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.
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."