Cubs

The Next Wave: Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez lead the newest class of Cubs prospects creating a buzz

The Next Wave: Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez lead the newest class of Cubs prospects creating a buzz

MESA, Ariz. — It was only one inning in a spring training game that doesn't count, but it was also a glimpse into the future for Cubs fans.

A future, that is. Probably not the future, not with so many young stars already reveling in the championship spotlight in Chicago.

The eighth inning of the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Colorado Rockies at Sloan Park Saturday was filled with banner moments for the next wave of Cubs prospects.

First, Eloy Jimenez drilled a line-drive homer to right-center. Two batters later, Ian Happ sent one almost to the same spot for a two-run shot to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

Chesny Young followed with a hard single to right field, stole second base and advanced to third on a wild throw before the Rockies finally got out of the inning when Jeimer Candelario flew out to the warning track in right field.

Happ helped seal the win with a nice play at second base in the ninth, charging a slow chopper and throwing out Colorado's Anthony Bemboom on a close play at first.

[RELATED - What to make of Jeimer Candelario, the breakout star of Cubs camp]

Happ and Young were at it again Sunday, combining to go 3-for-4 at the plate in the Cubs' 9-8 loss to the Oakland A's and teaming up for a slick double play on a hard hit grounder late in the game.

With three weeks still left until Opening Day, the Cubs youngsters have been getting a chance to play almost every day in the Cactus League and they've certainly been making the most of it.

"They're just ready to play; they're very focused," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They're not waiting for the season. They want to show us right now. And I've been impressed. We've all been impressed.

"If it weren't for the fact that these players on the major league team are so young, you'd hear more about these guys. Or if you're in an organization with a bunch of veterans maybe on the way out, these guys would be getting a lot more play."

There's definitely a buzz in camp that there's another wave of young position players coming, even after Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. helped the Cubs win the World Series last year after graduating the system in the last couple years. 

That whole group of young hitters has combined for just two complete big-league seasons from start to finish and all are under team control through at least the 2022 season.

So in some ways, all these prospects are auditioning for other teams and may eventually be used as currency to help add impact pitching at the big-league level in the same vein that Gleyber Torres headlined the package for Aroldis Chapman last summer.

"There's no room for spots on this team," Happ said. "I didn't come in trying to win anything. I'm here to learn. I'm trying to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can from those guys."

Happ — MLB.com's No. 28 prospect — has been on fire over the last week and is hitting .407 this spring with a 1.169 OPS in camp that trails only Anthony Rizzo (1.260 OPS) among Cubs players with at least five at-bats this spring.

Maddon sees a different Happ now even from the start of spring training a little less than a month ago.

"Hitting coaches have been really impressed and now he's taking it into the game. He's definitely a major-league player in waiting and his time will come," Maddon said. "... He's more confident at home plate. He went through a stretch there where he was really spinning off pitches. 

"Then he had one at-bat — I think against the Angels — he hit a line drive to right field in the latter part of the game. From then on, he's been locked in. Since that one at-bat, he's been hot."

Happ is a player cut perfectly in the Maddon mold — a switch-hitter who can play second base or outfield — and because of that, the 22-year-old said he's been spending a lot of time this spring picking Ben Zobrist's brain.

Jimenez — the Cubs 2016 minor league player of the year and MLB.com's No. 13 prospect — is hitting .346 with a 1.033 OPS in 14 games (26 at-bats) this spring.

"This kid is all that," Maddon said. "He's a wonderful student. Watch him take BP. It's a very mature version of batting practice."

Jimenez and Happ are widely considered the Cubs' top prospects, but Candelario (MLB.com's No. 5 Cubs prospect), catcher Victor Caratini (No. 13) and Young (No. 14) have turned heads, too. All three have posted very good offensive numbers in the small sample size hitting against other non-roster guys late in Cactus League games:

Candelario: .286/.306/.457 in 35 ABs
Caratini: .313/.389/.500 in 16 ABs plus a homer in a "B" game Thursday
Young: .308/.333/.423 in 26 ABs

So where do all these guys think they fit in the Cubs' big picture?

"You just have to go out there and try to get better every day and play as hard as you can," Happ said. "There's always gonna be opportunity if you keep playing well, so for me, I'm just trying to get better and make the most of it."

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

chicago-thankful-white.jpg
USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

arrieta_davis.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: