Never a Dull Day: Being a Cub Fan in August

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When the trade deadline passed with only a couple of minor transactions, I thought the Cubs roster was going to be set for the month of August. In September, the Cubs would then call up prospects on the 40 man roster and organizational players as rewards for a great year. I literally thought player movement for the organization was over. In fact, it turned out, it was only just beginning.

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Monday
Word began to leak through the Baez family that one Ednel Javier Baez would be making his major league debut in Colorado on Tuesday. Soon confirmation from Bruce Levine of WSCR in Chicago set the twittersphere afire with anticipation. So, on Tuesday August 5, 2014, Javier Baez debuted against the Colorado Rockies. He went 1-6, but it was a great 1-6 as he hit a game winning home run in the 12th inning. The next night was just as not as good as he went 0-4. On Thursday, Cub fans hit the jackpot as Baez hit 2 home runs with 4 RBIs as he went 3-4. The streaks are something Cub fans are going to have to learn to live with.

Turner trade (2)Wednesday
The Cubs clearly targeted starting pitching as an offseason priority because of trading away Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel on July 4. What went down on Wednesday sent me into a card creating frenzy. The Cubs claimed two pitchers, Jacob Turner and Cole Hamels, off waivers. I thought that the Cubs would be able to get Turner for a minimal price. Hamels, on the other hand, was a pipe dream of the Nth degree. There would be no way the Cubs could pay the cost to get him from the Phillies. Phillies GM Reuben Amaro would ask for the moon and Theo and Jed would laugh. And for all intents and purposes, they did.

But the Cubs may have laid the foundation for two things by claiming Hamels. One, they have opened a dialogue with the Phillies about acquiring Hamels this winter. Two, the Cubs have signaled that they are willing to spend to acquire a pitcher. Where Turner came at the cost of Tyler Bremmer and Jose Arias, two pitchers at ages 24 and 23, who were in low A ball, Hamels’ average salary would have been a little north of 22 million, a significant sum on a team that next year is only on the hook for a little over 30 million with Edwin Jackson making over a third of that.

Acquiring Turner and creating roster spot for him meant the Cubs had to release a player on the 40 man and the victim was Nate Schierholtz. He had a bad year, but he was a good guy, and by all accounts, a good guy to have on the team. For a contender, he could be a nice bat off the bench. But for the Cubs going forward, he was not a cog in the future machine. The Cubs also released Ryan Kalish from AAA Iowa to create another 40 man spot as Fujikawa returned.

I think Turner’s value going forward is multi-pronged. One, if he can simplify his arsenal, he can be a nice starting piece in the rotation. And at 23, he is still signed through 2018, although he is arbitration eligible after next year. Two, he can also be a power arm in the bullpen ala Neil Ramirez. Turner would likely go to two pitches as a reliever. The flexibility going forward is essential. I know he has been a starter in the past, and he has had some success as late as 2013, but he also was put on waivers for a reason. Hopefully a new start will do him and the Cubs good. I think he can a #3/#4 type starter.

Thursday
The Cubs worked out Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo at Wrigley. At 27, the outfielder could provide some power and some speed at the top of the lineup. The Cubs could make a rush for him, but the better Cuban prospect is clearly 23 year old Yasmani Tomas; Tomas has much more power and is much younger. He would fit nicely into the Cubs’ plans!

Friday

Javy Baez’s debut at Wrigley proved to be very anti-climatic. I could feel the energy through the TV, but Baez looked overmatched for most of the game. He did get a single in his first at bat to raise his average to .360, but over the next 8 innings, the batting average dropped to down to .263. With 7 Ks in 19 at bats for the week, the strikeout percentage of 37%, is not sustainable over a entire season. I think for now, the Cubs are just going to let him be who he is. He screwed himself into the ground on several at bats swinging extremely hard.


 

Going Forward
The Cubs are in a unique position. What was seen as a weakness on July 5, starting pitching for 2015 has now evolved into a strength. The Cubs have 7 legitimate arms to compete for a rotation spot and 3 arms that could compete.

The legitimate starters: Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner. All have major league credentials, some better than others, but none too broke to fix.

