Minor League Focus: Contreras’ Impressive Spring, Cease is Hot, Candelario Has Lots of Upside
With a farm system that, last season, produced top-rate talent like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, you’d think it’d be tapped out. Well, nothing could be further from the truth for the Cubs minor league system. This fact has been highlighted throughout Cactus League play this year as we’ve seen Jeimer Candelario, Willson Contreras, John Andreoli, Albert Almora, Tim Federowicz, and Kristopher Negron all looking very close to major-league ready. Not to mention players we didn’t see, like Dylan Cease, Matt Szczur, Tommy La Stella, and Duane Underwood. I’d like to highlight just a few of these guys.
- Let’s start with Jeimer Candelario. Jeimer came into spring as the 10th best prospect in the Cubs minor league system. To say he lived up to the hype may be a slight under-exaggeration; in 31 at-bats he had 11 hits, scored 5 runs, 2 home-runs and 3 RBIs, hitting .355/.394/.677. We all know not to make too much from what we see in spring training, but when a guy who’s already highly ranked comes in and has the hottest bat in the spring, well, just harken back to last spring and what a kid named Kris Bryant did and then look at what he did during the season. Spring numbers can translate to the regular season when they’re coming from a previously top-ranked guy. I hope we can see Jeimer taking some cuts in the big-leagues soon.
- Willson Contreras had a lot to prove coming into the spring. Since being signed by the Cubs out of Venezuela in 2009, he’s steadily moved up the prospect ranking list to his current ranking of number 2 by Baseball America. There’s good reason to believe that the Cubs will find a way soon, probably not this year but more likely next, to get Willson on the 25-man roster. It can be conceptualized that once Ross retires after this year you could see Willson come up and split time with Miguel Montero in 2017 and beyond, eventually taking over full-time catching duties. Willson has had a very good Cactus League this year (here’s a link to a game against the Dodgers where he stole the show) hitting .357/.500/.571.
- Another player that is really beginning to create a buzz is Cubs pitching prospect RHP Dylan Cease. He was originally projected as a first round pick but fell all the way to the sixth round in 2014 due to concerns over Tommy John surgery. He threw a minor league outing last week that had people on both sides of the fence talking about his heat and that he, allegedly, hit 100 MPH on the gun (here’s a link to my article where I wrote about it).
- Of all the current Cubs pitching prospects, Cease is by far the most intriguing, and the most unknown. He consistently throws in the upper-90s but needs to get in some quality innings at the minor league level to see if he can get better command while maintaining velocity. In this Q&A with Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Jason McLeod, the Cubs vice president of player development and amateur scouting, states that this is the year the Cubs are “going to take the reins off him.” This is a great article that touches on these players and more, so give it a read it you have time.