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The Hypothetical 2014 Chicago Cubs

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Since Theo and Co. have taken over the Cubs front office, I pegged 2014 to be the first year the team is competitive, and 2015 to be the first season they’re playoff contenders. The team this year has been a fringe .500 team if you put stock into run differentials or their Pythagorean winning percentage.  Luckily, at least in my mind, we’ve had a terrible bullpen blow plenty of games to keep us out of the 76 to 83 wins range which is too good to get high draft picks and too bad to make the playoffs.  I think we’re pretty close to schedule but this off season will be very interesting, as it’s the first time this front office has significant money to spend, and it’s going to be very telling on where they think the team is.

First let’s take a look at the payroll so we have some idea what the Cubs can spend.

Position Players Already Signed:

Player

Position

2014 Salary

Year Current Deal Expires

David DeJesus

OF

6,500,000

2014 Can be bought out for 1.5M

Starlin Castro

SS

5,857,143

2019 + Club Option for 2020

Anthony Rizzo

1B

1,535,714

2019 + Club Options thru 2021

Jorge Soler

OF

2,667,000

2020

Welington Castillo

C

520,000

2018

Junior Lake

OF

500,000

2020

Estimated Total

17,579,857

Pitchers Already Signed:

Pitcher

Position

2014 Salary

Year Current Deal Expires

Edwin Jackson

SP

13,000,000

2016

Carlos Villanueva

RP

5,000,000

2014

Kyuji Fujikawa

RP

4,500,000

2014

Gerardo Concepcion

SP

1,200,000

2014

Michael Bowden

RP

520,000

2018

Arodys Vizcaino

SP

520,000

2018

Estimated Total

24,740,000

Arbitration Eligible:

Player

Position

Estimated Salary

Year Cubs Lose Player’s Rights

Nate Schierholtz

OF

4,000,000

2015

Darwin Barney

2B

1,200,000

2017

Luis Valbuena*

3B

1,350,000

2017

Jeff Samardzija

SP

4,200,000

2016

Travis Wood

SP

1,600,000

2017

James Russell

RP

1,500,000

2016

Pedro Strop*

RP

1,050,000

2018

Jake Arrieta

SP

1,200,000

2017

Estimated Total

16,100,000

 * – Designates player has Super 2 Status.

That’s 18 of the 25 players on the major league roster minus Soler and Concepcion who will both still be in the minors to start the year. That puts the team at an estimated payroll of $72,419,857, after adding in the 14M going to New York as part of the Soriano trade.  If the team can spend 110M on the major league roster again next year, that gives the Cubs somewhere around the neighborhood of 37.5M to fill 7 roster spots.

The bench will need to be filled out with a couple of outfielders, a backup catcher, and another infielder to go with Barney, but most of that will be cheap internal options and none should cost more than a million for next year.  If they spend 1M each on a RH bench bat for the OF to split time with Schierholtz and another 1M to sign a backup catcher, then use internal options for the 5th OFer and 2nd IFer, that’s only 3M total.

As for the bullpen, Russell, Strop, Bowden, Villanueva and Fujikawa are in. After that, I’m penciling in Vizcaino which leaves 1 spot open.  I’d assume it’ll be whoever pitches best in the Spring out of all the internal options from the long list of pitchers already on the 40-man: Raley, Rusin, Dolis, Cabrera, Rondon, McNutt, etc. So that’s only another 500K unaccounted for.  We’ll say we’re at 76M with 23 of 25 spots filled giving the team about 34M to match this year’s payroll.

So let’s shift to the important parts of the roster.  As of right now here’s what the Cubs have controlled and should be penciled in for next season:

C: Castillo
1B: Rizzo
SS: Castro
RF: Schierholtz
CF: DeJesus

That leaves 2B, 3B, and an OF spot open for debate in my mind.  Lake could be an option at any of these positions, and I’d expect him to be in one of those spots given his production since being called up this year. Also, one of our left side infielder prospects will force their way to Chicago next season, be it Olt, Baez, Alcantara, Bryant or whomever, but the Cubs will play the service time game with these guys so they won’t be called up until June at the earliest.  Vitters is a possibility at 3B or LF but he has to get healthy, and show he can play at the major league level when he gets called up later this year.

That means we could be looking at the exact same roster on opening day as we have right now and I just don’t think the front office is going to let that happen with so much money available.  Looking at the free agent market, it’s beyond pitiful and 2015 will be even worse. There’s a couple pipe dreams in Robinson Cano & Brian McCann who are going to get 100M+ deals. I don’t think the Cubs are ready to drop that kind of salary on any player over 30. Then on the second tier there’s Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Hunter Pence; but I also think these guys are also out of the Cubs price range. There’s also the option to go after an aging vet like Beltran but I’d rather not sign a 37 year old with diminishing skills and health.

