If you followed the 2014 Chicago Cubs in any way shape or form last season then you are well aware of Javier Baez. The kid swings a bat like it’s a broom stick, bringing back memories of another young shortstop of yesteryear in Gary Sheffield. The moral of the story on Baez is his bat-speed is off the charts and the power that comes with all that torque grades as high as 70-80 on the scouting scale depending on who you ask.
Unlike the aforementioned Sheffield, Baez’s intense swing also brings with it prolific strikeout numbers. A memory all too familiar to Cubs fans who were there to witness the rise and fall of another Cubs prospect, Brett Jackson. Between AAA and the Big Leagues last season Baez struck out 225 times in 601 AB’s good for 37%. If that was a full Major League season it would rank 1st on the all time list, 2 ahead of Mark Reynold’s record of 223 in 2009.
Those numbers simply aren’t sustainable. The silver lining in this is the fact that Baez was only 21 last season and plays up the middle of the diamond. With some seasoning he should be able to bring those numbers down to a more manageable level. Every full season Baez has played since signing out of HS he has hit over 30 HR, including 32 between AAA and the MLB last year.
What is it going to take for Javy Baez to be a valuable major league player? To find that out I decided to look at the league average slash line from 2014. When you factor in every single plate appearance, major league players averaged a slash line of:
To whittle things down even further I crunched the numbers to find league average production for 2nd basemen who qualified for the batting title in 2014. Surprisingly there were only 16 and they produced a slash line of:
For a guy who slugged right around .500 in his minor league career and was able to produce a .260 batting average in AAA at 21, it isn’t unlikely that Baez can make the necessary adjustments and become a serviceable major league Middle Infielder.
Expectations are sky high for Javy, and I think it’s time for us to peel back a bit. While his ceiling is definitely in the 40 homer range, if he can go out and perform at a respectable .250/.320/.450/.770 rate and blast 25+ HR’s at 2nd Base, I for one will consider him a success.
The updated Theft Adjusted Slugging Post
When I started this blog I wanted to do my best to put my own spin on things. I was checking out Bill James and stumbled a statistic called power-speed. The basis of the stat is simple, you take Stolen Bases and multiply that by Home runs. Multiply that total by 2. Then divide by Stolen bases plus home runs. The formula is listed below.
2 x hr x sb / hr + sb.
It’s definitely a cool looking stat. However, it doesn’t really help is with a a true analytical comparison because it doesn’t factor in the caught stealing and have a high score you need to have a high number of both. That is why it’s called power-speed. It is good to show how rare it is for players to have a high number of steals and homeruns at the same time but really nothing else. For example:
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With Wins Above Replacement having been accepted in the baseball lexicon, players of different eras can be compared like never before. As a giant baseball fan I’ve spent the entire winter listening to people talk about baseball, followed all the different hot stove dealings of the offseason, and spent entirely too much time staring at spreadsheets of different players.
Heading into the 2015 season both of my favorite teams are on an upswing and appear poised to in the very least be very exciting. The Dodgers made a myriad of moves, trading away two All-Stars and adding two others. Clayton Kershaw seems poised to add to his budding HOF resume.
The Cubs are entering the beginning of what many expect to be an era of Cubs baseball not seen in nearly 100 years. The game itself is starved for power as pitching has once again asserted its dominance at the forefront of the game, and if the Cubs have anything of note it is definitely young power coming through the farm system.
It’s going to be an exciting year for me and for many other baseball fans I’m sure. One thing that I think has flown under the radar heading into this season is the career of Albert Pujols. His tenure in a Cardinals uniform had many people thinking back to Stan Musial and rightly so. Since his departure to southern California and the joys of a gigantic 10 year contract, Pujols has regressed back to the playing ability of a mere mortal. None the less he was able to hit his 500th career HR, joining an elite group of players. There’s something more on the horizon for “The Machine” though, something even more elite and exclusive than the 500 HR club. When the first pitch of the 2015 season is thrown Pujols will be sitting at 97.0 career WAR, good for 21st all time. There is a real potential for Albert to become the 21st member of the 100 career WAR club.
That list of players reads like a ranking of Greek Gods:
Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Lou Gehrig, RIckey Henderson, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Nap Lajoi, Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and Joe Morgan.
That’s a team you want to be on. Pujols is a player we should all sit back and enjoy, even in the twilight of his career. It might be awhile before we see another player of his caliber.
My idea for this project stemmed from Bob Costas saying something along the lines of, the hall should have been reserved for true immortals of the game, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, those guys should have a copper plaque hanging in the hall of immortals. Then the rest of the museum should tell the story of the game itself decade by decade, highlighting events and players of note as it goes along.
After mulling this project over for quite some time I finally sat down and began sinking my teeth into the logistics of the Hall of the Damn Good. After some simple research I discovered that 1967 is the year that the voting process changed into its current format:
1) Players need 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot
2) Elections are held annualy
3) Players above 5% of vote are eligible for 15 years (switched to ten starting next season)
The second bit of research I did brought me to baseballhall.org, the amazing website for the HOF museum itself. I was trying to figure out what process existed for selecting players that would appear on the ballot. I knew that there was not a write-in option for the writers. Who decides what players are even eligible to be voted on?
From baseballhall.org – “A Screening Committee consisting of baseball writers will be appointed by the BBWAA. This Screening Committee shall consist of six members, with two members to be elected at each Annual Meeting for a three-year term. The duty of the Screening Committee shall be to prepare a ballot listing in alphabetical order eligible candidates who (1) received a vote on a minimum of five percent (5%) of the ballots cast in the preceding election or (2) are eligible for the first time and are nominated by any two of the six members of the BBWAA Screening Committee.”
And there we have it. Now the only thing for me to do was find out the ballot history from 1967 to 2015 and beyond. It can’t be that many players can it? As it turns out it’s a shit load. Between 1967 and 2015 there were 754 different players considered on ballots, with 445 of them actually receiving at least one vote. That my friends is a ton of different players to cover, and I intend to get to most of them, if not all.
