Cubs' Caissie heating up home cooking in AFL

October 25th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- You could say feels at ease in Mesa. For starters, he’s playing his home games at Sloan Park, the Cubs’ Spring Training ballpark. That makes him one of the de facto tour guides on the Solar Sox, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s staying five minutes away either.

That level of comfort is starting to translate at the plate.

Chicago’s No. 10 prospect went 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored in Mesa’s 3-1 home win over Salt River on Monday. It was the left-handed-hitting slugger’s second straight two-hit performance after he didn’t have multiple knocks in any of his first eight contests in the Arizona Fall League.

To find his breakout performance over the last three days (including an off-day Sunday), Caissie relied on a mantra he found himself going to often during the regular season, in which he hit .254/.349/.402 with 11 homers in 105 games with High-A South Bend.

“Honestly, just not getting down [on] myself,” he said. “There’s always going to be another AB. There's always going to be another game tomorrow.”

After going 2-for-4 with his first AFL homer on Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Caissie didn’t waste much time picking up where he left off Monday. Cardinals left-hander Connor Thomas made it through four perfect innings for Salt River before surrendering a two-out double to Tyler Hardman, batting sixth and one spot ahead of Caissie in the Mesa lineup. The Cubs slugger took advantage of the Solar Sox’s first run-scoring opportunity and laced a 2-2 single to right off Thomas, who leads the AFL with 24 strikeouts.

“I was really trying to go left-center with everything like that, but he threw me a fastball middle-away,” Caissie said. “I was a little bit early but just got enough barrel on to get it through.”

The Chicago outfielder, who started at DH on Monday, created an additional RBI chance three innings later when he drove another 2-2 pitch deeper to right that bounced over the wall into the bullpen for a leadoff automatic double. He scored the go-ahead run one batter later on Denzel Clarke’s own two-bagger.

Over this two-game stretch, Caissie has pushed his AFL average from .207 to .278 and his OPS from .534 to a much more comfortable .788 through 38 total plate appearances. He’s still very much in small-sample territory, but the improving results are helpful toward Caissie’s goals at the plate.

“Just [being] slow and early,” he said. “My swing sometimes gets a little messed up when I take a break and come back to playing, but I knew it wouldn’t take too long. It’s just about starting slow and early.”

Caissie, who was acquired by the Cubs from the Padres in a December 2020 deal involving Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini, gets his best offensive grades for his above-average power tool because he shows good bat speed and lift from his 6-foot-4 frame. Any timing issues keep him from tapping into that pop and maximizing his offensive potential, but his last two games have proven what he’s capable of when everything is synced up correctly.

“I’m working off just really tunneling middle-middle,” he said. “If you're on time, you're going to hit the ball.”

Despite the run allowed, Thomas still finished up another AFL gem, fanning seven and surrendering just the one earned run over five innings in a no-decision. Top Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker slugged his third homer of the Fall League -- and first since Oct. 10 -- to give visiting Salt River its only run.

Mesa starter Mason Miller matched Thomas by scattering four strikeouts and two hits over three scoreless innings. The A’s No. 20 prospect sat 98-99 mph with his fastball and touched as high as 101.