This is a story about a fictitious Cubs prospect. I am about to take you on his rise through the Cubs system. Take notes as we go, because the value you place on him has some significance, even though he is entirely fictitious. For convenience sake, I will call him Michael.
Michael was signed as an international free agent by the Cubs out of Venezuela. Though he pitched some, his ticket was his bat. He represented future power, wasn't a butcher at third, and looked like the type that could step it up in a few years. After playing for a year in the VSL, he made it to the short-season Boise Hawks shortly after their season started when he was 18. He had a solid year offensively, showing some notable power, and fanned far less often than thought. A fiery competitor, Michael was suspended by the league for two games for bumping an umpire.
In his age-19 season, he jumped to Kane County, and struggled mightily early. Whether it was the weather or something else, he looked lost through the end of May. Around that time, the Cougars hit a stretch of extra-inning games. Their bullpen was getting used up, and the manager needed a hitter to take the mound. Michael was asked to pitch. While not refusing, he was very hesitant, and another player bailed him out, pitching for his second outing in three nights. Sadly, after completing the game, the outfielder began complaining about a sore arm, and had (what ended up being, effectively career-ending) Tommy John surgery.
With June, he started hitting better, and a torrid July and August restored his luster. The next year, in High-A Daytona, he hit rather well in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. A few of the times he wasn't in the lineup (and don't tell anybody this), the team claimed it was due to a mild injury. He was really team-suspended for not hustling. His defense was passable, but he kept getting bigger and better at hitting.
Double-A is where prospect status is determined. Looking at Michael's numbers, he was set to push for time in Wrigley soon. But one too many times for the coaches, he swung for the home run instead of going oppo to move up the runner with none out. As he was a good hitter, most people (and scouts) didn't really care. He was selected as a starting third baseman in the Southern League All-Star Game. Days before said game, the Cubs were negotiating a trade for a pitcher that might put them over the top in the post-season hunt. The team the brass was dealing with wanted Michael in the trade. Does his past matter?
When the Cubs run scores of players through their eight levels of minor leagues, sometimes things happen. Some of them are less than savory. It appears the Cubs' front office is aware of these things, and they accelerate/decelerate player advancement. These things are not publicized.
Ronald Torreyes started the 2013 season in Mesa. Why? I have no idea. Did that (potential) reason facilitate his departure to Houston? Anything there would be a guess.
From major prospect to Mesa fill-in, players have dossiers. If a guy doesn't get out of bed in time for a bus trip in March, it will go on his record. The Cubs have more information on their players than other teams do. Presumably, the opposite is also true. As long as the details are hidden, Cubs prospects like Albert Almora, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler have more information than prospect experts know. Why does this even matter?
If the Cubs have a prospect with a silent fatal flaw, as long as it remains silent, he retains his trade value. Just because "Ben Badler says this" or Keith Law said that" means next to nothing in trade negotiations. While the Cubs are, and likely will be this off-season, in 'acquire talent' mode, they aren't required to stay there. If negotiations, which are almost always ongoing, lead to Kansas City overvaluing Dan Vogelbach or the Mats being too bullish on Javier Baez, a trigger can be pulled. One of the reasons against rushing a prospect is the desire for him to succeed at most levels. Not only do fans enjoy that, so do other general managers.
I was going to do a whole piece on the value of one added year of team control for a player. Obviously, it depends on the player, And proximity to the post-season. Everything has value. From IFA wedges, to second basemen in Tennessee, to Top-20 prospects in minor league ball, to parent club wins. Being an effective general manager balances them, then re-jiggers values on the fly. How valuable is a win this week against the Cardinals? Yeah, it's important.
But if a trade of Cody Ransom is consummated for an A-Ball pitcher with a 5 percent shot at a 5 WAR major-league career three minutes before Ransom is scheduled to pinch-hit, Ransom gets hugs, handshakes, and a quick trip to the locker room.
As for the third baseman Michael, I don't know if his past gets him traded, or his skill keeps him in Tennessee. But the lack of hustle and unwillingness to move up runners won't be volunteered in trade talks. Getting value from a prospect is by no means limited to him raking in Wrigley.
Three Up/Three Down
Mesa Cubs Offense. Through 19 games, the Mesa Cubs have homered once, and have an OPS of .604. Jeff Baez, in case you're curious. The Reds are next at .638.
Boise's shortstops. David Bote and Carlos Penalver are the team's primary shortstops. Neither are hitting over .230.
Willson Contreras, catcher, Low-A Kane County. In his last 28 AB, Contreras has 2 hits.
Albert Almora, center field, Low-A Kane County. He goes here regardless his recent numbers. When pitchers start retiring him on infield pop ups and routine two hoppers to short, he can be left off the list. He threw out a runner at second last night on a throw that impressed the opposing broadcasters.
Pierce Johnson, pitcher, High-A Daytona. In his last 11 innings at High-A, he's surrendered ten hits, two walks, one run, and recorded nine strikeouts. The Smokies could be an amusing follow next season.
Shawon Dunston, Jr., outfielder, Short-Season Boise. In a recent series, Dunston drew seven walks.
Matt Loosen, pitcher, High-A Daytona. In his last five FSL starts, he has pitched 33 innings, surrendered 13 hits, six walks, and has fanned 35. He has surrendered one run over the span, but it was earned.