Archive for July, 2013

Reaction to the Matt Garza Trade

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

We’ve waited and waited and waited some more. We even saw notes from Dale Sveum that there was a 100% chance that Matt Garza would make his slated start on Monday against the Diamondbacks. Even Ken Rosenthal speculated that Garza would make the deal. In the end, just a few hours before the start, the Cubs and Rangers confirmed a deal to send Garza to Texas in exchange for five prospects. Let’s talk a little bit about the new names in the system.

Mike Olt - The Rangers looked to make a deal last season for a starting pitcher at the deadline and settled on Zach Greinke. Many people asked at the time about Olt and his availability. The Rangers, in turn, balked at the idea of trading their highly touted 3B prospect. He had a tremendous year in 2012 hitting .288 / .398 / .579 with 28 home runs in just 420 plate appearances. He participated in winter ball and suffered a concussion and then had some vision problems to begin the season this year. He came into the season ranked 22nd in baseball by both Baseball America and MLB.com. Rumor has it that the vision is slowly getting back to normal so we should see his numbers develop. He’s got raw power and a good glove at third base. Keith Law said “if he can hit enough to get to that power, he has 25-30 homer potential.” He’s definitely the potential gem in the deal. Expect him to be assigned to AAA Iowa to continue his development, which could push Josh Vitters to full time DH or outfield. The to watch as you follow his development is his ability to make contact. If he can focus on putting the ball in play and limiting the strikeouts, we should see that power manifest itself and coupled with his good defense, make him a viable call up very soon at third. I was on Twitter a little after the deal and one of the things I saw in the #Cubs feed was people complaining about the fact that Theo and Jed dealt for a player with “vision problems” or complaints that we drafted a third baseman and then traded for one. It’s incredibly important to remember that when you’re building a farm system, you don’t simply put all your eggs in one basket on one player at each position and expect each to develop into the player you project for them. You stockpile as many talented players at each position and let them develop. As they do, if multiple guys develop well, then you have a good problem on your hands and the ability to use those assets accordingly. Third base is a position that I wouldn’t necessarily describe as weak in the system, but it certainly wasn’t as strong as it has gotten over the last month. Looking at the system now you can easily see five guys that have potential to make an impact at the major league level at the third base position in the coming years in Luis Valbuena, Junior Lake, Vitters, and now Kris Bryant and Olt. The more talent we have, the better chance we have of finding the long term solution, and I believe it’s Olt. He slots in at # 2 in the system according to MiLB.com after the trade behind Javier Baez.

CJ Edwards and Justin Grimm – In these two, the Cubs continued their quest to stockpile young arms in hopes of building a surplus very similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays have done over the last 6-7 years. It keeps with the theme of amassing as much as you can at a position and seeing what shakes out. It’s easy to look at Grimm and get disappointed when people are pointing to his Major League stats and saying they are so so, but what it’s important to look at is that his numbers in the minors were good. What I’ve read is that he projects as a potential swing man /  bottom of the rotation started due to the fact that his repertoire is mainly two pitches. If he can develop further, then you can see him in the bottom of the rotation. Law states “Moving to the NL may help a little, but the biggest key will be finding a usable changeup for him.”

Edwards is a guy who is further from the Majors and a little younger than Grimm. He wasn’t looked at as a highly touted guy in the amateur draft, taken in the 48th round, but he seems to be developing into one of those late round gems that are mined and found to be rather sparkly. In his first full season last year, he put up good numbers between rookie ball and low A. This year he’s done very well again in low A and I’d expect that he’ll be sent to Daytona to try his hand at High A since he seems to have proven all he needs to at the Low A level. According to scouts he has good velocity on his fastball and an above average curve ball. The changeup is a work in progress and seems to be coming along nicely. The knock on him is his limited time in the minors to fully show that what he’s done is not just a product of being under slotted in the minors as well as a concern about his size. He is listed at 6’2″ and just over 150lbs. I suppose if he asked really nicely, I could give him a few of my extra pounds. At any rate, Edwards slots in as the #10 prospect in the system.

PTBNL – This is the most traded commodity in the majors. It stands for player to be named later and the way it works is basically that the two teams agree to a pool of players and the team that receives the players has a deadline for when those players must make their decision by that time. There are reports that the deal includes one and potentially two players to be named later. The name I hear is Neal Ramirez as the main name with him being the only name should the Cubs choose him. If not, they’d select two names from a pre-set pool. Ramirez is apparently the name that held the deal up due to questions on his medicals. If Ramirez is legit in the deal and is healthy, this was a heck of a haul for Garza as he currently sits as the #13 prospect in the Ranger system. I used to look at the PTBNL tag and simply write that off, but it’s important to note that any name has potential to develop. There have been a few notable ones in the past that have gone on to be very productive ML players. Jason Schmidt, David Ortiz, and former Cub, Moises Alou all come to mind in this category.

