Start your week off with some Chicago Cubs prospect notes, eh …
- The Arizona Fall League is in its final week, and that included the All-Star Game (Fall Stars Game) yesterday. Matt Mervis, who homered in the game (of course he did!) also took home MVP honors:
- Mervis got some love from the Baseball America evaluation after the game, too: “Best Power: Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs — In the fifth inning Mervis electrified the home crowd at Sloan Park by taking an Antonio Menendez slider to center field for a two-run home run. The homer capped off a six-run inning that gave the NL an insurmountable lead. Mervis has used the Fall League season to put an exclamation point on his breakout 2022 season by hitting a league-best six home runs through the season’s first five weeks.”
- Mervis talking about his AFL experience:
- No matter what the Cubs do this offseason at first base, Mervis will come to Spring Training with a very real shot at winning the big league job. He offers too much upside at this point for the Cubs to block him, so even if you see them signing – for example – Jose Abreu, it would be done knowing that Mervis COULD emerge, and then Abreu would have to accommodate Mervis, not the other way around. God bless the DH in the NL.
- Mervis wasn’t alone from the Cubs organization in the Fall Stars Game, though, as lefty Bailey Horn also showed out in the game (1.0 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K), with this from BA: “Best Breaking Ball: Bailey Horn, LHP, Cubs — This was a two-man battle between Horn and the Astros’ Matt Ruppenthal. Horn’s slider was up to 85 mph with heavy sweep and slight ride. It averages 2,500-2,600 rpms of raw spin in the mid 80s and grades out as an elite 139 per Stuff+ models. Horn worked a scoreless ninth, finishing with a strikeout of Athletics prospect Lawrence Butler.”
- That’s a sweeper right there, and we are seeing more and more of them from Cubs pitching prospects.
- Horn, who reached Double-A last year and intermittently showed dominant stuff, is still more projection than actualization. The pitches have incredibly strong characteristics, but the consistency hasn’t been there yet. Still, having the pitches in the first place is a prerequisite to future success, and sometimes that command switch flips after an offseason of work. Horn falls into a large group of relief prospects who are on the radar for 2023, even if he starts the season in a return to Double-A.
- Fun read at The Athletic on the relationship between Kyle Schwarber and Cubs infield prospect James Triantos, who met while Schwarber was with the Nationals in 2021 and Triantos was a high school star in Northern Virginia. It sounds like Schwarber would make some offers to hit with Triantos and/or talk about the game, and Triantos was always eager to jump on the offer. Pretty cool by Schwarber, and pretty smart by Triantos.
- A deep and technical profile on outfield prospect Owen Caissie, who has been working in the AFL:
- That is probably the most dramatic example of something we’ve seen the Cubs do as part of their revamped development program: sit a guy down for a multi-day stretch. It’s a mental reset, yes, but also it’s an opportunity to work on mechanical issues, as the Cubs did with Caissie at the end of his brutal April. He was out for four days, just working and resetting, and then when he came back, he raked.
- It’s kind of amazing how much work can be packed into just a few days in-season, I suppose depending on the prospect (The Athletic):
Puente said Caissie’s swing, mechanically, had gotten too “east-west” and they wanted to correct that. What that means is he was getting too rotational and cutting off his swing, leading to an elevated ground-ball rate.
“He really wasn’t allowing himself to get to a point of contact where he could do some damage with his swing path, where he can get the ball out front and not have to cheat,” Puente said. “So we just did a ton of directional drills just with his bat path and body, just really focusing on him staying a little bit more linear.”
Caissie has a hand load — a slight waggle of the bat he makes at launch — that was getting rushed. His timing problem led to him being more rotational. He couldn’t hit a changeup up and away for damage. He struggled to pounce on fastballs middle away. He was essentially selling out on the inner half and couldn’t adjust.
“That was a lot of different work with the machines working different angles, balls coming in from a closed angle,” Puente said. “That made him stay on that ball that’s kind of moving away from his barrel a little bit longer. Tons to work with different bat lengths, short bats. And then just really focusing on ball flight with him, trying to get him to stay middle of the field as much as possible in a lot of his work with backspin. Since he was a little bit east to west with his bat path, when he pulled the ball, he would hit a lot of pulled balls with topspin. So really teaching him how to pull the ball with proper backspin.”
- From the day he returned through the end of the season – a stretch that lasted four and a half months, where he was among the youngest hitters in the league – Caissie hit .273/.371/.438/129 wRC+. We know there’s a load more power in there than the .165 ISO suggests, but he will have to continue to work on the strikeout rate (26.8%). There’s also work to be done in the outfield to ensure he doesn’t become a bat-only guy. All that said, he has a chance to reach Double-A when he’s just 20 years old, so the arrow is still firmly pointing up.
- A new Cubs prospect podcast is coming later this week from Greg Huss (he’s fantastic), and it’ll feature rotating co-hosts, one of whom is our own Bryan Smith: