It's inaccurate to say that the Cubs are sitting around waiting for prospects to arrive and it's too simple to say that the Cubs have a long term plan that they will someday switch to a short-term plan. It's more to accurate to say they have a multi-level plan that they operate simultaneously. Part of that plan is starting to come into fruition this very season.
When we talk long term, we mostly talk about scouting, acquiring, and developing first year talent and that is indeed a big portion of the puzzle. It's how the Cubs have acquired top prospects Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Kris Bryant. But draft and IFA classes can take time before they reach the big leagues, much less make an impact. It's too soon to invest big in short term players who will be past their prime before those players get there. Moreover, the new CBA has made it difficult to acquire multiple first round talents in a single draft. The Cubs needed more than just the draft and the IFA signings for the long term. They needed upper level talent to, in effect, create a new first wave that would have otherwise been too far away.
One of the things this front office had to address right away was the lack of young MLB ready talent. The team they took over had some talent, but much of that was at the lower levels that were mostly acquired through the 2012 draft and a couple of recent solid IFA classes. There was some talent but beyond Baez -- who was still a pretty big question mark at that point, you had to look deep to find guys like Jeimer Candelario, Dillon Maples, Carlos Penalver, Mark Malave, and Dan Vogelbach.
Another part of the mid-term plan was to develop some of the existing talent in the system, talent that included upper level prospects such as Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Welington Castillo, Trey McNutt, an already fading Josh Vitters, and a whole lot of role players. There was some talent, but hardly enough to feel confident about once you take prospect attrition and injury into account. Sure enough, Lake and Castillo are the only players from those Pre-Theo upper levels of the minors who figure to play a significant role in 2014.
The Cubs also hoped to continue to develop some of the lower level, higher ceiling talent in the hopes that it could develop with a greater emphasis on improving approach and defense to fit the organization's philosophy. They've struck gold with Baez on that front, who has developed faster than most imagined, and also have to be pleased with the improvement of a second potential MLB starter in Arismendy Alcantara.
But that still wasn't going to be enough to bridge the gap. The Cubs still needed to bring in talent they could add to that group and give them some young talent to build around Starlin Castro and fill the roster with young talent until the front office could draft and develop it's own prospects.
There are essentially two ways to pick up this talent. One is to trade for it and the other is to take some flyers on failed prospects and hope you strike gold with one or two. The first can be costly and the second method doesn't exactly yield a high rate of return, as we've found out in recent years, most notably the failures of former top prospects Ian Stewart and Chris Volstad.
But things are beginning to turn around this season in what I believe will be the first significant step forward in terms of young talent at the MLB level. Taking a quick look at the Opening Day Roster, we get a glimpse of some key young MLB ready talent from that mid-term plan:
- 1B: Anthony Rizzo - acquired for Andrew Cashner
- 3B: Mike Olt - acquired as part of Matt Garza package
- C: Welington Castillo -- signed by Hendry regime but development accelerated by this organization
- OF: Junior Lake -- signed by Hendry regime but development accelerated by this organization
- OF: Ryan Kalish - former Red Sox top prospect signed as free agent
- SP: Travis Wood -- acquired for Sean Marshall
- SP: Jake Arrieta -- acquired for Scott Feldman
- RP: Pedro Strop -- acquired for Scott Feldman
- RP: Justin Grimm - acquired as part of Matt Garza package
- RP: Hector Rondon - Rule 5 selection
The Cubs also have a number of players of this ilk who could be ready mid-season or sooner:
- SS-2B: Javier Baez -- drafted by Hendry regime but development accelerated by this organization
- 2B-SS Arismendy Alcantara -- signed by Hendry regime but development accelerated by this organization
- SP: Kyle Hendricks -- AAA starter acquired for Ryan Dempster
- 3B: Christian Villaneuva -- AAA starting 3B acquired for Ryan Dempster
- RP: Arodys Vizcaino -- AAA SP/RP acquired for Paul Maholm
- RP: Neil Ramirez -- AAA SP/RP acquired as part of Matt Garza trade
That's 10 players on the Opening Day roster that have either been acquired, re-developed, or re-purposed by the new front office -- and as many as 16 by the end of the season. 15 of those 16 players were once ranked as top 10 prospects within their respective organizations while Kyle Hendricks, the lone exception, has been on the cusp of that status.
Even if you strictly count acquisitions, we're talking 12 players with the potential to make an impact this season. Not all of them will, of course, but I like the odds that several of them will at least approach their expectations.
And you know what the real scary part is? All of the players listed above are at their prime athletic years or younger. Their arrow is pointing upward. And it's not like they're being paired up with a bunch of overpaid, past their prime geezers. The oldest player on the Opening Day roster is Justin Ruggiano, who just turned 32 in February. Jason Hammel is 31 while Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva are 30. Those are all still considered within a players prime range.
If you want an Oakland Athletics-style, non-star, low payroll style turnaround that's pretty much the formula -- stock up on prime and pre-prime aged players. A look at the 2012 Athletics roster that surprised and won 94 games shows a similar breakdown as far as the age of their players. That does not guarantee the same results, of course, but good things can happen when you fill your roster with a bunch of talented players who still have yet to play their best baseball.
So, if you think this plan has been standing in place and twiddling it's thumbs waiting for the front office's hand-picked prospects to arrive then you are missing the larger picture. The Cubs have already started the transformation to a younger, more athletic, more talented roster and we don't have to wait until next year to see it happen. This is a team that has been evolving right under our noses and, from a physical, athletic, and age standpoint, already looks drastically different than the roster they inherited. It's still hard to imagine this team going very far this season but it's clear the focus has switched from shedding old contracts and changing a failed clubhouse culture. The attention now turns to the actual addition of MLB ready talent. Even if they don't all pan out as hoped, a few probably will. If nothing else, it's the first step toward a new direction for the organization - and the exciting part is that the best is yet to come.
Filed under: Uncategorized