3 Possibles: Dallas Beeler, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez (the latter two will need stretched out)

Throw in a major MLB free agent and international free agent like Kenta Maeda, and all of a sudden, the Cubs have great depth. The name on everyone’s list is Jon Lester. He will be tough to pry away from returning to Boston and he will not come cheap. But if the Cubs can sign him, it opens the door to other players wanting to play with him. I would say the odds are not in the Cubs favor to get him, but you never know, you never know.


Minor League News and Notes
*Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant are just about ready. Soler will be up next month as he is already on the 40 man roster. Bryant, he will wait until next spring. That is going to be one exciting lineup next year!
*Billy McKinney continues to rake. For me, he is turning into an RBI machine and is moving up into the upper echelon of Cubs prospects.
*Albert Almora went down with a hamstring injury last night. The severity is not known.
*Pierce Johnson is trying to reclaim the mantle of the top pitching prospect in the organization. Last Sunday he went six innings, no runs allowed, and struck out six. His teammates, Corey Black and CJ Edwards, did not have good starts this week.
*Duane Underwood continues to shine for Kane County. He went 6 innings as well this week, struck out 7, but gave up one run. Fan reports had him throwing an “easy 94.”
*Chesny Young – “my surprise prospect of the year” – continues to rake at Kane County. His stat line for every game should just read 2 for 5 with 2 runs and an RBI.
*Trevor Clifton got back on the bus this week and had a nice start with 5 innings and 6 Ks with 1 earned run. He just needs to be more consistent. He waffles between bad and good starts.
*Kyle Schwarber had a monster night Thursday going 3 for 4 with a homer. He had been in a slump for about two weeks. He is currently hitting .257. I am sure he is a little tired having been playing full time since late January.
*Jacob Hannemann continues to impress at Daytona keeping his average near .300 and providing a spark from the leadoff spot.
*2014 second round pick Jake Stinnett made his debut in the AZL, He pitched in two games. Last night he started and went two innings without surrendering a run. He will likely get a couple of innings a week and not much more as he is already at an innings high for his young, underused arm.
*Addison Russell continues to plug away hitting 300 and Lars Anderson, also of Tennessee, is hitting .324 and getting some work in the outfield.
*Kevonte Mitchell continues to hit for a high average. This week he was moved from first in the order down to third. Washington product and recent draftee, Andrew Ely, stepped right in and kept hitting.
*Yohann Matos is putting together an excellent season in the Dominican. Along with Frandy de la Rosa, and several others, last year’s international class could make a big splash in the states next summer in Boise, Geneva, and Mesa.

I started to play around on a spreadsheet of where prospects will be assigned for next year. Figuring into that will be who is returning from injury and who will likely be released. It is looking very interesting, especially when it comes to pitching in the minors.

Cubs Claim Jacob Turner

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If there is one thing Theo and Jed claim to covet it is young cost controlled pitching. Today, word leaked that the Cubs claimed pitcher Jacob Turner on waivers from the Marlins. The Marlins now can do one of three things:

1. Pull him back off waivers

2. Give him to the Cubs

3. Work out a trade

I think #3 is most likely. The Cubs, in an ideal world, would just send cash without having to give up any prospects. Or they could send a lower level player like Jeimer Candelario or Dan Vogelbach – two guys who are currently blocked by players above them. Or guys who are spinning wheels at AAA like Josh Vitters or Bret Jackson would be ideal trade candidates. What I think would be the perfect scenario would be to trade Junior Lake. The Marlins are not going to get a world beater or one of the Cubs top prospects for a guy they have soured on. Rather, they are going to get a guy the Cubs likely have soured on. Sometimes a change of scenery is good.

John Sickels wrote this report on Turner before he was traded to the Marlins in 2012.

Turner is a 6-5, 210 pound right-handed pitcher […] Turner can hit 95 MPH but usually works at 90-93, using a two-seamer to generate sinking action and ground balls rather than pure velocity. He mixes in a curveball and changeup, both rated highly-positively by scouts, and he’s added a cutter this spring. With a four-pitch arsenal and a good feel for his craft, he has the upside of a number two starter. His velocity has returned to normal over the last six weeks and the Tigers are pleased with the progress of his secondary pitches.

