MESA, Ariz. – Two of the best plays in camp for the Cubs this spring were among 11 players sent to the minor-league side Friday.
Not that it was a surprise.
But catcher Willson Conteras and third baseman Jeimer Candelario left lasting impressions in their first big-league springs before being optioned to Class AAA Iowa and AA Tennessee, respectively.
Last year, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell joined the Cubs in April and made quick impacts. Then Kyle Schwarber debuted midseason and had a powerful impact over the second half.
Could Contreras and Candelario be those kinds of players this year?
“I totally believe that,” manager JoeMaddon said. “Of course, Candy’s going great right now. He’s been good in the minor leagues so you believe that he’s going to be good again this year; you don’t believe this is an aberration that’s going on right now.
“Contreras was the [Southern League batting champ]. Again, it’s not an aberration. This guy’s good.
“So, yes, I do think that if they go to the minor leagues and play like we think they can play and if there’s a need, I think both those guys can be very impactful.”
Contreras in particular looks like a potential long-term core player, an exceptionally skilled defender physically whose remaining development involves mostly game-calling and relationship-building with pitchers.
Candelario, a switch-hitter who had a breakout 2015 at two minor-league levels plus fall league play, has much bigger challenge in simply finding an available spot to try to win, with both infield corner spots apparently locked down for years.
He could become a valuable trade chip at some point.
Four other players were optioned to AAA on Friday: infielder Arismendy Alcantara, left-hander C.J.Riefenhauser and right-handers Carl Edwards Jr. and Pierce Johnson.
Five non-roster players were reassigned to minor-league camp: catcher Taylor Davis, left-hander Edgar Olmos and right-handers Stephen Fife, Felix Pena and Drew Rucinski.