A League of Her Own

Down On The Farm

Curious Brown and White Cow

Those of you who've known me for a while know all too well that I'm not all that interested in the farm system. It seems too often it's name after forgettable name, 99 percent of whom we'll never hear from again. And every season there's some minor-leaguer who's should be called up to fix all our problems (see, e.g. Veal, Donnie; Gallagher, Sean; Cedeno, Ronny; Pie, Felix, etc.), almost all of whom fizzle out and incur my wrath before they're sent packing back to Iowa. Lo, over the years, my attitude has become "call me when they make the club and I"ll start caring."

Luckily for those of you who yearn for news from the minors, BP's Kevin Goldstein has undertaken an in-depth review of the Cubs' farm system. Well, kind of luckily. The news isn't good. Even *I* knew that.

At first glance, the Chicago Cubs should be an obvious pursuer of Roy Halladay. Selected by most to run away with the National League Central this season, they instead have been treading water with a record consistently around the .500 mark (the overall weakness of the division has kept them a mere two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals). Halladay could be the difference for any team in that division, but the dark cloud hanging over the Cubs' ownership situation and a current owner spending significant time in bankruptcy court likely prevent them from taking on the Toronto Blue Jays ace's contract. 

Even if everything were hunky-dory when it came to ownership, the failure of the organization in the middle years of this decade would keep the team out of contention in trade talks anyway, as the Cubs have done little to help themselves through scouting and player development.

Yikes. As bad as all that, is it?

The Cubs' farm system is poor, especially at the upper levels. That's because from 2003 through '06, the organization had some of the worst drafts around. A snapshot:

(snip)

2005: An even bigger disaster than 2004, as not a single player selected in 2005 has played in the big leagues for the Cubs -- nor will they. Like the Harvey pick two years before, first-round pick Mark Pawelek seemed like a sound selection at the time, but injuries and a lack of effort saw him released this past spring after he had made only two appearances in full-season leagues.

(snip)

2006: This could be the most questionable year of the bunch for the Cubbies. . . In the fifth, they threw all their eggs in one basket by taking Notre Dame righty Jeff Samardzija. To take Samardzija was one thing, but to smash all draft records by handing him a $10 million package remains a puzzling move. Yes, he needed to be bought away from pursuing an NFL career, but as an athletic and raw power righty, he was no more than a late-first-round player on pure talent, and the premium turned into eight times that. Three years later, he remains an unpolished product who shows flashes of ability but has never consistently dominated at any level.

Ahem.

(snip)

In addition to poorly managed drafts, the Cubs have failed when it comes to development, as four prospects whose tools created sizeable hype failed to live up to expectations. Nearly all of them have the same issue: a lack of plate discipline.

To go back a bit, 1998 first-round pick Corey Patterson is the poster boy for these problems. One of the best athletes to ever play in the Cubs' system, Patterson had a monster full-season debut in 1999, batting .320/.358/.592 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) for Low-A Lansing with 33 stolen bases, and his free-swinging ways were the only thing scouts could point to when it came to finding a weakness in his game. Instead of addressing the issue, the Cubs aggressively pushed Patterson up through the system; he reached the big leagues at the age of 20, was handed a full-time job two years later and promptly walked all of 19 times in 153 games while recording 142 strikeouts. Things never got better for him from there -- now approaching 30, he's playing in Triple-A for the Nationals.

(snip)

Finally, there is Felix Pie, once trumpeted as the top prospect in the system as an outstanding ceter fielder with a quick bat, plus-plus speed and gap power that could project for a bit more down the road. Like Patterson before him, Pie never developed much of an approach and never learned to lay off breaking balls outside of the strike zone. Unfortunately, pure athleticism alone hasn't been enough for him to make any impact in the big leagues.

I still argue that Felix wasn't given the chance to develop an approach at the major-league level. He wasn't given even a quarter of the playing time Patterson was given. But I digress. . .

Things certainly are better of late, as scouting director Tim Wilken has brought some respectability back to the Cubs' recent drafts. The international scouting department, under the direction of Paul Sullivan, has made some big breakthroughs, especially in Asia, as the current minor league team in Boise, Idaho, has a pair of Koreans generating significant buzz: shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha. Still, there's a lot of work left to do to overcome the mistakes of the past -- and they can't be major players at the deadline, financial unrest or no.

