Last year was an odd year for the Cubs’ breakout hitter of the year. It’s not often that a hitter breaks out at AA but that’s exactly what Willson Contreras did at Tennessee in 2016. Contreras hit .333 and won the Southern League batting title and stunned many as he had not hit over .273 in the states before last season. This year, Contreras got off to a great start at AAA Iowa and has been in Chicago since June 17.
Coming into 2016, I had a pretty good idea of which hitters I thought would break out at some point during the season. Eddy Martinez was one such player who had a pretty good June and July but has struggled with his approach and consistency throughout the year. Bijan Rademacher hit .400 for most of April before a mini-slump turned into a two-month slump and he then got his act back together in July to earn a promotion to AAA Iowa.
At the lower levels, Ian Rice, a 29th round 2015 draft pick out of Houston, has been amazing this year. While his average is not the best, (currently in the .240s), he has shown the ability to draw walks and to hit home runs at both South Bend and Myrtle Beach. Across the two levels, he has hit 15 home runs with 53 RBIs despite missing most of April. While his combined average is .276, his combined OBP is .395!
Two recent draft picks from this June are showing that they can hit for high average at short-season Eugene. Zack Short and Trent Giambrone both are solid hitters. Like Rice and many others in the Cubs system, they have OBPs at and above .400. They both are showing some pop while getting there. This is a pretty cool development considering both players were known for their defense in college.
There were many times during the winter that I thought that Ian Happ would have a breakout season 2016 since it would be his first full year as a Cub. He’s had a nice year, but not really a breakout one. He did hit over .290 in a pitcher’s league in the first half at Myrtle Beach. His first 10 days at AA Tennessee saw him hit over .600 in that span. He has since cooled way off. July saw a .222 average for the month and August isn’t any better at .218. Looks like he will be back at Tennessee to begin 2017.
I never thought I would include this next player in the list. Yasiel Balaguert has shown a lot of power as he leads the Cubs system in home runs currently with 18. He also leads the Cubs system in RBIs with 88. He only has two issues: one is hitting a curveball. The other is hitting for average. Right now he is hitting .257 with a .309 on-base percentage. He’s had had a really good second-half at Myrtle Beach. Considering that it is not the easiest place to hit a home run, I am really intrigued about what he can do next year at AA Tennessee.
Everybody knows who the breakout prospect is this year. He stole the show early as April and as often as this week. I think since the Futures Game it’s been pretty clear that Eloy Jimenez has turned into as big of a minor-league star as one can be. He’s hit 14 home runs and driven in 81. What I have found most impressive is his .335 batting average and his ability to be a leader and role model for other players, such as Eddy Martinez.
When I look at 2017 for Eloy I am not quite sure what’s going to happen. What I would like to see would be for him to add about 10 pounds of muscle and gain some more power. I don’t think 14 home runs is quite what the Cubs envisioned when they signed him. But I think the key thing to remember is that he is only 19 years old. He still just a kid in many ways and in other ways he’s not. And I think that’s what’s most fun when we start talking about Eloy is that he is basically still a manchild. The hope is that each year he will increase his power numbers.
He is not a fully fleshed out prospect. He still has some rough edges and at the same time he is just beginning to tap into his potential. Based upon what he has done this year, his potential seems almost limitless. That may seem hyperbolic, but it is not too far from the truth. Just this week he was named the #1 Prospect in the Midwest League and the Most Valuable Player at just 19. The best is still yet to come…