Much of affiliated baseball has numbers attached. From the spectrum of batting percentages, predictive pitching numbers (like xFIP), and stabs at running efficiency, projecting who will do what is important.
Among the tougher assessments is defense. Was that a 50/50 play, or a 30/70? Toss in minor-league venues, and no games in minor league ball for 18 months, it gets tougher regarding youngsters. With across-the-board designated hitter very likely in the 2022 season (fingers crossed on a season, at all), defense might not be as essential in National League organizations, but assessing what’s available seems useful walking into the 2021 season.
What I’m rolling with is mostly my memory. Some will be game logs. Occasionally, I’ve picked someone's assessments along the line by whatever source. If you’ve garnered interest in any of these players by the end of the article, the best way to add to your knowledge of them is to follow their games. While live and video are best, any competent radio announcer ought to be able to verbally differentiate between an outfielder with either with the “one hop strike to the proper base” and “airmailed the cutoff man.” “Nice running catch” and “that route left something to be desired” help to fill in the blanks, and blanks are normally the honest starting point.
Onward, in alphabetical order.
A 2019 seventh-rounder from Liberty University, Artis is a center field/left field sort. Much of his value is tied to his bat, principally with on-base a priority. In both 2018 and 2019, he had injury concerns. His pro OPS is .714 so far.
South Bend or Tennessee might make sense, and his bat will provide the lion's share of his value. My guess is left field, where he's started 55 of his 78 defensive starts
Added in the Yu Darvish trade, Caissie was a second-round choice in June, selected with Burl Carraway still on the board. From Burlington, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, the chatter is Caissie ought to be decent enough to play right field. Center seems unlikely. His routes sound fine, but the 6-4 power-first lefty swinger doesn’t sound like he has the giddy-up to play in center. Look for him to get a steady diet in right field for one of the Arizona League teams in 2021, Watch for his listed position on the day of games.
Here's the big question. Is Davis a valid center field option at the MLB level? In 2019 in South Bend, Davis started 47 games in the outfield. Somewhat concerningly, only two were in right field. He started 22 in center, and 23 in left, recording one outfield assist from each of the three spots. Cole Roederer (noted more fully below) was the main option in center for the Midwest League Champs.
Davis' production was a delightful surprise, as he had started the season in extended spring training. Putting trends around numbers from 17 months ago are equal parts difficult and useless. Wherever Davis starts his 2021 campaign, success defensively should be monitored at a similar level to his offensive prowess, though it is unlikely to be.
A recent signing in mid-January, Ferreira will be one of three international signings to get a look in extended spring training. (Also, catcher Moises Ballesteros and infielder Cristian Hernandez will get a look.) If he stays above water in Mesa, he stays stateside, If outclassed, he goes to the DSL with bonus exposure to advanced pitching. He signed for under $300,000. If he gets stateside early, all the better. It’s unlikely he’s getting the look exclusively on his bat. I’ll be looking for glove discussions as they saunter in.
Left behind as forgotten into the off-season, Martinez hit five homers in Winter Ball this off-season. He's struggled to hit ever since leaving the Midwest League in 2016. All his starts in the outfield in 2019 were in right field. He's advanced as far as Double-A Tennessee. A look in Triple-A Iowa would be possible. I don't remember him distinguishing himself on defense, either on catching or throwing.
Added in the Yu Darvish trade, Mena, like Caissie and Reggie Preciado, hasn't played a pro game with a boxscore. As such, any gleaned information in 2021 will be somewhat useful from a projection perspective. Passed by a few other recent additions defensivy in the Padres pipeline, Mena still makes some sense in center with the Cubs. He's probably an 80/20 percent type to settle in right field. If 2021 plays out with an 18-20 on the 20-sided die roll, Mena sees Myrtle Beach by the season's end.
The Old Dominion Monarchs draft choice (2016, 17th Round) is sensational defensively. His career OPS is .616. He'd be a wonderful October roster addition if the full 40-man roster was in play. It no longer is. He'd be a nice internal pinch-runner defensive sub.
I think he'd be an interesting add as a third-base coach/outfield instructor, but teams seem wedded to having the manager coach third. With a fourth assistant now permitted, Myers would be useful. As far as a big league career, mind the bat.
Upon his June 2020 selection from Michigan, I ran his defensive prowess by a few people. His position ranged from "left field" to "left field, for now." If Nwogu can bump that to "solid in left" or "occasional right field," he moves his value up significantly. My guess would be a start at Low-A Myrtle Beach.
A name that kept popping up in my DSL assessments in 2019, Pinango wasn't a highly touted signing. In 62 games, his OPS was .869, which should have gotten him a chance in the AZL (or even Eugene) in 2020. Alas, his placement will depend on how prepared he is after too long of no actual games. He was a corner outfielder in Boca Chica, with a 27 to 24 starts edge in left field. Myrtle Beach a possibility, here.
Roederer is a pure center fielder. Of his 106 outfield starts in 2019, 95 were in center field. While his .684 OPS is lower than desired, it had been quite a spell in between prep draft picks breaking camp with a full-season club. (Even Javier Baez didn't.) As to where for Roederer, a return to South Bend, now an Advanced-A affiliate, makes sense. Splitting Roederer and Davis allows them to both start in center.
Obviously, internally filling the three starting outfield spots isn't required. Trades and free agency are also permitted. However, to catch the teams that regularly develop a number of their own outfielders, the Cubs have to have some development success to remain relevant. In all portions of the field.
The Dodgers aren't slowing up development-wise. This draft cycle will provide many future MLB regulars, and not only in the first round. Many will admit that a historic Cubs problem has been internal development. The team flirted with getting to the adult table a handful of years back. The executives even stated waves of talent as a priority. Is it still?
I'll soon look a bit at the infield and catcher groupings as far as long-term viability. If the organization isn't viable long-term, the only real chance is drawing success against an inside-straight. If the Cubs have no long-term plan for sustained success, Tom Ricketts' unwillingness to spend shouldn't be our only concern as fans. Davis being a long-term starter in right or center would go a distance in providing expectations of a useful plan.