With the holidays in full swing, today seems like a good day to continue our annual stocking stuffers post. Last year I asked for Jon Lester, a left handed bat that turned out to be Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant by May, a new leg kick for Javy Baez, a no trade card for Addison Russell, a $150 million for signing international free agents, and a bullpen pass for Carl Edwards. Most of them we got. I’d say it was a pretty good list.
This year’s list for stocking stuffers is different because the Cubs already signed Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist while trading for a few bullpen pieces. It’s taken a full week to think of things we might need in the next year. While last year’s list was filled with short term things, this year’s list is filled with a mix of short and long term stuffers.
1. Changeups for everyone!!! You get a changeup and you get a changeup and you get a changeup! In reality, the actual pitch could be an integral part of three prospects’ development in the next year. Duane Underwood, Trevor Clifton, and Dylan Cease all could ratchet up their arsenals by improving their changeup. Currently, Underwood is a little too reliant on his fastball and propensity for throwing said fastball to get hitters out. A changeup could revolutionize his approach to pitching without sacrificing his curve or the amount he throws the curve. For Underwood, a changeup could really vary the amount he throws his devastating 95 mph heater with late movement.
2. For Trevor Clifton, he throws a changeup now. Like Underwood, he needs to throw it more. And like Underwood, Trevor has a nice fluid motion on his fastball that generates easy low 90s heat. Clifton had a great last 6 weeks in 2015 where after the first inning, he was almost unhittable. Like most organizations, the Cubs like for their A ball pitchers to establish fastball command in the early innings and leave their junk in the trunk until the second time through the order. A solid changeup for Trevor would get hitters out in front of his fastball. His curve, which he is still trying to tame, would give Trevor 3 exquisite pitches to throw this year at Myrtle Beach.
3. You wouldn’t think you would need secondary pitches when you throw between 95-100 mph. But you do. It’s just a matter of hitters timing you up. This is the dilemma of Dylan Cease. Last year Dylan Cease worked on fastball command coming off Tommy John Surgery. This year, Cease needs to develop his secondary pitches to offset the 95-100 mph heater and a changeup is the perfect complement to his fastball. Last year, Cease was limited to 2-3 inning starts. This year, I am sure the Cubs will keep a close eye on his innings and pitch counts, loosening them up as the year goes on. The more pitches he throws later in the year should include more and more changeups to offset the timing of the fastball. I think Cease could move two levels this year if he can get his off speed stuff over on a consistent basis.
4. A Load of Lefties – With the departure of Michael Heesch, the Cubs don’t have a lot of lefties in the upper parts of the organization. This year’s draft could rectify that for years to come when combined with last year’s draft. With the Cubs losing their first two picks in the first round and compensation round, the Cubs won’t have a pick until late in the second round. Looking at who the Cubs have selected for second round picks in the past five years (Underwood, Zastryzny, Stinnett, and Dewees), it is an eclectic mix. I am sure the Cubs will take the best player available. But on the second day of the draft (picks 11-40), I think the Cubs should load up on as many LHP as they can get. That total could be as small as five, as they don’t grow on trees, but still five lefties is a lot. Last year, the Cubs selected five for the whole draft. I tend to think the Cubs draft strategy has been to draft pitchers in waves. This year, it should be the same, but from the left side of the rubber.
5. Cuban Migration – I am obsessed with signing Cuban free agents this offseason. Now that we lost our top two picks, my obsession grows. Here’s why – They are young, they play at a high level around the globe, and they are greater than or equal to the talent you get at the top of the draft. I am not going to spit out names at you, as I have done that several times since October. The problem right now for the Cubs is that MLB has not certified several players to be eligible to sign. Once they do, the Cubs should fill their stockings with as many Cubans as they can, including free agents over the age of 21 as the Cubs would not be required to pay a penalty for signing.
6. Power – There are five players whose power profiles I would love to see take off this year.
- AAA – Billy McKinney – If he can hit 15-20 HRs, he becomes a much more valuable prospect
- AA – Mark Zagunis – As much as he gets on base, if he can hit 15-20 HRs, his future as a pro sky rockets.
- High A – Matt Rose and Ian Happ – This will be their first full season as pros. I love Rose’s balanced feet in his swing and Happ’s hands through the zone. Both have great power potential. For Rose, he will be fully healthy this year and for Happ, who is overcoming the loss of his father, his intensity will be burn brighter.
- Low A – Eloy Jimenez – I can’t wait to see Eloy launch some home runs into left field onto the grass in South Bend, the fields of Clinton, or the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities. I think he grew by leaps and bounds last year from a maturity standpoint. This year, I expect to see it on the field. The key will be for him to stay healthy in full season A ball. Out of all the players the Cubs have in the minors, he has the most potential for power.
7. 120 RBIs – I think Kris Bryant can hit this figure. If the Cubs bat him third behind Zobrist and Heyward, Bryant will have a lot of chances to drive the two of them in along with Addison Russell, who I see getting on base more than he did in 2015 when he was focused on playing second base, then shifting over to short.
8. An Easy September – I would like to see the Cubs come out and get out to a big lead so that come September, the Cubs could coast into the playoffs. That way, the rotation could be set up and some pitchers could skip a start and rest their arms a time or two. However, playing in a division with St. Louis and Pittsburgh is going to make this very hard. Still, I can ask for it. Even for a pitcher just being able to skip one start might help a lot.
Here’s to a great holiday season and a great 2016 for the Cubs!