Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

A Look At the Under Armor Showcase

Monday, August 26th, 2013

by Rob Willer

Early Thoughts (Home-run Derby)-The day started off around 11:00 am where I met John Arguello of Cubs Den and Harry Pavlidis who contributes to a variety of things which include but are not limited to Baseball Prospectus, Washington Post and created Pitch/FX. We proceeded to the front row right next to the scout seats where the likes of Keith Law, Jim Hendry, Sahadev Sharma among many other great baseball minds. First up was the home-run derby and boy was that a show. The two stars of the day were Chase Vallot and Jacob Gatewood. Gatewood put up a very impressive six home-runs showing great bat speed as well as ability to drive the ball. Vallot followed Gatewood with an impressive performance of his own hitting 6 home-runs himself in the opening round. Projects more as a catcher but could end up at 1st base the ball really exploded off his bat. In the end, Gatewood won the derby by defeating Vallot in the final round setting the stage for the Under Armor Game.

Pitching Prospects-

Touki Toussaint- Touki Toussaint is a RHP with a 6-2 195 lb. frame from Coral Springs, FL who attends Coral Springs Christian Academy. Toussaint was sitting 93-95 on his fastball through the inning he pitched.  Topping out around 97 while mixing in a big breaking curveball which sat around 73-75. Toussaint showed great poise by retiring the heart of the American League Lineup.

Dylan Cease- He repeats his delivery very well and seems very mature with his age. Like Toussaint he was bringing some serious heat sitting in the 92-95 range topping out at 97. When seeing him live it really seemed like his motion was very easy and retired the side 1-2-3. He ended the first with a high fastball to retire Dazmond Cameron quickly the pitch had a lot of movement on it.

Cobi Johnson- Johnson pitches for Mitchell High School in Holiday,Florida. He stands at a 6 foot 4 and provides us with a fastball that sits in 87-90 works well downhill as he gets a lot of downward movement. He mixed in a curve that sat at 77-79 mph, retired three of the five batters he faced giving up a walk and a single in his one inning of work.

Sam Hentges- Hentges is from Minnesota where he pitches at Mounds View High School. What makes Hentges unique is he is a left-hander that stands at 6 foot six he projects to be a power arm in the future. For his fastball he had it in the range from 86-88 and maxed at 89 on the radar gun for the day. Relatively uneventful half of an inning although he did make quick work of Alexis Pantoja striking him out on a high fastball. Overall has a solid delivery and looks to be ready for the MLB Draft already with his body type and track record.

Tyler Kolek- Kolek was the surprise of the day already looking like Jonathon Broxton mixing in a fastball that regularly sat between 94 and 97 miles per hour. His stocky build provides him with an established reliever body type. He measures at 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds with a power fastball that hit 99 miles on the gun. Very easy motion and repeated it well throughout his inning of work. Kolek definitely caught many scouts eyes when he regularly reached back for his plus fastball.

Tuesday: We will continue the Under Armor Recap with some of the top high school hitters in the country.

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Interview With Jim Callis of Baseball America

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Jim Callis is the Executive Editor at Baseball America and you can follow him on twitter @JimCallisBA. In my opinion, he’s one of the most knowledgeable and more approachable guys in the industry and I am grateful he keeps giving me the opportunity to question him on all things related to the Cubs.

Q: Who are the top 5 Cubs prospects and in what order do you rank them? Which Cubs prospects are in the mix for next year’s top 100?

Callis: The top four prospects are pretty clear to me, though the order is debatable. I’d line them up like this: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler. At the time of the Matt Garza trade, I was willing to give Mike Olt a mulligan and put him at No. 5, but he has slumped even worse since the deal. Other candidates would be Dan Vogelbach, Arismendy Alcantara, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards. I’ll go with Johnson.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about the Cubs potentially being a top 3 system going into next year. I believe you had the Cubs ranked 12th going into the season, where would you have the system ranked now after their recent acquisitions?

Callis: Hard to say exactly, because we don’t rank all the systems until we break them all down for the Prospect Handbook. The Cubs are definitely on the upswing for a variety of reasons: a number of players have stepped forward; they’ve acquired more prospects via trades without graduating anyone significant to the majors; they’ve had a strong summer on the draft and international fronts. I think they definitely rank in the upper quartile of systems and could see them in the top three.

Q: The front office decided they loved the international talent in this year’s market and didn’t let the new CBA rules stop them from signing everyone they wanted. They exceeded their pool to the amount that they will receive the maximum punishment of a 100% tax and no signings over 250K in next year’s International free agent market. What do you think of that strategy and the talent they acquired? These guys are so far off, do they even sniff BA’s preseason top 31 Cubs prospects?

Callis: I just wrote a column on this for the latest edition of our magazine. The strategy makes sense to me because the Cubs liked this year’s pool better than next year’s and essentially got two years’ worth of talent up front this year. The penalties aren’t as tough as they would be for draft overspending–the Cubs can’t sign anyone for more than $250,000 next year but they’ll still have their entire draft pool and can trade their slots they can’t really use, which will have value. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez and shortstop Gleyber Torres were our top two prospects in our July 2 ratings, so I bet they both make the Top 30 in the Handbook.

Q: For good and bad, which Cubs prospects have surprised you the most this year?

Callis: We had Arismendy Alcantara ranked pretty high (No. 10) on our preseason list, so I won’t say that his year has been much of a surprise. Christian Villanueva has taken a step forward with his power, which is a positive development. Rock Shoulders has had a nice little breakout, Shawon Dunston Jr. has taken some positive steps. Kyle Hendricks and Erik Jokisch continue to prove themselves at every level they go to. On the downside, I thought Brett Jackson might turn things around this year and he hasn’t. Tim Saunders’ strong 2012 debut looks more like a mirage now. And Arodys Vizcaino hasn’t been able to get back on the mound yet.

Q: I think most fans have unrealistic expectations for prospects. I completed a study last year on the success rates of first round picks from 1990-2007 and there’s other studies out there using similar methods with Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings in previous years and the results are not good. What kind of percentage do you think the Cubs top prospects have at being at least an everyday player, and also, what percentage would you put on them reaching their ceiling? (specifically the ones you feel will be in the top 100)

Callis: I do think there’s a lot of truth in that first statement–prospects miss a lot more than fans realize. I think the good news, though, with the Cubs’ top guys (Bryant, Baez, Almora, Soler) is that they are rated so highly (upper third of the Top 100, at least) and were drafted so highly (the three draftees all were top-nine picks) that their success rate should be a lot higher than everyone in an entire Top 100 or an entire first round. I don’t see anything right now that makes me think they all won’t be good everyday players. But to inject a little realism, one of them probably will fall by the wayside.

Q: There’s 2 names I feel obliged to ask about, Matt Szczur and Junior Lake. Szczur’s putting up another solid season this year at AA, and Lake hit the ground running with the big league team after posting the best numbers of his minor league career at Iowa. You tempered your Szczur expectations a bit last year and Lake you believed was the perennial tease who was not going to be an everyday regular- has your opinion changed on them any this season? What kind of future should fans expect from these guys?

