As April ends and May starts, it’s probably a good time to reflect on all that has happened. It also helps to constantly evaluate the whole Cubs organization. This may not concern some because just knowing the big league squad is a playoff contender is just fine enough. But without reviewing the whole organization, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes the Cubs have made for over a century!
We are reminded that Theo promised us waves of talent that would be crashing on the Wrigley shore. He said by building the farm we would ensure that the big league squad could handle the eventuality of players leaving to free agency, retiring and as we saw early this year, an injury to a key player.
When Schwarber was injured, was anyone throwing their arms up to say, “that’s it, we’re doomed?” If you have been a Cubs fan for years, you realize what this would have meant in the past. Does the term “Cubbie Occurrence” ring a bell? Did anyone immediately think that? We didn’t, because the waves are a here folks!
Each season has it’s own drama sewn in. It has ups and downs. Last year the Cubs were lucky to be relatively injury free. They weren’t really figured to do much and is probably why they didn’t make the deal for another starting pitcher. What they also learned from the Mets series was that they needed more on base type guys.
The Royals won it all with pitching and a bunch guys that got the bat on the ball. The Cubs were built differently. They had the big bats but they needed more balance. They needed to kick it up a notch offensively by sprinkling in a few more guys that got on base ahead of those big bats. In this way, the mashers might still strike out a lot but the high on base guys might still pick up the slack with a few more “small ball” type of runs.
This was accomplished with the addition of Heyward and Zobrist while also cutting ties to pieces that didn’t fit the mold. The Cubs were also trying hard to get a young impact arm over the Winter but the price of pitching was just way out of whack. It was probably a direct result of seeing what the Mets pitching did to the Cubs in the playoffs. So the Cubs turned to Lackey to fill the void until another opportunity presented itself.
That is the key with the Cubs. You only make a deal when the opportunity presents itself and you never force that square peg into a round hole. A perfect example of this was the acquisition of Addison Russell. When that deal went down most thought of asking, “why the hell did Theo get ANOTHER SS?” Wasn’t Castro and Baez in that core 4 the media kept talking about? Didn’t we need pitching waaaaaaaay more? Theo took the best deal available and let everything else work itself out.
Now that the Cubs seem to have a set lineup at the major league level. It would be easy to just sit back and pat ourself on the back. We should probably expect at least one or two deals to go down as we approach the trade deadline. Why? Because the Cubs are now in “GO 4 IT” mode. It’s not about accumulating talent for the future. The future is now!
Although many expect the Cubs to just trade Soler for a pitcher, one thing is more certain. We should expect the unexpected. With Soler not providing much value right now, teams will remain reluctant to offer much value in return. That is of course unless you package him up with other players. So how much future production do you sacrifice to win now?
Knowing that we can’t just sit back and pat ourself on the back, we need to dig into that farm system and evaluate what we have down there. Which players do we wish to save and which could we sacrifice? One thing to also keep in mind is that the Cubs are the team looking to win and other teams may be the ones looking to accumulate talent for the future. Any deal needs to make sense for both teams. In fact, this time around it may be the Cubs that get “fleeced.”
With that said, let’s take a look at what’s been going on down on the farm. For the sake of this article, let’s use a widely recognized ranking system for a reference. MLB ranks each team’s top 30 prospects. You can find that list here. We should remember that this list was primarily created based on last year’s performance.
We want to see what’s been going on for the first month of the season. So let’s break it down to who’s hot and who’s not. A fast start might propel some comes ahead of others while a slow start may make some fans a bit more concerned. This is just a small sample size of what took place in April so take it with a grain of salt.
The Iowa Cubs (AAA):
- Wilson Contreras picks up right where he left off. Last year he won the Southern League batting championship and with a current slash line of .359/.432/.453 he is showing that his bat was no fluke. The kid is very athletic with a strong arm and moves extremely well back there. He could probably be called up right now to the Cubs and contribute. But where he still needs attention is the finer parts of being a catcher. There is a reason a guy like David Ross has stuck around in the big leagues for so long. He knows how to handle a pitching staff, calls a great game and slows the running game of the opposition. Contreras will be here soon enough and when he gets here there should be no more development needed. This is one kid that the Cubs might have listed as “no way is he going anywhere but Chicago.”
