If not for the breakout campaign of Willson Contreras, Chesny Young’s season across A-ball would have warranted the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year award. The slender-but-athletic Young tore through Midwest and Carolina League pitching to the tune of a .321/.394/.388 overall slash line. Along the way, he set a Carolina League record by getting on base in 44 straight games, breaking the Carlos Sanchez’s (White Sox) record. Despite the impressive season, Young hasn’t been flying up the Cubs prospects rankings, and he’s not even a lock for the top 30 for MLB.com and Baseball America.
Why is this? Let’s investigate.
The former Mercer Bear was chosen in the 14th round in the 2014 draft. Known for his knack of putting bat on ball, Young did exactly that this season. He controlled the strike zone really well, collecting more walks than strikeouts, and showed more gap power than expected. He has below-average speed, but good instincts allowed him to go 21-for-29 in stolen bases this seasons. In the field, his smooth glove and quick transition help to make up for a slightly below-average arm. I saw him fielding three positions comfortably during infield practices at Myrtle Beach, and he works hard at each one. The Cubs will continue to increase his versatility by placing him around the infield and outfield, although his most comfortable positions are second and third base.
Just looking at this package, it seems like the makings of a solid major leaguer. However, Young hit for very minimal power, tallying only 4 home runs across a whole season. He does have a great idea of the strike zone, but A-ball pitchers don’t always have the best command and he was able to exploit that. His swing is level and smooth but he has fringy bat speed at best and lacks power to all fields. In speaking with him, Young admits that he was never much of a power hitter, even growing up. That will have to change a little bit in order for him to have a role for the Cubs in the majors.
He talked about wanting to gain more weight, and this offseason he’s going to try adding more muscle in hopes of future power gains. If he is able to add any bit of power to his game without sacrificing his natural contact abilities, Young has a chance to make it in the majors. At this point, Young appears to be a utility piece at best, but having cost-controlled options on your bench is always a plus. Given his work ethic and cerebral approach to the game, I’m going to bet on him reaching the majors in some capacity.
Young will start next year with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, and if he continues to impress with the bat evaluators are going to have to come around sooner rather than later. Young is a player who perfectly represents the strategy of recent Cubs drafts. Unlike the previous regime, this front office has been hitting on many more late-round picks. Although a bullpen arm and utility piece here and there may not seem like much, it’s better than most teams do and saves them a few million dollars that they can spend on other places.
Another example of the merits of hitting on low picks is Ryan Williams, who also had a breakout campaign. Drafting these players (mostly strong college performers) and having them in your system leads to better depth in the organization, and they have strong work ethics that younger players can emulate. Even if these late-round guys don’t contribute to the major league team, having more and more of them in the system makes it stronger overall as younger, more talented players will have to compete more for everyday positions. Hitting more and more on late round picks is just another way in which the new regime has been successful in building a sustainable future.