Our draft discussions will now start to turn from who the Cubs have drafted to who the Cubs have signed. (One thing the new administration doesn't seem to value is informing the fanbase of signings. While it would be nice to know, the front office has more important tasks to deal with, such as disciplining Ian Stewart.) A question that will be asked often, and one I feel wholly ill-equipped to answer, is when will (insert player here) be ready for Wrigley? Regardless the player, there are far too many variables for my guess to be anything but that. It is nice having a front office that grasps the minor leagues are a development system, more than simply a fast track to selling more tickets.
What I will do is briefly go over what you can expect in the next eight or nine months from some of the players recently drafted, especially the rosin bag full of pitchers recently selected. (What is the collective word for 'mass of pitchers'? I like 'rosin bag'.) And what does Nate Halm, the Cubs' video maven, have to do with it?
When assessing pitchers in their first season, there are largely two questions that need to be asked. What is a realistic expectation for him? How is his change-up? Those both matter in early assignments, Some of the later round picks probably weren't scouted that heavily. Some guys are brought in as stealth picks, in large part because rosters have to be filled out. For pitchers in that scenario, innings pitched aren't as major of a concern as for big-money early picks like Rob Zastryzny (the middle three letters are 'try'. You're welcome.)
For the later-round picks, they can hang around the Mesa Cubs until (and if) they are ready to contribute for short-season Boise. If they get that far, then terrific. If a late-round pick can't escape Arizona, his bonus didn't break the budget anyway. If a pitcher has a one-pitch 'mix', and it is an 88 mile-per-hour fastball, he likely won't last long. Generally, success requires a multi-pitch mix.
The change-up is important for determining assignment, as starters are treated differently from relievers. One of the first things the Cubs will do (more with pitchers, I would imagine) is begin a video dossier on all the players. For pitchers, after the drug screen is processed, it becomes important to get everything on film. From the stretch, from the wind-up, fielding practice. Live footage from a game, holding runners on base. Everything. Including his change-up.
Why is the change-up so important? While outliers like Trevor Hoffman exist (Hoffman's change as a reliever became an out-pitch in a two pitch arsenal), a pitcher without a change-up usually is ticketed for the bullpen. When the coaches look at a raw draftee's change-up, his system placement for that year begins to be assessed. While a prep arm will stay in Arizona for most of the next year, a college vet will often get a string of outings in before the minor league season ends.
For example, seventh-rounder David Garner is from Michigan State. He was the Friday night ace for the Spartans this year. A smallish pitcher at 5'11", Garner will get run through a battery of activities while he is in peak shape in Mesa. If he ends up suffering an injury before spring training, it would be helpful for Halm and crew to have information sorted into Garner's file. So, they take video. (After all, Halm's not just a good bunter.)
As Garner works through things in Mesa, the coaches assess his change, as they try to decide if he is right now a better starter or reliever candidate. (Don't worry, they'll try to ramp it up in November at Instructs, and in February and March at spring training.) Garner pitched a bit under 90 innings for Sparty in 2013, so the decision of where to send him has combinations and permutations.
My guess is, with Garner, they might want to get him 15-20 live game innings before the season's end. Over 110 innings might be pushing it a bit, and 20 innings ought to give Halm plenty of video to sort. So, after Garner gets in an inning or two in Arizona Summer League ball, where should he be sent?
His change-up matters, in a rather counter-intuitive sense. If his change isn't ready yet, he will probably be considered a short-term reliever until August. If he looks like a reliever who could compete in the Low-A Midwest League, fly him into O'Hare, and get him into some Cougars games. Since the Cubs don't use pitchers back-to-back at any A-Ball levels, Garner could be a two-inning relief guy for seven or eight outings, even if it means another pitcher (Lendy Castillo?) gets 're-assigned'. Ian Dickson was traded Wednesday to Washington with this thought in mind, perhaps. Competition is a good thing, and ramping up said competition leads to a more competitive system, top to bottom. After he hits his innings limit, Garner gets shut down for the season, and Halm has some work to do in between trips to the bunting cage.
If Garner's change-up looks solid, he may have potential as a starter. In that instance, counter-intuitively, he might well get sent to short-season ball in Boise. Why? The Boise roster is at 35. 10 pitchers are among the 25 players eligible per game. If Garner is sent out for two innings at the start of a Boise game, the bullpen is more than able to account for the other seven innings, even if the game goes extra innings. In Kane County, a two-inning start (unless it is a rehabbing big leaguer, who doesn't count against the roster limit) can be problematic. Pierce Johnson (a 2012 compensatory first rounder) had a string of 'short-starts' last season in Boise.
When will fifth-rounder Trey Masek make the majors? I have no idea if he ever will. As he probably profiles as a reliever for the rest of 2013 (unless his change-up is usable against pro hitters now), I would expect him to get in some work in Geneva this August, aiming for a second-half playoff spot for the Cougars.
There will be time to get newly-drafted players ready for 2014, both in November and next spring. The goal now should be to get them to the new year healthy. And heavily recorded.
Rock Shoulders, 1B (Low-A Kane County)
Streak hitters will be streak hitters. Shoulders is in a homerless 7-for-35 slump. He has drawn eight walks, however, during the slump.
Matt Loosen, SP (High-A Daytona)
Loosen was recently sent down from Double-A Tennessee to Daytona. In his first outing, he gave up six earned runs in a five inning start.
Jose Paniagua, OF (Dominican Summer League)
No, not that Paniagua. This one is 3-for-24, with eight strikeouts.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B (Low-A Kane County)
Candelario's seasonal numbers look rather pedestrian, but he recently posted a double-digit game hitting streak. In that span, he hit his first two homers of the season. Candelario's future will be keyed on his hitting. That's been better recently.
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS (Double-A Tennessee)
Alcantara is hitting .344 over his last ten games, has a homer, and has walked more than he has fanned. He adds to the nice up-the-middle depth the Cubs system has never had in my lifetime.
Junior Lake, UT (Triple-A Iowa)
Since returning from injury, Lake is hitting over .400, has walked more than he has fanned, and he's 3-3 stealing bases. I'm good with him getting a September call-up if this continues.
Javier Baez, SS (High-A Daytona)
This month, Baez has two games where his OPS for the game is over 2.5. As a hint, if you single each time up in a game, your OPS for the game is 2.0. Baez has two this month over 2.5. In the first ten days. I was talking with a ChiSox fan yesterday who was saying "You don't trade Javier Baez." I'm not sure he sold me, but he made a compelling case.
Greyfer Eregua, P (Venezuelan Summer League)
In 24 innings, Eregua has fanned 21 and walked two. He has allowed 4 runs (two earned) and only 18 hits. He is 19 already, but he's had five good outings in a row.