This probably means Brad Zapenas is headed back to Kane County…
When this season started, I thought there was some chance that one of or both of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler could start at AA Tennessee. That isn’t to say I was surprised when both were sent to Daytona. That actually affirmed the notion that the Cubs, led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with Jason McLeod leading player development, are really committed to letting these players develop and “master the level” before moving them up. Granted, I thought it was more likely that Soler would beat Baez to Tennessee when the season started, mostly due to Baez’s defensive shortfalls and his lack of plate discipline, but a five game suspension and an injury have changed the equation for Soler.
This season, Baez took a step forward for the D-Cubs. After finishing down there last season with a .188/.244/.400, he came back strong this season after getting some time in spring with the major league club. This season’s .274/.336/.537 is a vast improvement, especially in a pitcher’s league. In 98 games between 2012 and 2013, Baez delivered 21 HR, 70 RBI, went 14/18 stealing bases, and walked at a rate of about 6%. In June, however, his walk rate improved to over 10%, which is a major step forward for the 20 year old 2011 first round pick.
Timing wise, this is about as good a time as any. John Arguello over at Cubs Den sniffed this out when Ronald Torreyes was sent to the Astros, so I am all about giving credit where it’s due (and he deserves a TON of credit. He’s the Gold Standard on prospect/ draft stuff). But, it’s not like it was a leap to send him to Tennessee right now. Baez is obviously comfortable in Daytona, and that is the time to move a player up. Moving Torreyes was probably a justified by Baez being ready to move up. And at this point, Baez gets to dip his feet in the water before the AA All-Star break, and finish with a touch over 50 games with the Smokies this summer. He gets a half season to see where he stacks up at the level that saw Starlin Castro complete his minor league career. He will very likely be headed right back to AA as next season opens up. Again, he is going to have to master the level before going to Iowa. He will be given every opportunity to do that, though. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was a struggle or there is some inconsistency at the outset. This is his biggest jump in competition level to date.
What does this mean for Baez’s possible timeline to Wrigley? Well, it definitely brings him closer. I would be stunned if he were in Iowa any sooner than this time next year. In reality, there’s a good chance he spends all of 2014 in Tennessee, and doesn’t see Iowa before 2015. If he succeeds, though, it’s not impossible to see an aggressive promotion, although that does not fit the MO of this front office. I suspect the timeline is similar for both Baez and Soler to get to Chicago. There is an outside chance that they make brief September cameos in 2014, if they come up next year at all. More likely, they come up at some point in 2015. The truth is, though, their promotions and eventual arrivals in Chicago are up to them and how quickly they work on they things they need to improve to make them worthy of a call-up.
Last night during the broadcast of the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Cardinals, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian made what I thought was an interesting, but relatively benign comment about the Cubs’ rebuilding process…
To which I said…
Basically, my intention was to say something positive about the process that the Cubs are locked into the middle of. Last season wasn’t easy to watch, even though I stand by what I have said before, which is that I had more fun watching the Cubs last year than I did in any year since 2008. That has been surpassed this season, even though, admittedly, it is frustrating to watch these young players lose games they very well could (should) win. This season, in addition to last season, are steps. They are building to a product that will compete with the best of the best. To see the foundation being laid last year and some of the framing of the future team being added and constructed is exciting for those who understand what is going on.
From my perspective, it’s tough to relate to the fans who are clamoring for Dale Sveum’s job because the Cubs aren’t winning enough. Or for the front office to be scrapped and started from scratch less than two years after they got started. It is plainly obvious those fans don’t pay attention to much more than the final score. Last week, after the Pirates got done smacking the Cubs around in two of three at Wrigley, their manager, Clint Hurdle had good things to say about the rebuilding process. A rival manager does not have to say good things, unsolicited, about the opposition. The fact that he said that while watching his team slap around the young Cubs is even more telling. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Cubs’ farm system fifth best in baseball before the season, which is a dramatic improvement over just one year earlier. And there have been anecdotes like the one last night about an opposing GM, front office personnel, or scout saying good things about the process the Cubs have embarked on.
Actually, just about all of the negativity is coming from media and fans who thought that bringing in Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were going to make the Cubs a World Series champion over night. That’s an unrealistic standard for any front office, especially considering the condition they found the Cubs in…which was a complete, unmitigated disaster. It takes time to fix years and years and years of neglecting the total organization. What the Epstein- Hoyer regime has done is nothing short of remarkable, and the organization, as a whole, is in the best shape it’s been in since the ’90s. Even when the Cubs were winning five years ago, their farm system was a mess. They mortgaged the future (which is now) for immediate success. Blaming Tom Ricketts is silly (stupid) for the decline because it was inevitable, regardless of who the owner was. The team was aging veteran players with big contracts. And there was no young talent to replace it. That was the plan. Be as good as possible to raise the value of the team while it was up for sale. Future be damned.
