Power burst fueling this Cubs prospect's breakout campaign

August 12th, 2023

has long been on scouts' radars. A second-round pick in 2020 from the Canadian prep ranks, he has a sweet left-handed swing with 65-grade power that helped make him a key component of the Cubs' return in the Yu Darvish trade.

Caissie has put together solid Minor League campaigns, but he never translated his tools into elite production -- until this season with Double-A Tennessee. 

(All stats are through Thursday's action.)

Caissie has fully tapped into his prodigious power as the outfielder leads the Southern League with 21 home runs, all as one of the circuit's youngest players, having just turned 21 in July. That offensive breakout has helped him rise in MLB Pipeline's latest rankings to become baseball's No. 69 overall prospect.

There are myriad reasons for Caissie's breakout, and they all stem back to the same reason the Cubs felt comfortable aggressively assigning him to Double-A. Chicago was confident in his work ethic and had faith that his mindset would help promising underlying data bloom into big-time results.

"We knew he was taking all of the right choices and spending time at our complex with us, working on his game and his improvement," Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner said of Caissie. "So we thought he was mature enough to take that next step. And when adversity hit, he would be able to handle it and continue to fight through it and not let things spiral."

Caissie certainly faced adversity at the start of the season. Although he was hitting for plenty of power when he made contact, he struck out 26 times in his first 12 games. He was able to still post a 1.038 OPS because two-thirds of his batted balls landed for hits, but that was far from sustainable.

Instead of continuing to sell out for power, Caissie worked with Smokies hitting coach Rick Strickland on toning down his signature bat waggle and simplifying things at the plate. Playing at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Caissie has plenty of natural power on his own -- he generates exit velocities on par with some of the top Major Leaguers -- but he felt like he was over-swinging, and that was keeping him from reaching his power potential.

"I never considered myself a power hitter in high school; I considered myself a hitter with power. I just have it," Caissie said. "I am getting better at contact, which I'm really trying to focus on; not striking out as much because the more I hit the ball, the more of a chance I have of making a difference in the game."

By focusing on putting the bat to the ball and letting his natural abilities take over, the results are plain to see. Caissie's strikeout rate has dropped each month from 43.2 percent in April to 33.7 in May, 31.7 in June, 25.5 in July and 22.5 so far in August.

"I see him as one of the best two-strike hitters in the Southern League," manager Kevin Graber said. "When he's up at the plate, and he has two strikes on him, I say to our hitting coach, Rick Strickland, 'Here comes two-strike Owen Caissie.' Lately, especially, those two-strike situations have resulted in line drives toward the opposite-field gap, balls just finding their way through holes, mainly just getting the bat on the ball and making something happen."

Caissie was productive in the first half, hitting .275/.377/.519 with a 33.9 percent strikeout rate. But his .329/.440/.646 line with a 25.7 percent K rate in the second half underscores how much progress he's made.

Caissie still has a ways to go before he's ready to star in the Majors; it's easy to forget that he has very few live game reps compared to most players at Double-A. Canadian baseball typically only runs from April to September, and he's only played in 252 Minor League games since he could only practice at the team complex during the COVID-disrupted 2020 season.

Caissie's newfound approach at the plate has been working wonders and leaves the Cubs' organization buzzing about his future.

"I see him as a surefire big league hitter," Graber said. "But his maturity, his work ethic, the degree to which he's an amazing teammate, the way he's respectful to his coaches and above all else, the way that he's receptive to learning -- it's really special."