With the additions of Brennen Davis, Andy Weber, and Chase Strumpf, the Cubs almost doubled the number of position-player prospects in big league camp. Chris Morel and Miguel Amaya were already there as part of the 40-man roster while utilityman Trent Giambrone, catcher P.J. Higgins and first baseman/outfielder Alfonso Rivas were there as non-roster invitees.
It got me wondering about whether any members of that younger trio could get the call when the Cubs inevitably need help from the minors. More than likely, that answer is going to be no. More tenured players like Ian Miller, Rafael Ortega, and Patrick Wisdom are higher on the list of those who’d be called up and were signed specifically for that purpose.
The main reason the Cubs will have very few homegrown position players coming up this year is that 75% of the players they drafted from 2016-19 were pitchers. Jason McLeod and the scouting department tried to overcompensate for the lack of pitching development in the system by going with a high-volume approach. The result is a system devoid of hitters in the upper levels of the minors who were drafted and developed by the Cubs.
Giambrone and Higgins are really the only two above Double-A and both of those guys were middle-round picks. Rivas was acquired in the Tony Kemp trade with Oakland. Davis, Strumpf, Weber, Morel, and Amaya all have promising futures, but all five should start the year at Tennessee and are probably at least a year away.
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) February 26, 2021
Right now, there are simply no spots for any of the young guys to come up and play even if they were ready in this season. Double-A is the most important level of the minors when it comes to pure talent, however, so it’s possible one or more from this group could catch fire and force the issue this summer. Then there’s the possibility that an injury or a trade opens up a spot and the Cubs want to get a future star some early experience.
Higgins and Rivas could get the call if their bats produce, as both are slated to begin the year at Triple-A Iowa. Amaya is one of the Cubs’ few top prospects to have played above Low-A and he’s already on the 40-man, so he might be in the most advantageous position to make it to Chicago at some point.
Davis and Morel have been getting a lot of hype, but both need a lot more experience in the minors before sniffing the bigs. Strumpf, meanwhile, only got in six games at South Bend before a back injury ended his season with a couple of weeks to go.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 27, 2021
Weber is an interesting case because his intangibles offer a lot of promise that might not be immediately evident in his box score numbers. He’s probably the most mature of the young guys in camp seems to have ice water running through his veins late in the game. After playing second and third base at Virginia in college, then shifted over to shortstop in 2019 at South Bend and he helped lead them to the Midwest League title. Weber has a good approach with excellent control of the strike zone and just seems to win everywhere he goes.
All that said, the Cubs probably aren’t going to bring someone to Chicago on the strength of his mental attitude. Nor are they going to rush one of their top prospects just for the sake of buzz, especially when that would also mean starting their service-time clock at a period of flux in the organization’s competitive window. So while it’s fun to see these exciting young platers in camp, this is simply about giving them a little more experience in order to jump-start their respective minor league seasons.
One idea that has been posited recently is that instead of going to minor league camp when major league spring training ends, these prospects could all head to Triple-A for a month to get some at-bats before the lower levels begin playing games on May 4. That could result in as many as 25 extra games and as many as 100 or so additional plate appearances, every one of which is invaluable after the canceled 2020 season.
Whatever ends up happening in April and beyond, it’s going to fun seeing these players in action for the first time in way too long.