Callis: I haven’t changed my opinion much on those guys. I still like Szczur more than most but I still think he’s more of a second-division regular or, on a contender, a fourth outfielder. Especially on the Cubs, I don’t see how he cracks a projected outfield of Almora in center and Bryant and Soler on the corners. Lake is off to a nice start in the majors but he’s also hitting .400 on balls in play and has a 28-5 K-BB ratio. I see him as more of a tools than skills guy, and there’s also no place for him in Chicago’s future outfield. His best position might be third base, but the Cubs are loaded there. I think the best case for the Cubs is that Lake plays well enough to where they could deal him for a pitcher.

Q: I recently wrote an in-depth scouting report on Baez; his contact problems and plate approach are very worrisome for me and I have him ranked 4th behind Soler, Bryant, and Almora because of that. I think he’s either going to figure it out and be a superstar or be a huge bust with no chance of anything in the middle. However, he’s turned it around rather quickly at AA, as he did at Daytona earlier this season. How do you feel about him? Can he succeed at the majors with his ultra aggressive approach that has worked thus far or will something have to give if he is going to become a major leaguer?

Callis: The lack of plate discipline is a concern, but I’d look at him as more unique than worrisome. Yes, he swings at everything and strikes out, but he’s also 20 and has hit 31 homers this year and done just fine in Double-A. His walk rate is actually improving as he moves up. He has yet to get to a level where pitchers have stopped challenging him, and he makes such hard contact when he connects that I think he can have a higher BAPIP than most. Right now, he looks to me like a .270 hitter with 30-plus homers in the majors who might be able to play shortstop. I’d have a hard time ranking him behind anyone besides Bryant in the system.

Q: Which prospect has the highest power potential out of Baez, Bryant, Soler, Olt, & Vogelbach and which is most likely to reach it?

Callis: I like Olt’s power but I don’t think he belongs in the same group as the others. The other four all have elite power potential. All of those guys have 40-homer upside. I think Baez and Bryant are the most likely to get to that point.

Q: The Cubs are still pretty weak in the pitching department but there are some interesting names and potential rotation pieces in the farm. What order would you put these pitchers in – Pierce Johnson, CJ Edwards, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Kyle Hendricks, Arodys Vizcaino, & Barret Loux – and what kind of potential do they have? Are there any other pitchers in the system that you’re high on?

Callis: Johnson, Edwards, Vizcaino (if he’s healthy, a huge if), Paniagua, Hendricks, Loux. Pitching is the Cubs’ biggest need right now, and they need a lot more in their system. I do like some of the guys they’ve drafted the last couple of years, such as Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Trey Masek and Tyler Skulina.

Q: The organization is very strong on the left side of the infield. What position do you think the following players will end up at and what kind of defensive ability will they have there?

Callis:

* Starlin Castro – I think he’s far from their best option at shortstop, but he’s already established there and I don’t see him moving. To me, he’s a 45 defender on the 20-80 scouting scale.

* Javier Baez – Think he could be a 50 defender at shortstop but will wind up as a 55-60 defender at third base.

* Arismendy Alcantara – Erratic at shortstop so he’s probably a 45 in the long run there, see him as a 50-55 at second base.

* Kris Bryant – Think he could be a 50 defender at third base but if Baez goes there, Bryant becomes a 50-55 corner outfielder.

* Mike Olt – Can be a 60 defender at third base but hard to see where he fits in Chicago’s lineup of the future right now.

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Bullpen Fodder

Friday, August 16th, 2013

I started to write this as part of The Hypothetical 2014 Chicago Cubs but I think it deserved its own article since the bullpen is in such a state of flux. Bullpen arms have very little value to most analysts and fans – outside of the closer – which is a discussion for another day – but they are still a highly important piece to the contending puzzle. I haven’t cared about fixing the bullpen; mostly  because I didn’t expect us to compete so the more losses the better these last two years.

Next year is different. I do expect us to be solid so the bullpen is something that needs to be addressed.  But I also know bullpen arms are volatile, and performance year-to-year is unpredictable minus the handful of elite late inning arms scattered across the league. Many fans still think we should be spending money on veteran arms to sure up the bullpen for next season but I am not a big fan of spending money on the bullpen, yet I understand the thought behind it.

Looking at the Cubs’ bullpen performance this year, they rank 2nd worst only trailing the Astros in terms of fWAR and SIERA and they’re 5th worst via ERA. They’ve blown the most saves this year, have struck out the lowest number of hitters while walking the 9th most. Any way you look at it, the bullpen as a whole has been atrocious. If the Cubs even had a league average bullpen, they’d have about 10 more wins.  This is definitely an area the Cubs could improve their record drastically with an overhaul.

Dumping Carlos Marmol and Shawn Camp at the end of June were major steps in the right direction but they only accounted for 6 of the 24 blown saves. These two combined were worth -1.5 fWAR, had an ERA of 6.54, and drew the most ire from Cubs fans.  The bullpen has improved since, especially due to the production of Pedro Strop and Matt Guerrier, who have been excellent for the Cubs since being acquired. Unfortunately Guerrier is having surgery on his throwing elbow due to a flexor mass buildup and is now lost for the rest of the season. The bullpen’s ERA has went from 4.37 to 4.16 since the end of June but even with that noticeable progress, that doesn’t improve the team – a 4.16 bullpen ERA is still 5th worst in baseball, a 4.37 bullpen ERA is only one spot worse, not much of a difference.

Kevin Gregg, the replacement closer after Marmol was dumped has accounted for 4 of the blown saves, but his save conversion rate of 86% is actually about 10% above league average over the past decade. He’s been a stabilizing force for the bullpen, and if it wasn’t for a swoon in early July, he would’ve been traded. He’s still an option to be traded by the waiver deadline but the team that still needs bullpen help the most is the Orioles, and they’re they team that waived him earlier in the year.

The pitcher who has been most valuable in terms of fWAR, James Russell, has accounted for 7 of the team’s blown saves. His numbers are actually very good, which made me think he was misused before I even looked deeper at the numbers. Russell is an excellent LOOGY, allowing a .165/.216/.244 triple slash line against left-handed hitters in 26IP. However against righties, he’s giving up .309/.395/.567 and has actually faced 17 innings worth of right-handed hitters – that’s about 17 innings too many. In fact, his only blown save against a left-handed batter was on 7/1 against Jason Kubel.  As long as Russell is used in the correct situations, he’s been dominant.

