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Cubs Pipeline Alchemy: Incoming flights

A few notes about how player development works.

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Pipeline Alchemy took a few minutes to think up. I wanted my new catch-all article to be a new term, preferably one hinting at system development. “Organization” or “System” were considered. However, when I pulled the Alchemy quiver out of the bow, nothing made more sense. Pipeline Alchemy is for articles that don’t entirely fit anywhere else.

A lead-in to Chemistry, alchemy sought to, in a basic sense, take less valuable metals, and turn them into silver or gold. Which is, largely, what a baseball organization seeks to do.

Take that starter in the Mid-American Conference, and turn him into an MLB closer.

Find a 16-year-old in Venezuela, and sign him for a $20,000 bonus, and turn him into a Rule 5 selection candidate. Or, turn a third-rounder into a post-season contributor.

Some will argue that, if the talent is eventually there, the coaching wasn’t needed.

I disagree.


Over the weekend, a number of Cubs prospects flew in from the Dominican Republic facility in Boca Chica. Or, wherever they flew in from, specifically.

With the MLB squad, and the full-season affiliates gone, the lesser-established players get their chance to roam the facility.

Back when, Extended Spring Training was about having enough players in camp so that, when Drew Smyly needed to make 35 pitches, he’d have a catcher. And fielders for a game, as needed.

However, as the size of and specializations at spring facilities mushroomed, teams realized they had plenty of space, and coaches, to help upgrade talent in April. With seven fields (or is it 10?) at the Riverview Complex, the primary options from the Dominican are called to Mesa to prep for the season.

Whether their efforts lead to a placement in Eugene, Mesa, or Boca Chica, the extra repetitions against better players than they’re used to are of value.

Last year, outfielder Fernando Kelli earned some April swings in Mesa, and was returned to the DSL for 2017. As he stole almost a base per game, he apparently improved.

Which is alchemy.

More on this topic in the future.


A few years back, MiLB allowed teams to use a third assistant coach, if they wanted. Many, but not all, choose the extra coach.

This season, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans currently have a fourth assistant assigned, for until the Dominican camps start, in Pedro Gonzalez.

A catcher in the Astros system between 2005-09, the Venezuelan native gets to learn from Pelicans Manager Buddy Bailey, who is a managing legend in Venezuela.

I’m all for more coaching roles, as it takes one word from one coach to start the career-long improvement.


To conclude today, I take a brief step outside of the Cubs system for something that makes no sense to me. Maybe someone can walk me through why it makes sense.

Last year, the Brewers’ top draft choice was Keston Hiura from Cal-Irvine. If you know my general protocol, I’d put Hiura’s position. However, that remains entirely up-in-the-air. A center fielder until rather recently, his arm quit being able to throw any significant distance. However, the bat sizzled.

I wanted him to drop to the Cubs, but that wasn’t happening.

My assumption was that Hiura would undergo Tommy John surgery over the off-season, to upgrade his defensive flexibility.

Alas, no.

He’s the Brewers’ top prospect. He’s played three games in the field. At second base. None this season.

I get that I over-promote defense. However, already at Advanced-A, when Hiura jumps to the next level, he’s going to need to be able to play in the field, at least occasionally, to get starter’s innings.

I dig his bat, but how is he their top prospect, when he’s as much of a second baseman as Anthony Rizzo is?


Do you have any Pipeline Alchemy questions?

Why is it that they.........?

Wouldn’t it be better if.......?

I’ll have more of these, starting soon. My next one involves draft strategy, more than the draft. However, if your idea is better than mine, mine will save.

Part of the joy of baseball is that so much of it is out in the view of the public. Whether we wish to pay attention or not. Or if we’re very astute when trying to.