My request for this article's intro is that you do two things. First, hop into your time machine, tuning the arrival point to a year ago, and act like you're an NFL fan. As you check your social media last year, you'll notice Buffalo Bills fans getting ready for a playoff run, and NFL hot takes on how hopelessly bad Bills quarterback Josh Allen is. Yes, he'll make an occasional brilliant play, but those outliers are more than overridden by mistakes the second-year signal caller makes. As you return to the current moment, Allen is considered a top-eight quarterback, and probably higher than that. The rest of this article looks at the Cubs return on the recent trade sending Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres.
Why did I mention Allen? As the calendar flips from 2020 to 2021, the jury is still out on Jed Hoyer as a baseball operations guy and Tom Ricketts as Cubs owner. One has a longer history to assess, but either could have a Josh Allen-esque turnaround. When it comes to talent assessment, I tend to avoid the traditional methods. I don't feel qualified to toss 60 power numbers (on the traditional 20/80 scale) on prospects. If that's what you want, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and others, have plenty of those sorts for you to read.
Some prospect writers like to cheerlead, claiming the Cubs prospects are chronically undervalued. Others might be horribly dismissive of Cub prospect values. Most give a relatively honest reading of the entire spectrum. I try to emphasize how incredibly talented most pipelines are, now. Instead of quibbling over the Cubs being 21st or 25th, and how barren that makes the pipeline. I crave games being played, so I can see who's doing what against whom. Competition splits the wheat from the chaff, not articles.
I'll start with Zach Davies, the most familiar of the five incoming Cubs. (I'm desperately seeking a collective term for Davies, a Canadian outfielder, a Panamanian infielder, and two Dominican players. I've drawn a blank so far.) Hopefully, Davies pitches well enough so the people who loathe his acquisition detest his August departure. (Does Feldman, Maholm, and Davies sound like a law firm?) Without, of course, in most cases, admitting to not liking his acquisition in the first place come August.
Much of my following information is culled from observations by Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs and Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter, who have actually seen most of these prospects play. Their primary sources are linked, largely, below.
Shortstop Yeison Santana is cool with me from the beginning as Yeison verges on being a uninym. When the Padres acquired Mike Clevinger, they sent infielder Gabriel Arias to Cleveland. That left Santana as the Padres’ best remaining infield defensive prospect (Longenhagen). At instructs, Arizona Phil pegged Santana as better defensively than Ed Howard (considered the best infielder in the 2020 draft) or Kevin Made (from the recently concluded international signing cycle). While the bat isn't there yet, he bumped his OPS from a 2018 .746 in the Dominican League to a 2019 .923 in the Arizona Rookie League. Santana, who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible in December 2021, looks either Low-A Myrtle Beach or High-A South Bend once games resume.
Owen Caissie (pronounced “Casey,” as in "At The Bat,” "General Store” or Stengel) is a 6-foot-4 right fielder. While Caissie is agile for 6-4, center field has been all but ruled out for him. He sounds useful at going first-to-third, with the last 12 or so steps more nimble than the first three. Right field doesn't sound like a concern. The route tracking is fine, and the arm kicks out at 90-plus. He shouldn't be buried in left. His high school swing was not entirely convincing, but the Padres selected him before the Cubs took Burl Carraway in the second round, and Caissie has forever to develop (he won’t be Rule 5 Draft-eligible until 2024). His power was the motivating factor for the selection. He also shot off a tweet respecting where he came from and where he's going. Notre Dame High School in Burlington, Ontario (and/or his parents) must teach respect and tact rather well.
Ismael Mena is a right fielder who might be able to play center. While their ages and experience levels are a bit different, Arizona Phil prefers Mena (and Caissie) to Cole Roederer, with Mena closer to than farther from Brennen Davis. Mena had been largely run off of center in San Diego's system, but he remains in said picture with the Cubs. Mena could possibly even represent a leadoff option in a few years.
Reggie Preciado is either a third baseman or a shortstop, and is likely the best get. Longenhagen will have him top five in the Cubs system, ahead of Ed Howard. Preciado is a switch hitter with more pop from the right side. He’s from Panama and his $1.3 million signing bonus was a record for players from that country (including Miguel Amaya). Can he develop power and stay at short? Will added bulk move him to third? If he can play, those seem minor quibbles.
I'm still not sold on a few angles if the trade, but these four will bump the Cubs pipeline up two or three notches, whether you were more 27th, 21st, or 18th beforehand. The Cubs pipeline is not barren, and anyone claiming that after not minding Davis, Brailyn Marquez and others for a while is claiming knowledge they don't have. Another trade acquisition or two ought to solidify a top-half status for the system, if that matters to you. Once games at the affiliate levels resume, A-Ball will have more offensive intrigue than Iowa.
Whether you buy the Jed Hoyer claim of the recent trade not being a salary dump or not, talent was added. You're not expected to forget any appreciation of Darvish or Caratini. The past is forever. More unpopular moves will happen. As in the distant past, and in 2016, a realistic component of future team success will be effectiveness of internally-developed players. The Cubs have a few new ones. Hopefully, at least one takes a huge step forward, as Josh Allen has in Buffalo this season.