There is one interesting name left on my list who shouldn’t cost too much and won’t be receiving a long term deal, and that’s Nelson Cruz. He just accepted his 50-game suspension from the Biogenesis investigation so he’s going to be back for the playoffs (if the Rangers make it) but he’s going to go into the off season with a lot of uncertainty.  Would Cruz look to sign a 1-year deal with a player option for a 2nd year to re-establish his value for next off season and have some security if he doesn’t perform? Or would he take a higher priced 2-year deal with a vesting/club option for a 3rd to give him a moderate deal in length with a higher pay to surrender a team option? I think that’s the type of high reward contract the Cubs will be fishing for in the free agent market next year. Cruz could give the Cubs a middle of the order power bat that the team desperately needs and fill an OF spot for a couple years until our prospects are ready; and as always it would give the team a potential trade chip for next deadline in case the Cubs are sellers again. I’d expect Cruz could be signed in the 10-14M per year range depending on contract length.

I’d go aggressively after Cruz, let Lake play 3B, shift Valbuena to 2B, bench Barney, and we’ll figure the rest out later when prospects are knocking at the door during the summer and the team has a grasp on how close they are to contention heading into the deadline.

The rotation is currently set as:

SP: Samardzija
SP: Jackson
SP: Wood
SP: Arrieta

The first 3 are givens, and Arrieta is out of options so he will be on the team as well. That leaves one rotation spot open. It could be Baker on a team friendly deal after we gave him 5M to rehab all this season.  However, there’s also a couple options in free agency.  Our friend Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are both #2/3 types. I don’t think the Cubs front office likes Garza’s asking price, so I don’t see a fit there. Santana will be tied to compensation but if the Cubs are one of the 10 worst teams (and they should be given that they’re 5th worst right now), their first draft choice would be protected.  Santana is having a breakout year for the Royals and I’m always a fan of bringing a guy who has been on contending teams in the AL to the NL. I’d expect Santana to get better than Edwin Jackson money, but not quite Anibal Sanchez money. That’d be something like 4 years/64M or 16M each year.

A rotation of Shark, Santana, Jackson, Wood, & Arrieta on paper is just as good as what we had this year and has much higher potential if Arrieta ever figures it out how to control his stuff.

A lineup of something like:

CF DeJesus
SS Castro
1B Rizzo
LF Cruz
RF Schierholtz
3B Lake
2B Valbuena
C Castillo

could be pretty potent if Rizzo and Castro take a step forward next year and we get solid production from the veterans. This doesn’t block any of the top prospects, and we retain excellent flexibility when we need to make space for one, or a few of them. Lake’s ability to play 2B, 3B, and in the OF, make it easy to find him a home if Mike Olt, Javier Baez, or Kris Bryant are ready. Schierholtz and DeJesus are free agents after next year so they are expendable if the Cubs need to make room for Soler, Szczur, Lake, or even Bryant. Valbuena is a solid stop gap, until Baez or Alcantara are ready.

Those 2 signings would spend 30M of the estimated 34M available and put the Cubs at about 106M-pretty much exactly where the team went into this season at. It’s also important to note that the Cubs will have more money to spend on the major league payroll if they choose to, since they cannot go crazy in the international market due to their punishment for this year’s spending spree which after the tax penalty they spent about 10M.

As for trade options, that’s much harder to gauge; who knows what other teams are thinking. David Price should be available since the Rays probably won’t pay him and they have plenty of internal options to replace him. Trading him with 2 years left will net them the biggest return and trading their pitchers early is business as normal. Giancarlo Stanton’s unhappiness stemming from last year’s fire sale will continue to fuel rumors around him. Yovani Gallardo and Rickie Weeks were heavily shopped by the Brewers at this year’s deadline (in my opinion, no thanks on both). And there’s a few interesting pitchers that are impending free agents in 2015 that could be potential trade targets like Clayton Kershaw (#notgoingtohappen), Homer Bailey, and Justin Masterson if they can’t reach deals with their current teams.

The Cubs are going to be in a lot of rumors this off season so it will be fun. We’re also going to get a glimpse of what this regime is going to do with a big amount of cash to spend for the first time and that should give us some insight into the timetable they are expecting.

