On Friday, the Chicago Cubs reassigned top prospect Eloy Jimenez to the minor leagues. While this is normal with the regular season just over two weeks away, the time that Jimenez spent in spring training gave Cubs fans a glimpse into the future.
While with the big league camp this spring, Jimenez hit .321 with two home runs, two doubles, and four RBI’s. His stellar play this spring was just the latest in Jimenez’s climb toward the big leagues.
The Cubs signed Jimenez in 2013, and he made his first appearance in professional baseball the following year. In rookie ball, Jimenez struggled at first by posting a slash line of .227/.268/.367. The former top international prospect picked up his game in 2015 as he hit .284 with 7 home runs and 33 RBI’s in 57 game in short-season A-ball.
At age 19, Jimenez was promoted to Low-A South Bend where he continued his offensive showcase. In 112 games, the 19-year-old Jimenez hit .329/.369/.532 and belted 14 home runs. Now, at age 20, Jimenez is primed to start the season in Double-A and kick off the next wave of talented Cubs prospects.
As is true with many other prospects in the Cubs system, Jimenez seems to be blocked at the major league level. The 6’4″ Jimenez lacks the speed and range to be a center fielder, thus relegating him to corner outfield positions. With Kyle Schwarber poised for a monster season, and Jason Heyward under contract until 2024, Jimenez does not seem to have a great shot at playing in the majors with the Cubs.
The only thing that could keep Jimenez in a Cubs uniform is the fact that Jason Heyward has an opt-out clause in his contact that he can exercise after the 2018 season. Even after reinventing his swing in the off-season, it would take monster seasons in each of the next two years to get Heyward to test free agency.
The idea of Heyward leaving does not seem possible at this point, but if he continues to struggle, the Cubs may be forced to do something with him. Even if Heyward opts out, the Cubs would still have options not named Eloy Jimenez in right field. Ben Zobrist is signed through 2019 and has received increased playing time in the outfield of late.
For now, the Cubs do not have to worry about this issue. Jimenez is still a year or two away from being ready for the majors. Of course, continuing to put up great numbers will speed up the process in the minors, but it will more than likely not be enough to break onto the Cubs stacked roster.
Some other guys getting a chance to prove themselves this spring are: Ian Happ, Chesny Young, and Victor Caratini.
Ian Happ is the second best prospect in the Cubs system behind Jimenez, and has hit .441 this spring with three home runs and 9 RBI’s. Happ is another guy who will start the 2017 season in Double-A and seems to be blocked at the major league level. He can play second base and outfield positions.
Chesny Young was reassigned with Jimenez on Friday to the minor leagues. He hit .300 this spring with one home run and five RBI’s. Young can play all over the diamond, including second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field. The 24-year-old spent the 2016 season in Double-A and hit over .300 with four home runs and 37 RBI’s.
Victor Caratini was also sent back to the minors on Friday. He finished spring by hitting .263 with three doubles and two RBI’s. Caratini made it to Double-A in 2016, and hit .291 with six home runs and 47 RBI’s in 115 games. He does most of the catching, but can play first base and third base. At 23 years old, Caratini will start the season in Triple-A and could see major league time in 2017.
These prospects just represent a small amount of the vast talent still in the Cubs farm system. Even though playing time will be hard to come by for these guys at the major league level, its great news for the Cubs front office to have such a deep system. All this talent means that they can be active at the trade deadline this season and get some much needed starting pitching for the future.