Rebuilding the Cubs farm system

Rebuilding the Cubs farm system
Cubs need more impact players like Castro

There's little question that the Cubs need to rebuild their major league team.  What's not as often mentioned is that the Cubs need to overhaul the farm system as well.  While there is some depth, many of the upper level players project as role players.  The Cubs began to realize this the past couple of years and started taking chances and spending money on potential impact players.  This gives Theo Epstein and company a bit of a head start as they attempt to rebuild as system that produces more in the way of starting pitchers, impact athletes, and big bats.  The good news is the Cubs may have a few players that already match this description.  The bad news is that almost all of these higher ceiling players reside in the lowest levels of the system.  When you talk about possibly trading players like Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, and Geovanny Soto, the hope is that the Cubs can build on what they started last year and fill the gaps in their farm system.

1. Starting pitchers - Not counting Andrew Cashner, the Cubs have 3 pitchers who have the stuff to qualify as mid-rotation or better starters.  They are Trey McNutt, Ben Wells, and Dillon Maples.  The latter two have yet to play full-season ball (Maples has yet to throw a pitch in professional ball), while McNutt is coming off a year where he battled nagging injuries and command issues that have thrown his status in doubt.  He still has the stuff to be a #3 starter and possibly a #2, but he's going to have to put it together in 2012 or risk being labeled as a reliever.

2. Impact athletes - The Cubs have some athletic players, most notably Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Junior Lake, but there is some question as to whether they can project to be anything more than solid to good everyday players.  In the case of Sczcur and Lake, there is some debate as to whether they even project to be everyday players at all.  Next year will be a big year for those two prospects as they should both reach AA at some point in the season.  They certainly have the natural ability to become impact players, it's just a matter of honing their baseball skills.  To be fair, the Cubs have tried to correct this weakness in the last draft, selecting good athletes like Javier Baez, Zeke DeVoss, Shawon Dunston Jr., Darien "Trey" Martin, and Taiwan Easterling.   International signees Jeffrey Baez  Pin-Chieh Chen, and Oliver Zapata are also good athletes, but they are all a long way away at this point.

3. Power Hitters - When your best power hope in the minors is a 29 year old former minor league free agent, you know there is a huge gap.  Some Cubs prospects have disappointed so far in the power department, most notably Josh Vitters, so the Cubs took a chance on some power prospects like Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Rock Shoulders, and Trevor Gretzky -- as well as Reggie Golden over the past couple of seasons.  The Cubs also signed highly projectable players such as Marck Malave,  Luis Acosta, Ricardo Marcano, and Jeimer Candelario in that time, all of whom could develop extra base power or perhaps more. Again,these players aren't close to the majors.

Not coincidentally, you have heard Cubs linked to potential front-line starting pitchers (Kyle Drabek, Martin Perez, Manny Banuelos, Jacob Turner, etc), athletic players (Anthony Gose, Jake Marsinick, Yoennis Cespedes) and potential power hitters (Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt, Jorge Soler) whenever you hear rumors about trade discussions or international signings.

The Cubs front office is challenged with a formidable task when it comes to rebuilding the farm system, perhaps more difficult than rebuilding the major league team when you take into account the limitations imposed by the new CBA.  It's the only reason the Cubs are even considering trading a young talent such as Matt Garza.  The Cubs can probably put a winning team  on the field within the next two years by spending big in free agency, but building an organization that can sustain success long term will be the most difficult task that Epstein and Co. have to accomplish.  And it's going to require a lot of patience from Cubs fans.



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  • Wait...
    The Cubs have a power-hitting prospect named Rock Shoulders?
    That. Is. AWESOME.

  • In reply to mosconml:

    Classic name! He's a big man too with big time power. The question will be if he can hit professional pitching well enough to show it off.

  • Signing a big time FA (Fielder) is not the way to go. Don't spend big
    money on long term contracts. Trading Garza, and others, is the
    best way to go. It is a big gamble, but if we can get 1 top prospect,
    per trade, that makes it to the majors it is worth it. This were
    scouting comes into play.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    You want to get at least a couple of impact players if you trade Garza. You've already got one impact guy in Garza, so you'll want to get more than one guy in return - if you trade him. You'd like to get 2-3 good starters and maybe another solid contributor or two.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Cub interest in major-league ready arms is why TOR is such an obvious fit. Despite Drabek's rough '11, I could see Theo/ Jed being interested, due to his advanced status. He seems like a bit of a boom or bust proposition . McGuire does seem like a safer bet.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    They also have a couple of athletic players the Cubs would like in Gose and Marcinek. It's a steep price but I'd ask for one of each: Drabek, McGuire, and Marcinek or Gose. The idea of getting Travis Snider interests me as well.

