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Cubs Pipeline Alchemy: Getting stateside

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How do players progress from the Dominican summer leagues to the US minors?

Danny Rockett

As June progresses, the Dominican League sides are getting to the point where they have a string of statistics that are getting a bit useful. No, they can’t accurately project MLB success, but a glance at the DSL squads’ statistical pages can give you a large hint as to which ones belong in the USA next season. For all the highfalutin praise some of the players get from Baseball America, and the like, before being initially signed, a large step toward success is what it’s always been: Getting players stateside.

Years ago, home runs were a bit of an oddity. Teams wanted to get runners into scoring position with one out, or even better, with nobody out. If the runner was on second with no outs, the plan was often to move him over to third with one out, and get him in with a grounder or a fly ball after that. Old school baseball, for better or worse, has largely gone away. However, the premise of step-by-step baseball applies in spades for this article.

Projecting a 17-year-old player to the major leagues is absurd. However, looking at a statistical breakdown of a quarter or so of the DSL season does give a glimpse of which players ought to be jockeying for a position stateside next season. The DSL Cubs 1 and the DSL Cubs 2 squads each have talent that should be stateside next season. To an extent, it’s as basic as reading a stats page, often.

Click on the Cubs 2 page. Ezequiel Alvarez (17 years old until April from Santiago, Dominican Republic) is showing enough to represent that he looks like he belongs in extended spring training in Mesa next April and May. From there, he gets to display if he belongs in Mesa, Eugene, or if his good start was an outlier, and a return to Boca Chica is the best plan. Getting the runner to second is getting the player stateside.

Once the players get to the US, it’s still a bit early to start sizing them for a jersey in Wrigley. Then, the goal is getting the performer to full-season ball. That is the equivalent of getting the runner to third with one out. Once they’re in A-Ball, and playing successfully, it’s not unreasonable to consider them as either a trade piece, or a long-term asset. While none of that is realistic until they’re having full-season success, the starting point for almost all international signings is the Dominican League.

As with other minor league levels, winning or losing a game isn’t worth sinking into a deep life-long depression over. There’s likely a game the next day or so, and the entire premise is determining who’s ready to move up, and who isn’t. When the team misplaces a four-run lead in the ninth, perhaps it was a bad day at the office for the reliever. Or, perhaps, he’s a short-term piece, only. Development is a mindset, and starts at the DSL level.

One final nugget to keep in mind. With two Arizona League teams, and a penchant for delaying player assignment more than might be necessary, DSL veterans will get rather extended early looks every June. For whatever reasons, no Cubs 2019 Draft picks have played for Eugene as of noon on June 24th. Recent selections are delayed for playing for the two Mesa squads. The players who are added for he 2019 campaign from the DSL facility will get a chance to perform, succeed or fail. After all, decisions have to be made on futures, and basing it on game production is a useful method.

One final kernel is that the likely forgotten Pedro Araujo trade helped the Cubs add as many as 21 players to their DSL squads this season. By collecting $750,000 more in spending space, the Cubs were allowed to adjust their 2019 roster on the fly. With 70 players, and a glance at the lower end of the statistical analysis, some players not only aren’t ready. They probably never were going to be ready to contribute, and get stateside. By having plenty more options to insert onto the current team after the trade, the two squads can have better talent at the end of the bench, and players with upside (but a lack of experience) can continue to develop where applicable.

The Dominican League, as always, is the most speculative angle of a pipeline. Getting a big-league contribution from each signing pool is a step in the desired direction. Richard Gallardo, from the previous cycle, is already pitching stateside in the Arizona League. (Pitcher advancement can be based on durability, as much as on-field success. Arms able to throw three or four innings in Arizona can be very useful.) Plenty of others, from Alvarez to Yohendrick Panargo, Rafael Morel, all appear they might be in Mesa next April, creating room for the signing class that begins tomorrow, July 2 . Ronnier Quintero, Kevin Made, and Brayan Altuve sound like a nice trio to start the next international class on, as the cycle continues.