Cubs in AFL: Happ fits Maddon's mold of versatility
MLB Pipeline checks in on Chicago's prospects in the Arizona Fall League
By William Boor
MESA, Ariz. -- Versatility has become a Cubs trademark under manager Joe Maddon that has permeated its way throughout the entire system, and even the Arizona Fall League.
"It's huge in our organization," Cubs top prospect Ian Happ said. "It's sort of been a staple for us now. You have to be able to play three, four, five positions. You see the guy that could win the MVP this year (Kris Bryant), he's gone out and played five, six positions. So, to help the big league club, versatility is something you have to be able to do."
Whether it's using pitchers in the outfield or shifting Bryant, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist around the diamond, Maddon has shown a love for players with diverse skillsets, and Happ fits right into that mold.
Happ, the No. 21 overall prospect, was converted from second base to the outfield in college. After the Cubs selected Happ ninth overall in 2015, he played all three outfield positions in his professional debut. The 22-year-old also played all three spots in 2016 but spent most of the season, 92 games, back at second base.
Although Happ can still play the outfield, he is now comfortable at second and feels he is a second baseman that can play the outfield rather than an outfielder playing second.
"If you want to get up there and you want to stick, it's something you have to do," Happ said. "You can't go up there and play just one position, it doesn't mesh with our system."
The switch-hitter also had a good year offensively. Happ hit .296 through 69 games with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and was then promoted to Double-A Tennessee on June 23, where he hit .262 in 65 games.
"It was really exciting for me when I got to jump up to Double-A, it had definitely been a goal of mine," Happ said. "Once I got there, I made a pretty quick adjustment and then it was just, throughout the year, learning how to be consistent, how to adjust to the pitchers."
Jimenez, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect, has plenty of power that he has put on display with a few massive home runs in the AFL. After going deep 14 times with Class A South Bend, Jimenez has homered three times in 12 AFL games. The No. 23 overall prospect has continued to show progress offensively, raising his average in each of his three professional seasons. Jimenez hit .312 in a career-high 112 games this season and was named the Midwest League MVP.
Caratini, the Cubs' No. 15 prospect, posted his best season offensively in 2016. The switch-hitting catcher posted career highs in average (.291), homers (six) and RBIs (47) in 115 games in his first stint with Double-A Tennessee. However, he hasn't been able to carry that success over into Arizona, where he's hitting just .163 through 13 games. He was, however, behind the plate for the third no-hitter in AFL history on Tuesday.
Cubs pitchers in the Fall League
Ryan McNeil, RHP
Steve Perakslis, RHP
James Farris, RHP
McNeil, 22, made 44 appearances out of the bullpen and pitched to a 2.33 ERA with Myrtle Beach this season. The right-hander's best pitch is his slider, and he also has a fastball that sits in the low 90s.
After pitching to a 3.60 ERA in 32 games during the regular season, Perakslis has performed well in limited Arizona action. The 25-year-old has made three appearances for the Mesa Solar Sox and thrown 3 2/3 scoreless frames, giving up one hit and striking out four. Perakslis attacks hitters with a low 90s fastball, a solid splitter and a developing slider.
Farris has also looked good in Arizona. The 24-year-old has given up three hits across six scoreless innings in six total appearances. Farris got his first experience at the Double-A level this season and put up a 2.75 ERA in 26 games. Farris' low 90s fastball has a natural cut to it, and he's working on both a changeup and a curveball to complete his arsenal.
William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.