Game Notes

  • Samardzija had the worst outing of his career going only 3.1IP while allowing 11 hits, 9 ER, and striking out 3.
  • Schierholtz continues to crush righties with another HR moving his SLG over .550 vs RHP on the year.
  • Cubs selected JC Boscan’s contract today from Iowa in case Navarro misses more than a few games after his home plate collision with Chase Utley 2 nights ago. Boscan had played in a handful of games with the Braves at the major league level over the past 3 years and has a career 263/300/263 line in 20 PAs.
  • Matt Guerrier went to the 60-day DL with a sore right elbow.
  • Thomas Neal went to the 15-day DL after dislocating his right shoulder on a throw 2 nights ago.
  • Cubs recalled Eduardo Sanchez who pitched 2.1 innings, giving up 1 hit, 2 walks, 1 run on a solo homer and striking out 3.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Third Base

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Kris Bryant

Bio- Kris Bryant was born January 4, 1992 in Las Vegas, Nevada, US (Age 21). On that day a star was born, Bryant attended Bonanza HS in Las Vegas and continued his baseball career there. The Toronto Blue Jays actually drafted Bryant in the 18th round right out of high school in 2010 but Bryant decided to go to college first. Bryant, a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder hit .329 with 80 runs scored, 13 doubles, three triples, 31 home runs and 62 RBIs in 62 games as a junior at the University of San Diego. He also led the nation in home runs, runs scored, walks (66) and slugging percentage (.820). His 54 career home runs are a school record. Pretty sure Bryant made the correct decision on going to school first to harness his ability and become one of the most talked about draft picks this year in the class of 2013.

2013 Season- After Bryant signed his record bonus of 6.7 million this summer he reported to Arizona where he went to shake off the rust of not playing in a month. It was a short stay for Bryant as he only played in two games going 1 for 6 with a double. The Cubs first round draft pick also added two runs batted in during his short stint in Arizona. The next chapter in Bryant’s baseball career was a call-up to Boise, Idaho to play third base for the Boise Hawks of the Southern Division. Through 14 games so far Bryant has hit .294/.362/.627 while putting up an insane OPS of .990. He also has kept up his power surge by hitting four homers this season while driving in 12 runs during only 51 at-bats. Another stat to keep an eye on is his hit streak which has reached eleven games with his 1 for 3 last night where he homered.

Looking Ahead- After two weeks in Boise, Bryant has earned deep consideration for a call-up to A Ball. The problem is that Kane County already has a young third baseman in Jeimer Candelario who might become a great prospect as well. Most people think the Cubs wouldn’t want to move up Candelario to Daytona as he hasn’t fully developed yet at Kane County. In my mind Bryant will play out this season at Boise and then start next season at either High A Daytona or Double A Tennessee. The Cubs don’t want to rush Candelario as he is still a raw prospect at nineteen years old with great potential to be an above average third baseman at the big league level in time.

Sleeper Prospect: Jeimer Candelario

He is one of those names in the Cubs system you don’t hear enough. Candelario was born in New York and at 17 he started play in the Cubs system at the Dominican Summer League. 2011 was a great year for Candelario as it showed us that he was ready to move to Boise after tearing it up in the Dominican Summer League. Candelario’s stats included a line of .337/.443/.478 for a total OPS of .921. To think that Candelario went into the 2012 season only 18 years is mind boggling. He played the whole year at Boise where he hit .281/.345/.396 that also included six homers, 12 doubles and 47 runs batted in. John Arguello who is the Editor in Chief for Cubs Den a prominent blog on the Chicago Now network gives us a great view of Jeimer Candelario’s swing http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/04/photos-and-breakdown-of-jeimer-candelarios-swing/#image/12.

2013 Season– After two years in the Cubs system Candelario has joined the Kane County Cougars of the Low A Midwest league where he has played third base regularly and batted either four or fifth in their lineup. Through 105 games he has 104 hits which 39 of those are for extra base hits. Candelario has shown us the power with 30 doubles and 8 home-runs this year. These stats reflect greatly in his line .256/.343/.394 for a total OPS of .738. In my mind I believe Candelario deserves a call-up next year to Daytona as he has played well every step of the way since age 17. As I mentioned above since third base is one of the positions the Cubs have a lot of depth at there will be a lot of interesting decisions next summer on where Candelario starts.

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Cubs Top 20 Prospects – Midseason Update

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

It’s that time again, time to rank prospects after an influx of talent from the rule 4 draft, international draft, and trade deadline. These rankings are compared to my pre-season rankings.  The Cubs headed into the season with a top 10 farm system and I would be shocked if they’re not top 3 next year after adding some premium talent this summer and seeing some development from the top guys in the system.

Note: To make things easier, If a player is on the major league roster right now he will be excluded from this list. Also, per normal rules if a player has lost rookie status in a previous year (that mean’s he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit) they are not being considered for this list either.

Off the list: Junior Lake (Previously 16th, on MLB club would have been #11), Dillon Maples (Previously #19), Duane Underwood (Previously #12), & Ronald Torreyes (Previously #14, traded).

