(Photo by Stephen Green)
After five minor league seasons, left-handed pitcher Zac Rosscup made his major league debut out of the Cubs bullpen in September 2013. The Oregon native was drafted in the 28th round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Tamps bay Rays and came to the Cubs in the 2011 trade for Matt Garza. We sat down with the 25-year-old as last season was coming to a close. The following can be found in the Profile section of February’s Vine Line.
MAJOR DEBUT That was intense. Knees shaking a little bit. I was nervous. After you warm up and you take a deep breath, you realize it’s the same game you’ve been playing your whole life—just a little bit better talent on the field. It’s great. There’s not a whole lot you can say about it. It’s one of those feelings that you just have to do it to know the feel.
THE CALL-UP When you picture it in your mind and growing up and stuff, [you think] when you get here, “I’m going to be perfect.” But that’s not realistic. It’s been really nice. It’s definitely given me a taste of what it’s like, and I’m going to work hard in the offseason to get back here next year for sure.
GETTING TRADED Obviously, you don’t expect it, just being in Low-A rookie ball with the Rays. When it happens, it just kind of hits you. You’re like, “Oh, I guess I’m on a new team now.” You don’t really know what to expect coming into that next spring, because it was in the offseason. Both organizations are really good—good to their players and great for developing players—and it’s been a fun experience and a fun ride so far. I look forward to spending many years here.
THE NEW GUYS Justin Grimm [came] over and those guys from the Rangers, Kyle Hendricks. [There are] a few guys I’ve met that came over from a few different organizations. It’s really not that different. You come into a locker room, and there are a bunch of guys getting ready to play a game. It’s not like you’re going to go haze them or not talk to them. They’re a part of the team now, they’re part of the organization, and they’re here to help the team win. So you’ve got to treat it as, “We’re all working together to be a part of something that will grow into wins.”
REALIZING POTENTIAL You work hard at any level, and you just hope to be seen. [My opportunity] happened by chance. I started pitching and gaining some velocity by working out at [Chemeketa Community College in Oregon], and that really helped me along the way. I wasn’t ever really serious about it until that first scout card from the Astros’ regional scout out there. I called my mom and told her, “This thing could turn out to be a real goal for me.” After that, it was just putting my head toward the right things and working hard to make it to pro ball.
SAFETY FIRST I played football until eighth grade. At the time, I hadn’t quite hit the growth spurt. I hadn’t hit puberty. I was just kind of in an awkward stage in my life, and I didn’t know how I was going to be in high school. So I called it quits and stuck to baseball, where size doesn’t matter too much and I wasn’t going to get thrown around.
(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner (center) died Thursday at the age of 91. Kiner, who was best known for his time with the Pirates, spent a year and a half with the Cubs toward the end of his career.
Known for his longball abilities, the outfielder led the National League in home runs in each of his first seven seasons (1946-52), topping out at 54 bombs in 1949.
In July 1953, he was traded to the Cubs in a nine-player deal and hit .283/.394/.529 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 28 homers in 117 games. Kiner had another successful season on the North Side in 1954, hitting 22 home runs and finishing with a .285/.371/.487 line. On Nov. 16 of that year, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for right-hander Sam Jones.
A back injury ended his career following the 1955 season. After his retirement, he moved into the broadcast booth with the White Sox (1961) and Mets (1962-2006).
Over Kiner’s 10-year career, he hit .279/.398/.548 and amassed 369 home runs and 1,015 RBI. The six-time All-Star was induced into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Duane Underwood has one of the highest ceilings of all the Cubs arms. (Photo by Scott McDaniel)
For many Chicagoans, February means cold weather. At Vine Line, it’s all about the Cubs minor league prospectus. In the February issue, fans can check out frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma’s player breakdowns for more than 45 of the organization’s top prospects, from teenagers like Eloy Jimenez to elite talents like Javier Baez. This is our final online installment. For more information, pick up the February issue of Vine Line.
