The Cubs traded away a lot of players in the past few days. Everyone here is familiar with the players the Cubs gave up, but much less familiar with the players the Cubs received in return. All the players the Cubs got back are minor leaguers, none of which are expected to contribute to the major league team this year. So looking forward, what can we expect from these prospects?
--Cubs trade RHP Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers for 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Kyle Hendricks.
Let's get the big deal out of the way first. As everyone knows, the Cubs had come to an agreement with the Braves to receive Randall Delgado, but the trade was blocked by Dempster refusing to waive his 10-5 no-trade rights. Ken Rosenthal wrote a great behind-the-scenes story about how Dempster eventually ended up in Texas. It's worth a read.
The prospects the Cubs ended up getting from Texas are good and much more in line with what I was expecting the Cubs to receive for Dempster before the Braves offer raised our expectations. Yes, we'd all rather have a major league ready young starter with the upside of a #3 pitcher like Delgado, but that didn't happen and there's no point worrying about it now.
Instead, the Cubs got a very good third base prospect in Vallaneuva. Villaneuva is a good glove third baseman with solid offensive skills. The Guadalajara, Mexico native had a bit of a breakout season last year at age 20 for low-A Hickory, hitting .278 with 17 home runs and 32 stolen bases. He's kept most of that up in High-A, except for the stolen bases, which have dropped to nine. His speed is above average, however.
In fact, pretty much everything Villanueva does can be described as "above average" except for maybe his plate discipline. He has struck out 83 times and walked only 24 times in 425 trips to the plate this year. That's not ideal, but it's not something that would derail his career.
His upside is probably what you see. He's hitting .285/.356/.421 with ten home runs in 100 games so far this year. If everything works out well for Villanueva, that's about what you can expect out of him at his peak. He won't be a superstar, but he's got a chance to be a decent major league ballplayer. The Rangers could afford to part with him because they've Mike Olt ahead of him in the system, and Joey Gallo behind. Baseball America ranked him as the #100 prospect in baseball this past off-season. For nine or ten starts by Dempster, that's not a bad return at all.
Coming along with Villanueva is Hendrick. who was an 8th round pick out of Dartmouth last season. He's a guy with fringy stuff and plus-plus control. You always like to see pitchers who don't walk anyone, but there are real questions about how his 88 mph fastball and average breaking pitches will play as he moves up the system. He's starting in the Rangers system, but his major league future, if he has one, is likely out of the pen. He's more than just an organization guy, but less than a solid prospect.
Both Villanueva and Hendrick will play for the Daytona Cubs.
--Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Atlanta Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman.
Returning to the Delgado comparisons, Arodys Vizcaino has a higher ceiling than Randall Delgado. He's got better raw stuff. If both were healthy, I'd much rather have Vizcaino.
Yeah, you say, but Delgado is healthy and Vizcaino isn't. This is true. It's also true that if Vizcaino hadn't had Tommy John Surgery at the end of spring training, he would have been untouchable. ESPN.com's Keith Law had him ranked as the #14 prospect in all of baseball before his surgery and Baseball America had him at #40.
When he was healthy, Vizcaino threw a fastball that sat at 93-95 mph as a starter and jumped up to 96-98 out of the pen. He's got a plus-plus curveball and an improved changeup that gives him the third pitch that he'll need to start. The Braves moved him to the bullpen last year mainly to limit his innings and keep him healthy. I guess that didn't work.
The downside on Vizcaino is his durability, The Tommy John Surgery isn't his first run-in with the disabled list. He had a partially-torn ligament in 2010 that he treated with rest and rehabilitation. He's also spent some time on the DL with back spasms.
I made the comparison before to Andrew Cashner in the sense that they both have the raw stuff to be dominating #2 starters in major leagues but maybe not the durability. If the Tommy John Surgery signals the end to his troubles, then he could be pitching in the Cubs rotation as soon as next season. If the durability questions continue, then he might still end up as a dominating closer.
Even though Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson played very well for the Cubs, I don't think anyone disputes that they weren't going to be a part of the next great Cubs team. Maholm is a good back-of-the-rotation lefty and Johnson is a solid backup outfielder who hits lefties pretty well. To get a talent like Vizcaino for them is pretty neat.
The other pitcher the Cubs got from the Braves, Jaye Chapman, has a devastating change-up and not a lot else. He's the throw-in in this deal, a fringy right-hander that has at least chance to pitch in middle relief in the majors. Chapman will pitch for the Iowa Cubs.
--Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Texas Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham.
Brigham would be a much better prospect if he could find an effective pitch against left-handers. He has a 3/4 delivery that is tough on right-handers, but gives lefties a good look. He was leading the Texas League in strikeouts with 116 when he got traded. He was also leading the Texas League in home runs allowed with 19, most of those hit by left-handers.
Brigham has a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a excellent curve, which is why he gets so many strikeouts. He needs to work on his control (he walks too many) and command (he leaves too many pitches up in the zone). If he were to improve on that and can develop an effective pitch against left-handers, he could end up as a back-of-the-rotation starter. More likely, he could end up as an right-handed bullpen arm that could be very effective as long as he doesn't pitch against lefties.
Brigham will pitch for the Tennessee Smokies.