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Cubs prospects don’t usually participate in the Australian Baseball League

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Is this a missed development opportunity?

Blacktown Baseball Stadium in Sydney, Australia, home of the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball league, during a qualifier for the 2016 World Baseball Classic
MLB Photos via Getty Images

Most of my articles are at least largely supportive of front office decisions. Normally, since Theo Epstein started with the Cubs, many of the decisions have been agreeable. Even some of the ones that are questionable long-term were borne of not knowing the players on hand when the change was made. However, when a development chance is ignored annually for years on end, eventually a flag needs to be raised, regardless the flag’s color. The Cubs have whiffed on a chance to annually upgrade talent in the Australian Baseball League.

The ABL is a bit run by its own mindset. Winning is important, and development is a bit secondary. Homegrown talent from the country is preferred, though by no means a requirement. Prospects are able to play, and get valuable at-bats, if they’re good enough. There seems to be no quid pro quo on sending over a few pitchers to get at-bats for hitters.

The ABL is a weekender league. A typical series will happen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with the “through the week” being more about practice, or working at a “real” job. The type of player that would benefit from a trip to Brisbane or Melbourne would be a player from Advanced-A, or in that area.

Once a player becomes familiar in the region, re-invites are possible. The money isn’t likely much, but it’s extra chances to face live pitching. Whatever helps to upgrade a hitter’s approach might be what’s necessary to turn the light on.

As to “who should go to the ABL this season,” that was going to be an article. However, at some point, I realized it was a waste of your reading time. The Cubs, apparently, have no interest in this level of competition, for whatever reason. Through the years, a Trey Martin, Charcer Burks, or Chesny Young would have seemed a reasonable addition to a squad. Somewhere along the line.

Jimmy Herron would make sense this season. One of the pipeline catchers could serve as a reserve. As many relievers as will be lobbying for a spot “up a level,” getting 20 more innings of game action ought to make sense now, or ought to have made sense in the past. Wyatt Short could close for an ABL side, perhaps.

Especially since the league expanded this season. A six-team league for years, the league added two new teams this time around. Here is a current “player signing tracker.” With the games resuming next month, plenty of good seats are still available.

Why are Cubs players not participating now, or in the recent past? I see two possible reasons. Either players are deciding they don’t want to play in the off-season league in Australia, or players are being told not to. I’m unaware of choices, or directives, either way. However, a few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays sent a few catchers over. The Rays have a better pipeline than the Cubs. If the player earns the time, he gets it.

The goal ought to be to upgrade the pipeline. Downtime is necessary, but getting at-bats where wins and execution matter should be of use, as well. My hunch is that a likely candidate for the league might be a 2016 or 2017 Cubs draft choice wanting to “cut in line,” as it were. Delvin Zinn, Zach Davis, and Connor Myers would appear to be 2016 options for the AFL, with Brandon Hughes and Cam Balego making sense from 2017.

The goal should be maximizing player development. Perhaps none of the pitchers would be direct fits for the ABL. However, as one of the eight teams has one, count them one, player under contract, someone ought to make some sense. I’m calling this league a missed opportunity by the Cubs. Someone ought to gain a benefit from the league. If the league is playing, and no Cubs would benefit, there would need to be some curiously striated circumstances for me to believe it.

See ball, and hit ball. Otherwise, field it. I’m missing any reason why a development chance would be entirely dismissed. Even if a player had gone over, and returned after not playing, they’d have gotten in some practice time. I’m stumped. The ABL is legitimate, and the Cubs don’t have any participants. I’m out of guesses.