Also from the Series:
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – The Elite
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – Close to Big Leagues
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – International Impact
2014 Cubs Minor League Prospectus – Pitching Depth
READY TO BREAK OUT
Not every name in the Cubs system sits atop prospect lists like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. But the best organizations not only have top talent and balance, they also have players not everyone has heard of who have a chance to blossom into very good major leaguers.
Whether they’re lacking the flashy tool that garners headlines or are just a little raw and haven’t yet put everything together, there are definitely names worth watching in the Cubs system. And many of these prospects could become much more familiar to fans over the next nine months.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: .362/.436/.478 (19 GAMES)
There’s no two ways about it, this kid can flat-out hit. With a front-to-back stroke, Bruno uses the whole field, attacks the fastball and has the ability to stay on the breaking ball. Unfortunately, his season ended early with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. If not for that, it wouldn’t have been a surprise for Bruno to hit his way up to Double-A.
He likely won’t be ready by Spring Training, but the hope is he’ll be able to get on the field early in the minor league season. When he does, expect him to once again hit line drives all over the field.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: .258/.352/.445 (117 GAMES)
The man with the best name in the system mashed at a tough park for hitters in Kane County early on, earning organizational Player of the Month honors in April. A full-figured kid, Shoulders is more athletic than many realize. He played third base as an amateur, and there are those in the Cubs organization who believe he could have some value in the outfield.
With a winning combination of patience and power, the bat will always be enticing. Now it’s a matter of developing versatility on defense or finding one place to play and really focusing on it.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: 54.1, 4.97 ERA, 36 K, 27 BB (11 STARTS, 14 APPEARANCES)
Outside of C.J. Edwards and perhaps Pierce Johnson, Underwood may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization. Unfortunately, he came into Spring Training in less-than-ideal shape, which led to inconsistent performance throughout the season. The hope is that he learned his lesson and will prepare appropriately this offseason so he can come into the spring ready to take off.
As far as the stuff is concerned, when he’s on, the fastball is 92-96 mph, and he has a knee-buckling curve. But consistency is an issue, and he didn’t get as many whiffs as you’d expect from a guy with his stuff.
“He’ll come into next season as a 19-year-old, and we’re just waiting for the light to come on,” McLeod said. “His upside is as high as anybody we’ve got.”
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: .261/.317/469 (133 GAMES)
Already a big league-caliber defender at third, Villanueva showed some pop for the first time in his career in 2013, hitting 41 doubles and 19 home runs. There are some swing mechanics the Cubs will continue to work on with him, and they’d like to see him improve his plate discipline as far as controlling the strike zone. But Villanueva has the profile teams look for at third base, especially if the power output remains at the level he showed this season. Defensively, his hands and feet are as good as anyone’s.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: .284/.375/.449 (131 GAMES)
Vogelbach grew up playing baseball in the Florida sun, so the cold late spring in Kane County was a shock to his system this past season. Many balls that normally would have cleared the fence or fallen for doubles became easy outs. However, his struggles in a cold and rainy April helped him grow immensely as a player. By the end of the year, his numbers were solid, and he’d done enough to earn a promotion to Daytona.
The bat has always been a plus for Vogelbach, as he shows light-tower power and can drive the ball to all parts of the field. Of course, the biggest question will always be his body and whether it will keep him from sticking at first base. While he’ll never be mistaken for slender, there have been some positive signs of late.
“He was probably the best I’ve ever seen him look [in November for instructs] in Arizona,” McLeod said.
McLeod pointed to next season as being a huge year for Vogelbach. He’ll have to continue to stay in shape and prove his bat can carry him to the bigs.
GIOSKAR AMAYA (2B) – Amaya had an up-and-down 2013, but he has bat speed, power for a second baseman, solid plate discipline and the speed to steal a base here and there. He’s a very hard worker, but he can be too tough on himself from time to time. Still, he’s an intelligent ballplayer with tools and plus-makeup.
SHAWON DUNSTON JR. (OF) – Dunston grew up a lot in 2013 after struggling early in his professional career. He had a strong first half in Boise but fell off toward the end. He has all the tools, drew a lot of walks and can steal bases. The Cubs are working on his bat path, as Dunston tends to get a little pull-happy.
KEVIN ENCARNACION (OF) – Encarnacion hit for average and power, drew walks and stole bases in a strong year at Boise. He’s a switch-hitter with a corner-outfield profile. Though he was a little old for the Northwest League, his confidence improved this season after a strong performance. He shows a fluid swing with a very good idea of the strike zone.
DUSTIN GEIGER (1B) – This streaky, big-bodied power hitter mashes lefties and holds his own against righties. Geiger should move into a hitters’ park in Tennessee next year, so he needs to keep putting up offensive numbers and improving defensively.
JACOB HANNEMANN (OF) – Hannemann was a surprise third-round pick in last summer’s draft. He flew under the radar because he hadn’t played for a few years due to a Mormon mission and commitment to the BYU football team. He has a strong left-handed bat and a good feel for the strike zone. From a tools standpoint, he’s a dynamic guy with tremendous speed, a Jacoby Ellsbury-type body and athleticism. He’s raw because of limited playing time, but the Cubs are betting on his upside.
CARLOS PIMENTEL (RHP) – Recently named the Dominican Winter League Pitcher of the Year, this strong-armed reliever has proven to be a tough match-up. He’s a short-arm guy, and hitters often have a tough time picking up the ball. He has been up to 94 mph with the fastball, which he complements with a slider and a solid change-up. His command and control can waver, but he’s a pitcher who gives opponents an uncomfortable at-bat.
IVAN PINEYRO (RHP) – Acquired in a trade with the Nationals for Scott Hairston, Pineyro is a strike thrower with an impressive change-up. He’s not a stuff guy, but the belief is he can end up at the back end of a good major league rotation.
Albert Almora could be part of the next big Cubs renaissance. (Photo by Jason Wise)
The following can be found in the Inside Pitch section of February’s Vine Line.
“The good ones get to the big leagues fast. The great ones come faster,” said Cubs superscout Hugh Alexander, circa 1987.
For Cubs fans, the great ones can’t arrive fast enough.
A total of 288 losses—the most of any three-year period in franchise history—has tested everyone from ownership to the beer vendors. There is, however, hope on the horizon.
After two years of aggressively building the minor league system, many of the organization’s prized draft choices and international free agents are getting closer to Wrigley Field. Fans might want to circle the third week in June for the possible big league debuts of No. 1 picks Javier Baez (2011) and Kris Bryant (2013).
It’s been at least 30 years since the last meaningful renaissance in Cubs player development. In the mid-1980s, GM Dallas Green produced a succession of big league stars, including Greg Maddux, Shawon Dunston, Joe Carter, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Jamie Moyer.
But you have to go all the way back to GM John Holland to find the Cubs’ longest stretch of player development success since the 1930s. He kept the franchise over .500 for six consecutive seasons between 1967-72.
Under Holland, eventual Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo arrived in 1960, followed by two Rookies of the Year—HOF outfielder Billy Williams in ’61 and second baseman Ken Hubbs in ’62. Even after Hubbs’ death in a 1964 plane crash, Holland’s astute trades fortified a talented nucleus of Santo, Williams and Ernie Banks.
Now, having drafted in the top 10 three years in a row, the organization hopes to launch another golden age. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer generally believe hitters need 500 Triple-A at-bats before they’re major league ready. Still, exceptions arise.
“We won’t rush our young people,” said Jason McLeod, VP of scouting and player development. “Each is different, though. We view individual development as a combination of a player and a person being ready.”
Shortstop Baez, the ninth-overall pick in 2011, has more experience than third baseman Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. But Bryant’s maturity makes him equally worthy of promotion.