Some of these mistakes weren’t entirely on Sveum; during a season you’re going to have to use bullpen in matchups that aren’t favorable and in a couple of the cases, Russell was used to try to rest the bullpen; like the first game of the doubleheader vs Milwaukee on 6/30. Cubs up 5-2, with 1 out and 2 on in the 7th, Sveum tried to keep Russell in there to escape with a lead, but Russell gave up a game tying 3 run homer to right-handed pinch hitter Khris Davis. Another reason to defend Sveum’s use of the bullpen is the lack of talent on the bullpen roster, and we’ve heard that from our front office many times this season. For instance, rule 5 pick Hector Rondon has been the worst pitcher still on the roster. Rondon isn’t a bad pitcher, he’s just not ready for the majors; he should be sitting in AAA right now refining his command and developing his repertoire after only pitching 7 innings the past 2 seasons for the Indians, instead Sveum is stuck with him on the 25-man so he has to use him. It’s also been a revolving door with the rest of the bullpen spots. We lost Fujikawa early, we’ve claimed nearly every arm that has been sent to waivers, and we’ve used a bunch of young guys from our farm trying to piece it together for the season.

Nevertheless, I am not letting Sveum entirely off the hook, maybe this is something that improves with more experience, but the area he needs to work on the most is how to handle the bullpen. He’s late with the hook with his starting pitchers (this could easily be related to a lack of trust of a terrible bullpen though), he gives very little slack to young bullpen arms and trusts veterans to figure it out too long even when it’s clear they’re struggling.  Overall, I think Sveum is an solid enough manager with some areas he’s excellent in but bullpen management is critical for a contending team, so he must improve if the Cubs are going to win under him.

Looking at next year, after looking at this free agent market, there’s not much there either for relief pitchers. I like 3 names, Jason Frasor, Jesse Crain and Joe Smith – all 3 guys have contender experience in the AL, with an excellent track record, so all 3 should be highly sought after by contenders. I don’t think the Cubs will spend a big amount on a top tier free agent reliever so it looks like internal options may be our only choice.

Internally, barring any unforeseen trades, Villanueva looks to be the swing man, Russell as a LOOGY and Strop as the late innings righty are locks. I would assume Fujikawa is the closer if/when he is healthy.  Those 4 should be very good in their respective roles, but after that is where it will be interesting. I don’t expect the Cubs to tender an offer to Gregg. The team will also lose Guerrier who is in the last year of his deal, and with his injury I don’t think the Cubs will be interested in bringing him back. We’ve had a lot of auditions this year and we’ll have more these last 6 plus weeks. Many younger arms with potential like Putnam, Bowden, Dolis, Rusin, Raley, Rodriguez and Parker will be in the mix for next season and if they don’t make it, some will have to be outrighted off the 40-man completely since we’ve hit a point where we have too many prospects that need to be protected and we’ve also got quite a few guys out of options, so expect to see the Cubs make long-term decisions on a lot of players in the near future.

One important name for instance is Jake Arrieta who will have to be on the 25-man one way or another. I expect him to get a rotation spot, but if he struggles the rest of this year (he’s being called up today), he may end up a late inning reliever next season.  A side note on Arrieta, the Cubs gained an extra year of control and avoided super two status by waiting to call him up until August.

As I mentioned last week, I have Arodys Vizcaino penciled into the BP, and after listening to Jason McLeod yesterday on the Keith Law’s podcast, I feel a little more confident expecting Vizcaino to be ready. The short take, Vizcaino was throwing especially well in Spring Training before his setback, and the Cubs expect him to throw multiple innings each outing in the Arizona Fall league to rebuild arm strength and get back into the routine of pitching to be ready to pitch for next season.

That leaves 2 spots. I like Bowden but he’s really struggled lately and could be on the chopping block, again. Raley and Rusin both still have options and are lefties so unless something happens with Russell, I expect them to be at AAA. Rusin pitching well enough to stay in the rotation mix and is probably our best internal option if there is an injury so I’d be shocked if he’s not starting at AAA next year. Dolis has the stuff, but I think he’s the first guy outrighted off the 40-man due to his health. Putnam is probably outrighted as well since he’s returning from an elbow injury. Blake Parker has pitched extremely well and is deserving of a spot right now but that can change by next Spring and he also has options left.  Rodriguez could also be outrighted if he continues to struggle.

Down on the farm, we have a couple intriguing options including Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm (recently acquired in the Matt Garza deal), Barret Loux (replacement for Jake Brigham, as part of the Geovany Soto deal), Kyle Hendricks (part of the Ryan Dempster trade) and Tony Zych (2011 4th round draft pick). Most of these guys are being groomed as starters but I’m a believer in the theory that it’s smarter to let a rookie pitcher start their career in the bullpen to get them acclimated to the majors and to also keep their innings down as long as it’s not an instance where the role keeps changing back and forth. If the Cubs don’t want to take that route, Zych is a definite BP arm, that is close to being ready for the majors. He has a 2.52 ERA in 50IP with 36 strikeouts to only 20 walks but with the 40-man issues the Cubs are facing, adding another player who doesn’t need to be there just complicates matters more. And then there’s service time/player control to consider and this option works best as a midseason call up, not to start a season.

So out of all the internal options right now, I’d lean towards Bowden and Parker getting those spots. Other than getting back Fujikawa, that’s basically the same bullpen minus the 3 worst pitchers this year while also losing Guerrier and Gregg, who were 2 of the best albeit in limited time and with major questions marks going into next year.  On paper it’s not a terrible BP, and like I said earlier, an average BP would have been worth roughly 10 more wins this year. But I thought this year’s BP was going to be solid and look how far off I was then.

Who do you guys want in the BP? Is removing the 3 worst performing pitchers plus hoping for some progression from young arms going to be enough of an improvement? Is adding Fujikawa and Vizcaino, two very high upside arms to the BP going to replace the production lost from Gregg and Guerrier?  Is free agency our best course of action? As always drop your thoughts and questions below.


  • The Cards took 2 of 3 from the Pirates, moving them within 2 games. The Reds beat Milwaukee, putting them only 2.5 games back. I think all 3 end up making the playoffs, but it’s going to be an exciting 6 weeks in the NLC even if the playoff teams are pretty much locked down. I really hope the Pirates don’t end up a wild card and then get bounced after 1 game.
  • The AL on the other hand is still wide open with Detroit, Boston, Texas, Oakland, Tampa, Baltimore, and Cleveland fighting over divisions and/or wild cards.
  • While the Yankees lost and see their playoff hopes drop each day, Alfonso Soriano did his part to win going 4-5 yesterday. He’s got 10 hits including 4 HR and a double with 14 RBI plus a walk in his last 15 plate appearances.  I don’t think he’s going to even make it past the first ballot, but he’s a fringy Hall of Famer for me. We’ll see what he does these last few years but there’s only 4 guys in the 400 HR + 300 SB club (A-Rod, Bonds, Mays, & Dawson) and he’s going to be joining that list soon. He at least deserves some serious consideration especially since he’s one of the few power hitters who we think did it clean this era.
  • Jayson Stark wrote yesterday that Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters ever, and I agree. He’s probably going to run away with another MVP, which I think he actually deserves this one over Trout. Last year I thought (and still do) that Trout was the MVP. But this year Trout has slipped a bit, while Cabrera has increased his offensive production across the board. The only real threat is if Chris Davis carries Baltimore to the playoffs.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Starting Pitcher

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Pierce Johnson

Bio: Johnson was born in Colorado and was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 15th round of the 2009 Amateur Draft. He bypassed the offer by the Rays and attended Missouri State University instead where he played the next three years. After his junior season Johnson established himself as one of the top college arms in the draft. Finally after 42 picks in the first round the Chicago Cubs selected Johnson 43rd in the 2012 Amateur Draft becoming their top pitching prospect. He measures at 6 foot 3 and 170 pounds which seems to be the pitcher’s build of today’s game. Overall he has had a great story bypassing the first draft after high school to attend college and get rewarded for his choice.

