Spring Training games have that ability to lull us to sleep once the starters have packed up and left the field, but you know I love the late innings, where we get small glimpses of the steps forward we might expect from prospects this year. I’m not going to make too much of anything we saw from guys this spring, but in most every case, a guy gave me something to watch more closely when the minor league games begin in May.
Here are my thoughts on the 14 prospects that were in camp despite not being threats to make the Major League roster.
Prospects on the 40-Man roster
Cory Abbott. Appeared only once, March 4 against the Dodgers. Certainly confirmed what I’d heard – i.e. that Abbott had shed a significant amount of weight since 2019. It was a relatively nondescript outing, but I’m pretty sure I did see the new one-seam fastball at least once, showing a bit of run to get back to the glove-side corner. Will be interesting if he goes to the Alternate Training Site in South Bend or stays back in Arizona to participate in minor league Spring Training.
— Scott Changnon (@ScottyChags) March 5, 2021
Miguel Amaya. 2 hits in 10 at-bats. We saw his continued weight room growth over the winter, so physically there were no surprises. Only one strikeout in 10 at-bats is a good sign. Looked to be hunting early-count fastballs, which I think is a good thing, as he could stand to cheat for power a little more than he has in the past.
Tyson Miller. The picture of Miller and Kyle Hendricks talking curveball got a lot of play, and I can tell you that Miller’s lone Spring Training strikeout came on that very pitch. He looked really sharp in his second outing, March 6, showing the extreme C.J. Edwards-like cut action on his four-seam fastball that he’ll flash fairly often. I wish he’d been given a second inning that day. I don’t have the video, but he got a swing and miss from Kolten Wong on one high-and-in four seamer that gave a glimpse at what the weaponized version of that pitch could look like.
Christopher Morel. In addition to 13 innings at third base this Spring, got a four-inning look at shortstop and three-inning look in center field. I think we might see him get continued play at all three of those positions this season. But it’s worth noting that he’s really added some weight in his lower half, so he’ll have to prove if he’s still shifty enough to work up the middle. It won’t stop him from being plus at third base, however.
Manuel Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Manny’s lone outing was on one of the video-less days (March 10). He walked the bases loaded but escaped unscathed, throwing his fastball 96-99 mph, according to the radio broadcast. He missed high repeatedly, which is to be expected given his lay-off, but we’re going to keep an eye on fastball command this year. It was awful in 2018 and then pretty solid in 2019. His lone strikeout came on a power curveball against old friend Jason Vosler.
Justin Steele. No details on why the delay at the start of camp quite yet, but he was able to make his Spring Training debut on Monday. Steele was quickly tested with two bunts – one on purpose and one accidental – and showed good athleticism coming off the mound. The feel for the buried breaking ball looked to be a work-in-progress, but I did think his fastball showed a little cut into right-hander’s hands.
Keegan Thompson. I tweeted out the pitch-by-pitch details of his last outing, where he reportedly hit 97 mph on the Sloan Park stadium gun. It seemed like the focus of the first inning in that outing was in fastball control, particularly as Thompson learns to command mid 90s to the upper third of the strike zone. The second inning was far more secondary-focused, where Thompson flashed a really good changeup down in the zone and then had a long home run hit against a changeup he left middle-in. The best pitch of the day, even moreso than the 96-97 mph fastballs, was a beautiful curveball to Dan Vogelbach. I would move Keegan up in my prospect rankings after what he showed this Spring, probably to around number 20.
1st batter (LHH): CH (PLUS) low SwStr, FB? in-corner 5-3.
2nd batter (LHH): SL/CT up-in CallStr, 2sm or CH mid 3-1.
Made quick work of these. CH depth really plays when he locates. But when he doesn’t, you’ll see with next batter…
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 13, 2021
Prospects not on the 40-man roster
Brennen Davis. Twice gave balls a good ride, but came away with nothing to show statistically for his 2021 Spring Training experience. Still, he made an impression, and you can tell the weight room work is going to translate to the field.
Cubs top prospect Brennen Davis shows off his opposite-field power with a long flyout pic.twitter.com/dcZsm0WhQY
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) March 1, 2021
Trent Giambrone. Played more third base than second base in camp. Struck out in half of his plate appearances, will need to show better bat-to-ball skills to get consideration for the Majors.
Brendon Little. Ended up with an ugly Spring Training line statistically (2 ER, 3 BB in 1.2 IP), but the stuff he showed has left more optimism surrounding his future. Up to a sneaky 96 or 97 now, showing both a curveball and a slider that might be a bit too similar still. Do they keep him in relief?
Alfonso Rivas. Has played in 12 games this Spring, and is five for his last 10 at-bats. Twice just missed home runs, one of his signature inside-out swings down into the left field corner, and this one that ended up as a ground rule double. If he was on the Double-A or Triple-A border, has made the case for the more advanced assignment.
Inside-the-park slam? Nope. Minor Leaguer Alfonso Rivas (acquired in Tony Kemp trade in Jan. ‘20) knocks in a pair with ground-rule double. pic.twitter.com/0Q3g6Vicya
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 10, 2021
Michael Rucker. Made a phenomenal impression in his first outing, striking out all three Brewers batters he faced, showcasing the revamped slider/cutter that tunnels really well off his fastball. Was beat up pretty good in his last outing on March 13 against the Royals. Fastball velocity down a little bit since the second half of 2019, will be monitoring that number once the games begin.
It might not look particularly devastating, but I think this will be a big pitch for Rucker, playing off his fastball, playing to the gloveside corner. And if he can command it here, and have the guts to throw it on full counts? Big league. pic.twitter.com/lYObNtRBc2
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 7, 2021
Chase Strumpf. I ranked him aggressively in the prospect rankings based on what I heard from the Cubs Instructs in October, and I’m glad, because he stood out again this Spring. Looks like a linebacker, and it’s going to show up for him in the home run column this year. Also you have to like the willingness to draw walks in three of his seven plate appearances. Don’t be shocked by a Double-A assignment in May.
Chase Strumpf with the no-doubt HR! 👀💪🏻
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) March 8, 2021
Andy Weber. Followed up that Strumpf home run with an opposite field double to the left field corner, and generally showed solid bat-to-ball skills. Continues to win people over, as he always looks the part, even in a big league uniform. I expect he locked up the jump to Double-A.