20. Jae-Hoon Ha (Previously #20) – Has struggled since his promotion to AAA. Don’t think he’s going to be much more than a 5th outfielder type.

19. Gioskar Amaya (Previously #17) – Everything has taken a little dip after being promoted to A ball but he has the skills to be a consistent bat at 2B.

18. Brett Jackson (Previously #8) – Swing change didn’t change much and he’s been injured most of the year. Looks like his contact issues will always plague him, and if that’s the case, he’s a bench player.

17. Josh Vitters (Previously #13) – Has performed well at AAA when healthy, but that’s been a rarity this year. Hopefully he gets healthy soon and is called up, there’s not much left for him to prove at AAA.

16. Jeimer Candelario (Previously #7) – Did not take the step forward I expected and his numbers while still good are nothing special. I have some reservations about his defense and ability to make consistent contact against experienced pitching.

15. Christian Villanueva, 3B, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #10
Grade: B-

Why He’s Here:  One of the pieces we received at last year’s deadline, Villanueva is another one of our prospects that has seen his stock drop this year. A third baseman with power and great defense are still rare these days so he still has potential.

What’s Holding Him Back:
 Contact issues are the major problem but the power is still there and with good defense he’s still a valuable commodity. There’s also no room in Chicago for him as there’s a long list of left-side infielders ahead of him , so I’d expect his value to be used in a trade.

#14. Shawon Dunston Jr., CF, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously: Not ranked
Grade: B-

Why He’s Here: A legit 4 tool outfielder with good plate discipline, a rarity in the Cubs system. He won’t hit for much power but all of his other tools should be above average, or plus.  He cut down his K% which has seen a huge jump in walks and is currently hitting .328/.411/.422 at Boise. He’s a ways off, only being in Low-A right now,  so he ranks a bit lower but this is one of those highly interesting names to keep an eye, and it’s not because of his pedigree.

What’s Holding Him Back: Time. Dunston Jr. just needs to continue to develop. He’ll start next year at Kane County but I am worried about two things, first he’s a little old for Low-A (turned 20 in February) and second his BB% might not be sustainable as he moves through the system – low power guys have a hard time walking at the major league level.  We won’t get a good feel for him until he hits High-A but he’s a guy that should be on everyone’s radar.

#13. Arodys Vizcaino , SP, 60-Day DL
Previously #4
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Still the most electric and most advanced major league arm in our farm system.

What’s Holding Him Back: Injuries. After Tommy John Surgery last year, Vizcaino had arthroscopic debridement in his throwing elbow.  He might not pitch at all this year, which has dropped his stock significantly. He’s going to be a good major league pitcher, but with the injuries mounting, I’m less optimistic about him starting than I was last year when we acquired him.

#12. Dan Vogelbach  1B, A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #15
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Can hit, and hit for power with good plate discipline. His numbers aren’t as eye-popping as last season’s limited appearances in rookie ball and low-A, but they’re still good across the board.

What’s Holding Him Back: Lack of athleticism. A lot of Cubs fans want to bring up Prince Fielder or Frank Thomas types when they talk about Vogelbach, but those guys were/are actually athletic for their size. Vogelbach on the other hand shows no agility whatsoever. He’s worked hard to shed weight every year but that hasn’t helped; in fact, it probably sapped some of his plus-plus power. He’s won’t be passable even at first base; his range, stretch, ability to field ground balls and cover the bag are all prohibited by his lack of athleticism. Unless the DH comes to the NL, he’ll be valuable trade bait in the future.

#11. Paul Blackburn, SP, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously #11
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Cubs drafted Blackburn last year in the first round at 56th overall. He’s a very athletic pitcher with good command of his 3 pitch repertoire. He throws a low 90s fastball, that usually sits at 92 but can touch 94 with good movement, a curve and a changeup which both project as above average. He’s only 19 and in low A but is more advanced than most pitchers his age.

What’s Holding Him Back: Blackburn just needs to gain experience.  Should be a solid mid-rotation starter once he reaches the bigs, and due to his skill set, I don’t think it will take all that long.

#10. Matt Szczur, CF, Double-A Tennessee
Previously #6
Grade: B

Why He’s Here: Continues to improve plate discipline while hitting for a high average, playing a solid CF and swiping a good number of bases. 

What’s Holding Him Back: Lack of power. Szczur, as noted by Keith Law many times, has a very slappy swing. It’s built to put the ball in play and use his legs to reach base. Against major league defenses, he’s going to see a drop in batting average on balls in play and as I mentioned with Dunston Jr., not having some threat of power, will hurt his OBP at the majors. Pitchers don’t fear singles hitters, and he won’t be able to carry as high of BB% rates as he’s shown these last 2 years. I think he’s at worst a 4th OFer, and if he can maintain a high BABIP, while utilizing his speed on the bases he could be a starting caliber CF.