  • Due to this lack of upper-level impact talent, I think Theo's inclination would be to take 2-3 guys with impact potential from the upper levels of a system, rather than dreaming on a greater number of raw players.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    Agreed. I think that's exactly what he'll do. He's already got some lower level guys, they can draft more, what they want are upper level guys who can play soon.

  • I question how we got so empty on the upper minor leagues. Wilkens is highly respected and i'm wondering if he got hamstrung by the tribune for a few years and so was drafting college guys in excess bc of signability. id like to see how this last draft turns out bc i remember wilkens saying the scouts were happy bc they got players they really wanted.

  • In reply to knoxvillecub:

    You hit the nail on the head, knoxvillecub. The Trib got into win-now philosophy and Wilken had little to work with. Had one year where he didn't have a 2,3, or 4th round pick. Still got a couple of major league guys in Colvin and Samardzija. I think he'll do better starting from the 2011 draft ith the philosophy change.

  • In reply to knoxvillecub:

    I believe Wilken might be over-rated. You still have to be able to project what your draftees are going to develop into and then develop them.

  • Would it be insane to ask for Drabek, Gose,AND McGuire? Doesn't seem too outlandish to me.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I don't think so, especially in light of what other teams have been giving up for top of the rotation pitchers. In terms of prospect status, I don't think it'd be too different than the Greinke deal.

  • What are your thoughts on Jay Jackson? Also some of the other Starters in AAA like Nick Struck and Chris Rusin? Do they profile as back-end starters?

  • In reply to furiousjeff:

    I like Rusin and Struck as possible back end starters. Not as high on Jackson, who's stuff has regressed in the past couple of years. If Jackson makes it, it'll probably be in middle relief.

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    In reply to furiousjeff:

    One thing about Jay Jackson is he is a fantastic hitter for a pitcher. It would be a shame if he can't be a reliable starting pitcher in the majors because having his bat in an NL lineup would be a plus every time he starts.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Great two way player at Furman. Still a tough hitter.

  • John, First time poster and I echo what others have said about your blog. It's not only a great read but has kept me looking forward to the future of the Cubs in what is certain to be a rebuilding phase.

    With that being said I really enjoy your pieces on the prospects in the Cubs system. Do you have any prospects you are intrigued by that don't necessarily make the list of the top 20 or so? I know you've mentioned guys like Malave and Candelario on previous occasions. Is there someone that you would be reluctant to give up if the Cubs where in say Toronto's position and where looking to pick from our minor leaguers ?

    Last, do you have any idea when the Cuban players will be available to negiotate contracts. Praying for Jorge Soler and the lefty SP whose name is escaping me.

    Thanks again for your quality work and keeping me busy in my cubicle Monday through Friday.

  • In reply to Bilbo Baggins:

    Thanks Bilbo, appreciate the kind words and glad I could help the day go by faster.

    Someone outside the top 20 that I'm intrigued with...hmmm. I'll give you a pitcher named Dallas Beeler whom the Cubs signed overslot in the 41st round. Came off of TJ surgery and has really gotten healthy and is throwing well. Great size at 6'5", heavy sinker, good command and strikeout rate. He's one guy who could leap into that upper group with McNutt, Maples, and Wells.

    Guys I wouldn't part with would be Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario and Dillon Maples. Jackson because he's almost certain to be at leaset a good starter and the others because they are potential impact players. There are more obviously I'd hate to part with, but I'll start with those 4.

    I think the Cubs are a better bet to sign Soler and Geraldo Concepcion, the LHP you're probably thinking of, instead of Cespedes. They may be available as soon as early January.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I also think the Cubs will sign at least 1 of the 2. I hope they
    hire more international scouts.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I have a feeling they'll get one of them as well. Don't forget the Pacific Rim. The Cubs have gotten a few likely major leaguers in Hak Ju Lee, Dae Un Rhee, and Jae Hoon Ha. out there.