Overall, I love the deal. When you look at the fact that we added two top 10 prospects in our system in exchange for roughly two months of Garza starts plus whatever, if anything, we get out of Grimm and the PTBNL and I think it’s a huge boost to the system. How you can come away from the first part of the Theo and Jed regime and not be excited about how they are building from the ground up is beyond me.

  • #Lakesanity is in full effect. He continued his role of stealing the hearts of Cub fans all over the globe with another great performance that included two bunt hits, a home run to left center, a late RBI single and a cannon throw to the cutoff man late in the game. On the downside, he was caught stealing again, running his success rate to just 1-for-3. He’s on fire.
  • Chris Rusin got the late starting assignment after the Garza trade and really did well given the situation. My guess is he was on standby early in the day if not late last night so it wasn’t like he had to start on a moment’s notice, but he did throw well and got the win as a result.
  • Really nice catch early in the game by Cole Gillespie, who will probably be the front runner to be removed from the active roster when David DeJesus returns from the DL.
  • The men in blue were out in full force tonight. Thankfully neither of the main instances came back to bite us. Between the unnecessary warning to Tyler Skaggs when he hit Dianor Navarro in his at bat after his home run and the missed call on a steal by Paul Goldschmidt in the 8th, our boys in blue obviously did not get the memo that this is Lake’s world and we’re just living in it.
  • Pedro Strop continued to pitch lights out since being acquired with a scoreless 8th and Kevin Gregg came on to close it out in the 9th. With the news that Jason Grilli left the Pirates game with an injury, perhaps they come calling.

  • Now that Garza is gone, which is so much of a relief that it got done this year, it’s time to focus on other players to move to continue boosting the system, the first of which is Gregg, who was quoted in an interview with Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun Times as saying “Garza’s a headline piece, but I think that in the baseball world, people are looking for relievers.  I hope I’m on that list” I hope there is interest in him and that he can draw a top 20 guy. On an unrelated note, Wittenmyer is my favorite Cubs beat writer.
  • Also on the potential trade market are Alfonso Soriano and Nate Schierholtz, both who have recently been linked to the Yankees. I could see them making a move for Soriano in August if they can keep themselves in the race enough over the next three weeks. The Cubs have said they will eat the majority of the remaining year and a half of salary, but my fear is that the Yankee system is not really brimming with top notch prospects.
  • John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com had a nice piece on Lake and his development through the system since being signed out of the Dominican Republic. My favorite quote is “The tools stand out, particularly an outstanding throwing arm. He has a genuine cannon, reminding me of Shawon Dunston.” You can read the whole piece here.
  • Ervin Santana, of the Royals, is now following me on Twitter. I’m not sure why, but I’m not gonna complain.
  • The Mayor is pushing to get the final OK’s needed on the Wrigley renovation deal finalized this week. As usual, Tom Tunney is being a tool and holding up the process.

by Rob Willer

The Iowa Cubs gained two new additions today in the Garza trade with the additions of Olt and Grimm after he recovers from his forearm injury. According to a tweet from Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch we should see Grimm with the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday and Olt very soon. Back to the game it was a rain shortened contest as Nick Struck struggled all night giving up 10 hits seven runs (seven earned). Brad Nelson gave us something to cheer about going 2 for 3 with a double.

Kyle Hendricks has been something to watch this season and tonight was no different as he went seven strong innings giving up four hits and two runs (none earned). If Hendricks keeps up this dominant pitching we could see him at Iowa some time in September when the Chicago Cubs make their September call ups. Javy Baez once again struggled going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts lowering his batting average to .200 at Tennessee. With Baez its going to be about making adjustments this summer from the pitching in High A to Double A. Zac Rosscup struggled out of the pen as he gave up three runs in two thirds of an inning a minor speed bump in Rosscup’s season.

The Daytona Cubs were rained out Monday night and will play a double header Tuesday against the St. Lucie Mets. Some players to keep an eye on are Second Baseman Dustin Geiger whose hitting an impressive .281 with 10 home-runs and 68 runs batted in and pitcher Zach Cates who has turned in a solid season so far going 8-7 with a 3.91 earned run average to go along with 68 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched.

Pitching prospect and international signing Juan Paniagua struggled again on the mound lasting 3 1/3 innings giving up five hits and three runs (2 earned). The Cougars couldn’t muster much offense as they only had six total hits while Albert Almora went 0 for 4 on the night with a walk.

