Various baseball people and websites have started to release their organizational rankings. The Cubs will be atop most of the major ones. With three prospects (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler) in the top 20, and a fourth (Kyle Schwarber) in the quality range, it's tough to fathom any of the other systems being better. However, when January 2016 rolls around, the rankings figure to be far lower. What should be made of that pullback?
The sort answer is: it all depends.
Presumably, Bryant, Russell, and Soler will burn through their eligibility. And, hopefully, through National League pitching staffs. However, in a year, a top five that might include Schwarber, C.J. Edwards, Billy McKinney, Albert Almora, and Gleyber Torres might not look nearly as sleek as the top five now. Few have in the last 20 years.
Other teams haven't stopped developing talent. Most are still rather good at it. Presumably, some will be very top-heavy next year. The Cubs' system-wide ranking will likely tumble. Anything is very subjective now, but a fall into the mid-to-high teens wouldn't be out of the question.
"But, but, but, I thought the Cubs system was supposed to be good for awhile."
The system-wide rankings show enough interest in Top-50 types that it often takes more than one in the range to be considered really good. The Cubs might not offer that depth next year. This shouldn't be a surprise.
Evaluating a system is a tricky task. At any point, you may have a few players about ready for a break-through. System-rankers routinely get criticized for under-ranking players before break-out years. "How did you not know that (trendy prospects name inserted here) was going to crush Advanced-A pitching?" The same happens in reverse before a mighty fall. All they can do is project off of what they've seen and heard, and prepare to do the same the next year.
A healthy system ought to do a few things well. Improve a reasonable percentage of prospect-types most years. Account for most of the positions on the diamond. Have numerous 'of interest' players ready at each level. If a team pulls off those three things, they should have the ability to have low-cost quality talent to add to the roster almost every year. They should also have enough quality depth to trade some of their excess for needs for the parent club. This shouldn't ruin the constant push of quality to the upper levels.
Aaaaaand, here comes the imagination aspect. Make a list, be it mental or physical, of a lengthy string of current Cubs prospects. Be as generous or as stingy with the definition as you wish. Now, grab three six-sided dice. (You should know by now to have a wide assortment of dice handy when I start a column.) Threes, fours, and fives combined predict terrible 2015 results.. A 16, 17, or 18 is very good. Eight through 12 is about average. Then roll like the wind. Feel free to record and/or share your results.
Some players will have very good dice-based predictions. Others, not so much. While it is entirely fictitious and imaginary, the key is to notice that some of the guys you really want good years from will struggle. Others you might care less about might fashion really good seasons.
Last year's Cubs prospects probably had more good years than bad among the top 30. Bryant's was about as good as possible.The only thing that stopped Soler was his health. Schwarber exceeded expectations. Almora was a bit down.
What does this silly exercise prove? You can have a good or bad string of rolling for player success. A good system is benefited by "good rolls." However, a fundamentally sound system is likely better at getting results from a nine or ten than a poorly run system produces with the same number. Obviously, this is a tough to prove premise, without complete information. However, getting the right instructors in the proper spots, and having the same basics taught throughout the system should help keep a system in the top half more often than not.
The Cubs recently made some roster moves you might have missed. They released five pitchers and two catchers in the last few weeks. Possibly the big name was Yao-Lin Wang. It's a standard practice to let people go this time of year. It gives them time to hook up with another club before spring training.
Notably, pitching and catching have been two of the Cubs' concerns recently. These players had largely gotten about as far as they will in the Cubs system. The one I'll note specially is Zak Hermans. He pitched perfectly well for the Midwest League Champion Kane County Cougars last season. He even logged an emergency start for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs last season. However, finding a realistic spot for him to likely get regular innings in April was probably going to be troublesome. Hence, he was released.
It's nice to have enough low-end depth to be able to surrender guys on the grounds of, "Where will he pitch?" It sure beats a couple years ago when the question all-too-often was "Who's the next relief pitcher?" At far too many levels.
I wish the seven the best in continuing their careers, or getting on with the rest of their lives.
Wednesday night, I was on Twitter during the Duke/Notre Dame basketball game. This has nothing to do with the Cubs system, except that South Bend Cubs radio announcer Darin Pritchett was, as well. While baseball isn't his first sport (It might be his third or fourth sport, as he has done hockey games, and is a college fan of both the Irish hoops and football squads, as well), I was impressed by his Twitter game. He wasn't saying "what" happened. He was explaining (in 140 characters or less) "why" what was happening was happening.
I feel I could conduct a solid conversation on either team, and I wasn't watching the game. I look forward to his calls of South Bend Cubs games this year. Not only will we know what happened, he will give us his best at explaining the "why," as well. I think the why explains the what rather well. For instance, if the outfielders are getting bad reads and jumps on flies to the outfield, that could explain why the pitcher is giving up more doubles than you would expect. And if the commentary is honest, when I'm told Gleyber Torres had a nice jump on a grounder to the hole, I'm more likely to buy into the assessment.
For the poll, I'm going with a gimmick that might be fun. I'm going to list four players, and a goal. Your challenge, should you choose to accept, is note which you think will most likely hot the noted performance goal. This one involves the big four. I encourage commentary on why you think, who you think, is the most likely to reach 20 WAR for his career. If it meets with approval, I might try it again next time with different players.