#9. Juan Carlos Paniagua , SP, A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #5
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here: Has the most raw talent out of any pitcher in our system. Has 2 plus pitches already with a mid-90s fastball that can hit 96 and a hard slider with lots of movement. His change-up is solid and he occasionally mixes in a curveball.

What’s Holding Him Back: Uncertainty. Paniagua, finally got his visa to come to the US a few weeks ago, but he’s shown the rust of a guy who hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game in over 2 years. Needs time to shake off the rust and he still has many questions about his age after being turned down for a visa, twice; but he should move very fast through the system, now that he’s finally here.

#8. Mike Olt, 3B, AAA Iowa Cubs
Previously Not ranked
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  Olt was rumored to be untouchable last year at the deadline given his combination of plus defense, plus-plus power, and ability to draw a high number of walks.

What’s Holding Him Back: Vision and contact problems. Contact problems have been a problem, but there’s plenty of optimism that with more experience he could fix these issues. This year his numbers have been derailed by vision problems, that may have been concussion related after getting hit in the head during winter ball.

#7. C.J. Edwards, SP, High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously Not ranked
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  The real centerpiece of the Garza deal; Edwards has two plus pitches, with a chance for a third. He has plus velocity with late life on a mid-90s fastball. He also utilizes a plus 12-6 curveball, and is working on a changeup that could potentially be above average.  He has dominated the lower minors these past 2 seasons with Texas and the Cubs moved him to High-A Daytona immediately after acquiring him. That puts him on pace to be in Chicago’s opening day rotation for 2015.

What’s Holding Him Back:  Other than developing the changeup, his size is worrisome. Edwards is 6-foot-2 and weighs only 155 pounds so there’s quite a bit of concern he won’t be able to handle the stress of a starting pitcher but he has the potential to be a number 3 starter, and has shown excellent results in the lower minors.

#6. Pierce Johnson, SP,  High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously #9
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here: Johnson has the upside of a #2 starter and is very likely to make it there. Recently promoted to Daytona, Johnson has continued to pitch well showing his advanced command and ability to set up hitters. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone with velocity as his fastball only sits in the lower 90s, but he commands it well keeping it down in the zone where hitters can’t do much with it.  His fastball isn’t an out-pitch as much as a setup pitch for his off-speed especially his hard curve.

What’s Holding Him Back:  His third pitch. Since being drafted Johnson has worked on developing a changeup which he never really used in college. It’s still a work in progress but he’s shown the ability to locate it, and get batters to swing and miss.

#5. Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #18
Grade: B+

Why He’s Here:  Alcantara’s stock has skyrocketed this year while at AA and he’s one of my personal favorites in the system. He has a simple repeatable swing that results in a lot of hard contact. He sprays hits to all fields and has much more power than you think despite his smaller size. Also a plus runner, Alcantara is a threat on the bases and could steal 30 bases a year at the majors.

What’s Holding Him Back: Defense and consistency. Alcantara has been playing 2B since Baez moved to Double-A . He’s still a work in progress at short but out of the two, I think Alcantara has the better chance to stay there than Baez. This should figure itself out when Alcantara moves up to AAA (which could be soon) and takes over SS again.  He needs to work on his consistency in each at bat- sometimes he works the count into his favor, takes pitches he shouldn’t swing at, and forces the pitcher to give in to his strengths and others he’s up there to swing as hard as he can at whatever he sees.

#4. Javier Baez, SS, Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Previously #1
Grade: A-

Why He’s Here: Since I wrote an in-depth scouting report recently about Baez, I won’t go too far into specifics. He’s very athletic, has amazing bat speed, huge power potential and a very strong accurate arm.  

What’s Holding Him Back: Defensively, he’s going to have a hard time being an average SS, but it could be passable given his offense. If he moves to 3B, which is what I expect, he’d be a plus defender there, and could turn himself into a gold glover. Offensively, if he can just cut down on his aggressiveness, I’d bet on him being a superstar, but that’s a big if.

#3. Kris Bryant, 3B, Low-A Boise Hawks
Previously: Not ranked
Grade: A

Why He’s Here: The Cubs drafted Bryant #2 overall in this past draft, and paid him the highest bonus of any player.  He has a great approach, knows how to work counts, and this type of plus-plus power from the right side of the plate is a rarity.

What’s Holding Him Back: Questions about his effort defensively. There’s concerns Bryant will have to move to RF but he has the athleticism to stay at 3B, it’s a matter of putting in the work to do so. He should be on the fast track and could see a call up as soon as next year.

