By Todd Johnson
The Cubs made several roster moves in the minors on Thursday. Many of them were surprising. And, just as surprising, the Cubs did not make other moves one would think would happen. The assignments signify a shift within the Cubs organization. Now that the major league roster seems pretty much set for a couple of years, it is going to be hard for a prospect to break into the majors. As a result, that lack of movement continues down through the minor league system and you get what happened yesterday.
With just a week until the season begins, two teams’ rosters are pretty much set in Tennessee and Myrtle Beach. South Bend and Iowa have some adjusting to do as Iowa currently has 33 on their roster and South Bend has 32. The Cubs have until next week to finalize all full season affiliates at 25.
Here are the surprise moves that were made yesterday.
To be brutally honest – I was glad to see Oscar make it up to Tennessee to begin the year. His stuff, when he is healthy, is so advanced and hard. He breaks a lot of bats. As for everyone else that on this list, those are a bit of a letdown. Who knew that Efren Navarro Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, and Stephen Bruno and their outstanding spring training performances would keep Jason Vosler from heading to Iowa? Charcer Burks is in that same boat, too. Ian Rice might be the one I least expected. The Cubs have so much catcher depth now, it’s sick. So, the backlog for backstops begins in Iowa and ripples down.
To Myrtle Beach: PJ Higgins, RHP Casey Bloomquist, RHP Kyle Miller, LHP Jordan Minch, and Daniel Spingola
I was surprised to see Higgins stay in Myrtle Beach to begin the year (see the catcher effect). Higgins might be the best defensive catcher in the system overall, for right now. His bat slipped a little last year. Who knows? Maybe something happens that will free up this logjam of catchers.
As for Spingola, I did not see that coming after he dominated the Carolina League in the first half last year and spent half a season in AA. It is strange that Bloomquist and Miller are not heading to Tennessee, even in bullpen roles, has a bit of the “Oscar de la Cruz” promotion effect to it. Both are versatile swingman. Bloomquist made two appearances in AA and did fine. Miller is a versatile swingman who can start or relieve. As for Minch, he is one of the few lefty relievers left in the system. Then again, he battled injuries off and on the past two summers in Myrtle Beach.
The first two names are the biggest surprises to me. There is no way South Bend will carry 4 catchers. Even if Alamo plays first base, that still leaves three catchers on the squad and Miguel Amaya needs all the playing time he can get. As for Kevonte – he should be at Myrtle Beach. However, there appears to be a logjam for OF, too. Conor Myers, who is an outstanding defender as one will see, but struggles hitting, drops down to South Bend. Right now, the young Cubs have 3 CF on their roster. They won’t begin the season with three.
To Extended Spring Training/Eugene/Mesa: Gustavo Polanco, Alexander Guerra, and Jake Steffens
All three of these players will work on some things the next two months and should be the first called up to South Bend when a spot opens up, as it always does. It could happen next week or two months from now. You never know.
The Big Analysis From All This
Promotions are not a given. They never have been.
With Iowa pretty much cleaning house last winter, it looked as though several prospects would have spots to move up a level in 2018. Things changed in Mesa and spring training that prevented that from happening. The Cubs also have a ton of catchers and that depth will make it hard to move up an affiliate/level. The same is true for outfielders.
Here’s the big kicker – The Cubs still have more trimming of the rosters to do. On Tuesday, it was ten guys let go. Each affiliate still has to get down to 25. That’s 18 more bodies that will be moving down a level, moving to Mesa for extended spring training, or they will be cut.
With no positions opening up at the big league level for the foreseeable future, advancing in the minors will be hard for a couple of years. That is the “New Normal.” There will be another wave of players entering the organization this summer via the draft and international free agency. A prospect is going to have to make themselves stand out, to not be normal, but rather, to excel.