To merit a quick jump, a player must dominate the competition. Bryant, 22, was the 2013 College Player of the Year, leading the nation with 31 homers.
He then slugged his way through three minor league stops (.336, nine homers, 32 RBI in 128 at-bats) and helped Single-A Daytona win the Florida State League title. He followed that by being named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, a breeding ground for future superstars, with a .364 average and six homers in 20 games.
Between Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, Baez, 21, was one of the most potent offensive players in baseball. He led the minors in RBI (111) and extra-base hits (75) and tied for second in homers (37).
“This young man will be a monster in the majors when he gets there,” said an AL scout. “His bat is lightning fast. He might not be patient now (147 strikeouts and 40 walks in 577 at-bats last season), but he’ll reduce strikeouts as he moves up and matures.”
For Baez, defense is the greater challenge. He committed 44 errors in 2013.
“He has a great arm, and when he learns to control his responses, he’ll be a reliable fielder,” the scout said.
Though the 6-foot-5 Bryant currently plays the hot corner, many feel he could end up in the outfield.
“Guys over 6-foot-4 generally lack the quickness to stay at third,” an NL scout said. “With his presence and work ethic, I don’t doubt he can play the position. But with his arm, he could easily play a corner outfield spot.”
The goal is to meld the likes of Baez, Bryant, and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler with young big leaguers Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake.
Almora, who turns 20 in April, was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2012 (6th overall) and hit .329 during an injury-shortened 2013 season at Class-A Kane County. Scouts project some power, and they like his bat control and stroke to all fields. They also rave about his instincts in center. Though he lacks great speed, he makes up for it with quick reads.
Maturity seems to be the hurdle for Soler, who turns 22 in February. In an injury-marred 2013 season with Daytona, he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with a bat and benched one game for not hustling.
The NL scout said Soler, in addition to possessing a strong arm, “has the most natural power in the system.” Some scouts believe the Cuban defector is still adjusting to the U.S. after signing a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012.
Contractual control can certainly be a consideration in timing a player’s promotion to the majors. By postponing a big league debut until the end of June, a team guarantees three full seasons of control before that player becomes arbitration eligible.
Though Baseball America ranks just three pitchers—Arodys Vizcaino, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards—among the organization’s top 10 players, there’s little cause for concern.
“They have more right-handed power hitting than anyone in baseball,” said the NL scout. “If all pan out, they’ll be able to add pitching [by trading] hitting depth.
—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon has never been shy about giving his opinions, whether it’s in print or on camera. And despite his years as a columnist for the Washington Post, it doesn’t take long to realize he’s a die-hard Chicago sports fan. Vine Line caught up with the Northwestern alum when he was on hand for Social Media Night in mid-August to talk about growing up a Cubs fan and his love for Wrigley Field.
Dan Vogelbach is one of baseball’s top minor league first basemen. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
Over the last few weeks, multiple baseball outlets have unveiled their respective prospect rankings, but the fun hasn’t stopped there. Some scribes are now taking things a step further.
On Wednesday, MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff unveiled another unique way to look at baseball’s best minor leaguers. He created a National League ‘Dream Team’ of prospects, naming his top player at each position.
Four Cubs farmhands claimed a spot in his starting lineup. Here’s what he had to say about the future North Siders:
First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs, 21 years old
This is not a very deep position in the NL.
Vogelbach can flat-out hit, and he has produced at every level of play. He is a wide-bodied guy at six feet and 250 pounds. Vogelbach’s fielding leaves something to be desired, but in a slim group of first baseman, he gets my nod.
Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs, 21
I saw Baez hit some of the longest home runs ever struck in the Arizona Fall League. He has lightning-quick hands through the ball. Baez will be an offensive force.
Third Base: Kris Bryant, Cubs, 22
I am not convinced Bryant will continue as a third baseman. He’s a big man at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Bryant may be best suited using his outstanding arm in right field.