After listing all the players that appeared on a ballot it struck me that there surely had to be some really good players who never even appeared on the ballot. What about them? Some of them surely deserve a spot in the Hall of the Damn Good. I googled and searched far and wide but could not find a list of “the best players never to appear on a HOF ballot,” anywhere. To counteract this I bought ‘The New Bill James Historical Abstract’ and looked at players by decade, and position, and ranked them based on their WAR.
I know that WAR isn’t the be all end all of stats, but it does allow for easy comparison as it encompasses all aspects of the game and wrings it out into an easily digestible single number. When I finally get to the fun part and write about each player individually I will make sure to delve into their statistics deeper that just WAR. I’m also going to use a stat that I invented call Theft Adjusted Slugging % to look at base stealers through a different lense.
At this point I’m still unsure of what order I’m going to write about the players. They say the hardest part of writing anything is starting. I think it’s time that the Tommy John’s and Brian Giles’ of the world get their due in the Hall of the Damn good.
The Cubs front office marched forward with their off season plan of adding OBP% by grabbing Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros for two expendable pieces in Dan Straily and Luis Valbeuna.The move serves multiple purposes and shows that the Theo Epstein and Co. know when to make moves. Not only were they selling high on Valbeuna, whose 16 homeruns last season were a career high, they brought in a proven table setter that can plug into the top of the lineup. If there is anything the Cubs need moving forward it is top of the lineup production.
Chris Coghlan served in that role amiably but now projects to move into the # 2 spot of the lineup. This table setting should allow middle of the order guys to have more opportunity. Rizzo hit 32 HR last season and only managed 78 RBI, which goes to show you that the top of the lineup underwhelmed.
This move does seem to push Arsimendy Alcantara out of the starting CF job, but since Fowler is only under contract for this season, that potential blockage isn’t really a giant issue. With the acquisition of Joe Maddon, his propensity for platoon splits, and his love for versatile guys, Alcantara should see regular playing time at as many as 6 different positions next season.
Spring Training is going to be especially interesting for the Cubs as they have 5 players competing for 3 spots in the infield. Javier Baez is penciled in to start at 2B but a lackluster performance in the spring could see him sent back to AAA for some seasoning. Worse things have happened. Just look at Anthony Rizzo’s first season in San Diego for an example.
If Baez struggles and is indeed sent down that opens the door for Alcantara to start at 2nd base. This would leave Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella in a platoon situation until Kris Bryant is deemed ready to break with the club and take over the full time 3B duties. Starlin Castro is going to be your everyday shortstop but don’t be surprised if the rumor mill starts churning if Addison Russel rakes in AA.
It’s going to be a fun year to be a Cubs fan. Who knows where all these pieces shake out?
Phase 6: Maintaining the scouting and development machine:
The Cubs are going to have one more top five pick coming in 2015. Next season it is likely that the Cubs won’t be complete basement dwellers. They will add a pitcher in the off season and slot Arrieta into the number 2 position. The young guns will start to progress and the potential for a .500 showing is real. (given some positive variables)
You aren’t going to get top picks in the first year player draft every year. Eventually you have to draft with quantity in mind. There are no Kris Bryant’s available at pick 18. You have to be wise with your selections and value projection and make up. Tools play, but makeup plays harder.
In my opinion, the best way to supplement your farm system on a consistent and long term basis is to do so in the international market. Not only are the players just as talented, they are often young enough that you can coach up their tools from the very beginning. Imagine if you were 16 and you got to play baseball every day with some of the best coaches in the world. It does wonders. There’s a reason that some companies want to train their employees rather than hire with experience. It allows the organization to teach the players how to play the game their way, which is invaluable in this day and age of sabermetrics.
When the Wrigley renovation and new TV deal are completed, and the big 8 prospects have made their presence known, the 6th phase of the rebuild will begin. Revenues will be at an all time high and payroll additions will always be an option. What does it take to field a consistent contender?
You have to face the realities that hit us all when we age. Sometimes you have to make tough choices and let players walk. Don’t over pay for a player just to squeeze one more potential winning season out of a crippled roster. Let the player walk. We aren’t in Philladelphia. You can let Chase Utley go. The Cubs are an anomaly and I promise you attendance figures won’t go down for long.
Trust your player development to compensate. Let the player sign a crazy long term deal with another team and replace his production systematically. To paraphrase Moneyball,
“I’m not going to replace Jason Giambi by simply signing a first basemen. I’m going to make systematic upgrades throughout the roster to compensate for the production lost.”
Phase 5 of the Rebuild: Upgrading the facilities and increasing the profitability of the franchise.
With the Wrigley renovation moving forward, for the first time in a long time the Cubs will be able to say that their player facilities aren’t among the worst in the league. A lot of players don’t like playing for the Cubs because the clubhouse is tiny, they play too many day games, and the facilities and equipment are worse than most minor league stadiums.
In the home clubhouse if you want to take some swings before getting into a game, you literally pull a net down from the wall and put it in front of the clubhouse TV so you don’t break it. You then proceed to hit balls into the net off of a tee. It is literally that bad. I grew up in a town with a population of roughly 2,000 people and even our HS had a cage where someone could throw you BP during the game.
The Cubbies need massage tables, yoga studios, pitching machines, ground ball machines, and drinking fountains filled with Gatorade. Did you know there are pitching machines that can throw Curveballs? I didn’t. Not until I researched this article.
There are also digital screens that can have the uploaded image of opposing teams starter that will have their pitches come at you in real time. It uses sensors to read the movement of the bat and show if you made contact or not. I don’t know if that’s actually true but I once faced Greg Maddux that way at an ESPN zone and struck out. Amazing stuff.
This is the majors and there is no reason that a team shouldn’t have all the best available technology and equipment. It’s asinine and I’m sure that it has contributed it its own ways to the crapification on the Cubs teams over the years. Considering the fact that they still use a manual scoreboard (which I love) It’s easy to doubt they even have a high technology war room. I’m sure Theo brought his own system with him but it’s time to use that remodel money to upgrade even further.
Any edge you can get as a player, a coach, or an organization should be taken. Aside from Steroids, I’m talking to you Sosa – or HGH, talking to Ryan Braun now.
The details of the renovation project are immense. It is a step by step overhaul of the entire stadium with a 500 million dollar budget. Broken down into 2 phases the initial estimations state that the meat of the work should be ready for the 2017 season.
