Joe Maddon says Cubs have more young talent on the way
Chicago Cubs infielder Ian Happ works out during spring training on Feb. 20, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz.
Returning a championship team with young talents such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez has allowed Cubs manager Joe Maddon to take a longer look at some prospects during spring training.
And despite a lack of ballyhoo or elite rankings, more prospects are on the way, Maddon said.
"Nobody is talking as loudly about (Jacob) Hannemann, (Eloy) Jimenez, (Ian) Happ and (Jeimer) Candelario," Maddon said Monday in a convincing tone that would make Tommy Lasorda blush. "I’m here to tell you, if those dudes were in another camp right now, they would be projected in a much more glorious manner.
"But the fact they’re trailing these other guys, they’re not being spoken of as highly only because these other guys are in the way. But this is a really good group from a scouting standpoint."
Perhaps the biggest revelation involves pitcher Pierce Johnson, the first pitcher drafted under President Theo Epstein’s regime.
Johnson, 25, has struggled with inconsistency and injuries in his first five professional seasons and will become a full-time reliever. Maddon raved about his potential after receiving an encouraging report from catcher Miguel Montero following Johnson’s perfect inning against the Giants on Saturday.
"It’s a different look," Maddon said. "He’s a different animal all of a sudden. So if you’re in an organization that doesn’t have Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, (Willson) Contreras, etc., you’re talking a lot more loudly about this group right now."
Johnson was 1-6 with a 7.75 ERA in 11 starts for Triple-A Iowa last season but 3-0 with a 3.22 ERA in 11 relief appearances. He likes that he can pitch more aggressively instead of pacing himself for five to seven innings and appears to be slowly warming to the idea of relieving.
"Starting is my first love," Johnson said. "I’m not going to lie. I’ve done that my entire life. I’m not used to anything else.
"Change is good. And as Joe has said this year, he wants people to be uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable right now. It’s definitely a transition, but it could work out in the end."
The reality is only Jimenez, whom Baseball America ranked as the 14th-best prospect, matches the billing of the Cubs’ young stars. The Cubs could find themselves needing to trade at least one of the new wave of top prospects to land a major-league-ready young pitcher.
Maddon said Hannemann, 25, an outfielder who batted .247 with 26 stolen bases for Double-A Tennessee in 2016, is "dripping with talent." A third-round pick in 2013, Hanneman missed two seasons at BYU while serving on a Mormon mission.
Maddon lauded Candelario, 23, for his .351 on-base percentage, but he faces a logjam with Bryant at third base.
Happ, the Cubs’ first pick in the 2015 draft, has impressed Maddon with his switch-hitting ability and drew attention in November by homering from both sides of the plate in the Arizona Fall League title game.
"These are impact players," Maddon said.