Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 8

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.”

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 7

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.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 6

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.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 5

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.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 4

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.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 3A & 3B

Part 2A – Flexibility: Sweet freedom how I cherish thee

With the first stage of the rebuild complete, the Cubs have accomplished quite a few things. The first thing being utter roster and financial flexibility. Going into next season the Chicago Cubs projected salary commitments are only $31,159,524. That figure would put them in the bottom 5 payrolls in the league. Obviously that figure is so low because a lot of contracts are coming up. The Cubs will have to add to the roster, even if it is only middle of the pack talent or minor leaguers. I don’t think that’s what they will do though. They already have a roster full of young talented guys and now they have about 100 million in AAV burning a hole in their pocket. Maybe more.

With the new Wrigley Renovation project being approved and a lucrative TV deal in the works which could blossom into a Cubs centric network ala the Yankees, a payroll well beyond 100 million isn’t out of the question. The Cubs are the 3rd largest market in the league and as early as 2016 I wouldn’t be surprised to see them field a 150 M budget for the major league roster going forward. In this article we will see why 150 M might become the norm. They’ll obviously be shopping in the off season, but they don’t have to blow their wad all in one shot. The could if they wanted to though. All thanks to the last 3 years.

A model for what you do not want would be the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia is trapped in purgatory with players that are aging and owed tons of money. Nobody wants to trade for Ryan Howard when his production has dropped to replacement level and he’s owed 60 million dollars. Roster flexibility can’t be stressed enough. Look at the Red Sox for an example. They go from worst to first because they can turn things over relatively easy. The Cubs aren’t shooting for 1 World Series ring. They want a consistent contender. Boston has 3.

There is a wave of supremely talented, team controlled guys coming fast. They can be supplemented with veterans as needed. We’re probably another full year or two away from knowing what’s going to happen with the prospects, and once we do I would expect the Cubs to lock up the talent they can with team friendly deals. Once they’ve evaluated and attempted to lock up in house talent, I would expect them to look towards filling roster holes with open-market pitching.

Part 2B – What’s on the field?

The first phase of the rebuild delivered more than just flexibility. The 2014 Chicago Cubs already have 2 All-Stars under the age of 25 in the everyday lineup in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Both guys rebounded from dissapointing 2013 campaigns to reassert themselves as premier young players at their positions. If you’ve been watching recently you know that two of their top prospects have also been called up and inserted into a starting role. Javier Baez and Arsimendy Alcantara have 50 games to begin adjusting to the Major Leagues before starting next season in the majors from day 1.

It’s going to be a fun August to watch. I haven’t missed a single at bat in Baez’s career and hope to carry that distinction as long as I can. When the rosters expand In September, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another top rookie make his debut in Jorge Soler. He signed a major league contract out of Cuba and is already on the 40 man roster anyways. The Cubs do themselves no harm by calling him up and giving him a shot.

Kris Bryant is destroying AAA pitching this season but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Chicago this September for one simple reason. Luis Valbuena. There’s no reason to push Bryant. Let him have his mammoth season in the minors and show up to camp next year with some swagger. Bryant’s agent is Scott Boras. Unlike Rizzo and Castro it is highly unlikely that Bryant will be willing to sign a team friendly extension before hitting the Free Agent Market. Compounding the issue even further is his high draft slot. He’s already a millionaire and the idea of getting some money in his pocket sooner rather that later isn’t as appetizing. It has been a long time since I’ve been excited to watch Cubs baseball. Here is a basic breakdown of the team currently on the field, including their contract status.

Anthony Rizzo, 25 years old – Signed through 2021 – 5.8 Million AAV

After a down year in 2013, Rizzo has rebounded big time. He has quickly become a consistent power threat in the heart of the order. He’s the kind of player teams salivate over. He has the whole package from the left side and seems to have gotten over a hump that all left handed power hitters face in the majors: the inability to consistently hit left handed pitching. He spent the 2013 off season working out with Cincinnati Reds’ slugger Joey Votto and received high praise from him.

All of that hard work seems to have payed off. Rizzo is actually hitting lefties better than righties. He has become the kind of player who doesn’t give away at bats, has a good two strike approach, and is willing to take a walk when other teams are pitching around him. Rizzo is no longer a prospect in any way. I sincerely expect him to be in All-Star contention each and every year and a home run or OPS title isn’t out of the question. As it stands right now Rizzo is second in the National League in home runs with an OBP nearing .400.

