Picture by .Rich Biesterfeld
Let’s get started!
Today’s question comes from resident data guru, Steven Pappas via Twitter. Thanks for the question!
Steven does more than just dive all the way into data for North Side Bound. He presents an interesting question that challenges his fellow NSB writers to really ponder. Is this system for real? How do we know? Let’s jump in.
There’s something to be said for the development teams on both sides of the ball. Since 2020, we have seen Craig Breslow’s fingerprints all over the pitching infrastructure and it has positively impacted the way guys throw the baseball. Increased velo, nasty sliders, unique pitch characteristics. All of those things have been added to pitchers when they didn’t previously exist in their repertoires. That’s different than the way pitchers in this system were developed leading into 2020, where strengths seemed to be identified in a pitcher and then work was done to intensify that strength.
On the hitting side of things… power. Justin Stone and company have clearly gotten into the heads of their players to strike the ball with authority. Of course, it helps the raw power exists in the system when it didn’t a couple years ago, but we are also seeing more slugging from players that aren’t considered mashers in the classic sense of the word. That might just come from what Steven Pollakov describes as an “assassin’s mindset.”
I’m a believer in the Cubs system. My belief is rooted not so much about the specific players that make up the rosters (though the impact they project to provide is undeniable), it’s the infrastructure set up around them to let them succeed. The work that Craig Breslow, Casey Jacobson, and a ton of others behind the scenes in pitching development receives a bulk of the attention. We watched breakout performances from a host of players (Porter Hodge, Luis Devers, etc) that were viewed on the periphery in past seasons.
It’s that level of depth that convinced me. In a previous season the injuries to Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, and Miguel Amaya would have been a death knell to the system. But this year the Cubs weathered the storm in part to breakouts up and down the organization. When you’re getting breakouts from unexpected places and those aren’t even your best prospects the system is starting to produce. I think it all starts to really come together in 2023.
The talent is exciting! Winning at three levels is exciting! But the big question for me is how much “development” is going to happen? In 2020, the year of the pandemic, the system was coming off of South Bend’s title and there was hope. The full-fledged overhaul of pitching and hitting would not really take affect until 2021. And then when the talent bonanza came in July and August of 2021, it boosted the strength of the system. As someone who travels with South Bend in the summer, the biggest trend I see is that the Cubs have gone out and gotten toolsy guys. Before, they picked up guys with high floors and low ceilings. In getting high ceiling guys, it takes a little bit longer to develop, but you can see the development happening. I can see how a player looks in April in person and how he looks in June and July and August. The changes are more subtle in small increments of time but when played out over a year, they are huge. It does feel like something is bubbling up and, to really fulfill your question, the key is going to be turning all those “toolsy” players into elite talent, like top 100 guys. When the Cubs have 7, 8, or 9 guys in MLB Pipeline’s top 100, then we will truly have something. Look for that in the middle of next summer or at the end of 2023.
We will be back with Episode 7 of our mailbag! We will see you then!
Offseason Mailbag Series
Episode 1 – Canario and Davis to Chicago
Episode 2 – Cade Horton in 2023
Episode 3 – Nazier Mule
Episode 4 – Who’s Your Guy in the Draft
Episode 5 – Rule 5 Predictions
Episode 6 – Is the System for Real
Episode 7 – Weakness