Updated 10:45 AM
While all eyes are on Kris Bryant and Javier Baez this offseason, don't expect either of them to get a call this year to help the big league club at any point this season. You will have to wait until 2015 for those two.
That being said, it doesn't mean the Cubs won't get any help from a farm system which is not just one of the best in the game, but has plenty of MLB ready talent at the upper levels.
The top 10 candidates
In no particular order...
The Cubs just DFA'd Eli Whiteside and added Tsuyoshi Wada to the 40 man roster. If that isn't a harbinger, then I don't know what is. I have been a bigger skeptic of Wada than most. He has had great results in AAA with a 7-4 record and a 2.86 ERA, the K rate is solid (8.65 per 9IP, 23.5%) as has his walk rate (2.4 BB/9 IP, 6.5%) but his 4.01 FIP doesn't portend as nicely. Wada isn't going to blow you away. He will mix and match, add some deception, he'll change speeds, he'll change your eye level, and he will locate his fastball pretty well. AAA hitters struggled with it but it remains to be seen how the smoke and mirrors show plays against big league hitters. The front office likes him though, and they know quite a bit more than I do, so I'll keep the faith here.
Alcantara seems to have made a good adjustment to AAA Iowa but some of you may remember that he regressed somewhat to his aggressive approach early in the season. The strikeouts were up, the walks were down. But since mid-May, covering his last 155 PAs, Alcantara has put up the following numbers:
- 9.7% walk rate
- 9 SBs in 11 attempts
- .267 ISO
- .404 wOBA
I don't know what Alcantara's benchmarks are for a promotion but I would venture a guess that they are something less than that. Given the fact that the Cubs are playing him in CF when there are plenty of other CF's on the roster makes you think they are finding a spot for that dynamic offensive profile. He'd be like a shot of expresso for an often sleepy Cubs offense.
Wada may be putting up the best results but Hendricks performance translates best to MLB success. Hendricks does what you need a Wrigley pitcher to do. He holds down the walks (2.1 BB/9 IP). He keeps the ball in the park (0.30 HR rate) and he misses bats (8.3 Ks/9 IP). He is 8-5 with a 3.55 ERA but the FIP is just over a half run better at 2.96.
What's more, Iowa manager Marty Pevey is saying that Hendricks now hits 95 mph 15-18 times per game. Hendricks has always been able to touch that velo but perhaps with some maturity and added strength, he now has the stamina to sustain it for more than an occasional show-me pitch. Hendricks still isn't going to be a power pitcher -- he will still thrive on locating his fastball, changing speeds, and setting up hitters with a solid 4 pitch repertoire, but it's nice to have 95 in your back pocket when you need it.
Theo Epstein recently stated something we have said here for quite some time now: Vizcaino is a major league pitcher who is only in the minor leagues so that the organization can control his usage. He is back throwing 98 mph and has become more consistent hammer curve -- and if that isn't enough, he has shown good command and an average change-up to help combat lefty hitters.
I imagine the Cubs would still like to be able to control Vizcaino's usage and not have the game dictate it, so we may not see him until September when rosters expand and the Cubs have plenty of other bullpen options.
A lefty who can miss bats and touch 94 mph. And has a 40 man roster spot with MLB experience? He's pretty much a lock.
Parker has been the good soldier as he has toiled in AAA as the team's closer despite being good enough to pitch in the majors. Always known as a guy with great makeup, he didn't sulk. He simply went down and dominated, posting a 1.31 ERA, 16 saves, and striking out just over 12 batters per 9 IP while keeping the walks down at 2.61 per 9 IP. He is also a lock.
He has had some issues with the long ball but he is throwing strikes and missing a fair amount of bats. He has plenty of experience and can start or relieve, making him an ideal replacement for Carlos Villaneuva should he be moved.
Beeler is already on the 40 man roster and he has had a solid season. He isn't going to miss bats but he is going to use his 6'5" height to generate good plane and pound the lower part of the zone with hard, low 90s sinkers. The ball is going to be put in play but it will be on the ground (1.5 GO/AO and a sterling 2.5 to 1 ratio over the past two seasons at AAA). He can fit at the bottom of the rotation, long relief, or be used as a situational reliever.
Kalish made the team out of spring training but ultimately was sent back down to get more reps, something he hasn't had a lot of over the past two seasons. He hasn't lit it up at Iowa but I imagine he'll be back.
Watkins has reinvented himself as a super-sub at Iowa, playing every position except pitcher and catcher. He is versatile defensively, hits lefty, can get on base, and run. Those combination of skills can land you a spot on an NL 25 man roster.
Others in the mix
These guys have performed well and are ready or near ready MLB players, but the lack of a 40 man roster spot hinders all but one of them...
- Armando Rivero dominated AA as their closer, striking out an astonishing 14 batters per 9 IP while recording a 1.56 ERA (2.33 FIP). He is also 26 so the clock is ticking. Rivero is in AAA to work on FB command and while he won't master that, he will get the call if he shows progress.
- Marcus Hatley has made incredible progress with his command and control. He has walked just 2.17 batters per 9 IP while striking out 12.41 and posting a 2.48 ERA (2.10 FIP). He's a guy I always liked and a good reason why you never give up on big, athletic pitchers who throw 95. Once the command clicked, everything else fell into place.
- Christian Villanueva may have been demoted to AA but he is still on the 40 man roster and maybe he gets rewarded for being the good soldier and taking the promotion in stride and, like Parker, he has that strong makeup and has performed well. It also helps he can play defense at least as well as incumbent Luis Valbuena.
- Chris Valaika was one of many minor league free agents the Cubs signed and has outperformed them all at Iowa, including MLB'ers Ryan Kalish and Chris Coghlan. Versatility also helps as Valaika can play all infield positions plus the OF corners. Valaika has a decent RH stick, hitting .304/.368/.456 on the season with 7 HRs. The biggest drawback for him is that he does not have a 40 man roster spot.
- Rafael Lopez is already 26 but the combo of a solid lefty bat with a good approach, good defense (albeit an average arm at best), and not a whole lot of catching depth in the system gives him a shot to earn a 40 man roster spot.
- Eric Jokisch could be a candidate but I see him being squeezed out right now by Wada, Rusin, and Rosscup. 2015 seems more likely for him.
- Matt Szczur looked like a good bet early in the year but a poor season in which he has hit .244 with virtually no power makes adding him problematic unless you are looking at a defensive replacement/pinch-runner off the bench.
One last hurrah or time for goodbye?
- Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson: One last look? Vitters can be a righty bat off the bench while Jackson can provide some speed and defense. However, it remains entirely possible that the team may instead use their 40 man roster spots for other players at this point.
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