Cubs minor league player awards show shift in organizational focus

According to multiple sources, the Cubs have named Logan Watkins as their Minor League Player of the year and Nicholas Struck as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Normally I don't concern myself with awards but I think this year it's more significant.  It's a reflection of what the new front office values.

I don't mean any disrespect toward  Justin Bour or Greg Rohan, they both had very good, productive seasons and each has a shot of being a big league ballplayer, but neither is a great defender and neither contributes much beyond his bat.

Logan Watkins not only had a good season, but he represented the type of player the organization wants to see -- a player who gets on base, runs the bases well, and plays good defense.  On the strength of an excellent 13% walk rate, Watkins put up a superb .383 OBP this year.  Watkins wasn't just a walk machine, however.  He hit a respectable .281 and a career-high .422 slugging percentage.  His ISO of .141 also represented a career high.  Watkins offensive contributions weren't just limited to his numbers at the plate, he has good speed and perhaps more importantly, knows how to use it, stealing 28 bases in just 35 attempts.  The 28 stolen bases represented -- you guessed it -- a career high.

That brings me to my next point, which is that Watkins continued to make adjustments as he moves up the chain.  Not only did he hold serve as he moved up, he actually got better.  That speaks to his mental makeup and his ability to adapt his game to better competition.

Looking at Nick Struck, we see some similar qualities in that he has the strong mental makeup needed to continually keep improving.  Like Watkins, he seems to get better as he moves up and he has command of the strike zone.  Struck walked just 2.5 hitters per 9 innings this season en route to a 14-10, 3.18 season.  Struck also showed some ability to miss bats, striking out 7.1 batters per 9 innings.  That is a testament to his aggressive approach on the mound.  We've seen some Cubs pitchers nibble around the plate despite having upper 90s fastballs.  Struck, meanwhile, goes right after hitters, attacking the zone despite average stuff across the board.

Both players are due to be added to the 40 man roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.  I consider Watkins a lock and I'd be very surprised if Struck wasn't added as well.  The team needs pitchers that can give you innings and fill the strike zone.  That is exactly what Struck can provide as someone who is likely to be somewhere on the Cubs 8 or 9 man rotation depth chart.

Congrats to both on a well-deserved honor.

And kudos to the Cubs organization for being consistent with their organizational philosphy.




Filed under: Awards

Tags: Logan Watkins, Nick Struck


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  • Nice. Congrats to both. Safe to say Struck starts next year at Iowa? If so, we may see him as an emergency starter as early as next year.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I"d say that's pretty safe. Thats the most likely scenario. I guess there's a small chance he makes the team out of ST, but that would mean leapfrogging some guys and assuming the Cubs don't pick up any veterans.

    Barring any kind of trade, he'll be in the mix at Iowa to be among the first called should they need an extra starter.

  • Nick Struck is the kind of guy that some people overlook because he is not overpowering.He's also the kind of guy who sticks and becomes a much better player than people thought.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    He really is. The stuff is average and he's smallish (5'11 185) so he's not going to get a lot of love from scouts, but if there is a pitching version of a grinder, Struck is it. If he had Volstad's build and stuff, we'd be talking about a top prospect. As it is, his stuff isn't bad,he's not a junkballer by any means, but he's going to have to find a way to succeed without overwhelming stuff. Interesting guy to watch.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Greg Maddox ring a bell?

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    Maybe......but he also could be the 2nd coming of Casey Coleman. I hope I'm wrong, but Coleman also performed in the minors with a mediocre assortment of pitches, by good location and mixing. It worked at the lower levels but not in the majors. Hopefully I'm wrong.

    In the majors, I feel you have to have an out pitch, something that batters swing and miss at, or you'll just be fodder in the long-run. Rusin and Raley are the latest versions of pitchers with good command and location, but just don't have a pitch that can get by a ML hitter.

    Anyway, I hope I'm wrong, and Struck deserves a shot, but there's a reason he hasn't made any top prospects lists before this year.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He absolutely could be Casey Coleman. I hope not, but it's certainly well within the range of possibilities. And while you say there's a reason he wasn't a top prospect, there's also a reason why the Cubs paid him a significant overslot bonus when they selected him.

    One major difference from Coleman is that Struck's peripherals have been consistently better throughout his minor league career -- even in Coleman's one big season. Those indicators give more reason for hope with Struck.

    It's always better to have at least one plus-plus pitch, but we've seen pitchers make pretty long careers without that quality. Most of them don't make much more than bottom of the rotation starters or middle relievers, but those guys have value too - and every once in a while, one of these guys turns out to be something a little more than that.