Much of this article is a major indictment of Jim Hendry as a GM, which I tend to agree with. He's managed to pull off some unbelievable trades during his tenure (Todd Hundley for Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek; Bobby Hill for Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez). But I think he's made some big, BIG mistakes when it comes to the prospects. He also has issues with picking up players three years after he should and an inexplicable penchant for third-rate middle infielders.

But I'll be the first too admit that I'm not exactly knowledgeable when it comes to our prospects. I'm interested to hear from those of you who are.

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41 Comments

berselius said:

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To be fair, Hendry isn't really directly in charge of the draft/development part of the front office. They've done a pretty terrible job though.

But hey, it could be worse. We could have the Ed Lynch and the Houston Astros farm system

JulieDiCaro said:

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I know he's not, but he shouldn't have to trade a player to get the manager to stop playing him (Dusty/Corey) and he shouldn't declare a player 'untouchable' all off-season, only to look the other way when the manager decides to sit him every time he strikes out (Lou/Felix).

JulieDiCaro said:

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Black Jack has a really interesting post up over at his site about the end of his pitchign career (at 31) and the role the notorious Dr. Andrews played in it. Well worth a look to see how fragile major league careers really are:

http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/black-jack-white-sox/2009/07/mark-buerhle-the-hall-of-fame-and-the-end-of-my-career.html#comments

thisyearcub said:

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The NTC to Samardzija was a MAJOR mistake. I'm not sure you should give any player who hasn't made it to the majors that kind of deal.

Cubs farm system has performed poorly in the past, but it is getting better. Theriot, Soto, Wells, Marshall ... not bad. And there's more on the horizon with Vitters, Starlin Castro, Jay Jackson, etc.

And Sean Gallagher ended up being good enough to nab Rich Harden! So he did kind of served a purpose.

thisyearcub said:

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Also, Pie had a golden opportunity to prove his worth in Baltimore and has fallen flat on his face. Is doing even worse than he was in Chicago. He was overrated, and it's a shame, as Julie said, that he was deemed off-limits b/c I think at one point Baltimore wanted him in the Brian Roberts deal.

Which would have solved many a problem currently.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Yeah--he fell on his face because the Cubs destroyed him as a human being. I think they completely killed whatever confidence he had at the plate. He needs to be totally rebuilt.

thisyearcub said:

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If that's the case, then he is more of a what people call "headcase" than anyone on the current Cubs roster.

A good baseball player would have used a snub or lack of playing time as motivation when given a shot with another team. Look at David Aardsma right now, that's a great example. The Orioles' starting job was Pie's to lose. And he lost.

He is a classic AAAA player who was overrated from the jump. We all bought into the hype, some jumped ship earlier than others. Pie is a platoon player at best.

gravedigger said:

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Meh. I'm with you. As soon as the farm system produces worthwhile hitting talent, fine, I'll pay attention. Until then, forget it.

The pitching talent hasn't been half bad -- Zambrano and Marmol, for instance. And, Wood and Prior WOULD have been great pitchers, I don't think it was the fault of the farm system that they didn't work out.

millertime said:

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Jake Fox, Micah Hoffpauier, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot. Not elite hitters, but serviceable. Ryan Brauns aren't in every draft.

gravedigger said:

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except theriot, they all suck though?

yeah, no ryan brauns, but how about some players we don't want to see replaced immediately?

JulieDiCaro said:

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exactly. i mean, when our starting third baseman goes down, i'd like to see some help not named 'mike fontenot,' 'andres blanco,' or 'aaron miles.'

millertime said:

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I think the farm system has been pretty good over the years. Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Wells, Marmol, Guzman, Marshall, Theriot, Soto, Fox, Fontenot, Hoffpaur. Not all of these guys great, but they've all contributed and been a big part of the reason the Cubs are in better shape. Add some good moves by Hendry like Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Edmonds, Jacque Jones, Ted Lilly, Dempster, Harden, Reedz, DeRosa, Howry.

Lets give credit where credit is due, through Free Agents and a solid farm system the Cubs have won the division two years in a row and have a fairly competitive team this year, and probably for the next couple years.

Doc said:

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Damn...I forgot about prior and wood too...lol.

Doc said:

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Really...when it comes to the farm system, or the cubs lack of player development, Jim Hendry I believe is only guilty of two things: Trying to bring some of these players up a little too early and not trading some of these kids a little earlier, when they still have some value. But even that second point isn't all that bad...

