Trevor CLifton – Pic by MiLB
Every organization has a list of guys that they can look back at and say that they somehow failed to develop a prospect properly. Every team’s history is littered with prospects whose potential never came to pass. When it comes to the Cubs, there is no difference. The names are many, even in the last ten years.
When I started thinking about doing this post, I had about five guys in mind that I wanted to talk about. When I posted something on Twitter asking about other possible names, the kitchen sink appeared in my mentions, including one person who thought that Kyle Hendricks should have become more than he became. I won’t be getting into that but I do have some guys that the Cubs should have developed either differently or better.
Before I begin, I wonder if these players came into the system now that if they would be better off than when they originally signed. I say that because development now is much more individualized, and many players are already reaching fruition on some of the short term goals pretty quickly.= than ever before.
Let’s get started.
For me, the obvious player is Aramis Ademan. Like many guys on this list, they were top 10 guys in the system with many of them. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the Cubs rushed him before he was ready, both physically and mentally. Defensively, he was a fine shortstop, but he was just not ready for the grind of High-A at 19. I questioned his placement there because he did not look good at South Bend when he made a pitstop there and, to be honest, he only had a good couple of good weeks at Eugene. It’s not like he was tearing up the Northwest League. He was struggling quite a bit the first month at short season A. Then he had a nice run and then he was promoted to South Bend to end the year and he looked completely lost at then Low-A. Yet, the Cubs promoted him to start the next ear at Myrtle Beach. It never worked out there and he retired early in 2022.
It’s easy to look back and say where the Cubs went wrong, The Cubs probably should’ve just let him sit at Eugene for that initial entire first full year and then bring them up the next year to start at South Bend and really work on strengthening him up. You can blame Jaron Madison if you want to, but we probably should blame the Cubs as this was probably an organizational decision.
Number two on my list is Jose Albertos. Like Ademan, he was the top prospect for a little while, but unlike Aramis, he was not brought along too fast. It’s hard to say how a pitcher gets the yips and then say you’ve developed them wrong because of said yips. It’s easy to ask, “Could the Cubs have done anything different?” Well, the obvious answer is yes, but what exactly would you have them do? He looked to be coming back and then he had a broken finger and then he had elbow injury in 2021. I think the expectations just got to him. Maybe the fault is ours for heaping such high praise on an 17-year-old kid. That’s a lot to put on his shoulders.
The one player that I can look and clearly see that the Cubs just messed up is Trevor Clifton. The 2013 draft pick had a stellar career in the lower minors. He was an all-star at every level. Working with Brian Lawrence as his pitching coach in South Bend, and Myrtle Beach was a Godsend. Things started to go wrong for him at Tennessee. There were some personal issues and he got those straightened out and came back and was an all-star in the Southern League in his second turn with the Smokies. And that’s when everything began to go wrong.
Normally, when you turn in the first half like Trevor had in 2018, you get promoted to Iowa quickly. He earned it. But not according to the Cubs. Many sources have told me that the Cubs were actually down on the way he was pitching even though he was having great success. He wasn’t “checking all the right boxes.”
And, to be quite frank, that messed with him and he was never the same. I’m not sure of the whole story and I don’t think I’m ever going to get it and that’s OK. But when you have a guy that’s been an all-star in four different leagues, you should be sure that you had something there. Nobody was ever able to fix him and get him back. When you feel the organization you play for doesn’t like you despite your performance, that’s a tough pill.
What I loved about Clifton was he had a fastball that would just explode in the last 10 feet of its approach to the plate. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the Cubs would’ve just left that alone, along with his nice curve, and let him be him, they would have done themselves and Trevor a great service. To be honest, I am still a little pissed about it. And when something gets inside your head as a player, it’s very, very, very hard to get it out.
Along the same lines, another guy that I just didn’t understand the development process of was Dakota Mekkes. The 6-foot-7 right-handed reliever from Michigan State dominated at South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee. I don’t know what happened to him when he got to Iowa. There’s probably a lot of behind the scenes that I’m not privy to, but he just never looked like the same guy we saw the previous two years. Did the Cubs try to make him fit in a box as we? He looked like a totally different pitcher at Iowa in his approach about how he attacked hitters. Even when he threw, he didn’t look the same. It was like the Cubs were changing him when they didn’t need to do so.
Many Others to List
Part of me wonders if some guysjust hit that development wall and that’s the best that he couldthey can do. There are many other names that we could get into here, including Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Alex Lange, Jacob, Hannemann, Oscar de la Cruz,, Dillon Maples, and even Albert Almora.
And many more. Put yours in the comments below.
Players not developing is part of the game, it occurs all the time. But I wonder in every incident just who is to blame each time it happens.
Great article. Often wonder why studs suddenly turn into duds. Dave Kelton and Gary Scott (two “Ron Santo’s) come to mind. Knew Kelton had injury issues. Does also make me wonder the status of Craig Brooks. Was striking out everybody in 2019 and has been on “restricted list” since.
Well a common theme here, is these guys succeeded when competition was weak. AAA is not MLB, but at the very least many guys you face are MLB capable. They couldn’t cut it.