Against a gray mid-May sky, a wiry figure stands in the batting cage at Principal Park in Des Moines, IA. As the batting practice pitcher begins to make his tosses, Chesny Young produces one humpback liner after another. First to right field, then to right-center, and so on down the line, almost as if Young was playing a game of “call your field” with himself.
In talking with Des Moines Register beat writer Tommy Birch, the feeling is that Young is “not far away from being ready for the big leagues”. “Ian Happ and Tommy LaStella got a lot of the priority early on” said Birch, “but Young has been patient and put together some good at bats”.
Later, taking his place on the infield, Young make one flashy play after another while fielding grounders at shortstop. With the same quick swipes of the glove and backhand flips that cause may Cubs fans to “ooh and aah” over another twenty-something infielder, Young completed his infield practice rotation. But while there was a hint of enjoyment in Young, there was no cockiness or grandstanding gestures. There was almost no wasted effort, as each throw popped the first baseman’s glove with an almost surgical precision.
“I learned that defense is huge” stated Young. “I like to challenge myself to do my best no matter where I am played. For now, the Cubs are making every third start at shortstop.”
In 2014, the Cubs selected Chesny Young in the fourteenth round of the MLB Draft out of Mercer College in Macon, GA. Young had played third base in college, but the Cubs asked Young to make the switch to second base almost immediately. After a two game warm-up in the rookie league, Young went onto show that he was no match for the short-season Northwest League. After only 15 games and a .354 batting average, Young was moved to Low-a Kane County, where he ended the season batting .324.
The following year, Young was assigned to Low-A South Bend out of spring training, but that did not last long. After hitting .315 in 28 games, Young was moved up to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and given an even greater task. Prior to that, Young had only played second and shortstop for South Bend. But with the Pelicans, the Cubs decided to experiment with Young and moved him around to six different positions. Amidst all of the commotion with position changes and the pressure of being in a playoff race, Young was able to maintain his focus and bat .321 to earn the Carolina League batting championship and help Myrtle Beach win the league title.
Moved up to Double-A in 2016, the Cubs toned down the position merry-go-round for Young a bit, essentially playing him at four positions, but primarily second base. Things were a bit different with the Tennessee Smokies, who seemed to have trouble competing right out of the gate. But even with little support, along with fighting off a late season injury, Young was able to post a .303 batting average and seeming claim another batting title. However, in a somewhat controversial move, the Southern League awarded the crown to another player.
“Power is a big part of the game, it is a good weapon to have” admitted Young. “But you can’t change yourself for the advanced metrics. I’m spending more time in the weight room, working out to get stronger. That is sort of the push and pull you have to go through to become a better player. I want to improve everything, but I still have to stay who I am.”
Young wasn’t quite done after the 2016 season, as he went off to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Signing for only the second half of the regular season, Young was moved to third base by Escogido and wound up hitting .351in 22 games. When his team was eliminated from the postseason, Young was quickly signed by another Dominican team, Cibaenas, and batted .314 in the playoffs. Back in the States for spring training, Young was invited to the big league camp and saw extensive work at shortstop before being assigned to Triple-A Iowa to start the season. After a slow start, Young has raised his batting average to .297 while seeing time at seven different positions.
“It was a great experience to go to winter ball” said Young. “It was kind of ‘an osmosis’ to watch other and see what they do to prepare themselves. What I noticed about players who had big league experience is that they never seemed to be off balance, always reacting well to whatever came their way. It is the way I would like to improve my game.”
With Young’s success at Triple-A so far, even some of the most experienced Cub observers have come away impressed. “The Cubs have thrown a lot at Young” stated Iowa Cubs broadcaster Randy Wehofer, “and he is very composed”. “Young has a great sense of purpose” added fellow Iowa Cubs broadcaster Deene Ehlis.
Hopefully, Cub fans will be able to see Young’s purpose on display in Wrigley Field shortly.