#2. Albert Almora, CF A-ball Kane County Cougars
Previously #2
Grade: A

Why He’s Here: If there was one prospect the Cubs would deem untouchable, rumor is, it’s Almora. Almora is quickly showing why the Cubs were so high on him in last year’s draft. He has a quick swing that produces excellent contact and surprising power given his thin frame. He’d be an above average defender in the majors right now, with plus speed and he’s making strides with his plate discipline.

What’s Holding Him Back:  The front office. It seems the Cubs are taking it slow with Almora, who I thought would have been moved up to High-A by now. He’s got all the tools to move quickly through the system, but the organization doesn’t seem to be in a rush with him.

#1. Jorge Soler, RF, High-A Daytona Cubs
Previously #3
Grade: A

Why He’s Here:  I’m a big fan of Soler. He’s got superstar potential and is the most likely to reach it out of all the Cubs prospects.  He’s the prototypical 5-tool outfielder, with quick hands, a smooth swing, plus running speed, should hit for a high average with above average power, and a strong throwing arm. He has an excellent approach at the plate.

What’s Holding Him Back: Injury. He’d be in AA right now if it wasn’t for his injury as he was right there with Baez in terms of production in Daytona. He should be back to get some at-bats in AA before the minor league season ends, and I’d still expect him to be up for good, by the end of next year.  But if the Cubs want to make up for lost time, they could call him up in September since he’s already on the 40-man due to his contract. With his skills at the plate and experience with the Cuban National team, I’m not worried about putting him against MLB pitchers as long as he gets back for a few weeks to face live pitching in the minors beforehand.

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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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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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Cubs’ Trade Value 2013 Edition

Friday, June 28th, 2013

I really enjoyed writing this last year and the discourse that followed so I want to tackle the potential value of the roster this year with the trade deadline looming on the horizon.

Disclaimer: I am blatantly ripping off Bill Simmons’ NBA Trade Value Column he does every year so if you’ve ever read that you’ll be familiar with this. I’ll examine the team’s assets and approximate the value and likelihood each player will be traded in descending order. I take into consideration current performance, future potential, cost, and the need of other teams for players at that position. In addition to rankings, I place an estimated return if these guys were traded.

Value Explanations:

Lottery ticket: A player with a high ceiling but far more likely to be a bust than anything significant
C prospect: Good chance to be a future bench player or bullpen arm
B prospect: Good chance to be a future everyday player or starter
A prospect: Good chance to be above average to all-star level player or starter

Note: This was written prior to releasing of Stewart and designating Marmol for assignment, I decided to leave them in to see what I said prior to those moves.

Wish You Were Healthy

28. Scott Baker
27. Kyuji Fujikawa

Will Trade for Anything

26. Ian Stewart – Stewart has been nothing but a headache this season. After having wrist surgery last summer, he started the year at AAA, struggled mightily, and then was outrighted off the 40man.  Not surprisingly, he went unclaimed and after taking a weekend – within his rights due to the CBA – to accept his designation to AAA he begrudgingly has went through the motions to earn his 2M paycheck this year. Money seems to be his only motivating factor right now and he has not put any effort to return to the bigs. Right now he’s serving a 10-game suspension for a twitter rant that claimed “Dale doesn’t like me and he’s running the show… there [sic] going to let me rott [sic] in AAA all season and then non tender me after.”  I think it’s more to do with the .201/.319/.417 triple slash line that he’s sporting in AAA than Sveum, but I digress.

As for Stewart’s trade value, I actually thought he began to turn around his season the week he got suspended.  Too bad he had to mouth off, because 3B is still a need for many teams and Stewart does bring a few valuable skills with his defense, ability to work the count, and power potential. However, there’s not a single team in the majors that’s going to trade for him barring some miraculous hot streak that lasts until August.

Trading for Stewart is probably the 2nd worst move the front office has made in the short time here, but at the time it was defensible. I don’t think Colvin is anything more than a platoon player and DJ LeMahieu, despite his good numbers in limited PAs, is just a bench player and the Cubs needed a major league 3B badly.  I also didn’t mind taking a 1 year – 2 million dollar flyer on the guy again this year, but that’s worked out about as bad as it possibly could.

Value:  A bottle of generic aspirin

25. Carlos Marmol – I was on the fence when we signed Marmol to a 3-year deal, buying out a year of free agency and his last 2 arbitration years but looking back, what a terrible move that was.  At best we saved a couple million and kept him away from leaving a year early after signing a monster deal in free agency, at worst, well we’re seeing the worst case scenario right now. Marmol was just too risky given his command issues which have now come to plague him. We should have went year by year in arbitration and then traded or let him walk in his free agent year.

Then I was on the fence with the Marmol trade proposed this offseason because I didn’t think Dan Haren had anything left – which results thus far look right about Haren but still looks pretty terrible given what Marmol is doing and that Haren is healthy and could still turn it around.