The stadium itself will actually grow to the point that it will literally eat parts of Sheffield and Waveland Avenue. This move is more for necessity than want as their isn’t room for the gigantic 6,000 square foot video board in left field. The rooftop owners originally sued due to the sign blocking sight paths so the Cubs just decided to expand far enough out into the now existing street to be able to put the board up with out pissing them off.
The Cubs are going to be allowed a maximum of 40 night games, up from the original 30. It’s also going to allow for 4 in season large concerts such as the Springsteen and Pearl Jam show this last year. They can choose any 4 weekends and alcohol can be served all the way to the end of the shows. The remodel also includes the ability for the Cubs to serve alcohol during Cubs games up to the end of the 7th inning or 10:30 local time. Whichever comes first.
With the stadium growing to consume parts of the street in order to accommodate signage, it allows another opportunity to the team. The new space will accommodate additional seating and better maneuverability throughout the stadium, especially in the bleachers. The right and left field additions will also add more room to the ground level restaurant The Sheffield Grill.
The renovations will allow a new two-story, 14,000 square-foot Captain Morgan Club. This will house merchandise retailers and give additional space to the visitors clubhouse. The home clubhouse will be completely revamped with all the modern amenities.
The new street level view outside of the stadium will also accommodate a four screen digital board in the plaza,and an 85 foot structure with room for a kids zone, retail and convention spaces, and food and beverage services. Alcohol available where applicable.
There will be a new hotel with 175 rooms, 75 parking spaces, food and beverage, and a 40,000 square-foot health club on the corner of Clark and Addison. The coolest part of this very well could be the publicly accessible pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel plaza. The final part of this renovation is 1,000 free parking spaces with shuttle service to all night and weekend games.
Also included in this deal with the City of Chicago are numerous outreach programs and charitable contributions from the Ricket’s family at out of pocket cost to compensate for destroying the nearby sidewalks and streets.
To offset out of pocket costs to the team’s ownership, the front office has explored new options with their television and radio broadcast rights. Midway through this very season the Cubs ended a 90 year run with WGN AM-720 for radio broadcasts. They also chose to exercise their right to opt out of their TV-deal with WGN. A deal that’s been running continuously since 1948.
As a long time fan I have to admit I’m said to see the deal come to an end. WGN and the Cubs go together like the Braves and TNT or sunflower seeds and baseball itself. Part of the reason the Cubs are so popular is the fact that they got national exposure through WGN. People all across the country had a chance to see the Cubs play in an age where most teams were only broadcast locally. It’s hard to imagine but there was a time before ESPN. A time before the internet. It’s weird to think of that relationship ever coming to an end, but like Bob Dylan famously said, “the times they are a changing.”
With the onset of MLB.tv and the MLB network, access to your favorite team is easier than ever before. Add to this the fact that the Yankees have successfully started their own network and the Dodgers are in the midst of a botched attempt at doing the same it was time for the Cubs to face the economic realities of their hometown discount TV deal.
The Dodgers started their own network, Fox Sports LA and negotiated an 8.25 billion dollar 25 year contract with Time Warner. The deal has been a disappointment for fans as Timer Warner has been unable to land carriage agreements with other distibutors serving the market such as DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and others. This lack of distribution has meant that the Dodger’s owned channel, Fox Sports LA, is unavailable for roughly 70% of the LA market. This is not entirely the Dodgers fault. Time Warner gave up the money but is trying to charge too much for the channel to compensate. Other distributors aren’t biting and here we have it. The Dodgers are getting payed for the deal but local fans can’t watch.
More people attend Dodgers games than see them on TV in LA and I can watch them all on my computer through MLB.tv. I only bring it up for one reason. I love the Dodgers and those dollar figures highlight just how much money the Cubs could be talking about by moving away from or re-negotiating with WGN which they have already started doing.
Keeping their options open the Cubs are considering numerous potential options with their TV distribution rights. Whether they start their own network and sign a multimillion dollar deal, or resign with WGN. The new agreement will represent the times we live in and compensate them at a much higher level than before. With the new revenue stream bankrolling the Wrigley renovations, it is a damn good time to bleed Cubbie blue.
Phase 4 of the Rebuild: Talent evaluation and Addition Through Subtraction
Having covered the big 6 guys in the system that everyone is itching to see and covering some guys whose stock has fallen, it is time to look into depth. The best way to do this is by highlighting players of note throughout the rest of the system, level by level. I’m sure that I missed some worthy guys in this section so don’t jump down my neck. If there’s an obvious player you want to be added, let me know somehow. I will happily add him in.
There are some really good players in the Cubs farm that rank in the 10-30 range on in house prospect lists. These are the guys that build depth and some of them very well could become trade bait in the future to land that vaunted pitching staff the North Side so desperately needs. Depth can never be overstated as prospects are not a guarantee. Who knows if the guys in the upper minors will pan out? That is why a team needs to treat its scouting and development as paramount. Drafting is the best way to obtain cost controllable talent.
There are a lot more high upside pitching prospects in the lower levels of the farm system and let’s not forget the 2013 international signing period that saw the Cubs blow past their draft allotment and land 2 of the top 3 players available as well a few more of the top 20.
If you don’t know how that process works, all you need to know is kids from Central and South America can sign as young as 16. Those kids are then put into Baseball Academies before heading to the minor leagues. When considering that part of player development It’s important to remember that Tampa Bay traded David Price for Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly,and Wily Adames. Wily Adames being a 19 year old shortstop in low A-ball.
As you’ll soon see, the Cubs have a treasure trove of projectable young talent that other teams are going to be looking at. It’s safe to assume 2 things:
1) The Cubs are going to spend money to add talent over the next couple years before they start trading prospects. There is no need to subtract talent until they’ve added payroll. Some of these so called ‘depth’ level prospects would be top 5-10 guys in other farm systems.
2) As time goes on and some prospects pan out and others don’t, the Cubs will have a better idea of who is untouchable in the system and begin to make some serious trades. Dealing from areas of strength to build up areas of weakness.
