MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Michelle Caissie said the family was “shocked” when son Owen called from an offseason workout with the news — even if the teenage outfield prospect wasn’t.
“I’ve been traded,” he told his mom.
“Well, how do you feel?”
“I’ve got to get back to the cage.”
They would talk more later, but for now the kid his dad calls a “gym rat” had to get back to work on that left-handed power swing — no matter what team he was playing for.
Cubs social media didn’t take even that long to get to work on what it thought of the Cubs salary-dumping Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish for Zach Davies and a bunch of no-name teenagers in the Padres organization in that trade.
“Twitter was lovely to my son that week,” Michelle said.
Even ripping him?
“Oh, huge,” Owen’s dad, Jason, said.
Michelle: “They’re like, ‘Who’s this kid?’ “
Maybe not surprisingly, Owen said he didn’t take the backlash in Chicago over the trade as personally as his parents seemed to take it — though he’s well aware of the consensus response from Cubs fans.
“Yeah, they didn’t like it at all,” Owen said of the 5-for-2 trade one year ago Wednesday that signaled the beginning of the end of the Cubs’ contention window and set the stage for the selloff of the championship core at the July trade deadline.
“I’m not going to say anything about Darvish. Darvish is a really great player, but there was definitely a lot of backlash on us,” he said during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago as he wrapped up his first professional season in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “I knew that they weren’t happy about the trade, that they thought they should have got more.”
A year later, it’s still impossible to fairly evaluate the trade from the Cubs’ standpoint (other than calling out a big-market 2020 division champ for dumping salary to start a “soft-tank” rebuild).
Three of the four prospects the Cubs got in return are still teenagers, including the 19-year-old Caissie, who became the highest-drafted Canadian outfielder in history when he was selected 45th overall by the Padres in 2020 — making them all low-A rolls of the dice no matter how talented anyone thinks they are.
But if early impressions mean anything, keep an eye on Caissie over the next two or three years for the bat that Baseball America already says has the best power in the system and an outfield arm almost as powerful.
And maybe even for this:
“I don’t really try to pay attention to social media because that can get in the way of a lot of things,” Caissie said. “But I do carry a little bit of chip on my shoulder because it’s like, ‘I got traded for Darvish, and this is why.’
“I love proving people wrong.”
Nobody has a right to expect a Cubs fan to accept ownership mandating the depth of payroll-slashing last winter that compelled the front office to dump a productive pitcher over a net gain of roughly $52 million over three seasons — especially for lottery picks who were on nobody’s top-100 list of prospects in the game.
“There’s no question when you look at this return you’re going to say they’re young, and there’s risk involved,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in the hours after the trade became official. “But you can also say these are four really talented young players, given where they were drafted, given the amount of money that they signed for and where they ranked in their countries.”
The skinny, 6-foot-4 Caissie and 18-year-old shortstop Reggie Preciado — a $1.3 million amateur out of Panama in the 2019 signing period — quickly slotted into the top 10 of the Cubs prospect rankings, according to MLB Pipeline.
Fangraphs has Caissie and Preciado at No. 3 and No. 5 in its postseason rankings of players in the organization.
Caissie is the only one among the top 10 on Baseball America’s list of Cubs’ prospects entering 2022, and he’s also the only Cubs minor-leaguer to earn all-league recognition on any of Baseball America’s postseason lists (for the rookie-level Arizona Complex League).
And it’s no coincidence Caissie was a big part of the asking price for Darvish.
A few months before his 2020 draft, he was in Chicago for a showcase event for prospects and worked out individually for the Padres while in town.
He also got a call from the Cubs, who invited him to Wrigley Field for a tour and get-to-know-you session.
“It was the only team I visited before COVID shut everything down,” said Caissie, whose dad joined him. “Got to see inside the clubhouse, on the field, dugout, everything pretty much. It was very cool.”
The Cubs took local shortstop Ed Howard with their first round pick, and were six spots behind the Padres when they took Caissie in the second round.
“Owen Caissie was a guy that we liked in the draft,” Hoyer said. “He was kind of hard to scout. He’s a Canadian kid, and obviously this year was cut short. But we really liked what we evaluated during the draft and we really liked what we saw briefly in instructional league on the back fields. He’s an athletic left-handed hitter with a really good swing, and he has the ability to add some real strength.”
Between the Wrigley tour and the trade, Caissie had no games to play in high school or professionally because of the pandemic shutdown.
He still wound up hitting .302 with a .434 on-base percentage and .923 OPS in 54 combined games in the ACL (32 games) and for low-A Myrtle Beach (22).
Growing up in Burlington, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, Caissie was the rare athlete of repute in the area who didn’t play serious hockey at some point — coming from a family of baseball players and Blue Jays fans.
“I just fell in love with it early,” he said.
Also: “I wouldn’t let him play hockey,” said Michelle, who was a talented fastpitch softball player.
Caissie’s mom, who said her favorite part about her son’s game is his big arm, predicts he’ll also have an answer for all those scouts who suggest he’s not a good enough outfielder to avoid an eventual switch to first base.
“People don’t realize he didn’t see an outdoor fly ball for almost two years, because of COVID and because he had to work [during Canadian winter] indoors,” she said of the field house with the 45-foot ceiling near their home. “So you’ve got to give the kid some time to adjust. He just needs some time to get his legs and eyes about him. You can see him getting so much better out there.”
She’s not wrong. Caissie turned in one of the defensive highlights of the season at Myrtle Beach with a game-ending catch in the left-field corner in August.
Regardless, that chip he’s playing with extends to more than just proving people wrong for ripping the Darvish trade.
“I want to take the opportunity the next couple years, hopefully, and get up there real quick and be a good core guy,” he said of becoming part of the next championship.
That’s just part of the answer Caissie expects deliver for all those questioning who all those no-name teenagers from the Padres were in that trade a year ago.
“Just wait till we get to 22, 23 years old,” he said, “when, if everything goes as planned and we make the league and become impact players, then see how the trade works out.
“Because I think it’s going to work out beautifully.”