Strange things happen quietly over the course of the MiLB offseason. Players are added, dropped, signed, retired, and cut without much fanfare or concern. Probably the quietest process of all is the rehabilitation of an injured player. Whether it’s Tommy John surgeries, knees, shoulders, or ankles, the injuries go to show the physical demands of the sport that requires you to grind for 140 games in the minors.
With the focus firmly on the big league club and the star prospects who’ve matriculated through the system, it’s easy to forget about some of the players who were laid up this season. Here are some Cub prospects who should be returning to action next year.
Corey Black seemed to be just starting to find his groove as a reliever with a 2.70 ERA in his last 12 games of 2016. Now coming off TJS, he is bound and determined to be ready for the 2018 campaign. He will be 26 when next season opens and will likely be unprotected in the Rule Five Draft this winter.
Furthest distance I’ll get to during my rehab starts today! 120 feet and some flat grounds coming soon. Almost time for home
— Corey Black (@CblackCHC) September 20, 2017
Ryan Williams has now missed two seasons with shoulder issues. I love his mentality and approach on the mound and I would be oky if he went from starting to relief next year. He was a closer in college and always pitched well with that type of attitude. He will be 26 when the 2018 season starts.
Erick Leal has gotten better every year as a Cubs pitcher. I was really sad to see him miss all of this season and hope the 6-foot-3 righty can come back next season and start, probably at AA Tennessee.
Gioskar Amaya had his season early by a knee injury. The infielder-turned-catcher will be 25 next season and should be at AA Tennessee. The problem is things are starting to get a little crowded at catcher in the system and I could see him sliding back to second to take some pressure off the knee from time to time.
MT Minacci is a young righty who made huge strides in 2016 as a reliever with Eugene. Things did not work out well for him this spring, but he was assigned to South Bend before he went on the DL for the whole season.
Luis Hernandez has now missed two seasons due to shoulder issues, which really make you cringe when you see them associated with young pitchers. The 6-foot-5 righty was so promising as a reliever in the AZL in 2015 and he even had some nice moments at Eugene that summer.
Chi-Feng Lee was signed as an international free agent, but the soon-to-be 20-year-old RHP has yet to throw a pitch in a meaningful game due to elbow issues. There are way more questions than answers here.
Carlos Ocampo was pretty good in June and July in 2016 (3.21 ERA in 7 Starts) before breaking down in August with elbow trouble. Just 19, the 6-foot-2 righty from Cartagena, Colombia could be an interesting arm even in relief next year.
Pablo Ochoa had about as inconsistent a season as one could have in 2016 in the AZL. The 19-year-old lefty also showed some promise in 2015 in the DSL with a 2.58 ERA in 14 games, seven of which he started. I expect he will delegated to just relief next year.
Alec Mills did return at the end of this year to pitch a couple games in Mesa and a couple more for Myrtle Beach. He’s now been assigned to the Arizona Fall League after missing four months of the season due to an ankle injury. Acquired in a trade last winter for Donnie Dewees, Mills holds promise as a starter and might be a possible rotation candidate — or at least a backup — next spring.
It will be interesting to see how these respective recoveries are going when spring training rolls around in February 2018. Most of these players are still a long way off in terms of even thinking about contributing at the highest level, and it could really be a long road back for the young pitchers who have missed significant time.