Forecasting Cubs September Call-ups

Forecasting Cubs September Call-ups
The clock is ticking on Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson.

The first big prospect wave isn't here yet.  There's been some interesting guys trickle in over the past couple of years: Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo and Junior Lake to name a few.  The big time prospects, including Javier Baez, are likely still at least another year away, so this year may be more of a peek at potential role players and relief pitchers -- and perhaps a starting candidate or two.

Players on the bubble

  • Josh Vitters: It's been a frustrating year for Vitters.  In a very  small sample size there are numbers to suggest the light may be coming on as far as approach, but Vitters has not been able to stay healthy.  What might be more frustrating is that some of that "bad luck" may have been brought on by Vitters himself.  One scout noted he was about 15 pounds heavier after his rehab.  Never known as a gym rat to begin with, Vitters doesn't seem to be moving in the right direction.  He seemed reluctant to go to winter ball last offseason then quickly played his way off the roster, now he's had a series of injuries.  I am only speculating here but sometimes I wonder if Vitters expects the big leagues to come to him.   That ain't gonna happen.  I hope I'm wrong and it's just been bad luck/circumstances because Vitters has as more natural ability as a hitter than any 3B on the roster right now.  The question is whether he puts it to use.
  • Brett Jackson:  You never have to wonder about Jackson's effort.  He gives it everything he has both during the season and the offseason.  But the ability to make contact has become a serious issue and it has not improved even after tweaking his swing last year.  Jackson has great athleticism and tools, but they can't be utilized unless he hits.  He may still get a look this September, and if he does, he's going to have to show the Cubs he can at least make enough contact to be useful as an extra outfielder.
  • Brooks Raley:  Raley is another guy who could be fighting for his roster spot.  Raley is an athletic pitcher but hasn't pitched with the command needed given his average stuff.  Chris Rusin has been outperforming him at the MLB level while Zach Rosscup has caught up to him at the AAA level and may profile better in a relief role.  Lefties Eric Jokisch and hard throwing Hunter Cervenka loom in AA.  Is there room for all of them?
  • Dave Sappelt: Sappelt's future is in question simply because the Cubs have repeatedly passed him up when they needed an extra outfielder -- even though Sappelt is already on the 40 man roster.  The Cubs have added RH hitters Cole Gillespie, Thomas Neal, and Darnell McDonald rather than promoting Sappelt.  They even earlier called up Bryan Bogusevic despite already being too left-handed in the OF.  The writing may be on the wall for Sappelt, who has not impressed with his play either at Iowa or on the MLB roster.

Players auditioning for 2014 jobs


  • Scott Baker:  The Cubs were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the rehabbing Scott Baker but, for the time being, missed on what was perceived by many (including yours truly) as a good gamble for a potential #3 starter.  The thought here was the Cubs did not acquire Baker to flip him, but rather to give him a close to full season audition for a better contract and a spot in the rotation.  Unfortunately Baker had a couple of setbacks on the road back and is now just pitching in Daytona.  His last outing was better in that he threw more strikes, but reports are the velo hasn't fully returned and that is further evidenced by a lack of missed bats since his return.  Obviously Baker needs time to fully regain his strength, stamina, stuff, and command and we won't see the old Scott Baker this September, but the hope is you see enough of a glimpse to see if it's worth bringing him back.
  • Alberto Cabrera:  Cabrera has three things going for him: a fastball that can touch 97 (sits 92-94), a  plus slider at times, and the fact that he will be out of options next spring.  It's doubtful the Cubs want to lose a 24 year old arm of this caliber, so Cabrera may get a shot at the starting rotation but more likely will have to pitch out of the bullpen to start the year.  Cabrera has conquered the AA level both as a starter and a reliever but has struggled with the long ball in three separate stints at Iowa.   Command, especially keeping the ball down, is a key for him.
  • Justin Grimm:  Assuming the Cubs go with Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and Arrieta as their top 4, the 5th spot will likely be a competition between Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, Cabrera,  possibly Baker, and Justin Grimm.  Grimm may have the most upside, profiling as perhaps a #4 guy with his above average fastball and very good curve.  Commanding those pitches, particularly the curve, which advanced hitters tend to lay off of more in the bigs (ask Rich Hill).
  • Eduardo Sanchez: Sanchez is a bubble roster guy who has enough stuff to be in a big league pen but not enough command to make it matter much of the time.  The Cubs lack for power arms, so he'll get every chance, but with Cabrera and Dolis out of options behind him, he's really going to have to impress to keep his spot.  He's not going to be able to back into a bullpen job.  He's going to need to earn it and he should get a chance to do that this September.