David DeJesus continued his rehab stint with the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Fall League by going 2 for 4 with a double to raise his batting average to .375. Although, the big story of the day was first round pick Kris Bryant who recorded not only his first professional hit but added two runs batted in on the night as well. Cubs fan @EricLPauly gets video of Kris Bryant’s First Professional Hit.  Look for DeJesus to play a few more weeks on his rehab assignment before he is back with the Cubs.

Follow me @Rob_Willer for the latest on Cubs Minor League News.

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3 Reasons Why Matt Garza Should Hope For a Trade

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Today is the next slated start for Matt Garza. It’s a start we were told he would not make. Then again, let’s face it. For the last week or two, each time his turn comes up in the rotation, we’re told it’s a start he will not make. At this point, it’s better to just react when and if something happens. Garza has stated that he would like to remain a Cub and doesn’t want to be traded. However, it is in his best interest to be traded, and here is three reasons why.

1. Potential to Win a Ring – Say what you will about players just being concerned about the money. For a lot of them, that is the case, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there is something special, and former players will vouch for this, about not just being in the postseason, but being the last team standing. There’s a reason why people tune into a sport they otherwise hadn’t followed all year when playoff time comes around. If you’ve ever been to a postseason game, you know what I’m talking about. I was at game one of the 2003 NCDS against the Braves in Atlanta and it was one of the best games I’ve ever been to. Fans are into every pitch. It’s magical. Garza should hope for the opportunity to experience that as much as he can before his time in this league is over. It can happen at the drop of a hat, so don’t take it for granted. He’s been to two postseasons with the Rays but has no ring to show for it. A trade t0 a contender will allow him another opportunity.

2. No Restrictions on His Free Agency – Garza will be a free agent at the end of this season. It’s doubtful that any team who trades for him will immediately work on a long term deal, so it’s very likely that he will experience free agency as one of the top arms on the market. Because of the changes in the CBA, we saw what being a top tier free agent can do to your offers, or lack thereof. Need proof? Go ask Kyle Lohse, who signed just before spring training and got narry a nibble all off-season. That puts mental strain on a player, not knowing where he will make his home. However, a player that is acquired via trade is not subject to the free agent compensation rules. It’s somewhat clear that the Cubs will take Garza back via free agency if and only if the terms are right. In other words, if you stay, there is no guarantee you don’t just play out the year and then go to free agency with that Type A free agent tag strapped to your behind. It’s better for his value to come without that string attached.

3. Can Help the Cubs Get Better – This one is obvious from a fan standpoint and team standpoint, but if Garza is serious about wanting to be in Chicago, then coming back in the off-season would still be an option. In return, the Cubs get pieces to continue to rebuild process and make Garza’s decision to come back a smarter one. We’ve saw this last year with Ryan Dempster, so the truth to the rumors that he wants to be in Chicago need to be taken with a grain of salt, but if that truley is the case, then help the team before you leave.

CUBS 3, ROCKIES 4

  • Edwin Jackson pitched decent enough to get a win, but didn’t get enough support from the offense.
  • It’s funny to watch everyone go nuts over Junior Lake on Twitter. Instead of reporting a 1-for-5 game with three strikeouts and an error, we got reports saying he’s reached base in all of his games so far this year.
  • Starlin Castro had a really nice day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a double. Don’t look now, but his average has creeped higher than love child, Anthony Rizzo.

NEWS & NOTES

  • Our old pal, Glenallen Hill, is reportedly doing well as a minor league manager.
  • David DeJesus continued his rehab, going 1-for-4 with a double
  • Top draft pick, Kris Bryant, made his pro debut for the Arizona Summer League Cubs and went 0-for-3 with three errors at third base. Let the bashing commence. You know you wanna.

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Game Notes: Cubs 3, Rockies 9

