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Cubs System Sonogram Looks Back

Following a whirlwind week, the Sonogram looks back a few years.


As you may know, I enjoy podcasts. One that I listened to recently discussed something (that I won't specifically divulge) that involved history. The podcasters noted a specific date, and said it was a turning point for the worse. The next date, it got even worse. The third date, it started getting really bad. While each instance was bad, and progressively worse, it was a bit odd to hear each new eventuality being worse than the one before. Not that they weren't.

In November 2009, Jim Hendry knew something had to change for the better, quickly. The Cubs had finished second in the NL Central, and there wasn't much pitching help on the way. John Grabow had been picked up in a mid-season trade, and performed fairly well. Hendry must have liked what he had seen, as he offered to extend Grabow, in another in a string of bad choices. Grabow signed a two-year, $7.5 million pact.

Neither of Grabow's next two seasons were successful. His 2010 was the more disastrous, sporting a WHIP of 1.87. Neither year was good, though, and his combined WAR was -1.4 over the two years. Re-upping Grabow was another of the steps in the demise of Jim Hendry. Not only did Grabow not help either season, the $7.5 million could have been put to a much better use elsewhere.

However, this article isn't to pile on Hendry. Instead, it is to focus on the figure of $7.5 million. What is a good way to invest that amount of money in pro ball? For that money, you might be able to afford a bottom of the rotation arm, for a season. Or, you could... really, $7.5 million doesn't buy that much in the pro game. Before long, that may be the cost of a win added. Obviously, wasting that much isn't very good for team heath (unless you have a Dodgers-style TV contract), but outside of the Florida teams, mis-using that amount won't be a death-blow.

July 2 began the international spending season. Tuesday was dizzying, to put it mildly. Everyone has their own opinion on the day. This isn't about rehashing the events. It's about examining spending internationally. $7.5 million won't be the amount spent by the Cubs. I imagine they are trying to create more spending room as you read this. There are a few exemptions, and the team will get some players on very minimal bonuses. The team may be planning on blowing the limit sky-high. But, for fun's sake, let's wrongly assume the Cubs will spend that exact amount. What can be expected from it?

The first stop in November for the of-note signees will be Instructional ball in Mesa. I'm still unclear on if the new members of the family can attend workouts and classes at the Dominican or Venezuelan compounds, but Eloy Jimenez may be learning about the benefits of whole grain what at the Dominican Academy as this prints.. A few will be old enough to play some games in the VSL or DSL this season, but many of them will be 16-year-olds who are exempted from games until next season.

The top few may be in line for a huge bump to Mesa next season. One highly-ranked Toronto signee from 2012, Franklin Barreto, is off to a solid start in the Gulf Coast League, as a 17-year-old. Does that mean that is the norm? No. The career arc of each player is mainly unique to that player. The young men the Cubs sign will progress as they do. To assume that any specific player will have a career that will mirror another specific player is to not grasp player development in pro ball.

Despite the large-sounding bonuses, these are mostly not very expensive signings. While the hope, projection, and legitimate possibility exist for many of Tuesday's signings, there are many road trips between signing day and MLB per diem. Most won't come close. However, if any of these signings, major or less so, reach the show and post as little as a 2 WAR career, the gambit was a clear win. Jiggering with the amount spend changes little, escept the break-even point The Cubs need to add and develop young talent in any way possible. While presuming one or two of these youngsters will be All-Stars is very premature. Adding talent where possible, even while possibly bending the rules, is where the front office is now.

No, there might not be a Miguel Cabrera or Miguel Sano in this pool of talent. However, it is rather important the Cubs are trying to compete for the best amateur talent. Sano was out of the Cubs reach, but current ownership is aiming for the best there is. As the scouts learn the trainers and locales better, the better results should follow. Thankfully, Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, and the rest are attempting to become an international force.

Will Gleyber Torres or Eloy Jimenez become a household name? Very possibly. Very possibly not. One thing is for sure. A wise team shouldn't try to waste any opportunity to upgrade. Even with 16-year-olds who might never reach Boise. It sure beats the odds on a two-year extension to a reliever from a long-term perspective.

Three Up/Three Down

Three Down

Daytona's catchers: Five catchers are listed on the Daytona Cubs stat sheet. None is hitting over .230. They have combined for four homers, with none of the five being over one. Four have an OPS barely over .600. The fifth has an OPS under .500. Yeah, this could use some improvement.

Kane County 1B Rock Shoulders has been out a week with injury. Injuries are worse than slumps.

Jorge Diaz is a 6-6 190 pond pitcher from Brooklyn. In his last four outings for the Mesa Cubs (Arizona Rookie League), Diaz has pitched just under five innings. He's given up five hits, three walks, and seven runs. He has fanned six, though. He has a win and a save over the stretch.

Three Up

With injuries at the parent club level, a number of outfielders have been advanced in the system beyond where they belong. Anthony Giansanti is two-for-four for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs so far. While small sample size applies, and only the most generous definition includes Giansanti as a prospect, he will provide solid upper-system OF depth for a few more years. This is his third full year of team control, and his resume includes playing eight positions, all but shortstop.

Instead of worrying if he would make a good "cup of coffee" qualifier, I hope Giansanti wants to coach in a few years. Outfielders with no power rarely provide long-term promise. Players signed as undrafted free agents often have a good temperament for being internally-trained minor league coaches. As opposed to sweating whether Dale Sveum will (or should) finish out his managerial contract, I like to note if some of the players in the pipeline might make for good deputies in the system when the recently/soon-to-be-signed international free agents hit the A-Ball level.

Yes, please, on Giansanti.

Christian Villanueva defies the numbers. Over his last eight games, Villanueva is 10-for-35 for the Double-A Smokies. He hasn't walked over that time frame. He has fanned 10 times. So why isn't he in the other category? He has four homers over the stretch, coming at key times. His defense earns rave reviews from whichever announcing crew I listen to, despite making some errors.

Too many baseball fans wax nostalgic about 'the old days' in regards to third basemen. If you don't hit .285 with 25 or more homers, you're wasting a roster spot. The truth is, Theo Epstein and crew value defense. Villanueva's bat is a work in progress. He may not fit in as a Cubs starter, especially if Kris Bryant displays the ability to play the position. Either way, Villanueva will have value. He hits homers in key spots. He holds his own at the hot corner. And fans of the Rangers system hated to see him go.

With 11 hits in his last 32 tries, Yasiel Balaguert is the reigning Northwest League Player Of The Week. With three homers and six walks in the mix, his OPS is over 1 for the stretch. After being rushed a bit to Low-A Ball last season, Balaguert is a key run-producer for Short-Season Boise this year.

Bumped from Boise to Kane County, Kevin Encarnacion has responded with a vengeance for the Low-A Cougars. Encarnacion has hit successfully in all five games, drawing three walks, as well. He has solidified the lead-off spot.

Completing a virtual sweep of recent outfield call-ups. John Andreoli has been hitting third since his call-up to Double-A Tennessee. He has hit safely in five of six games, and the team has won four of them. Andreoli is hitting .308 and has helped Tennessee grab and hold first-place in the second half.

While many of the featured players today don't figure to be stars in Wrigley in the near future, a nearly ignored part of minor league ball is getting more production than expected from players not on the Baseball America prospect lists.