It takes a 40 man roster to win a World Series Championship. With injuries taking place throughout the regular season, most organizations use their minor leagues to help them win a championship whether it is the occasional reliever, a man to fill in as a sport starter in the rotation, or a specialty player off the bench, be it for fielding in late innings, a utility player to give guys days off, a pinch hitter off the bench, or a speed guy.
When I look at the San Francisco Giants roster, it is not filled with former elite prospects up and down the lineup. They have three virtual stars in the lineup – Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence – and a fourth, Brandon Belt, who just had his best year as a pro. The rest of the lineup is filled with guys who play their role: Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse, Brandon Crawford, and Gregor Blanco are just four of many. The rotation looked like it was put together with duct tape – literally. Madison Bumgarner is a stud, and Jake Peavey, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Hudson held it together with smoke and mirrors, or long enough until Bumgarnder pitched again.
The Kansas City Royals, on the other hand, got it done through a killer defense, a shut down bullpen, and some timely hitting and bunting. The Royals may appear on the surface to resemble the current Cubs incarnation in that each team is filled with highly touted prospects and a lively bullpen, but the Cubs are building the core of their team on guys that can hit. This postseason saw the hands-down best regular season pitcher in baseball lose twice to the Cardinals, while the Orioles with their glued together lineup minus Chris Davis, Matt Weiters, and Manny Machado, put up a limited fight. In the post season you never know what can happen, but you need guys that can hit.
As the Cubs approach the 2015 season, many of us on the Internet see the parade of highly touted prospects that will be rolling into Chicago in the next 18 months in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, CJ Edwards, Armando Rivero, Peirce Johnson, and Kyle Schwarber. But not every prospect is going to be an everyday kind of player. The Cubs, like the Giants before them, will have to call on guys to fill in the bench or bullpen the next few years if they are going to compete. Who will these guys be that are going to provide that one inning of relief, that spot start, that key pinch hit, the fill in for an injury for ten days, the late inning defensive replacement, or the pinch runner? It is going to take more than the studs to win World Series.
The lefty I like is Andrew McKirahan, who had a good 2014. In 44 games he brandished a 2.08 ERA between Daytona and Tennessee. The former Texas Longhorn finally was healthy and produced a great season. At 24, he should start the year at Iowa but he could provide relief in spots next year. The right handed reliever I like to fill in is Corey Black. He had a decent, but inconsistent year. His fastball as a starter can reach 94/95 on a regular night, but he has trouble walking players. Some starts he would be dominating, even at AA Tennessee, and other nights he was having trouble keeping the ball down. If the 5’11” 175 pound righty ends up a reliever, he could add 2-3 ticks to his fastball. That would deepen an already deep bullpen of hard throwing righties.
The Spot Starter
The Cubs have loads of starting pitching depth for the next few years and that doesn’t include prospects CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and others. The staff for 2015, as I see it, looks like it will be Arrieta, Hendricks, likely Turner, and two free agents. That leaves Felix Doubront, Dan Straily, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Eric Jokisch and Dallas Beeler either in the bullpen, Iowa, or other places of employment. No need to worry, especially with waves of pitching coming.
The Pinch Hitter
Addison Russell could be a Cub soon, if he has a good 2015 at Iowa, could provide a little push for a team in a pennant race in an every day role. However, the likely bats who I think work best in a bench role are Bijan Rademacher and Ben Carhart – maybe not this year, but definitely in the long term. I picked these two for two reasons: They make contact on a regular basis and hit for a high average. Although the righty Carhart has more power, he is also selective as a hitter and can play multiple positions up and down the lineup. They both have the mindset that they can be productive members of a team without having to be the star. The left handed hitting Rademacher has held his own in the Arizona Fall League and his bat could play in the big league quickly. He hits for a high average although this year his average was sporadic from month to month.
The Utility Guy
To me, Ben Carhart gets this role right now. Great makeup, great bat, and can play 4-5 positions. Mark Zagunis is not far behind either. Zagunis has a better command of the strike zone and a higher OBP, but lacks the power potential of Carhart. However, Zagunis brings some speed to the table.
The Defensive Replacement
When it comes to the outfield, Albert Almora and Christian Villanueva are already MLB caliber defensive studs. Almora could play all three outfield positions, but his natural instincts as a center fielder are beyond compare in the Cubs organization. While he is a highly touted prospect, the hitting part of his development is a work in progress, especially his walk rate, and I don’t think he will ever walk much. If needed, I think he could play a role in 2015…key phrase is if needed (and late inning defensive replacement only).
Christian Villanueva struggled mightily at AAA Iowa at the plate. The field, however, saw no decline in his skills. I think he could also play some second base if needed. The problem for Villanueva is that the guys ahead of him can also play multiple positions. However, when it comes to third base, Villanueva is the best third defender in the organization. It is no contest. He makes clean grabs, crisp throws, moves left and right equally well, and always throws to the right base and does not force the game. Like Almora, he could help now as long as he was not called upon to hit.
The Pinch Runner
Jake Hannemann and Shawon Dunston, Jr., are the two fastest guys in the organization with Trey Martin close behind. Hannemann, though, has a better all around game in the field and at the plate at this point. If the Cubs needed one guy to go 90 feet, Hannemann would be it. He has a higher success rate on the basepaths and doesn’t make the mental mistakes which Dunston and Martin are improving on.
I think when it comes to this offseason, The Cubs would be looking to add starting pitching. However, between now and the All-Star Break, they need to have some bench guys who can fill these roles mentioned above. Those bench additions might be just as important as any high priced pitcher worth $120+ million.