Despite the fact that the Cubs recently were ranked among the bottom five MLB farm systems, there are several storylines to follow this spring. How exactly these topics play out over the next year could change those rankings quite a bit. The key will be the development of a lot of young, raw players that have a lot to prove.
1. Danis Correa
He’s 18, he’s right-handed, he’s from Colombia, and he throws in the upper 90’s. Heading into camp, Correa is my breakout pitcher of spring. He does have control issues, especially with his secondaries, so the Cubs will probably take it slow with him in 2018. Eugene looks to be his destination after spending last year in the DSL and getting two games in with Mesa. Correa will be this year’s Jose Albertos, but without the injury or shutdown concerns.
2. The Dream Outfield
As it stands right now, Eugene’s amazing outfield should be filled with 19-year-olds Jonathan Sierra, Fernando Kelli, and Nelson Velazquez. Eugene doesn’t begin its season until mid-June so all three will be developing in extended spring training until then. All three are very different but have a mixture of power and speed and could be pushing up though the system soon. There is no rush to move any one of them along, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them just took off in 2018. Each will get a profile of their own in the coming weeks.
3. Trevor Clifton
When Clifton is pitching well, it is a thing of beauty. He looks fluid, even elastic, as his muscles are operating purely from memory. “Rock and fire” would be an old-school description of that type of delivery, something he needs to get back to in 2018. How he rebounds this spring could set the tone for the year.
4. The Mexican pitching connection
The Cubs will have several prospects at South Bend this year who hail from Mexico. Most notable are pitchers Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, and Jesus Camargo. The Cubs started got out ahead of the Mexican market a few years ago they now dominate the top international signings there. This year will be a test of those prospects’ talent. Add in Faustino Carrera (Eugene) and Florencio Serrano (Mesa) and there should be more than a full rotation of Mexican arms in the lower part of the system.
5. Carlos Sepulveda
After a horrible first month at Myrtle Beach that was exacerbated by an injury, Sepulveda missed the next three months before showing up in the Arizona Rookie League for the final few weeks of the season. He looked pretty good in Mesa and hopefully he can return to being one of the best second baseman in all of the minors, not just in the Cubs system. I am hoping he goes to Tennessee, but I would imagine he begins the year in Myrtle Beach.
6. The Other Pitching Draft Picks
Much has been written about Alex Lange and Brendon Little, but that will change this season, and they’re not alone. The Cubs signed 19 pitchers from last year’s draft, like Cory Abbott, Jeremiah Estrada, and Keegan Thompson. By the end of camp, or the end of April at the latest, there should be several other names that Cubs fans should be familiar with. Brendan King, Erich Uelmen, Rollie Lacy, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Ben Hecht, and Jake Steffens are among those.
7. Bailey Clark
He’s my second sleeper pitcher for this year after Correa. Word is he healthy, faster, stronger, and ready to go for 2018. At times over the past two summers, he flashed some major potential at Eugene. He should begin the year at South Bend or Myrtle Beach and don’t be surprised to see his fastball back over 95 mph.
As usual, there will be a prospect or two or four who surprises us all. Last year it was Charcer Burks, and I am looking forward to see who breaks out this year.