Here are Turner’s stats from Fan Graphs
Turner Stats
I see Turner, only 23, as someone that pitching coach Chris Bosio can work with and mold. His FIP is decent but this year based on his BABIP, teams have been hitting the ball where the fielders are not. Some tinkering here, some simplifying there, and the Cubs have a cheap cost controlled pitcher through 2017. If they fix him like they did with Hammel, Maholm, Feldman, and Arrieta, he would be a nice #3 pitcher. I hope the Cubs can swing a nice deal and Turner reverts to the promise he had two years ago in the Tigers’ system.

Happy Javier Baez Day!

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baez debut

8 p.m. tonight I will be sitting in front of the TV watching Javy Baez debut. It should be interesting as the hype machine is in overdrive. Me, I think he will be what he will be. He will be streaky. There will be games where he hits two home runs, and there will be games he strikes out three times. He just needs to be selective and not try and hit everything, especially out of the zone (which is where he struggled at times in the minors). There will be an adjustment period that may last into next year, no one knows.

What I am excited about is that this signals the next phase in the rebuild. Jorge Soler should be up next followed by Kris Bryant in the spring. Maybe late next summer Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, CJ Edwards, Addison Russell, and Albert Almora will on be on the cusp of arriving. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. The shift from having short term assets on the big league roster to long term assets has begun.

A Day at the Park – Kane County in August

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I still think the greatest thing about going to the ballpark is going through the entrance into the stadium and seeing the green grass come alive in the sunshine with the smell of food everywhere. Such was the case yesterday when I went to Kane County to see the Cougars take on the Quad City River Bandits. I met one of my former students, Andrew Rehn,  from 18 years ago and had a great time. My favorite thing about seeing a game on Sunday is the autograph session on the field where you can go down and talk to the players as well as get autographs. I talked with Chesny Young, Tyler Ihrig, Victor Caratini, and Jacob Rodgers. All seemed very nice. Caratini was a little taken aback by all the attention he was receiving, but he adapted quickly.

This was my fifth time seeing the Cougars this season. The roster has changed quite a bit since I first saw them in April. Favorite Jordan Hankins was promoted to Daytona, Will Remillard was on the DL, the vacuum cleaner SS Carlos Penalver was on the bench with 1B Jacob Rodgers, and Tyler Skulina and Juan Paniagua also were sent to Daytona. The only holdovers were outfielders Shawon Dunston, Trey Martin, and Cael Brockmeyer was catching this game. Daury Torrez was on the mound and the newly acquired Victor Caratini was the DH. New signee Chesny Young was at second, Jeimer Candelario at third, Danny Lockhart returned from the DL at short, and the recently promoted Jeffrey Baez was in right field.

What I Was Hoping to See

The players coming through Boise and Kane County right now are a mixture of players drafted by Theo and Jed and international players signed by Jim Hendry. This was my first game to see Chesny Young and I was very excited to see him in the lineup along with Jeffrey Baez. Both had success at Boise in their short stints there this summer. I was hoping to see Caratini catch, but with a night game on Saturday and a Sunday day game, I knew those odds were slim. I was hoping to see his arm to see if it was as good as Remillard’s.

What I Came Away Impressed With

1. Chesny Young plays baseball the right way and plays it hard. He went 3-4 yesterday and every ball he hit, he hit hard. He does a nice job in the field, works counts at the plate, and has a nice swing plane with quick wrists into the zone. He knows what he is looking for in a pitch, and when he sees it, he hits hard. no cheapy wounded ducks or Texas leaguers, just line drive singles and one booming double.

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New Cub Victor Caratini stands forward in the box

2. Caratini’s first at bat did not end well when he was caught looking. At first, I thought he was going to say something to the umpire, but he turned, walked away and shook his head ever so slightly. What this showed to me was that he has an idea of the strike zone and what pitches he can and cannot hit. His other four plate appearances saw him square up the ball. He stands even with the plate rather than back in the box, and he has a nice sweet swing that glides quickly like a diving bird through the zone. It was not Mark Grace pretty, but it was close. He went 2-5 with an RBI.