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

NEWS & NOTES

  • I’m not sure if Carlos Villanueva would be better equipped to be a productive member of the starting rotation by growing the handle bar mustache back, but it does seem like he’s lost his super powers since he shaved. I don’t, honestly, believe in messing with juju like most players in baseball do, but it’s funny to think of him like that. His outing last night was subpar at best. Just a 50% first strike rate and lots of hittable pitches led to 7 ER over just 4 IP. His last outing, which was his first full start since returning to the rotation, was much better so we’ll see which pitcher emerges in the next few weeks. I don’t see him being part of the future rotation, but I do see him being a valuable piece to the puzzle if he can continue to be that long reliever / starter swing man.
  • The legend of Junior Lake continued as the youngster had some good and had some bad. He reached base in his first two at bats of the game, once via a single and once on a walk. Both were good at bats. On the bad side, he misplayed a ball in centerfield on a bad read, but did also contribute a nice catch it the 4th. They key with any young player is to not get too hyped or too down on them either way. Things will level out. He’s not the savior. He shouldn’t be treated as if he is.
  • Last year I rode Luis Valbuena pretty hard. I apologize now for those comments. He’s turned into a nice piece for this team. He hit leadoff yesterday, which frustrated me when I saw the lineup, but he saw 31 pitches in his five plate appearances, had quality at bats each time up and contributed with another home run and a run scoring single as well. Definitely a good night for him. As long as he hits like this, expect to see Lake in CF.
  • According to this report, the Braves are in the market for left-handed relief help, and James Russell is on the wish list. The Cubs dealt with the Braves last year so we know Theo has Frank Wren’s phone numbers. If you can’t get a nice haul for a middle reliever, you do it in a heartbeat. I like Russell a lot, but relievers should be cultivated and grown from the farm. They should not be acquired via trade or free agency unless absolutely necessary and even then on the cheap.
  • Cuban defector pitcher, Alfredo Gonzalez, is expected to sign with a Major League team sometime next week. He’s 26 years old and the Cubs are listed as one of many teams interested. I take that as genuine interest because of how hard the Cubs have been working the international market. His signing is not part of the international budget set forth in the new CBA.
  • Forgot to mention this yesterday, but Henry Rodriguez, who was DFA’d the other day has cleared waivers and been outrighted to AAA.
  • Kris Bryant was awarded the Golden Spikes award as the best player in amateur baseball.

DOWN ON THE FARM

  • Newly acquired, Jake Arrieta pitched for the Iowa Cubs and posted 5 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 3 K
  • Josh Vitters went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored
  • Marcos Mateo tossed two scoreless relief innings for the Smokies
  • Javier Baez went 2-for-5 with a double
  • Ivan Pineyro tossed six scoreless innings for the Daytona Cubs and has not allowed a run in his first 11 innings since coming over from Washington in the Scott Hairston trade.
  • Dan Vogelbach was 2 for 2 with a double and a walk.
  • David DeJesus was 0 for 1 with a walk before the rain washed the game away for the Arizona Summer League Cubs

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Game Notes: Cubs 3, Rockies 1

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

I mentioned yesterday on Twitter that I was looking forward to watching the game and following Matt Garza rumors on Twitter. The Cubs continued their run of playing semi-decent baseball and made my night an enjoyable one.

GAME NOTES

  • Before the game, the Cubs called up Junior Lake to take the place of injured outfielder, Brian Bogusevic, who was placed on the DL. I was a believer in Lake going into the season and was really hoping he’d make the opening day roster. Unfortunately an injury knocked him out of contention and forced him to start the season on the DL. Since then, he’s put up respectable numbers in Iowa and earned the call up. To say he made the most of his first opportunity is an understatement. The first pitch he saw, he drilled down the left field line for a double and then stole third on the very next pitch. He would finish the day with a 3-for-4 performance and high praise from his manager “Since I’ve been here, that’s the first kid that’s come up and looked like a major leaguer, aggressive, aggressive on the bases…He did a great job and swung the bat really nice.” While he got the start in CF, I’d expect him to also get some time at 3B and push Luis Valbuena.
  • Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a less than ideal start in his last outing against the Angels, turned in a really nice performance. Nevermind that he left the game in a little bit of a jam in the 8th inning, the game overall was a nice one. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to do with Samardzija. I think he needs to be part of the future of this team, but I honestly have no clue what his value is and where he slots in this rotation. There are days when he can be absolutely unhittable and has the potential to throw deep into a game. Then there are days when he looks average at best. I hold to the fact that he is continuing to learn and develop, but I worry about the price he is going to command when he gets to the open market.
  • Trade rumors continue to be all the buzz around this team. Yesterday it seemed that Garza was as good as gone and that we could see it announced sometime before or during the game. That obviously did not happen and word out of Texas is that something caused a snag and that now the deal is on hold. It’s hard to know what to believe. If you believe Jim Bowden, who apparently doesn’t check on the accuracy of his sources and then deletes the tweet to avoid embarrassment, then the deal will get done. I don’t really know what to believe. Ultimately, I think a move will be made today. You don’t get that close to a deal and then just shut down talks. If the deal is with Texas or not, we’ll just have to wait and see. It should be an interesting weekend of Twitter rumors. With that being said, I asked followers on Twitter last night how many players on the current 40 man roster they felt will be moved before September 1. I got a lot of replies to that. My prediction is 3. I think it will be Garza, Dioner Navarro, and Alfonso Soriano. While I think there is definite interest in guys like Kevin Gregg and James Russell, I think they will remain. It’s easy to predict things like 10 or 12 and rustle up every name you can think of, but when it comes down to it, teams just don’t make that many deals.