AAA – Iowa Cubs
Dan Straily, RHSP – 25 Years Old
Dan Straily is a good example of the Cubs MO on pitchers. He’s a big guy that has a good four pitch mix and has had success across all levels of the minors. He’s been in the big leagues and shown that he can strike guys out and eat innings. Given the current state of pitching on the North Side it’s a safe bet to assume Straily will break camp with the team next season. The Cubs have a track record of recent success in figuring out mechanical flaws and helping pitchers get back on track. The fact that Straily strikes a lot of guys out also bodes well for his on field results to improve.
Matt Szczur, CF – 24 Years Old
While his last name might look weird it’s easy to remember once you learn that it’s pronounced as Caesar. The number one thing you need to know about Szczur is that he is a great athlete with easy speed. He was a two sport athlete at Villanova, playing CF for the baseball team and played wide receiver and returned punts for the football team. He actually accrued 270 all purpose yards and scored two touchdowns in the FCS National Championship Game.
Since beginning his big league career Szczur has had success across all levels. Hitting for average and holding his own in the field and on the base paths. Once considered the #65 prospect in all of baseball his stock has gone down a bit since his promotion to AAA in 2014. The one real drawback of Matt is the fact that he has little to no power. In 486 career minor league games he has only hit 18 home runs. If he can manage to build up some more extra base power Szczur projects as highly as an everyday lead off hitter with a floor of a back up outfielder or defensive replacement.
Szczur could end up playing for the Cubs as early as next season but has flown under the radar due to the high impact talent throughout the system. I would go onto say that he is the #2 outfielder in the system when it comes to Major League readiness.
AA – Tennesee Smokies
C.J Edwards, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Ranked as the #1 pitching prospect in the Cubs system after a breakout 2013 campaign that saw him 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA in 116.1 Innings with 155 K’s. He only gave up one home run the entire year. That’s a heck of a season. Utterly dominating.
Edwards was one of the key components in the Matt Garza trade. It’s a trade that could turn out incredibly for the Cubs considering the fact that Justin Grimm was the player to be named later in that trade and has posted a sub 2 ERA out of the bullpen this season.
Edwards has a slight frame that scares some scouts off. They question his long time durability as a starter. He’s so small that the ball flies out of his hand faster than you’d expect and he kind of reminds me of Pedro Martinez. Don’t take that comparison to heart. Just an observation. The fact of the matter with Edwards is this, he has the stuff to be a front line starter. He features a high 90’s fastball with late life and 12-6 Curveball that makes minor league hitters look silly at times. Change up is coming along as well and should be able to become serviceable.
His durability is the main question. We could be seeing him make his debut as early as 2015 and if his body isn’t cut out for starting it actually raises his ceiling. With his fastball and secondary offerings he would have what it takes to be a late inning reliever.
Corey Black, RHSP – 22 Years Old
When the Cubs traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees I was completely surprised that we received black as compensation. It was documented that Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman was not in favor of the trade as Black has an electric arm, capable of reaching 100 MPH and easily pitching in the mid to high 90’s in games.
Just like Edwards, some scouts project Corey Black as a future reliever due to his small stature. Similarly to Edwards again he has the stuff to stay in the rotation. His secondary pitches include a wipe-out slider, a curve that is a work in progress, and a Changeup that has some fade that could become a an average offering.
Pierce Johnson, RHSP – 23 Years Old
More polished than most of the other pitchers in the system, Johnson gets high praise for his pitch-ability. His fastballs is low 90’s but he features a hard Curveball that is his out pitch. His Changeup is more advanced than most minor leaguers as he’s had to use it with lower fast ball velocity.Projecting as a middle of the rotation option don’t be surprised to see him make it to the big leagues in 2015 or 16.
Christian Villanueva, 3B – 23 Years Old
Villanueva was sent to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade of 2012. At the time he was the number 2 3B prospect in their system behind Mike Olt. Somehow we ended up with both of them.
In another farm system Villanueva would have a better shot at getting to the big leagues. He is an above average defender at the hot corner and will hit for some decent power. Making it to AAA at 23 years old, he has hit some roadblocks with his progression. His batting average and slugging have dropped dramatically. I would look for him to rebound next season as most players struggle adjusting to a new level of competition.
Having hit as many as 41 doubles in AA before it’s easy to understand why Villanueva could be a valuable trade chip down the road. He’s already blocked by Olt and Bryant and the emergence of another 3B later down this list, it makes sense for him to be shipped off.
High A – Advanced Daytona Cubs
Juan Paniagua, RHSP – 24 Years Old
Paniagua has been an enigma. Coming out of the Dominican Republic he has actually signed 3 major league contracts. The first two times questions about his age and name were brought up and he wasn’t allowed to get a Visa. Baseball America had him listed as Juan Collado for quite some time as Paniagua had forged documents to enter the United States.
With all of that aside, he is Cubs property now and has a fastball that sits in the mid nineties. Originally considered a dissapointment after a rough 2013 campaign he has gone on to win the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the month for June.
He is posting respectable numbers in A ball as a 24 year old and is either going to progress through the system soon or sit in developmental purgatory. Paniagua has a 4 pitch mix which makes it tempting to keep him as a starter but his shaky track record might necessitate a move to the bullpen where his fastball can play in the high 90’s.
Tyler Skulina, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 4th round of the 2013 draft out of Kent State University the first thing you need to know about Skulina is that he is a large man. Standing 6-6 and weighing in around 240 he is the prototypical power pitcher.
His Fastball isn’t overwhelming as it sits in the low to mid 90’s but he can reach back and hit 95-96 when necessary. He features a change up that is a work in progress but his greatest asset is a Curveball. His Curveball might be major league average already.
Like most Cubs pitching prospects Skulina doesn’t project to become a staff ace. He does project to have the repetoire necessary to stay a starter and could be a number 3 type major leaguer in the not too distant future. He’s in high A ball in his second professional season so it is not unlikely to think he might start next year in AA.
Rob Zastryzny, LHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft Zastryzny is a highly projectable left handed pitcher. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and he has decent secondary offerings. The number one thing I’ve read about him is that people praise his advanced pitch-ability. He can add and subtract velocity beyond his years.
Similarly to Skulina, Zastryzny projects to a middle of the order type. If he can truly harness his command and further develop his secondary offerings his ceiling becomes higher. There’s always going to be a need for left handers who can throw strikes and eat innings. At 22 it’s safe to assume an ETA of no earlier than late 2016.
