Wondering which young players could have an impact in the majors this year? Let MLB FanHouse guide the way in Better Know a Prospect. In this edition we look at three players from the Chicago Cubs' minor league system.
First of all, let's get one thing straight here. The Cubs are pushing all their chips to the center of the table this season. It's now or never, as far as they are concerned. In turn, they are much more likely to trade prospects for veterans to plug holes created by injuries or ineffectiveness.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B: Since he only plays first base or the corner outfield spots, he's blocked by Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Milton Bradley. He will make the team as the left-handed power bat off the bench. Also, Lou Pinella apparently wants to rest guys much more often this seaso, meaning Hoffpauir should get somewhere in the ballpark of 50 starts. The numbers "Hoff-power" put up last season are staggering. He abused minor league pitching to the tune of 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 34 doubles, a .362 average, and a 1.145 OPS in only71 games. In the majors, he accrued an impressive .934 OPS in only 79 plate appearances. He's a late-bloomer, 29 this season, but his power off the bench will be a huge boost for the Cubs.
Andrew Cashner, RP: If the Cubs will be using the minor league system with any frequency this season, it will be to shore up the bullpen. Cashner was the Cubs first round pick last season after having a stellar season as the closer for Texas Christian. He struggled with his command in the lower levels of the minors last year, but, in fairness, he was coming off a three-month break from the game when he finally started. He's got an upper-90s fastball and a plus slider. Assuming he progresses as he should, he'll join last year's hot pitching prospect -- Jeff Samardzija -- on the setup staff in front of Carlos Marmol by August.
Jeff Stevens, RP: The 25-year-old reliever came over from Cleveland in the Mark DeRosa trade this winter. He was impressive in Double-A last season, putting up a 2.51 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He had a bit more trouble in Triple-A, but he wasn't bad at all (3.94 ERA, 1.18 WHIP). Plus, he struck out 44 batters in only 29 2/3 innings in that stint. It's going to be tough to crack the Cubs bullpen as a right-hander, but he's got a shot in the middle-season shuffling of arms to stick with a solid year. Plus, trades could open up opportunities, whether they clear guys from in front of Stevens or send him to another team.