Minor League Predictions
Once again it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone and make some predictions. Every season, I wildly grope to try and make some prescient comments concerning the approximately 300 players that will don a uniform in the Cubs’ minor league system.
The upcoming minor league season looks like to be very exciting, with teams expected to challenge for league honors at all levels. Whether some of those players make it to the big leagues will have a lot to do with the fortunes of the parent club.
So pull up a chair, grab your cup of coffee, and let’s see how I do this year … Down on the Farm!
First Prospect Call-Up: RHP Ryan Williams
It is always easier to go with a pitcher in this spot as they are the most prone to go down with an injury. The performance of Ryan Williams in Spring Training made it even easier. Quietly, Williams simply showed that he belonged, pitching six innings and not allowing anyone to score. Williams gave up seven hits, but none seemed to be hit hard, and he was able to work out of any trouble. There are quite a number of players that can be moved off of the 40-man roster in order to give Williams his chance.
First Position Prospect Call-up: No choice
This was the toughest choice to make, which I revised several times before giving up. The front office has really stacked the deck against any prospect from cracking the major league roster, which is a shame. Among the players considered were Willson Contreras, John Andreoli, Jeimer Candelario, and Bijan Rademacher. But as the beginning of the season drew nearer, it became clear that the organizational depth chart not only worked against these choices, but also any others. That’s too bad, for while some find comfort in familiar names, there’s no denying the boost a club could get from the enthusiasm of a hot prospect.
Player on the Spot: RHP Armando Rivero
With Jorge Soler on shaky ground, the international scouting contingent for the Cubs will come under some scrutiny if Armando Rivero cannot figure out what is keeping him for maximizing an abundance of ability. When the front office signed Rivero out of Cuba in 2013, it was felt that his feet would barely touch the ground in the minor leagues before he made it to Wrigley Field. Now looking at his third full year in the minors, and the second at Triple-A Iowa, Rivero’s star has lost a lot of luster. The 28-year old has had an inexplicable drop in velocity, and has not shown he can get quality hitters out. This may be Rivero’s last shot to prove he has the “stuff” of a major leaguer.
Fastest Risers: INF/OF Chesny Young and OF Donnie Dewees
The Cubs’ front office has done a good job in developing a bevy of run-producers. Now, the run-producers need to have someone on base to drive in. Chesny Young won a batting title with Myrtle Beach and had a .392 on-base percentage last year. If Young can do the same to Double-A pitching, he can be knocking on the big league door in 2017.
Donnie Dewees has spent most of the spring with Myrtle Beach, but will probably start out with South Bend. Last season’s second round draft pick, Dewees is the most legitimate leadoff prospect the Cubs have in their system, stealing 19 bases in 66 games after signing. Dewees will not stay in Low-A for long if he hits as well as his pre-draft projections.
Bounce-Back Players: LHP Rob Zastryzny and OF Kevonte Mitchell
Drafted in second round in 2013, Rob Zastryzny had the look of a left-handed innings eater. But in two full professional seasons, Zastryzny has dealt with injuries, many created by balls batted back at him. Hopefully, the 24-year old has learned to field his position better, or how to duck.
A year removed from high school last season, Kevonte Mitchell had the look of a player over his head in Short Season-A Eugene. Now that he has had a taste as to what being a professional ballplayer entails, expect the 20-year old to do better in an encore with the Emeralds.
Worth the Wait: C Victor Caratini and RHP Trevor Clifton
All the attention being placed on Willson Contreras may pale in comparison if Victor Caratini builds on his finish of the 2015 season. Although the switch-hitter batted on .257 in the regular season, he was unstoppable in the Carolina League post-season. For that, Caratini was named the MVP of the Mills Cup Championship Series. Caratini also excels in all three phases defensively at catcher: fielding his position, neutralizing the running game, and handling a pitching staff.
A 12th round pick in 2013, Trevor Clifton had some modest success at Low-A South Bend last year, his first full professional season. Clifton was 8-10 with 103 strikeouts as a 20-year old. A year older and reporting in great shape, Clifton has been one of the most impressive pitchers in minor league camp.
Deep in the Bushes: OF Kwang-Min Kwon and INF Isaac Parades
From the time Kwan-Min Kwon first set foot in Arizona after signing this fall, observers have marveled at his size, approach, and power. That has continued through the spring, as the 18-year old has emerged as the next potential power prospect.
Seventeen year old Isaac Parades spent most of the spring lining up with the South Bend squad until being moved down to extended Spring Training last week. While some have said that he does look like a prototypical shortstop, he shows the best defensive instincts of the passel of middle infielders signed this past fall.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP David Garner
Coming into the season opener, this was Oscar De La Cruz’s award all the way. But with De La Cruz in rehab with an undisclosed injury, he remains uncertain for the beginning of the season. De La Cruz may be able to come back soon, in which case he would still remain the prime candidate.
Hedging, David Garner may be in the right place at the right time. As the big name pitching prospects all have question marks, the 23-year old could parlay being a closer on a very strong team into some big numbers. Garner had success both in last year’s postseason and in the Arizona Fall League, so the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it appears on the surface.
Trevor Clifton would be my dark horse candidate.
Minor League Player of the Year: OF Billy McKinney
To paraphrase, “hitters gonna hit!” Starting the season in Double-A may be a blessing for Billy McKinney. After showing a mastery of Southern League pitching in 2015 by hitting .285 in 77 games, the 21-year old should be able to pile up some big numbers until the front office can clear away some of the flotsam at the Triple-A level. Once in Iowa, “Billy Baseball” should have fans soon asking the question “Albert who?”
Jeimer Candelario is the only other prospect that would pose a challenge to McKinney, but it remains to be seen how he takes his assignment. Truly, there is no reason for Candelario to begin in Double-A, but he will. With his successes both in the Arizona Fall League and in training camp, will Candelario see this as a challenge, or merely become frustrated?
Looking for an alternative? Tennessee last season had the Southern League batting champion, and may have teammates Chesny Young and Mark Zagunis dueling for the crown this year.
This concludes the off-season portion of Chicago Cubs Online’s Down on the Farm Report. Next Monday, the CCO will begin its expanded three-times-a-week coverage of all minor league games with the season openers for the South Bend Cubs, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Tennessee Smokies, and Iowa Cubs.
Minor League Previews
- Rookie and Short Season-A Ball
- Low-A South Bend Cubs
- High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
- Double-A Tennessee Smokies
- Triple-A Iowa Cubs
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season A-Ball
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Down on the Farm Prospect Poll
The nominations were made and for the next week our readers can vote for the 10 prospects you would like us to highlight in a weekly report throughout the minor league season.
This year we will be posting the Top Prospect Watch in a separate article on Tuesdays.
You can vote for up to 10 prospects, per IP address, either above or in the right side bar.
So if you want to know Willson Contreras’ on-base percentage or the number of walks and hits Albert Almora Jr. has in a given week. Or how well Ryan Williams is pitching in the PCL, cast your votes, and we will bring you the details every week in a detailed report.