Chicago Cubs prospects Kevin Alcántara and Owen Caissie are able to focus on progress over pressure in spring training

MESA, Ariz. — Kevin Alcántara grinned while thinking about the 415-foot home run he slugged a day earlier.

Five days off between Cactus League appearances because of a slight hamstring issue did not hamper Alcántara’s timing at the plate. The Chicago Cubs’ No. 5 prospect connected on a no-doubt solo home run to center field Sunday, his first of the spring and one that showed off prodigious power as he has grown into his 6-foot-6 frame.

“In terms of the physical aspect, I feel like it’s there, I feel like I have it now,” Alcántara said through an interpreter to the Tribune. “I just want to keep improving on the mental aspect. A lot of players, you can have the physical aspects but if you don’t have that mental aspect to it, that’s how you take it to the next level.

“For me, like I’m ready. I’m ready to take it over to the next level, which is the big leagues.”

Alcántara reached Double A by the end of last season and learned how the strike zone continues to shrink as pitchers harness better command while climbing each level. He knows he needs to continue to refine his approach and what he swings at. When he makes contact, Alcántara does damage. Given his ability to play center field and his all-around athleticism, it’s a tantalizing combination.

“He has that ‘Jaguar’ mentality. I know you guys have seen his Jaguar side and once you see that, you know he’s in a different mode,” assistant general manager Jared Banner said Monday, referring to Alcántara’s nickname. “He really believes in himself. He knows how talented he is and he plans to be a really good baseball player. He’s getting closer and closer every day.”

Alcántara joins Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie as up-and-coming young talent in the outfield. Approaching the midpoint of the spring schedule, Caissie has been the Cubs’ hottest hitter. After collecting a single in Monday’s 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres, Caissie is 9-for-17 (.529) with two doubles, one home run, six RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts in eight games.

A non-roster invitee in his first big-league camp, Caissie spent the 2023 season at Double-A Tennessee raking as one of the youngest players in the Southern League. He put up a .289/.399/.519 slash line with 22 home runs and 31 doubles to help the Smokies win the league title. When Caissie breaks down his stellar season, it’s not the numbers that stand out.

“My biggest takeaway was being mentally strong,” Caissie told the Tribune. “I just want to carry that into the season, just being at peace with myself in the box — really being level-headed through everything. Failure is going to happen and I have to be OK with that. That was the big thing for me, is not getting so pressed about failing because even the best fail and if I want to get where I want to be, I have to be OK with that.”

Caissie, who spent part of his offseason working out at Cressey Sports Performance in Florida, focused on furthering his mental game, getting stronger and improving against left-handers coming into spring training. Left-on-left matchups are typically tough on hitters, and Caissie wants to feel more comfortable in those situations by getting more reps. He hit .224 with a .331 on-base percentage and .755 OPS versus lefties in 2023. Caissie took a lot of batting practice off left-handers and lefty-angle machines during the offseason.

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“It’s just really seeing that arm angle and being more comfortable with it and really just staying focused on my approach with lefties,” Caissie said. “Honing in and being really concentrated on what I want to do.”

Caissie isn’t a big goal-setter heading into a new season, instead preferring to try to be the best version of himself and see where that takes him by the end of the year. But with the 6-foot-3 Canadian on tap to reach Triple A this year, Caissie is poised to help the Cubs sooner than later.

Caissie and Alcántara are among the standouts of an intriguing group of prospects reaching the upper levels of the Cubs’ farm system who are collectively ranked in the top 100 players in the minor leagues. This spring training doesn’t carry the pressure of trying to make the opening day roster for Alcántara and Caissie, however, their experiences and lessons learned from the veterans around them in camp can serve as important knowledge for them to carry into their respective seasons.

The pair, both 21, are providing a glimpse this spring of what they could give the Cubs in the future.

“They don’t get to who they are as players the same way,” manager Craig Counsell said. “The similar part of it is that they’re tall kids, and that’s a real thing in baseball. There’s a lot of potential from that, but it’s also harder. A baseball swing is harder for tall people. There’s advantages to it, but it also makes it harder and so there’s a pretty good history of it taking a little longer and having to be patient in that way is something important for both Owen and Kevin.”