I did want to say one thing about Marmol, robot umps would significantly help him. There’s a lot of times, he’s wild but has pitches cross the plate that are called balls. Every outing, an at-bat is swung into the hitters favor because an ump blows a call. There was an at bat earlier this year where he threw 4 strikes according to pitch trax and it was called a 4 ball walk. Not saying Marmol hasn’t been bad this year, but he wouldn’t be this bad if we used the technology available to get the calls right.

Value:  Robots

At Least They’re Still Young

24. Julio Borbon
23. Hector Rondon
22. Michael Bowden – Bowden went unclaimed when we recently DFA’d him, so no team was interested in getting him for free, so no team is going to be giving anything up for him and the Cubs weren’t worried about losing him for nothing either. But Bowden has actually pitched very well since becoming a Cub and I think the front office knew he’d clear waivers and thought this was the way to keep all their players.

Value:  Lottery ticket prospect

Living off Last Year’s Value

21. Scott Camp
20. Scott Hairston – He’s been pretty horrible without every day reps but any glimpse of Hairston returning to form and he’d be a little more valuable for a team in need of a power bat off the bench.

Value:  Lottery ticket prospect

19. Darwin Barney – Barney was always seen as a defensive first, utility player on his way to the bigs and he fought off that label pretty well his first 2 seasons but this year he’s really struggled at the plate.  It doesn’t make sense for the Cubs to trade him at his lowest value, so he won’t be dealt but I don’t think any team sees him as a starter right now. Hypothetically,  if a team was looking for a great defensive back up, Barney should be near the top of their list.

Value:  C Prospect


More Valuable Than He Should Be Given The Results

18. Edwin Jackson – Not a great spot for our big free agent splash only 3 months into the season and what I believe is the worst move the front office has made.

Jackson is extremely divisive among baseball fans. I think the advanced statistic community – which I would say I am a part of – loves Jackson. However, I don’t. I really hated the signing of Jackson and thought it was an overreaction to losing out on Sanchez (who just hit the DL with a shoulder strain btw, so we may have dodged a bullet). I’ve always thought Jackson just a back end starter – overrated & now overpaid.

If you look at Fangraphs, you’ll see Jackson has a sparkling 3.77 FIP and has accumulated 1.0 fWAR thus far. I think that’s a crock of… crap. The reason Jackson’s FIP is that low and his fWAR is that high is because FIP removes balls put in play (hits or not) to neutralize defense and remove it from the equation. That means FIP & fWAR don’t take into account Jackson’s biggest weakness – he gives up a ton of hits – 9.5 H/9 throughout his career, which means he averages nearly one and a half baserunners per inning after including walks.

It’s been hammered into our head over the past decade that getting on base is one of the most important abilities because it leads to more runs, so isn’t it counterintuitive to say that Jackson is a good pitcher considering he lets a lot of people reach base?

If you look at baseball-reference,  he’s accumulated -0.7 bWAR this season and much less bWAR than fWAR over his career because bWAR uses ERA as a factor instead of FIP. That sounds much more accurate to me in this case.  There’s just no way I’m buying he’s been worth positive value given his results thus far this season – I’ve watched him pitch, he’s gotten shelled most of his outings and there’s no luck or defensive miscues about getting hit the way he has. Luckily for the Cubs, he’s starting to turn it around but I can’t see any team parting with anything significant to take on his contract given his terrible start.

Value:  C Prospect & a Lottery Ticket Prospect but we’re footing a big chunk of the bill
Anyone Could Have Had These Guys

17. Dioner Navarro – Couldn’t ask for more from Navarro. He’s been killing the ball in limited playing time and has established himself as a legitimate threat in pitch hitting opportunities.  A nice luxury for a contending team but he’s probably more valuable to the Cubs until the deadline to keep Garza’s value high.

Value:  C Prospect

16. Cody Ransom
15. Ryan Sweeney – Small sample size warning, but Sweeney has been crushing it for the Cubs this year at AAA and in the majors and is showing that those top 100 prospect rankings, albeit 5 years ago, might have been warranted.  He’s always been a decent OBP guy, but he’s developed some pop at the plate which makes him – the guy – I want us to hold on to and see if he was just a late bloomer.

Value: C+ Prospect

Sneaky Value

14. Carlos Villanueva – Villanueva wasn’t brought here to be flipped this season.  He was injury insurance and will get back into the rotation after Garza’s dealt to establish value for a trade next year.

