Occam's Razor is a belief that "the easiest explanation is often the best explanation." While it isn't a certainty the easiest explanation is correct, if a more accurate answer exists, it's probably rather easily explained as well. Which makes the razor a crafty tool. Even when you're wrong, you can still be correct. Arismendy Alcantara's success can be laid out with any number of different explanations. His success is most likely explained using the razor.
For the record, Alcantara was an international signing by the Cubs under Jim Hendry in 2008. He managed to get out of the Dominican League in just one season, which is about as good as an IFA can get. Many players, including some that have lengthy professional careers, repeat the Dominican Summer League. Not only that, but he skipped the Arizona Summer League. That isn't standard. Alcantara had talent the whole time. The question: would he harness it?
After skipping the Mesa Cubs, he went directly to the Boise Hawks for 2010, and had a OPS of .716. He was three years younger than the league average. The next year he advanced to Peoria in the Midwest League. His OPS took the standard dip when a player moves up a level, slumping to .655 against the better pitching in the full-season league. As with so many, before him and since, Alcantara was facing a rather standard notation for a middle infielder. "Intriguing talent, but he'd be more intriguing with more power or a better batting eye." He had drawn 26 walks in over 600 at-bats since starting in the USA.
Here's where my article goes off-the-rails a bit. Ever a frustrated inventor, one of my running ideas is coming up with a baseball game that somewhat accurately accounts for player development. In my game idea, each player has a roll of a ten-sided die each season to account for talent-improvement, as well as one for health. If you get a low number (zero, one, or two) on the ability ranking, your career takes a step back. If you roll a seven, eight, or nine, you take a step forward, with nine being markedly better than the eight. While baseball isn't a celestial game being run by a dice-rolling game-master, the premise makes a bit of sense, even though it's not very Occam's Razor.
As it turns out, Alcantara had a very good season with the 2012 D-Cubs. I would peg Alcantara's dice rolls for that year at an eight for ability, and a three for health. His OPS jumped to .786 at the tougher level, but he missed much of the second half with an injury. As he headed into 2013, he had upgraded, but he needed to stay healthy and roll another high number or two.
In 2013, he finally had an OPS above .800. After his mild spike in walks in 2012, he drew 62 walks at Double-A Tennessee, after having never drawn 20 in any prior pro season. He also had double figures in homers in the Southern League, which often exposes weaker hitters. Alcantara had arrived. At least an eight on the ten-sided die for ability, with no downgrade for injuries. His 2014 has been an improvement as well, which makes three straight years with an eight or nine roll on the ten-sided.
Here's where Alcantara and Occam's Razor become a difficulty for opponents of the current Cubs front office. No, I'm not talking about the realists who are possibly openly hostile about the line-ups being trotted out far to often, but at the same time acknowledge the advances in the talent-base. I'm talking about those who go all five-year-old wanting Alcantara to stay at the major league level. Occam's Razor plays twice here. The first part is, 2012-2014 are less important than 2015-2017. If that is considered accurate, much of what has happened the last three years starts to make complete sense. As when the alibi of the perp on a TV cop show is re-examined after that last bit of information is exposed, when the first three seasons of the new regime are taken as a preamble, things tend to make sense more.
It doesn't make it right. Or acceptable. Or a traditionally wise way of doing things. However, if, and I emphasize if, that has been the mindset the entire time, most of the off-beat decisions are explained rather easily. But this article is about Alcantara, not the re-build, right?
The two are almost undeniably mixed.
Going back to Alcantara heading into his 2012 season, there are four real-world options for what happened. One is that Alacantara had no particular planning before a season where his patience and power took a positive bump against tougher competition. The second is that he decided on his own to upgrade in both categories, and his coaches never thought of it. The third is that his coaches emphasized it without Alcantara thinking of it first. The fourth option: a bit of it was Alcantara and the coaches were meshed in their actions.
To disrespect the front office, you have to buy in fully to the first or second options. Neither is very likely, as one of the rather public things the new brass did was appoint a person in charge of player development, a spot that hadn't existed in the system before. To go with the "disrespect the front office" version, you have to believe that the role created to help improve player performance had little or nothing to do with Alcantara (or Javier Baez, or Kris Bryant, or any other prospect you choose) getting better in the system since November of 2011. Also, please note that some players, regardless the plans laid out, are unable or unwilling to put them into play. Those players are being weeded out, replaced by players with a better future in the game.
Occam's Razor says Alcantara has been a good student of baseball since 2011. He was told by his coaches what anyone looking at his 2011 stat line could probably have figured out. He's a much better prospect for future major-league success if he draws more walks, and hits for more power. If you buy into the razor there, you start to see the panorama of the future with less concern.
The Cubs have been signing amateurs recently who are good kids and committed to becoming good professional ball players. They are being given solid coaching, and those coaches are being direction from executives with the best development of the player in mind. This has not always been the case. The last three (or five, depending on when you hit your stopwatch) years in Wrigley have been a version of an acid bath. Nobody's arguing that.
The question is, should Alcantara's hot start be considered a flash-in-the-pan, an outlier? Or, should Mendy's start be the sign of things to come? Players drafted now are better than the players previously drafted. They are being better monitored, better trained, and have better facilities in Mesa. With the front office seeing the big picture as more important than a few wins here or there over the last few seasons, the drafts have been good recently, as was the 2013 IFA class. Reports are that the Cubs plan to entirely disregard spending limits internationally in 2015, which should markedly upgrade the Dominican and Venezuelan Cubs squads soon. Yet again.
The question, therefore, isn't "Will Max Scherzer want to sign with the Cubs this off-season?" Instead, it's "Is the recent commitment to signing, monitoring, and developing the best amateur talent and prospects available going to pay off, as it has for so many teams before?"
You don't have to like the on-field results recently to see that Alcantara's arrival and success are a sign of things to come. What is necessary is to know what the current front office's priorities are. And to buy into Occam's Razor.