3. Cael Brockmeyer is huge for a catcher. At 6’5”, he sits low in the zone and provides a good target behind the plate. At the plate, he has hit near .300 all year. After a broken bat wounded duck early in the game, he shattered his bat with his hands. No knee required. The next at bat, he hit a line drive hook into the left field stands. The ball never got more than 20 feet off the ground. He does not get a lot of lift. If he ever does, look out.

4. Shawon Dunston, Jr. has improved in the field since I saw him at Clinton a month ago. He took much better routes to the ball yesterday. He did get picked off first on the old hidden ball trick, but he more than made up for that with his speed throughout the day. He is hitting well and looks good at the plate. In April, he looked overmatched.

5. Danny Lockhart looked good at shortstop. I came away impressed. He always could hit. I am just glad to see him healthy and get some steady at bats.

6. Jeffrey Baez had a double and triple. He plays hard on the basepaths. When he had his triple to right, I thought he was dead meat and there was no way he could make it to third. But he did, and he did so easily as the throw went home. I like his hustle a lot.

Concerns

I like Daury Torrez. The 6’3” righty has a good delivery over the top and throws downhill. He followed the organizational line of coming out in the first inning and commanding the fastball. He regularly was between 92-94. In the fourth inning, the velocity dramatically dropped to 86 on a fastball. Manager Mark Johnson quickly came out. Torrez later gave up a monster homer on an 87 mph fastball. Torrez hung on for two more innings, got it back up to 90, and picked up his 10th win. I still think he needs a 3rd pitch. He has gotten by with commanding the fastball and a nice slider that consistently comes in at 83. At Daytona, he will need that third pitch.

Overall

I saw a lot of good prospects today and saw the Cougars offense come alive. They have struggled as of late at the plate in the wake of the Hankins and Schwarber promotions. With the new blood of Caratini, Baez, Young, and Kevin Brown, the approach is much different as these are clearly “Theo” type players as they work the count, grind out at bats, command the zone at the plate, and hit the ball hard – even if it was for singles. When you can do that and score 9 runs, you aren’t going to lose too many games.


 

I did have a very interesting conversation with the lady behind me. She was complaining about the recent trades of Samardjiza and Hammell and how the big league team is not winning. I talked to her about how 2015 was going to be different. I said that we were done trading short term assets for long term ones. We would now be going out and acquiring long term ones. She then asked why we just didn’t keep the two pitchers. I then explained to her the two pitchers were not signed beyond this year and next. The Cubs needed long term certainty at those positions and that Samardjiza was not going to give the Cubs that certainty by not signing an extension. I talked about Soler, Baez, and Bryant reinvigorating the lineup next year. To me, next year is the make or break year where the product on the field changes drastically.

I truly understand her frustration. I really do. What I don’t understand is how she was not better informed about what was happening in the whole organization.

The Trade Deadline and My Surprise Prospects of the Year

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IMartinez 75t has been a busy week in the Cubs organization. The Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront for a player to be named later and catcher/utility player Victor Caratini from the Braves for James Russell and Emilio Bonafacio. The sell offs, as one might say, looks like they are over. One reason, the Cubs have no short term assets left to sell. They are now all in for acquiring long term major league assets. In addition, the team won three out of four from the Rockies while Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara contribute. Currently, the Cubs would have the fifth pick in next year’s draft. I don’t expect that to fluctuate more than 1 or 2 spots, up or down, the rest of the summer.

On the minor league front, the Cubs teams are trying to make it to the playoffs in September. Kane County is already in, Daytona is playing like a team possessed, while Iowa clings to a small lead, Tennessee and Boise are fighting for their lives. Five players are hitting like their pants are on fire: Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Jacob Rodgers, and Danny Canela. CJ Edwards found his way back to Tennessee while Corey Black and Pierce Johnson continue to strikeout men in large numbers. Jose Paniagua and Tyler Skulina found their way from Kane County to Daytona. Tyler Ihrig and Ben Wells made it from Boise to Kane County. And surprisingly, Dae-Eun Rhee continues to impress in Iowa and may earn a shot sometime next summer.

