Comcast SportsNet Cubs analyst Todd Hollandsworth made some waves recently when he insinuated that there may not be much more for some of the Cubs top prospects to learn down in the minor leagues.
I spoke to Hollandsworth this week, and he explained his thoughts on the subject further. And just in case you need a reminder of his credentials when it comes to young talent, he won the 1996 National League Rookie of the Year.
It's not that Hollandsworth doesn't believe in the process of fully developing players within the minor league system; he tells me he spent at least one season at each level, A, AA, and AAA respectively. He just doesn't feel every player should follow the same path to the majors. He doesn't subscribe to the idea there is a blueprint; if someone is crushing AA pitching like Bryant is these days, maybe it's time to give him a real test.
"Learning at the big-league level is very, very important. I think the sooner you get your young players here, the sooner they start learning what it's all about," Hollandsworth said.
Both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said on an occasion they would like to see the Cubs prospects accumulate x amount at-bats (~500) before advancing to the majors. Hollandsworth has an issue with that premise.
"Reps, AB's, competition are all very important. But there is a big leap from AAA to the Bigs. Minor league success does not guarantee your Major League success. It's a step in the process, but the Big Leagues is a whole other ball game."
"If these young men have performed well enough in the minors, challenge them," he said.
Hollandsworth also points out that in a lot of cases, players have had to stay down on the farm a little bit longer due to their path being blocked by a productive veteran. That isn't the case at all when it comes to most of the Cubs top prospects. If and when these players are ready, they should have a clear path to a position. Javy Baez for instance, would easily commandeer second base, while Kris Bryant could slide into third base or a corner outfield position without much resistance.
Hollandsworth is also fully aware of the control game that is played off the field now with front offices and prospects. Back when Hollandsworth came up through the Dodgers system, that wasn't as much of a concern as it is now. Teams are now desperate to try and lock up their young talent earlier, or delay their clock for being eligible to go to arbitration or free agency.
"You want your young players to have the clearest path possible to the Big Leagues with no road blocks other than development and performance being the determining factors in my opinion. Today's game has many more [obstacles] with super two status and player control," he said.
"The Dodgers believed in me more than I believed in myself some days. But once I learned how to fight for what I wanted, which was the Big Leagues, they pushed me hard and gave me every opportunity to climb quickly."
For players such as Baez and Bryant however, Hollandsworth feels the Cubs will be quick enough to lock them up as soon as possible if they establish themselves.
"Look towards the Cardinals, recently having success at locking up young, home grown, productive players like Matt Carpenter, and look at the Braves as well. They have locked up a young nucleus," he stated.
Hollandsworth looks forward to the time when either Bryant or Baez come up and supply a jolt to the Cubs, much like George Springer has done for the Houston Astros or Oscar Taveras has for the Cardinals on a much more brief note.
"My personal opinion, I'd love to see these young kids get up here and get a chance to play...You gotta learn it up here, you gotta play up here, you gotta see if you can stand on your own two feet at the major-league level. So the sooner you get these guys going, that's when the process really starts," he said.
Recently, Hoyer mentioned bringing in a Scott Rolen type to help insulate his younger players in the clubhouse and on the field. I asked Hollandsworth how important protection from a vet leader like that could be for young players with a ton of pressure potentially on their shoulders. Holly agrees wholeheartedly, and recalls a vet that had an initial impact on him early on in his Dodgers career.
"When I first got to the big leagues, Tim Wallach told me: "Holly, be seen, not heard. Your job is to play your tail off for us and help us win. The vets will handle the media stuff," Hollandsworth said.
That could be huge for players being swarmed by media like Bryant or Baez would be.
At the end of the day, Hollandsworth believes in the Cubs' development process and its early-stage success. He just believes everything should be based on the player, not a predetermined process.
"Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Tavares, Springer...all the stories are different. There is no perfect landing in the Bigs. There's no perfect set of circumstances."
"I love it when players like Baez and Bryant force the conversation. It means your system is working."
Also check out Hollandsworth on "The Ballyard" with Connor McKnight. They talk baseball 8-11am every Saturday on 87.7FM @gamechicago.
Follow Hollandsworth @Hollytime28
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