UPDATE (10:30): I decided to extend this to a game preview and thread since the game is way early today (11:35 CT) and I didn't want to interrupt the great discussion on the DH question right now.
Tonight I'm going to bear the cold and watch the Cubs future in action. I'm talking, of course, about the prospect laden Class A team, the Kane County Cougars. The guy batting cleanup should be the mighty Dan Vogelbach, who tore up rookie level Arizona and then continued to rake after his promotion to the Northwest League (short-season A ball) with the Boise Hawks.
Despite the gaudy minor league numbers (.322/.410/.641 across both levels), Vogelbach still has some hurdles to clear. He still needs to adjust to more sophisticated and talented pitchers as he moves up the minor league ladder. But the biggest obstacle to the majors may not be opposing pitchers, but rather a player in is own organization -- current Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo already does much of what Vogelbach hopes to do well one day at the MLB level -- most notably hit for power and be a middle of the lineup run producer. He also already does something Vogelbach does not -- play Gold Glove caliber defense at 1B.
One simple rule change could wipe out both obstacles at once, however. That would be the adoption of the designated hitter by the National League. Can it really happen?
Theo Epstein seems to think so.
"I think we're going to see the DH in the National League," Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein told USA TODAY Sports. "Hopefully we're just a few years away."
It may not be that easy. There will be resistance -- not just from baseball purists, but also from National League owners who will have to accommodate another potential large salary on their payroll. Perhaps it's an avenue for the player's association to increase salary and job opportunities for players. It will also extend careers and allow us to see hitters in the NL that are usually lost to the American League.
Detractors will say it takes away from what they like best about baseball -- the strategy. The presence of the pitcher in the lineup forces NL managers to bunt, pinch-hit, double-switch, and manage the bullpen in a more calculated way than their AL counterparts. It's how the game was meant to be played.
The game has evolved and the talent level has risen significantly since the game was invented. No longer can players seamlessly transition from being a top pitcher to the best hitter in the game, as Babe Ruth once did. Even as late as the 1960 and 1970s you'd see players who were able to excel on the mound and at the plate. Pitchers like Bob Gibson, Don Newcomb, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Drysdale, Rick Rhoden, and Don Robinson could actually help their teams without necessarily having to square up to bunt.
Yes, there are still pitchers who can hit. Rick Ankiel made the transition and had a good year or two at the plate. Micah Owings and Adam Loewen have attempted to make the same transition. Brooks Kieschnick remained a solid pinch-hitter even after being moved from the OF to the mound. But all of them switched only after not being able to master their craft on the mound or at the plate. They were, in an odd way, "tweeners". We can also say that the Cubs have three pitchers capable of helping themselves at the plate in Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and Jeff Samardzija -- but they don't really strike fear in opposing pitchers. They are good enough to stay on the mound, but it's doubtful any of them could actually make a living at the plate -- and certainly not without dedicating a lot of time and effort to it. That's time and effort that would take away from their work on the mound.
The game has changed. The level of competition to become a MLB pitcher requires intense, long-term dedication to that craft. The same goes for hitters who are facing those pitchers. The game has become more specialized and there just isn't enough time to master the art of pitching and hitting -- not at the current level of competition.
I do understand the reluctance to change, however. I've been a National League fan for about 40 years and it would be weird to see a DH in the lineup. I think I can get used to it, though. Especially if it means watching Dan Vogelbach mashing baseballs in a Cubs uniform.
News and Notes:
- Cubbie Doc Examiner has their own interesting take on the National League DH question.
- Baseball Prospectus has a free article on the players scouts think can pull a Jose Fernandez. That is, which players are most likely to be able to handle the jump from A ball. At the top of the list? Javier Baez.
- A gentle reminder that we will continue our minor league recaps this year. We feel it's the most comprehensive, informative recap anywhere with the best combination of scouting reports, statistics, and first hand observation (both live and through video). Please make sure to bookmark it. Note: It may be a bit late tonight (or early tomorrow) because I'll be at the Kane County game early tonight. Be sure to check in and get some first hand info on how Pierce Johnson, Dan Vogelbach and the Cubs most prospect laden team performed.
- DeJesus, CF
- Starlin Castro SS
- Anthony Rizzo 1B
- Alfonso Soriano, LF
- Nate Schierholtz RF
- Dioner Navarro C
- Luis Valbuena 3B
- Brent Lillibridge, 2B
- Travis Wood, LHP
What to Watch For:
Tom: I'm watching the mound again today as James McDonald is winless against Cubs in 6 starts with 5.71 era and hoping it ignites Cubs offense. Especially want to see A Rizzo get back in the HR column. Current Bucs hitters are hitting .191 against Travis Wood.
John: Since we're talking DH or pitcher batting, I'm watching Travis Wood...at the plate as well as on the mound. In fact, I'm not so sure he shouldn't bat 7th today.
Felzz: Nate Schierholtz. Never thought I'd be happy to see Nate BACK in the lineup but here we are. But Nate had a very good first game. And it would be nice if he can build on it. If he can shut doubters like me up and maybe make Sveum think twice (It's alright) about that all righty lineup then he will be referred to as St. Nate.....