2012-2013 Season: Overall Johnson has pitched for four affiliates of the Chicago Cubs including Rookie Ball Cubs in the Arizona League, Boise Hawks (Short Season A Affiliate), Kane County (Low A) in the Midwest League and Daytona Cubs in the Florida St League. Over his 2012 season he combined to go 11 innings between both affiliates while allowing five runs (four earned) and striking out 14 in six games. Next he moved to Kane County at the start of the 2013 season where he started 13 games for the cougars. Johnson’s season stats include 69 and 2/3 innings pitched while registering a 3.10 earned run average. Some other stats of note are 74 strikeouts to 22 walks which is good for a 3.36 SO/BB ratio. The Cubs felt their second pick of the 2012 draft behind Albert Almora deserved another challenge so they called up Johnson to Daytona. The Daytona Cubs play in the Florida St. League which is regarded as pitchers friendly league where most dominate their opposition on a nightly basis. So far through seven starts in eight games he has completed 41 and 2/3 innings and put up a minuscule earned run average of 2.16. Johnson will most likely finish out the year at Daytona as they are headed for the playoffs which will be very important in Johnson’s development (playoff pressure). I believe if he keeps up this pitching we could see him start at Tennessee next year and have the chance for a mid to late season call-up to Iowa.

Sleeper Prospect: CJ Edwards

Bio: Edwards was one of the three pieces in the Matt Garza deal last month which also netted the Cubs 3rd Base Prospect Mike Olt and Starting Pitcher Justin Grimm. The most shocking thing about Edwards is that he was a 48th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 2011. He attended Mid Carolina High School in South Carolina and is considered to be one of the biggest steals in the draft after being drafted so late. Edwards got his start with the Rangers system at the age of 20 where he followed the same path as Johnson mentioned above. They both spent their first season in each system at Rookie Ball and then got called up to Short Season A Ball. Edwards combined to go 5-3 with a ridiculous low earned run average of 1.48. Some other key stats to know about his 2012 season include 85 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched and no home-runs allowed while having a KK/BB ratio of 3.40.

2013 Season: Before the trade Edwards pitched at A Ball Hickory where he turned an impressive 18 starts registering an 8-2 record. Edwards pitched 93 and 1/3 innings and struck out 122 batters with yet again you guessed it giving up a home-run. After the trade with Texas, Edwards reported to Daytona to join the High A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Due to the rain in July and August, Edwards only has gotten in three games where he has went 9 and 2/3 innings and struck out 17 batters while walking just 5. CJ Edwards features three pitches–a four-seam fastball that comes in anywhere from 90 -95 mph, a big curveball at 75-80, and a fading changeup at 82-86. Right now, he generates a lot of his strikeouts by changing hitters’ eye levels with high heat and low curves. Most scouts have said that Edward’s best pitch is his curveball as already at only 21 years old its a plus pitch. He should start the season next year at Double A Tennessee and be on the same path as Johnson mentioned above. Should be fun to watch this system develop and start to build depth. Other possible candidates include Dillon Maples, Ivan Pinyero and Kyle Hendricks.

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Cuban Invasion Continues, Bryant Promoted, Tseng Signed

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

In news that I think is only tangential to the Cubs, yet another Cuban über-prospect, 26-year-old Jose Abreu, has apparently escaped Cuba has plans to defect, and will subsequently break the bank of some MLB team. Check out his stats from the last three years:

2010-2011: .453/.597/.986 (37 HRs in 77 games)

2011-2012: .394/.542/.837

2012-2013: .382/.535/.735

Kids playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard think those numbers are ridiculous. Here’s a link to a Grantland story in which Jonah Keri says he “might be the best hitter in the world.”

He even compares Abreu to, gulp, Miguel Cabrera. Abreu is huge (6’2” 260 lbs.), and is, by all accounts, a 1B/DH-only type (his glove is apparently well below average). That’s the main reason that I don’t see the Cubs going all out for him (and going all out is going to be what it will take to sign him).  We have a good, young, 1B signed long-term, and I don’t think a team can afford to have a defensive liability at first base, even if he is a great hitter. If the FO had some insight that the NL was on the verge of adopting the DH, I think we’d have a different story. It would be an exiting move, though, and I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least if the Cubs made a serious run at the guy. Either way, with his numbers, and the recent success of fellow Cubans Puig and Cespedes, Abreu is going to demand HUGE dollars.

We’re in the deep doldrums period with the major league club right now, but there’s actually a few interesting things going on with the organization.

I was about to write a blurb about the rumors of the looming promotion of Kris Bryant. Well, as you’ve probably heard, Bryant was just promoted from Boise to Class High-A Daytona. Several writers had speculated that he would skip Low-A Kane County, and that turned out to be what occurred. Bryant was absolutely destroying the Northwest League, so I really like the move. However, I am concerned about the amount of rain-outs in Daytona. I really hope Bryant can get enough consistent at-bats to keep his rapid development rolling.

In news that has been rumored for a few weeks, the Cubs officially announced the signing of Taiwanese pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng ($1.625 million signing bonus). Tseng, a veteran of the World Baseball Classic, is 6’1”, 200 lbs. and features a 4-pitch mix with a 95-mph fastball. He was ranked 23rd on BAs international prospects list, making Tseng the 4th Cubs signee this year ranked in the top 23.

There’s not much to say here. Mat Latos dominated the Cubs, who were shutout for third straight game at home – the first time that has happened since 1924. Travis Wood pitched well again…but he might as well have given up 100 runs, since he got exactly zero run support. Also, Aroldis Chapman throws baseballs really fast.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Center Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Albert Almora

Bio: The Cubs number one pick in 2012, outfielder Albert Almora projects to be a Cubs star one day soon. Signed when he was only 18, he’s a couple of years away from full development, but he’s already got most scouts checking up on his progression from high school. Its crazy to think that Almora is only 19 years old but you wouldn’t notice it on the field for how well he shows leadership and poise. Almora was the Cubs’ first round draft pick going sixth overall in the 2012 draft becoming Theo Epstein’s first draft pick.

2012 Season: He’s a good athlete with off the charts instincts and mental makeup. Almora started off his Cubs career at Rookie Ball in 2012 where you guessed hit over .300. Almora hit .321/.331/.464 to be exact over 145 at bats across Rookie Ball and Short Season A Boise while scoring 27 runs. It seems the only thing in his development that hasn’t come is the power in relation to home-runs where he only had two homers on the season. For now we’ll take his production and ability to get on base over the home-runs and tendency to strikeout.