What the Cubs have, finally, is stability. The team is not for sale. The front office has been given the freedom to make the moves necessary to build a team that can compete, year in and year out, from the owner, who from the looks of things, is not inserting himself in the baseball operation. It may take some time for the Cubs to get there. And there are no guarantees about what the future holds. Nobody is stupid enough to guarantee the Cubs are going to win it all in a set time frame. There is too much uncertainty in this game to do it. The reality, though, is that when (yes, when) the Cubs are winning 90+ games each year, they have a better chance to get into the playoffs, and a better chance to get to the World Series and win the World Series on an annual basis.
And THAT IS EXCITING to think about. Even if it’s just a light at the end of the tunnel.
The recap comes a day late, as I was at Wrigley yesterday, and driving from Madison for a day game requires an early departure…
(* NOTE ON SCOUTING REPORTS- I am not a scout. My reports are collaborations of Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, and MLB.com scouting reports. Typically, I take information common to at least 2/3 of the reports. My thinking is, if more than one scout is seeing something, there is more likelihood that it’s a solid piece of information.)
As I noted on Thursday night, the Cubs selected big time power hitting 3B/ OF Kris Bryant with the second overall pick. This was a mild surprise because the Cubs were tied to one of the two big name pitchers, Mark Appel from Stanford and Jonathan Gray from Oklahoma. It isn’t a big surprise that the Cubs are going to start with Bryant at 3B, according to Jason McLeod, who leads the player development staff. I suspect, though, his size is going to push him into one of the outfield corners, where he projects to be an average or above fielder (At this point, I will allow you to drool over an outfield of Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler…). He was drafted for his bat, though. His 31 HRs outpaced roughly 3/4 of division one college teams. Bryant, himself, says he could step in and play in the majors now. The earliest I would expect him to suit up in the big league uniform is as a potential September call up in 2014. Assuming he gets signed and he shows some advanced skills, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see him start at AA Tennessee, as early as this season.
Second Round pick, LHP Rob Zastryzny has been tagged by everyone outside of the Cubs organization as a “finesse” pitcher. That’s not a totally unfair assessment of him, with a fastball that ranges from mid-80s to mid-90s, but being able to crank it up to the mid-90s shows some good ability to change speeds. Overall, he has a three pitch array of Fastball-Change Up- Slider, which he commands fairly well, and all have the chance to be roughly league average. The consensus is that he has a ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter, but his higher floor makes him a safe second round pick.
As the draft progressed, the Cubs continued to select college pitching prospects. The 4th-8th round picks were all pitchers out of college or community college, which was entirely expected heading into the draft. The 3rd round pick, CF Jacob Hannemann was fascinating because of his inexperience at the collegiate level, but the token comparison to Jacoby Ellsbury has made a lot of fans excited about him. While he is behind the progression curve for his age because he went on his Mormon mission after high school (should be around AA), his upside makes him a strong pick at that point in the draft. The pitching selections seemed to echo the comments by Jed Hoyer before the draft, that the best relief pitchers are failed starters. It would stand to reason, assuming they sign, that Tyler Skulina, Trey Masek, Scott Frazier, David Garner, and Sam Wilson will all get the opportunity to start in the minor leagues, and moved to the ‘pen if required.
Overall, I disagree with the notion that this draft was a signal that the rebuild is being pushed back, as was a popular comment shortly after Bryant was selected. It seems to me that the Cubs took the player they thought would have had the most impact. While it may have stunted the growth of the organizations young pitching by not having one of the big arms from this draft in the system, it does not set back the rebuild. The system is packed pretty tightly with some solid prospects in both the infield and outfield, so there is some chance that turns itself into young pitching…not to mention the existence of this year’s trade deadline. Also, Steve Stone said on CSN Chicago’s Sportsnet Central that the selection of Bryant means that Starlin Castro is going to get traded. That’s absurd. Tying the selection of Bryant and a potential trade of Castro is like saying that tripping on a curb is going to cause food poisoning. No wonder the Cubs and ESPN canned Stone.
Apparently, the Cubs have a disconnect between the baseball side of the house and the business side of the house. Getting a new video board to hit with baseballs seems like a financial liability and sending baseballs flying across
Waveland and Sheffield to bounce off the rooftop buildings is not how to go about making nice with the neighbors.