MINOR LEAGUE NOTES

Josh Vitters returned to the lineup for Iowa and hit home run # 4 on the season as part of a 2-for-4 night in a losing effort against Round Rock

Dae-Eun Rhee got his first start for AA since coming off the DL and went 3.2 innings, allowing a pair of home runs. Javier Baez contributed to the offense with his fourth home run since being promoted and 21st overall this season, but it would be Arismendy Alcantara who would double home the winning run in the 10th.

Scott Baker made his second rehab start in his quest to return to the Cubs rotation sometime in August and it was less than desirable. Baker allowed six runs on six hits over 2.2 innings while walking three and striking out one for the Kane County Cougars. Dan Vogelbach was 2-for-4 in the game with a run scored.

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Scouting Javier Baez

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

I saw Javier Baez in person twice earlier this season when he was still with Daytona, and I came away both times thinking the same thing… if he ever minimized his strike zone he’d be something special but he has extremely high bust potential given the nature of his tools.  I feel like there’s no middle ground with Baez, he’s either going to be a superstar or bust. With his recent promotion to AA, I’ve been able to watch every game with milb.tv so here’s a comprehensive scouting report with video analysis.

Grading the Tools

Present/Future
Hit: 40/60
Power: 55/70
Plate Discipline: 30/50
Running: 50/50
Range: 40/45
Glove: 35/50
Arm: 55/60

The Swing

Baez’s swing is very level and smooth and he has the quickest bat I’ve ever seen. When he makes contact, the ball really takes off as seen in this first video below of Baez’s debut at-bat in AA where he launches a ball over 400 feet to deep CF:

Baez has a Gary Sheffield-esque bat waggle pre-pitch to keep his hands back and burst through the zone at the appropriate time. However, Sheffield would stop his waggle during the pitcher’s windup, putting his hands and bat into a solid hitting position; Baez on the other hand, does his waggle as the pitcher is delivering the ball, putting himself out of sync with the pitch.  In the video below you can see how his bat is pointing towards the infield as the pitcher is releasing the ball which results in a weak tapper back to the mound:

He had the bat speed to make up for this in the lower minors, but now that he is in AA, the waggle is throwing off his timing and causing a lot of late swings that produce foul balls, weak contact, or complete whiffs. This is something that can be remedied with a slight swing modification but will take some time for Baez to get accustomed to and will need to be done during an offseason.

Approach at the Plate

Baez has a very hard and violent swing that he never shortens or adjusts for any situation.  His approach leaves a lot to be desired as goes up to the plate to take his cuts and live with the results.  On this swing he’s leaning out over the plate reaching for a pitch off the plate and gets under it. You can see in this video how the ball seems to leap off Baez’s bat, even when he doesn’t square it up. The ball still carries to the warning track in the opposite field despite the poor contact:

Baez tends to get himself out more than the pitcher actually works to get Baez out. His ultra-aggressive approach works against him and he usually falls behind in the count. He goes up to the plate wanting to hit every pitch as hard as he can and that approach will start to prohibit his abilities now that he’s reached advanced levels of the minor league system.

This Season

Baez, like most Cubs prospects, has little-to-no grasp of plate discipline. He is a free swinger and offers at nearly everything around the plate and that really showed at the beginning of this season.  At High-A Daytona, through May 15th he had a 30.3% K% and 3.2% BB%. A very hot stretch starting May 17th until his promotion saw Baez lower his K% to 23.1% and raise his BB% up to 6.2% (a career best).  The improvement in discipline along with his massive power surge was enough evidence for the Cubs front office to promote Baez to AA.

Baez has raw plus-plus power and has showcased it many times this season.  At Daytona he had a SLG% of .535, which was 4th best at the time of his promotion in very pitcher friendly league. He accumulated 17 HRs, 19 doubles, and 4 triples in only 337 plate appearances.  From May 17 through July 5th he held a triple slash line of .308/.352/.602; during that time he crushed 4 homeruns in a single game, becoming only the second player to do so in the Florida State League.

Since his promotion Baez has struggled. After that debut HR, he reeled off an 0-19 slump, including 6 strikeouts; reverting to the tendencies he exhibited at the beginning of the season. Over this past weekend, Baez started to heat up. On Friday he opened up a doubleheader with a 2-4 performance plus a walk, and in the night cap he also went 2-4 adding a solo HR:

On Saturday, Baez went 1-3 with a walk and went deep again:

In 36 plate appearances at AA thus far, he’s accumulated 7 hits, with 3 of them being homeruns.  He’s also struck out 10 times (27.8 K%), and walked twice (5.6 BB%).  His triple slash line is .206/.250/.471 thus far at AA.  While I’ll be the first to scream small sample size, the worry I’ve always had with Baez was advanced pitching would exploit his lack of a defined strike zone and thus far that is what’s happening at AA.  There’s no doubt he’s going to feature his plus-plus power, but that alone is not going to make him a successful big leaguer if he doesn’t work on his approach. The same trends that worried me in April and the first half of May, have come back in July. I would have liked the Cubs to take a more cautious approach and let Baez show the patience he exhibited for 7 weeks was more than just a hot stretch before giving him the promotion; especially given how difficult the move from High-A to AA is.

