David Bote was returned to Iowa earlier this week to make room for Kris Bryant in his return from the disabled list. Two of the standard responses seem to be “He should be back soon” and “Perhaps he will be a trade piece for some pitching.” A third option is far less common, though it shouldn’t be. “Keep backing up the depth.”
It used to be that “the 25-man roster” was expected to be the limit of talent in a pipeline. For the Cubs, this was often because the Cubs rarely had historic examples of having quality depth in the minor leagues.
Now, regardless of the current 25-man roster make-up, and even with injuries, the Cubs have a few interesting relievers in Iowa. Including a few who have been a bit reliable. The default is to “under your breath” that it’s nice to have pitching and hitting depth in Iowa. Which is true.
Something else should be said as well. A good team should have a “quality roster crunch” most of the time.
Part of “creating system depth” is about hitting on the top few picks in most June drafts. That aspect of the diagram should be obvious now. While the Cubs figure to be a late participant in upcoming drafts, the draft is prone to going well past 30 deep in rather obvious talent. The top pick really shouldn’t be that much of a question mark.
This time around, the choice was shortstop Nico Hoerner, who figures to begin 2019 in Myrtle Beach. He won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until December 2021. He seems rather likely to craft an MLB career by before that point. (Yes, knowledge of when a player is Rule 5 eligible is a valid way of looking at when they might be big-league ready.)
Beyond the top pick, if the Cubs avoid the roulette wheel that is high-end free agency most seasons, they should keep most of the rest of their Top Ten round picks. As well, sometimes, they’ll get a bonus tossed in, as well.
These players are a bit more of a reach than the top guy. However, getting a measure of quality in rounds two through five should be an annual thing. Not that they will race to the parent club at breakneck speed, but each season’s selection process ought to help rebuild some system depth. Rounds two through five will often incorporate pitching. These types ought to hit Double-A and Triple-A rather quickly more often than not, if healthy.
Which brings about more pitching depth in the upper reaches of the pipeline, which still isn’t a given. However, as names like Cory Abbott, Tom Hatch, and Erich Uelmen settling in well in-front of the R5-E curve, the pitching depth is looking better.
The later portions of the draft used to be “the part of the forest nobody dared to talk about.” The payouts were rare, and often unspectacular when provided. However, Bote was an 18th-rounder in 2012. Which might get you to wonder how talent like that is located.
The same way the Cubs locate the rest of their talent. Knowing what they’re looking for, and eliminating the other options.
While many teams still focus on the basic 20/80 scale, the Cubs roll counter to the trend. A bit like in the years-gone-by when NFL squads were looking for big guys with power arms at quarterback, and the 49ers drafted an undersized guy with questionable arm strength, and Joe Montana was the rage for a decade-plus.
The Cubs want guys who will outwork the rest of their competitors. No, that doesn’t mean they’ll short-shrift guys with power, velocity, or speed on the bases. However, in baseball specifically, a player who is going to put in “all the time” can get far better in this specific sport from Day One to Day Whichever. Bote is an example of that.
As the third day of the draft continues on, the Cubs will continue to locate and develop players, regardless their positions, that are committed to improving themselves. In the vast majority of cases, “the best they can become” will be far less than the major league level. However, getting three or four guys from each draft class’ third day to upper-minor league success is a nice step in the right depth direction.
While the draft and development are nice pieces to the puzzle, they don’t act alone. Similarly, the international venue adds to the melange. Last year, while limited in their per-player spending, the Cubs added a few interesting names internationally. They rolled three of the top thirty again, this cycle, as well.
However, as usual, figure for a couple of the more “invisible” international names to stir some things up, as well. When signing 16-year-olds, their primary growth spurts may well be in front of many of them. As the Cubs are sticking to the “sign guys who are committed” internationally, as well, surprises should happen. Some will be positive surprises.
Give two rosters of 35 players each two months of baseball in warm weather, and a few of the participants will get better. And soon be ready for stateside baseball.
Every year, the Cubs should have a string of players getting better through the season. Pitchers and hitters. Starting arms, and relievers. Righty and lefty throwers. Every. Single. Season.
Some of them should be “traded as bartering chips.” However, the best value often comes from a player being permitted to fully develop within the pipeline, and reach the 40-man roster. When the chance comes, he gets a chance to play with the parent club. As with Bote.
As criticized and demeaned as the pipeline has been this year (“bottom of the barrel” is a term that was used), most of the newbies given a chance have done fairly well. Regardless where they hailed from. Waiver wire additions (Randy Rosario and Cory Mazzoni), trade pieces (Justin Hancock), minor-league free agent signings (Anthony Bass), or draft selections (David Bote and Duane Underwood Jr.) all have contributed to a fully functioning pipeline.
While the Cubs Top 100 types are fewer and farther between now than then, that isn’t the only measure of a pipeline. When the Cubs add a player to the roster, you now expect then to perform. More players are waiting in the wings. More quality is in front of their Rule 5-eligibility time frame. Players are being left in Iowa, like Dakota Mekkes, because he isn’t needed. Not because he doesn’t represent being ready.
Mekkes, Alex Lange, and Trent Giambrone could be among the next wave. However, none will need to be rushed. Trades will happen. Hopefully, some of the fans pushing for trades begin to realize that the guys incoming through the ranks figure to have value, as well.
That won’t end the call for trades, nor should it. However, the toughening up of the 40-man roster should be a regulation event the next few years. Players designated, should bring quality in return, as Matt Szczur fetched Hancock.
The depth backlog should continue. Fans used to think that an eight- or nine-man offensive rotation was protocol. It isn’t. A team with quality scouts and coaches shouldn’t be limited to a 25- or 28-player depth scenario. Between the draft, international, and waiver scenarios, the Cubs should be plugging in cost-controlled talent for years. Even if they don’t begin as familiar names. After all, who begins as a familiar name? Everyone was an unfamiliar debut at some point.