  • John any particular prospects on the pacific rim that the Cubs may be interested in?

  • In reply to Bilbo Baggins:

    No,sorry. I don't have specific information on those prospects at this time, but I'll see if I can scrounge up a list for somewhere down the road.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    suk min yoon seems like an interesting prospect. 25 years old and a converted reliever. Any news of possible interest in him? I read that he has hired Boras as his agent.

  • In reply to Bilbo Baggins:

    It's possible, but I imagine the Cubs would like to get younger prospects as they have in the past.

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    John, one guy i'd be reluctant to give up aside from BJackso and Matt Sczur is Josh Vitters...I know the guy on Hot Stove Cubbies has him rumored in different scenarios all the time but the guy can flat out hit..If Sveum can get him to be pitch selective the guy could really get that 280 average over 300 and rake..I'd stick him in LF and dump Soriano's ass if the Cubs feel he can't hack the hot corner especially now with Stewart there...

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    Not sure where that info is coming from but I've not seen nor heard anything that Vitters is actually involved in much trade talk. Lots of stuff gets thrown out this time of year. He's very likely to be with the Cubs this coming season though one thing he has going against him is that OBP and defense are two of his weaknesses and those two traits are highly value by the new front office. On the plus side, he's an excellent natural hitter and his 3B work has improved to the point where some scouts are beginning to feel he could actually stick there -- and that would really help his value as opposed to playing LF. Walk totals didn't show it but plate discipline is getting a little better. He has to show some more progress in those areas and if he works on it and the Cubs are patient with Vitters, I can see him developing into a decent starter down the road. He may need to spend a couple more years in the minors for that to happen, though.

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    I also think that although Toronto has been heavily rumored to want Garza, I doubt the BoSox and Yankees let him go to an up and coming rival without throwing their hat in the ring either..The Yanks have been overly quiet ..I don't expect it to last..I bet Garza's dealt really soon too.

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I've been going back and forth on unloading Garza. Recently I'm in favor of moving him especially after seeing some of the prospects that have changed hands in the Gonzalez and Latos deals. I would however not move him unless it's for 2 prospects that can contribute immediately. I think it's important for Theo and Jed to have a face they can sell to the fan base while they continue to rebuild and reload. A front of the rotation prospect in my humble opinion should be that face.

    I'm with a lot of the posters here in that I'm comfortable with a rebuilding process but I don't believe the rest of the Cubs fans are going to be an easy sell. Having a blue chip prospect to put on the front page of the sports section is something that I believe needs to happen in order for Theo and Jed to pull a trigger on a Garza deal.

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    The Vitters rumors i've heard came from the guy running the Hot Stove Cubbie site...It maybe just his personal hopes or views but i'd see it as a mistake..

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    The Hot Stove Cubbies guy, while entertaining to read, is wrong almost 90% of the time. Also, when he is throwing out a lot of his own speculation, he comes up with some of the worst ideas for trades that I have ever read. I never get too excited or worried about anything I read there.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    That's not a blog I read. There's a few bloggers I trust as far as sources go, and Tom Loxas here at ChicagoNow is certainly one of them.

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    Bilbo, I have no doubt they can come away with one or two potential blue chippers plus other useful parts..There are plenty of TRUE Cubs fans like us who would embrace a true and proper rebuild..Those who don't aren't true Cubs fans..we've seen what happens with the quick rebuilds and patching holes like Hendry's disastorous!!!

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    Couldnt agree more Luigi i have faith Theo and Jed will find a way to get a good haul for Garza or he wont get moved.

    The patching holes stragety is a complete train wreck and that is evident, but I think it's important to remember that Ricketts and Co. haven't announced a decrease but rather a slight increase in ticket prices. (i think season ticket holders have to be paid up by the second week of January) That combined with what looks like a complete rebuild is not going to put an anxious group of fans in the seats. I guess i'm wondering if Ricketts is willing to let Theo patch holes with reclamation projects on short term deals while he builds up the depth in the minor leagues. After a decline in attendance last year i could easily see that continue into 2012. I'm all for this rebuild but i'm anxious to see/hear Ricketts thoughts if this team starts off poorly and people begin to question the moves. i still think there is a trick up Theo's sleeve and someone as big as Prince (no pun intended) could be an addition that works to both keep the marginal fans engaged and fits into a rebuilding process.

