MESA, Ariz. — Cubs minor-leaguers are trickling out of camp this week, with their season openers scheduled from Tuesday through Friday.
The roster of prospects heading to Low-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend is eye-catching, including James Triantos, Jordan Wicks, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Owen Caissie and DJ Herz. All that talent at the Single-A level also begs the question: When is the Cubs’ next championship window?
After tearing down at the trade deadline last season, the Cubs supplemented their roster this offseason, notably adding right-hander Marcus Stroman and outfielder Seiya Suzuki. But they are far from the favorites to win the National League Central.
Even as they added, however, they continued to hammer home president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s mantra of keeping ”one eye on the present and one eye on the future.” In part, ”the future” means signing players such as Suzuki and Stroman to multiyear deals and having prospects such as outfielder Brennen Davis and right-hander Caleb Kilian in Triple-A, on the precipice of the big leagues.
An extended run, however, would rely on even younger talent, such as 18-year-old shortstop Cristian Hernandez, who is already the Cubs’ No. 3 prospect. And that depends on the development of Cubs first-round draft pick Ed Howard (2020) and recent trade acquisitions such as Reginald Preciado.
”I think the future’s bright,” vice president of player development Jared Banner said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ”I think there’s no other way to look at it. We have a lot of talent in the pipeline, and that’s always the goal — to keep replenishing that talent — and that’ll be a focus of ours moving forward, as well.”
In the Cubs’ ideal world, several of their teenage prospects would soar through the ranks from Single-A, like the members of their last championship core did. Javy Baez debuted three years after the Cubs drafted him out of high school, but Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, who cracked the majors less than two years after being drafted, already were polished college players when the Cubs selected them.
”There’s a real poise about all the guys that are coming over,” manager David Ross said last week of the minor-leaguers who have played in major-league spring-training games. ”You can tell they’re taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Caissie hit .556 in four big-league spring-training games. Triantos logged three hits in five at-bats. Ross highlighted defensive plays by Howard, Crow-Armstrong and Luis Vazquez.
The Cubs added four of those five players through the draft and trades in the last couple of years.
”This group was no slouch before,” Banner said. ”It’s even that much more impressive now.”
The Cubs’ championship window came early last time around, with their young hitters prying it open in 2015, nearly four years after Hoyer and predecessor Theo Epstein took charge of baseball operations in November 2011.
There’s no guarantee they’ll get so lucky this time. And Cubs fans’ expectations are higher than they were a decade ago, when the lovable losers were in the midst of a century-long World Series drought.
The Cubs have taken steps to replenish their farm system and to put pieces in place they can build around. The next step is pushing their chips — in the form of player spending — to the center of the table.
When the Cubs will take that step remains to be seen, but they only can ask their fans to wait for ”the next great Cubs team” for so long.