Defensively

Baez has been an error machine, accumulating 33 errors in only 83 games outpacing even Starlin Castro’s worst season in the minors. Baez’s errors have come in all forms from trying to do too much to airmailing throws over the first baseman. The video below shows Baez botching a routine grounder straight at him over the weekend:

Right now, he has enough athleticism to play shortstop, but I don’t see him staying there as he fills out more.  In the 11 games I’ve watched Baez either in person or online, I’ve seen this one play where his range stood out:

Overall I consider Baez’s range to be below average without much room for improvement.  His glove should be average if he puts the work into it but his current mechanics are very inconsistent- he looks robotic at times where he’s thinking through each step instead of letting his natural instincts take over.  With more reps this should become fluid but right now it’s one of the major causes of his high error count. He does have a very strong and accurate arm which has allowed him to make up for some of the fielding mistakes and it will play well at third base, his eventual landing spot.

Final Thoughts

I’m cautiously optimistic about Baez’s future. He has all the tools to be a superstar but his lack of a developed strike zone is a huge concern and he’s a major boom or bust type prospect.  As we’ve seen with a long list of players that came up through the Cubs system, plate discipline is not something easily learned but I’m – for now – willing to gamble on Baez realizing his potential and building upon that 7 week stretch in Daytona where he cut down his strikeouts, worked hitter’s counts, took his share of walks and exhibited an overall improvement in his approach.

Don’t be surprised though if Baez is the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade this off-season due to our logjam of high end third base prospects with Bryant, Villanueva, and Candelario all in the upper echelon  of Cubs prospects.  With major concerns about his plate discipline, which don’t exactly fit in with the grind-out-every-at-bat type of values the front office is trying to instill, and the high chance he could turn into a bust, the Cubs front office may want to cash in his value to bring in an elite player to immediately bolster our major league team. The Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton and the Rays’ David Price are they type of impact players the Cubs have reportedly already been in contact with their respective teams gauging trade possibilities this past offseason and it would take a prospect like Baez to pry that kind of elite talent away.

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Chet’s Corner – The Stove Is Heating Up!

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

It’s Hot Stove season and everywhere you look baseball fans are over-analyzing their newly acquired piece and crying over their lost hero.  They check and re-check MLB Trade Rumors and the myriad of other rumor mills pumping falsehoods and selling fantasies.  They obsess over the amount of wins a player will be worth or when their newly acquired prospect will start paying dividends.  Yes, from the All-Star game going forward it is skin trade at it’s best.

I can’t remember ever thinking about the trade deadline until about 12 years ago.  The 80′s and the 90′s did not produce this drama, did it?  Then again, present media has a way of buffing a concept to a perfect shine and presenting it as a “thing” we must follow.  The only way to get up to the minute news back then was to listen to the radio.  Now my iPhone alerts me to rumors, not trades mind you, but rumors before they even become a rumor.  They are the fetus of a rumor.  They are a writer hypothesizing potential candidates and it turns into a rumor from there.

Oh, and by the way, don’t be fooled by misinformation, which is actually a tactical play by a GM or organization, coupled with downright lying of course.  We are kept at the edge of our seats as Negotiation Theater plays on in the back rooms.  Sometimes, I wonder if GM’s see the tweets and the articles and have a grand old laugh at the chaos they have caused.  I could just see a GM thumbing through his twitter feed now, “HaHaHa, Matt Garza for Mike Olt…wasn’t even a thought!”

Then I start to obsess….

I wonder if keeping Matt Garza in a Cubs uniform isn’t the right thing to do?  You know, sign him to a three or four year deal.  

Think about that rotation for a minute…Shark, Wood, Garza, Jackson and a PTBNL….hmmmm. It really isn’t that bad.  I still think it lacks a true stopper, a true ace if you will.

If there is one thing any team needs it’s starting pitching.  We don’t need to give it away.  Then again, he would have to agree to a four year deal.  Maybe he thinks he can get more? Maybe four years is even too many? 

Just thinking out loud here.  Now, I know, the prudent thing may be to trade him away for some young guns that could be core pieces for the future say 2-3 years from now.  But what if he was the leader 2-3 years from now?  I say this completely regretting the amount of time the Cubs hung on to Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and just about every other viable trade piece they possessed over the last 10 years that netted very little in the end.  I want to smack myself for even thinking it, but I can’t help it….I can’t quit you Matt Garza!

