The sequence was eerily familiar.
Chicago Cubs prospect Alexander Canario awkwardly hit first base and went down hard during a Dominican Winter League game two weeks ago. The subsequent injury to the 22-year-old outfielder — a fractured left ankle and separated left shoulder — was reminiscent of how infield prospect Ed Howard’s season ended in mid-May.
Howard awkwardly tried to avoid a tag on an errant throw to first base and landed in a heap beyond the bag. The Cubs’ 2020 first-round pick fractured his left hip on the play.
Howard is rehabbing at the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz., and the Cubs hope he will begin light baseball activities after Thanksgiving, vice president of player development Jared Banner said Monday at the general manager meetings.
Canario also faces a lengthy recovery from his freak injury. He had surgery last week in Chicago on his ankle and will undergo another surgery this week on his shoulder. The procedure will be the second on Canario’s left shoulder; a torn labrum was repaired in November 2020 after he dislocated the shoulder while in the San Francisco Giants organization.
Canario won’t be ready for the start of the 2023 season. There is no timetable beyond that for his return.
“These guys put a lot of work in, especially in Canario’s case,” Banner said. “He had a really amazing season in many respects, and to see him go down like that, it hurt us all. It was devastating to him as well.”
The Arizona Fall League presented an opportunity for outfielder Brennen Davis to gain valuable at-bats after missing more than three months because of back pain and ensuing surgery to cauterize a vascular malformation that pushed against a nerve.
Davis’ AFL experience ended after five games and 21 plate appearances because of what Banner described as “general soreness.” He added that the Cubs don’t believe the issue relates to Davis’ previous sciatic pain.
Davis is close to 100%, and Banner expects him to be full go by the start of spring training.
“I don’t want to speculate, but whenever you have to take that much time off from physical activity, it can make returning a little bit bumpy and nonlinear,” Banner said.
Canario’s injuries and lengthy recovery along with Davis’ lost season are a blow to the Cubs’ options in center field and, by extension, the offseason avenues they could pursue to upgrade the roster.
Although they anticipate Canario will be back in games sometime next season, it would be difficult to confidently project him to contribute in the big leagues in 2023. It’s a disappointing development for both the player and team after Canario slugged his way through three levels this year to reach Triple A for the first time.
Canario, acquired for Kris Bryant at the 2021 trade deadline, led all Cubs minor-leaguers with 37 home runs while posting a .343 on-base percentage this year and figured to play an important role in 2023. He could have been used in an offseason trade to improve another area of the roster — as top prospect and center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong looms — or earned playing time in center while providing power in the lineup.
A fully healthy Davis entering spring training would quell some concerns, especially after having three months to continue building up. Davis can be a dynamic outfielder, and he turned 23 at the beginning of November.
Game experience matters, and Davis needs more of it. Since debuting in 2018, he has tallied 906 plate appearances in four minor-league seasons with 558 plate appearances above High A. That includes 174 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa in 2022, when he was dealing with the back pain that initially arose during spring training.
Davis appeared on track to debut in the majors this year and perhaps solidify the Cubs center-field job. Instead, there are only more questions.
The Cubs have amassed more minor-league depth and high-ceiling talent the last two seasons, creating an opportunity to cash in some of their prospect capital for a proven big-leaguer. But the injury blows are significant and could affect the offseason roster-building vision.
Now the Cubs must wait to gain clarity on how Davis, Canario, Howard and catcher Miguel Amaya — who was unable to play in the AFL because of a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot — might fit into their plans for next year and beyond.