Projection: Almora has good pitch recognition skills, so that should eventually translate into an ability to grind out ABs and take walks. Most scouts have him pegged as hitting .300 as an everyday center-fielder in the major leagues. The projections of home-runs varies but in my mind I would say 15 home-runs would be a solid estimate when he finally gets the call to the big league club sometime in 2016.

2013 Season: Almora has played at Kane County for all of this year after recovering from his injury early on in the season. Through 61 games Almora has 82 hits in 249 at bats which is good for a .329 batting average. Some other key numbers to remember are his 17 doubles, four triples and his .842 OPS. Overall Almora has done everything the Cubs’ have asked since returning from injury. Recently Almora went on the seven day disabled list with a groin injury which is probably the only reason he is still at Kane County. In my mind I believe he gets the call-up to Daytona by the end of the month baring any setbacks from the groin injury.

Sleeper Prospect: Trey Martin

Bio: Trey Martin, 19, signed an over-slot contract in 2011 as a 13th round draft pick out of a Georgia high school. Martin played the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball where he turned in a decent season .243/.289/.357 with only four extra base hits in 76 at bats. After playing the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball he reported back there to start the 2012 season. Looking at his vast improvement at Rookie Ball in the 2012 season it looks like the Cubs did the right thing by sending him back there to start the season. He finished his Rookie Ball campaign with a line of .448/.515/.690 through seven games going 13 for 29 with six extra base hits. Finally Martin made the move to Boise Idaho to join the Boise Hawks where he would play the rest of the season (57 games) with a line of .270/.318/.377 including 12 extra base hits and six steals in 11 attempts.

2013 Season:  Martin batted .200 in 11 games with Class A Kane County this year, but the 13th-round pick in 2011 injured his left shoulder, and needed surgery. He began the year 20th on the top 20 in the MLB.com ratings of the Cubs system. Since Almora is due for a call-up very soon Martin should get the regular at bats in center unless the Cubs move Oliver Zapata there. Martin most definitely will start the season again at Kane County after playing in only 11 games this year. Hopefully his shoulder will heal in time for spring training and he can return to his pre-injury status of projecting to be a very solid major league outfielder with above average defense. Stay Tuned as the Outfield Projections conclude with Left Field tomorrow morning.

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Book Review: The Art of Fielding

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Fun weekend all around for the Cubbies. As nice as a sweep would have been for the boys in blue, taking two out of three against the Cards while playing with a lineup full of dudes I know nothing about is impressive.

I haven’t watched a Cubs game since the final day before the All-Star break—not because I don’t want too, but because I’ve been in between moves once again—and my daily glances at the box scores have provided many a “who in the world is (insert player name)? I caught a few glimpses of the game yesterday peeping in the windows of local bars, while parading down a long stretch of road in my new place.

The series win was not only sweet because of the opponent, but also because it provided the somewhat lovable Pirates a chance to put a few more games between them and the redbirds. Unfortunately the Buccos decided it was a prime weekend for them to get swept by the Rockies in Denver.

Since topics of the offseason and next year’s prospective team/lineup have already been rehashed a bit, I thought it would be a good change of pace to talk a little “bookworm.” Some of my favorite pieces on the blog over the years have been reviews, critiques or observations from baseball/sports books and it may be fun to get back into that business.

Once every month or two, I’ll try and get something out about a baseball book that I’ve recently read. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes away from work and it doesn’t happen nearly enough considering my weekly workload. In the few weeks between finishing my last job, moving 1,300 miles and starting a new job, I was able to finish “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

The novel is the first for Harbach and it was published in late 2011, so I’m a little late to the game—so to speak. The book was recommended to me by a friend who is a baseball lover and a high school English teacher—he told me that this is one of the best sports books he has ever read.

So I took his word for it and did a little research about the book beforehand. I’m a little weird when it comes to picking books in a bookstore, because there are so many good things to read. Most of my reads come from personal recommendations or being force fed by close friends—an idea which I will incorporate into the post later.

“The Art of Fielding” outlines the story of a small-school college baseball team, who stumble into an unknown, but incredible baseball prospect. The book’s hero is a shortstop who challenges for the NCAA record for most games in a row without committing an error—a record that is currently held by the boy’s childhood hero.

The story is told through the eyes of three important characters in an interesting weave of differing emotions and ideals. The topic of baseball is the front door of the book, but the story outlines the complexity of human relationships and how we deal with different personalities. Tragedy and joy are prevalent throughout, in a roller coaster that toys with your own emotion.

While the book is long-ish, it basically reads itself from cover to cover.

For the sake of being cheesy, I’d give the book 4 ½ gloves out of five. Definitely worth the read if you enjoy good baseball fiction, especially if you like a reasonably priced e-book.

I want to give YOU, VFTB fan club, the choice to pick my next read: Francona or The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. Vote in the comments.

  • Starlin had a day that was normal for him over the past two years—3 for 4 with an RBI. He’s managed to      creep that BA over .250 finally, but 2013 cannot end fast enough for the guy.
  • A month without the Mr. Hyde version of Edwin Jackson officially ended, as the Cards tagged Jackson early. Only three more years (maybe) of miserable starts.
  • What’s the point of coming back in a game if you are going to give the lead back?

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Right Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Jorge Soler, 21, RF  Jorge Soler the prize of the international free agent pool for the Cubs signed right out of Cuba for 9 years and 30 million. Soler has a patient approach at the plate and a rare combination of big, raw power with a quick, short swing. He profiles as the prototypical corner outfielder who slots into the heart of a strong lineup.He stands 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Soler runs better than one would think for his size. Due to his athleticism most scouts believe he will last longer even with his great size compared to the likes of big power hitters that eventually run out of gas. Coming into this season Soler was ranked the 34th ranked prospect by Baseball American and the 42nd by MLB.com.

2013 Season: So far this season at High A Daytona Soler has contributed a line of .283/.383/.467 while hitting eight home-runs and driving in 35 runs. Soler’s walk to strikeout ratio is surprisingly very good as he was at 38 strikeouts to 21 walks through 55 games. The big issue is that Soler was injured on June 14th for what is being described as a fractured left tibia. Initial reports suggested that Soler would be out four to six weeks. This in turn would have placed his return to be late July/Early August but the fracture hasn’t competently healed yet. According to Carrie Muskat the MLB.com beat writer for the Cubs has reported that Soler will undergo tests Monday to decide whether or not if he can play in the Arizona Fall League. Albert Almora of the Kane County Cougars also is being reported as a candidate for the Arizona Fall League. We’ll keep you up to date later on in the month on who will be on the roster for Arizona in the fall.

Sleeper Prospect: Rubi Silva, 23, was the Cubs top position player prospect out of Cuba before Jorge Soler came aboard.  Silva is a great athlete who can play all 3 OF positions and 2B. Silva started off his Cubs career by skipping Rookie Ball and Short Season A jumping right into Low A Peoria in 2011. 2011 was a mixed bag for Silva as he absolutely tore up Low A Ball by producing a line .300/.319/.400 while contributing seven triples three homers and 16 doubles. After 95 games the Cubs thought Silva was ready for Advanced A Daytona where pitchers are more refined and the competition jumps considerably. Silva played the final 29 games at Advanced A Daytona where he chipped in a line of .229/.250/.362 not the numbers Silva was looking for on the season. There weren’t many positives at his stint at Daytona in 2012 as he only walked three times but struck out 22 times showing poor plate discipline.

