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2016 Cubs Prospects At The Crossroads: Jacob Hannemann

The 2013 third-round pick finds himself in need of a breakout.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Full disclosure: I am a huge Jacob Hannemann fan.

With that out of the way, let's take a deeper look at this impact athlete, his development thus far, and why 2016 is an absolutely crucial year for his future in baseball.

Hannemann was drafted by the Cubs with the 75th overall selection in the 2013 draft, though his story truly begins before the Cubs signed him for a $1 million bonus against a slot value of just $736,000.

Hannemann, who was born in Hawaii, became a two-sport star in high school who committed to compete for both the football and baseball teams at BYU following the completion of his Mormon mission. Prior to being drafted, Hannemann played just one year of college baseball, but it was a truly spectacular year as Hannemann hit for average (.344), some power (five home runs, .219 ISO), and showed tremendous aptitude on the basepaths (14 steals in 15 tries) en route to being named a Freshman All-American. Against this backdrop, the Cubs drafted Hannemann and went overslot to secure this premium athlete with raw baseball skills.

Hannemann's short-season debut was promising enough as he posted a .290/.313/.468 line over two weeks in Boise.

He followed that with a full-season debut in 2014 that showed both the best and worst of his profile. On the plus side, Hannemann posted an 8.0% walk rate, a strong showing, got on-base at nearly a league-average rate (.321 OBP), and he utilized his elite speed to the tune of 32 steals. Unfortunately, his power showing was middling and his strikeout rate (19.9%) was much too high for a player without plus on-base or power skills. A late season promotion to Daytona resulted in a drop in his walk rate, ISO, and base stealing while resulting in an uptick in his strikeout rate. Warning signs were abundant.

2015 was an important year for Hannemann after his simultaneously troubling and promising 2014, and a scorching hot .328/.388/.393 batting line with seven steals in 16 games at Myrtle Beach prior to spending most of the year at Tennessee. Unfortunately, Hannemann's strikeout rate did climb in that limited sample and his trip to Tennessee saw a career-worst 23.3% K% sabotage his offense. He tallied only six homers and 17 steals over 112 games with a .291 OBP proving truly alarming as his strikeout uptick and a career-worst walk rate suggested that Hannemann just isn't much of a prospect.

Despite all of that, there are two enormously important reasons for encouragement with Hannemann. First, Hannemann's development path was always almost certainly going to be slower and longer than that of a typical highly-drafted collegiate prospect given that he missed multiple years of playing while on his mission. Second, Hannemann's elite athleticism give him a high defensive floor and an extremely high defensive ceiling as a plus defensive center fielder.

While I still love his swing, it's unlikely that he ever grows into even an average offensive profile at this point: there's simply too much of a chasm between his current production and the acceptable range of that of a Major Leaguer.

The raw tools are still there, but a repeat assignment to Tennessee needs to be met with production this year, not more hope. This is truly a make-or-break year for the speedster.