The basic premise of the breakout prospect is that the prospect comes out of nowhere to become a top prospect. It doesn’t always happen like that. The development of a player can sometimes take years for that player to begin to reach his peak potential. Sometimes, being a breakout hitter is about just reaching potential, it’s not really a surprise, but more of an evolutionary step in development or a sudden increase in performance.
Last year, catcher Willson Contreras seemed to come out of nowhere at AA Tennessee. Contreras’ break out status had actually been three years in the making since he switched to catching in 2013. Many bloggers had commented on his potential throughout 2013-2014 when he was at Kane County and Daytona. For Contreras, he won Southern League batting title in 2015 hitting .333. Many evaluators have always seen certain skills in Contreras that could one day make him a valuable prospect. However, no one foresaw his rapid ascent all the way up to number two on most Cubs prospect lists in just one season.
Who might do it in the first half of the 2016 season? Here are six hitters who might surprise you with their play.
The Obvious Breakout Hitters
Ian Happ – One of the strangest things about last summer was a report about how the Cubs think that they can coach a prospect a lot better than college coaches. It was kind of a slap in the face to the college coaching ranks, but then again it wasn’t. The context of the quote had to do more with defense than pitching or offense. However this spring training, Ian Happ, the Cubs number one draft pick from 2015, has made a lot of adjustments to his defense as he learns more and more about how to play second base. Happ has also made some minor adjustments with his swing. He has been killing it at the plate and it should be exciting to watch him play at Myrtle Beach. If he can carry over what he has done in spring training to the regular season, Happ will be pushing to go to Tennessee by the All-Star break. In fact, he could be pushing Gleyber Torres for the number one prospect spot by the end of the summer. I think there is so much more to Happ than what we have seen. Even though Happ is ranked second to fifth on most prospect lists, if everything clicks for him this year, he could be number one.
Eloy Jimenez – it’s hard to call the number 8, 9, or 10 Prospect in the organization a breakout hitter, but that’s exactly what could happen with Eloy. If Jimenez can begin to develop the power so many see in him, his summer at South Bend could be transformational. If he can pop out 20+ homeruns, he might quickly become the number one prospect in the organization. Right now, the Cubs don’t really have a big power hitter in the minors. The graduation of Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, and Baez zapped a lot of strength from the Cubs system. Eloy could be the next big power hitter.
Rashad Crawford – Crawford has developed slowly over the past few years. He has great speed, plus great defense. He can play all three outfield spots, and his batting average has slowly risen each of the past three years. I think 2016 could see Crawford break the .300 mark and begin to solidify himself as one the Cubs top prospects. To accomplish these tasks, Crawford put on a little weight this offseason and developed some more gap to gap power to take advantage of his speed
The Not So Obvious Breakout Hitters
Matt Rose – A 2015 draft pick, Rose shows great balance with his feet in the batter’s box which allows him to drive the ball. Last year we had just a small glimpse of what he could do at South Bend in only 14 games. In 2016, he will likely start out at South Bend but could move pretty quickly to Myrtle Beach.
PJ Higgins – The last of the 2015 draft class to sign, he didn’t waste anytime hitting. I don’t know if he might truly be a breakout prospect, but I am sure the first half will find his bat doing some damage at South Bend. In his one month of hitting last year, Higgins hit .299 with 2 HRs and 15 RBIs in just 36 games. He reminds some of Chesny Young with a bit more pop. He will be catching this year after playing second and third last year.
Carlos Sepulveda – I thought the young 19 year old was destined for Eugene to begin 2016. In 2015, Sepulveda, a recent international free agent out of Mexico, got off to a rough start in Eugene barely hitting .241 July. But then something clicked and Sepulveda didn’t look back raking a cool .333 in August backed by a .417 OBP – pretty solid numbers. I was stunned to see Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter place Sepulveda on the South Bend roster going into the last weekend. The little right handed hitting second baseman has a solid stroke, is excellent in the field with a great eye at the plate. I think people will really like his game.
There are many other prospects I would love to include, but they actually do not begin play until the middle of June, shortly after the draft and All-Star Games. These players will be assigned to Eugene and Arizona and will be on the breakout prospect list for the second half. They should be Wladimir Galindo, Darryl Wilson, Christian Pieters, and Jonathan Sierra – the Cubs number one IFA from last summer. Who knows, maybe one or two will see the light of day at South Bend in the first half. There will be a few more names we don’t know from the draft and some international free agents.