Last week, the Cubs Den minor league reports gave you their take on the Mid-Season All-Prospect team for the Cubs’ system. Today’s, I give five things I have taken away from the first half of the minor league season.
Don’t look back Albert Almora, Charcer Burks is gaining on you!
This is not meant to disparage Albert Almora. He is a fine defensive outfielder. But Almora’s current .259 batting average and .330 on-base percentage (as of Saturday) are more in line with the minor league numbers he put up in 2014 and 2015 rather than his Pacific Coast League inflated .303 average last year. It is believed that what you now see with Almora is what you are going to get, with perhaps a good year or two thrown in. However, the organization operational needs suggest a different path.
For those who have not been paying any attention, the Cubs offense has lacked a consistent leadoff hitter all season. Burks has led off 221 times in his career to Almora’s six times. If you don’t believe something like that matters, ask Kyle Schwarber. In his time at leadoff, Burks has batted .272 with 16 home runs and 48 stolen bases. This goes along with Burks' career .362 on-base percentage and .750 OPS, compared to Almora’s .323 and .740 numbers overall.
As far as defensively, there is not much if any drop off between the two. Burks has won a minor league Gold Glove, and is well on his way to earning another this season. Almora has more assists and perhaps a slightly stronger throwing arm.
In a final note, Burks will have to be added to the 40-man roster at the end of the season or the Cubs could lose him in the Rule 5 Draft.
The development of Jason Vosler has created some interesting options for the Cubs.
This past week, fans had a clear demonstration of “position redundancy” at third base. When Kris Bryant was hurt, the Cubs were able to turn to Jeimer Candelario. Another injury brought in Javier Baez and Tommy LaStella.
But Baez hates playing third and is better used at other positions, while LaStella will not remind anyone of Ron Santo at third. Behind them are journeyman Chris Dominguez and utility player Chesny Young at Triple-A Iowa.
Enter unheralded 2014 sixteenth round pick Jason Vosler. After putting together a nice but non-descript minor league career, Vosler has exploded in 2017. Currently, the left-handed hitter leads the Southern League in both home runs (14) and RBI (55). Vosler has also been named an All-Star, as well as the Southern League Player of the Week. The 23 year old is also improving defensively, jumping his fielding average 30 points to a very respectable .966.
It seems that the switch-hitting Candelario has been the subject of trade rumors since the champagne was popped in the winning World Series locker room. The emergence of Vosler gives the Cubs the option of inserting him in any trade scenario and retaining Candelario, or holding out for a big payoff for Candelario and becoming a solid number two behind Bryant. The Cubs will have to make the decision during the season, as Vosler will also be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
The Cubs aren’t going to get any help for their starting rotation from the minors any time soon.
The plan this off-season was to stock the Iowa Cubs rotation with potential-laden youngsters Eddie Butler, Alec Mills, Ryan Williams, and lefty Rob Zastryzny and hope at least two emerge for the potential openings coming at the end of the season. Since then, Butler had to be called up due to an injuries, and Mills, Williams and Zastryzny are all on the disabled list.
All that has thrown plans through a loop, as major league castoffs Aaron Brooks, Casey Kelly, and Williams Perez have all struggled, while Seth Frankoff has some potential but is still inconsistent. On top of that, the recently promoted Zach Hedges has been getting hammered in Triple-A.
While Jen-Ho Tseng has put up good numbers by going 7-2 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.147 WHIP at Double-A Tennessee, the front office’s reluctance to promote him can be taken as a bad sign of their confidence in him. Fellow 22 year olds Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood have had their moments, both good and bad, and due to that they do not seem ready for the next level.
Because management is unwilling or unable to promote from Double-A, pitchers further down the chain such as Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Duncan Robinson, and Dylan Cease remain stuck in idle at this time.
The front office has a potential gold mine in relief pitching, if they are willing to develop it.
As with the starting rotation, concerns about the major league bullpen have driven the front office to stack Triple-A Iowa with over-aged major leaguers such as Connor Mullee, Manny Parra, Fernando Rodriguez, along with lefties Jack Leathersich and Dave Rollins. None seem to be any long term solutions. A recent trade has brought a glimmer of hope in closer Matt Carasiti.
If there are any pitchers more overdue for a promotion than Tseng, they are Daury Torrez and James Pugliese, with Brad Markey not far behind them. Both Torrez and Pugliese are eligible to be 6 year free agents following the season, according to Arizona Phil.
Moving all three would give the Cubs a chance to move up All-Star Pedro Araujo, James Norwood, and perhaps Dakota Mekkes from Advanced-A. That can give the Cubs more latitude to promote pitchers like Dillon Maples or Justin Hancock up to Iowa if they can continue to impress.
Gaps are beginning to form at many positions in the minor leagues.
Besides the vast ocean that appears between the major leagues and the Cubs’ pitching prospects, gaps are forming at several positions. Promotions created some of these gaps, but trades, free agent compensation, and international signing restrictions have also contributed.
For now, we will ignore the dearth of talent at first base, as the organization has made it clear that they are happy to cross-train other positions for first rather than stock it. The loss of Wladimir Galindo to injury has left virtually no prospects at third base beyond Jason Vosler. The Cubs have fooled around with shortstop Isaac Paredes, along with big power prospects Joey Martarano, Kwang-Min Kwon, and Kevin Zamudio, but it is not certain any of them will ever stick there.
There is also a rather large gap at shortstop, where utility players such as Chesny Young, Andrew Ely, Trent Giambrone and Zack Short are the only options between major leaguers Addison Russell and Javier Baez, and youngsters Paredes, Aramis Ademan and Delvin Zinn.
But the biggest chasm is in the outfield, where the only player worth mentioning behind top prospect Eloy Jimenez and Charcer Burks is the somewhat overachieving Daniel Spingola. It has been a tough year for other prospects such as Eddie Julio Martinez, Connor Myers, and DJ Wilson, and young players like Jonathan Sierra, Fernando Kelli, and Yovanny Cuevas are a long way off.
Tags: Aaron Brooks, Adbert Alzolay, Addison Russell, Albert Almora, Alec Mills, Andrew Ely, Aramis Ademan, Brad Markey, Casey Kelly, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, Chris Dominguez, Connor Mullee, Connor Myers, Dakota Mekkes, Daniel Spingola, Daury Torrez, Dave Rollins, Delvin Zinn, Dillon Maples, DJ Wilson, Duane Underwood, Duncan Robinson, Dylan Cease, Eddie Butler, Eddie Julio Martinez, Eloy Jimenez, Fernando Kelli, Fernando Rodriguez, Isaac Paredes, Jack Leathersich, James Norwood, James Pugliese, Jason Vosler, Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario, Jen-Ho Tseng, Joey Martarano, Jonathan Sierra, Justin Hancock, Justin Steele, Kevin Zamudio, Kris Bryant, Kwang-Min Kwon, kyle schwarber, Manny Parra, Matt Carasiti, Pedro Araujo, Rob Zastryzny, Ryan Williams, Seth Frankoff, Tommy La Stella, Trent Giambrone, Trevor Clifton, Williams Perez, Wladimir Galindo, Yovanny Cuevas, Zach Hedges, Zack Short