We got Derrek Lee for prospect Hee-Seop Choi...
We got Aramis Ramirez (and Kenny Lofton) for Bobby Hill...
We got Rick Harden for Sean Gallager.

at the same time, he waited too long to trade Patterson and Pie...but still...

That's not bad.

And if you add Theriot, Fontenot, Zambrano, Soto and Marmol to that, I'd actually say that the farm system hasn't been too bad...and that's doesn't even mention the kids that have contributed this year...Fox, Hoffpauir, Hart, Wells, Fuld.

Honestly, you look at the players on the Cubs roster right now, I think (and I haven't done this so I might be way off) the cubs have more players that came up through their system over the last 7 years than other large market teams like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers...in fact I would guess only the Red Sox could compete there.

And to add to this argument, I know not all of these players were actually drafted by the Cubs. I credit Jim Hendry for keeping our minor league system competitive through trades and such to compensate for the poor drafting/scouting.

That being said...he should still be fired.

JulieDiCaro said:

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but those two things are MAJOR problems. telling everyone pie was "off-limits" and then giving up on him by June was a big mistake. holding onto patterson until he was devoid of all value was a big mistake.

i actually have one problem with jim hendry--he has trouble letting go. he has trouble letting go of prospects that don't pan out and he has trouble letting go of FAs he wants, even if it's 5 years past the time he wanted them.

i'm not saying hendry is terrible or that this is all his fault, but the farm system is a mess, and he's the boss. the buck has to stop somewhere.

JulieDiCaro said:

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First, I gave him credit for the trades. Second, if you look at our roster, you also see guys like Mike Fontenot who probably shouldn't be on the roster.

gravedigger said:

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exactly, this. soto looked promising till he shit the bed this year. i begrudgingly admit theriot has been pretty good this year. i refuse to consider hufflepuff, fox, and fontenot anything more than replacement players.

gravedigger said:

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Speaking of farm teams, the Mets fired their apparently-crazy farm director for having some kind of embarassing outburst. There's a story on ESPN. But what confuses me is this line:

Bernazard reportedly pulled off his shirt and challenged the Double-A Binghamton Mets in the tirade, about 10 days before the All-Star break.

WTF does that mean? He wanted to fight the team? Why did he "pull off his shirt?"

Doc said:

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For all the issues we all have with the Cubs organization...whether it be the manager, general manager, player scouting...whatever...

Thank our lucky stars we are not the New York Mets.

gravedigger said:

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Seriously. The have NINE fucking players on the DL, including about all of their all stars. Can you imagine?

And can you imagine Omar Minaya and his entourage as the GM?

Doc said:

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no need to imagine that...

that was the 1985 Cubs.

gravedigger said:

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i was two years old.

Doc said:

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ugh.

thisyearcub said:

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GD, I saw that. The Mets are an absolute disaster, top to bottom.

I guess a 40-something-year-old thought pulling off his shirt, likely exposing a round tire midsection, would intimidate a bunch of in-shape 18-20-year-olds.

This is my fav pic of the month.

http://tomorrowsbackpage.com/wp-content/themes/thesis-v03/headers/covers-15.jpg

Doc said:

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I'm so happy federal money was loaned to the Mets to build their stadium...not to mention the money for the naming rights for their stadium.

At least the Yankees are in first place in their new federally funded stadium.

JulieDiCaro said:

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you think giving Soriano EIGHT YEARS was a good move?

JulieDiCaro said:

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You guys, I think the point ther article is making is that the farm system has been good in the past, but right now is so devoid of value that we can't do anything to better the team at the trade deadline. i'm curious to see the years all the players you guys have mentioned were drafted. it seems like the problems with the draft really began about 5 years ago or so.

flyball said:

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I feel like this is a big cycle, the farm system gets good after a series of good drafts/trades for prospects, then everyone either is traded for veterans or makes it to the team, then they start rebuilding the farm system again and it starts all over

JulieDiCaro said:

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i agree. right now though, we are definitely in a down cycle, and right when we need a decent second baseman (preferably left-handed).

flyball said:

