July 2 is supposed to be an important day in baseball. The international cycle usually ends on June 15, and reboots on July second, leading to the term J2, indicating the incoming international signing class. Teams can sign as few, or as many, players as they want. That beginning has been booted back to next January.
Come January 2021, the Cubs are expected to sign highly touted shortstop Cristian Hernandez, who appears more similar to, than different from, first-round draft choice Ed Howard. While Howard sounds a bit more advanced defensively than Hernandez, Hernandez sounds more immediately ready with the bat. For the record, both will require significant incubation time to be ready to be productive at the MLB level.
A number of the prospect writers in the blogosphere have been historically less than enthusiastic about international signings, for whatever reasons. I'm sure distance from Wrigley, and unfamiliarity are two of the major reasons. Nonetheless, when the Cubs add players to the pipeline, I try my level best to make note of it. Similarly, I try to toss in what little information can be gleaned in advance. I'm still a bit broken up about not having Dominican Summer League games to follow this year. In the DSL, players signed in current or prior classes get to play against quality talent up to six days a week, and results are usually streamed in relatively close to real time.
With no video, and limited scouting reports, the information is of limited value, but any hitter with an .850-plus OPS has that going for them, as does any pitcher with a sub-2.00 ERA. The lack of any minor league games makes potential signings of talent like Hernandez of that much more interest. Lacking even that takes more air out of the pipeline-promotional balloon.
Improvement in rankings is rather important to some Cubs fans, who see pipeline rankings as a bit of a thermometer on development success or failure. When distance from any realistic level of context, ratings are a bit overplayed. As an example, I look to the June draft.
The Cubs did, by all appearances, rather well. Howard seems valid. Two lefty relievers were added, and might move up quickly. Fifth-round choice Keon Moreno is a prep selection with a possibility for some upside. A hiccup with draft assessment now is that very rarely do teams have terrible drafts, anymore. The players may not develop effectively, but that isn't necessarily a condemnation of the players selected. The players selected well before Howard were often considered a better investment risk. A few teams after the Cubs drafted astutely, as well. Some teams had extra choices along the way. The Cubs might have had a really good draft, and still brought in a 20th-to-22nd best haul of the thirty teams.
"Why do the writers hate the Cubs selections?"
They don't hate the Cubs selections. There are at least 500 players that deserved to be drafted. There are now far fewer draft choices than there used to be. Player development is now about for more than making the obvious selection. Getting the maximum from a draft takes a useful mix of safety and risk, fortune and commitment. For that to play out will take two to six years, after which time, some scouts or coaches will have moved on to new employers. Knowing if the Cubs are doing "better than average" or "worse than acceptable" take constant attention, none of which will bear fruit now.
I'm not sure if players signed in January will be able to play in the 2021 DSL season. I'm not sure if Hernandez will be allowed to play in spring training in Mesa in March. Following his progress should be fun.
One nugget of news I saw along the line is that teams won't be able to trade talent for more spending capacity. This seems another case of teams who are good at an aspect of development not being able to stretch their muscles in that fashion. I'm also not sure if owners will be able to pressure players into signing for a lower signing bonus than had been agreed to. I'm, similarly, not sure if the signing period will continue to begin every January, or if this is a COVID-only one-time development.
However it plays out, the Cubs seem to get better bang for their buck internationally than out of non-elite draft choices. I wish today mattered more than it does. It doesn't, but Hernandez is still expected to sign with the Cubs. At least the owners haven't executed an international draft.