The big league club is about to open the regular season in Chicago while 50 other veterans and prospects work out at the alternate site in South Bend. That still leaves dozens of minor leaguers who haven’t participated in organized activities since last year and who haven’t played meaningful games in roughly a year and a half. That will change on April 4 as minor league camp gets underway.
In that time away, players have been working out on their own trying to improve their skills however they can. There have been plenty of videos on social media showing how players tried to develop without games and organizational oversight. Now it’s time to put practice into action.
Here are some of the top storylines that should be emerging from the Cubs’ minor league spring training camp this spring.
Who’s at the alternate site and who’s in Mesa?
More than likely, the Cubs will be giving some of their top prospects an advanced step in development by going to South Bend to take part in the alternate site. While most of the players in South Bend will be part of Triple-A Iowa’s roster, another 15-20 should be prospects the Cubs value most and who they think could benefit from exposure to a higher level of talent.
Some of it may simply be a matter of clearing a little room in Mesa as many of those players have already been in camp for over a month. Either way, we may be looking at some of these players a little differently by the time the MiLB season starts.
The pitching crunch
The Cubs are going to have to get down to 180 players in their system by May 5. They currently have a little over 200 players signed with a large number of those being pitchers. It’ll be interesting to see who the Cubs end up using as starting pitchers this year, who winds up in the bullpen, and who gets released. There is a fourth option where the Cubs could loan some of their prospects to the new partner leagues (formerly independent) to get in some work while still holding a professional deal with the Cubs.
Digital versus reality
Over the past year, we’ve seen lots and lots of prospects post videos of themselves working out on social media. The Cubs Insider crew has talked to several of those players across various podcasts and posts, but now it’s a matter of showing that work on the field. Whether those improved velocity readings and spin rates can carry over to real performance might end up improving the system substantially and providing proof of concept to developmental leadership.
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) March 12, 2021
Where will prospects be assigned?
When it comes to which prospects are going to be playing for which affiliates, that’s probably not going to be decided until the last week. It’s been such a long time since many of these guys have been in live action that the Cubs may only have a rough sketch of their plans. Then you add in the players from the alternate site who won’t be at Iowa and you’ve got a shifting mix all spring.
We may not find out rosters until right before the minor league season opens.
Long-awaited debuts and full seasons
Over the last two years, the Cubs have acquired a lot of young players with loud toolsets and several college pitchers that haven’t yet been set free from pitch limits. The 2019 draft class has a lot of arms who only threw 10-15 professional innings after being drafted, so seeing them really getting the chance to throw is exciting.
There are also a number of players who will see their first real action in the organization since joining via draft, free agency, or international free agency. Ed Howard, international free agents Ronnier Quintero, Kevin Made, and Cristian Hernandez are all set to make their debuts as Cubs. We will also see Jordan Nwogu, Luke Little, Max Bain, Koen Moreno, and Burl Carraway.
Then there are the players from the Darvish trade
The four most scrutinized players in camp might be those acquired in the Yu Darvish/Victor Caratini trade. Everybody’s going to have their eyes on them to see how good they are and, more importantly, how good they can be. Where the Cubs play Reggie Preciado and Yeison Santana is something to look for. Ismael Mena seems destined for CF while Owen Caissie and his big bat can be slotted into RF.
Though not nearly as big a move, Shendrik Apostel, the big-bodied first baseman who came over in the Duane Underwood Jr. trade, looks ready to start hitting dingers.
1B Prospect, Shendrik Apostel #Pirates
This guy has insane power 🔥 pic.twitter.com/JVTsc5bXqj
— Pirates Prospect Talk (@TalkPirates) February 5, 2021
Whatever happens this spring in Mesa is just going the precursor to what promises to be an exciting and unpredictable year throughout the system.