Gioskar Amaya, 2B – 21 years Old
An international signing out of Venezuela, Gioskar Amaya is another prospect that’s buried by sexier players in the system. Amaya has some decent pop from the 2B position and has plus speed. He’s never going to challenge for a batting title but he very well could develop into a sold regular. He’s capable of playing short in a pinch which adds to his value.I don’t think he’ll ever play for the Cubs but don’t be surprised if he’s packaged in a trade or ends up a serviceable 2B for another team.
Dan Voglebach, 1B/DH – 21 Years Old
Dan Voglebach is going to do one thing and one thing only, hit for power. Coming out of HS his power was lauded as “light tower” and rightfully so. He has power that plays to all fields and has been successful at all levels he’s faced in the minor’s.
That’s the good parts. Now to the downside. Voglebach is one biscuit short of 280 pounds and his fielding tool is rate at 20 which is so low that it basically confines him to a defensive liability at 1st base or a DH.
Luckily for him and for the Cubs he has take care of his weight better since becoming a pro and there are all sorts of American League teams looking for bodies that can hit for power for the left side. Considering the fact that Anthony Rizzo is planted at 1st base for the foreseeable future I would expect to see Voglebach traded at one time or another.
Jacob Hanneman, CF – 23 Years Old
Hanneman is an interesting case. He took two years off from baseball to go on a Mormon Mission and then came home and attended Brigham Young University and had enough tools to warrant being selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft.
Hanneman still has a long way to go before we can really get a read on what kind of player he’ll be. He’s in Class A Advanced at 23 and is holding his own. He strikes me as the kind of player who is either going to move quickly through the system or sit in purgatory. He’s never going to hit 30 home runs but he might develope on base skills and gap power. His athleticism and work ethic are his greatest assets. Time will tell what he’s capable of.
Billy McKinney, RF – 19 Years Old
A left handed outfielder with some pop that was sent over in the Smardzija deal, Billy McKinney has been raking since arriving at high class A Daytona. He’s hitting .327 and taking his fair share of walks. His hit tool grades as a 60 which is well above average and he’s only 19. The A’s selected him 24th overall in 2013 and he’s hit wherever he’s been since. Considered the best HS hitter in the 2013 draft I would say that his acquisition has gone under the radar considering we got Addisson Russel but it shouldn’t.
McKinney is a top teir prospect in his own right and a 1st round talent. Behind the big 6 hitters covered before, McKinney is the Cubs best shot at a legitimate star.
A – Full Season – Kane County Cougars
Paul Blackburn, RHSP – 21 Years Old
Taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, Blackburn has made some real strides. He’s another one of the Cubs middle of the rotation type starters. He’s got a fastball in the 92 MPH range with decent sink and is one of the few minor leaguers in our system with a passable Changeup already. He has put up good numbers so far in his minor league career and doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by more polished hitters. If things keep going well he could be in AA by the end of next season.
Dillon Maples, RHSP – 22 Years Old
One thing defines Maples and that is upside. He features a high nineties fastball and an unhittable curve. They type of stuff that if harnessed could make him a top of the rotation starter or late inning relief option. The results however have not translated to games. With Maples on the mound games can quickly descend into chaos. He simply doesn’t throw enough strikes. This would essentially be his Senior Year of college ball so he has a few more years to figure it out and if he does hitters need to watch out.
Jen-Ho Tseng, RHSP – 19 Years Old
Jen-Ho Tseng has shown good promise since signing as an international free agent in 2013 at 18 years old. He has had experience similar to Alber Almora in the sense that from a very young age he faced the best competition available. Tseng pitched dominated in the under 18 world championship and went on to pitch for Taiwan as an 18 year old in the World Baseball classic.
He has a low nineties fastball and a decent curve. He also possesses a good change up that is advanced for his age. Tseng has a penchant for finding the strike zone with all 3 of his pitches and was advanced enough that the Cubs sent him directly to Class A and he has responded well.
Duane Underwood, RHSP – 20 Years Old
Underwood can easily be summed up as toolsy. Drafted out of high school he started his professional career at 17 and is already in his 3rd year in the minors. He has the tools necessary to compete at this level and after really struggling to find control and consistency with his pitches in his first two years is starting to turn the corner a bit. His production in games has gone up to a respectable level and his secondary offerings have made progress but he is a long way from being a Major League pitcher. If he can build off of his 2014 campaign he very well could reach AA in 2015 which is a big step in any HS draftees career.
Victor Caratini – C/3B – 20 Years Old
In shipping off James Russel and Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves the Cubs very well could have made their last deadline deal as sellers. In return the Cubs received the Braves 2013 second round pick, switch hitting Catcher, Victor Caratini. The Cubs system was severely lacking in catching depth and Caratini provides just that.
He has potential in his own right to hit well beyond league average for the position. It’s debatable how much home run power Caratini will inevitably have but one thing is for certain. He is going to hit. He shows a knack for making solid contact and it is likely that his power will manifest itself in doubles rather than home runs.
Still a long way from the big leagues Caratini is all specualtion and projection. His talent is obvious and he’s handled himself well as one of the younger players in A ball. Given his body type It appears that Caratini has a better chance at remaining behind the plate than Kyle Schwarber which is a major plus for Caratini’s chances at reaching the big leagues.
He’s athletic enough to play in the field and his backup position is 3rd base. WIth the current logjam of 3B prospects it’s in Caratini’s best interest to work on his catching game.
Jeimer Candelario , 3B – 20 Years Old
A switch hitting 3rd basemen, Candelario has thrust himself up prospect lists by crushing low A pitching at 19 years old. When getting promoted to high class A in 2014 Candelario struggled but was able to rebound and currently has 25 doubles and 10 home runs. Some scouts think he has the skills to eventually become a .280 hitter in the big leagues with 20 or more home runs.
One thing he has going for him is a good approach at the plate. Most young hitters get anxious in the box and tend to want to kill every pitch they see. Candelario is a bit more polished than your average 20 year old, and if he can keep that skill-set trending in the right direction it will improve his maneuverability within the system immensely. The Cubs are an organization that values patience and situational hitting.
