Minor League Roundtable Part 3: Cubs Prospects ETA

In Commentary And Analysis, Minor Leagues by aisle4242 Comments

This is our third part of the roundtable. Myles was not present at the time that Sitrick and I started, but his answers are toward the end.

dmick89: Of the major prospects, it's expected that Javier Baez will get to Chicago first. If he gets off to a good start at Iowa where I expect he'll begin the year, he could get called up soon. A hot April at Iowa and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him in early May. The Cubs may want to cut costs somewhat, but super two status shouldn't really matter. If Baez is good enough, the Cubs can be expected to sign him long-term before he gets to that point. Otherwise, I would expect it not to be a financial issue.

I was surprised Arismendy Alcantara didn't get a promotion to Iowa this year, but he'll start there next season. Like Baez, he could get called up quickly. A lot will depend on what Barney is doing at 2nd base, but defense be damned, the Cubs won't hesitate to replace Barney.

I don't think we see Jorge Soler at the big league level next year. I can't imagine a situation in which Albert Almora pushes himself up to the big league level. I can't even imagine this front office promoting at the necessary rate to ensure it happens. For what it's worth, I don't think we'll see Almora until late 2015.

Sitrick: Yep, barring injury or Olt-esque performance, I'd expect Baez to be with the big club by early June at the latest. The PCL is going to really play to Baez's strengths, so if he struggles it's going to be really surprising to me, and really quite troubling.

I've heard people suggest that with a good season Bryant could find himself with the big club in September. That would seem unlike this front office, which has preached patience in the development process and has stressed the importance of giving players a substantial number of minor league PAs. But when a hitter's ready, a hitter's ready, and Bryant has yet to reach a league that has presented any sort of difficulty for him. If they start Bryant at Tennessee, I'd give it an outside chance we see him with the big club before the year's through, but if he goes back to Daytona even for a brief period, I think he'll run out of games to prove himself MLB-ready next year.

Agreed that Alcantara will get up, but something about his skillset makes me think he'll bounce back and forth a couple of times. I can't put my finger on why, I just get the feeling he's going to struggle initially.

If Soler starts at Tennessee and lights the world on fire, I think he's got just as good a chance at a September callup as Bryant, though at a certain point someone is going to get held off for contractual reasons, and Soler doesn't have the polish or game-hours logged that Bryant does. Which is a long way of saying I agree, I think he's a long shot to end up in the majors next year.

Could Pierce Johnson make it by September if everything falls the right way? Whichever of Christian Villanueva and Mike Olt that doesn't get traded will probably get a look. Then there are the lesser impact guys, Hendricks and Szczur being the guys immediately to come to mind.

dmick89: I made fun of the idea of Bryant starting the season at 3rd base by suggesting something even more ridiculous. I still think it's a silly idea to think he could start the season with the Cubs, but I do think he's got a good chance to move quite quickly through the system. Bryant is the first higher end prospect the Cubs have had since Thoyer took over that went to college. Since I looked at Jacoby Ellsbury's career recently, he was a college-aged kid the Sox drafted when Theo ran the team and he reached the big leagues quickly. I think Bryant could be even better and reach it more quickly.

I don't think it's likely. I think he still spends all of 2014 in the minors, but if he's proving to be too good for the levels he's at, I think the team might promote him faster than we've seen them do so far.

I think Pierce Johnson has a shot, but I expect a good season will get him to AAA by the end of the year. Pitchers can be promoted more quickly than position players. A team may need a starter if a couple are injured so it's entirely possible he's up next year and even throws quite a few innings. I doubt it.

I'm not sure what to make of Alcantara. I think he has a good chance to be productive at the MLB level, but I also think he has a good chance of being a back-up or utility player. Or never even catching on and being good enough for that. He'll be highly ranked after this year, but he's one who can fall quickly, too.

At some point you run out of room on the roster for prospects so we may be digging too deep at this point.

Sitrick: Of course, there are only so many roster spots. I'm mostly expecting to see prospects at areas of volatility on the roster; we saw what, 4 different players at 3B this season? (Lewis, Valbuena, Murphy and Ransom). I could see Baez, Valbuena, Murphy, and Olt/Villanueva all getting ABs there in 2014. Center will likely be just as in flux, barring a Jacoby Ellsbury addition (sidenote: this is another reason I don't see the club signing Ellsbury, as reports are that the FO really loves Almora and I can't see them signing anyone that will block him beyond 2014). And the inevitable rotation injuries will almost undoubtedly clear the way for Hendricks or Johnson if they're ready. Combine that with trades and various other maneuverings and I think the roster concerns are less of an issue than who is going to be ready to contribute.

Sitrick: Wait, I have no idea where I got Lewis from. Brain fart. I think I got Cody Ransom confused with Colby Lewis? I'm a dumb person. Anyway.

dmick89: I think it's a big mistake to not sign free agents because you really like a prospect who just played some ball at A level. The number of prospects who GMs have really liked at that level who didn't pan out are in the hundreds and maybe thousands. I get why the Cubs are excited with Almora, but the guy was a high school pick and is at least two years away. We've seen how slow they've been at promoting. Best case for Almora is at the end of 2015. I don't think you can hold a spot open for a guy who hasn't even reached A+ yet. If they sign a CF, Ellsbury or another one, they can always move that guy to LF or RF. Or move Almora to one of those positions. You still need 3 outfielders so I have trouble seeing how their like of Almora would have an impact on whether or not they'd sign a CF this offseason.

