SCOTTSDALE – One practice a week, one game a week, 12 games a year. That’s how Cubs prospect BJ Murray Jr. grew up playing baseball in the Bahamas.
Murray Jr. grew up in a baseball family. His brothers Brandon and Byron played the game. His father, Bertie Murray Jr., and his grandfather Bertie Murray Sr. also played. His grandfather played on the Bahamas National Team, but nobody from the Murray family made it to the major leagues.
Murray Jr. hopes to change that.
Only eight players have made the majors from the Bahamas. Murray Jr. feels like it’s an honor to represent a country where success in the game is rare. He grew up in Nassau, and moved to Florida with his family when he was 14 years old for better opportunities, and played baseball in high school there.
“We didn’t have the facilities to go to (in the Bahamas), now we got a lot more,” Murray Jr. said last Wednesday before the Mesa Solar Sox took on the Scottsdale Scorpions. “I went to high school there (in the U.S.). The first few years were a little culture difference, but I mean, got to adjust to it.”
Murray Jr., 22, was drafted in the 15th round of the 2021 draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Florida Atlantic University and knew it would be a no-brainer for him to sign with the team.
“I wanted to play professional baseball,” Murray Jr. said. “It was the best feeling in the world. I mean, that’s something I’ve been dreaming of. A lot of emotions flowed, but it was the best day of my life.”
Murray Jr. spent his first season in professional baseball with the Cubs affiliate in the rookie-level Arizona Complex League. In 2022, he began his next season with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Single-A affiliate of the Cubs, before moving up to High-A South Bend.
It was in South Bend where Murray Jr. first met teammate Owen Caissie, an outfielder acquired in 2020 as part of the trade that sent Yu Darvish to San Diego. Caissie quickly came to appreciate Murray Jr.’s even-keeled approach to the game.
“You’ll never know when he’s 0-4 or 4-4,” Caissie said.
Now, Murray Jr. and Caissie are together with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Franchises typically send their top prospects to the Fall League for development, and prospects from several organizations are included on each team.
“I think he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Caissie said. “He doesn’t really like to get fazed by anything. I try to learn from him honestly.
“He’s just a really good guy, somebody you can talk to, a great friend and a great teammate. But outside the field, he’s really chill, and I enjoy being around him.”
Murray Jr. and Caissie can be found in the outfield together during fielding practice. In their downtime, they often hang out in each other’s apartments. While the duo has never lived together, they live right next to each other and spend time together daily.
Having played together in South Bend this season, Caissie said Murray Jr. is his closest friend in the Cubs organization “for sure.” He knew that his friend would move up from Myrtle Beach to South Bend.
“He was a good enough player for sure,” Caissie said. “It was cool being around him because I learned a lot from him, just about the game. You know, going through life with struggles and through the good. But, hopefully we can make it up (to the majors) together and, you know, win something with the Cubs.”
Murray Jr. said he tries to learn from Caissie, too, but he is also trying to soak up as much as he can from other prospects playing with the Solar Sox.
“We hang out just about every day, one of my closest friends,” he said of Caissie. “He’s a very chill dude. Like, laid back. There’s a bunch of guys here, (and I) just pick up anything I can from these guys. I’m having conversations daily, so whatever mental adjustments or physical adjustments, I’ll do.”
Eric Patterson, the Solar Sox’ assistant hitting coach and a former major leaguer, believes that Murray Jr. is taking advantage of his Fall League experience, even though he is on the taxi squad and playing one to two games a week.
Organizations can assign players to a taxi squad to give them a taste of the Fall League, but if another player leaves early because of an injury, to get rest or for personal reasons, taxi squad players can be moved to everyday roles or even assigned to another Fall League team.
“Being on that taxi squad, you know, (you) kind of take all the information in, from a lot of guys from different organizations, and kind of pick and choose things he likes, things he doesn’t like,” Patterson said. “And again, just kind of develop his game and kind of take the information stuff that he has and make it his own. So, just be a sponge, soak everything up, and enjoy the ride.”
Murray Jr. is using the Fall League to work on expanding his ability as a switch-hitter while facing pitching from top prospects at different levels of the minor leagues.
As a switch-hitter, Murray Jr. believes that he has an edge by facing left-handed pitchers from the right side of the plate and righties from the left side.
“Switch (-hitting) is hard,” he said, “But it is definitely an advantage facing the opposite every time.”
Although Murray Jr. isn’t expected to be in the big leagues anytime soon, Patterson believes all young prospects benefit by spending time in the Fall League, where they learn more than just the nuances of the game.
He said for younger players like Murray Jr. and Caissie, just learning how to approach the game as a professional is a big part of the experience.
“They’re not really so worried about mechanics and stuff,” Patterson said. “They’re just going out competing, trying to have good at-bats. And I think they’ve done a really nice job of that so far this fall.”