In 2015, it was Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Baez, and Soler who stole the show. This year, Contreras, Edwards, Almora, and Zastryzny came and helped save the day. As for 2017, it’s a little unclear who might get promoted to steal some thunder or play in place of the veterans in Chicago. There could be a few relievers and a few bench players, but the odds of a rookie making a significant impact on the Cubs roster next year is almost nil. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Here are a few names who could perk up your ears.
Jeimer Candelario – First things first, Candelario has to make through the winter to be a Cub. As one of the organization’s best minor league assets, the switch-hitter corner infielder could bring a nice return in a trade. The Cubs might be further tempted to move Candelario because there really isn’t anywhere for him to play. Right now, he is blocked by Bryant at third and Rizzo at first, a position the prospect logged 10 games at towards the end of last year. If he manages to make it back to the majors in Chicago, he brings a mix of power and polish.
Mark Zagunis – The human walk machine displayed his talents at two levels in 2016, but an outstanding year was prematurely cut short when an ankle/foot injury ended his season with a month remaining. While he may not have the power you look for in a corner outfielder, he has the best plate discipline in the entire system. I think he is strictly a left fielder and it would not surprise me to see him in Chicago at some point in 2017.
Pierce Johnson – Once one of the top prospects in the entire system, all bets were taken off the table when he reached AAA Iowa last year and struggled mightily as a starter. He was then reassigned to the bullpen. It took a couple of weeks but I think Johnson might have found a home. He simplified his arsenal and it is much more direct when attacking hitters. I’m looking forward to his fastball/curve combo in spring training.
Ryan Williams – Known for attacking the zone and getting a lot of ground ball outs, shoulder problems limited him to just a few starts in 2016. I don’t quite know if he can make it as a starter, but he was a closer in college.
Chesny Young – I am excited to see Mr. Young hit in a pitcher’s league. In 2016, he hit .303 and almost won the Southern League batting title. I think he can do the same in the Pacific Coast League in 2017. Ideally, Young is a second baseman. However, he has played off position at shortstop, third, and a little first the past two years at Tennessee and Myrtle Beach to make himself more versatile.
Jose Rosario – Recently added to the 40 man roster, the 25-year-old Friday is back better than ever before after missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery. He advanced from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee to Iowa in a six week period last season and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in spring training. I still think he needs more seasoning in Des Moines, but could be ready by mid-June if needed.
Armando Rivero – He was lights-out the second half, striking out 48 in 26.0 IP. I don’t think there is much left for him to learn in AAA, so his time might be now. Out of all the players on the list, Rivero might have the best chance to make the club coming out of spring training.
Zach Hedges – I’m pretty sure he will be at AAA Iowa to begin 2017. After last winter’s changes to his body and pitching arsenal, Hedges was the most improved player in the Cub system in 2016. I am looking forward to seeing what further changes he makes to his build and repertoire for 2017.
Trevor Clifton – This young man has a power arm to go with a body that is beginning to fill out. Add in a 92-95 mph fastball with a plus curveball and a newly developed plus change and he could be a fast mover in 2017. Clifton will be playing in front of family and friends every day in Tennessee to start the year. At just 22, there is still plenty of time for him to continue to develop into a middle of the rotation starter.
Missing in Action
Duane Underwood – Minor injuries and a lack of control combined to make 2016 a season Underwood would like to forget. Actually, he has struggled mightily since the middle of 2015. He’s still throwing the ball hard, but he has lost his control down in the zone. He did make two starts in the Arizona Fall League but has since vanished from pitching at all in the league. If he can regain his control, it would be interesting to see how quickly he could move up the ladder.