By Todd Johnson
There are currently 30 pitchers on the Iowa roster. 15 of them should be cut by opening day. As for who those 15 who make the roster will be, it’s a crapshoot right now. However, I do think there are certain pitchers who could be of value to the major league club later this summer. In fact, there are upwards of 10-12 prospects who could help the big league Cubs at some point in 2017.
Last year the Cubs went 67-76. I consider that to be a miraculous record because of a number of injuries sustained in the first month of the year that decimated the starting rotation. It seemed as though the Cubs were always playing catch-up. On the other hand, Iowa produced several prospects who helped the Cubs win the World Series including catcher Wilson Contreras, outfielder Albert Almora, pitcher Carl Edwards, and pitcher Rob Zastryzny. This year there could be as many as ten players who could help the big league club in some form or fashion.
Ryan Williams has had an outstanding spring. After missing almost all of 2016, the big lumberjack his back and his command of pictures down in the zone was evident in his time with the big league club in spring training. Throw in Alec Mills and Eddie Butler and you have three arms who could fit nicely at the back of the rotation if needed. However next year, all three could be in a position with some AA pitchers to replace John Lackey and Jake Arrieta. Keep close eyes on Mills and Butler as they could be key replacements in case of injury this spring, especially if Brett Anderson or John Lackey goes down.
Former starter Pierce Johnson has had an outstanding spring and has reinvented himself as a reliever. I think he gets the first call up and Cub fans plans will love his arsenal of pitches. The fans will also love his laid-back personality and sense of humor. Jose Rosario is another reliever who could help this year, but I think the key one is going to be lefty Jack Leathersich who is going to be fully healthy after coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago.
Jeimer Candelario’s retention as a Cub has been surprising. I thought for sure he might get traded during the off-season for starting pitching. Right now, Jeimer picked up where he left off last spring. The switch-hitting first baseman and third baseman is showing why the Cubs are still hanging onto him as he sprays the ball from both sides of the plate.
There was no doubt that Ian Happ was the star of spring training. Word came late tonight that Happ would be assigned to Iowa. For Happ, the only thing he needs to work on is hitting consistently. While his OBP is always near .400, his batting average fluctuates greatly throughout the season. The streak he has been on this spring is pretty much standing operating procedure for him. In the past, a slump would eventually come. I am hoping that this year it does not.
Catcher Victor Caratini displayed his bat that many have been waiting for since he was traded to the Cubs from the Braves. Now that he has two years of catching in the Cubs system, I am hoping he improves his defense some more as it appears his bat his major league ready. In the case of an injury to Montero, Caratini could get the call this year. However, his bat is still far ahead of his defense. That should be the goal for him as he projects to be the backup in 2018.
Another prospect who could help this summer is Chesny Young. Young has turned into a utility player getting time in at 6 positions last summer in Tennessee. In addition to being a hitting and walking machine, Young has shown some power lately. He hit a four last year in Tennessee and has two this spring with the Cubs. With a .313 career MiLB average, it won’t be long until we see him in Chicago. I think he will feast on PCL pitching this spring and summer.
I think Bijan Rademacher and Mark Zagunis are very close to making it to Chicago as bench players. Rademacher can play all three outfield positions, hits left-handed, and is actually getting much better every year, especially when it comes to power (see yesterday’s grand slam for an example). Zagunis has the best plate discipline in the organization and his ability to draw a walk is going to get him to Chicago this year.
Sleeper – I don’t think he’s a sleeper anymore, but Pierce Johnson looks to be the breakout prospect of the year in Iowa. It took a few months, but he looks great coming out of the pen.
Probable Daily Lineup
LF – Zagunis/Happ
CF – Andreoli/Happ
RF – Rademacher/Happ
3B – Candelario/Young
SS – Kawasaki/Young
2B – Bruno/Happ
1B – Candelario/Dominguez
C – Davis/Caratini
DH – Young/Happ
First to be Promoted – Johnson has to be close as the Cubs big league bullpen is a little long in the tooth, especially in the back end with Davis, Uehara, and Duensing all over 30 and Rondon and Strop coming off injuries. It is not a question of if now, but when for Pierce.