When I began researching the series I thought that maybe the outfield would be the weakest of the positions as far as high end prospects go. Now that it’s time to write this piece in the series, there’s more depth than what I thought, and there might be more high-end players at the lower levels than previously thought.
Current MLB Status
Fluid might be the best description I can think to describe the OF situation. Currently, four players are listed on the Cubs’ roster as outfielders: Matt Szczur, Chris Coghlan, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber. Gone are Dexter Fowler and Chris Denorfia. That doesn’t inspire much hope. The hitting night be fine, but the need for defense is evident. Soler’s name has been present in most trade talks this offseason. While Schwarber might be serviceable in LF with more coaching, Soler’s routes to the ball were quite unique and quite slow. His arm and bat are fine, but the Cubs cannot have a subpar defender anywhere. While CF is the most pressing offseason outfield concern, Soler’s legs are pretty close.
At the higher levels of the minors, Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, and Mark Zagunis take up most of the pub. Almora and McKinney will be AAA in 2016 and Zagunis will be at AA Tennessee. Whether or not any of those three players can be an everyday player in the majors has yet to be seen.
Almora is defensively ready now. McKinney’s hitting profile is probably the most advanced, and Zagunis has the best approach and plate discipline. None of them screams elite prospect now. Almora could be but has yet to show that he can hit for an average to go along with his outstanding defensive prowess. Zagunis came out like gangbusters in 2015 before going into a horrific slump in July that saw his batting average plummet from over .300 down to 271 yet still remain one of the top 10 hitters in the pitcher friendly Carolina League. It will be interesting to see how Zagunis does in a more hitter friendly climate at AA Tennessee. For McKinney and Almora, AAA might be just what they need to break out of their hitting slumps. The Pacific Coast league is a league known more for its hitting.
It is in A ball that you are going to find the most explosive prospects for outfielders for the Cubs. Leading the way is Eloy Jimenez who will be at South Bend in 2016. Jimenez gave everyone a small glimpse of his power potential in limited duty at Eugene. He hit 7 HRs in 52 while also hitting for a high average (.284). In instructs, Jimenez acted like a leader on the field towards some of the younger Cubs prospects from the Dominican. Jimenez is all of 18 himself – until November 28.
Eddy Julio Martinez sounds nice to say. The reports on the free agent Martinez vary from top of the draft type talent to a fourth outfielder. Some consider Martinez’s signing to be a steal (Keith Law) and that the Cubs. The 20 year old Martinez, depending on his actual talent, could start anywhere from Eugene to Myrtle Beach and could play any position in the outfield. The Cubs know what they have in Martinez. The problem is no one else knows.
The Cubs 2015 second round pick, Donnie Dewees, will likely be in the star studded South Bend outfield as well. Dewees is a high octane mixture of power and speed. If Dewees can hit for some average, he could move quickly. It should be a fun few months next summer in 2016 in South Bend.
Darryl Wilson, the Cubs’ fourth round pick in 2015, will likely be at Eugene to start the year. In Baseball America’s recent analysis of the Cubs’ system, Wilson was rated as having “best speed” and “best arm.” In a closer look at instructs, many of the attendees loved Wilson’s bat speed and the potential for power. He will likely be at Eugene in 2016 to start the year.
The Cubs have five other outfielders who shown some glimpses that they could be assets down the road. Two were in Myrtle Beach and two were in South Bend in 2015. Two-time Gold Glove outfielder Trey Martin is easily the best defender in the Cubs’s entire system but struggled with injuries ad at the plate in 2015. Shawon Dunston, Jr. spent most of the year fighting injuries after a great second half of 2014. Both players finished the year at Myrtle Beach and should be in Tennessee to start the year.
Rashad Crawford is an exciting player who has improved each year as a Cub and is one of my favorite players to watch as I can see the development happening from game to game. He plays all three outfield spots, hits from the left side, and has excellent speed. His 6’3” and 185 pound frame could add some weight and his power could go up with his weight. Crawford’s South Bend teammate Charcer Burks got off to a great start, was a Midwest League All-Star, and then ran into some injury problems in the second half. Jeffrey Baez had a great second half at South Bend. The 21 year old (who seems to have been around forever, showed off his power and speed at the top of the Cubs order before a late season to Myrtle Beach.
Alex Bautista, the 22nd round pick of the Cubs in the 2015 draft, showed that he could play in the field and has some power skills at the plate. Add in a little speed and Bautista could be an engaging prospect. The problem for him in 2016 is where to play him. Is he a 4th outfielder at South Bend or will he start out the year in Eugene, or extended spring training?
With so many high ceiling prospects at the lower levels, 2016 should be fun to watch them develop. However, the big league club has needs now.