A couple weeks ago, MLB Pipeline re-ranked the farm systems of every major league team. The Cubs — who came in first in the winter — dropped to fourth mainly because of the promotions of Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, and Russell. So I got to thinking, “Who are the next Cub big hitters and when could they possibly arrive in Chicago?”
The Cubs have a lot of guys who can hit. What they don’t have is a lot of guys who can punish the ball and hit for a high average. There are a lot of unique and talented hitters in the Cubs system, but only one or two who could have an impact similar to Bryant or Schwarber. We will take a two-part look at the players the Cubs have in the minors who can hit for either a high average or for power. First up…
High Average Hitters
The name that comes to mind quickest is Chesney Young. The 22-year-old utility player out of Mercer, near Atlanta, had an outstanding year playing for South Bend and Myrtle Beach. At Myrtle Beach, Young hit .321 in 102 games. He also had a .394 on-base percentage and stole 12 bases. In a short stint in April in South Bend, Young hit .315 with a .385 on-base percentage and drove in 14 runss in 28 games. He also stole nine bases.
If Young adds some strength he might be able to increase his power a little bit. His standing in the organization as of now is that he’s a hit machine. But the right-handed hitter is going to need more strength to handle fastballs coming in at 95 to 97 miles an hour. Next year he will be at AA Tennessee.
Estimated arrival: 2018
Billy McKinney is another guy who can hit for high average but lacks the power needed to play a corner outfield spot for which he might be destined. McKinney played at Myrtle Beach for the month of April and he hit .340 with four home runs 25 RBI, which is pretty good in a pitcher’s league. At Tennessee, McKinney was up and down. He played in 77 games at AA before an injury in August ended his season.
When you look at his splits, in May he hit .298, June .319, July .243, and in only 11 games in August, he hit .310. McKinney has a little bit more power than you think but has yet to tap into that power potential. In 2016, he will likely be in Iowa to start out the year. I don’t see a daily spot for his bat right now. If he develops some more power at Iowa, I could see him on either side of the outfield. He might be one of those guys who goes back and forth between Iowa and Chicago for a few years while he develops.
Estimated arrival: Late 2016
Mark Zagunis is another player who hits for high average but whose real strength is getting on base. The all-star outfielder hit .271 in the Carolina League this year, which was good enough for ninth place ninth place in the league. But the stat that is most important is his .406 on base percentage, which is just staggering. Zagunis will be in the Arizona Fall League this year for the Cubs and they will get a better idea of the kind of hitter he is.
They may give Zagunis some things to work on for next year, including increasing his power. He will be at Tennessee in 2016. However, this year’s stint in the Arizona Fall League will be telling as the Cubs will see how his plate discipline is put to the test against stiffer competition. The Cubs are taking their time with Zagunis. Part of that might be a positional thing, part of it might be a power thing, and part of it might be they are not quite sure what the former catcher is going to be. His tenure in the Arizona Fall League should be telling.
Estimated arrival: 2017
Willson Contreras hit .333 on the year for AA Tennessee and is likely to be named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year later this month. Having never hit above .273 before this year, Contreras showed he could hit well in stretches but never over a whole year. It will be interesting to see what his role is in the future for the Cubs, with Montero signed for a few years and Schwarber’s possible catching future.
For now, Iowa is his destination. Like Zagunis, Contreras will make a pit stop in Arizona this fall. With Montero and Ross both signed through next year, don’t expect to see his bat and skills for a bit. The Cubs are going to want to make sure what they have and that this year was a true reflection of his talent.
Estimated arrival: 2017
Gleyber Torres is a unique talent. At just 18 years old, he was named Prospect of the Year in the Midwest League. He doesn’t have a lot of power yet, but for most of the year he hit over .300 until he had a mild slump in August. The first thing you notice about Torres’ swing is everything is smooth. The swing is not rushed, his hands take their time going through the zone. As a result, a lot of is his hits are to center, right center, and right field.
He’s only hit three home runs on the year, though it is likely that he could develop some power as he gets older. Although he’ll start next year at Myrtle Beach, I think the Cubs might move him forward to Tennessee faster than they did from low-A to high-A. That would still put him in the majors at just 20 years old in mid-summer 2017.
Estimated arrival: 2017
Rashad Crawford is my own little personal favorite. The 6’3″ lefty still has some room for projection, but he currently has a nice stroke. This year at South Bend, Crawford was second on the team in RBI from the nine spot. He hit .280 at low-A, which was up from .259 at short-season Boise in 2014. His combination of speed, average, and the possibility for power from his big frame make him an intriguing prospect as he continues to develop. Next year he will be at Myrtle Beach and I expect him to spend the full year there.
Estimated arrival: 2018
Some New Guys
Next summer will see some of this year’s draftees get more exposure and others from Rookie League get more action. Three names come to mind that we caught glimpses of this year, one of which is Robert Garcia. The 5’10” switch-hitting outfielder hit .341 for the Arizona Rookie League team in 2015. He will likely be leading off at Eugene next year.
Second is Garcia’s teammate at Arizona, Darryl Wilson, the Cubs fourth round pick in 2015. In 22 games, with a DL stint in there, Wilson hit .266 but showed a good approach, especially when he returned from his injury. The thing that is most important for Wilson is his blazing speed, which allowed him to beat out ground balls and turn singles into doubles.
Third is P.J. Higgins, who reminds me of Chesny Young with a little more pop in his bat. Higgins was selected in the 12th round out of Old Dominion. He signed late (on the final day) and hit near .300 across two levels at Eugene and Arizona, playing both third and second base. In just a short time, he showed a propensity for driving in runs and being a middle-of-the-order, high-average hitter. I doubt there is power there, but we will see.
While the Cubs do have a large number of players across the system who are showing they can hit for average, there is an overall lack of power. Part of that might be the type of players the Cubs select, another part might just be the era. Whatever the case, there are a few high-profile prospects who are showing they can handle the bat and command the strike zone. That’s something the front office covets, and, more importantly, protects in the system. These types of players are needed to get on base to score runs – the ultimate goal of any hitter.
Tomorrow we will take a look at the power hitters in the Cubs’ system.