Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber may have ruined it for all the Cubs’ draft picks. It did not take either of them very long to make it to the majors; Bryant did it in less than two years and Schwarber in less than a year. Ian Happ is not going to make it that fast. Albert Almora, Theo’s first round pick back in 2012, has not even made it to AAA. Moving a player along quickly in the Cubs organization under Epstein, Jason McLeod and Jaron Madison is an extreme oddity. However, we should see a few players fast-tracked in 2016.
Current Fast-Tracked Players
Ryan Williams – Williams will begin his second full season in the Cubs organization AAA Iowa. He spent one whole month at low-A South Bend before skipping high-A Myrtle Beach and arriving at AA Tennessee in 2015. In 17 outings (16 starts), he had a 2.76 ERA in 88.0 innings while striking 61 and only allowing 16 walks. The command he has, combined with his makeup and physical frame, give him a better chance than others to make it to Chicago quickly.
Dave Berg – The 22-year-old reliever was the Cubs’ sixth round pick in 2015 out of UCLA. He began his Cubs career at Eugene with 2 games before he was bumped all the way to Myrtle Beach. In 16 appearances, he only gave up earned runs twice. A 1.69 ERA combined with 3 BBs and 14 Ks make him an excellent candidate to continue moving forward. A sidewinder, Berg throws four pitches from the same slot so that hitters cannot determine if the ball is going to go left, right, down, or straight. It is dazzling to watch him baffle hitters.
Six to Click in One-Six
David Garner – The 7th round pick out of Michigan State began to put it all together last summer after two years of scuffling due to minor injuries and adjustments. The right-handed reliever harnessed his power fastball and took it to hitters regularly, putting up a 2.37 ERA in 30.1 innings at Myrtle Beach. Even more impressive, he struck out 36 men and allowed only a .162 batting average against. Garner spent some time in the Arizona Fall League this offseason with mostly good results (3.00 ERA). Still, he could move quickly with a 95 mph fastball that has some very good late movement and breaks a lot of bats.
Brad Markey – He is what he is: a solid pitcher who attacks the zone and does so with a mid-to-low 90’s fastball, a plus curve, and a changeup. Last year at Myrtle Beach, the 2013 19th round draft pick out of Virginia Tech destroyed the Carolina League in 8 starts. In 55 innings, he had a 1.15 ERA with 40 Ks and walked only seven men all summer, allowing opponents to bat a measly .186 off him. Look for him to start at AA Tennessee and move to Iowa soon thereafter. He’s not going to develop much more velocity as a starter, nor is he going to develop another pitch. Once Markey shows he can handle AA, he will move on. The question is, will he be a starter or reliever going forward?
Oscar De La Cruz – First off, he’s only 20. Second, he is rumored to still be growing. His MiLB profile says he is 6-4 but his actual height is rumored to be closer to 6-6. His fastball is just as big, with velocity that sat at 93-96 mph most of the summer in Eugene. He skipped Rookie League last year and went right to Eugene from the Dominican League, making the transition with great success. In 13 starts, De La Cruz threw 73 innings, striking out 73 with a WHIP of 1.00 and an ERA of 2.84. If he starts out at South Bend, don’t expect him to stay there long. If he begins the year at Myrtle Beach, he might not stay there long either.
Preston Morrison – Like Markey and Williams, Morrison — a 6’2” 185 lb. right handed starter out of TCU — was thought to be pretty much a finished product. He spent last summer at short-season Eugene, where he made 3 inning starts (0.81 ERA in 22.1 innings). This year, he will be let loose with no restrictions. I don’t think he should start at South Bend, as those 19-20-year-old kids in the Midwest League will be no match for someone with his command who has pitched in the College World Series. I expect Morrison to begin the year at Myrtle Beach and move quickly to Tennessee. Throwing from a 1/2 arm slot, Morrison tops out around 90 mph on his fastball and has great control and command of his pitches. Even in the Carolina League, a known pitchers league, he may not be tested. The best bet to see what he can do will be in the Southern League. On the other hand, the Preston Morrison we saw play at the peak of NCAA baseball for four years might not be the Preston Morrison we see as a Cub. Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com explains why:
Typically last season, Morrison flashed a low-to-mid 80s fastball that devastated hitters because of its ability to sink low in the zone. This year, and after a summer of hard work and training in the weight room, Morrison has seen his fastball velocity skyrocket from that low-to-mid 80s to more 87-88, and even touching 89 on a couple occasions.
This surprising turn in development could spur Morrison to also add some “giddy up” to his pitches. He was once thought of as a finished product. If that’s not the case, and he continues to add velocity, the Cubs got a steal.
Eddy Julio Martinez – Though originally thought to be worthy of $12-15 million, the Giants purportedly signed him for $2.5 million and then the Cubs signed him for $3 million. We don’t quite know what Martinez is. Is he a five tool player? There are a lot of unknowns to the prospect Keith Law thought could the number one pick in the 2016 draft, had he been eligible. My best guess is that Martinez spends some time in expanded spring training before the Cubs truly decide where to place him in 2016. Then again, they might already know where he should be. At only 20, I am sure the Cubs are going to err on the side of caution. Let him play first, see how does, and if they need to move him up, move him up. That said, I would lean toward South Bend being the most likely option.
Ian Happ – One of the highlights of 2015 for me was getting to see Ian Happ in Beloit for a three-game series last August. Let me just come out and say this now: I LOVE HIS HANDS THROUGH THE ZONE!!!! It is a beautiful sight to watch him swing. His stats did not show what I think he will be capable of in 2016, as he was pitched around a lot at Eugene and South Bend. That will likely not happen as much in 2016, when I think he goes to Myrtle Beach and plays second base this spring. If he can handle the defense there, and his bat is on track (which I don’t know why it wouldn’t be), he could be at Tennessee one year after being drafted. From there, I think the Cubs will take their time with him the rest of the year.
There could be other prospects who surprise us by moving quickly, players like Dylan Cease, Will Remillard, or Trey Masek who have been injured. They could be coming stateside for the first time like Pedro Silverio or Gabriel Lima. They could be 2015 draftees who break out like Darryl Wilson or Bryan Hudson. Or there could even be a draft pick this summer who flies through the system. We just don’t know. However, the ones listed above have a pretty good chance of being fast-tracked based on their talent compared to others around them. It should be an exciting summer to see which ones do.