Posts Tagged ‘Junior Lake’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“…I do think it’s fair to say we have to spend some time rebuilding the pitching staff. I look at what happened last year from the outside with them losing two starters the first week of the season. It’s very difficult for any team to survive that, but the Cubs didn’t have the depth to do that. Even though we have confidence in some of the starters, we have a need to add more …. Injuries can never be an excuse for a bad season. You have to make sure that you have depth to avoid the inevitable and survive.”

-Jed Hoyer

Heading into the season I doubt many people would be surprised if the Chicago Cubs ended up trading Matt Garza for prospects at the deadline. The overwhelming feeling at the outset was that the Cubs were too far away to build a competing team while Garza was still effective. Garza is 28 which puts his window of being a good major league pitcher at 5 years, give or take. It’s fair to say that the Cubs felt they would be in competition outside of that window.

What is the reality, and what comes as a bit of a surprise, is that the Cubs are looking to extend Garza this year as it would appear they intend on keeping him. As the story indicates, Garza’s people wouldn’t be shocked if a trade happened, but the feeling is that he stays with the Cubs for quite a while.

The question this leaves me with is; Do the Cubs think they are closer than everyone else thinks they are? Do they believe they can build a contender within five years? Or is this just a ploy to drive up his trade value and the Cubs still feel that they are too far away to keep Garza. I can see both sides of it. Garza is eligible for free agency in 2013, it would be prudent of the Cubs to drive up his value for prospects by threatening to tie him up long term. However, the feeling I’m left with when I consider what it all means is that the Cubs think they aren’t too far away from competing.

Shark

I’ve been impressed with Samardzija since the spring. Since I wrote that article Shark had the expected uptick in BB/9, but he’s increased his K/9 rate and kept the other gains he made over the past few seasons.

What you’ll see there is a continued ability to suppress hits. Some of this may or may not be attributed to the defensive shifting the Cubs are employing, that’s another article for another time. Shark, it would seem, has turned himself into a solid #2-3 starter, depending on your definition of those labels. He’s done a remarkable job of keeping the ball on the ground and suppressing fly-balls. Some of these gains are unsustainable, but still bear watching over the long term:

The main knock on Samardzija have been his ability to miss bats, which looks like it was fixed last year, and his ability to command his pitches, which looks like it’s in the process of being adjusted this year. Remember when it was a surprise that Shark made the rotation this year? I don’t think that TheoCo was anticipating Samardzija’s progress this year.

Bryan LaHair

This is a major surprise. Bradley Woodrum over at Fangraphs (great site, go check them  out) posited that LaHair’s success might be sustainable. What’s important to keep in mind with LaHair is that while his BABIP has been crazy this year, it’s not insane to say that he can be an above average 1B or corner OF. If that seems like a massive step down from his current production, that’s because it is.

However, what it should be looked at is a massive step up for any projected production from a career minor leaguer who failed spectacularly in his previous auditions. He managed to keep improving past the age when such improvement is expected. He’s an anomaly and he’ll have a fairly long career crushing balls, but he’s not a 1.000+ OPS guy. I can see LaHair being the 25-30 HR guy with a decent average. He’s still striking out a lot, but his walk rate has also increased. It looks like LaHair got legitimately better, and when the Cubs can get rid of Soriano, they have the next LF on their squad. Rizzo will move LaHair off first. Speaking of which.

The Kids

Seriously, that’s stupid good. The BB-SO ratio is a little concerning, but the man is destroying AAA pitching. When he comes up there will be a lot of expectations placed on him. His swing looks different by all accounts, it’s shorter and more capable of handling MLB pitching, but there’s really only one way to test that out.

The rest of the known kids, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Javy Baez, etc etc, are a mixed bag. We know that the Cubs lack any type of pitching at the minor league level, which is why the Cubs were entertaining the possibility of trading Garza in the first place. Josh Vitters started hot, but has cooled considerably. Brett Jackson’s defense is ready, but his bat is dragging a bit. Junior Lake is killing it, but his upside is limited and he’s still pretty far away. McNutt is having a good rebound year, but he’s the only pitcher of note in the minors that is doing anything.

Synopsis

The biggest factor in what the Cubs do with Garza will be the farm system. This year’s draft is important for the Cubs as they try to infuse a thin minor league system with some talent. There are some good pieces on the major league squad, the starting pitching has been a good surprise, but the Cubs biggest need is offense. I know the bullpen has been awful, but ‘pens are a funny thing to put together. You don’t build a good bullpen as much as you just fall into one. What’s more common is what the White Sox did in 2005, find live arms to stick in the pen and hope for the best. In that case, the best happened, despite running through 3 closers. The Cubs need a real CF, a better 2B, a 3B who can hit, and a younger catcher.