You see what happened there, I just waffled back a forth and still don’t know how I feel about the whole issue.  Keep him or trade him?  Crazy or sane?  My brain actually produced the above line of thought a few days ago while reading the latest “hypothesis” on the web.

Should be a fun two weeks.  I wonder who will be left in a Cub uniform when the blood is wiped from the trading block?

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Home Run Derby and Other News

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

News and notes from around the league

  • Yoenis Cespedes won the Homerun Derby last night defeating Bryce Harper in the finals. Cespedes put on a show in the first round with 17 homers and again in the finals when he topped Harper’s 8 homers with 5 outs left.
  • Matt Harvey and Max Scherzer will start the All-Star game for their respective teams.
  • Travis Wood shaved for the All-Star game.

Other Cubs News

With the All-Star Break, there’s not much news around the league. David Kaplan wrote that Garza was likely to be traded this week according to “sources” and then a semi-juicy rumor started by a Texas sports show host out of Dallas (take that for what it’s worth) saying the Cubs, Mets, & Rangers have a deal in place that will send Garza and Byrd to the Rangers, with Olt being the centerpiece involved. I don’t think Olt’s a target for a Cubs system with quite a few high end 3B and there’s no reports confirming this. However, there’s a moratorium on official news from teams during the All Star break so nothing official can happen until later this week and with all the recent debating amongst Cubs fans about trading versus extending Garza I wanted to share my 2 cents before a deal does get done one way or another.

Garza’s going to get at least 5 years, 15-20M per year on the open market, from some team who wants to pay him until he’s 36, maybe 37. If I had to guess I’d say he gets around the 5/80 deal every second tier pitcher seems to get, like Anibal Sanchez, John Lackey, etc.  If Garza was taking a 3 year extension for around 15-18M per year then I’d say yes, or even 4 years with a slightly lower AAV then I’d be willing, but obviously he’s not or the Cubs would have locked him down to a team-friendly deal already. He might want to be a Cub but he wants to get paid like the front line starter Garza  of 2011 (and the first 6 weeks of 2012). Except the Garza pitching for us know is not pitching the same way.

He’s already showing some signs of decline with his injuries and a decrease in velocity (1MPH drop on average fastball this year compared to 2011). The velocity is a major concern because his out pitch is his fastball which he’s throwing 68% of the time this year. He’s returned to using his fastball the amount of his Tampa/Minnesota days when he used to use it nearly 70% of the time. In 2011, his first year with the Cubs and his best season of his career, he only threw it 53% of the time.

Years

ERA

WHIP

SIERA

H/9

K/9

HR/9

FB%

GB%

% of fastballs

Pre-Cubs

3.97

1.32

4.30

8.7

7.1

1.1

40.8%

39.7%

69.8%

2011-2012

3.52

1.23

3.39

8.2

8.7

0.9

32.9%

46.7%

55.1%

This year

3.17

1.14

3.80

7.7

7.9

1.0

38.8%

39.8%

68.0%

 

 

 

I thought his evolution to a front line starter was directly related with his lower usage of the fastball and increased usage of his off-speed repertoire. Due to the injuries, he’s reverted back to his old, lesser productive ways. You can already see the same trends building from his earlier years with this year. His HR/9 is up, his K/9 is down, his groundball percentages (GB%) are down, and his flyball percentages (FB%) are up. He’s been helped by excellent defense from the Cubs and has a career low batting average against and BABIP right now (which was ultra low before last start’s 10 hits). Despite his low ERA, it’s a recipe that will not keep yielding these results. With all the peripherals matching his production of his pre-Cub years, it’s only a matter of time before the hits, and thus runs, catch up to him this year which will show he’s more of a #3 or 4, not a #1 or 2.

I don’t think this front office is going to spend big money on players on the wrong side of 30 which Garza hits this year. History shows the vast majority of pitchers start declining right around 30 and Garza already has some red flags. The only pitchers worth risking big money, long term deals on past the age of 30 are the top 2% of pitchers like Sabathia, Hernandez, Price, Verlander… because when they decline, they slip from aces to mid rotation guys. When a mid rotation guy slips, he’s a back-end starter or worse. The Cubs should and most likely will flip him for prospects while his value is high which will give another shot to an already strong farm system.

If you believe in run differential which has an excellent track record of predicting win/loss records, the Cubs have performed right around a .500 team.  The front office knows this, and the Cubs are much closer to being competitive than the record indicates. That’s why I expect the Cubs are only going to trade a handful of players this year including Garza, Schierholtz, Navarro, Gregg & possibly Soriano with an eye on next year being the first season the Cubs are competing, not rebuilding.

