Who Are the Cubs’ Next Big Hitters After Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, and Russell? (Part 2 of 2)
While yesterday’s post examined the potential of high-average hitters, today’s post looks specifically at power. In an era where power is at a minimum in the major leagues, it is the currency and demand of every GM in the league. The Cubs are no different. In the last few drafts, the Cubs selected two of the top young hitters in the game in Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. They also sought out power in the international free agent market. I expect this offseason could be one in which the Cubs sign another in Eddy Julio Martinez. I also think the Cubs will continue to target the best available hitter in next year’s draft as well.
There are several players in the Cubs system filled with the potential to hit copious amounts of homers. The problem is that they are not quite as fully developed as one would like and are at the lower levels of the system. It might take a while, but there are a couple who could be devastating in a three to five years.
Category 2: The Potential for Power Part A – Big Time Power
The one that comes to mind first is Eloy Jimenez, who spent about a third of the year injured while playing for Eugene in the Northwest league. In just 57 games, the 19-year-old hit seven homeruns and drove in 33 while maintaining an average of .284. It will be interesting to see what the prospect can do next year in South Bend, where the ball tends to travel out to right field better than it does to left. A 140-game season is needed to develop his power and 20 HRs would be great from him. I think going forward in 2017, 25 would not be out of the question. If all goes well, he will still be 21/22 when that happens. There is no rush to get him to the majors, just get him there right. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Jimenez has a little room to put on a few pounds to increase his power without harming his athleticism.
Estimated arrival: 2018
The Cubs have a lot of players who have the potential for home runs but who did not show it this year. Dan Vogelbach of Tennessee struggled with injuries. I believed that when Vogelbach went to Tennessee, it would result in a lot of home runs after playing in pitcher’s nirvana last year (2014) in the Florida State league. It didn’t. He had only 7 jacks in 76 games. Vogelbach struggled to get back to that 2013 season where hit 19 homeruns with a .284 average at Kane County and Daytona. Back then, everyone was convinced it was only a matter of time, but that was probably a little too much pressure to put on a 19-year-old kid. Back to the present: provided Vogelbach gets put on the 40-man roster this winter, he’ll start next year at Iowa and could be a nice left-handed bat off the bench in the stretch next fall. With Rizzo blocking his way, Vogelbach’s options as a Cub are limited.
Estimated arrival: Late 2016
Christian Villanueva is kind of a lost soul. The 23-year-old third baseman hit 18 HRs and drove in 88 RBIs at AAA Iowa in 2015. Both stats lead the entire Cubs system, yet he did not get a call-up. This was in part for his defense, which faltered on routine plays this year. Still, Villanueva is an asset for the Cubs moving forward. Whether he gets traded or not is another story. In 2013, Villanueva opened a lot of eyes when he had 41 doubles at AA Tennessee. However, that was the summer the Cubs acquired Kris Bryant. Like Mike Olt, Villanueva has been brushed aside to make way for Bryant, and rightly so. On the other hand, Villanueva’s power is not something to take lightly heading in to 2016. The problem is where do you play him?
Estimated Arrival: 2016
In just 67 games, Ian Happ clubbed nine home runs and drove in 33 runs while hitting .259 with a very good .356 on-base percentage. A lot of times he was being pitched around in both short-season A and low-A as his reputation preceded him. I see Happ at Myrtle Beach in 2016. The Carolina League is known as a pitcher’s paradise, so we might not see much power next year but we will see his plate discipline. At only 20, Happ could take a few years, unlike the last few top picks. First, the Cubs will need a position for him. Instructs in Arizona start in 6 days and I expect Happ to be there learning the intricacies of second base.
Estimated arrival: 2018
Category 2: The Potential for Power Part B – Moderate Power
The second half of 2015 was a godsend for South Bend’s Jeffrey Baez, who capitalized on the injury to Charcer Burks in the leadoff spot and went from hitting .182 in the middle of June to .280 at the end of the year. Baez’s second-half split was a .348 batting average with eight home runs and 28 RBIs. I think Baez is one of the most exciting players to watch, as he can pull a ball for a home run just as easily as he can go to right, not to mention make a diving catch and throw out a runner at any base. And he stole 36 bases on the year. Only 21, but Rule 5-eligible, the Cubs are going to have a hard time holding onto him if he plays in 2016 like he did in the second half. He will start out next year at Myrtle Beach, but could move to Tennessee with a hot start.
Estimated arrival: 2018
At only 21, switch-hitting third baseman Jeimer Candelario has shown the potential for some power. This year, he had his best year as a pro and could start out next season at AAA Iowa. He also is likely to earn a spot on the 40-man roster this winter as he is rule 5 eligible. If the Cubs put Candelario on the 40-man this winter, he will spend a whole year/year and a half in Iowa developing his power stroke from both sides of the plate before he is ready for the majors.
Estimated arrival: 2017
Donnie Dewees struggled at first in July, hitting only .235, but came on strong at the end of the month and into August where he hit .292. Dewees hit five homeruns for the month and it should be interesting to see what he can do at low-A South Bend coming in fresh after not playing a full season of college ball beforehand. I am really looking forward to seeing Dewees and his speed and power next year.
Estimated arrival: 2018
Jacob Rogers is another player who has the potential for 20 home runs a year, but he only hits around .250 to .260. He’s a nice hitter in that he works counts and takes walks, and is a good fielder to boot. He is not going to hit for a high average but he has been an essential part of two winning teams at Kane County in 2014 and in Myrtle Beach in 2015. At 25 years old, his time is slowly running out. He will be in Tennessee for 2016.
Estimated arrival: See Vogelbach’s issues
Matt Rose, the Cubs 11th round pick out of Georgia State, has everything he needs to hit home runs. He has a nicely balanced swing, a 6’5″ frame, and a good eye at the plate. He hit 4 home runs in 35 games after being signing with the Cubs. I suspect that next year, like Happ and Dewees, Rose will brandish the bat for more power in 2016. He will likely be at high-A Myrtle Beach next year.
Estimated Arrival: 2019
In the end…
Power just doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes years to develop. In the Cubs’ case, that is the most likely projection. While Eloy Jimenez offers the most hope for major league power, he is not the only one. If Ian Happ plays second and could hit 20-25 HRs a season, that’s an All-Star second baseman right there. With his speed and ability to play CF and hit for power, Donnie Dewees moves himself right to the front of the prospect line. It should be interesting to see the power in the minors for the next three years as the major league guys aren’t going anywhere for a while.