Chicago Cubs: 5 Under-the-Radar Players to Watch in Spring Games
It's relatively easy for a fringe prospect or a veteran on the roster bubble to fly under-the-radar in Chicago Cubs camp these days with so much star power mulling around the team's facility.
The Opening Day roster appears to set aside from the final bench spot and the final bullpen spot, so it's unlikely that a dark horse will play his way onto the 25-man roster with a strong spring performance.
However, it's a long season and opportunities will arise for lesser-known players to make a contribution at the big league level.
What follows is a look at five under-the-radar players worth keeping an eye on this spring.
The focus here is on players not projected for a spot on the Opening Day roster and, in the case of prospects, on players ranked outside the organization's top 10 by all of the major outlets.
So with that, let's shine some light on a few of the lesser-knowns in Cubs camp.
OF John Andreoli
DOB: June 9, 1990 (26 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 210 lbs
Acquired: 2011 draft, 17th round (519th overall)
AAA: 140 G, 617 PA, .256/.374/.396, 130 H, 40 XBH (12 HR), 61 RBI, 96 R, 43/55 SB
Technically, fans won't get a chance to see John Andreoli in action for a good chunk of the spring—at least not in Cubs camp.
The 26-year-old will be suiting up for Team Italy in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, playing in arguably the toughest pool against Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela.
"It's four really good countries that are represented by a lot of MLB players and All-Stars," Andreoli told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "So it's going to be a good challenge to play against those guys. I think it's definitely going to translate into my season and definitely be a great experience."
Andreoli has spent the past two seasons playing in Triple-A Iowa, where his plus speed and good on-base skills have been on full display, and the Cubs were lucky to sneak him through the Rule 5 draft.
He may never be an everyday player, but his speed, defense and ability to work a walk bode well for his chances of carving out a role as a fourth outfielder.
RP Dylan Floro
DOB: Dec. 27, 1990 (26 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'2", 175 lbs
Acquired: Claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay (Jan. 17, 2017)
AAA: 32 G, 1-2, 7 SV, 2.88 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9 BB, 40 K, 50.0 IP
MLB: 12 G, 0-1, 0 SV, 4.20 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 5 BB, 14 K, 15.0 IP
The Cubs cast a wide net when it came to adding potential bullpen depth this offseason, and one of the more intriguing arms they added was right-hander Dylan Floro.
The 26-year-old was claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in January and then outrighted off the 40-man roster, but it's not out of the question to think he could see time in the MLB bullpen this coming season.
His MLB sample size is small, but his 54.7 percent groundball rate over 15 innings of work does grab your attention, and he has the prototypical groundball pitcher repertoire.
He threw his sinker roughly 60 percent of the time at an average velocity of 93.3 mph, per Brooks Baseball, and he backed it with a slider and the occasional changeup.
His 1.3 BB/9 walk rate over 528.1 minor league innings is also a plus, and if he gets off to a good start in Triple-A, he could be among the first pitchers called upon when the bullpen needs reinforcements.
RP Felix Pena
DOB: Feb. 25, 1990 (27 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'2", 185 lbs
Acquired: 2009 int. free agent (Dominican Republic)
AAA: 36 G, 3-4, 3 SV, 3.41 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 23 BB, 81 K, 63.1 IP
MLB: 11 G, 0-0, 0 SV, 4.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 3 BB, 13 K, 9.0 IP
If there's a dark horse to win the final spot in the bullpen this spring, it's Felix Pena.
The 27-year-old was impressive over 11 late-season appearances in his first taste of MLB action last term, and he could give the Cubs another power arm in the bullpen.
"He could help the Cubs in middle relief this year, though he'll need to improve his command to earn a higher-leverage role," MLB.com's Prospect Watch noted.
Pena spent the bulk of his pro career as a starter before making the full-time move to the bullpen last season, and his stuff immediately played up in shorter stints.
After striking out 81 hitters in 63.1 innings for Triple-A Iowa, he fanned another 13 in nine innings with the Cubs.
Armed with the mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider that teams look for in a power reliever, Pena should continue to fan hitters at an impressive clip, and he could be next in line for a bullpen spot if he doesn't win a job out of camp.
SP Ryan Williams
DOB: Nov. 1, 1991 (25 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'4", 220 lbs
Acquired: 2014 draft, 10th round (289th overall)
AAA: 9 GS, 4-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 12 BB, 30 K, 44.0 IP
The Cubs took Kyle Schwarber with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
They then used 10 of their next 11 picks on pitchers, including right-hander Ryan Williams in the 10th round out of East Carolina University.
It didn't take long for Williams to make his mark, as he won the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors during his first full season in the system in 2015.
Williams went 14-3 with a 2.16 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 141.2 innings, jumping straight from Single-A to Double-A in the second half.
He might have made his MLB debut with a spot start or two last season if not for shoulder soreness which led to him being shut down in May.
Still, he has the makeup to outpitch his stuff, and the Cubs will give him every chance to start.
"While Williams lacks an average secondary pitch, he mixes in a curveball, slider and changeup and can throw them all for strikes. Chicago thinks his sinker and his mental toughness could make him a back-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he could help as a middle reliever who could eat innings and get groundouts when necessary," MLB.com's Prospect Watch noted.
The Cubs have made an effort to add MLB-ready starting pitching depth this offseason, and a return to health for Williams will give them one more option.
IF Chesny Young
DOB: Oct. 6, 1992 (24 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'0", 170 lbs
Acquired: 2014 draft, 14th round (409th overall)
AA: 126 G, 553 PA, .303/.376/.387, 149 H, 31 XBH (4 HR), 37 RBI, 60 R, 16/30 SB
Chesny Young may lack the physical tools that scouts rave about, but he can flat-out hit.
The 24-year-old carries a .314/.384/.390 line over his first three minor league seasons and hit .351 in the Dominican Winter League during the offseason.
"Young makes line-drive contact with ease, thanks to his fabulous hand-eye coordination, simple right-handed swing and quality approach. He uses the entire field and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. He offers little power and won't be a stolen base threat with his average speed, though he is aggressive on the bases," MLB.com's Prospect Watch noted.
There's obviously no clear path to playing time for the 24-year-old, with Javier Baez and Addison Russell representing the future for the Cubs up the middle.
However, MLB.com suggested: "Young could help the Cubs as a sweet-swinging utilityman in the near future."
As long as he keeps hitting, things will work themselves out, whether he carves out a role on the Cubs bench or finds himself shipped elsewhere in a trade.