Mark Zagunis, C/LF -21 Years Old
Zagunis was the Cubs 3rd round pick in 2014 and started playing in short season Boise right after he signed. I included him here in the list because he’s the only prospect on the short season roster that I wanted to cover. So far Zagunis has played up in A ball. He came out of Virgina Tech a little more polished than your average HS player and it has shows as he’s taken 29 walks vs 31 K’s. That’s a promising statistic for a young player.
Zagunis is highly athletic for a catcher and has surprising speed wich allows him to easily transfer to LF if necessary. The Cubs would like him to stick at catcher and it appears that he has the tools he would need to stick. It’s going to take some work and require innings but Zagunis projects to be a league average defender. Perhaps better than that. Next season will be the big test for him as he enters his first full season of pro ball.
Rookie Ball – Dominican Summer League Cubs
I don’t really know too much about the Dominican Summer League’s roster. It appears that international signings play baseball outside the US until they turn 18. Nobody on the team has much information available about them but it shows that the Cubs take it seriously as the team has a record of 38 and 22. The home of the Cubs Dominican Baseball Academy, this is where the stars of tomorrow get their shot. For every flop that might come through the doors there is always the potential for a Vladimir Guerrero to emerge.
Rookie Ball- Arizona League Cubs
Jake Stinnett, RHSP – 22 Years Old
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft as a college Senior, Jake Stinnett is a projectable college pitcher that the Cubs love. He’s a fastball – slider guy that has a change up that needs to be worked on. Stinnett hasn’t been pitching for that many years and will require quite a few innings in the minors to develop. He has good potential and a decent floor which projects him to either be a middle of the rotation type or a high leverage releiver.
Gleyber Torress, SS – 17 years old
Coming into the International Signing Period in 2013 Torres was ranked as the number 3 prospect and the best Shortstop available. toolsy and coach-able. The Cubs blew past their financial allotments to grab Torres and number one ranked player available in outfielder Eloy Jimenez. It was a shocking move and a strange strategy that saw the Cubs give up their applicable money in the 2014 signing period to grab high-upside talent in a class of players the organization saw as deeper than most signing periods. The strategy appears to have payed off.
His best tool is his hitting ability and he doesn’t project to have much home run power. Given his baseball IQ and the fact he’ll be professionally coached from the age of 16 I would wager that Torres has a good shot at becoming a valuable contributor, especially if he can become an above average defender at short.
It will be a long time before we know what happens with Torres but I do have a point to bring up. Remember the David Price Trade? The Rays received 19 year old SS Wily Adames in a package to bring him to Detroit. Torres has the potential to become that kind of prospect.
Eloy Jimenez, RF – 17 Years Old
Insert everything I said about Torres and it goes to cover Jimenez as well. The key difference between the two players is power potential. Some scouts say that Jimenez reminds them of a young Yasiel Puig. Jimenez profiles as a prototypical RF with plus-plus power and a plus arm.
Phase 3 of the rebuild: Reaping the rewards of scouting and development. The silver lining of 4 straight losing seasons.
The only reason you don’t hear people talking about the extreme depth of the hitting prospects in the Cubs farm system is because there are so many hot-ticket prospects banging down the doors to Clark and Addison. As you work your way down through the system it is easy to see that most of the projectable pitching prospects are in the low minors.
You don’t hear about them often and that is why. They’re years away, if they’re ever coming. Before I get into the depth of the system I need to talk about the high impact talent that is making it’s way through to the higher levels of the system. The main thing you’re going to notice with these top prospects is that they all have + power potential or make up. The game as we see it today is starved of power and it is no coincidence that the Cubs have stocked up on it.
The big 6 – formerly the big 8, given the call ups of Alcantara and Baez.
Some people say that this group of guys might be the best collection of young hitters ever assembled in the minor leagues. Consensus says that the Cubs farm system as a whole is number 1 in the industry. Even If only 1 or 2 of these guys pan out, the Cubs of the future will be putting a hurting to the NL’s pitchers.
High Impact Prospects Banging Down the Door to Wrigley Field
Kris Bryant, 3B/R-LF – 22 Years Old – AAA, ETA 2015
When the 2013 draft was approaching, everyone and their mother thought the Cubs were going to take a pitcher with their first pick. It just made sense. To the outside observer at least. The Cubs front office has a recent pattern that suggests they like to spend their first round pick on the most polished hitter available, sign him to a below or average slot bonus, then throw their money around at high-upside HS arms and projectable college starters with above slot money.
When the number 2 pick came around and I heard the name Kris Bryant announced, I was a little bit shocked. That shock quickly went away when I considered the broader view of what had happened. Kris Bryant very well could be a generational talent and some have said he’s the best power bat to leave college, ever. Most scouts see Bryant’s floor as a Russel Branyan or Mark Reynold type due to his penchant for the strike out. If he can put it together at the MLB level there is a chance that we could be seeing A-Rod type production.
In his 2013 Junior Season at The University of San Diego all Bryant did was crush 31 homers in 62 games with a .329/.493/.820 slash line. It was one of the best seasons for an NCAA hitter in a long time. In doing so Bryant went on to win the Golden Spikes Award, being recognized as the best college player in the nation.
Building on that success Bryant signed early and was able to play across three levels of the minor leagues, culminating in an Arizona Fall League MVP performance. Bryant led the talent rich league in home runs, runs, slugging, and extra-base hits, putting the cap on a 2013 season for the ages.
Continuing his success into 2014 has seen Bryant reach the highest level of the minor league’s in just his second pro season. He is currently hitting .338 with an OBP above .450 and a slugging nearing .700 in 118 games. Bryant has 38 home runs and p8 RBI’s with a full month of the season to go. If we don’t see Bryant at Wrigley this September, expect him to win a starting job out of camp next year.
Jorge Soler, RF – 22 Years Old – AAA, ETA September
In 2012 Jorge Soler joined his fellow countrymen Yoenis Cepspedes and Yasiel Puig in signing a lucrative, long term, major league contract. While Puig and Cespedes have already made it to the show with their dazzling tools and fun to watch all out style, Jorge Soler is still working on his game in the high minors.