If the Cubs are keeping a spot open for Javier Baez, I get that. He's very close to MLB ready.

Soler has two options left, right? Pretty sure he's eligible for a fourth. The Cubs will undoubtedly use the third one in 2014, but I bet they wouldn't mind having one in their pocket if needed. Due to that, I could definitely see Soler getting called up sooner than I initially thought.

Sitrick: I see your point, and I agree with you, but I've seen a number of reports about how the Cubs don't want a long term option in center precisely because of Almora. I think end of 2015 isn't exactly best case, but is probably the likely case. I think that's why they want lake in center if he can hack it, because he's a good seat warmer that can be ditched without much trouble or heartache.

dmick89: They always say "you can never have too much pitching." This is correct, but what they should be saying is that "you can never have too much talent." I think this applies to the possibility of acquiring a CF or another outfielder this offseason. If Almora progresses quickly, and the Cubs had gone out and signed a CF this offseason, they won't complain about having too much talent.

Regarding best case, aren't we using Baez as an example? He was drafted a year earlier. Both are high school picks. Two years after being drafted Baez was at AA. It's possible he goes back though more likely he's up at Iowa. I think it's possible Baez gets called up early, but probably more likely it's near the end of the season (July or later). That would be July 2015 or later for Almora. Then there's the performance difference to this point. Baez has been a lot better, stayed healthy and plays a more premium position. Best case is probably sooner than the end of 2015, but it would mean that Almora went absolutely freaking nuts at the plate next year. I've seen no indication, scouting or performance, to suggest he's capable of that. I don't know, but based on the relative difference in talent between the two, and I think it's considerable, I think we should expect a later call-up than we would for Baez.

I guess if I'm Tom Ricketts and I've got a GM who insists we wait for Almora, I'm asking him to stake his reputation and his job on it. He damned well better be right if he's passing on available free agents in favor of what currently is still a longshot.

Myles: I think you are both far too aggressive with your Baez and Alcantara promotions. They have preached the 500 AAA appearances thing since they got here. Baez won't even have 500 AA appearances until June I'd he started there this season. Alcantara will be first (June) and I bet Baez is a September callup.

I also think Bryant has half a chance for a cup of coffee in September. He's obviously advanced, as is the type of guy that this FO loves.

Sitrick: The FO has also discussed prospects "beating" their development plan, and if prospects perform, they'll be promoted. As Parks always preaches, successful organizations tailor their development plan to the player and are flexible.

Myles: I also agreed with dmick about not worrying about blocks, especially ones so far away. I'd go so far to say that I'd sign an impact 3B if it "blocked" Baez when he gets up here. Talent is talent, and it's the best problem in the world to have when you've got too many capable guys. You trade the one you think you've scouted better than the other guys, and turn your excess talent into pitching or some other commodity. That being said, obviously the Cubs shouldn't be making it a priority to block their own guys.

That's true, and I hope you're right. As good as Baez' year was, it wasn't exactly without problems. He can still learn things (whether he could hope to learn them in AA, where he's clearly too talented remains to be seen).

Sitrick: Thoyer is already on record that they expect Baez to start the year in Iowa.

Myles: Pinning CF on a guy 2 years removed from high-school, who has had his share of injuries already, seems just extraordinarily loose to me. Of course, he's embarrassing the AFL so far, so who knows?

All I know is that Iowa is going to be a hot ticket at some point in 2014. Compared to the shitshow it was in 2013, it's going to be nice for the good folks of Des Moines.

If I had to lay a timeline when I think the Top 6 prospects arrive, it be something like:

Baez: August/September 2014
Bryant: April 2015
Soler: June 2015
Alcantara: June 2014
Almora: September 2015
Johnson: April 2015

Of course, this assumes they dont' all bust terribly.

Sitrick: The I-Cubs are 3.5 hours away from me, and I am already planning on attending at least a game at every home series in April. It's gonna be awesome.

My timeline:

Baez: June 2014
Bryant: April 2015 with an outside shot at September 2014 if he hits and Left/3B is a shitshow.
Soler: May/June 2015
Alcantara: June 2014
Almora: September 2015
Johnson: April 2015 with an outside shot at September 2014 if the team surprisingly contends and there's an injury, or they want him to help out the bullpen.

I'm aggressive on Baez because, as has been said by you yourself Myles, I'm not sure the things Baez has to learn can be learned in the minors. AA parks couldn't contain him, and the PCL isn't going to do much better.

Myles: I really do think the first time he struggles, it'll be in Chicago.

dmick89: Baez: July 2014 (Cubs wait to avoid super 2)
Bryant: April 2015
Soler: April 2015
Alcantara: June 2014
Almora: April 2016
Johnson: September 2014

As one of you said, this assumes they don't crap out and since we're talking 6 guys it's guaranteed to happen to some of them. If all 6 reach these expectations, the Cubs are going to be really really good.

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