In what is at least a mild surprise, the Cubs went with Kris Bryant with the second pick in this year’s amateur draft. Bryant is a third baseman (for now) with big time power, hitting 31 home runs this season for the University of San Diego. In a conference call tonight, Bryant said, “I’m open to playing anywhere in the field as long as I’m in middle of the lineup.” That’s music to my ears, because with players like Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Darwin Barney already in the organization, he may find himself in the corner outfield. He projects positively as a right or left fielder. The organization is going to start him at third, however, according to Jason McLeod.
While Bryant bolts up the Cubs organizational prospect rankings, I still see him as the fifth best prospect. While I love his power and plate discipline, there is a better than average chance he moves off of the hot corner and he is not likely to hit for a very high average. Many of the scouting reports I’ve read say he is a .270-.280 average type, while ESPN’s Keith Law says he is in the .260-.270 range. As far as positional players go, he does not overtake any of the three players who have been in the system this season that we all know of. Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez are all better prospects, in my opinion. Soler and Almora have higher average ceilings, and Almora plays a premium defensive position in center field. Baez projects to be the same type of hitter as Bryant in many respects, but is better suited defensively at third base. None of this is to knock Bryant. He’s got game changing power, and that’s hard to find. To say that a player selected second overall (and deservedly so) is only the fourth best position prospect in the system is a feather in the cap of the front office. Jed Hoyer, Theo Epstein, and Jason McLeod have built a strong organization at the lower levels. This selection only helps that.
You think that it’s safe to go on vacation after the trade deadline because there would be a period of relative quiet afterward, and then all hell breaks loose. Just some of that has been…
- Jeff Baker being traded to the Tigers for two players to be named later was not a surprise at all. I was kind of surprised he was not dealt before the deadline.
- Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters both being called up was somewhat of a shock, especially since they were called up at the same time. Jackson has struggled, going 2-17 with 11 strikeouts in his first week as a big leaguer. Vitters is 2-15 with 2 RBI, so all in all, not much better than Jackson. The last couple of months of the season will be a great opportunity for both to get some good at bats and playing time in the majors in preparation for 2013, which is pretty much all that is happening for the duration of this season. This is another step in the development process for two of the cornerstone prospects in the system. They are the most major league ready players in the system, so it makes sense to get them to Chicago and allow them to play in games that have significance down the stretch, as the Cubs will see some teams with a lot left to fight for. To make room for Vitters and Jackson, the aforementioned Baker trade was consummated and Tony Campana was sent back to Iowa.
- Jorge Soler went 1-4 with an RBI last night in his Peoria Chiefs debut after being promoted on Thursday from Mesa. Tonight, he hit a grand slam in his first career at bat with the bases loaded… seen here:
- With the loss today, the Cubs are back at their low water mark for the season, 24 games under .500.
- Former Padres Scouting Director Jaron Madison is coming to the Cubs to take the same job. That moves Tim Wilken to a role as “Special Assistant” to Theo Epstein. Really, these moves are only adding more talented front office men to the baseball operations staff. Wilken is well respected around baseball, having been the man to draft Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Michael Young, and Vernon Wells when he was with the Blue Jays, and having all four of his first round picks with the Cubs from 2006-2009 making it to the majors with the Cubs. (Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson) Madison is a rising star in baseball, and having worked with Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod during their time together in San Diego, this move makes a lot of sense.
- Speaking of the front office, GM Jed Hoyer said he expects Matt Garza to be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2013. That could mean that he anticipates resigning the pitcher this off-season to a contract extension or he is posturing potential trade partners for leverage to deal him over the winter. Hoyer was quoted by Paul Sullivan, saying, “He’s likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013,” [Hoyer] said. “And we’re excited to have him. (Trading him) is the last thing we’re thinking of. We’re just trying to get this guy healthy.” With Garza being sidelined at the moment with a “stress reaction” in his elbow, it might be smart to keep Garza around, especially if he is unable to pitch again in 2012.
- Alfonso Soriano got on Starlin Castro’s case about his lapse in Friday’s game. As the senior most veteran on the roster, that is absolutely Sori’s place, and it probably softened the blow in the meeting Castro had with Manager Dale Sveum. Starlin has been much better with his concentration of late, but losing track of the ball, down five runs, is another exhibit of how far the young short stop still has to go in his maturation process. He is still a developing player, and often times, that fact gets lost in the fact that he has been so good over the course of his first three seasons in the majors.