For some, spring training is a time to get back into game shape, whether that’s testing out certain pitches or tinkering with their batting stance. Veterans with roster spots set for the upcoming season are able to report to Mesa with full of confidence that even poor numbers will still see them taking that plane ride back to Chicago when camp is complete.
Others are not as fortunate. While the month of March is great for stretching out, it is also a perfect opportunity for the system’s up-and-coming prospects to showcase their talents in front of the people in charge of giving them the call to the majors.
An outstanding spring might just put on the fast track to Chicago, or could even mean a surprise roster spot. Struggling at the plate or on the mound, on the other hand, could raise questions no matter how well the given player performed during the regular season.
So far this spring, three guys have taken full advantage of their opportunities at the plate. Mark Zagunis, Trent Giambrone, and Jared Young aren’t players you’ll find at the top of many prospect lists, but each has the potential to contribute at the major league level in the future. And since all are poised to begin the year in the upper levels of the minors, this spring could give them a leg up on the competition for future openings in Chicago in the coming seasons.
Zagunis looks as if he will be spending at least a portion of a fourth consecutive season in Triple-A Iowa in 2019, and he has flirted with Chicago in the form of 24 plate appearances over the last two seasons. While those plate appearances have been less than successful (39 wRC+), he has torn the cover off the ball in his spring plate appearances. In his 21 plate appearances, he has an 1.131 OPS with two homers and a double. He has also contributed 10 RBI to go along with his four runs scored.
If he can keep those powers numbers rolling while continuing to prove why he has become the Mr. OBP of the system, he should get a legitimate look as the first man up from Iowa during the regular season.
Mark Zagunis misses the 'bunt' sign. pic.twitter.com/8uK9xeVrrq
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 1, 2019
Giambrone is quickly becoming a fan favorite and the ridiculous numbers he is putting up aren’t hurting. So far in his 18 plate appearances, he has a 1.327 OPS with two homers, two doubles, four runs scored, and three RBI while striking out only twice. Fans may like him because of his 5-foot-8, 175 pound frame and Mike Fontenot-esque grittiness, but they will learn to love Giambrone for his talents soon enough.
Though he’s built from the same general David Bote/Zack Short mold, Giambrone walks a bit less and his defense doesn’t quite meet the standards of the other two guys. But Giambrone does play multiple positions and shows a surprising amount of pop given his size. He is trying to play his way into a spot on the Iowa roster to begin the year, which would position him well for a mid-season promotion to Chicago if need be.
Young exploded onto the scene this spring, and for good reason. He has strolled to the plate only eight times so far, but he has done some serious damage in that sample, launching two bombs and driving in five runs. That power is very important to his development moving forward.
In 2018, Young proved that he was able to make contact at the plate and had some of the best bat-to-ball numbers in the system en route to his Cubs Minor League Player of the Year award. As a primary first baseman, the next step for Young to be truly considered a top prospect in this system is to turn his gap-to-gap power into home run pop.
It’s too early to say for sure, but he is showing that he might have improved that skill over the offseason and it will prove to be very valuable this season as he starts off in Double-A Tennessee.
As the spring pushes forward, there is still plenty of time for each of these guys to prove that the numbers they have put up so far aren’t just smoke and mirrors. This trio of Zagunis, Giambrone, and Young have established themselves as players to look out for over the next three weeks and beyond, but there will be plenty of opportunities for more guys to make their own cases as the next breakout prospect with split-squad games taking place in the coming weeks.