Position Players

  • Mike Olt: Olt seemed like a lock to get a tryout this September but he has continued to struggle at the AAA level and his numbers certainly don't merit a call-up.  The Cubs could call him up to take a look and give him some big league coaching, as they did with Jackson and Vitters, and then give him the mulligan and see if he can come back strong one year removed from his vision issues.  Olt is in a precarious position.  The Cubs can get by in the short term with Valbuena and Murphy and there are two potential 3Bs behind him at AA in Villanueva and Baez.  He will be 25 by the time September rolls around and, harsh as it may sound, he is going to have to figure it out quickly
  • J.C. Boscan:  Dioner Navarro will be a free agent and, while the Cubs would love to keep him, he may price himself out of a backup role.  Boscan is a good defensive hitter who isn't going to give you much with the bat, so he probably profiles best as a 3rd/emergency type catcher.
  • Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney was very impressive when he got his chance to play and showed himself capable of being a full-time player and at least adequately managing CF.  He also showed a good approach and signs of tapping into the power potential many thought he always had in that 6'4", 220 lbs. frame.  Barring a significant addition or two in the OF, I have to think he has the inside track on a starting job next year along with fellow lefty Bryan Bogusevic.  He's coming off a broken rib injury and is on the 60 Day DL, so he'll have to be healthy and re-added to the roster.

40 man roster candidates who may get an early peek

There's really no need for these guys as it will be difficult to get them playing time.  But Szczur is becoming a veteran of the 40 man roster and his time may finally come for his first taste of big league life.

  • Matt Szczur: A call up for Matt Szczur is possible because he hits RH, can run, and can defend all 3 positions, so there's some utility here.  The Cubs could have him leapfrog Dave Sappelt and give him some of Cole Gillespie's playing time.
  • Christian Villanueva:  Villanueva has quietly had a great season amid the acquisition of Mike Olt, the drafting of Kris Bryant, and the speculation of Javier Baez moving to 3B.  has Vitters and Olt ahead of him on the depth chart, not to mention Luis Valbuena, who should be coming off the disabled list by then, and the red-hot Donnie Murphy (!!).   Cody Ransom is also still around.  If Vitters isn't healthy and the Cubs shut Olt down for the season, then maybe Villanueva gets a look.  He needs to refine his approach, however, as he may not have enough power or hit tool to make up for a low walk rate.

Players looking for that 40 man roster spot and a call-up

There are other candidates who could be added and one that will certainly be added is Arismendy Alcantara, but after setting a career high in games played, it's probably time for Alcantara to shut it down.  He's cooled off since the all-star break and fatigue may well be a factor.  His time will come next season.  A couple of sleepers to be added to the 40 man roster are Zach Cates and Hunter Cervenka.  Cates has been inconsistent but has thrown 96 since moving into the pen.  Cervenka is more at 91-93 with very good movement and as a lefty with a good fastball, could be vulnerable in the Rule 5.  Neither would get a call-up, however, and even protection on the 40 man is far from guaranteed.  Such are the pitfalls of building a deep system, you're going to lose some interesting talent-- but the fact that they are pitchers gives them a shot.