Starlin Castro, 24 years old – Signed through 2020 – 8.5 Million AAV

It’s strange to reminisce on the fact that before the 2014 season, 24 year old Starlin Castro had already played 3 and half seasons in the big leagues. He burst onto the scene as a 20 year old coming straight from AA and hit .300 on the dot in 125 games. The following season, his first full year in the league he led the league in hits as everyone on the North Side sang songs about the future.

Similarly to Rizzo, Starlin Castro had a downturn year in 2013. The Cubs front office has been preaching money ball philosophy in the sense that they want their players to work pitchers and take walks. Castro did everything he could to make the adjustments but in doing so lost the aggressiveness that got him the Show in the first place. Whatever happened in the off season seemed to straighten him out. I don’t know if it was Dale Sveum getting fired or his off season work outs, but he came to camp in 2014 with a chip on his shoulder and it has shown.

Castro is never going to win a gold glove, or hit 30 homers, or steal 30 bags for that matter. What he will do is give you above average production from a premium position. It’s likely that Castro will get better with age when it comes to peripheral skills such as taking walks and avoiding miscues in the field. If Starlin can in the very least keep his average in the .280 range it is safe to assume we’ll be seeing him play in a few more All-Star games before it’s all said and done.

Javier Baez, 21 years old – FA 2021 – Arbitration 2018

Arsimendy Alcantara might have come out of relative obscurity and beat Javier Baez to the big leagues, but Javy Baez is the droid that we were looking for. He has only been in the Big League’s for a week but a few things are very apparent. This dude swings like an absolute monster. The bat speed is definitely all world. I’d wager to say it is top 2% in the majors right now. While he is nowhere near as polished as Manny Ramirez or Garry Sheffield, it is plain for all to see why he has gotten those comparisons in his young career. He looks like a much sexier version of Juan Uribe and is doing it at 21.

The timing for Baez’ call up couldn’t be better when you consider all the variables involved. Historically he has struggled when adjusting to a new level of competition. Highlighted this season as he hit somewhere near .140 in April in AAA. Not only does it make sense to give him time to adjust so he can head into Spring Training next season with a leg up on the other rookies in camp, but it also makes sense to move him out of AAA so newly acquired prospect Addison Russel can take over the position. If the Cubs had left Baez in the minors this year and then given him the starting job next season there would be a chance that he would get sent back down if he struggled, creating a log jam in the high minors and stunting the development of more than one player.

The biggest thing I try to remember about Javy Baez include the fact that swinging as hard as he does is what got him to the big leagues. It can be frustrating at times when a player strikes out a third of their plate appearances but I honestly think that over time in working with the hitting coach, Javy can decide if he wants to shorten up with two strikes. We saw Anthony Rizzo do it and it helped him immensely. Only time will tell. At this level you have to play YOUR game to succeed and I’m happy to see Baez play “see the ball hit the ball” for a while because when he does hit the ball it makes a sound leaving the bat that you only get to hear once in a generation.

The second biggest things I try to remember about Javy is to not fall into the Hype. The ceiling for Baez is so high that you could build another Trump Tower in the bleachers at Wrigley and still not reach it. Maybe he is the next Garry Sheffield and he hits 40 bombs. Maybe he isn’t. Think about Bryce Harper for example. That guy broke into the big leagues at 19 and hit.270 with 20 homers yet everyone still think he’s underachieving. Hype is a dangerous game. Even if Javy ends up hitting .260 with 20 homers or worse, we shouldn’t be upset. He is a second baseman. League average slugging percentage for 2nd basemen in 2013 was somewhere near .350. It’s clear that he is going to exceed that. That’s how you build a winning roster. You get above average production from premium positions. Baez will in the least provide that.

Arsimendy Alcantara, 22 Years old – FA 2021, Arbitration 2018

There is a reason that Alcantara made it to the big leagues before any of the “original big four” prospects in the Cubs system. Versatility. Alcantara is a switch hitter with an ability to play 2nd base, SS, and CF. His athleticism allows him to play each of those positions at an average to above average level. If absolutely necessary he could play anywhere else on the diamond as well, although, the only reason that would happen is extra innings or injury.

