Dexter Fowler is gone, Jon Jay was signed to replace him, and Albert Almora is waiting in the wings. The Cubs can also afford to move Jason Heyward to center in case of an injury or to amuse manager Joe Maddon.
Almora may start the year in Iowa as Matt Szczur is out of options and its not that bad as Almora can play every day, Cubs gain control for another season, and they can afford to wait until he’s needed. As much talk as there was about Jorge Soler’s injury problems, Almora has a similar history. A broken hamate bone, a groin injury, and a few outfield collisions have landed the Cubs first-round pick in 2012 on the DL five times during his five-year minor league career. Almora is a plus defender in center and continues to excel at the plate, showing more power and better strike zone awareness. Almora is such a good contract hitter, he swings at too many “pitchers’ pitches and has learned to wait for ball he can drive. The 22-year-old made his big league debut in 2016 and hit .277/.308/.455 in 47 games with nine doubles, a triple and three homers. He went 0-for-10 in nine playoff games for the Cubs.
Here’s the rest of the Cubs top minor league centerfielders:
John Andreoli drew attention in spring training, leading the Cubs in 25 games played and also smacked four homers and knocked in 10 while hitting .270/.341/.649. Drafted in the 17th round in 2011 out of Connecticut, the 26-year-old spent his second straight season in AAA, hitting .256/.374/.396 with a career-high 12 homers and 43 stolen bases in 140 games. He led the PCL with 94 walks and 162 strikeouts. Andreoli can play all three outfield positions but his best tools are his bat and speed. If the Cubs lose Szczur on a waiver claim, Andreoli could fill that role but doesn’t have Szczur’s defensive skills.
Added to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft, Jacob Hannemann (20013-3rd round) is still a work in progress after spending four seasons in the Cubs minors. A football player in college, Hannemann has shown good defensive skills and showcases his athleticism on the base paths but still hasn’t figured it out at the plate. Limited to 74 games in 2016 in Tennessee, Hannemann hit .247/.326/.426 with a career-high 10 homers and 26 stolen bases. He’s spent the winter playing in Puerto Rico but only hit .120 (9-for-75) in 22 games.
The Cubs 13th round pick in 2011 out of high school, Trey Martin has spent six seasons in the Cubs organization and established himself as one of the top defenders. Martin earned a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove in 2015 while playing in Myrtle Beach and reached AA last year. In 68 games in AA, the 24-year-old batted .186/.240/.242 with 14 stolen bases and 18 runs scored. Martin should be back in Tennessee and can also play left field.
Donnie Dewees stayed under the prospect radar in 2016, his first full season in pro ball after the Cubs selected the 23-year-old in the second-round in 2015. Dewees earned all-star honors at South Bend, batting .282/.337/.414 in 94 games with three homers, 54 RBI and 17 stolen bases. Dewees earned a promotion to Myrtle Beach in late July and anchored center on the Carolina League title team, hitting .289/.339/.423 with 14 stolen bases and 25 runs over the final 35 games. He hit .423 (11-26) in the playoffs with six runs in seven games. The left-handed bat should start the year in Myrtle Beach and reach AA by the end of the year, and another solid season should put him in the conversation of the Cubs top prospects.
The Cubs 27th round pick in June, Connor Myers got his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League and then headed to the Northwest League. In 10 games for the Ems, Myers hit .265 with nine runs and seven RBI in 10 games before getting promoted to South Bend. Myers made 34 starts for the SB-Cubs and displayed his defensive skills with several spectacular catches, batting .221/.258/.344 with three homers.
The Cubs top outfield prospect could be 20-year-old Darryl Wilson, the Cubs fourth-round pick in 2014, who signed a $1.3 million bonus instead of heading to Vanderbilt. Wilson struggled the first two months in Eugene but heated up at the end of July and hit .374/.400/.571 over a 24 game stretch with 15 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and 14 RBI. In 64 games, Wilson finished with a slash line of .257/.320/.371 with 21 stolen bases, three homers, 29 RBI and 37 runs. Wilson is a plus defender and South Bend fans are in for a treat in 2017.
Luis Ayala made a team-high 28 starts in center for Mesa, making his stateside debut after two years in the Venezuelan Summer League. The 20-year-old hit .283/.330/.369 with 19 stolen bases and 26 runs in 46 games.
Cubs have a lot of options at center in the minors with Dewees and Wilson heading the list of potential every day starters in the majors.
Winter League Recap
RH Miguel Mejia, recently resigned by the Cubs for 2017, recorded his 11th hold, working a scoreless eighth as Caguas beat Aguadilla 3-1. Mejia walked one and recorded one strikeout in his Puerto Rican League outing.....Bryant Flete scored as a pinch runner in the ninth inning in Zulia’s 10-9 walk-off loss to Caribes in Venezuela.