Looking ahead with Jed Hoyer to the 2022 Chicago Cubs

Sep 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel (18) is greeted after hitting a grand slam home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel (18) is greeted after hitting a grand slam home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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Rafael Ortega. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Rafael Ortega. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Rafael Ortega

Like Schwindel and Wisdom, Ortega is a 30-something career minor leaguer who unexpectedly found himself with a major league opportunity when Hoyer decimated the team’s previous roster.

Promoted in mid-May and gradually eased into outfield duty as injuries and trades did in the team’s regular cast, Ortega is batting .292 with an intriguing .341 on base percentage as the team’s leadoff hitter since Aug. 1. Despite a reputation as light on power, he’s also produced six home runs and a decent .496 slugging average.

That level of performance virtually guarantees that the Chicago Cubs, envisioning Ortega as a viable center field option for at least the near term, will try to negotiate a deal for him or, if that fails, take their chances at arbitration.

Either way, it’s a good bet that Ortega will be the team’s starting center fielder and leadoff man next spring.

The longer term is less clear. Ortega’s security is most threatened by the potential of Pete Crow-Armstrong, a young outfielder the Cubs got from the Mets in the Javier Baez deal. Crow-Armstrong is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the team’s system.

His development, however, has been slowed by a May shoulder injury that has shelved him for all of 2021. That injury virtually ensures that Crow-Armstrong won’t see a major league uniform in 2022 – clearing Ortega’s path for the next year — although beyond that all bets are off.