Since his debut it has been pretty apparent that he is more polished than most of the prospects in the system. He doesn’t look over matched and has surprising pop from the left side. I don’t imagine him being a 30 homer player or anything of the like but his extra-base hit power is already appearing in games. With the bat in his hand a good idealization would be Jimmy Rollins. He might hit 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 10 home runs one day. He might not.

The versatility in the field is what really makes him valuable. We can all sit and hope that his bat develops to that of a Ben Zobrist or Jimmy Rollins, but even if it doesn’t, he still has immense value. The key with Alcantara is going to be his ability to get on base and his isolated power. If he can perform above league average in Slugging or OBP his versatility and athleticism will make him one hell of an asset as an already fun player to watch. Players like Alcantara are a testament to the scouting and player development departments of the current management. He is a prime example of quality in quantity.

Junior Lake, 24 Years Old – FA 2020, Arbitration 2017

It can be easy to forget that Junior Lake was a Shortstop in the minor leagues. Some people even said that his arm in the infield reminded them of Shawon Dunston. Given the Cubs glutton of shortstop talent, Lake has made the transition to the outfield with varying degrees of success. Athletic enough to play Center Field and fast enough to swipe a base or two it is going to be the hit tool that dictates if Lake is a career pinch hitter or a serviceable right handed bat with above average pop.

Watching Lake play you can tell right away that he has the tools to play the game. He’s got a ball players build. So far things haven’t gone as he would have liked as he’s in the middle of a down trodden 2014 season that has seen his playing time decreased. As it stands right now I can hear the sounds of ravenous Cubs fans calling for his demotion back to AAA.

Lake seems to be right on the cusp. A demotion to Iowa would probably do him some good and I would imagine it coming sooner rather than later. If he can go back down to Iowa and work on his swing, building up some confidence, there is a chance he could break with the team in 2015. A thing to consider with lake is the potential for him being a trade chip as a change of scenery type player. You’re not going to trade for a David Price type pitcher with Lake as the key piece, but as a complimentary piece in a deal he could be intriguing. Given the next wave of talented prospects on their way to Wrigley, I wouldn’t expect Lake to be around much longer. If Lake does stay with the team it will be in a backup role as playing time will be given to younger talent even though Lake is just 24.

Chris Coghlan, 29 Years Old -FA 2016, Arbitration 2015,

Chris Coghlan is another prime example of the Cubs philosophy. A former rookie of the year in 2009, Coghlan signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training before the 2014 season. Coghlan’s career had taken a down turn due to injuries and inconsistency which ultimately led to him being DFA’d by the Miami Marlins. Taking the opportunity to buy low on a high upside player fits neatly into the plans the Cubs organization has taken for the last few years and Coghlan is a prime example of a player who has seized the opportunity and reasserted himself as an everyday outfielder in the Major Leagues.

For most of the season Coghlan has provided well above average production and well needed guidance to a predominantly inexperienced team. Many Cubs fans including myself had a vision of Coghlan be shipped off at the deadline but his production has warranted the Cubs front office to reconsider that option as he very well may have played his way into the Cubs future plans.
I don’t think Coghlan will be around 5 or even 3 years from now, but I’d certainly expect him to hang onto a starting role in the outfield until a younger alternative emerges and proves himself ready for the role. If and when the Cubs do decide to part ways with Coghlan, do not expect the front office to simply allow him to walk away as a free agent. I don’t believe Coghlan would be a type a Free agent, therefore the Cubs would not receive draft compensation after tendering him a qualifying offer. In my opinion, Coghlan will inevitably be packaged in a trade to fill a more glaring need as the revolving door of outfield talent reaches the big leagues in 2015 and 16.

Luis Valbeuna 28 Years Old – FA 2017, Arbitration 2015

For whatever reason I didn’t really like Valbuena when he was originally called up. I had hopes that Mike Olt would seize the opportunity and fill the 3rd base vacancy this season. As we all know Mike Olt’s struggles were large and his playing time diminished into nothingness before he was eventually sent back down to AAA to work on some things.

In the process of writing this article I learned rather quickly that Valbuena has actually provided decent production. He’s showing the type of on base skills that the cubs covet and is providing league average power from the left handed batters box. Valbuena likely falls into the Junior Lake scenario where he will inevitably be packaged in a deal for pitching help, when some of the higher impact prospects make their way onto the diamond in 2015 and beyond.

Here is to hoping that Luis can continue progressing. There is a shortage of good 3rd basemen in the league right now and Valbuena could warrant serious consideration from a contending team at the deadline looking to upgrade for a pennant race.