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We Interupt This Strech of Decent Cubs Baseball To Bring You the All Star Break

Monday, July 15th, 2013

We’re always told that the All Star break brings welcomed relief from the burden of a tough and grueling schedule, which it does. What we may also see is that it very much could be a momentum killer for this Cubs team. For the last month or so, this team has played much better. While the record is still poor, you can definitely see improvements in play. My fear is that the time off may kill that, especially if the team is greeted with the news that Matt Garza and perhaps others have been dealt to the contender. There is something very deflating and defeating when your team begins the fire sale and I fear we’re on the eve of some really bad baseball as a result.

I watched most of last night’s game. I turned it off out of exhaustion after the Darwin Barney home run. Apparently that was a bad plan, but when you’re out all day on vacation with the family, you’re tired by the end of the day. Couple that with the fact that I was watching on my iPad, which always means I’m laying in bed, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I don’t know that I went into the game hoping for a win, but the game and the series win was there for the taking and we didn’t take it.

NEWS & NOTES

  • Over the weekend, the Cubs designated Henry Rodriguez for assignment as a result of a waiver claim on Cole Gillespie from the Giants.
  • News is that the Cubs are listening to interest in David DeJesus, but feel comfortable bringing him back in 2014, if needed. I like that news. I like what DeJesus brings and I’m fine with moving him before his deal is done next year.
  • Rumors are that the two teams most involved in the Garza talks are the Rangers and the Blue Jays, but there were rumors that the Cardinals have also inquired.
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Prospect Report: The Promoted

Friday, July 12th, 2013

For the rest of the season, Norm and I are likely going to veer away from the hot/not format a good bit, in large part because we’ve already hit on everyone interesting and we’ve gotten well into repeat territory on that front. On that note, we’re in the middle of the period of the season where we see a lot of promotions within the system. Below I am going to look at several players who were promoted since the middle of June. While we will ignore their numbers since promotion (too small of a sample size to be meaningful), we will look at their numbers in their prior level and attempt to determine if the move was made too soon, should have been made sooner, or the time was just right.

Javier Baez (SS, Age 20)
Assigned from High A Daytona to Double A Tennessee on June 28
High A Stats: 337 PAs, .274/.338/.535, 17 HRs, .310 BABIP, 6.2% BB rate, 23.1% K rate
Timing: Too early

Baez likely reestablished himself as the Cubs’ top prospect in June, but without one huge game and Jorge Soler getting hurt, it’s unclear if that would be the case. Baez’s walk rate (8.9%) and strikeout rate (19.8%) were significantly improved in June. This is particularly true in comparison to Baez’s April, where he only put up a 3.6% walk rate to go along with a concerning 27.7% strikeout rate. The problem was this was just one month. And a lot of Baez’s massive slugging improvement in June was his huge 4 home run game. I would have liked to see Baez continue his progress for one more month before making the jump from High A to Double A, which is well known to be the most difficult aside from a promotion to the Majors.

John Andreoli (OF, Age 23)
Assigned from High A Daytona to Double A Tennessee on June 28
High A Stats: 303 PAs, .318/.394/.405, 0 HR, .400 BABIP, 11.2% BB rate, 18.8% K rate

Timing: Should have happened sooner

Andreoli has never been a big name prospect, but he spent all of 2012 and the first half of 2013 getting on base in 40% of his plate appearances in the Florida State League. He does not hit for any power, but clearly draws walks and steals bases (55 SBs in 75 attempts last season, 23 in 26 attempts this season). Andreoli’s lack of power limits his potential, and definitely could stall out at the higher levels of the minors where better defenses will limit his BABIP somewhat. But the walks, speed and ability to play all over the outfield mean he could be a solid bench option. However, one of his best skills, the speed, is often one of the first things to leave a player as he ages. Andreoli is not going to add power, so there was no reason not to see if his combination of speed and patience could have succeeded at Double A a little earlier.

Pierce Johnson (RHP, Age 22)
Assigned from Low A Kane County to High A Daytona on June 20
Low A Stats: 13 GS, 69.2 IPs, 3.10 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 9.56 K/9, 2.84 BB/9
Timing: Should have happened sooner

Had we been told when the season started that Arodys Vizcaino would not pitch in a real game all season, no one would have been surprised to see Pierce Johnson establish himself as the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, which he quickly did. The problem was that he just wasn’t challenged at Low A, and no one should have expected him to be challenged at Low A. At the very back end of being 21 and at age 22, Johnson should be dominating a league where the majority of good players are the age of college sophomores. No one learned anything about Johnson from him striking out a bunch of 20 year olds. He would have been better off starting the season at High A, or at most getting a half dozen starts to get his feet wet in full season professional baseball at Kane County before being bumped up the ladder.

 

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