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Cubs cut 11, but Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario made their mark

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs cut 11 players from big league camp on Friday, including top catching prospect Willson Contreras as well as hot Cactus League hitter Jeimer Candelario. Pitcher CJ Edwards was also sent down.

Manager Joe Maddon said all could have an impact on the big league team this season as the Cubs' farm system remains stocked even though several star players recently made it to the majors.

“We graduated a class that’s up there right now,” Maddon said Friday before the Cubs played the Chicago White Sox. “You would think it would be barren after that because of how good this class is, but then I get to see these guys more readily. Wow, there’s more.”

ESPN.com’s prospect guru, Keith Law, ranks the Cubs farm system fourth in baseball even though it lost Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber over the past year. One reason is Contreras, who’s been in the organization since he was 17. Contreras might have been the best defensive catcher in camp. And remember, this is a converted infielder who’s only been behind the plate a couple of years.

“When you watch Willson throw it’s on a different level,” Maddon said. “You have a weapon behind the plate to stop the running game.”

Candelario, also with the team since he was 17, hit everything hard both before games started and once he faced opposing pitchers. He had two home runs and three doubles while hitting .345 entering play on Friday.

“How can we possibly send you out?” Maddon told Candelario. “You’re the best hitter in the valley right now. What’s wrong with us?”

Also cut was Edwards, whose stuff is still really good. He'll continue to develop as a reliever.

“When you get to be a good team on the major league level that’s what happens with talented guys in the minor leagues,” Maddon said of sending them down. “When you’re able to backlog talent like that and permit them to get truly ripe on the vine, that benefits everybody.”

Contreras will be the starting catcher at Triple-A Iowa while third baseman Candelario was sent to Double-A for the moment. Edwards will also be in Iowa as he was caught in a numbers game. He has minor league options so the Cubs can send him down without him going through waivers. But it’s Contreras who has the Cubs most excited at the moment.

“You’re not just putting guys out there you’re putting good guys out there,” Maddon said of the Cubs depth.

With how these players could impact a major league team, their presence could prove fruitful come July. The Cubs could easily put a package together to make a big trade if it's warranted.

Others sent to Triple-A Iowa include pitchers Pierce Johnson and C.J. Riefenhauser, along with Arismendy Alcantara. Five non-roster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp, including right-handed pitchers Stephen Fife, Felix Pena and Drew Rucinski, left-handed pitcher Edgar Olmos, and catcher Taylor Davis.

All players sent down can still participate in Cactus League games, but will report to the minor league side of the Cubs facility to join others on the farm in preparing for the season.