Time is a different construct in the minor leagues. Prospects are evaluated in short spurts of a month or a half a season, usually based on some small adjustment. A new grip could be added for a pitcher, a new warmup routine could aid in getting ready, and a small tweak at the plate could change groundballs into liners. Any of these changes could result in domination at a level, which is what the Cubs are looking for from their prospects. This year is no different.
With my fondness for lists at an all-time high, here are thirteen things I predict could happen in the first half of the season in the Cubs’ minor league system.
1. Everyone is going to be talking about the South Bend Cubs rotation all summer long. This rotation could be the best rotation in the minors for the Cubs. With Sands, Steele, De La Cruz, and several others including Adbert Alzolay, this team will have no trouble dispatching their Midwest League rivals and will cruise to the first half title especially with the bats of Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees leading the way..
2. Extended Spring Training will be a happening place. It’s the place where all the cool kids will hang out before the summer. Dylan Cease will likely be there until mid-May, Eddy Julio Martinez will be there while he acclimates to American culture/society, and Will Remillard will ease back into things this year after missing last year because of Tommy John Surgery. In addition, I expect Bryan Hudson to be there as well. When he leaves, however, I still don’t know whether it will be Eugene or South Bend. Right now, I am thinking Eugene.
3. Mark Johnson will have the Tennessee Smokies ready to go but pitching problems will be the key if they get another first half title to go for a three-peat. Jen-Ho Tseng will return to 2014 form. Tyler Skulina will have his second good year in a row. Shawon Dunston should stay healthy to give the lineup that little something extra to go along with OBP machine Mark Zagunis and batting champ Chesny Young.
4. Lots of names that have been around since 2011-2012 will be let go. There’s just no place for them anymore as young prospects begin to filter up. Most of these cuts will come in June. Earlier this week, Jonathan Mota retired and went right into coaching.
5. Eloy Jimenez will have a decent April and May, but come June and July, he will be the hottest prospect in the organization. When the temperature warms up, so will Eloy, and so will his power..
6. Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett will have their best years as pitchers at A+ Myrtle Beach. The two will enjoy being in a pitcher’s park in a pitcher’s league. Add in Preston Morrison and the Pelicans should be in contention for first half title, too.
7. Gleyber Torres will struggle a little bit but that might be a good thing. Being in the Carolina League will be in adjustment as he learns new pitchers in a pitcher’s league. Likely, .280-.290 would be a good first half for him.
8. Rashad Crawford and Casey Bloomquist will be the breakout players of the first half. Preston Morrison will also earn a promotion to Tennessee by the middle of the year. The first half doesn’t usually have a lot of promotions, especially for pitchers.
9. Ryan Williams will be the first pitcher drafted in the Theo era to make it to the major leagues. Surprisingly, it should be as a reliever and not as a closer. Travis Wood or Trevor Cahill would start and Williams should slide right into the pen.
10. Minor injuries to Montero or Ross will result in Willson Contreras coming up. There’s no way Ross and Montero can stay healthy for the whole year. That is going to require Contreras, who dazzled the Cubs this spring, to be ready to contribute.
11. It’s not like the Cubs have punted the draft but they will give close to first round money ($750,000- $1 million) to someone who might be hard to sign for other teams. With only $2.3 million to spend, the Cubs will lean heavily on college seniors and the Cubs will only select a few high schoolers. Expect some of the draft picks to be redrafts from previous years. My pick right now would be U of Miami OF Jacob Heyward. This year will also see the Cubs sign their fewest players in the draft in the Theo Era with only 20.
12. I expect one big Cuban signing left and I expect it to be a pitcher before the July 1 deadline. I would love to see righty Norge Ruiz become a Cub. Vladimir Gutierrez might not be a bad choice either. Or the Cubs could go get both. Out of all 13 predictions, this is probably the one I get wrong, but I would love to get it right.
13. Ian Happ will lead the Cubs minor league organization in HRs at the break. I think 13 is a nice number. In fact, I think Ian Happ might be the best player in the entire organization the first half. Let me rephrase that – the best hitter. I think learning a new position defensively might be a small adjustment, but he is an excellent athlete and it won’t take him long.