Last year the Iowa Cubs went 67-76, which I consider that to be a miraculous record because of a number of injuries that decimated the starting rotation in the first month of the year that. It seemed as though the I-Cubs were always playing catch-up. On the other hand, Iowa produced several prospects — including catcher Wilson Contreras, outfielder Albert Almora, pitcher Carl Edwards, and pitcher Rob Zastryzny — who helped the Cubs win the World Series.
This year there could be as many as ten players who could help the big league club in some form or fashion.
Ryan Williams has had an outstanding spring. After missing almost all of 2016, the big lumberjack is back and his command of pitches down in the zone was evident in his time with the big league club in Mesa. Throw in Alec Mills and Eddie Butler and you have three arms who could fit nicely at the back of the rotation if needed. Next year, however, all three could be in position — along with some AA pitchers — to replace John Lackey and Jake Arrieta.
Keep a close eye on Mills and Butler, as they could be key replacements in case of injury this spring, especially if Lackey or Brett Anderson goes down.
Former starter Pierce Johnson has reinvented himself as a reliever as has gotten good results. I think he gets the first call-up and Cub fans will love his arsenal of pitches. They will also love his laid-back personality and sense of humor. Jose Rosario is another reliever who could help this year, but I think the key one is going to be lefty Jack Leathersich, who is fully healthy after coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago.
Jeimer Candelario’s retention as a Cub has been surprising. I thought for sure he would be traded for pitching depth during the offseason. But the switch-hitting corner infielder is showing why the Cubs are still hanging onto him as he sprays the ball all over the field from both sides of the plate.
There was no doubt that Ian Happ was the star of Spring Training. It was a mild surprise to see him assigned to Iowa, though the only thing he needs to work on is hitting consistently. While his OBP is always near .400, his batting average fluctuates greatly throughout the season. The streak Happ went on this spring is pretty much standing operating procedure for him. In the past, a slump would eventually come. I am hoping that is not the case this season.
Catcher Victor Caratini displayed the bat many have been waiting for since he was traded to the Cubs from the Braves. Now that he has two years of catching in the Cubs system, he just needs to improve his defense to match offensive skills that appear close to major league ready. In the case of an injury to Miguel Montero, Caratini could get the call this year.
Another prospect who could help this summer is Chesny Young, a utility player who saw time at six positions last summer in Tennessee. In addition to being an on-base machine, Young has shown some power lately. He hit four home runs last year in Tennessee and had three this spring with the Cubs. With a .313 career MiLB average, I think Young will feast on PCL pitching this spring and summer. It won’t be long until we see him in Chicago.
Bijan Rademacher and Mark Zagunis are also very close to making it to the Bigs as bench players. Rademacher, a lefty hitter, can play all three outfield positions and is actually getting much better every year, especially when it comes to power. Zagunis has the best plate discipline in the organization and his ability to draw a walk is going to get him to Chicago this year.
I don’t think he’s a sleeper anymore, but Pierce Johnson looks to be the breakout prospect of the year in Iowa. It took a few months for him to adjust to the role, but he looks great coming out of the pen.
Probable daily lineup
LF – Zagunis/Happ/Glaseman
CF – Andreoli/Happ
RF – Rademacher/Happ/Glaseman
3B – Candelario/Young
SS – Osvaldo Martinez/Young
2B – Bruno/Happ
1B – Candelario/Davis
C – Caratini/Coprporan/Solis
DH – Young/Happ/Glaseman
First to be promoted
There are four lefty relievers who could all get the call in short order. Rob Zastryzny proved he was capable last summer. Leathersich and Gerardo Concepcion might get a second chance, along with Zac Rosscup. All four southpaws are a strength for a bullpen with only one lefty on the 25-man roster.
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