This is not a controversial statement: over the past two seasons, the Cubs have not been good. Wholly uncompetitive might be a better description, and, based upon their current roster and the strength at the top of the NL Central, the Cubs appear likely to remain uncompetitive for at least one more season. The farm system, however, is the one source that consistently provides positive news.
Quantifying the progress the farm system made, however, is somewhat difficult. We’ve heard about promising Cubs’ prospects before. From Felix Pie to Josh Vitters to Brett Jackson, we’ve been disappointed by players we’ve heard are top prospects.
Minorleaguebaseball.com’s John Sickels provided support for just how promising these prospects are, however, when he posted his list of the Cubs’ to 21 prospects last week. Usually, these lists do not provide much context for how good a system is. Every team has 21 top prospects. With most of the prospect information sources, there is not a direct indicator of how one team’s top prospects stack up against another team’s until the top 100 prospects in baseball lists hit later in the postseason.
Sickels, however, grades the prospects in the organizational list. This year, Sickels gave two Cubs prospects A grades (Javier Baez and Kris Bryant), one an A- (Albert Almora), two B+ grades (Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards) and four B grades (Arismendy Alcantara, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario and Dan Vogelbach).
So what does this mean? Well, my search shows John Sickels’ lists going back to 2005. Prior to Baez gaining an A- rating prior to last season, Sickels never rated a Cubs prospect higher than a B+. Felix Pie never received an A or A- grade. Neither did Vitters or Jackson. Baez, Bryant and Almora, at the least, are a different class of prospect than the players we’ve called “top prospects” over the last decade.
And it is not just that the Cubs are strong at the top of their system, but they are also very deep. From 2008 to 2011, the Cubs had three players who rated above a B- per season. This season the Cubs have nine. And the C+ type prospects, who are still legitimate prospects, go well into the 20s, if not further, for the Cubs.
Also, while Joe noted that the Cubs’ farm system lacks top of the rotation talent, it is as much that the Cubs’ hitting prospects are so good that the average pitching group of prospects looks worse than it is. This is the strongest group of pitching prospects the Cubs have had since 2006, when the system included 2005 first round draft pick Mark Pawelek before he became a bust, along with a host of B and B- prospects including Rich Hill (who was quite good in 2007, despite what happened after), Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher (who the A’s thought of highly enough for him to be the centerpiece of the Rich Harden deal in 2008). It’s not a great group of pitchers, but there are prospects who could solidly fill the 3-5 spots in a rotation and all the bullpen spots. The ace, however, will likely have to come from elsewhere, unless the Cubs are able to draft one in June.
A great farm system is no guarantee of eventual Major League success, but this is a strong, deep farm system, that could provide several pillars for the lineup for many years, along with pitching prospects that could at least fill some holes. The last time the Cubs had this much firepower in the farm system, Dallas Green was the GM. So while it may be a frustrating time to actually watch the Cubs on television, it is also an exciting time to be a fan of the organization.