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State of the Cubs pipeline: A few questions answered, and yours welcomed

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Where do the Cubs go from here with player development, and how?

Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The fact that there haven't been minor league games since September 2019 has sabotaged my writing on Cubs prospects. With many owners less willing than they were to aggressively spend in free agency versus 15 years ago, team minor-league pipelines might be more important than before. So, with the priority ramped up, I have less to write about. Since I'm unlikely to get giddy over a national prospect writer dropping a 60 on a Cubs prospect's fastball or hit tool, it's been more silence, unfortunately.

Today, I want to paint a few pictures, and answer a few questions. And the questions I'm least likely to answer are estimated-time-of-arrival questions. The examples for the reasons are explained in either a Brailyn Marquez fashion, or a Cristian Hernandez fashion. Has Marquez already arrived? He pitched at the MLB level, and had the opportunity to grab a post-season roster spot. For whichever reasons, his one MLB outing was rather terrible. Does that indicate he won't be ready until 2022? Or late in 2021? Or did he arrive already? It depends on what 'arrive' means.

If there are minor league games this year, Marquez figures to be pitching. If he throws strikes and gets outs, he earns another look. If he doesn't, he doesn't. My opinion on Marquez's ability to get Triple-A hitters out doesn't get him a quicker look. His ability to get outs points the needle. As a player does well, really well, he moves up. When minor leaguers show they're better than Triple-A, they try the next level up. ETA should be "when they've shown they're better than Triple-A." To figure that out, listen to Alex Cohen call an I-Cubs game. Or check box scores.

In about 10 days, the Cubs figure to sign Hernandez, who ranks sixth on the MLB international prospect list. Akin to Ed Howard (the Cubs first choice in 2020) as a shortstop, Hernandez' bat is ahead of his glove (with Howard the opposite). I tend to doubt Hernandez will need a summer in Boca Chica. I'd expect him to start in extended spring training, with Howard at short in Low-A Myrtle Beach. If Hernandez adjusts to the pitching in XST, he could see some time in South Carolina this summer. His bat and glove will decide, not my opinions. Once to a full-season affiliate, how he plays determines his advancement.

Here are a few key questions about the Cubs system, and my best shot at an answer.

Q: Where should the Cubs pipeline be ranked?

I wouldn't argue anything from 17 to 24. When people see a number in the twenties, they might tend to assume the Cubs' pipeline sucks. Very few front offices are incompetent anymore. I expect the Mets to prioritize player development under new owner Steve Cohen. Most teams are now miles ahead of where the normal team was 15 years ago. Everyone is grasping the import of having live relief arms at every level. Rapsodo machine readings are the standard. Neither was the case in 2005. Organizations are more similar than different.

Teams had better properly develop their top four or so selections (draft and international), or they'll lag because of it. Most of the top 80 or so overall draft choices have legitimate chances at success. The teams that nudge forward do better at the top, or find secondary pieces beyond that. The pieces added from San Diego in the Yu Darvish trade help, here.

The Cubs haven't drafted early in a while. The teams with more early choices recently have a pipeline edge over the Cubs, as do teams with bonus choices. It’s the same for organizations with elite player development. Do the Cubs have any coaching edges to narrow those gaps? I have no idea.

The gap between 25 and 12 is about as narrow as it can be. The industry has precious little information on players beyond catcher Miguel Amaya (a Cubs catching prospect ripping apart Winter Ball), outfielder Brennen Davis (2018 second-round pick), or Richard Gallardo (highly ranked international signing in 2018).

Q: Who has stepped up since the Cubs last minor-league game?

2019 second-rounder Chase Strumpf was showing opposite-field power in minor league camp in October. In the August before that, 30th-round draft choice Clayton Daniel was starting over him in the playoff push. (Strumpf was likely injured at the time.) When I mention Strumpf, I feel compelled to add that the Cubs would have lost the draft choice they used to select him if they signed Craig Kimbrel a month earlier. (Similarly, another player the Cubs might have forfeited by signing Kimbrel early was shortstop Kevin Made. Arizona Phil raved on Made, both offensively and defensively, at the same prospect camp. Made turned 18 in September.)

2019 international top-card Ronnier Quintero is a lefty-hitting catcher. I'd loosely comp him to a Miguel Montero type. He was in camp, but didn't play in games. He was learning about professional catching. Will he (or prep catcher from 2019 Ethan Hearn) be advanced enough to play for Myrtle Beach in 2021? We shall see.

As far as an arm, Davidjohn Herz pops up occasionally with Instagram posts. He has a lively lefty arm, and very well could be in Myrtle when the season starts.

Q: Have you settled down about Baseball One yet?

I still don't like that I won't have a chance to follow a team between Mesa and the full-season teams, but so it goes. Minor-league baseball is my speed. The games are usually completed in under three hours. If I choose a dog game on a Thursday night, I can (and will) change to another more competitive and educational game in the pipeline. My hope from a day of minor-league or college baseball is education.

For many baseball fans, education is second to sixth on the totem. Learning, for me, is the reason to show up. How will the South Bend starting pitcher fare tonight? What will I learn?Which players make the most sense for the Cubs' first selection? Does the slugging outfielder or 96 with closer success make more sense in the third or fifth round? For me, that's the portion of my brain that needs stimulation, much more than hypothesizing on how a free-agent would do in Wrigley. Losing affiliated games to follow is a gut-punch for me. Not my first. Not likely my last.

Now, it's your turn. Ask what you wish. I will try to answer honestly.