By Todd Johnson
In 2015, it was Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Baez, and Soler who stole the show. This year, in 2016, Contreras, Edwards, Almora, and Zastryzny came and saved the day. As for 2017, it’s a little unclear who might get promoted and steal some thunder away or play in place of the veterans in Chicago. There could be a few relievers and a few bench players, but the odds of a rookie making a dominant impact on the Cubs roster for next year is almost nil. Still, it could happen. Here are a few names who could perk up your ears.
Jeimer Candelario – First, Jeimer has to make through the winter to be a Cub. As one of the Cubs’ best minor League assets, Candelario, a switch-hitter, could bring a nice return in a trade. If Jeimer manages to make it back to Chicago and the majors, he brings a mix of power and polish. Second, there has to be someplace for him to play. Right now, he is blocked at third by Bryant. As well, Rizzo blocks him at first, a position he only played 10 games at towards the end of last year.
Mark Zagunis – An outstanding year turned short when an ankle/foot injury ended his season a month early. The human walk machine displayed his talents at two levels in 2016. While he may not have the power you look for in a corner outfielder, he has the best plate discipline in the entire system. I think he is strictly a left fielder and it would not surprise me to see him in Chicago at some point in 2017.
Pierce Johnson – He was once one of the top prospects in the entire system. However, all bets were taken off the table when he reached AAA Iowa last year and struggled mightily as a starter. He was then reassigned to the bullpen. It took a couple of weeks but I think he might have found a home. He simplified his arsenal and it is much more direct when attacking hitters. I’m looking forward to his fastball – curve combo in spring training.
Ryan Williams – Williams is known for attacking the zone and you getting a lot of groundball outs. Shoulder problems in 2016 limited him to just a few starts. I don’t quite know if he can make it as a starter, but he was a closer in college.
Chesny Young – I am excited to see Mr. Young hit in a pitcher’s league. In 2016, he hit .303 and almost won the Southern League batting title. I think he can do the same for the Pacific Coast League in 2017. Ideally, Young is a second baseman. However, to make himself more versatile, he has played off position at shortstop, third, and a little first the past two years at Tennessee and Myrtle Beach.
Jose Rosario – He was recently added to the 40 man roster. After missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, the 25-year-old Friday is back better than ever before. He advanced last year from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee to Iowa in a six week period. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do in spring training. I still think he needs more seasoning in Des Moines, but he could be ready by mid-June if needed.
Armando Rivero – He was lights out the second half. He struck out 48 in 26.0 IP in the second half. I don’t think there is much left for him and his 1.38 ERA in the second half to learn in AAA. His time might be now. Out of all the players on the list, he might have the best chance to make the club coming out of spring training.
Zach Hedges – I’m pretty sure he will be at AAA Iowa to begin 2017. After last winter’s adaptations to his body and pitching arsenal, Hedges was the most improved player in the Cub system in 2016. I am looking forward to seeing what changes he makes to his body and repertoire for 2017.
Trevor Clifton – This young man has a power arm to go with the developing body that is beginning to fill out, not in. Add in a 92 to 95 mile an hour fastball with a plus curveball and a newly developed plus change and he could be a fast mover in 2017. He will be playing in front of family and friends every day in Tennessee to start the year. At just 22, there is still plenty of time for him to continue to develop into a middle of the rotation starter.
Missing in Action
Duane Underwood – Minor injuries and a lack of control combined to make 2016 the year Duane Underwood wants to forget. In fact, Underwood has struggled mightily since the middle of 2015. He’s still throwing the ball hard, but he has lost his control to pitch down in the zone. He did make two starts in the Arizona Fall lLeague but has since vanished from pitching at all in the league. If he can regain his control, it would be interesting to see how quickly he could move up the ladder.