- Albert Amora is sort of the forgotten uber prospect if there is such a thing. Theo’s very first pick after arriving in the Cubs front office. Almora was slated to be the Cubs starting CF’er for the next decade! It seems like forever since that lofty expectation was placed squarely on Almora’s shoulders. We should remember that he was just out of HS when drafted in 2012. He is still just 22 years old and would be a senior in college this year! Oh and after ending his season sizzling hot in Tennessee, he has also started off red hot. His current line is .351/.390/.527. But what is extremely interesting is that his strikeouts are downed walks are up. The kid has the same ability that Castro had by being able to get the bat on the ball. But the Cubs had him working on lowering the leg kick and getting more selective and trying to wait for a pitch he can drive. Things seem to have finally clicked. Stay tuned.
- Dan Vogelbach…. Remember him? The kid with the big bat that seemed to be involved with each and every trade proposal the media could dream up. Why stop now? The kid is off to a hot start with a line of .343/.443/.507. He is also leading the team in RBI’s with 16 in 20 games played. But being a 1B only type of guy, not much has changed. He will remain a guy listed in every trade proposal.
Ryan Kalish is making it known he wants back in the major leagues. He is now 28 years old and can play all 3 outfield spots. I doubt he would be part of any trade package but he sure is some nice insurance if another outfielder (hint hint) is traded from the major league roster. He currently leads the team in hitting with a slash line of .396/.500/.547!
- Spencer Patton was picked up last November from the Rangers. He currently has 3 saves with a 0.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched. What’s really nice to see is the 16 strikeouts with just 3 walks. Solid stuff from a reliever that may still help the big league squad.
Who’s not hot?
- Arismendy Alcantara is stuck in Iowa. He shows flashes from time to time but his time as a Cub seems to get dimmer as time goes on. His line of .235/.297/.397 just doesn’t help his cause!
Tennessee Smokies (AA)
- Chesny Young!!!! Right now Young is “en fuego” with a line of .402/.505/.524. This kid just knows how to hit and is probably surprising some of those expert analysts that rank players. Go ahead, take a peek at the list. He’s not there! Probably just an oversight. The kid also plays a decent 2B with just one error in 22 games so far this young season. Unfortunately, this is the exact type of player that other organizations may target. And if traded, that team’s fans are going straight to the rankings to see what they got. They’ll be upset and then loved as he works his way yo the show.
- Bijan Rademacher is another kid not on the list but he just has a knack for the big hit when you need it. His current line of .351/.493/.614 with 14 RBI’s and more walks than strikeouts just makes you wanna slap yo Momma! He is probably a 4th or 5th OF’er type for the cubs in the future because he plays the corners. Just wondering if other teams see more potential with him and target him as a trade candidate also.
- Paul Blackburn is throwing goose eggs. He has a 3-0 record with a 0.29 ERA in 31 innings this April. He only has 15 strikeouts but also limits the walks with just 5 so far. He’s another kid not on the top 30 list but may be a guy to keep an eye on.
Who’s not hot?
- Billy McKinney was the apple of everyone’s eye last year. This year he’s off to a slow start. We should be concern yet as he is just 21 playing at the double A level which is about 3 years below the average age. He’s hit at every level and feel he will eventually hit in Tennessee also. His current line is .206/.289/.235. He also has 18 strikeouts already in just 19 games.
- Jaimer Candelario was the talk of Spring training this year. He looked really good and was assigned to Tennessee again to start the year. Maybe it was the good weather in Arizona that had folks talking about his quick promotions. But he got a slap of reality with the Smokies. At age 22, we’re not really concerned and think he’s just in a funk. Here’s to hoping a hot streak starts for the whole month of May and we can forget this silliness. His line is .203/.347/.342 with 17 walks and 17 strikeouts in 22 games.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A Ball)
- Ian Happ is doing what Ian Happ does. The kid was last year’s #1 pick and called a professional hitter. What we love about this kid is his work ethic. He was drafted as a CF/2B and the Cubs have decided that he is a 2B. This kid has put in the work often being the first guy on the field and the last to leave. He took thousands of ground balls at 2B and often stayed later for more work in the batting cage. It shows! We love him and think he’ll be in Chicago within 2 years. His current line is .313/.427/.550. He’s still a work in progress with 23 strikeouts and 5 errors in 22 games but with his work ethic we have little doubts about his ability or his character!
Who’s not hot?
- Gleyber Torres rose to the #1 ranking after his breakout year last year. But this was done at the lowest levels. This year the 19 year old was given bit more of a challenge and promoted to high A ball. We believe there may be an adjustment period going on and nothing in his history suggests otherwise. He has all the tools and he just needs to learn how to use them against better competition. He still may be a guy other teams covet in a trade so beware of the disappointment if this happens. His current line is .179/.289/.308.