  • Zach Rosscup:  The 25 year old LHP acquired in the Matt Garza deal has a knack for missing bats with a deceptive fastball and a big-breaking curve.  He just needs to throw strikes to avoid the fate of guys like Rich Hill and Jeff Beliveau -- two other lefties with similar stuff  and huge minor league strikeout numbers who were derailed by an inability to find the zone.  Rosscup has advanced to AAA and it's getting harder to imagine that the Cubs won't protect a lefty with the numbers he put up this year.  He'd almost cerainly be selected in the Rule 5 draft.
  • Jae-Hoon Ha:  The defensively oriented Ha can play all 3 OF positions well, making up for a lack of top end speed with great instincts.  He gets great jumps, takes efficient routes, and has enough arm to keep runners honest on the bases.  The question with him is the bat.  Ha hasn't shown much power, though he has increased his ISO to .142 at Iowa.  He has a solid approach, working the count and able to draw an occasional walk.  Good extra outfielder and with Sappelt on the bubble and lefties Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, and Bryan Bogusevic all with a legit shot of cracking next year's roster, the RH hitting Ha may be a nice complement to the more offensively oriented side of the righy equation, Junior Lake.  His biggest current obstacle is Matt Szczur, who offers a similar skill set but is already on the 40 man roster, so even if Ha gets added to the 40 man, it may not happen until after the season.
  • Eric Jokisch:  Jokisch is a long shot to get a look but with nearly two years at AA Tennessee, he has logged considerable innings at the upper levels.  Similar to Chris Rusin, the lefty plays up an average fastball with a very good change-up.  He's athletic, though that has yet to translate to consistent command, but like Rusin, when he's commanding his pitches, he can be awfully tough.   May also throw a tick or so faster than Rusin.  I suspect, however, that Jokisch will have to wait his turn as Rusin, Raley, and perhaps Rosscup are still ahead of him.

Injured players

The Cubs would have loved to have been able to get a look at three hard-throwing righties out of the bullpen this September:  Arodys Vizcaino, Rafael Dolis, and the side-arming Chang-Yon Lim.  All are currently disabled and it's doubtful we see any of them this season.  Vizcaino has already been ruled out and is a prime candidate for the fall league.

An interesting wildcard may be Marcos Mateo, who was throwing upwards of 97 mph with a nasty slider before his latest injury setback.  He's pitched well at Iowa this year, showing command/control in a very short sample size.  It's more likely the Cubs will try to keep him in a non-roster situation and give him a look this offseason and perhaps a spring training invite.


Filed under: Roster decisions


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  • Wish Alcantara would get the call up just to get a taste and a little big league coaching.

  • In reply to Ike03:

    It'd be fun to see him play at the big league level. From a fan standpoint I want to see it, but I'm not optimistic the front office thinks it's good from a baseball standpoint.

  • Can we still try to win and play some of these players? Only a
    few positions (SS and 1st) are locks

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    They can try to win, but there's going to be a lot of losses. The goal is to find a piece or two for next year as they head into the offseason.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    This should be Suvem's his main goal, not trying to move up in the standings to impress Theo, the fans and the media.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think Sveum still needs to do the best he can with his team on the field. If the front office wants to punt, then that's their job. So far they've dumped Garza, Feldman, DeJesus, Soriano. So it's not like Sveum has much choice. He just lost 4 of his most productive players.

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    Olt is so funny, because he is taking walks and swinging at strikes, but he just isn't making hard contact. I can see how it might be vision related, but I don't have a ton of faith here. Edwards, Grimm, and Ramirez could still make it a good deal, though.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I don't know if I just missed this part of the conversation, but how did we get a potentially "big win" deal for Scott Feldman but are seemingly looking for reasons to label the Garza (a better pitcher than Feldman) deal an "OK win"?

    I know it's early, and I know Edwards was potentially the main piece, but simple logic would dictate we should have gotten more for Garza than for Feldman.

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    If Olt never makes the big club this deal won't look near as attractive as it did.

  • Schitter?

