With Jason Heyward and Ian Happ as the only returning players on the roster, the Cubs outfield is still very much up for grabs at this point. Manager Davis Ross has several options with Kris Bryant, David Bote, and Nico Hoerner, but the Cubs need to fill out the roster to have an everyday lineup.
One of more from a group of Phillip Ervin, Ian Miller, Rafael Ortega, and Michael Hermosillo should be in that mix. Ervin kills it at Wrigley with a lifetime .296 average there and Ortega is putting on a show in winter ball in Venezuela and might finally be ready to play every day if that carries over. Had the 2020 season started on schedule, Miller’s spring training performance gave him a shot at an Opening Day roster spot.
Barring a major developmental leap or decisions made out of pure desperation, the Cubs do not have an outfielder in the system who’s ready to come up and start regularly. Donnie Dewees might be the best offensive threat, though he does lack some consistency at the plate. Zach Davis — not to be confused with newly acquired pitcher Zach Davies — has a lot of speed and he can play all three positions but lacks experience.
If the Cubs are really in a pinch at any time next year, Connor Myers might be the best option. He is a Gold Glove defender who can put the bat on the ball. While he doesn’t have much pop, he’s someone who could come in as a defensive replacement to help close games out.
Jed Hoyer has spoken more than once about having an eye on the future, which in this case means getting Brennen Davis ready for 2022. Davis initially struggled against more advanced pitching at the alternate site in South Bend this summer, which is not a shock as he’s only played 58 games in the minors. He eventually figured some things out and showed what kind of hitter he can be.
Davis will be just 21 years old when the new season opens and odds are he will bypass High-A and go straight to Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs have previously shown a willingness to promote players straight from there to the majors, often as something of a reward before heading to Triple-A for more seasoning, but Davis really needs a full season of experience in the minors.
That Brennen Davis kid is at it again pic.twitter.com/4lVqgKkTEI
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) September 2, 2019
Even if he was ready, there’s really no urgency to get him to Chicago in 2021. That probably won’t be the case next year, however, as the Cubs should be looking to take more than just baby steps toward their next era of competitiveness. Davis has the versatility to play all three spots in the outfield, though left field would probably be his best bet long-term.
Cole Roederer struggled at times in 2019 at South Bend, but he’s learned from that experience and changed how he takes care of his body and how he’s trying to use the whole field. Roederer will probably begin 2021 at High-A South Bend and could head to Tennessee for the second half if he maintains his growth. He has the most beautiful swing in the Cubs’ system and it generates such easy power from the left side.
Cole Roederer’s swing is so beautiful 🚀 pic.twitter.com/B91Oy7sFHO
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) August 23, 2019
The Cubs may have hit the lottery in the 2020 draft by getting Jordan Nwogu in the third round. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound outfielder and designated hitter is built like a linebacker and generates home run power on sheer strength. Nwogu has been in Chicago working with Justin Stone, the Cubs’ Director of Hitting, to smooth out his swing with cleaner mechanics. More than likely, he’s going to be at Myrtle Beach to start next season but could quickly move to South Bend if his strength is too much for the new Low-A league.
Two players I really like are Nelson Velazquez and Darius Hill. Velazquez has immense power potential that hasn’t translated to games yet, but he has been hitting well with wRC+ rates of 129, 115, and 115 in his three seasons. The Cubs took Hill out of West Virginia in 2019 and he is an on-base machine who will outhustle any player on the field. He does have some pop, but it is not a big part of his game.
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) August 29, 2020
D.J. Artis and Edmond Americaan are wild cards who will be 24 in March and are full of potential. Artis’s game is built on speed and his ability to get on base, and he should be in Tennessee next spring. Americaan has a retooled swing that generated good power in six weeks at Eugene in 2019 and will probably be in South Bend.
DJ Artis touches them all pic.twitter.com/JpTAr4chqs
— Atreides🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) August 15, 2020
The Cubs’ outfield depth is pretty good in the lower levels of the system as well. Undrafted free agent Jacob Wetzel flashed a little bit and instructs as he smacked the ball all over the field and showed off his athleticism. I also like what I’ve seen from outfielder Yohendrick Pinango, who had a 147 wRC+ in 2019 in the Dominican Summer League. The 20-year-old Felix Stevens, a former Cuban free agent, really took off in the second half of 2019 in the Dominican as he flashed great power from his 6-foot-3 frame.
Then there are the youngsters the Cubs just picked up as part of the return for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini. It’s hard to know what to make of Ismael Mena, a top 15 IFA, and Owen Caissie, a second-round draft pick from 2020, because neither has played in an organized pro game outside of spring training or fall instructs. The 6-foot-3 Mena is said to be a defensive stalwart that can stick in center and barrel up the baseball. Caissie has immense power projection but seems destined more for first base or DH than the outfield.
The Cubs signed Jose Lopez in 2018, paying him a higher bonus than pitcher Richard Gallardo. Lopez missed the start of the 2019 season in the Dominican Summer League, then hit just .201 in about six weeks of games. He still managed to post a 121 wRC+ because he walked at a 28% rate, a clear sign of an advanced plate approach. If the Cubs and Lopez are able to iron out what was a pretty noticeable hitch in his swing, he could really be one to watch.
The Cubs’ strategy has changed a little this winter as they conduct a “small reset,” which combines with the cancellation of the 2020 MiLB season to push back both the need and ability to develop position players. That will change as current core members of the roster in Chicago are traded or allowed to move on in other ways, so expect to see some of the subjects of this piece to make some noise before long.
Check out our other organizational breakdowns