When I started following Bleed Cubbie Blue, a number of posters liked to complain that the prospect-niks hated the Cubs. "They never get ranked highly enough. Fuss grumble complain. Why do they hate the Cubs?" It was another case of the wrong question being asked. An apt question would have been "What traits or skills do Cubs prospects lack that the writers would like to see improved?" Same concept, better phrasing, leading to a potential answer. Looking back, they don't "hate" the Cubs. The prospects, however, had some rather gaping holes.
Looking now, nobody seems to hate the Cubs prospects. The parent club? Yeah, quite a bit. It's curious that when Cubs prospects are talented, fundamentally sound, and showing solid potential of having long big-league careers, the hate has gone away.
A few days ago, while Cubs Park had yet another 14,000+ crowd, a few Baseball America prospectors meandered to the Cubs back-fields to see what they could see. The content is behind a pay wall, and you've likely seen a summary at least. 2013 international free agent Jen-Ho Tseng was the article's star. He was improved from the fall, showed three solid pitches (fastball, curve, change), and might pitch in Kane County this year. That's the old, here's a raise, and a promotion, but don't worry, you won't have any added responsibilities.
So, the inevitable question will begin. "Will he be an ace?" As with the hater question above, the wrong question is being asked. Which question makes more sense?
"Does he represent as being a front-line starter?"
So much is made, at least in Cubs circles of "Will he be an ace?" Why? It's almost as if you had given a cellphone to a kid in the 1960s "What's it do?" If you truly aren't familiar with something, you might be a bit skeptical of it when you see it. Put away the topic of Ace for a second. Who is the last Cubs-developed pitcher that had six years early on where he started 26 or more games and had an ERA mostly under four? Not horribly lofty standards.
Right now, you have the look that actress Paula Marshall did in the "Spin City" episode where Mike told her he loved her. She's looking for a response, but... no, that's not it. or maybe, no, not that either.
I'm sure there have been a few. Carlos Zambrano. Dontrelle Willis? Of course Greg Maddux. And, umm.... That other guy. Who was he? Maybe Jeff Samardzija?
Most teams bring up starters to the majors from their farm system all the time. Some are really good. Some get hurt. Many are pedestrian. But they have a steady stream. Cincinnati, for instance. Johnny Cueto. Homer Bailey. Travis Wood. Mike Leake. In the last few years. Without doing any homework. The Cubs? Who was that one guy. No, not Kerry, as he was hurt too much.
Tseng is going to be one of many battling for spots in the pipeline's starting rotations this year. Perhaps he will start in full season ball. Perhaps he will join Kane County at some point after the season begins. The important point isn't whether he will be an ace or not. The important point is whether the Cubs finally have a structure in place to get nearing the maximum out of guys like Tseng, Tyler Skulina, C.J. Edwards, and others.
In today's baseball, it isn't about having an ace, though one is nice. If you have a steady stream of 3.5, 4, and 5 and above WAR players joining the club, on a cost-controlled basis, that's the ticket. The Cubs need, obviously, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Welington Castillo to get to that level routinely. If Mike Olt joins the fray, so much the batter. Then, sorting through the rest of the roster in June and July becomes about determining who will be similarly valuable (even if with lower raw numbers) and who ought to be dealt at the deadline. Then, guys like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, and others will get to try to lay claim to their spots in the future.
But the Sonogram is about the kids.
This spring, I am about to be saddened. Some players are going to be released from the system. Some of them will be very good players. I'd like for them to get traded, but other teams know the Cubs are 'up against it' from a roster perspective at the minor league level.
A player can only be in Rookie Ball for three years. Guys from the 2011 draft will have to be as far as Kane County, or they will likely be released. If released, they will get picked up elsewhere. I will be sad, as I have developed a (one-way, at least) bond with some of them. When the Kane County, Daytona, Tennessee, and Iowa rosters come out, some very talented players won't be on any of those lists. They will be released as well.
In years gone by, some guys were definite roster filler in all levels. To an extent, there will still be a bit this time around. However, far less than in previous years. No, having 25 quality options in Daytona won't add to wins in Chicago. But if Jen-Ho Tseng knows he has to do that extra bit of training work every night in the off-season to push to get the promotion he wants, that is the attitude that makes for a winning system.
In a bit of standard System Sonogram news, AZ Phil has a bit from Starlin Castro's rehab. The important nuggets were an injury to Duane Underwood. Ben Wells was very wild. And Gleyber Torres is already getting at-bats.
Sometimes, you settle for 1-for-3.
Next time... Willie Mays.