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I came very close to adding him but I just don't know if the want to use a roster spot for an older prospect.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I have to think some team will claim Schlitter if the Cubs don't protect him and give him a shot in the bullpen.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'm not sure about that. He's a bit older, many likely consider him a 4A type.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I always refer to the American League as 4A.

  • In reply to 44slug:


  • In reply to 44slug:

    My wife reminded me the other day that I used to call Rod Beck, aka "The Shooter," The Shitter. I don't remember why I called him that, maybe just a play on shooter.

  • Lim's injury actually could be a blessing in disguise. If I remember correctly, he's on a 2yr non MLB contract so we don't have to add him to the 40 man for protection right now. Whereas if we called him up for a Sept look, he would have to clear waivers if we tried to send him to AAA for depth next Spring.... Now he'll have to make the 25 man outright in ST (which he may) or we can stash him in AAA for depth next April.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Definitely helps the 40 man situation. They can wait until the end of ST to add him if they want. Plus, as a guy with deception on his side, allowing guys to get a look on him this year might mean he would be less effective next year. He seems like the type of pitcher that could be dominant the first time around the league, so why waste it in a meaningless September.

  • There are over a half-dozen players on the 40-man right now that simply aren't very good, and will never be contributing players at the MLB level. I think there is plenty of room to jettison these guys and protect some of our mid-level prospects that have higher upside than the Raleys and Sappelts and McDonalds (!) of the world. Cody Ransom, LOL.

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    John, the other day I went to take a look at Arizona Phil's 40-man roster info and, contrary to popular belief, he claims both Cabrera and Dolis still have one option left each. I don't know if he's right, but he usually is.

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    Actually, scrap that. I think that info applies to the 2013 season, not 2014. Sorry!

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Yes. Next spring they will be out, so it's decision time by Opening Day next year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Since neither would make it through waivers next spring, i wouldn't be shocked if one of them is traded in the offseason or ST. i just don't see room on the roster next year for both of them. Dolis was be my choice to move.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I think it's likely they at least let them go through spring training, if nothing else to get as much evaluation and instruction time as possible. If they pitch well -- and the best case scenario is that they both pitch well, of course -- then teams will notice and they'll know those guys are out of options. They'll certainly be curious if young arms like that are available. That said, if a team anticipates that this offseason, maybe they jump the gun and see if they can get them early and see if they can't coach them up themselves.

    Not sure how much you can get, though. Maybe another out of options player who is a better roster fit.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He also has 2014 as an option year for Arrieta, but he would have to pass through Optional Waivers in order to get to AAA. A team can't claim a player via Optional Waivers because the originating team can always pull him back, but they can block another team from being able to move him off their 25-man roster.

    So effectively, Arrieta must remain on the 25-man roster next season as well.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    True. I don't think there was a realistic scenario where Arrieta didn't make the team, however. Options or not.

  • Enjoyed this but really tantalized by the thought of who might be included in a similar piece in the next couple years! Feel badly for BJax.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Next year's should be a lot more fun.

  • Why doesn't Sveum give Logan Watkins some more playing time? Seems like it doesn't hurt to play Watkins more. I don't see how sitting Watkins and playing Barney everyday makes sense.

  • In reply to fsufrenzy911:

    Dale has a mancrush on Barney.

  • I'm assuming the Cubs will try to find a spot for Watkins in Winter ball to make up for the AAA time he's missed, but his MLB future is surely as a bench player.

  • In reply to cubsin:


  • In reply to cubsin:

    but can be a very good and useful bench player. Has decent speed and can play several positions very well.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    He does have some nice skills off the bench and being a LH bat helps. It will depend in part on what happens at 3B. If Olt wins the job, then maybe the Cubs keep Valbuena and Murphy as utility men, which would leave Watkins as the odd man out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. Nice to have options and depth. Beats having to rely on Joe Mather and Jeff Baker.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    I'd disagree there... Mather was a bust but Baker (who I didn't rate to start with) offered a nice bat of the bench.

