One of my favorite players to talk to last summer was actually Owen Caissie. He was at South Bend all year and after a rough start in April, he began to figure some things out in May. I got to see South Bend quite often last year. In the early part of the year, I don’t think I talked to Owen for at least six weeks until Appleton Wisconsin in the middle of May. He was always very thoughtful and polite but you could tell the wheels were turning on the inside about the game 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He’s just that kind of kid that lives, breathes, and eats baseball.
2021 was also Caissie’s first full year in the minors where he played on a team that played a schedule of over 130 games. You could tell that by late July/early August that the season was starting to wear on him. But he came back and finished the year strong in August and was arguably the most valuable player on the team in the championship series.
But that wasn’t the end of Caissie’s season as he showed up in the Arizona Fall League for the Cubs which I would say was a positive experience. He wasn’t one of the leading stars, but the Arizona Fall League is more than just about stats. For Caissie, there should be plenty of lessons for him from the 2022 season and the AFL that he can take home over the winter and work on to be ready for 2023.
Let’s take a look at five lessons Caissie probably learned in his first full season that will help him improve for next year.
1. The Grind
Playing day in and day out for a 19-year-old kid is pretty brutal. You’re on the road half of the time, not sleeping in your own bed, and not exactly eating the best meals. So, keeping your mind straight and your body fed properly are the most important things and that’s why the Cubs always talk about doing the same things every day when it comes to nutrition at every meal.
2. Turning your weaknesses into strengths
As a student of the game, Caissie understands what’s happening at the plate. By the time he got to Arizona, he began to see something he hadn’t seen at South Bend and that was some top-of-the-rotation pitchers. While South Bend did win the championship title, most of the pitchers he saw in Arizona were from Double-A where he is going to be headed next year. It was if he got himself a sneak peak and got to see what he is probably going to face at the plate in 2023.
3. Running Routes
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player improve so much defensively in one year as Owen. It was evident from the first time I saw him that he has a cannon for an arm in right field. It’s really good! But the routes he took to get to the baseball in the outfield were not good in the first month of the year. By mid June, he was starting to get it down and was getting to balls in the gap or figuring out which way the ball was going and whether the ball was going to spin into the route he took or away from his route.
Owen is a rather large young man who’s only going to get bigger as he matures as he is only 20 and won’t be 21 till mid summer. It looked like he had put on some weight out in Arizona and that’s good. I don’t really want to see him musclebound, but he could add 5 or 10 pounds of muscle and turn some doubles into home runs. How much he adds could be significant depending upon where he adds it. It would be cool if he added some strength in his arms and shoulders and chest but not too much.
Owen probably should’ve learned from this year was to have a really good support system to keep him even keeled. While I talked about nutrition and mental skills and question number one, there is an emotional context to a lot of players being away from home for the first time. I can still remember when I asked him if his parents had been to see him in South Bend and his eyes lit up talking about it. He was kind of in a slump at the time and after his parents came and saw him, he took off.
It was a tough year since he started out in that prospect camp last November and then went to spring training and he just basically kept going until the AFL ended in mid November . And how you handle all of those things in the minors can only help you when you get to the majors, or in Owen’s case, Double-A next year..
Owen should be at Tennessee on opening day as part of the outfield with Pete Crow-Armstrong, Yohendrick Pinango, and Jordan Nwogu. They are going to be a lot of fun to watch in Tennessee where the ball flies a little farther than it does in South Bend. I’m looking forward to see him apply what he’s learned from this year to next.