A couple of weeks ago, I broke down the Brewers’ system in the wake of their deal for one Mr. CC Sabathia. I’m hoping to make my way ever so slowly through the entire NL Central in the coming weeks; I thought I would continue on with the other divisional rival to make a big time deal at the trade deadline: the Chicago Cubs.
Sitting atop the division, the Cubs went all in this year, trading away some of their top minor league talent to land Rich Harden from the Oakland Athletics. The trade was largely the culmination of the Cubbies’ direction the past couple years, as they have brought in veteran, high priced talent at the expense of their young talent base.
Coming into the season, the Cubs’ farm system was rated the 20th best in the game by Baseball America.
Their top 10 prospects were laid out thusly:
1) Josh Vitters 3B
2) Geovany Soto C
3)Tyler Colvin OF
4) Jose Ceda RHP
5) Sean Gallagher RHP
6) Donald Veal LHP
7) Josh Donaldson C
8) Jeff Samardzija RHP
9) Tony Thomas 2B
10) Kevin Hart RHP
Okay. First things first. In the deal that landed the Cubs Harden and Chad Gaudin from the Athletics, they gave up Sean Gallagher, their number 5, Eric Patterson, the second base prospect who came in ranked #16, and Josh Donaldson, #7. (They also gave up Matt Murton, but he doesn’t factor into this discussion.)
So let’s take a look at what they’ve got left. Geovany Soto graduated to the majors, unfortunately for the Cardinals.
Josh Vitters, the Cubs’ first round pick in 2007, struggled out of the gate last season, hitting under .200 in his first taste of pro ball. It was surprising, considering how highly regarded Vitters’ bat was coming out of the draft. He has had no such problems this season, batting .348 in slightly more than 200 at bats. Overall, he has a slash line of .348/.386/.525. He does only have four home runs on the season, but his 20 home runs hint that there’s going to be plenty of over the fence power down the line. Vitters is definitely a high impact talent, and with a solid season, I have to assume that he remains the Cubs’ top prospect going into next season.
I have to say, I just don’t really get Tyler Colvin. I look at him, and I just don’t see it. He’s fairly okay in the outfield, according to most reports that I’ve seen, but his bat is a big question mark. Coming into the season, most of the pundits thought that, though Colvin is still very raw at the plate, his ability to put the bat on the ball would eventually lead him to hit for both average and power, even if he never drew many walks. So far in 2008, though, that hasn’t happened. He’s struggled to a .256/.314/.424 line in almost 500 at bats. He has improved his contact rate slightly, but that hasn’t translated into much success as of yet. Still, you hear a lot about how Colvin is the center fielder of the future for the Cubs. Like I said, I just don’t get it. I guess he will still be a top ten prospect for the Northsiders, but I’m not impressed.
Of the Cubs’ top ten prospects, possibly the two players that I actually like the most are the two relievers, Jose Ceda and Jeff Samrdzija. Both throw hard, and both throw strikes. Ceda has been downright wicked this season, having a fair amount of success at the high A level before moving on to
Double A, where he has been even better. Only 21 years old, he’s currently sporting a nifty 2.95 FIP, and striking out over 30% of the batters he’s faced. Even more importantly than the K rate, he’s only walking about 10% of hitters. Ceda has garnered some comparisons to Lee Smith due to his big fastball and hulking size, and I think it’s a pretty apt comp. In another system, Ceda would likely be ticketed for future closer status. In this particular case, though, he’ll most likely end up a setup man, because of the presence of…
Jeff Samardzija, the ten million dollar man. The Cubs took Samardzija out of Notre Dame and backed a dumptruck full of money up to his door to convince him to give up football in favour of a career throwing baseballs. At the time, lots of us (myself included), thought it was a foolish gamble on a player so obviously raw and far away from the bigs. Fortunately- or unfortunately, depending on your perspective- it now looks as if it wasn’t such a crazy gamble after all, as Samardzija has reached the majors after only a little over a year in the minors. Not too long ago, erik even said that, given the choice, he would take Samardzija over our own Chris Perez. I happen to disagree, as I like the movement on Perez’s fastball a little better, and I don’t think that Samardzija has a secondary pitch to match Chris’ slider, but it’s certainly a question that you could go either way on. As it stands now, Samardzija and his power sinker look to be the closer of the future for the Cubs, with Marmol the Magnificent and maybe Ceda serving as setup. Of course, whether he’ll end up being worth the $10 million investment is still up for debate, but I for one think it was a good risk to take.
