By Todd Johnson
At times, watching the Cubs’ minor-league system has been a rough go this year. Only AA Tennessee has a winning record while South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Iowa all had losing streaks of six or more. There have been days where I just turned off MiLB.TV and gone and done other things only to come back and check the scores a little bit later. And then there are other days where we are treated to great pitching performances with double digit strikeouts. You never know what is going to happen from day to day.
While the Cubs do lack a “Top 100” Prospect, that is not why their farm system is ranked in the bottom five of all baseball. Yes, the Cubs did trade away several assets the past two summers, but most of those were international prospects, not guys taken in the draft. The top guys taken in the draft play at Wrigley every home game. Still, despite their round one success, the Cubs have yet to hit on a pick beyond a #1 pick in the Theo Era.
But when it comes to 2018, there are two main reasons for its current state.
1. A Lack of Hitting
The Cubs have emphasized selecting pitchers in the past two drafts. As a result, they have a lot of late round hitters currently at the bottom part of the system. While Zack Short is a nice prospect, he is a 17th round pick. Austin Filiere, a player with a great hit tool, is South Bend’s leading hitter and he was an eighth round pick last year. Add in Jared Young of South Bend and those are the post-first round guys the Cubs have the hit on the past two years that are having some semblance of success.
As a result, the hitting has suffered greatly, With the Cubs are no longer picking players in the top 10 of the first round, the back of the draft is a bit more difficult to find those so-called “Top 100” prospects.
Getting back to the current Cubs MiLB system, the lack of hitting shows up clearly in the stats every night.
Iowa – Their batting average is 14th out of 16 teams at .249. Their OBP of .319 is also 14th.
Tennessee – They are the worst hitting team in the Southern League at .234, Their OBP is eighth out of ten at .318.
Myrtle Beach comes in 7th in the Carolina League at .240 while they are 9th in OBP at .323, again in a ten team league.
South Bend is number 14 out of 16 in the Midwest League with the worst OBP in the league at .312.
The Cubs have also been hampered in the international market. Penalties in 2013 and 2015 did not allowed the Cubs to sign a player over $300,000 for three of the last four years. This year, those penalties are gone. Also, international players do tend to take a little bit longer to develop. If you think about the 2015 class, Aramis Ademan and MIguel Amaya are still just 19 years old. And they are both in class A as the most advanced prospects from that 2015 class. Most of that class is just now reaching Mesa and Eugene this year. As for the 2013 class that once included Elot and Gleyber, those players are now just turning 21 and getting to South Bend and Myrtle Beach. This about this, Adbert Alzolay was signed in 2012 and has slowly been developing since 2013. International kids take time.
With four picks on day one of the MLB Draft, the Cubs are going to get some good players. While the Cubs say they are going to take the best player available, it’s quite evident they need to lean more on hitting/position players in the early rounds. One of the keys to this year’s draft is that there’s some pretty good depth. A player taken at number 12 is not appreciably much better then who the Cubs will take at number 24. And a pick in the 30s or 40s is not gonna be that much more advanced than who the Cubs are going to take at 62 in the second round and at 77 and 78 in the compensation rounds.
However, rebuilding the Cubs system is not going to be done in this year’s draft alone. While the Cubs will select five top 100 draft prospects, it will take more than that to pump up the system. It’s going to take a two to three year span to regain the some hitting depth. Because the Cubs are going to picking low in the each round, the impact talent is more likely to come through international free agency.
Also, those international players from 2015 should begin to have an impact as well the next two years. The Cubs won’t hit on every draft pick or international free agent they sign, but names like Fernando Kelli, Alonso Gaitan, Carlos Pacheco, and Luis Verdugo should begin to fill up some box scores in Mesa and Eugene and this summer. Add in some of last year’s high school players like Nelson Velazquez and Luis Vazquez and it should be exciting to see how they develop.
It’s going to take time.