On Sunday, I am off to Kane County where I hope to see Caratini along with the player to be named later in the Darwin Barney deal, Jonathon Martinez. I have heard good things about him from his time in the Midwest League. Check back on Sunday night/Monday morning for some prospect photos and report of my day at the park.


SURPRISE PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR LIST


While Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber get most of the headlines in Cub Blogs, the system of the Chicago Cubs is filled with many worthwhile prospects. Some were known at the beginning of the year, and some were not known. While many expected prospects like Paul Blackburn to step their game up a notch, there are other prospects that have surprised scouts, bloggers, and the fans to position themselves for a move into a prospect list. Most of the list will be at the lowers levels of Class A and rookie, hence the surprise. If a player turns in a surprising season at AA and AAA, it is likely the result of a change of scenery from another organization. Here are my top (17) surprises of 2015.

1. Kevin Brown – Outfielder – Boise, Kane County – in his first year in 2013, Brown did nothing to impress anyone in rookie ball in Arizona hitting only .235. This year, he has quickly moved around the system and is hitting for a high average wherever he goes. When he filled in at Tennessee for a few games in late June, his bat acted like he belonged, and I think that the confidence gained at Kodak is propelling him through the system. He takes pitches, waits for one he can handle, and then gets a hit. He is not going to hit for a lot of power, but he will get on base, and he drives in runs.

2. Will Remillard – Catcher – Kane County – he is, without a doubt, the best defensive catcher in the system –hands down. In April and May, his bat was on fire, too, before small injuries derailed his season. He still can hit, but the first full season of pro ball is wearing on him a little bit. Having seen him call three games for Skulina, he is the one in charge on the diamond as he rarely looks to the dugout to call a pitch. He has a nice arm behind the plate and has a good approach at the plate. I would not have guessed his progress based on the fact that he did not play after being drafted in 2013.

3. Jacob Rodgers – First Baseman – Kane County – the more I see him, the more I like him. A 40th round pick in 2012, Rodgers has slowly worked his way up the system. He has great size at 6’5”, and at times this year, has flashed some power. However, his strength has been his ability to work deep into counts. He is hitting .269 but has a .375 OBP because he can work a walk to go with his 13 home runs. He reminds me of Adam LaRoche but with more power.

4. Chesny Young – Second Baseman – Boise, Kane County – Just drafted in June, Young has progressed all the way to Kane County. He looks like a baseball rat – a kid who spends all his life at the diamond. He has a great approach at the plate. However, I did not see the 14th round pick on the radar at all. Listening to the Boise games on the radio, he was front and center of Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis driving them in. he hit .354 at Boise and is hitting .304 in Kane County. I think the scrappy player could make some prospect lists next year.

5. Kevonte Mitchell – Outfielder – Arizona – When I first read the scouting reports on this year’s 1th round pick, I thought, it will be a couple of years before he could produce because he needed to fill in. I was wrong, dead wrong. The 6’4” and 185 pound athlete from Missouri has settled in nicely in Arizona and moved off of third to center field where he does nothing but get on base. He is currently, at 18 years old, hitting .306 with a .375 OBP. The power is not there yet, that will come as he fills in.

6. James Pugliese, Jose Arias, and Andrew McKirahan – relief pitchers – Kane County, and Tennessee – These three pitchers have been flat out filthy. As starters last year, Pugliese and Arias did not flash that kind of potential. In a relief role, they both have been dominant thanks in part to a simplified approach and arsenal – in other words, they became two pitch pitchers and worked on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. For McKirahan, the Texas product came into his own at Daytona posting a 0.99 ERA in 36 innings! The lefty has show a propensity to miss bats and good control. He is now at AA Tennessee after a recent promotion.