Veal may be the biggest enigma in all of the Cubs’ system. He has drawn comparisons to Dontrelle Willis, both for his electric left arm and his funky delivery. Unfortunately, Veal has essentially taken the same nosedive as Willis, only Veal has done it in the minor leagues. Repeating Double A this season, Veal carries an unsightly 4.94 FIP and has seen his K rate plummet each of the last three years, from almost 28% in 2006 to 22.4% last season to barely over 18% this year. He is still only 23, so there is time for Veal to get himself back on track, but it doesn’t look particularly good.
Kevin Hart actually made his big league debut last season, after learning a new cut fastball in the offseason. He’s been quite successful at AAA this year, posting a 3.40 FIP and a nearly 3:1 K/BB ratio. His success hasn’t translated to the majors so far in 2008, though, with an ERA near 8.00 to show for his troubles. Even if Hart doesn’t get enough innings this year to knock him out of prospecthood, I think he’ll probably still drop out of the top ten.
So, out of their top ten, the Cubs gave up two in trade and will most likely lose two of them to the majors. (Soto and Samardzija) So, what sort of talent have they added to help cushion the blow?
Well, to be perfectly honest, not very much. Most of the prospects in the Cubs’ system have had rough 2008 seasons. Guys like Sam Fuld and Chris Huseby have been just downright awful, and injuries have plagued the system as well. One of the few real risers has been Jake Fox, who has been knocking around Triple A pitching for a .600 SLG. Unfortunately, Fox is also 26 years old and severely limited in most facets of the game, so it’s unclear just how valuable he actually is. You may not believe me, but I’m absolutely serious. The Cub farm system this year has been nearly as awful as the major league team has been good.
So how about draft picks, you say? Well, the Chicago boys had an interesting draft this year, to say the least. Outside of whatever violations they may have committed, the players they took were a little odd.
With their first pick in the draft, the Cubs took Andrew Cashner, a RHP. While that’s not odd in itself, the fact that Cashner is a pure college reliever. I don’t know about you guys, but #19 seems a little high to take a reliever to me. Then again, I freely admit to being a sucker for upside, often at the expense of predictability. So I may be a little prejudiced against Cashner.
In the second round, the Cubs pissed me off. They took Ryan Flaherty a second baseman who also just happened to be one of my favourite players in the entire draft. He’s a lefthanded hitter with an outstanding swing that I think is going to produce a terrific hitter down the line. Consider him sort of a poor man’s Chase Utley. That may be a little over the top, but I really like this kid. Suffice it to say I was rather upset on draft day when the Cubs- the Cubs!- took a guy I really, really wanted. Sigh.
Things only got worse for me as the Chicago draft continued on. In the second round, the Cubbies took my namesake, Aaron Shafer, a college righty out of Wichita State. Shafer has outstanding stuff and what appears to be an effortless delivery, but has had a ton of injury problems. He certainly has a tremendous ceiling, but there are definite questions about his durability. In short, he’s just the sort of player the Cubs seem to like in the draft. They’re gamblers by and large, perfectly willing to spend both a pick and bonus money to bring in what they see as impact talent, with little thought to the potential downside.
In addition to being forced to watch myself pitch for Chicago in a couple of years, we could also see Chris Carpenter in a Cubs’ uniform. They took Carpenter, another righthanded pitcher, in the third round. Carpenter is an intriguing arm, with quite good stuff, but his overall numbers aren’t particularly impressive.
In the later rounds, the Cubs took- okay, look, I’m going to level with you. I don’t know much of anything about the Cubs’ late round picks. I researched far more about the Chicago Cubs than I wanted to in composing this post, and I finally just ran out of tolerance for such an unpleasant subject. So, I just can’t tell you very much about their late round draftees. Sorry.
Overall, the Cubs had a decent draft, I think. I really like one of their picks, I don’t entirely get their first, and the few others I really know much about are sort of a mixed bag.
So where does this farm system rank going forward? Well, to be honest, it isn’t going to do very well. The Cubs have lost four of their top ten prospects, either to trade or graduation, as well as another player in the mid teens. In addition, they haven’t had too many players really step up and take a big step forward in the minors. They still have one true impact talent at the top in Josh Vitters, but after that it’s pretty bare. They have little depth at any position, and not much blue chip talent either. What they do have, though, is a willingness to go for high ceiling players that will occasionally develop big time value.
Bottom line, this system falls down to near the bottom of the rankings next year, I think.
I’ll look at the Reds next time. ‘Til then.