Some scouts have said that Soler’s potential ceiling is higher than that of either Puig or Cespedes. One scout has even gone as far as to label his power tool an 80, which is the highest grade you can get. To put that into perspective Kris Bryant’s power tool is rated 75 and Javier Baez is 70.
Soler is still in the minor leagues for a multitude of reasons. Reason 1 being his youth. Soler is only 22 years old. Most 22 year olds are walking out of college and looking out at the world, Jorge Soler is looking at Wrigley field with a 9 year, 30 million dollar contract already signed. Another reason Soler is still in the minor leagues is injuries. Soler has missed decent time with a myriad of different nagging injuries. It’s a product of his all out style of play.
The final reason Soler is still in the minor leagues are his well documented struggles adjusting to American baseball life. They play the game differently in Cuba and most of Central America for that matter. Players run the bases recklessly and taunt one another. That’s fine and well but here in the United States that type of behavior is frowned upon. In probably Soler’s lowest moment he was involved in a minor league brawl that saw him approaching the opposing dugout wielding a baseball bat. That landed him a hell of a lecture and a nice suspension.
It appears that in 2014 things are starting to come together for Jorge though. He recently got promoted to AAA and went on to win the Cubs minor league player of the month award after tearing the cover off the ball. Considering the fact that Soler is already on the 40 man roster it is very likely that he gets a cup of coffee with the big team this September and he very well could win the starting RF job out of camp next season. Cuba Libre!!
Addison Russel, SS – 20 Years Old – AA – ETA 2015
After being selected 11th overall by the Oakland Athletics out of Pace HS in Pace, FL, Addison Russel has shot his way through the minor leagues. Constantly one of the youngest players in his league, Addison has had little issue adjusting to tougher competition making it all the way to AA in just his second professional season. Unlike most HS shortstops it doesn’t appear that Addison will outgrow the position. He’s got smooth hands and plenty fine range to remain at the position long term.
Addison Russel was already ranked as the #6 prospect in all of baseball before headlining the package the Cubs received this summer in the Jeff Smardzija deal. I would wager to say that he might be the best all around SS prospect in the league considering he grades above average in all facets of the game, including fielding. Russel is a natural fit for the Cubs and it’s always great to see deal get worked out with Billy Beane and Theo Epstein involved. It is not lost on me that his name is Addison either. Addison could very well be the reason Starlin Castro starts his new job in LF. There are some folks who think the Russel acquisition is foreshadowing of a Starlin Castro trade. If Russel can claim the job, Castro could be included in a dynamic package of players that could land a mega ace or Giancarlo Stanton type hitter.
One things is for certain with Addison. He is the kind of prospect that gets moved in Blockbusters. A nice piece to add into the equation and hopefully the last prospect the Cubs get in return for a veteran during this stage of the rebuilding process.
Albert Almora, CF – 20 Years Old – AA – ETA 2016
When Albert Almora was still on the board when the Number 6 overall pick came up the Chicago Cubs were salivating as they selected the young outfielder out of Mater Academy Charter School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. Albert Almora might be my favorite prospect in the whole system for a multitude of reasons. He’s a guy that works hard at his craft and has the make-up and instincts that you can’t just teach. Already a Veteran of 6 under-18 national teams, Almora was a more polished hitter than most HS players. When he was 17 he led team USA to a 9-0 record and was named USA baseball’s athlete of the year and went on to win the tournament MVP award.
His fielding tool in CF is already 75 and he projects to be a .300 hitter with league average pop. Seemingly more mature than most of his peers, Albert knows what it takes to win and that attitude allows his skills to play up. This is strictly my opinion but Almora to me is the most surefire lock in the entire system. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the big leagues in 2016 and he very well could challenge for a gold glove in his first season.
Kyle Schwarber, C/LF – – 21 Years Old – A+ – ETA 2016
Similarly to the Kris Bryant situation some of the less baseball savvy Cubs fans were surprised by the Cubs taking Schwarber with the 4th overall pick in the 2014 first year player draft.
The pick was a classic case of selecting the most polished power hitter in the draft and signing him quickly to allow him an opportunity to start his pro career early. It also allowed us to sign him for a below slot deal so the Cubs could have flexibility to spend money on high ceiling pitchers that were viewed to be hard to sign.
Schwarber is a Catcher as of now but there are a few questions about his potential to stay there in the major leagues. Schwarber has already played some LF in both College and the Minors and seems to be handling himself well enough to stick if catching becomes out of the question.
I for one hope he can stay at catcher because it will allow his already well above average bat to make a bigger impact at a historically offensively starved position.
Schwarber is a big guy and brings real power from the left side of the plate that has already shown up in games. Since he signed so early Schwarber has already gotten 52 games under his belt across 3 minor league levels so far this season. He has raked everywhere he has gone, already hitting 11 home runs and putting up a slash line of .335/.441/.584.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Schwarber moved through the system very quickly, even potentially earning himself a call up in 2015 when rosters expand in September. The biggest thing with Schwarber that we should all be looking at is his ability to stay at catcher. If he can do that then his bat doesn’t have to play so big. I’d take a left handed catcher who hit .260 with 15 homeruns – I’d also take a left fielder who could hit .290 with 30 bombs. Time will tell.
The Land of the Lost: Down on their luck guys who were once can’t miss.
Now we’ve reached the sad section of the article. This is living proof that not all prospects pan out. For every Manny Machado that makes it to the league there is a Felix Pie that exists as a counter balance. The reason I decided to break this part into its own section is because you can not highlight the unpredictability of baseball prospects enough. You never really know what’s going to happen. You can set expectations and most of us do, but it can be a deflating experience to watch a young player flounder.
Mike Olt, 3B – 25 Years Old – AAA
Before the Summer of 2013 Mike Olt was considered one of the better power hitters in the minor leagues. He was the Texas Ranger’s best power hitting prospect and largely untouchable in any trades. Enter in an eye issue.
Mike Olt was having trouble with his vision and he couldn’t figure out why. His production plummeted. His eyes would literally fog up and he could no longer hit the ball the way he could before. Nobody knew what was wrong, including the team, and Olt was seriously down on his luck.
