Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler are all locks to leave camp with the Cubs and give manager Joe Maddon flexibility and depth for the 2016 season.
In a battle for the fifth outfield spot—Shane Victorino, Matt Murton, and Matt Szczur—have all been hampered by injuries while Juan Perez and John Andreoli have received a majority of the playing time. Andreoli’s had the best spring of the bunch, hitting .303/.352/.727 with a team-high four homers. Still a lot of time left in camp and the Cubs may opt not to add a fifth outfielder to the roster, but you can justify a spot based on the need for a late-inning defensive replacement.
That’s why I think that sometime after the All-Star break Albert Almora may be the late-inning replacement in Wrigley. Almora’s the best defensive outfielder in the system as far as tracking down fly balls, and saw action in left field last year (the Cubs front office and minor league guys have a uncanny knack of seeing things in advance). The 21-year-old continues to evolve at the plate and will start season at Iowa.
Billy McKinney has his 2015 season end when he fouled a ball off and broke his knee cap. And if you wonder about this kid’s toughness, he stayed in the game, delivered a sacrifice fly, ran towards first and then left the game. He’s recovered and back to playing games on both sides of camp. The 21-year-old will likely start the year in AA but should make his AAA debut in 2016. And don’t be surprised if a bunch of baseballs leave the park off his bat this season.
Bijan Rademacher is one of those under the radar guys that moves up through the ranks and before you know it, he’s being called up to Wrigley after an injury. A career .277/.379/.370 slash in four seasons, Rademacher continues to improve his defensive skills in right and improve his value. May be back in AA to start the year but should end it in Iowa.
Drafted as a catcher in 2014, Mark Zagunis made the switch to the outfield, earning all-star honors in the Carolina League in his first full season. His best tool is his bat, as he makes solid contact and great awareness of the strike zone. Zagunis has a strong arm and can play right but has yet to show power that you like to see from a corner outfielder. Looking forward to seeing him at AA against tougher pitching.
The Cubs third-round pick in 2013, Jacob Hannemann, 24, is still learning the game and a work in progress. He established himself as a defensive outfielder last year, primarily with his own Top 10 highlight reel of diving grabs. One of most athletic players in the system, Hannemann stole 24 bases in 26 attempts last season and if can ever cut down on his strikeouts and improve his on-base skills, could find himself on a major league roster.
Jeffrey Baez wasn’t good the first three months of the season. Then the MWL couldn’t get him out. After batting .181 over the first 50 games, the 22-year-old hit .359/.381/.553 with 8 HR, 23 stolen bases and 46 runs scored over the final 51 games. He was named the Cubs Minor League Player the Month for August and promoted to Myrtle Beach for their championship run. Baez should be back in Myrtle Beach and see if can build off the second-half of last season. Baez also has one of the stronger arms in the system, its more like a cannon.
A ninth-round pick in 2013, Charcer Burks, 21, put together a solid season in South Bend but struggled down the stretch in his year at a full-season affiliate. Burks is a solid defender and can play all three outfield positions but is more suited for left and center. Likely headed to Myrtle Beach, Burks swiped 28 bases, ripped 22 doubles, improved his walk rate to 10.2 percent and lowered his strikeouts.
Trey Martin, 23, was named a minor league gold glove winner by MiLB.com as the Cubs 13th round pick in 2011 was part of the Pelicans championship season. Martin hit .239/.281/.307 in 90 games and stole 14 bases but his best tool is his defense.
Rashad Crawford had his best season as a pro, batting .280/.322.,382 in 107 games for South Bend. Crawford, 22, was drafted out of high school in 2012, started 83 games in center and played at both corners. Crawford stole 20 bases and should spend plenty of time in Myrtle Beach in 2016.
Shawon Dunston missed most of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury after having his best year of his career in ’14. Drafted in 2011, the 23-year-old is likely back in Myrtle Beach for ’16.
The Cubs added more minor league depth with the signing of free agents Ryan Kalish and Kelly Dugan and picked up for Cardinal prospect Mike O'Neill in the Rule 5 draft. Kalish played with Cubs two years ago and Dugan has spent his entire minor league career with the Phillies.
Cubs win Futures game 10-7
Cubs beat the Rangers in the Futures Game between the two organizations. Victor Caratini blasted a two-run homer and Ian Happ added a solo blast while Daniel Vogelbach delivered a two-run single. Adding RBI were Jason Vosler, Mark Zagunis, Albert Almora and Willson Contreras. Some of the pitchers the Cubs used included Daury Torrez, Aaron Brooks, Scott Effross, Dillon Maples, Josh Conway, David Berg, Corey Black, and Carl Edwards Jr.