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The MLB fall instructional league season sputters to a halt

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Fall ball wasn’t quite the same this year, partly due to the pandemic. But there are still things we can learn from it.

Al Yellon

A while back, I had intended on doing articles on all the players involved in Cubs Instructional camp, as I had with podcasts. Shortly after I had set forth on both voyages, I realized a ten minute podcast was ready for listeners in fifteen minutes, whereas an article needed double-triple, and quadruple checks, and neither distribution method was actually given many new tales to tell — only a nightly submission from Arizona Phil.

Then, the days with game action became more sparse. Some games were called off due to COVID concerns. None of the concerns were from the Cubs side, a plaudit Rob Manfred seems unable to acknowledge and unwilling to reward. At least one camp has been mothballed for the Instructs campaign. And any succession of articles would have been invaded for the dissemination of any content with scant or no commentary, here or elsewhere.

What was learned from my second-hand trip into Instructs encourages me to write a final piece. For those of you voracious enough to read the originals at The Cub Reporter or listen to my audio mimeographed copies, little of this will be new. For those of you uninterested in anything but Chicago Cubs news? I saved you a few articles to not read. Some data points were displayed. This connects a few.

Hitter of the camp: Chase Strumpf

The 2019 second-round pick seemed more ready than anyone else. Others sounded more interested than I was in exporting information to Excel charts, but homers by Strumpf had become commonplace by the end. He played some at second, some at third, and rarely in especially amazing form.

The Cubs offense is years away. I doubt Strumpf will be ready before August 2021, and possibly not until after the looming labor strife. He should be among the next bats, though.

2020 Draft Pick of the camp: Ed Howard or Jordan Nwogu

Both were useful enough, offensively and defensively. Howard seems better than his age would indicate. Nwogu was willing to draw walks, and made a nice diving catch in left. If 2021 spring camp were 60 guys plus extras, I'd like both invited. That's unlikely. I've yet to hear anything remotely like either being a disappointment, yet.

International section

Ronnier Quintero, a catcher signed with acclaim in 2019, performed regularly, though not in games. The Venezuelan turns 18 this month, and was deep in learning about catching. He was getting swings, but not in games. No worries here, at all. Quintero is taking it all in, learning as he goes.

Kevin Made (two syllables in his last name) is ahead of where he should be. He was peppering the ball across the field, not limited to singles. Like Howard, he represents at shortstop. Having two 18-year-old shortstop options is a good thing, not an evil to be bargained out of. Made versus Howard seems a positive "iron-sharpens-iron" that Cubs fans have rarely been able to positively contemplate. Toss in Cristian Hernandez in about 10 weeks, and the cauldron bubbles even more.

Yonathan Perlaza was signed internationally as a switch-hitting infielder, but has been switched to the outfield. He tended to make defensive errors, and bring them with him to the batter's box. He had a triple and homer in a recent game.

Rule 5 alert: Jerrick Suiter

I often bang the drum of "pay attention." This occasionally draws protestations of "I'm just a fan." A Cubs pro scout was observing a Pirates Double-A game that turned into a blowout. A first-baseman/outfielder, Suiter entered to complete said blowout. He looked rather intriguing as a pitcher, and the Cubs poached him in the minor league phase of last December's Rule 5 Draft. Now, he's tossing 95, making a case for a 40-man spot or a 38-man spot (which would exempt him from the minor league phase of this year’s Rule 5 Draft).

The Cubs bats are still relatively far away from Wrigley. The arms in Mesa were a bit of the lesser-developed varieties, mostly. Turning a bottom-third pipeline into a top-third pipeline takes a while. Especially when approximately 27 of 30 teams have little to no interest on taking on added salary.

The Cubs are at a tipping point: Either trade the future, which many teams will happily and unceremoniously take in, for an increased one or two percent chance at a 2021 National League pennant, or lean toward acquiring for whatever 2023 and beyond present.

Strumpf and Made showed future value, and post-draft free agent outfielder Jacob Wetzel represented, as well. If management isn't keeping spending in the same range as 2020 next cycle, it's tough to prioritize the present and the future. As we don't decide the willingness to spend, all we get to prioritize is dumping future assets to get closer to the elite teams, but really nowhere near them. Or, prioritizing the future in any exchanges seems possible. I'd prefer the team to be ready for 2023 than be woefully ill-equipped in an unlikely run toward 2021.