2012 Season: After his struggles at Daytona Silva spent 111 games at Daytona and boy did it make a difference after his line turned in a .302/.322/.412. Silva really worked hard that off-season to get back to where he was pre-promotion to Daytona in 2011. Some other note worthy stats for Silva include 15 doubles, 11 triples and three home-runs while driving in 61 runs. From first glance it seems Silva has great speed due to the double digit triples and his power seems non existent as he only hit three home-runs. After he turned in a successful season at Daytona they promoted Silva to Double A just like they did in 2011 when promoting him to High A after a hot start. Silva did fairly well at Tennessee in the 20 games he played for the Smokies. He had a line of .263/.277/.413 while also hitting three triples in less than 80 at bats.

2013 Season: Silva continued to develop this year at Double A Tennessee picking up where he left off at the end of the 2012 season. Silva’s up to date stats include a line of .294/.313/.493. We see first off the dramatic change in slugging percentage as he jumped 80 points from last year. In his first two seasons Silva combined to hit 10 home-runs over 253 games across 995 at bats. In 106 games and 402 at bats Silva already has hit 13 home-runs to go along with 27 doubles and seven triples. He has turned in all-around great season and seems very deserving of his third call-up in three years. Stay Tuned as I move across the outfield to center for tomorrow’s piece.

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The Waiting (for the Top Prospects) is the Hardest Part

Friday, August 9th, 2013

The Cubs have done little to hide their focus on building up their farm system since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office. For the most part, they have been successful, turning a system that was in the middle of the pack a year and a half ago into a unanimous top three system in baseball. But when can we expect these prospects to hit the Majors?

For the sake of simplicity, I am listing the top 8 prospects, who I view as the top two tiers of prospects. There is a fairly strong consensus on who the top 8 prospects in the system are, but beyond there it gets a bit fuzzy, and you have guys who are significantly less likely to contribute in a meaningful way to a MLB roster.

Also, it is likely that at least a couple of these players will bust at some point, whether that happens in the high minors or in the majors. Guessing who will bust and who won’t, though, would just be a guessing game, so the presumption behind this list is that this is what would happen if they at least reached the Majors intact.

Javier Baez (SS)
20 Years Old
Currently at Double A Tennessee

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between late 2014 and mid-2015.
Will be late 2014 if: (1) Baez continue to hits for a ton of power while getting his strikeouts under control; (2) the Cubs are competing for a playoff spot near the end of the season; and (3) Starlin Castro or Mike Olt struggle next season.
Will be mid-2015 if: Baez continues to struggle with strikeout issues and the Cubs need to find him a position because everyone else is playing well.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A.

Kris Bryant (3B)
21 Years Old
Currently at Short Season A Boise

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between early 2015 and mid-2016.
Will be early 2015 if: He isn’t seriously challenged in the minors until he hits Double A, and even then the hiccups are minimal. The concern with Bryant is strikeouts, so the question will be if he can limit them at the higher levels. The power should carry him through the low levels of the minors quickly.
Will be mid-2016 if: He gets stalled at High A or the strikeout problems become Brett Jackson like at the higher levels of the minors.
Predicted starting point in 2014: High A.

Albert Almora (OF)
19 Years Old
Currently at Low A Kane County

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between mid-2015 and mid-2016.
Will be mid-2015 if: He stays healthy, which has been a bit of an issue for him so far. Honestly, that is the only limitation I’m seeing on Almora, who I think will spend half of 2015 in Double A.
Will be mid-2016 if: Injuries derail his progress.
Predicted starting point in 2014: High A.

Jorge Soler (OF)
21 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona

See everything I wrote for Almora? Push the dates up six months, and that’s Soler. The issue will just be if he can stay on the field. The shin issue he is dealing with right now is more of a freak thing than a chronic concern, though.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A.

Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS)
21 Years Old
Currently at Double A Tennessee

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between mid-2014 and early 2015.
Will be mid-2014 if: Aside from Alcantara himself continuing to play well, (1) Castro or Barney need to miss significant time any time after about June 1; (2) Barney struggles offensively to the same extent as he has in 2013; or (3) Barney is traded.
Will be early 2015 if: (1) Castro and Barney both play well; and (2) Barney is not traded.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Triple A Iowa.

Pierce Johnson (RHP)
22 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona
Expect to see him in the Majors: Between late 2014 and early 2016.
Will be late 2014 if: (1) Johnson is pitching well; (2) the Cubs are competing for a postseason spot; and (3) the Cubs think Johnson could help the bullpen.
Will be early 2016 if: This is really independent of what Johnson does. Of course if he hits a bump in the road, that will slow him down, but the Cubs may be solid enough in the mid to late part of the rotation to be in no rush to bring Johnson up, particularly if the bullpen improves as well.
Predicted starting point in 2014: Double A Tennessee.

CJ Edwards (RHP)
21 Years Old
Currently at High A Daytona

Edwards is on a very similar trajectory to Pierce Johnson, with one caveat, in that he’s much slighter than Johnson. That just means that scouts think there’s a bigger risk he won’t be able to hold up to a starter’s workload or could face an injury somewhere down the line. Edwards being pegged for the bullpen could actually speed up his ascent to the Majors, since he’ll become a two pitch guy at that point. However, he’d undoubtedly be more valuable as a starter.

Mike Olt (3B)
24 years old
Currently at Triple A Iowa

Expect to see him in the Majors: Between September 2013 and mid-2014.
Will be September 2013 if: He goes on a bit of a hot streak between now and the end of Iowa’s season.
Will be mid-2014 if: He doesn’t, and he doesn’t claim the starting spot in spring training. Or the Cubs just want to delay his arbitration clock.
Predicted starting point in 2014: This one is a coin toss between Iowa and Chicago, but I’ll guess Chicago.

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What do the Cubs Need to do to Compete in 2014

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

With the July 31st trading deadline come and gone, and the Cubs bereft of the type of players that would make it through waivers, we have a very good idea of what the Cubs will look like the rest of the way through 2013. This also means that we have a pretty good idea of what the Cubs will look like in 2014.

Despite the record, the Cubs are a significantly better team this year than last year. This is largely due to the Cubs not trotting out starting pitchers that just are not good enough to get by the in Majors, are not ready for the Majors, or both, 4 out of 5 games. While this is somewhat related to injuries and innings limits last season, the Cubs are also just deeper as far as starting pitchers are concerned this season. Whereas the Cubs were flawed in all phases of the game a year ago, they are now just largely a team that does not score enough runs. They have a good starting rotation, and an ok but inconsistent bullpen.