Bryant is a power hitter with a sweet stroke. He has advanced hitting ability with a chance to fly through the organization.
Outfield: Albert Almora, Cubs, 19
Almora has the ability to play an outstanding center field without great fanfare. He’ll hit. He’ll run. He’ll play outstanding defense. Almora is a complete player with knowledge of his role. A line-drive hitter, Almora knows how to use the entire field as his personal playground.
Kyle Hendricks was the Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. (Matthew Shalbrack/Tennessee Smokies)
For many Chicagoans, February means cold weather. At Vine Line, it’s all about the Cubs minor league prospectus. In the February issue, fans can check out frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma’s player breakdowns for more than 45 of the organization’s top prospects, from teenagers like Eloy Jimenez to elite talents like Javier Baez. We’ll post some of the profiles here on the blog in the coming weeks so you can keep track of all the names to know in the Cubs highly ranked system.
Also from the series:
The Cubs’ last two drafts kicked off with position players Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, but the next dozen rounds or so were focused heavily on adding pitching depth to the system. While the Cubs still lack a knockout pitching prospect (something missing from most systems around baseball), they have some interesting arms acquired via bulk drafting, trades (both major and seemingly minor ones) and international free agency.
The draft strategy the Cubs have employed over the past two Junes has done two things: It’s increased their chances of finding a gem who can be a big contributor in their rotation and given them options to fill the bullpen with arms who don’t stick as starters. In the long run, this will save the Cubs money and keep them from investing heavily in relievers, who are notoriously erratic from year to year. That way, they can allocate funds in different areas while attempting to improve the major league ballclub.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: 107.2 IP, 3.93 ERA, 116 K, 55 BB (24 STARTS)
It’s easy for scouts to peg Black as a bullpen arm, because he’s a smaller guy with a slender upper body. However, while he does have some effort in his delivery, he brings premium stuff, including a mid-90s fastball and a big-time slider to complement his very aggressive personality on the mound.
“I love watching this guy pitch,” said SVP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod. “He is a bulldog and a half.”
The most common guess is that Black ends up as a reliever, with the potential to be an elite back-of-the-bullpen arm. But the Cubs are going to keep him in their loaded Tennessee rotation to see if his stuff will play up in a starter’s role.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: BOISE
2013 STATS: 46.0 IP, 3.33 ERA, 38 K, 29 BB (12 STARTS, 13 APPEARANCES)
With a strong delivery, three pitches and good arm action, Blackburn has all the ingredients to be an advanced feel pitcher. He relies on plus command, but the youngster had some outings in which his walk totals perplexed the Cubs front office. While he has room to fill out and possibly bring his average fastball into plus territory, Blackburn still projects as an efficient, innings-eating, athletic pitcher even if the velocity stays where it is now.
He can move the ball all around the zone, but he often nibbles, which creates the high walk totals. If he can trust his stuff on a consistent basis, he has everything it takes to develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation piece.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: 166.1 IP, 2.00 ERA, 128 K, 34 BB (27 STARTS)
Recent Dartmouth grad Hendricks is a premium strike thrower who has the ability to cut up both sides of the plate with multiple pitches. He is the type of pitcher who throws to a scouting report rather than relying on pure stuff, and was one of the more efficient pitchers in the Cubs system in 2013. He lasted six innings or more in 19 of his 27 starts and did so while throwing a minimum of pitches.
Though his fastball isn’t light, it isn’t overpowering either, sitting at 88-92 mph. But his ability to locate the pitch with precision, combined with a cutter he can throw to both sides of the plate, keeps hitters from barreling him up too often. He’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but with his four-pitch arsenal, he will keep hitters guessing and could fit nicely in the back end of the Cubs rotation.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: DAYTONA
2013 STATS: 118.1 IP, 2.74 ERA, 124 K, 43 BB (21 STARTS, 23 APPEARANCES)
Johnson did everything asked of him in 2013 and progressed just as the Cubs hoped he would. He showed steady improvement throughout the season and got stronger as the year went on—his velocity actually ticked up when he was promoted to Daytona.
