Pitcher Oscar De La Cruz skipped a level (rookie league) to begin his 2015 season. After his assignment to short season Eugene, De la Cruz went out and struck out 73 hitters in 73 innings. The big 6’6″ righty out of the Dominican Republic was one of the Cubs’ breakout pitchers of the year in 2015. He could move even move faster in 2016 if he continues actually growing into his own body.
The key for De La Cruz breaking out was a series of adjustments he made in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League where no one was watching – that and growing from 6’3” to 6’5” to 6’6”. He now throws in the low to mid 90s and could even add a tick or two this year He will likely be at South Bend this spring and could go to Myrtle Beach quickly, depending on his performance.
When it comes breakout prospects for the first half of 2016, there are several prospects who began to show a little something last season. The problem is there are more than one…wait, that’s not a problem. Trying to limit this list was a problem. I think the draft was so good in 2015, that the Cubs really stocked their lower system with arms that will compete against each other at a very high level.
- Casey Bloomquist – A quiet sign out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the 6’3” righty had a great, if limited, season at Eugene. In 20.2 innings he struck out 24 with an ERA of 2.18. At South Bend, I think he starts, and he will be a bulldog on the mound. Of all the pitchers signed by the Cubs last summer, Bloomquist could be the most competitive. He gets fired up to pitch every night.
- Craig Brooks – a two way player in college, Brooks throws in the mid 90s. As a reliever, Brooks has a chance to move quickly through the organization. It looks as though he will skip South Bend this year and go right to Myrtle Beach.
- Ryan Kellogg – John Sickels loves him. A lefty, Kellogg, according to Sickels, would benefit from tweaks made by the professional coaching staff. Sickels was not too pleased by the progress of Kellogg at ASU. Coming out of the gate last year, Kellogg struggled in making adjustments. His first full year could be a different story.
- Trevor Clifton – I think Trevor Clifton finally appeared comfortable the last six weeks of the season in sporting a 2.57 ERA last August. In addition, he struck out 24 in those last 30.2 innings. Even more impressive was opponents only hit .204 against him, but he did give up 12 walks in that time frame. If he can get some consistency on his curve and change, look out.
- Daniel Lewis – I love this guy! He is one of my favorite prospects from last year. After a couple of rough relief outings, he was deadly in the pen. In June, July and August, he made 20 appearances, he struck out 19 in 32 innings with an ERA of 2.53. Opponents hit only .189 against him, but he did have some trouble with 13 walks in August, but he pitched out of trouble well. He will need to cut down on walks. I think his second full year goes just as well, even better.
- Bryan Hudson – He is already pushing buttons in spring training as he is developing much faster than previously thought. His fastball is now in the low 90s, his curve is now more vicious than thought. He could actually start out in South Bend in late May.
- Dylan Cease – Can’t wait to see how does when he makes it to the fourth and fifth innings. He could be the top pitcher in the system by the end of June. He has been steadily between 95-100 all spring and is pushing whether he, too, should be at South Bend when it warms up in May.
- James Norwood – Rumors of a great arm – It has taken a year and a half to rebuild his motion and they still are not done yet. No clue as to where he goes and what he does in 2016. I am leaning towards the Myrtle Beach bullpen with Maples and Lewis and it looks like Craig Brooks and Scott Effross..
- Dillon Maples – He is part man, part myth, with a good mid 90s fastball. He came to camp healthy for the second year in a row. Then he promptly ditched his power curve and showed off a plus slider. That could be deadly to right handed hitters.
Scott Effross – Who ever heard of a reliever that throws four pitches? I have and Effross is the one who does. There was talk of turning him into a starter. He will likely skip South Bend and end up in Myrtle Beach. Will it be as a reliever or a starter? Looks like a reliever for now.
Come June, the second half list will be much different with names like Marte, Gomez, Lima, and Silverio. And there could be a few more names we don’t know from the draft and some international free agents.