After going to numerous doctors and specialists, Olt was diagnosed with a tear duct issue that would cause his eyes to dry out and impair his vision. The time it took to fix the issue allowed Olt to have a dismal 2013 campaign and before long he was shipped to the Chicago Cubs in the Matt Garza trade that also brought C.J Edwards and friends to the North Side.
As a Cubs fan I was excited that Olt was coming over. We had a glaring 3B hole that he would be able to fill. I had sincere hopes that Olt would break camp with the big league team and go on to a productive career. He did end up winning the job in 2014 and saw a lengthy cup of coffee in the majors this season.
While the power played and he led all NL rookies in home runs, Olt was unable to hit his weight, producing a slash line of .139/.222/.353 in 212 plate appearances. He also amassed a whopping 84 strikeouts and saw his playing time diminish to pinch hitting duties before being DFA’d and heading back down to AAA.
The silver lining in this situation is the fact that this kind of thing happens to a lot of guys. Since he’s been in AAA he is hitting .338 and slugging well over .600 in 19 games. Here is to hoping Olt can figure things out and head into 2015 with restored confidence and win the 3B job out of camp. He’s a great guy and it would be a nice story to see him succeed.
Brett Jackson, CF – 26 Years Old – AAA
What is there to say about Brett Jackson that hasn’t already been said. He had it all. I was really excited for his debut. He even graduated from a great college in UC Berkley. He could run, he could hit for power, field, throw, and he could steal. The only thing he couldn’t do was make contact with a baseball.
I hold out hope that Jackson can get back on track after his dismal ML showing that he followed up with an injury plagued season for AAA Iowa. There’s a chance that he could make it back to the majors one day, but I doubt it will be with the Cubs. Hopefully he can rebound enough to be considered trade able, if for nothing more than his sake.
Josh Vitters, 3B/LF – 24 Years Old – AAA
Just like his counterpart Brett Jackson, Vitters had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2013 and it simply did not turn out well at all. Vitters has followed that up with an injury plagued season in AAA that saw him change positions to LF to make room for Kris Bryant.
Another guy with rebound potential but his ML shot is no longer with the Cubs. An AL team might be willing to take him on as part of a package as the DH spot creates need for more hitters.
Arodys Vizcaino, RHCP
Back in 2012 when the Cubs traded Paul Maholm to the Braves and received Vizcaino as compensation you knew that this rebuild was going to be a process. At the time of the trade Vicaino had recently gone under Tommy John surgery after havig nearly reahed the major leagues at the age of 20.
As of right now Vizcaino has recovered and is performing well in AAA with an expected arrival to Wrigley as early as this September. Currently the # 2 ranked pitching prospect in the organization many scouts feel that Vizcaino has the stuff and make up to be a closer in the Majors. After 3 long seasons we will finally get a chance to see what he can do. I can always commiserate with a prospect who has to miss significant time. It’s a hard game to play and setbacks like that are demoralizing. Vizcaino has fought his way back though and we should all be looking forward to cheering him on.
Phase 2 of the Rebuild: Acting like the large market team that they are.
The next cog in the rebuilt machine is going to be acquiring assets without giving up talent. It will still be a few years before we know how all these prospects are going to pan out, but the Cubs have enough talent at or near the big league level to warrant signing some free agents. Don’t expect the Cubs to go out and pull a Dodgers or Yankees (yet) but don’t be surprised to see them kick the wheels on pitching this off season.
Last year the Cubs nearly signed Masahiro Tanaka, not because they were itching to blow money or thought he was the one piece they needed. They tried to sign him because of his youth. Tanaka was 25 at the time and just entering his prime. We’ve all seen what he can do on the mound since signing with the Yankees.
Now that we’re a year further into the process it’s realistic to expect the team to add talent. Whether it’s a blockbuster signing for 100 million dollars or it is a flyer on a guy coming off a bad year. There will be signings in the pitching department. Here are some of the Pitchers I think the Cubs will show interest in during the upcoming 2015 off season.
John Lester, 31 Years Old
This deal actually makes a lot of sense. Lester was drafted by the Epstein machine and a lot of poeple think Wrigley is his inevitable destination. I don’t know what kind of a discount rapport could get the Cubs front office but if they don’t I’d imagine Lester getting 5 years minimum on the open market at about 20 million AAV
Max Scherzer, 30 Years Old
This deal is a little bit more of a long shot than Lester. Scherzer already turned down an extension with Detroit that was set for 6 years and 144 million. That basically screams, I’m going to take the highest dollar possible. Considering that Scherzer is on the wrong side of 30 and unwilling to offer a home team discount don’t expect to see him in blue pinstripes next season. The Cubs will likely kick the tires but inevitably be outbid by Boston or NY.
James Shields, 33 Years Old
This deal actually makes sense if Shields is willing to take a 3-4 year deal at about 16 million a year. He would be a great addition to a young staff. If Lester does sign with the Cubs that would likely entice Shields a bit more. I don’t know what the market for Shields is going to be considering he’s 33 but If the Cubs can get him on a 4 year deal or less I would see it as a win right out of the gate. Even more so if they get both Shields and Lester. That’s a long shot though.
Josh Johnson 31, Years Old
Johnson Has a 4 million dollar team option and it’s a crap shoot if it will get picked up. Any team that signs Johnson is going to give him a one year deal. He could be the kind of high upside player the Cubs covet.
The Rest of the pack
The next few guys on the list land somewhere between Shields and Johnson. If the market plays out and any number of the below stated guys are willing to sign shorter term deals or the Cubs fail to make a big splash and need depth, expect the wheels to be kicked on all of them.
1) Fransico Liriano, 31 Years Old
2) Edinson Volquez, 30 Years Old
3) Justin Masterson, 30 Years Old
4) Brandon Mccarthy, 31 Years Old
5) Ervin Santana, 32 Years Old
6) Jake Peavy 34, Years Old
The Cubs front office is ready to make a big splash to send a message to the fan base that the future is here. They are not the type to make a deal strictly for the sake of making a deal though. If the stars align, any number of these players could end up in Chicago. Not to mention bullpen help. It’s the Cubs new MO to make the best available deal. If that means it makes financial sense or it brings supreme talent makes no difference. Temperance is a hell of a drug.