7. Lars Anderson – 1st Baseman/Outfielder – Tennessee – Anderson is more of a guy who has come into his own the last month after having missed most of the year due to a head injury. The 6’4” 215 pound lefty started out in Iowa and produced with 4 HRs at a .287 clip in just 34 games. When Mike Olt was “reassigned to Iowa,” Anderson, a castoff out of the Red Sox system, went to Tennessee and has shown he has regained the promise that the Red Sox saw in him. In 8 games at Tennessee, Anderson is batting .346 with a .471 OBP with 1 HR and 3RBIs and a stellar 1.009 OPS. He has shown the power the Red Sox saw him. This week, Anderson made his debut in left field as his bat could play there, likely in backup lefty off the bench role, in the majors. The key for Anderson has always been his self-confidence. With the Red Sox, he lost it. This year, he has found it, and that has made all the difference.

8. Duane Underwood – Pitcher – Kane County – I knew he had potential. That being said, I didn’t think he would harness it this quickly. In 78 innings, he has flashed a 2.52 ERA while striking out 64 and walking 28. Possessing good arm action, Underwood works low in the zone and from his 6’3” frame, it is hard for hitters to get good solid contact on that downhill plane. When he leaves it up, he gets hit. He is approaching a new innings high so I would not be surprised to see him handled with kid gloves as he approaches 100.

9. Marco Hernandez and Gioskar Amaya – Daytona – These two have been around for a while. In fact, Hernandez and Amaya could be rule 5 picks this winter but it is doubtful someone will select them as they are only in high A ball and it would be a big jump to the majors from there. But this June and July has seen these two get on base at a regular clip near .300 and help lead Daytona to a 4.5 game lead in the Florida State League. Hernandez has always been a good glove after spending a couple of season in Kane County. Amaya really came into his own after having shown flashes of the bat at Kane County. Honestly, I thought that this year would be Hernandez’s last as a Cub. Amaya, I thought would be given another chance. Now, I can easily see the two of them at Tennessee next summer along with most of the highly prized position player Daytona teammates like Vogelbach, Almora (already at Tennessee), McKinney, and Schwarber.

Hannemann 197010. Jacob Hannemann – Outfielder – Daytona – At the beginning of the year, I thought Hannemann would start at Daytona. He did not. And at Kane County it was a rough start. I thought he was going to be there all summer after his poor start and then he bumped and umpire and missed five games after he started to turn it on. I was surprised he was promoted and then even more surprised when he began smacking the crap out of the ball. In just 8 games he is batting .323 with 1 HR and 3 SBs. Above all else, Hannemann is a great atlete. He glides in the outfield, makes good reads, and takes good, smooth routes to the ball. His arm is average, but his bat is always going to be what moves him forward in the system. He has, at times, this year shown some power, and I think that skill needs to be developed. At Kane County, he stole32 bases in 88 games which projects out nicely to close to 60 for a season. Speed is something the big league club does not have in spades.

11.  Billy McKinney and Addison Russell have surprised me with how good they are. McKinney is driving in runs at 130+/162 game clip and Addison Russell has turned the power on at Tennessee with 6 HRs in 22 games. I did not think the Cubs could get this type of talent for Samardjiza, and it looks like a trade that will work out for both teams.

12. Dae-Eun Rhee – Pitcher – Tennessee and Iowa – He continues to surprise me at Iowa. Out of all the pitchers at Tennesssee this year, he was the least hyped and most seen as an afterthought. When he was promoted to Iowa after the Samardjiza trade, I was a little surprised. I watched a couple of games on MiLB.TV and he was impressive changing speed, changing location, and keeping hitters off balance. In 3 starts there, he has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings with 11 strikeouts. In his last 2 starts, he has not given up an earned run.

13. Josh Conway – Pitcher – Boise – After missing the last two years, he is being used in short spurts of 2-3 innings and he has been outstanding! In 8 starts, he has had two poor ones and six sparkling ones where he gave up zero or one run. As he builds his arm strength back up, look for the chains to be taking off next year and he could advance 2 levels through Kane County and Daytona.

Next year when I make this list, I expect it to be filled with more pitching as the Cubs did select a lot of them in the draft in 2014 and some are just getting the beak wet in Boise and Arizona now. James Norwood made his first start last night and James Farris threw his first inning. It should be a fun year to watch them progress and see who else can surprise me in 2015.

