With centerfielder Dexter Fowler on the last year of his contract, it’s never too early to start speculating as to what will happen at the position for 2016.
The Cubs have plenty of in-house candidates to keep the spot warm until Albert Almora Jr., Jacob Hannemann, or Billy McKinney are ready in Arismendy Alcantara, Junior Lake, and Matt Szczur. But a new/old prospect has emerged in Triple-A, John Andreoli.
Shelved for most of all last season with a shoulder injury, the 24-year is starting where probably should have last year, with the Iowa Cubs. Andreoli has picked up right where he left off, hitting near his career numbers at .268/.381/.408/789 with six doubles, two triples, two RBI and nine stolen bases. While there is still some room for improvement, Andreoli is probably the best lead-off man in the entire organization.
In five seasons, Andreoli has 135 stolen bases, and counting, in 164 attempts. What’s more, Andreoli is a true “grinder” the front office is said to like, as he works counts and takes walks. The son of a former NFL linebacker, Andreoli brings that same mentality to the diamond, taking aggressive risks that usually pay off. The one deficiency in Andreoli’s game is defense.
The play of Kyle Schwarber will need to be watched closely, as he has already surpassed the pace set by Kris Bryant last season.
In April of 2014, Bryant hit .281/.407/.539/.947 with five home runs, and 12 RBI. Over that same span this season, Schwarber has batted .375/.471/.714/1.186 with four home runs and 14 RBI. Bryant went on to have a torrid May, hitting .407 with 12 homers and 34 RBI. If Schwarber can come close to those numbers, he may also be looking at a promotion to Triple-A sometime in June.
That will put the organization in a tough spot, as the front office is already on the hook for Miguel Montero for two more years. But before any talk of Schwarber moving to left field begins, remember there has also been talk of Bryant going there, along with far out speculation of Starlin Castro or even Addison Russell playing left.
It has been learned that the reason Billy McKinney was assigned to High-A Myrtle Beach instead of Double-A Tennessee as most speculation placed him, is due to defense. The word is that McKinney showed a lack of interest in fielding while preparing in Spring Training. McKinney started the year as designated hitter for the Pelicans, but has been seeing more outfield time recently. Next to Addison Russell, McKinney is the best pure hitter in the entire organization. McKinney has number three hitter written all over him.
Currently, McKinney is tearing up the Carolina League offensively. With 21 RBI, McKinney is second in the league and is tied for third with four home runs. McKinney is also fourth with a .315 average.
While there has been some minor shuffling, the first major promotions look more and more like they will include South Bend pitchers Jeremy Null and Ryan Williams.
The 6-foot-7 Null was the organization’s Pitcher of the Month for April, as he has a microscopic ERA of 0.59 and 0.75 WHIP, along with 26 strikeouts in 30.2 innings (3-0 record). While Williams suffered his first loss of the season on Saturday, he is still 2-1 with a 0.85 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Meanwhile in Myrtle Beach, Paul Blackburn and Ben Wells are really floundering, each sporting an ERA of 6.75. And although Tyler Skulina was the Carolina League Picher of the Week last week, he still is a disappointing 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA.