What a week it was for the Chicago Cubs!!! Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, and Ariel Ovando…um, who? Ovando, only, 21, is a former Astros’prospect who flamed out on the hitting side. The 6’4”lefty former outfielder will be converted into a pitcher. The Cubs like his arm strength and hope the change goes smoothly. Jason MacLeod said, “Our scouts really like the arm strength. He knows that’s the reason we took him – to convert him and try it out. So it’s a low-risk, potential high-upside understanding that it’s a project.”
As I sit in my chair this morning I am very, very pleased with what the Cubs have done so far this offseason without having to give up much except for Jeferson Mejia and Zak Godley. The Cubs are likely not done dealing either. With some movable parts in Wellington Castillo, Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson, the Front Office will likely take their time in completing the roster. There is plenty of time before the season starts to add a couple of parts. I still think the Cubs are in the market for a center fielder and maybe a relief pitcher (preferably a lefty).
When I begin to look forward to next season, I think of how it is going to be nice to be competitive. I look forward to seeing the influence of Lester and Hammel on the rotation. I look forward to see how Montero frames pitches. I look forward to seeing what Joe Maddon can bring to the club. I think Maddon’s influence has gotten lost with all the news this week. With Maddon you get a guy who is known for commanding the locker room, the culture, and developing young players. With Baez, Soler, Alcantara, and Bryant likely to assume large roles on the team, I look forward to how Maddon can bring them along to become steady forces and to make adjustments on a daily basis.
And I am looking forward to see what the Cubs do this summer when the international free agent market opens for business on July 2. Yoan Moncada is still out waiting to be signed. Vlad Guerrero, Jr., and Starling Heredia are two gems I think the Cubs have a legitimate shot at signing. With no signing restrictions in place, the Cubs look to make a haul like they did in 2013 when they signed Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, and Wladimir Galindo to name a few.
When I start looking at what we did not give up to move forward in 2015, I get a little giddy. The average Cub fan does not know what is coming up from the minors in the next two to three years. Sure the average fan may have heard of Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber, but they likely don’t know about the following prospects who I think will be making great strides in their game and development in the next year. In addition to filling up a stat sheet, they will be moving to the top of the top prospect lists. Currently, only one of these young players is presently on the Cubs Top 20 list at MLB.com. By the end of the year, most will be.
- Duane Underwood – a physical specimen, Underwood showed some glimpses of his potential in 2013 at Boise. After a disastrous first half when he went 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA, something clicked physically and mentally. He began taking better care of himself. His second half ERA was 2.95. He only logged 54.1 innings that year, but it was an eye opener for him. When he arrived at Kane County in 2014, the 6’2” 200 pounder was in fine shape and it showed all year. In 100 innings in Geneva, Underwood logged a 2.50 ERA going 6-4 and leading the team to a Midwest League Championship. I would like to see him get close to 140 innings this year at Myrtle Beach. He will not be 21 until mid-July and I don’t think there is any rush to bring him along.
- Daury Torrez – also from Kane County, Torrez had a fabulous year with 130 innings pitched with a 2.74 ERA. What I loved most about Torrez when I saw him pitch last year was that he was basically getting it done with two pitches. Torrez throws a 92-93 mph with his fastball and his slider comes in anywhere from 82-86. The 6’3” lean right hander is still trying to develop that changeup. If he gets that pitch down, he will be a monster force. If he has a good year, he is mature enough to advance a little more quickly based on the number of innings he already pitched. He, too, will be at Myrtle Beach in 2015.
- Mark Zagunis – simply put, this kid can handle a bat. While Kyle Schwarber grabbed all the headlines from the 2014 Cub draft class, Zagunis, a third rounder out of Virginia Tech, quietly destroyed pitching across three levels in one half of 2014. Ending up a Kane County, Zagunis caught, played two outfield positions, and DH-ed en route to a mastery of the strike with his .288 average and astounding .428 on base percentage. He showed he has some speed, too, swiping 16 bases on the year. I, for one, would like to see him start at Myrtle Beach and move quickly to Tennessee. I still think he has some stuff to work on from a defensive standpoint, but the bat is advanced. It might be the third best bat in the minors after Bryant and Schwarber, but he definitely has the best eye of the strike zone followed by Schwarber.
- Shawon Dunston, Jr. – When I saw him play twice in the first half last year, I was not impressed. He took sloppy routes to the ball in the outfield, misplayed several easy flies, and got caught by the old hidden ball trick. But something kicked in for him in mid-July. He was not the same ballplayer who hit .240 in the first half. His .288 AVG/.324 OBP along with 20 second half stolen bases showed he could be a catalyst for a team. He began taking good routes to the ball. He looked like a completely different player. I expect the trend to continue this year for him at Myrtle Beach.
- Trevor Clifton – This kid has quite the arm. The problem is he is like Jekyll and Hyde. One start the curve ball will be getting over, the next it won’t. There is no wiggle room. I, for one, cannot wait to see him pitch. He flashes a 93-95 mph heater and when the curve is on, he is deadly. However, you never know when that pitch will get there. Sometimes I wonder if he should just shelve the curve and go with a changeup until he gets his curve command down in his side sessions. Clifton is definitely a young kid, 19, who when he gets it figured out will take off. I am hoping that 2015 will be the year. He will be at low A South Bend all year.
*Jake Stinnett – limited because of his innings at Maryland, the Cubs second pick in the 2014 draft only got a few innings in at Boise. He has a nasty slider to go along with his mid 90s heater. He will likely start out 2015 at South Bend. However, he will probably follow the Pierce Johnson route, pending his health, and move quickly through the system to Myrtle Beach in mid 2015.
*Bijan Rademacher – I think he is taking off after his successful stint in the Arizona Fall League. He could be a valuable bench player/pinch hitter/defensive replacement for the Cubs big league team down the stretch.
*Jeremy Null –after fighting off injuries most of last year, the 6’8” “Nulldozer” threw a heavy fastball and a pounding sinker that devastated the Northwest League. He will be at South Bend and could be the steal of last year’s draft along with Ryan Williams.
*Carson Sands/Justin Steele – Cannot wait to see these young lefties pitch. Hopefully they will start out at South Bend this year
Next week, I will profile 3 arms and 2 bats who might be sitting there in round 2 of the MLB draft when it is the Cubs’ turn to pick.