South of the Border: Analyzing Stats and Information

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I have spent most of this summer paying attention to both the Cubs major league and minor league games. Many days my wife has come home from work to find my watching the Cubs game with the sound off, a Tennessee Smokies game on MiLB.TV on my computer, also with the sound off, and a Boise Hawks game on the radio. I like to be well informed. It is hard not to be these days. All these games from Majors to AAA to AA to High A to Low A to Short Season A are all available online. At the very least, you could listen to a game on the radio on the Internet. When it comes to Rookie Ball, there are very few avenues of information. Sure, there are some twitter accounts that go to the Arizona League games, and there is always Arizona Phil, but when it comes to the Cubs Venezuelan and Dominican Summer League Rookie teams, it is hard to get information. There are daily box scores for these two leagues, but the information in the box score is not always the best indicator of a prospect. There are several reasons for this.

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Wladimir Galindo

1. It Is a Developmental League
The players that make up the Venezuelan and Dominican League Teams are, for the most part, between 16 and 22 years of age. It is their introduction to professional baseball. So, there are plenty of mistakes to be made. From fielding to pitching to hitting, those mistakes often don’t show up in a box score. Learning signs, for example, often can be a reason for one player to have a bad day. For some, it is their first time throwing a curve. For others, it is their first time seeing a curve.

2. Working on Something
Sometimes a player is told to go out and work on a specific aspect of his game. A pitcher, for example, might be like Edwin Jackson and spend an entire game working on fastball command or throwing a curveball every third pitch. The focus is not on getting outs but rather developing a pitching repertoire. In the box score it could show he gave up 4 in the first inning, and zero in two through four, but is skews the ERA and other stats. A hitter, on the other hand, might just be working on bunting, hitting the other way, or the ever classic hit and run.

3. Where and When
Both leagues play early in the morning. I don’t care how old you are, playing sports early in the morning to miss the heat of the tropical sun is not conducive to the best possible results. I remember being 18 and 19 and my body was not ready for being awake let alone physical activity. Some of that has to be taken into consideration along with the fact that they are playing tropical conditions in temperatures ranging above 90-110 with high humidity!

4. Not Always the Best Pitches to Hit
Batting averages are skewed in a rookie league. Young 16-18 year old pitchers don’t always have the best command. If they did, they would not be in rookie leagues. So, for hitters, the pitches they get to hit are often not the best pitches the pitcher can throw. A pitch could be grooved just to “get one over” and is not representative of pitches a hitter would see at a more advanced level. The other side of the coin says that the pitchers ERA and strikeout totals could be skewed because they aren’t facing advanced hitters.

5. Physical and Mental Maturity
Everyone matures at different rates. In 2013, John Arguello of Cubs Den analyzed the stats of Carlos Rodriguez of the Cubs DSL Team from 2012. Rodriguez put up the following stat line: 5-3, 2.01 ERA, strikeout rate of 9.2/9 IP, walk rate of 2.5/9, and a 1.00 WHIP overall.

At 5’11″ and 180 pounds, Rodriguez was physically grown: there was no place left to grow into.  John asked the following questions about Rodriguez’s stats:

Is it because he has good velocity and is overmatching hitters? Is it because he has uncanny command for his age? Does he have a wicked breaking pitch that younger players can’t help but chase? Does he have an advanced feel for pitching that is beyond his level of competition?

The bottom line for Arguello, and other experts like Ben Badler of Baseball America, is that it is too early to tell. A lot of the prospects have not finished growing physically and mentally. Some have and it takes time for others to catch up with. For Rodriguez, he came north to the AZL in 2013 and it did not go well. In 13 games he had a 6.97 ERA. He is now in the VZL and has started 8 games with a 1.14 ERA and struck out 49 in 47 innings. Maybe he is what he is south of the border but not north of it. But then again, he is only 19. Maybe he wasn’t ready for the change just yet mentally. You just don’t know until they head north as mature physical and mental players as to what they can truly do.