Wellington Castillo, 27 Years Old – FA 2018, Arbitration 2015

For whatever reason the Cubs haven’t had much luck with catching prospects in recent years. See Geovany Soto. Castillo is certainly a major league grade catcher but has failed to build on his 2013 success, taking a slight step back in his production. Over the last 12 months the Cubs have added some Catching Depth to their system in the form of Victor Caratini and 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber.

Wellington Castillo may very well maintain the starting job for a few more seasons and given his skill set I don’t see him as a highly valuable trade chip. He generally performs around league average across the board and none of his peripheral fielding skills or arm strength sets him apart either. I imagine Castillo staying with the Cubs in a backup role once an upgrade becomes available through trade, free agency, or the farm system.

It is somewhat likely as history has shown, that Castillo’s offensive production will go up as he adjusts to the daily grind and duties of managing a MLB pitching staff. If he can get his average and OBP up to respectable levels, he will become a serious asset. If he can accomplish this remains to be seen.

Jake Arrieta, 28 Years Old – FA 2018, Arbitration 2015

I’ve probably talked about the current Cubs front office’s love for taking a flyer on high upside talent that hasn’t been able to put it all together. Jake Arrieta is the best example of that philosophy panning out. Before arriving to Chicago, Arrieta bounced around between AAA and the Orioles major league team. The results were not good. His career ERA is still 4.74 and that includes his stellar 2014 campaign where his basic run prevention is well above league average at 2.80.

Arrieta has always been talented. It was his lack of command that was his undoing. Somehow or another, someone on the Cubs coaching staff must have found a mechanical flaw and ever since Arrieta has been the ace the Cubs so desperately need.

Arrieta has 3 more full seasons of team control and in that process we can all hope that he maintains his recent success. Given the stage of the rebuild that we’re in I would like to think that the Cubs will decide by the end of next season if he fits into their long term plans. He’s a prime example of a guy who would likely be willing to entertain a team friendly extension due to his career revival.

If the Cubs do end up using him as a trade chip I would imagine him moving at the deadline in 2017. Teams pay more for players when they’re in pennant races and Jed Hoyer knows that trading a pitcher that has a full season of team control beyond the deadline year will draw you a strong package. Either way that situation shakes out it is safe to call the Scott Feldman signing and subsequent trade a rousing success.

Jacob Turner, 23 Years Old – AV 1.3 Million – FA 2016

Jacob Turner is essentially a younger version of Arrieta. If only in the idea that he is a player the Cubs are going to take a flyer on. Once a highly touted prospect who made it to the big leagues in his age 20 season, Turner has lost his grip on pitching. Players go through this for many reasons. All that is important about Turner is the fact that he has the stuff to be a #2 starter in the majors.

If the Cubs coaching staff can help Turner right the ship it is likely that he will still be dealt. His Agent is Scott Boras. There is a chance that the Cubs would be willing to pay him open-market money since he is so young, but that is a long way off. Turner needs to rebound and that is not a guarantee. A lot of pitchers simply lose their command and never pitch another productive inning again.

One thing we do know is that he’s under team control for 2 more years at a negligible cost. Hopefully he get his career back on track and can be one of the anchors of our rotation next season and going forward from there. If he does turn it around and pitch to a 3.50 ERA, his trade value will be immense and that option would be explored. If he doesn’t figure things out he’s just another guy who rode off into the sunset. He’s already a millionaire from playing the game he loves.

Kyle Hendricks, 24 Years old – FA 2020, Arbitration 2018

Hendricks is another prospect that recently made his debut. I’ve watched Hendricks’ first few major league starts and it is painfully obvious that he’s a success story for the hard workers of the world. His fastball isn’t over powering and his secondary offerings aren’t incredible. What he has is pitch-ability and command. He can add and subtract to his pitches situation-ally and appears to be the kind of crafty pitcher that has a long career in the Majors. I’m not saying that he’s the answer for the Cubs. Who knows how things will shake out. I’m saying that Hendricks is a hard worker who put the time in. He’s 24 and been in the minors for 4 years, making steady progress at each level without being able to rely on superior stuff. He’s a pitcher. The guy graduated from Dartmouth and for that alone we should all cheer him on.

The Bullpen.