Johnson is getting better at repeating his delivery, an important point of emphasis as he often finishes upright, causing his fastball to be up in the zone. He also developed more consistency with both command and his breaking ball. His focus this offseason has been on adding weight to his frame, as he looks to increase his workload. He should team up with C.J. Edwards to lead a formidable Tennessee rotation.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: KANE COUNTY
2013 STATS: 76.2 IP, 4.93 ERA, 75 K, 50 BB (16 STARTS, 21 APPEARANCES)
With Maples, the key is and always has been consistency with his delivery. After a very up-and-down couple of months at Kane County, Maples was sent down to Boise in July and turned his season around. It was the best many in the Cubs front office had ever seen him perform in terms of his delivery. During that time, Maples got his curveball over the plate and down in the zone, generating swings and misses.
Not only were the results different, but so was Maples’ attitude. Observers say he looked more confident on the mound in Boise, with a chest-out bravado. He was aggressive in the zone, a stark contrast to the pitcher who seemed to be constantly thinking about his mechanics and worrying about getting hit, which led to nibbling and high walk totals. If the new and improved Maples can carry over this season, he may end up turning into the steal many thought the Cubs had when he was drafted in the 14th round in 2011.
BARRETT LOUX (RHP) – Loux brings a four-pitch mix, but injuries have diminished the stuff that made him a top 10 pick in Arizona just three years ago. Despite shoulder issues, he still proved competitive on the mound last season. He will continue his shoulder maintenance program with hopes of recovering some of the life on his once-plus fastball and other pitches.
TREY MASEK (RHP) – Masek is on the smaller side, so his eventual role could be out of the bullpen. He uses a fastball-slider combo and has a split-grip change-up. He will be given the chance to be a starter in 2014.
NEIL RAMIREZ (RHP) – The former Rangers first-rounder suffered through shoulder and elbow injuries in 2013, so the Cubs are taking a conservative approach with him. When healthy, he shows a typical three-pitch arm, featuring a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and a hard slider. The focus is on getting him strong and healthy so he can get through a full season.
TYLER SKULINA (RHP) – Skulina is a big man who touches 96 mph with his fastball and has a swing-and-miss slider. At 6-foot-6, his key is getting consistent rhythm to his delivery. He impressed in instructs and could jump up the rankings if he continues to develop his change-up.
ROB ZASTRYZNY (LHP) – Zastryzny is a hard-nosed lefty with a 90-93 mph downhill fastball, plus curveball and solid change. He’s a strong competitor who pitches with a chip on his shoulder and will attack the zone every fifth day.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Prospect rankings generally spark great debate and are subjected to a significant level of scrutiny.
Last week, ESPN insider Keith Law unveiled his top 100 prospects in the game, which included six Cubs. Fellow insider Dan Szymborski decided to put Law’s rankings to the test, utilizing Szymborski’s projection system, known as ZiPS.
As described on fangraphs.com, ZiPS attempts to project a player’s numbers using weighted averages from four years of data and adjusting for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends. Szymborski ran his system for all the players on Law’s list, and found that Cubs top prospect Javier Baez is projected to have the highest career Wins Above Replacement total.
As its top pick, ZiPS selects Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs. Part of the projections calculated by ZiPS involves translating minor league statistics and comparing those to previous players’ numbers. ZiPS translates Baez’s 2013 performance in the minors at .248/.293/.472, and while that OBP is slightly on the low side, that’s a phenomenal offensive season for a 20-year-old shortstop. ZiPS compares Baez to names such as Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Batista, and Danny Tartabull.
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant also cracks the top 10 in ZiPS projections, coming in at No. 9, six spots higher than where Law ranked him.
