Digging Out of the Winter Blues: Things to Look Forward to in 2016 in the Minors
Sometimes, days in the winter just drag on and on and on. There’s no baseball, the Bears are terrible, the Bulls are self-destructing, and the Blackhawks are waiting until the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s just dreadful to get through the day. Even a minor transaction gives me something to do as I look up something on a nobody I never heard of before. I try to do it quickly before the players is released.
There are, however, things to look forward to in 2016 when it comes to the Cubs minor league system. In years past, it’s been easy to get gassed up to see Baez, Almora, Bryant, and Schwarber. Now there will be a new wave coming through the low minors. And I should be excited to see them, as they are a talented group of players who are developing nicely.
- Dylan Cease – I still don’t know where the kid with golden arm will land in 2016, but I gather he will stay in extended spring training before going to South Bend. I am looking forward to his mid-to-upper 90’s heat this summer. Hopefully he will be with the team when I travel to the Quad Cities in late April. If he is healthy and throwing well, he could easily supplant Duane Underwood as the top pitching prospect in the organization.
- Eddy Julio Martinez – He’s only 20 and I am not sure quite what to expect from him. Will he be a five-tool player, as Keith Law suggests, or will he be just another outfielder? I am hoping the former.
- Ian Happ – This will be the first full pro season for the 21-year-old and it will also see him at second base. His switch-hitting abilities, the potential for power, and sneaky speed make him an exciting player to watch. He will likely be in Myrtle Beach to start the year. However, don’t hang any expectations on him based on Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Happ is a different type of player.
- Donnie Dewees – This kid has speed to burn. I can’t wait to see him in the OF, at the plate, and on the base paths at South Bend this summer. The fact that he hits from the left side could make him the ultimate leadoff hitter. Add in that he can also hit for power, and it makes him one to watch for sure. He might not be the best player on the field, but he will surely be the most exciting!
- Duane Underwood – 2016 is big year for him as he makes the jump to AA. He and his easy 95 mph fastball are getting close to Chicago. If he can stay healthy, the 2012 2nd round pick could be in Chicago to make a spot start this fall and he could be in major league camp next spring with a legit shot to make the team, or at least audition for a summer callup in 2017. Yes, he is that close.
- Oscar De La Cruz – The young righty was rumored to be growing last spring and summer, with word that he had gone from 6’4” to 6’6” and his game developed with him. His fastball sure got better, as De La Cruz lead the Northwest League in Ks with 73 at age 20. This year could see him put in some time at South Bend with his 93-97 mph heater and curve. I am really excited to see how he develops this summer as one of the fastest rising prospects in the Cubs system.
- The Return of Will Remillard – Remillard was the catcher on the 2014 Kane County Cougar championship team but sat out last season recovering from TJS. He’s a solid player with great skills and intangibles. Combined, he’s missed the last year and a half with injuries. Will the catcher return to form in 2016 and will he be at South Bend to make his return, or will he be in Myrtle Beach? I am hopeful he comes back strong and stays healthy as he has strong leadership qualities as a catcher.
- Rashad Crawford – Long and lean at 6’3″, the speedy outfielder has improved every year in the Cubs’ system. 2015 was no different and I am sure 2016 will be more of the same. This year, he needs take some more walks and develop some gap power, which his speed could easily turn into triples. He is an exciting player now, he can be even more exciting at Myrtle Beach.
- Waves of Players – There will be at least seven prospects at AAA Iowa who could help the Cubs if needed this summer. They are: Pierce Johnson, Ryan Williams, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora, Jeimer Candelario, Billy McKinney, and reliever PJ Francescon. You could easily make that nine if you wanted to include Dan Vogelbach and Christian Villanueva. The waves of players are going to be knocking on the door beginning this year and every year thereafter. Behind these ten are other waves at AA, high A, low A, etc.
The Cubs have taken five years to build up this kind of depth and redundancy through the organization. The rebuilding is mostly complete at both the major and minor league levels. It is now time to win on the field and to keep restocking the system every year. I am excited to see it happen in person and on TV. The players listed above are just a small part of excitement, even in the depths of winter.