Now that the Cubs minor-league regular season is over, it's time for you to pick the BCB Minor League Player of the Year. Overall, it was a successful season. Four top prospects graduated to the majors, but the system barely lost a step as others stepped up to take their place.
All of the players nominated today could have big major league futures ahead of them, but this award is for the player who had the best overall season regardless of prospect status. So vote for the player you think had the best overall season. You can take into account defense or base running or any other factor you want, as long as it pertains to what the player did in 2015 and not what you think that player will do in 2016 and beyond.
The winner will be announced either in tomorrow's Pelicans Playoff Wrap, if there is one. Otherwise, I'll figure out something. Also, we'll do a Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. That will post tomorrow at 10 am CT.
With that said, the nominees are:
Iowa Cubs shortstop Javier Baez: The I-Cubs were supposed to be the greatest collection of minor league position player prospects ever assembled, but it didn't quite work out that way. Baez (not technically a prospect, but go with it) missed the beginning of the season after the death of his sister and by the time he returned to playing, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell were already off to the majors. By the time Kyle Schwarber arrived, Baez was out for six weeks with a broken finger. By the time Baez was ready to return, Schwarber was gone to Chicago.
For the most part, Baez played only two months in Iowa: May and August. But in those 70 games over two months and change, Baez showed that he was beginning to put together some baseball smarts along with his unworldly skills. Baez hit .324 with a .385 OBP and a .527 SLG in 313 plate appearances. Baez had 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases for Iowa. He drove in 61 runs in 70 games. And most importantly, he seemed to listen to his coaches. The leg kick was gone and his swing was much more under control. Baez cut his K% in Iowa down to 24.3%, which was the lowest percentage for Baez since High-A in 2013. He had a career high BB% on 11.1.
Baez has always been thought of as a good defender, but he seems to have put in even more work on the other side of the game and was a good defender in Iowa at three infield positions. Baez showed that he could play definitely shortstop solidly in the major leagues and could be a top defender at second base or third. He even expressed a willingness to try the outfield if it got him into the lineup more.
Tennessee Smokies catcher Willson Contreras: Contreras won the Southern League batting title in 2015, hitting .333 in 126 games. The last time the Smokies had a Southern League batting champion, they were the Knoxville Sox, they were managed by Tony LaRussa and they had Harold Baines on their team. (But Baines didn't win it: Joe Gates did.) The Bee Gees were the biggest musical act in the world, in case you were wondering.
But back to Contreras. The 23-year-old Venezuelan, who converted to catching in 2012, had to split time behind the plate with Kyle Schwarber for the first two months. But what was most impressive is that Schwarber really didn't outhit Contreras by much. Contreras then became the Smokies biggest offense threat after Schwarber left. His final line was .333/.413/.478 with eight home runs and 34 doubles, which was the second-best doubles total in the league.
Two other things stick out about Contreras' season at the plate. One is that he hit 50 points better on the road than he did at home, so his season wasn't helped by a cozy hitter's ballpark. The other is that Contreras walked 57 times and struck out only 62. If you toss in the seven times he was hit by a pitch, Contreras worked a free trip to first more often than he struck out.
Defensively, Contreras is still a work in progress, but he is making progress and it certainly looks like he'll be able to stick behind the plate. The skills are there, he just mainly needs to work on consistency and the finer points of calling a game.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans second baseman Chesny Young: Here's what you need to know about Young's season. He won the Carolina League batting title hitting .321. Second-place in the league was .297. This is a pitcher's league and Young just laughed at it.
Young was a 14th-round draft pick out of Mercer by the Cubs in 2014 and he hit .327 over three levels last season. This year, he started the season in South Bend and got promoted after hitting .315 with a .385 OBP in 28 games with the SB Cubs. After his promotion to Myrtle Beach, he hit even better, including a streak of 44 games in which he reached base by a hit, a walk or a hit by pitch. The final combined hitting line for Young this year was .320/.392/.386 over 130 games. Young walked 57 times and struck out only 51 times.
You can tell Young's not a power hitter as he hit only one home run, although he did double 23 times and hit four triples. But he does have some speed as he stole 21 bases in 29 attempts. Defensively, Young is a true utility guy. I listed him as a second baseman because that's the position he played the most this season with 47 games there between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. But Young also played 14 games at short, 23 at third, eight at first base, 11 in left field and six in right. He's not a plus defender, but he does get the job done wherever he's asked to play.
South Bend Cubs shortstop Gleyber Torres: Let's get this out of the way right away: Torres is 18 years old. A poor August kept him from hitting over .300 in a notorious pitcher's league, but Torres did finish the season hitting .287/.346/.376 and that includes a seven-game trial in High-A with the Pelicans where he struggled a bit. In South Bend, Torres hit .293 with a .353 OBP and three home runs and 22 steals. Torres drove in 62 runs in 119 games in South Bend. And while he did strike out 115 times compared to 44 walks in 2015, did we mention he's still only 18?
While Torres only hit three home runs, he did show some pop with 24 doubles and five triples. Defensively, he was an above-average shortstop who, while raw, occasionally made some pretty special plays. He didn't play any position but shortstop this season.
A bit of the shine was taken off a pretty terrific season by Torres when he seemed to run out of gas in August, hitting only .224 after August 1. But make no mistake about it, this is a young man who has accomplished a lot in a hurry.
Eugene Emeralds center fielder Ian Happ: The Cubs first-round pick this past June only played 29 games in Eugene, but between his time in Eugene and South Bend, he's certainly the most-worthy candidate who played for the Emeralds this summer. Happ didn't hit for a lot of average this season with an overall average of .259 and he hit just .241 for South Bend. But what he did show was tremendous on-base skills, solid power and good speed. And he was good defensively in the outfield as well.
Happ's final line between Eugene and South Bend was .259/.356/.466 with 17 doubles, four triples and nine home runs in just 67 games. Happ stole ten bases in eleven attempts, although nine of those steals came in Eugene. He did seem to have issues hitting at South Bend's Four Winds Field, where he hit just .186 with one home run in 16 games. Happ was much more impressive on the road in the Midwest League where he hit .279 with four home runs in 22 games. Between the two levels, Happ walked 40 times in 291 plate appearances and struck out 67.