    Struck isn't a blue-chipper. He's not the guy you brag about when you talk about your farm system, but I really wouldn't be surprised if he made it to the bigs and stuck in some role.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah....looking again you're right, there is more swing and miss to Struck than Coleman. Coleman's big year at Tennessee he struck out 5.1 per 9, which should have been a sign that he was very lucky that year, or had great fielders behind him. That ratio will not play in the majors.

    Maybe the upside is that Struck is the next Mike Wuertz; Wuertz plodded along in our system, but found a grove in the bullpen. He didn't set the world on fire by any means, but had a decent ML career as a middle reliever (I say "had", because he has been out of baseball since mid-summer)

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Whenever I think of a pitching prospect with less than ideal measurables (under 6'0", less than overpowering fastball, etc.) I like to remember a guy who fit this bill for the Cubs back in the mid 80's. Maybe 6'0" on a good day, about 170 lbs, didn't strike people out too much, but also didn't walk many, decent low 90's fastball but far from blowing people away, great mental makeup. Minor league stats didn't jump out at you screaming big time prospect. First 2 years in the bigs were very forgettable from a stats point of view. I'm pretty sure the general consensus was that this guy might have a future, but it certainly wasn't special. And yet, starting with his 3rd season you could say his career went pretty well. (understatement)

    Now, I am in no way suggesting that Struck (or any other prospect who fits this description) has anything but the smallest chance of going on to have the kind of career the pitcher I mentioned above produced. But I do like to remember Greg Maddux as the ultimate example of what a less than physically imposing pitcher can become when he dedicates himself to becoming the best pitcher possible.

  • In reply to Tom Wozniak:

    Struck will attack the zone much like Maddux did, he has that same bulldog mentality, but he's not nearly as fine with his command -- then again, who is? Struck definitely has the approach you want in all your pitchers, whether it's enough to overcome his shortcomings remains to be seen, but I'd give him a better shot than most pitchers with average stuff.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    That would be nice. We'll see, I guess. He could turn out to be the guy who shuttles back and forth or he could find a niche somewhere and stick long term. I think he's a big leaguer, not a star, but I wish we could clone his approach and give it to Volstad and some of our relievers.

    My prediction is that Sveum and Bosio will like him enough to give him a shot at some point next year. We'll see what happens from there.

  • It's nice to see that prospects are rewarded for more than just stats.
    If Logan plays 2nd what does he have over Barney

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    He's faster, he's a better athlete. He has more pop than Barney did at the same stage -- and he's a much better OBP guy with a more disciplined approach.

    The defense would be the biggest step down. It's good, but it's not at Barney's level. The question becomes one of value. How much do you pay for defense once Barney becomes arb eligible. When does that great value provide on defense start to drop off because of an increasingly higher salary? At that point, maybe you give the job to Watkins, knowing his offense will compensate and maybe you used the saved money to obtain talent at another position.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If there is a good enough pitcher (high minors or in the bigs) pitcher involved, I flip Barney in early November. It would need to be for quality, though.

  • In reply to tim815:

    Agreed. I would do that as well.

  • In Struck's case, I look at this as an indictment of the overall lack of pitching talent in the entire organization, but I guess it's better than the answer to the joke "Who won the Miss New Jersey beauty contest?" - No one.

    Please tell me I'm wrong.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    We have to be careful to differentiate between top prospect and minor league pitcher of the year. If we're talking top pitching prospects, Struck probably doesn't rank in the top 10. He's not even the best prospect on his own team. But when we talk about an award like this, we're also talking about productivity -- and upside isn't even part of the equation.

  • In a perfect world, the starting 2B and lead-off hitter for the Cubs by 2014 would be part Castro (for offense), part Barney (for Defense), and part Campana (for base-running). How does Watkins compare to those players in those aspets?

    On a spearate note, I've got tix to the Orioles vs. the Rays game in Tampa Monday. Hopefully, I'll get a look at former Cubs prospect Chris Archer inbetween beers. I like Garza, but I think Hendry screwed the pooch on that one. The kid looks like he has Ace potential...............

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He's not as good as any of those players in those respective categories. That said, Watkins has true leadoff hitter qualities (speed, OBP) and he won't hurt you defensively. The question is can he keep making adjustments and maintain those kinds of numbers in the big leagues. So far he has shown that ability.