All you need to know about the Cubs current bullpen is that it is stocked with high upside power pitchers. Pedro Strop, Hector Rodon, Neil Ramirez and more. Bullpens are a fickle business in the big leagues and turn around is to be expected. If I were to hypothesize a strategy the Cubs are following it would be to stockpile high velocity youngsters. A good bullpen model would be the Kansas City Royals or St. Louis Cardinals.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Part 2

It is Sunday afternoon and I am about to submit this article, and I still can’t even begin to tell you how fucking happy I am to be a Cubs fan. Torturous seasons be damned.

The Cubs aren’t a contender yet and they might not be next season. What the Cubs are right now is a team building manifesto for small and large market teams alike. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McCleod and company have revamped every aspect of the organization. So much so that It’s hard to fully grasp just how well and completely things have been done. There is a storm a brewing on the North Side and it’s going to be raining baseballs onto Sheffield Avenue.

When the Cubs finally do field a contender it is going to taste sweeter than any other team in the league. Kansas City and Pittsburgh have been waiting for a long time to see the fruits of their rebuild pay off, and it has been galvanizing for the fan base to see their teams playing meaningful games in September. It is Chicago’s time to stand at attention. The media is going to bandwagon harder than the fans.

.Here is a look at the trades and salary dumping that have gotten the Cubs into the position they’re in today.

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Phase 1 of the rebuild: Dumping salary and off loading aging veterans for controllable talent.

Ever since Theo and company took over management of the Chicago Cubs they have been liquidating assets like a recently divorced millionaire. Everything must go. From Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm all the way down to Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza. They have shipped off veterans and taken whatever market value dictated. Can we take a second to realize that they got Corey Black for Alfonso Soriano? That’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade my school lunch for Alfonso Soriano, but somehow the Cubs were able to pull in a mid-grade prospect.

They’ve bought low on players in Free Agency and trusted their coaching and development staff to turn around any issues in their mechanics, and allow them a shot to redeem their value on the field. They’ve kept the younger talent and traded the veterans to contenders mid season. A good deal for both sides. Wrigley is a place where you can revitalize your career. If you’re an older guy, they’ll trade you to a contending team so you don’t have to wallow in another losing season. If you’re younger, you get assimilated into a growing reserve of team controlled talent.

This salary dump of aging veterans has helped the Cubs in two ways. Not only has it created roster flexibility . The only long term contracts are team friendly deals for Castro and Rizzo. It has also allowed down-on-their-luck prospects like Mike Olt and Jacob Turner an opportunity for a change of scenery and major league playing time since all the veterans were moved.

Here is a look at some of the bigger trades the organization has made since Theo Epstein took over. Some of these trades involve inconsequential players that didn’t pan out so I’m only going to talk about the players of importance in the trades. Just a disclaimer that some of these deals won’t be 100% accurate.

Andrew Cashner to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo.

This was the first real move the new regime made, as far as I can remember. This deal actually appears to have benefited both teams as both Rizzo and Cashner have adjusted to the Major League’s and performed at high levels. It’s easy to understand why this deal got done when you realize that it was Jed Hoyer and Jason McCleod who originally drafted Rizzo in SD. The organization has been in love with him all along and had no doubts that he would become a cornerstone in the Cubs lineup for years to come. Keep in mind that Rizzo has already dealt with Leukemia. That links him to a Boston pitcher that we’ll talk about later.

Sean Marshall to the Reds for Dave Sappelt and Travis Wood.

At the time of this deal most Cubs fans complained that the Cubs didn’t get enough in return. At the time you could have made a case for Marshall being the best LH reliever in the league. The fact of the matter is though, the Cubs received a respectable LH starting pitcher in Wood and Marshall only had one more year of team control remaining.

This was a simple deal that stood out because it shows that the Cubs front office would rather trade a player for multiple pieces that let him walk and accept draft compensation as their only repayment.

Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva

This trade looks like a good one for the Cubs. Better than it did in the beginning as both prospects were in A ball at the time of the deal. Villanueva is a decent 3B prospect who has held his own in the minor leagues. He very well could end up in the big leagues one day. He will be covered later in the ‘Minor League Depth’ portion of this article.

The real gem of this deal may very well turn out to be Kyle Hendricks. As we speak Kyle Hendricks has recently made his MLB debut and is performing quite well. He will be covered at length in the ‘Youth Movement on the Field’ portion of the article and one can hope he sticks in the majors. If he does then this trade will be a bonafide fleecing.

Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to the Braves for Arodys Vicaino

This trade happened at the same trade deadline as the Ryan Dempster deal and let me tell you, when these two trades went down it was a sad moment. Not because they were bad trades or I wasn’t going to be able to bear the loss of my beloved pitchers. It was sad due to the fact that you could tell that a winning season was far away.

Arodys Vizcaino is a heck of a prospect and had almost made it to the big leagues before the time of this trade. The kicker on him is the fact that he suffered an injury and underwent Tommy John surgery a few months before the Cubs got him. It signaled to me that this was going to be a long process. 2 and a half years later I am happy to announce that our patience may be rewarded soon as he has made his return and is all the way up in AAA and is ranked as the #2 pitching prospect in system.

Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta

This trade is a win for quite a few reasons. Clevenger was a below average catcher and Feldman was signed to a 1 year deal and performed really well which upped his trade value. In return the Cubs received two high upside arms with shaky command.

In the years since the trade, Pedro Strop has gone on to pitch in the World Baseball Classic and regain some of the swagger scouts had imagined when he signed. Strop features a freaky 2 seam fastball in the high 90’s with great life and a ++ Slider that can be unhittable when controlled. Strop’s issue has always been control. In working with the Cubs staff, Strop has in the least harnessed his stuff to the point that he isn’t a liability on the mound. He is a staple in the current Bullpen that is filled with power arms.

Arrieta is a similar story but his turn around has been ever more complete. Arrieta always had the stuff necessary to be a front of the rotation type starter. Command has always eluded him. The Cubs value sabermetrics and knew that Arrieta’s ERA and (F)ielding (I)ndependant (P)itching had a large gap.

FIP is a stat developed around ten years ago that’s basic principle was formed on the idea that the only 3 things a pitcher can truly control are walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. All other hits have luck involved. What is the exact measurable difference between Omar Vizquel and Hanley Ramirez defensively at Shortstop? I don’t think we’ll ever really know. What we do know is the that it is our responsibility to measure everything we can.

Whatever the Cubs saw, they were right. Arrieta has emerged as a front line starter and should remain in the Cubs rotation for the next 3 years or more.

Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees for Corey Black

The Alfonso Soriano contract was an anchor and the mixture of his on field performance and age made him essentially un-tradeable. He did perform realistically well, it just wasn’t good in comparison to his salary of nearly 20 million per season. He was a consummate professional in his waning time in Chicago and he did a lot to mentor young players, especially Starlin Castro.

When the Cubs finally found a suitor in the NYY’s I was astonished when I learned that they received Corey Black in return. Corey Black wasn’t an all world prospect or anything like that but he is a young kid that can hit 98 MPH with his heater.

In the aftermath of this trade it was eventually leaked that Yankees GM Brian Cashman was not in favor of giving up Black in the deal but was over ruled by ownership. Soriano did hit like a monster for the remainder of the season in NY, bopping something like 17 home runs in the final 2 months of the season. The Yankees still missed the playoffs and Soriano has wandered on down the old dusty trail of retirement. If Black ever pitches a scoreless inning in relief on the North Side this trade becomes a resounding win.

Matt Garza to the Rangers for C.J Edwards, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez.

This trade is reminiscent of the trade that sent Mark Texiera to the Braves for Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Elvis Andrus. An absolute monster of a trade for the Cubs. In the wake of this trade, as with the Soriano for Black deal, the Ranger’s GM has openly admitted that this might be the one he regrets in his career.

Garza didn’t perform that great for the Rangers and walked at the end of the season as a free agent but that isn’t what makes this deal sting for the Rangers. C.J Edwards is absolutely blowing away minor league pitching as high as AA, ranking as the number 1 pitcher in the Cubs system.

Mike Olt has gone on to make his major league debut at 3B. He didn’t perform well but one thing is apparent. The guy has real + power. He was leading NL rookies in HR’s this season before being sent down to AAA because of a .140 batting average. The silver lining on him is he is now hitting over .300 in AAA and could be on his way to making the adjustments he needs to break camp in the big leagues next year.

Both Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez have been in the Cubs pen this year with Ramirez posting a 1.26 ERA in just over 28 Innings Pitched. I can hear Noan Ryan’s hairline getting angry.


That covers all the trades that have been made since Theo Epstein took over in Chicago. The next part of the story is Flexibility and the Youth Movement on the Field.

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