  • I love the article John, I love talking about prospects. My dream scenario, as you have pointed out, is to have a 3 way trade with the Padres and Rangers in any Garza trade. I'm sure Theo and Jed would like that too, in that way they can get pitching prospects fron the Rangers and get Anthony Rizzo from the Padres. If the Cubs do trade Garza, than all bets are off for the other players like Soriano, Soto and Marmol. At that point, the Cubs might as well trade them as well if Garza goes, if the Cubs are going to rebuild than tear it all down.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Thanks Steve. A three way deal is really the only way I can see the Padres getting who they want for Rizzo. To get top pitching prospects on top of that would be an incredible deal for the Cubs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


    I see your point of a three way deal (and I agree with it), but if both teams, Cubs and Padres, are each looking for top pitching talent, how are both teams going to get exactly what they want? There is no way that a team like Toronto is going to give up 4-5 top pitching prospects in any deal, so that the Cubs and Padres can get a couple of quality arms apiece. If all the pitching goes to San Diego, while the Cubs take on any bats, that doesn't fill the hole created in the Cubs rotation by trading Garza in the first place. Considering that the Cubs have no top of the rotation starters in the higher minors, if they do move Garza, they have to get at least one or two arms back in order to speed up the rebuilding process.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    You hit the nail on the head as far as the problems inherent in making a deal for Rizzo. It's a headache.

  • Obviously, one of the keys will be the coaching the prospects will receive in the minors. There has been a lot of turnover this year. I wonder what kind of track record these new faces have in coaching up prospects?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    What we'll see is a more coherent philosophy throughout the system and prospects will have a better idea of what it's going to take to succeed and get promoted. We'll also see more players drafted with the tendency to succeed in areas that the new staff values most. They'll be more polished and we won't see as many raw talents who have a lot to learn and a long way to go -- at least not in the first round.

  • I looked back on John’s top 30 list to get a grip on our upper minor leagues and here’s an overview:

    **Triple A – (1) Brett Jackson CF, (10) Chris Carpenter RP, (15) DJ Lemahieu - GONE, (16) Ryan Flaherty - GONE, (17) Welington Castillo C, (25) Chris Rusin SP, (26) Nick Struck SP, (29) Steve Clevenger C.
    – Add ons – Ronaldo Torreyes (2b) and Dave Sappelt (OF), Manny Corpas (RP), Andy Sonnastine (SP or RP)

    **Broken down that’s one 2b (potential starter), two OF (1 starter, one 4th OF), two catchers (both likely back ups), Three RP (two starters, one flyer), and two starters (both 4th or 5th)

    **Double A – (6) Trey McNutt SP, (8) Josh Vitters 3B, (9) Rafael Dolis RP, (21) Jeffrey Beliveau RP, (22) Dae Un Rhee SP, (23) Junior Lake SS, (24) Jae-Hoon Ha OF, (27) Eric Jokisch SP

    **Broken down, that’s one SS (boom or bust), one 3B (average or bust), one OF (4th OF), two RP (nice potential), and two SP (one boom or bust and the other 4th or 5th)

    **Between both AAA and AA, we have no future 1b in the wings to challenge LaHair if he doesn’t work out, only one infielder that seems to have a future (Torreyes, Vitters still a possibility), 4th or 5th starters and solid relief pitchers. This should change in a few years but it would be nice to have some players to bridge the gap. Even if every one of these players lives up to their potential, we would still be lacking. So Epstein and Hoyer almost have to do something in the way of trades to prevent a long, long rebuild.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    In looking at that list, I wish I would have waited a bit longer to compile it! I'll have to revise it based on new information and new players. Players would be similar, I would just re-rank a few of them.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I still think the list is solid even without a few of the tweaks you would make. It exposes the lack of depth in the system at the upper levels. What the list needs is different names. These names are currently thriving in the systems of other MLB teams!

    Is there anyone outside of the list that we didn't receive in trades that you would add to the top 30?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    I like the list too, so I'm by and large sticking with it. Just a few tweaks here and there. I'll make a new list once all the trades are done. Obviously any trade of Matt Garza will significantly impact the top 10 and the Reds trade impacts the top 15-20.

  • Great information and post. Thanks.

  • This was a great article thanks for the read!!!!!!

  • In reply to cubsfanforlife:

    Your welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and the kind words.

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