Value: C+ Prospect

13. Kevin Gregg –  The Cubs are looking to quickly cash in on Gregg’s resurgence before he remembers he’s Kevin Gregg.

Value: C Prospect

12. Alfonso Soriano – Soriano hasn’t hit much this year after a great bounce back season last year. Despite, that he moves up 3 spots on this list because he’s 20M cheaper.  The front office has realized he still has a little left in the tank and is a leader of a very young team which makes him somewhat valuable to the Cubs.  Not 19M a year valuable, but not worth paying his entire contract to get nothing in return.

Value:  B Prospect if we pay the majority of his salary

Don’t Expect These Guys To Go Anywhere

11. James Russell – Our most consistent relief pitcher, still cheap and pitching extremely well… hard to see us parting with Russell this year unless some team bowls us over with an offer.   The only thing limiting Russell’s value is the fact he’s only a relief pitcher who isn’t a closer. Russell probably gets a shot at the closer role to start next year, and the Cubs will be around .500 team next year, so they’ll actually need a good closer.

Value: B Prospect

10. Welington Castillo – This might be a little high for Castillo given he has been up and down at the plate, but he’s young, great defensively, and a track record in the minors of some power with the bat, which should come around given more time at the majors, it’s hard to believe a team wouldn’t give up a couple good prospects for him.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

Should Definitely Be On The Move

9. David DeJesus – I reserve the right to drop DeJesus if his shoulder limits his ability after returning from the injury, but up until now, DeJesus has been our best outfielder by far.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect
8.  Scott Feldman – Hardest player to place. It’s difficult to guess if AL teams will be interested in Feldman given his results with the Rangers but it’s hard to ignore a guy pitching as well as he has and some teams might see it as a bonus that he has experience in the AL.  Looking over his stats the only thing that isn’t sustainable is a .250 BABIP, but even if you normalize that to his career average of .292, he has still been legitimately good.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

The Enigmas

7. Luis Valbuena – For the first time in his major league career, he’s been given the chance to play and he’s rewarded the Cubs for the opportunity. Valbuena has always been a great defender and patient at the plate which brings a lot of value to teams. I thought we should have sold high on Barney coming off a gold glove during the offseason and penciled in Valbuena as the starting second baseman.  Now that Barney is struggling, it doesn’t make sense until the offseason but I think Valbuena should be a future piece of this team at 2B while he is cheap.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

6. Nate Schierholtz – Schierholtz has been on fire almost all year. He’s on a 1 year deal, so there’s no point in keeping him around to finish the season. A number of teams should be interested in a left-handed power bat but his value is a little limited since he should be platoon.  I originally had Schierholtz behind DeJesus at #9, but given DeJesus’ injury and the way Nate just keeps hitting, I had to vault him higher for the final version.

Value:  1 B & 1 C Prospect

Arms Race

5. Matt Garza – I wanted to put Garza a spot higher, but given Garza’s injury risk, and the new CBA rules limiting a new team from getting compensation from him, I don’t see how I can rank Garza any higher.

However, he has pitched excellent over his last 3 starts and raised his value as high as it can be for a half year rental under these new CBA rules. Rumors have a lot of teams interested with the Rangers wanting him the most.

Value: 2 B Prospects

4. Travis Wood – You can pretty much make the same argument for Wood that you made for Feldman. Everything looks sustainable except his .214 BABIP; yet he has a career BABIP of .262 so he’s always been a guy that gets hitters to make weak contact to get them out consistently. Plus he’s still young, cheap, under team control for a few more years, and is left-handed.

I don’t Wood is going to be traded and I know Garza will be.

Value: 1 A & 1 B Prospect

In a Class of His Own

3. Starlin Castro – Impossible to accurately grade Starlin right now. There’s no way he’s being traded, but his results this year don’t warrant a ranking this high. Castro has a weakness against fastballs, especially ones off the plate away, and/or up in the zone and the league has taken advantage of that thus far this year. He needs to make an adjustment, and I know he will.

Value: 2 A Prospects with at least 1 top 20 overall prospect & a B prospect

Untouchables

2. Anthony Rizzo – In the midst of a solid second year, he’s been locked down long term and at a friendly contract for the Cubs. I expect Rizzo to have a Derrek Lee-esque career. A good all-around first baseman, with a few great years where Cubs fans argue he’s the best first baseman in the league.

Value: 3 A Prospects, with at least 1 top 10 overall prospect

1. Jeff Samardzija – Well so much for Samardzija’s 2012 season being a fluke. He’s followed up last year’s break out season with improved numbers almost entirely across the board. The only area where he’s dipped a little bit, is the amount of walks he’s surrendering, but with a K/9 that’s jumped over 10, it’s understandable that he’s giving up 1 more walk every 3 games than last year.

Value: What’s an established ace a few years away from free agency worth? I have no idea, they never get traded.

As always you can leave a comment below if you think I got something wrong and you also follow me on twitter at michael2jimenez.

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