One of the biggest discrepancies between Law’s list and Szymborski’s related to five-tool Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara. While Law ranked him at 72, ZiPS projections moved him all the way up to 13.
Going down the ZiPS rankings, you see the first large disagreement in ranking in the form of another Cubs infield prospect, Arismendy Alcantara. A 21-year-old shortstop/second baseman putting up an OPS north of .800 in Double-A would have gotten a lot more attention if he was not in the same organization as Baez and a boatload of other prospects. ZiPS sees Alcantara regularly hitting in the .260s with 15-20 home runs a year, but with hitters like Michael Young, Barry Larkin, and Robin Yount high up in his offensive comp list, there’s the possibility that he’s even better.
There’s also a section discussing first base prospect Dan Vogelbach, whose player comparison is John Kruk, who had a similar build.
Vogelbach doesn’t have the body of someone seen as a prospect, looking more like Bartolo Colon, but he also more than held his own in a full-season league just two years out of high school. Vogelbach’s top ZiPS comp? John Kruk.
Below are the Cubs prospects in the top 100 ZiPS projections, with Law’s ranking in parenthesis:
1. Javier Baez, SS (7)
9. Kris Bryant, 3B (15)
13. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B (71)
24. Albert Almora, CF (28)
40. Jorge Soler, RF (26)
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP (67)
97. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (NA)
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The following can be found in the Farm Report section of February’s issue of Vine Line.
Every major league team has a department dedicated to analyzing statistics that are designed to help big league managers and players gain an edge over the competition. For player development personnel, however, the potential of statistics isn’t yet clear.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Cubs farm director Jaron Madison ignores the reports he gets from the number crunchers.
“If you don’t pay attention to and use information available to you, you’re doing yourself and your club a disservice,” he said. “But you have to recognize it’s just one tool to help our players get to Wrigley Field.”
Just how valuable are stats? It depends on where a player is in the system. Numbers are less valuable to Madison and the Cubs front office when they pertain to players in the organization’s lower levels.
“Those players are still growing into themselves and making corrections,” he said. “There are still quite a few things they have to learn and work on.”
With a Single-A player, Madison said he looks for more general information, such as how that player compares with his peers. As a prospect moves up the ladder and becomes more of a finished product, statistical analysis can help determine how he can best help the Cubs at the big league level or what tweaks he must make to get there.
“By the time they reach [Triple-A] Iowa, players have already had four or five years to work on specific tools and develop into who they are,” he said.
One thing Madison doesn’t do with numbers is use them to set benchmarks. Leadoff hitters, for instance, aren’t required to walk a certain number of times, and pitchers aren’t told they’ll be promoted only if their ERAs stay under a specific number.
“Our evaluations are more comprehensive, paying attention to how guys control the zone on both sides of the ball,” Madison said. “We look at the things they can control.”
Plus, there is definitely such a thing as too much information, especially for players. Young hitters, Madison said, can put too much stock in their home run totals and batting averages, often to the detriment of their overall development.
“It’s more important for our hitters to work on the process and focus on having good at-bats,” he said. “You can square it up and hit the ball hard seven out of 10 times but hit it right at someone. Or you can go up there and get on base on six balls that don’t leave the infield.”
That means Cubs minor league coaches must convince prospects to forget about their numbers, which isn’t an easy task in such a results-oriented business. Hitters often take a while to realize that striking out but seeing 15 pitches can actually be a good thing in the long run.
The bottom line is the Cubs don’t want prospects thinking too much when they’re on the field, and statistics can definitely lead to overthinking.
“The message we send our players is to have a plan and work that plan,” Madison said. “Yes, we will tell them they need to control the zone better to get a good pitch to hit. But when they get that pitch, it’s OK to let it rip.”
Statistical analysis is yet another tool to help Madison and his staff move prospects forward in the system, but every team has access to similar information. It’s how the Cubs use all this new data—and keep players focused on their development plan—that will determine how useful the numbers really are.