It was a warm but overcast Saturday in South Bend. There was a slight mist that would give way to a clear evening later. On the field, 19-year old Owen Caissie was taking batting practice.
The native of Burlington, Ontario was was hitting the ball with a distinctive “thunk” on every pitch. Suddenly there was a “crunch”, as Caissie’s bat shattered on contact. The head of the bat carried ten feet past the infield. The ball carried all the way onto the warning track.
Unperturbed, Caissie reached over and grabbed fellow outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong‘s bat. With his final pitch, Caissie drilled it off the top half of the right field scoreboard, some 390 feet away.
Moments later, Crow-Armstrong was in shallow centerfield shagging fly balls. Gliding easily wherever the ball was hit, the 20 year-old was making every catch with simple grace. Then, there was a loud crack that signified the batter had gotten all of the ball. As all the onlookers followed the track of the ball, few notice that in the blink of an eye, Crow-Armstrong was already at the wall and coming back in. As the ball carried short of the fence, the Californian made a casual, behind-the-back catch look as routine as anyone could.
Later, during the game, Yohendrick Pinango was not to be outdone. After fouling a ball off his ankle, causing the Venezuelan to hobble for more than an inning, it was his time to shine. Taking his spot in left field, Pinango shook off the injury and closed on a screaming line drive in the gap. Laying full out, the 20-year-old stole away a sure double. Pinango then came up firing and held the runner at first base.
Welcome to your future outfield, Cubs fans!
The Power – Owen Caissie
After his impressive pregame warm-up, the big left-hander stopped to talk for a while. “I had a tough first month” said the 6′ 4″ red-head, “I needed try to stay within my game”. Indeed, Caissie batted only .122 in April. But after that, he was scorching: .313 in May, a .303 June, and .280 in July. “Once I stopped trying to hit home runs and began to use all fields, things just fell into place.” In addition, all 10 of the 19-year-old’s home runs came after the calendar flipped to May.
“We’ve had a few 19 year-olds here, Miguel Amaya and Brennen Davis to name a few.” says South Bend play-by-play man Brendan King. “But none of them at 19 have had a body like Owen Caissie. He’s just big, and will continue to grow. When he barrels the ball, it’s going a long way.” Continuing, King explained “from a corner outfield perspective, Caissie has looked comfortable at both positions.”
The Phenom – Pete Crow-Armstrong
Acquired from the New York Mets at last year’s deadline for Javier Baez and Trevor Williams, Pete Crow-Armstrong had a lot to live up to. Making matters difficult was that he came with a minor injury, delaying his Cub debut. But Cubs fans got a good glimpse of Crow-Armstrong’s ability in spring training, where he made several web-gem catches.
Moving on to this season, the 20-year-old made quite a splash in the Carolina League. In 38 games, the left-handed hitter was slashing .354/.443/.557/1.000 with 7 home runs, 27 RBI, and 13 stolen bases for Myrtle Beach. That lead to a prompt promotion to High-A South Bend.
“It’s off the charts with how hard the ball comes off of his bat” said Brendan King about Crow-Armstrong. “He has such a fluid swing.” King went on to say that he spoke with a scout, who felt that defensively, Crow-Armstrong can play right now in the majors. “He fields his position better than anyone I’ve ever seen!”, exclaimed King.
Crow-Armstrong continues to show both speed and power at this level; swiping 7 bases and hitting 6 homers in 30 games.
The X-Factor – Yohendrick Pinango
For one following prospects, Yohendrick Pinango may be a familiar name. But most fans are hearing his name for the first time this season.
As a 17-year-old in 2019, the Venezuelan caught the attention of baseball by slashing .358/.427/.422/.869. in Dominican League. But what surprised most were the 27 walks against only 20 strikeouts in 274 plate appearances.
With the pandemic wiping out the 2020 season, Pinango was a curiosity going into 2021. He was able to deliver a solid performance with Myrtle Beach. In 84 games, Pinango, another left-handed bat, went .272/.322/.370/.692 with 4 homers, 8 stolen bases, and 27 RBI. Earning a promotion to South Bend in August, Pinango was able to add another home run and 9 RBI while hitting .289 in 24 games.
With the spotlight shining on the SB-Cubs other outfielders to start 2022, Pinango was a steadying presence.
“He may be more slept on than the other two (outfielders)”, said King, “but he’s still a Cubs top 20 prospect”. King mentioned that Pinango was working with Cubs minor league instructor Tom Beyers on his swing. “He’s getting the opportunity to hit third every night, and he’s taken advantage of it” stated King. “He’s an aggressive player, and he brings that to both phases of the game.”
Working on hit plate approach, Pinango has been able to tap into his natural power. In 87 games this season, Pinango has slugged 12 home runs to go along with 12 stolen bases, 57 RBI, and a .282/.318/.455/.774 slash line.
While there may be many intervening factors, each potentially can make it in the majors. It would truly be a rare feat in the starting outfield for the South Bend Cubs ends up starting for their parent club.
Born and raised on Chicago's Northwest side, Tom is entering his tenth year covering the Cubs minor league system, writing for prestigious sites such as Chicago Cubs Online, Locked On Cubs, and Cubs Den. Over that period, Tom has published interviews with top prospects such as Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Cole Roederer, and Gleyber Torres.
Known as "Tom U" across the internet, Tom also has a close working relationship with the front offices of all four of the Cubs' full season minor league teams. A frequent guest of the South Bend Cubs on WSBT radio, Tom has also written monthly articles for the South Bend Cubs' stadium program.
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