Adam Laskey – Picture by Todd Johnson
Happy New Year and welcome to Episode 8 of the Offseason Mailbag. We still have plenty of questions left to answer this winter and lots of time to get to them.
Let’s get going on this week’s question!
Thad Wornell@Twornell1 wrote, “What would you consider the biggest weakness of the system right now? Do you think that weakness is Cubs specific, or a result of scarcity across baseball as a whole?
It feels rather obvious that the Cubs are lacking true impact talent behind the plate in the minor leagues. Miguel Amaya was the closest we have seen in past years, but his injury troubles have put that impact into question. But maybe I’m going about looking at this completely wrong. It’s pretty clear the Cubs have pivoted toward game managers behind the plate in the bigs with Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart and if you followed a system full of guys like Bryce Windham, Casey Opitz, Ethan Hearn, and Pablo Aliendo, you knew that was coming. Willson Contreras isn’t floating around in the minors, unfortunately.
So let’s pivot to infielders. They seem to fit into categories: upper levels “role” guys and lower levels “I’m optimistic but they are a long ways off” guys. Whether it’s Chase Strumpf or Luis Verdugo, Kevin Made or James Triantos, Cristian Hernández or Pedro Ramirez, there doesn’t seem to be a dude I feel confident that can be a big bat in Chicago with little doubt.
I really want to say “health” here, but I’ll point out the other big weakness in the eyes of national evaluators, lack of advanced high-impact prospects. That part may feel like an obvious want for any organization. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a repeat of 2015 where the Cubs entered the year with three Top 20 overall prospects all slated for AAA and a handful of others who dominated high A the year prior? But when we talk about how a system is viewed and in in relation to the Cubs system, that’s the weakness I hear most about. Pete Crow-Armstrong is the lone healthy “elite” prospect who played at Hi-A and usually we want to see players adjust to AA to refer to them as advanced. Some aspect of this just requires the tincture of time as 2023 sees Kevin Alcántara slated for Hi-A and Cristian Hernández for full-season ball (with a stop in South Bend not impossible). Both of those latter players have high-level upside and strong development could project each for multiple future all-star seasons. Seeing both succeed against more advanced competition would go a long way to enhancing the national view of the Chicago Cubs farm system.
If you want a specific position, the catching group was anchored by Miguel Amaya and his injury dealt a significant blow to the organization. I do view a lack of impact catching prospects as a scarcity across baseball. But I also view it as a position in the midst of a transition in the game. Several of the more prestigious organizations have emphasized the soft-skills and intangibles at the position over offense. Not saying that the Yankees or Astros wouldn’t gladly have Adley Rutschman or Sean Murphy who can do it all, but in the absence of that, those teams have prioritized players with strong game-calling, mentorship, and defense at the expense of a big bat. We say the Cubs bypass two premier catchers in the past draft (Kevin Parada and Daniel Susac), but my only quibble was that they didn’t bring in Texas’s Silas Ardoin who seems like a catcher who can fit all the parameters above.
When last year’s draft came and went, I was quite surprised at the lack of left-handed relievers the Cubs took and then the Cubs only signed one nondrafted free agent. With lefty relievers in short supply last year, the Cubs did little or nothing to bolster those ranks this winter. The hope it seems, is to rely on some injured players returning to the fold. Players like Scott Kobos and Burl Carraway hopefully will be fully recovered and back at Tennessee. Losing Luis Angel Rodriguez and Bryan King in the Rule 5 Draft hurt, but the Cubs can bounce back in short order.
Whenever you think you have enough left-handed pitchers, teams usually go out and try to get more. It is not just a Cub problem but is usually systemic through the minors. The Cubs will have a large number of lefties at Tennessee this year and a lot of unproven ones in Myrtle Beach. The lefties are not evenly distributed and may never be.
We will be back next week with Episode 8 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