The Cubs have some big time prospects in the minors, and there is a legitimate argument that 8 Cubs farmhands will be in Top 100 lists next year. Yet only one of those prospects is in Triple A (Mike Olt). In other words, the big influx of high ceiling talent probably is not coming until 2015, although I will be discussing when you can expect to see those eight prospects in the Big Leagues on Friday afternoon.

Considering the Javier Baez and Kris Bryant types in the farm system are not coming to save the day, what can the Cubs do to compete in 2014? For the sake of this article, my definition of “competing” is being at least within 5 games of the division lead for most of the season. It would mean that at the All Star Break and trade deadline the Cubs would be in the division hunt. I am not going to reference things that need to continue, so the Cubs’ strong starting pitching won’t get a reference. These are the things that need to change.

The Cubs Need Better Luck Part 1

The Cubs -31 run differential is better than the Washington Nationals’ run differential (-35). The Nationals are 4 games under .500, pretty much right where their run differential says they should be, the Cubs are 13 games under .500. The Cubs have been terrible in 1 run games this season, but that is due to two things: (1) poor bullpen performances, particularly early in the season; and (2) a lack of clutch hitting. Here’s the thing: do you know what are two of the biggest things in baseball that are not predictive of future success or failure? One is bullpen performance, which can vary greatly from year to year. Relief pitchers have among the highest early flameout rates, and the way they are used leads to small sample sizes in any given year. And the second is clutch hitting, which is something that no one has been able to show is a skill as opposed to just plain old randomness.

But the Cubs Also Actually Need a Better Bullpen

This is especially true at the start of the season. Now, the Cubs will have an advantage at the start of 2014: they will not be trying to showcase Carlos Marmol. The Cubs have also put together a pretty solid collection of young hard throwers who are MLB ready, at least as relievers, but they are going to have be very good in 2014 for the Cubs to compete.

Rebounds and Improvements

The Cubs have gotten nothing offensively from the middle of the infield this season.  No, really, they’re below 0 WAR offensively in the middle infield. Starlin Castro has been among the most disappointing players in baseball this season, although he was much better in July (.292/.339/.442). Second base has been a complete offensive black hole for the Cubs, although that is largely due to Darwin Barney’s .228 BABIP. While Barney has never been a good hitter, his elite defense at the position at least made him survivable at the bottom of a lineup. At first base, Anthony Rizzo has been pretty good this year, but has not yet become the ideal middle of the order force many think he can.

Legitimately, for the Cubs to compete in 2014 Castro and Barney will have to at least revert back to their 2011-2012 form offensively. This means that Castro will have to become an above average offensive shortstop, and Barney just has to not be a complete black hole in the 8 hole.

However, I think Rizzo is going to have to become a stud in short order for the Cubs to compete in 2014. If anyone in that lineup is going to become a .900 plus OPS force, it’s going to Rizzo.

Someone Will Have to Surprise

I’m looking at you Brett Jackson and Mike Olt. One of you is going to have to get past your strikeout problems and become an average regular at least. I’m also kind of looking at you Junior Lake, but you just have to prove that you can continue to be a productive major leaguer. Other candidates: Logan Watkins, Alberto Cabrera, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley.

The Cubs Will Have to Make a Move or Two

I think the most likely move the Cubs will make is for David Price, but Price will not improve the club enough on his own in 2014 alone to make the difference. Over this year’s rotation, adding Price would add 4 wins at most. Getting Price now would be to sign him long term, so he’ll be heading a rotation that the Cubs expect to make the playoffs several times between 2015 and 2020.

But I do not think the Cubs can trust the left field role to Junior Lake and expect it to work, so they will need to get someone. My top choice would be Carlos Beltran, if he is not tendered a contract by the Cardinals. On the down side, Beltran’s walk rate has gone downhill this year and he should only be playing in left field. On the up side, Beltran still hits for average and power and the Cubs should only need him to play left field.

The Cubs Will Need Some Better Luck, Part 2

This part of the better luck scenario is that the Cubs will need some help from their division mates. The NL Central is too strong for the Cubs to reasonably compete if the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds play up to their potential. The Cubs will likely need one, if not two, of these teams to have rough 2014s to compete.

 

  • Edwin Jackson had what may have been his worst start since April, giving up 7 runs in 5 innings on 10 hits and 2 walks, only striking out 2. Jackson had clear issues with location throughout the night.
  • The Cubs attempted a comeback, scoring 3 runs in the ninth to make it close. They were aided by a Domonic Brown error that scored the 8th run, but the game ended when new Cub Thomas Neal flied out to Brown.
  • Anthony Rizzo and Donnie Murphy both homered. Wellington Castillo stayed hot, going 3 for 4 with a walk.

  • Julio Borbon cleared waivers and was assigned to the Triple A Iowa Cubs. It is unlikely we’ll see him back with the big league club this season.
  • Double A Tennessee Smokies’ pitcher Eric Jokisch came back from the DL last night, and promptly threw a no-hitter. While Jokisch’s ceiling tops out in the back of a MLB rotation or middle innings relief, he is a legit prospect (anyone who can contribute in the Majors is a legit prospect, and Jokisch can), who is also a Northwestern alumnus (go Big 10). A great night for the young lefty.
  • Top prospect Javier Baez added 4 hits in support of Baez. To get an idea of Baez’s potential, even before last night’s performance Baez had a .909 OPS as a 20 year in Double A, despite striking out in more than 30% of his plate appearances. Imagine how good he could be if he gets the Ks under control.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Second Base

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Arismendy Alcantara

Background Info: Signed by the Cubs in 2008, shortly after his 17th birthday, Alcantara has had an unremarkable, quiet start to his career. Alcantara’s double play partner also has a bright future ahead of him who would be Javy Baez. Over the past two years we have seen the Cubs stockpile this system with talent. Most of the talent is Low A to Double A so 2014 should be a fun year as many players will be promoted to Double A from High A or even Triple A from Double A.
Nineteen players from the 2012 Futures Game already are in the big leagues, including All-Stars Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez and Jean Segura. Alcantara, who played second base last month and at 21 has just as big a future as the players mentioned above.

Season Stats: Alcantara hit .266 with 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases for Double-A Tennessee. Alcantara has great skills with the bat and the glove something that definitely has improved is his walk rate which is around a very solid 10%. The strikeout rate still worries me at almost 22 percent but the walk rate is encouraging so will keep an eye on both for the rest of the season as well as the future. If he can get his strikeout rate closer to 15 percent I see no problem with his development and we’ll likely see him in Chicago by 2015 at the latest.

Prediction: Alcantara gets promoted to Iowa to start next season at second base for the Iowa Cubs. Has an opportunity by the end of the 2014 season to win the job if Javy Baez plays third base at the major league level. Darwin Barney will be an interesting name over the next few years as he might be a trade candidate if Alcantara plays at high level in the major leagues.