The fact that they are considering pulling Garza off the table suggests that they think they can acquire the pieces via other options. They can trade Dempster for a decent haul, and they will be looking at Latin America for a boost in player production. I think certain surprises this year have the Cubs front office moving up their timetables a bit, and that’s a good thing. The current squad is competitive, but not good enough to be a serious player. With shrewd management and smart maneuvering, they can be the real deal quicker than we all expected.

Baseball is all romance, no fucking.

Robert Bykoski

This was a scary list to compile. For a few years I had read and heard about the bare cupboard that the Cubs farm system had become. Now, there are some gems here, but it lies mainly in the outfield. The Cubs have compiled a batch of CF prospects, but that’s just one position. Indeed the Cubs depth is pretty thin on the infield, and it’s going to be a growing need if Darwin Barney and Josh Vitters don’t pan out. This is more or less a list of players that you should pay attention to this year. There are some real young bucks in there, but their progress can yield more prospects or they could become future pieces of the hopeful Cubs championship puzzle. 

So without further adieu, he’s the fuckless romance.
-Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Follow me on Twitter, @MRubio52 

Catcher:

1. Geo Soto – Soto is once again coming off a season where his offensive production cratered. Soto was an older prospect when he finally broke through in 2008 and won Rookie of the year honors. In 2009 his offense fell flat and there were legitimate concerns about the bad weight he put on during the off season. Those questions were back again last year as he appeared to be heavier than he was in 2010. Soto was finally healthy but he was unable to properly square up the ball and his swing looked off. A .228/.310/.411 slash line sunk his value as he never possessed a cannon behind the plate. When he’s right, his stick is legit. There are two prospects that are legit threats to take serious playing time away from him, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him dealt this year if he re-establishes his value at the plate. Decent power stroke, good eye, and he doesn’t kill you at the plate, he could bring back a decent haul.

2. Welington Castillo – The Cubs are noticeably thin at catcher, their other prospects are fairly far away from the major league level, but Castillo is ready now. He’s a bit like Soto in that his offense completely bottomed out in the minors before having a renaissance with the stick. He has a strong arm, but in a more stacked organization he would start the year in the minors to work on refining his catching skills. In 2011 he hit .287/.359/.516 across three levels, and his career minor league OPS is .753. He projects to be a good defensive catcher that can hit at an above average rate for the position. The Cubs will need to figure out if Castillo can hit Major League pitching sooner rather than later.

3. Steve Clevenger – This is why the Cubs are thin at catcher, he’s 3rd on the organizational depth chart because he bats lefty. Clevenger did well at AA, but it was the second go-round for him, and repeating a level usually skews numbers. By all accounts his defense is far away from Major League ready, and he’s a year older than Castillo, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him travel north with the team in place of Castillo to allow Welington to get regular AB’s.

First Base

1. Bryan LaHair – If you’re going to be a Major League First Baseman you’ll have to slug. There are rare exceptions to this rule in the modern game, Daric Barton is one, but there is no doubt that First Base is a power production position. LaHair has obvious power, but there are several examples of players that slug in their youth down on the farm and can’t figure out Major League pitching. Matt LaPorta comes to mind. A 1.070 OPS is no joke, but consider that LaHair was 28, old for the level, and hasn’t really flashed that power consistently at the Major League level. He did well in an extremely limited sample size with the big boys last year, but he’ll have to do it consistently in 2012 to keep a hold of the starting job.

2. Anthony Rizzo – Jed Hoyer claims that he promoted Rizzo too early last year, and owns up to that mistake. I would caution him to not let a past transgression affect his decision making for the current team. Rizzo might be ready sooner than Hoyer thinks, When he was in the minors last year he absolutely destroyed minor league pitching. The problem there is the deep chasm separating the two parks he called home in 2011. PETCO is a cavernous stadium that kills flyballs. Tucson’s park is a bandbox by any measure. While his numbers are a bit skewed, the power is truly a plus-skill. He can be a legit 35+ homer guy if he can ever put it all together, and he’s the future of the Cubs at the corner.