  • Slightly off topic here, but I am hopeful that what we have seen from Hector Rondo over the past couple weeks is a sign that he can be a vaulable contributor in the upcoming years.

    Seemed to have tightened things up a bit and could at least be a 6th/7th inning guy as he continues to develop.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    He has pitched better and seems to have more consistent velo too. Hadn't pitched in a while, maybe just needed some time to get his strength back.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think they stretch him out as a starter - maybe he sticks, if not - it should help him with control. Although that seemed to have worked with Cabrera, it hasn't translated into better control when coming out of the BP.

  • John which players are a lock for the 40-man roster. Also which
    prospects will have to fight for a spot

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Alcantara is a lock. I'd say Rosscup is pretty close. The Cubs could open 3 roster spots in the OF (Gillespie, McDonald, Sappelt). One of those spots will go to Sweeney but that may leave an opening for Jae-Hoon Ha.

  • Am of the opinion that you almost have to give Vitters and Jackson another chance to sink or swim. If for no other reason than to get an assessment of both their trade value if you are not going to keep them, or their status with the club past the Winter.

    Both are flawed players - but both have significant upsides.

    That and I want to see how Grimm & Cabrera fare against ML hitting.

  • Great topic as usual. I like the most of the moves we made this season. I think Sweeney may be a find and the Feldman return is looking good too. But, we still need an impact player in the middle of our lineup. Who's available via free agency that may be able to help us hit the ball?

  • In reply to Saints/Cub:

    It's going to be unpopular with a lot of people but I'd go after Nelson Cruz.

    He's someone you can sign to a 2 year deal without breaking the bank. He's an impact guy (PED's I know) that won't get the money or years as the top flight guys. Plus this free agent class is extremely weak. He's a perfect bridge to the minors guys.

    I'd like the top of the order to look like...
    1. Lake CF
    2. Castro SS
    3. Rizzo 1B
    4. Cruz LF
    5. Schierholtz RF

    I'll stop there, we have no idea how 2B/3B will turn out.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    The FA class is so weak I have to believe Cruz will get an offer from a contender. He won't have to play for a terrible team to get playing time.

  • I see Chase Headley is on waivers. I wonder what it would take for the Padres to let him go. I'd have to think the Cubs would put a claim on him since nobody is really primed to take over at 3B next season. Guessing he'd fair a little better playing his home games away from Petco. Have to think he'd earn around $10M next season...not a horrible gamble.

  • In reply to cowboy2024:

    Are any 40-man roster players offered for him have to go through

  • Apparently Bryant's headed to the AFL per a twitter from his GF. Kid might be on the fast track next season.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Wow. Must mean they're thinking about starting him at AA next year.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    And possibly up for 2015? It's looking more and more like this FO is really trying to just time all these guys to show up for the 2015 season. The laggard may be Almora who looks to probably start next season at Daytona.


    All would be ready for 2015 season if this is true. That might also signal another season of using "fill-ins" at Wrigley so not to block anyone. This off-season should clearly signal our direction....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    A shortstop, third baseman, corner outfielder, and a second baseman.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    It is pretty aggressive, but Cubs must like what they see. He'll be 22 next year, so AA isn't crazy age-wise.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It appears that's the plan. Bryant & Soler to TN would be a good combo, and by the time they're ready to move to Des Moines Almora & Vogelbach could be making a push for AA. Would be real nice to see Baez, Alcantara, and Andreoli get the call for AAA next spring.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    It's possible Baez, Bryant, Alcantara, and Soler could all be up by next Septemeber. That would be awesome, but alot still has to go right for that.

  • Bryant to Tennessee, that sounds familiar. *pats self on back*

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    In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Don't break your arm, you said Tennessee this year and to bypass Daytona....... Geeeeeez

  • Off topic, but man, Donny Murphy is insane right now. Is he secretly playing real-life Nintendo?

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