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    I'm starting to think Barney could be traded in the off-season. Will his value ever be higher? I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I'm thinking that one way to work with the new CBA is to move veterans when they have good young talent behind them for prospects. Barney's defense is fantastic, but Watkins isn't bad on that front, and he's probably better elsewhere. Maybe next off-season is when Barney goes (assuming you can get value for him), once we've seen Watkins succeed at AAA, but even if Watkins looks major league ready, I'd think that Barney would have more value in a trade.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    It wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened, though I think some Cubs fans would be upset about it. I'd do it if you get value with the expectation that Watkins can at least approach his overall value.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I suspect a lot of Cubs fans would be upset, but it's all about value right? We always love our gritty, slap-hitting infielders (and I like Barney too), but fortunately Theo/Jed think less like fans than the previous regime appeared to.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Oh, I'm all for it if they get value, no question. To me Barney loses a lot once he reaches those arb years.

    The irony here is we'd most likely replace him with another gritty IF in Watkins, but at least he'll be cheaper by then. I'll go out on a limb here (not really) and say Watkins will be another fan favorite if he plays like he did at Tennessee.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wouldn't be happy, because it would probably hurt the team to trade Barney. Maybe I'm drinking too much of the "Barney Backer" koolaid, because the more I see him play, the more I like the guy. Here's my reasoning for why it would be unwise to trade Barney:

    1) It's been years since the Cubs have even had a decent starting 2B player. I think probably only Derosa since Sandberg. They've had a lot of junk at that position. Now we have a young player, who is improving his game every year, who is solid, but not spectacular. His OBP would be higher if they were a good team. Losing so often on a crappy team tends to wear down younger players, IMHO. He's improving his power. His fielding is arguably the best in the league at that position. Did I mention he is young?

    2) Watkins already being talked about as heir-apparent to the position is premature, to say the least. He is quite a ways from even testing him as a starter there, probably at least a year. I hope Logan has a great career, and admit there is a lot to like to his game, but there is a 50/50 chance at best that he makes it to the MLB as a quality starter. Noone is really pushing Barney here, yet, sorry to say.

    3) The biggest reason: trading him will not bring back sufficient value. I doubt that anyone will trade a top prospect for a 2b player who doesn't have Brandon Philips-like power. These guys (great glove, great makeup, solid hitter (for 2B)) just aren't really valued highly. But watching the guy play, I would not be happy to downgrade the position just to get a middling player who at best will end up as a middle relief pitcher. He's been a big part of many of the Cubs wins, when they do occasionally win. The Cubs will not get players like that in a trade for him.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    HefCA, I can't say I disagree with any of those points. Well stated.

    The only reason I can see for moving Barney is if his price tag rises beyond the point where he doesn't provide a lot of surplus value relative to one of the young 2B prospects (should any of them turn out, that is).

  • John what are the chances of Watkins getting a long look next spring in center field. Assuming BJax gets sent down to Iowa (which I'd be shocked if that didn't happen) or traded in a package deal in the offseason, who are the "in house" options in CF? It would seem to me that Watkins could easily transition to the outfield and would look very nice in the 2 hole behind DeJesus and in front of Rizzo. Thoughts?

  • In reply to irishivy75:

    I'd say the chances are good that he gets a long look, but more as a guy who could help mid or late season than opening day. He's the kind of player that's going to play hard and get the coaching staff's attention.

    Watkins already plays some CF. He moves from 2B to SS to CF, so that's a distinct possibility, but the Cubs are going to give Jackson every opportunity since his overall potential is greater.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I read somewhere that he logged some pt at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, & CF last year in Daytona. I don't have a link or game logs to back that up though.....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    That sounds about right. He's a very athletic kid. He was an all-state QB at Kansas and the Cubs had to pay a significant overslot to get him signed.

  • Any veteran should be available in a trade come Dec. winter
    meetings. As long a we get a least 1 great/good prospect
    in each deal. Hope we can include LaHair or Tony in a package
    deal. Garza might have to wait until the end of spring training.
    I don't think he will sign a short deal.

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    My prediction is that nothing happens with Garza until midseason. At that time we'll be seeing some glimmers of hope from Vizcaino and maybe a couple of our lower-level, high-ceiling pitchers, and management will extend Garza instead of trading him. And there will be fights on this board and elsewhere in Cubs-land about whether that's a brilliant or an awful move focusing extensively on his poor fielding.

    Check in with me next July :)

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    LaHair and Campana in a package deal? I hope you weren't expecting anything but an A-Ball washout in return.

    Both have to play regularly to have value. Only Houston would have the onions/lack-of-depth to do that.

  • In reply to tim815:

    I'm guessing he meant as a throw in with someone better as the centerpiece.

  • The problem is, we don't have many 'better pieces' to deal.

  • In reply to tim815:

    That is a problem now. Garza is the only real trade chip, but that won't happen until he's healthy.

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