Sleeper Prospect: Gioskar Amaya

Amaya has been an intriguing prospect to watch, he played both 2010 and 2011 at rookie ball for the Cubs. In 2011 Amaya, turned in a ridiculous season batting .337/.417/.510 for an impressive OPS of .927 which resembles an MVP caliber player in the majors. Yes rookie ball is completely different on the talent level than the majors but it was great to see Amaya breakout in 2011. After his promotion the following year to the Boise Hawks (Short Season A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) he still kept on hitting as a young nineteen year old. Through 272 at-bats for Boise Amaya hit .298/.381/,496 while clubbing eight homers, six doubles, 12 triples and 15 stolen bases. From the above mentioned stats we can see that Amaya gives the Cubs something of everything at a young age he has shown increased power which translates into a better slugging percentage. One also has to look at the 12 triples and get excited to see that speed in action in addition to the 15 steals which gives him a well rounded makeup as a hitter.

Finally we got to see Amaya get the call to Kane County to start the season in 2013 where in 97 games he is batting .265/.335/.394 which is to be expected as he keeps moving through the system there will be adjustments to be made. Personally I have seen Amaya play this summer and he is just a fun player to watch whether it be with the glove or the bat he puts on a show. We have to keep in mind he is only 20 years old just like his fellow third baseman Jeimer Candelario who is only 19 these kids need time to develop. If all goes to plan I see Amaya progressing to Daytona next year to start the season with a shot at being called up to Double A by the end of the season in 2014. In the end, Amaya should be in consideration for a call-up to the Cubs in 2016 barring any injuries.

Interview Alert: Be on the lookout next week as I’m scheduling interviews with some of the Cubs prospects across the lower levels. So far I can confirm Jeimer Candelario I am interviewing Jeimer Candelario after the game on Sunday.

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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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Will the Cubs make any more trades this season?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Hello! It’s great to be back after a few weeks away.

Although the Cubs were inactive at the non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday (making for an anti-climatic day), let’s not forget that they were quite active on the trade market last month. Reflecting on all the moves, it appears as though the front office was quite shrewd to jump on moves ahead of the deadline, since the market seemed to have cooled quite a bit at the end. Perhaps the new CBA (which removes some of the compensation for teams that lose big-time players (it’s too much to go into detail here)) has led to the trend of teams holding onto their young talent rather than making a risky trade for a veteran that could help them down the stretch (although, I still can’t believe the Pirates stood pat with a chance to end their 2347382468-year playoff drought staring them in the face).

Rumors always fly on non-waiver trade deadline day (Twitter is awesome/insane/infuriating), and a few Cubs players were mentioned by all the national media folks. Nate Schierholtz was most often mentioned as the most likely trade candidate, followed by David DeJesus, Kevin Gregg, and James Russell. Obviously, none of them were moved, but could the Cubs still make some trades this season?

Maybe. Although it’s typically referred to as the trade “deadline,” Wednesday was just the non-waiver trade deadline. Most of you, being baseball blog readers, probably know what this means, but in case you don’t, here’s a VERY brief overview:

Teams can still make trades this month, but in order to do so, they must place any players they wish to trade on waivers. Essentially, the waiver process works like this: every team (in reverse order of standings starting with the team with the worst record in the same league as the waived player – then moving to the other league) gets an opportunity to claim that player of waivers. If a team claims a player, one of three things can happen: 1) the two teams can work out a trade (obviously, with no other teams bidding, the return would be much weaker than in July), 2) the team that originally waived the player can just let the claiming team have them (and their contract), 3) the team that waived the player can simply pull that player off waivers and keep them. If a player “clears” waivers (e.g., no team claims him), the team that waived him is free to trade him to any team – just like before the non-waiver deadline. There are a few other details, but those are the basics. The Cubs will probably place almost all their players on waivers, but we won’t hear anything about it unless trade is worked out one way or another (if a player the Cubs don’t want to trade is claimed, they’ll just pull him off waivers and keep him).

So, the Cubs could still makes some trades this season, but will they?

Probably not.

In order to get any kind of value in return in a trade, the Cubs will want their potential trade candidates to clear waivers first (the return on a player traded as a result of a waiver claim will be super low, since no other teams could bid). Players that clear waivers typically have big contracts. Last year, Soriano and Marmol were guaranteed to clear waivers, because no other team would claim them with those contracts (remember, teams that claim a player must take on his contract and place him on the 25-man roster (if the waiving team takes that option)). Since the Cubs have shed all their big contracts (at least on players they don’t want to keep) – yay Jedstein – I don’t see any Cubs players that wouldn’t be claimed. The only player I can really see being traded at all is Kevin Gregg. Although he would probably be claimed, the Cubs might elect to try to work out a trade with the claiming team – even if it’s for a hot dog and a souvenir Coke Zero – just to try to squeeze some value out of him. Then again, they couldn’t get enough for him at the trade deadline, so maybe not. I suppose players like Julio Borbon could clear waivers and get traded, but who cares?

GAME NOTES

I was all ready to use the (what I thought was) clever line “Lake out-Puiged Puig,” but my dreams were crushed with Puig’s homerun in the ninth. In any case, Junior Lake and Anthony Rizzo each hit two homeruns, which was great (Rizzo is looking FANTASTIC lately, and seeing future pieces perform is one of the few reasons left to watch this team), but that was the only offense the Cubs could muster. Once again, Chris Rusin forgot that he was Chris Rusin, and hey, he actually pitched a nice game against a tough lineup.

The Dodgers are now the Yankees of the National League, and I’m going to have fun rooting against them for years to come.

Minor League Recap August 1st

by Rob Willer

Iowa Cubs

Loux struggles as Iowa gets bested by Salt Lake 9-3

Barret Loux struggled once again going 5 and 1/3 innings while allowing seven earned runs on eleven hits. Alberto Cabrera wasn’t much better giving up two earned runs in 1 and 2/3 innings. The final Iowa Cubs pitcher of the night Marcus Hatley rebounded from yesterday’s performance pitching a scoreless inning.

The Cubs’ offense had 10 hits but was only able to get three runs across. Donnie Murphy turned in a decent going 3 for 5 with a double. The Iowa Cubs left nine men on base and went 3 for 7 with runners in scoring position on the night. Another Iowa Cubs player who broke out was first baseman Edgar Gonzales. Gonazales went 2 for four with a two run homer driving in two of the Cubs three runs.

Tennessee Smokies

Tennessee clipped the Barons 2-1.

Kyle Hendricks pitched well once again going six strong innings only allowing one run. Hendricks struck out four and allowed seven hits also lowered his earned run average on the season to 1.85. His night got even better getting the callup to Iowa Cubs. He has really broken out this year and should be fun to watch at Iowa not sure what the corresponding move will be should be announced later on today. Hunter Cervenka took over for Hendricks pitching the final three innings only allowing a hit and a walk picking up the win which improved his record to 3-1.

The Smokies offense was kept in check for most of the night only mustering four hits over 29 at bats. Justin Bour homered again for his 15th of the season it was a solo shot in the seventh. John Andreoli knocked in the winning run in the ninth with a run scoring single to score Javy Baez from third.

Daytona Cubs

Corey Black was excited to get on the mound Thursday night but the Daytona Cubs were rained out so his debut will be pushed until Friday.

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