a two out of five (five being the highest) in the past to a four out of five today.
- Also in Arguello’s article is an interesting anecdote about Mental Skills Coordinator John Baker. Apparently Baker set up an ice bath and tested players to see how long they could fend off the urge to get out. Cease, reportedly, was the only player to make it a full five minutes submerged in an ice bath. That’s some serious mental fortitude, dude. There is much more on Cease, his past, his present, and his upside at 2080 Baseball.
- At CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney discusses the Cubs Minor League and Player Development program that fueled the Cubs rebuild and set the Cubs up for years to come:
“It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.”