By Todd Johnson
The strength of the Cubs the past three summers was their ability to sign, draft, develop, and promote young talent from within. Let’s just assume, for the time being, that the Cubs are going to keep all their prospects for 2017. It would be ridiculous not to just based on their performance this spring training. Every day there seems to be some occurrence where a minor league prospect makes an impression upon the fanbase, press, and coaching staff. There is no doubt in my mind that the timetables for several prospects have been sped up this spring.
Last year, it was Jeimer Candelario who impressed so much in camp. This year, the performances of Pierce Johnson, Victor Caratini, Chesny Young, Ian Happ, and Eloy Jimenez have been eye-catching.
Caratini – The switch-hitting catcher still has to work on his defense a lot this year to be a backup next year. However, his bat is pretty close to being ready now. All that is missing is just a little power. If Montero has an injury this year, expect to see Taylor Davis if it is a long-term injury. But if it’s only for 10 days, Caratini might be your guy for a sneak peak.
Young – Chesney has shown that he can play multiple places the spring. He has also shown that he can hit major league pitching well. He might be available later this summer if needed.
Happ – Right now, he is just killing the ball every day. I originally thought he should start back at Tennessee after a poor second half in 2016. But now, put him in Iowa and let the magic happen.
Eloy – Everyone giggled when Eloy said he wanted to make the team this spring. After two weeks of hitting almost .400 and two mammoth home runs, no one is laughing anymore. In addition, I don’t think he makes it to Myrtle Beach this summer. I think he starts in Tennessee.
What Does It Mean for this Summer?
Bullpen – While the Cubs might need left-handers, the bullpen really just needs pitchers to get guys out. If Johnson can do that at Iowa in mid-April and May, expect to see him do it in Chicago in June.
3rd Catcher – The Cubs are grooming Caratini to be the second catcher in 2018. He is not going to be the third catcher this year, however. If he has a good year, he might be kind of hitter you want in the playoffs as he can do things from both sides of the plate.
Bench – There is no doubt in my mind that Eloy, Ian Happ, and/or Chesny Young can provide more firepower off the bench than can Tommy LaStella and Matt Szczur come playoff time. I have a sneaking suspicion that the bench we see in April will not resemble the one we will see in September and October.
The bottom line is this: Joe Maddon foreshadowed the ascension of these players this spring. Throw in Candelario and Zagunis, and maybe even Bijan Rademacher, and that’s a lot of talent and firepower to have stashed at the AAA level in case of injury or the playoffs.