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the problem as I see sure the Cubs farm system is in a down cycle but its while the Cubs MLB team is trying to stay on top of the NL central and the roster has more than its share of high priced talent that aren't 22 therefor occasionally get injured but since they have traded away too many of the good AAA players so when something does happen there isn't anyone to call up, or trade to get help

but then the alternative is to have an major league ready player hanging out in Iowa on the off-chance that Chicago needs another outfielder at some point in the season

I just wish they had given themselves more wiggle room, because it seems that everything is more or less locked into the guys they have right now (minus Soto which is a whole other issue because Hill cannot keep catching every day)

millertime said:

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Mike Fontenot has almost the exact same career OPS as Mark DeRosa. Weird. Fontenot deserved a shot at the starting job after last season, and who knows, he might hit his stride again. If not, we have a position to target next off-season. If the other players on our team started hitting, Fontenot's lack of production wouldn't be such a big deal. For what he is making, and with the current make-up of the team, we don't need to trade away future talent for a short term 2B fix.

I think signing Soriano at all has been great. When signing elite players, you always overpay for them. It'd be nice to sign Soriano for $7 Mil a year for 5 years, but something tells me he wouldn't go for that deal. Without Soriano, this team probably would have sucked the last two years. I don't understaned why people constantly bitch about Soriano. He got what the market gave him. Soriano has been the second or third best hitter on the team the past two seasons. Yet every time he goes through a slump, people whine about his salary, and the years he has left, and how he's too much drama. Do people honestly think Soriano was a bad deal? Was there some other player the Cubs could have/ should have signed that would have worked out better?

The Cubs have less prospects in the farm system because they've been winning over the past couple years, so they draft later in rounds. Combine that with deals they've made over the last couple years to do mid-season trades, its no wonder they are dry of tradeable prospects.

gravedigger said:

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I think for a lot of us the thing about Soriano is that he has been pretty good. Not superstar great. But he's being paid like he's superstar great, and treated as such until somewhat recently (like stubbornly refusing to force him down in the batting order). I think some f us unrealistically expected him to be one of the 5 (or maybe 10) best players in baseball.

Doc said:

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Actually, with him batting down in the order (hopefully permanently) I think Soriano has the ability now to be one of the top 10 players in all of baseball...at least for the next couple years. His RBI totals should really start to skyrocket...and I wouldn't be surprised if, before this season is over, he is batting #3 in the line up and D-Lee is the players moved down to the 5 or 6 slot.

flyball said:

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thats why superstar contracts are ridiculous

but then I'm a broken record on this subject

Doc said:

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I honestly don't think the system would be devoid of value if it wasn't for the significant number of injuries to players on the 25 man roster this year.

Fox has value now.
Hart has value now.
Wells has value now.
F7 has some value.

Currently in the minors
Vitters has value...
Ascanio has value...
Dubois has some value (though he is getting old)...
Cashner still has some value...
Colvin is floundering a bit but still has some value...

At this point, would the cubs be willing to trade any of these guys? Nope. But I think there is enough in the system (if you include the rookies on the roster replacing "injured" players right now) to make a run at someone right now...but the Cubs don't have the will to part with anyone and won't take on a big contract. So there.

Really, the only reason the Cubs farm system has no value right now is because Aaron Miles is playing down there. He makes everyone around him worse.

Speaking of which, the Cubs are 16-9 since Miles went on the DL.

gravedigger said:

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I seriously refuse to believe that's a coincidence.

millertime said:

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I don't find superstar contracts ridiculous. Superstar's are the best players in baseball. So naturally you have to pay them ridiculous amounts. Otherwise you're stuck trying to draft them. A player like Soriano comes around once every couple years, and is usually in the top ten picks. So building a team full of superstar talent means losing big time for 4 or five years staight. The Brewers, Rays, and Marlins have great farm systems because they always lose, and get to draft high. Then it's just a matter of a high draft pick panning out.

I guess at the end of the day I'd rather take a chance and overpay a really good player than wait to find one in the draft.

flyball said:

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I politely disagree

but then I am starting to think baseball should have a salary cap

I take that back, baseball should have a team salary cap

Doc said:

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I also disagree...but I don't know why.

Doc said:

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That damn cow is bugging the hell out of me.

Maim said:

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You guys! I think I found the key to having a winning fantasy baseball team.

Forget you're playing fantasy baseball. Log in every couple of weeks because you noticed the link there on your bookmarks bar and you're curious to see how you're doing. Don't make any moves at all. Have Ryan Braun on your team.

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