Who is filling up the stat sheet?
MiLB.com and Baseball Reference both do a great job of culling and disseminating information from both leagues. But, they must be taken with a grain of salt. Let’s take a look at the Dominican Summer League team pitching stats.

DSL Pitching

I clicked on the ERA stat to sort it for better analysis. Notice, that at first glance, the team looks pretty good pitching wise. That’s because statistically it is. But when you start looking at runs (R) vs. earned runs (ER), you see a stark comparison. You also see high strikeout totals for De La Cruz and Rodriguez but then you begin to wonder if those strikeouts were against 16 and 17-year-old kids versus 20-21 year olds that have seen a curve, slider, or changeup before. The team is doing extremely well in part to those pitchers but a closer look is needed by clicking on an individual player to get a closer look.

When I took a look at Yapson Gomez from the Venezuela Cubs Rookie League Team, a top prospect according to the stats, I noticed one glaring statistic.

Yapson

It is not the sparkling ERA or ground out ratio or batting average against; or even his 8 walks in 57 innings, it is his age. He is 21. Next year he will be 22. That’s a little old for Rookie League. Does that mean he can’t make it in the US? No, not at all. It just means he could take a little longer than your average prospect. It also means that as an advanced age pitcher in a rookie league, his stuff could play pretty well against the younger hitters in the league. How would he play against more advanced, older hitters?

Using the stats function on MiLB can also give insights into the prospect. Let’s take a look at 17-year-old Wladimir Galindo, also of Venezuela. When you see his .283 avg., .354 OBP, with 7 HRS in 54 games it looks pretty good. But when you start to break down his season, the stats tell a deeper story.

galindo2

 

Galindo has good size for a 17-year-old. At 6’3” and 215 pounds, he has the potential for power. He started off May and June well showing good average, on base skills, and some power. July has not been his month. Is July more indicative of his potential or is he just getting tired from playing 52 games at the age of 17?

One needs to dig deeper. In his last ten games, the power seems to have gone caput. Is that a cause for alarm? Is there an injury issue of which we are not aware? Is he working on something in his approach? Another key hitter for the Venezuelan team is Luis Hidalgo who was hitting .318 in 46 games when he just disappeared from the box scores two weeks ago. Is he injured? on the DL? Suspended? Originally a catcher, Hidalgo shifted to the outfield this year and was thriving as a left fielder when he played his last game on July 14. There is no person on the ground is these two leagues to give us more information. That’s the thing, we just don’t know.

In addition, for stat heads, Baseball reference has any player’s splits by game to get a better view of their daily progress. Here is Galindo’s: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=galind000wla&type=bgl&year=2014.


The world of the “Inter Webs” truly has most of the information you could possibly want or need, but you cannot take data  at face value. For example, one of my favorite players at Kane County this year was 3B Jordan Hankins. He always seemed to be coming up with a game tying or game winning RBI. He was hitting .322 and on pace to drive in 110 runs for a whole season when he was promoted to Daytona. At first glance, I originally though he was really struggling at Daytona because he was hitting only .254 in 19 games.

But when you start digging deeper, look at what Hankins is doing with no one on base, men on base, and men in scoring position.

 

hankins risp

There is a stark contrast between situations with bases empty and men on! Hankins’ 13 RBIs in 19 games at Daytona prorates out to 110 RBIs in a 162 game spread – exactly similar to his Kane County stat. It is not enough to know numbers, but it is more important to know what those numbers mean. Some writers and statisticians claim there is no such thing as a “clutch” stat, but hitting .333 with runners in scoring position is about as close as you will get.


Next year, I am sure you will see Yapson Gomez get a crack in the AZL. Some of the Dominican Summer League pitching staff have a shot at heading north. I am sure Wladimir Galindo will be in the AZL, too, getting his first crack at stardom at the age of 18.

But when you start looking at these stats, dig deeper when you see them. The information is out there, you need to know what is you are looking for, and what is it is you are looking at. All you need is just a few clicks away. To truly understand what is happening “South of the Border,” you really have to dig deeper into the stats and ask yourself questions.