Recently the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres concocted a deal which sent Craig Kimbrel to the east coast and four prospects, including two top 100 players, to the west. The move was criticized by the majority of media outlets, suggesting the Red Sox could have received a bigger package for the prospects they gave up, but in defense of Dombrowski the Sox were trading from a place of depth in the organization. Mookie Betts just put up a 5 WAR rookie season at CF (Manuel Margot’s position), and Xander Bogaerts improved massively in his second season in the league at shortstop, putting up a 4.3 WAR (Javier Guerra’s position). Those two cost-controlled pieces look set to be a fourth of the starting position players on the Sox for the next four years. Could the Red Sox have likely received more, probably, but for them trading these prospects won’t make as big of an impact in comparison to other teams, and they got one of the top three closers in baseball in return. In light of the trade, it got me thinking what prospects of the Cubs would be considered depth, as the Cubs may be more willing to trade those players.
As of now, the Cubs look set at 1B, SS, 3B, and RF (argument for LF as well if Schwarber ends up there) for the foreseeable future. All of these positions have cost-controlled, above-average players and depth behind them. We will now look at prospects working their way up to the show at these positions, and assess their likelihood of being traded. Only players at or above High-A were considered, as circumstances can change quickly in baseball.
Dan Vogelbach - Just added to the 40-man roster, this action assured that the Cubs see value in Vogelbach, not wanting to lose him to the Rule 5 draft. However, due to him being severely limited in the field his future is likely not in the Cubs organization. Especially after recent CBA talks suggest the NL will not implement a DH in their next agreement, which will happen later this offseason.
A below-average fielder with limited range at first base, he simply doesn’t have a future in the field, even after he got himself into shape and cut down his weight. Also, the all-star Anthony Rizzo is just hitting his prime and will be manning first base for the Cubs for a long time. At the plate is where Vogelbach makes his name. He has plus raw power that he hasn’t been able to get to fully in games (just 7 home runs this year), but it should be above-average due to his advanced hit tool. He controls the strike zone well and posted a .403 OBP over 76 games for the Smokies this year. His swing is conducive to him using all fields, suggesting a high average could be sustainable at the major league level. All in all, it’s an enticing package at the plate for Vogelbach and one that certainly has big league utility. I see him as a very likely candidate to be traded this offseason, and he’d be considered a middle piece in a big deal.
Jeimer Candelario - At the moment, the Candy Man provides the best example that development is not linear. The Cubs were spoiled with Bryant and Schwarber raking throughout their time in the minors, but not all prospects are like that. Most of them need time to marinate, and then enough development and reps will sometimes lead to a physical or neurological aspect of the game to click. That was the case with Candelario at the plate this season, and his strong performance at AA continued into the AFL. He has a line-drive oriented swing from both sides of the plate, and his power came out a little more later in the season. He went from a miserable 2014 to taking one of the biggest steps at the plate in the organization. His breakout looks legitimate as well as he has a strong approach at the plate and is willing to go the opposite way. After this season, his bat look likes it will play at the big-league level.
I still have questions about his defensive utility at 3B, as he has the arm but in my viewings has lacked the footwork necessary to play the position as he grows older. If he has to move off third, right field could be the next position the Cubs try him in, though once again his footwork and mobility leave much to be desired. Worse comes to worse he’s a 1B, but the bat should be enough for him to be able to take a step down the positional ladder. Early on in his career I think he’ll be able to play a slightly below-average 3B though. Even so, he’s blocked at the major league level and his bat could be ready as soon as late 2016. Expect teams who saw his breakout as sustainable to be knocking.
Christian Villanueva - Always a presence on Cubs prospect lists, Villanueva didn’t get much recognition this season playing for Iowa. However, he took an important step forward in his development. At the hot corner he’s always been known as an above-average defender, but he showed off much more game power than he previously had (20 home runs this season). If he can continue to refine his approach, and it appeared stronger in my viewing this season than the reports I’ve seen, then the Cubs have a major league ready 3B waiting in the wings. Unfortunately for Villanueva 3B is blocked, but other organizations have to be intrigued by his solid potential. He won’t be a star, but there isn’t anything wrong with a cost-controlled, average 3B. He’d make sense for a team not looking to compete next season to see exactly what they have with him.
Gleyber Torres - Yes, he did just make it to Myrtle Beach at the end of the year, but Torres has been making advancements at a rapid pace in his short pro career which suggests he could be big-league ready sooner than we might realize. At the plate he’s a very polished player for someone who played the whole season as a 18 year-old. At the moment he has a line drive swing that led to a lot of doubles this season. If he can add on a little more muscle, he could hit for low double-digit totals in home runs. He also has a strong approach for someone his age, though he is susceptible to the occasional high fastball and slider out of the zone. In the field, Torres is athletic with a swift glove-to-throw transfer. I still have some qualms about his defense at short, specifically his internal clock and the inconsistency of his throws, but with continued reps those problems should dwindle. If not he’d be an above-average defender at the keystone. At the major league level he could put up a plus average and OBP with okay power at a central position. Also, it’s conceivable that he’s ready by late 2017 at the ripe age of 20, and is a player that many teams would desire. He could be the center piece of a big-deal if the Cubs make one this offseason.
Billy McKinney - Alright, technically by the rules I laid out he would not qualify, but I’m assuming Schwarber sticks in left. McKinney is also stuck in LF as he doesn’t have the speed for center or arm for right. At the plate is where he makes his living. Also very young for his age (turned 21 in August), McKinney performed well with the Pelicans but had a tough time adapting to the advanced Southern League. I expect him to perform like his usual self next season though. He has limited power, but could push 15 home runs per year. What makes him unique is his supreme bat-to-ball skills, as they were the strongest for a prep bat in his 2013 draft class and have shone in his professional career. McKinney comes with a plan at the plate and should post strong OBP and batting average numbers. He does fit the front office’s MO of putting together good at-bats every time up, but he doesn’t fully have the athleticism the Cubs prefer. Overall, he’s a top 5 player in the system and projects as an everyday regular. Similar to the Hammel and Samardzija deal, he would make a lot of sense as a complementary piece.
Obviously the Cubs system is much more than the players listed above, and in a trade for a cost-controlled pitcher the Cubs would have to give up some of their depth. However, these five players all have likely big-league futures in the upcoming two years and it is tough to imagine their role on upcoming Cubs teams (outside of Torres). Just from a positional depth standpoint, if a trade is to occur this offseason expect a few of these prospects to find new organizational homes.
Interviews with Jeimer Candelario and Billy McKinney that I conducted mid-season can be found below:
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