3. Daniel Vogelbach – Vogelbach is rawer than raw, he’s a 19 year old that flashed decent power in extremely limited playing time in rookie ball, but he bears watching. Scouts are praising his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park, he has plus-plus power and has started to creep into top 10 Cubs prospect lists. His conditioning a concern, he’s a big boy at 6’0 and 250 elbows, but he’s a name to pay attention to.

Second Base

1. Darwin Barney – He’s pretty much all effort. His offensive value is strictly tied into his batting average, which usually spells death for most prospects. Barney drew 22 walks in 570 PA’s last year, which is pretty awful. He has a high baseball IQ and he knows how to be aggressive on the base paths while still being smart, you know, kinda like the inverse Theriot. What he brings to the table is shortstop range and arm to second base. He’s a tremendous fielder and his glove will justify his fairly anemic bat for his career. If he’s hitting .280, he isn’t killing you. If he falls below that, it’s trouble. That usually spells UTL instead of 2B, but given the limited options at the keystone, he’s going to get another 500+ PA’s with the Cubs.

2. Jeff Baker – Baker struggles against right-handed hitters (.200/.229/.263) and his defense is only so-so. He’s a decent platoon backup at 2B, but it speaks more to the lack of depth the Cubs have there than any of the meager positives that Baker brings to the table. He’s 31 and clearly at the end of the road. He’s been in a decline phase for 3 years now and his willingness to play every position is a clear signal of that. His trade value is in the basement right now, so he’s likely to stick around on the club, but it’s looking like he’s limited to facing left-handers from here on in.

3. Zeke DeVoss – He’s pretty far away at this point, but I don’t feel like writing about Blake DeWitt in this space, so let’s talk about this kid. He doesn’t profile to have much power, but his main tool is a good eye at the plate and good speed. He’s going to have to show that patience again, the worry on DeVoss is that he’s too passive at the plate and that his lack of power will show itself as he progresses through the system. His ceiling looks like Luis Castillo, so make of that what you will.

Shortstop

1. Starlin Castro – Here are Castro’s statistical comps through his age 21 season. That guarantees nothing, but it’s usually a good thing when you’re putting up numbers similar to 4 Hall of Famers. Castro needs to work on his defense, he doesn’t set his feet when he throws and it makes him wild, but he started to cut his error rate last year, and that’s a positive sign. Tulowitzki and Jeter were making errors at a higher rate in the minors than Castro in the majors when they were 21, but that didn’t move them off the position. Castro should remain at short, his bat is maximized there and he has the tools to be a good defensive shortstop. Castro can hit the ball, he has incredible bat control. He can add power if he adds good weight, and he’s on the track to be a star. He doesn’t walk at a high rate, but his consistency with the stick more than makes up for that. For now at least.

2. Junior Lake – The man is solidly built and has climbed the prospect totem pole. He’s 21 and had a solid showing at High-A ball before struggling in Double-A Tennessee. Depending on how big he gets he can actually move to 3B and still project well enough with his bat. He’s very raw and has bad plate discipline (running theme with the Cubs ORG, it would seem), but his power is real.

3. Javier Baez – Baez is here over Bianchi because he’s toolsy and that makes people excited. Truth be told, he’s a long shot to develop into the player everyone wants him to be. Baez has concerns about his makeup. He’s immature, which is to be expected for a 19 year old, but he’s going to make people drool over his tools. He had a meh showing on the farm, but he has tremendous upside.

Third Base

1. Ian Stewart – He never really took advantage of Coors. He was a decent prospect and a startable 3B, but he won’t be replacing the sum of Aramis’ production. All that said, Ramirez did need to go and Stewart is just a stopgap en route to a better 3B. Hopefully the wait for the next one won’t be as long as the time gap between Santo and Ramirez. The Cubs hope that the fabled “change of scenery” will help him out, but I’m not seeing it.

2. Josh Vitters – It seems like he’s been in the organization forever, but he’s still only 22. Vitters has the habit of struggling after a promotion and adjusting fairly well the following year. That’s fine for now, especially since he was making solid contact in 2011. Youth will only be on his side for so long (ain’t that the brutal truth), and with Ian Stewart likely to struggle on the Major League level, the time for Vitters to show that he is the legit future at third is now.

3. Marquez Smith – He’s old and he’s hit his ceiling, so at this point he can contribute as a solid if unspectacular right-handed bat off the bench. He’s not a star anymore, and at this point he’s waiting on guys like Jeimer Candelario to pass him up in the organization. He’s a Bobby Scales type guy at this point, great minor leaguer, but he’s never going to develop into an everyday Major League Player.