More feast than famine for this Cubs prospect

May 18th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Owen Caissie has been piecing together one of the more fascinating seasons within the Cubs’ farm system. On the one hand, the budding slugger is doing a ton of damage when making contact. At the same time, his strikeout rate has been lofty.

From a development standpoint, the Cubs’ task is to address the swing-and-miss issues with Caissie -- Pipeline’s No. 12-ranked prospect for the ballclub -- while not subtracting from the potent production he has delivered for Double-A Tennessee.

“The short answer is: it's complicated, right?” Jared Banner, the Cubs vice president of player development, said recently. “He’s doing so many things right.”

Through 30 games with the Smokies this season, Caissie has turned in a .291/.380/.564 slash line with seven homers, seven doubles and 25 RBIs. The lefty-swinging outfielder had 52 strikeouts compared to 16 walks, equating to a 40.3% strikeout rate and 12.4% walk rate.

Banner pointed to a pair of possible contributors to the bloated whiff numbers.

Like plenty of hitters, there is the early-season issue of finding rhythm and timing, and it is worth noting that Caissie’s K-rate has declined since an extreme first week. There is also the fact that Caissie, at 20 years old, is nearly four years younger than the average position player at the Double-A level.

“He wouldn't be striking out this much if he was in Low-A with the other 20-year-olds,” Banner said. “So, it's recognizing he's playing against a lot of pitchers who are much more experienced, and very savvy.”

Caissie had a 56.4% strikeout rate in his first 10 games, in which he also posted a 1.056 OPS. The K-rate dropped to 31.1% in his next 10 games and then checked in at 35.6% in the next stretch through his 30th game played. That is closer to the 28.6% rate Caissie posted at High-A in 2022.

That progress is promising, especially considering Caissie’s production has stayed strong as he has worked to find his timing and focus on swing decisions. After posting a 1.018 OPS in April, Caissie had turned in an .846 OPS in May, entering Wednesday. He was nearly as productive against lefties (.936 OPS) as righties (.946 OPS).

“Normally,” Banner said, “when we see a player struggling with their strikeout rate, they're not performing really well. So it's really awesome that he is both performing so well, while still struggling in that one area. So, we can really hone in and try to help him with that strikeout rate.

“It's already gotten a little bit better [recently]. We'll have to keep tracking that. But in the meantime, he's going to do a lot of damage.”