Full minor league camp is getting into swing this week, and I am hopeful that means we’ll get an ever-increasing amount of scouting reports and visuals on how all the prospects (well, the ones not on the 40-man roster … ) are looking. It’s a wonderful time of the year, big league stuff notwithstanding …
⇒ Ah, good ole Bambi Votto Caissie:
In one interview, Owen Caissie is compared to Bambi and Joey Votto, as a late blooming, rapidly developing prospect from Canada who’s obsessed with hitting. Story w/@sahadevsharma on how Caissie put himself on the map and reacted to the Yu Darvish trade: https://t.co/czvARp8GI8
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) February 28, 2022
⇒ That profile is a great read on Owen Caissie, who is clearly a very deep thinker about his craft as a hitter. Love to see that. But also, this story is great:
“I was actually throwing (Owen) BP when he got traded,” said George Halim, the director of Prep Baseball Report Canada and a scout for the Rangers. “When he started his first couple rounds, he was a Padre. He’s like, ‘I’m going to get traded, man.’ He would just put his phone down, take a couple swings. At one point, he took like three swings and checked his phone. He’s like, ‘I’m a Cub,’ and just kept hitting. He just didn’t give a shit.”
Halim burst into laughter at that memory of Caissie, who was 18 at the time and had not played a game in San Diego’s minor-league system. It’s not that Caissie didn’t care about his future. From Halim’s point of view, the moment showed Caissie’s determination, his obsession with the art and science of hitting.
⇒ More Caissie:
Got a good look at Owen Caissie taking BP during #Cubs prospect development camp yesterday.
— Scott Changnon (@ScottyChags) March 3, 2022
Caissie also made a kid’s day, giving him one of his BP bats that he appeared to crack and signing it when he finished the round. #Cubs
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) March 1, 2022
⇒ I cannot wait to see what happens with Cristian Hernández this year, from where he starts the season to where he finishes the season and obviously the development in between. The ranges are just so wide based on the obvious talent, the lack of pro experience, and the hype you hear coming out of Arizona.
Cristian Hernández is smooth & quick at SS.
Coach calling out the time from bat crack to first-base glove pop.
Average home-to-first run time is 4.2-4.3 seconds, this rep for Hernández was 3.88 seconds.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) March 3, 2022
⇒ It’s bonus fun to dream on Cristian’s younger brother Alexis, who was just signed by the Cubs, also becoming a top prospect, and then maybe they ride the wave together to the big leagues:
Cristian and Alexis Hernández might one day play in Wrigley Field together. But, who will be at short?
"I'm at shortstop,” Cristian said with a smile.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 2, 2022
⇒ Random statistical note on Hernández – the older one – from his debut in the Dominican Summer League last year: we knew he improved as the season went on, but it’s particularly fun to see that, in his final month, he had more walks (15) than strikeouts (13), and almost as many stolen bases (12) and extra-base hits (9). It was only a month, but he was a 17-year-old monster in that month.
⇒ Hernández shows up at the top of this list of five Cubs prospects working on various adjustments this spring (his is reducing the leg kick):
— Chicago Tribune Sports (@ChicagoSports) March 2, 2022
⇒ The one that really stood out to me was Ed Howard, who has definitely looked much more physically developed this spring, which is good. But what he has to work on is one of the tougher things to improve:
Kelly lauded Howard for buying in to everything the Cubs tried to do with him. He sees Howard as more physically mature than a year ago and believes he’s a different player.
A key tweak: swing decisions. Howard saw a lot of good arms, especially when facing the Tampa Bay Rays Low-A team. The goal is for Howard to shrink his swing zone a little bit now that he has a year of experience.
The Cubs minor-league staff also has worked with Howard on his front leg and his landing spot to clean up how he gets into his hitting position, which they believe will help a lot with pitch recognition and, subsequently, his swing decisions.
“He knows where he can do damage and that he doesn’t have the luxury of swinging at balls that are on the corners or even a little bit down, so that’s going to be a big thing for him,” Kelly said.
⇒ As we’ve seen with so many other young hitters, swing decisions (and pitch recognition, which is related, but a much bigger issue) are really tough to improve except at the margins over a very long period of time. That’s not to say you “are what you are” when you arrive in pro ball, but if swing decisions are an issue, then your improvement generally seems to be more of a tweak than a full on total change in your game. With Howard being so young and so inexperienced still, you’d have more hope for him than a guy in his mid-to-late-20s when it comes to swing decisions, and this is kind of the age/level where you would see major improvement if it’s going to happen. For an older guy, you probably aren’t going to ever see noticeable improvement (which is why out-of-zone swing rate for guys is (1) so sticky year to year, and (2) so predictive of future success or failure). Well, let me amend that: you do sometimes see noticeable improvement on this front for guys like in their mid-30s as they get SO much experience seeing pitchers, but if you weren’t already really good in a lot of ways, you don’t make it to your mid-30s, so it doesn’t matter.
⇒ Anyway, I got myself side-tracked there. The point is, it’s mildly concerning that swing decisions and pitch recognition are the primary focus for Howard after a really rough debut (that we otherwise would’ve liked to chalk up solely to him being really young and inexperienced for the level of pitcher he was facing). Here’s hoping there are surprising and substantial improvements right out of the gate this year on that front. Then the optimism could return for the Cubs’ 2020 first rounder.
⇒ No restrictions for Yohendrick Pinango! Yes!
Great to see Yohendrick Pinango playing without any restrictions. During the off-season, he had an IG story wearing a brace so there was some concern, but he's a full participant in ST! #CubsProspects #ST2022 #baseball #MiLB pic.twitter.com/EWZGG26XxT
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) March 2, 2022
⇒ It wasn’t even March yet and Max Bain was touching 97 mph:
Watched #Cubs @mbain_38 throwing live BP today and he was hitting 97 consistently! From undrafted free agent to hard throwing #CubsProspect – love seeing the progress Max! #ST2022 pic.twitter.com/SxZmyGOwiF
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) February 28, 2022
⇒ Bain doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other Cubs pitching prospects around his level, but the pitch mix, the velocity, and the demonstrated ability to improve are all pretty interesting as we look ahead on him (his overall numbers last year weren’t great, though he did finish the year with a dominant month (which kinda got blown up by a single clunker in his season finale)). Don’t forget, this was a guy who worked himself into the Cubs’ organization kinda out of nowhere, and made his pro debut as a High-A starting pitcher. That, alone, says a lot. The 24-year-old righty *could* open the season in the Double-A Tennessee rotation.
⇒ Stray visuals on Pete Crow-Armstrong, and I’m mildly surprised to learn there was a significant swing change for him this offseason (I say only mildly because he’s in a new organization, was recovering from shoulder surgery, and was known to have a little more power potential):
Quick look at Pete Crow-Armstrong’s new stance.
Hands starting higher as opposed to being on shoulder. “Upright” is probably the most succinct way to categorize it.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) March 2, 2022
— Ray R. Rardin II (@rardin_ray) March 2, 2022
⇒ More from camp:
— Ray R. Rardin II (@rardin_ray) March 2, 2022
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) March 3, 2022