“Walk me through this like I’m five years old.” It’s a trope I’ve embarrassingly started to embrace. It hints that, on occasion, I have entirely missed the logic of the discussion. Maybe it was a joke. Perhaps it’s a purely emotional plea with no emotion involved, regardless. Nonetheless, if there’s a line of discussion along my lines of concern, I want to be apprised of the logic accorded to the discussion, in case I can learn anything. The entire “walk me through this like I’m five years old” applies about perfectly for discussing Porter Hodge in 2022 in the Cubs pipeline.
Before I get to Hodge, I’ll get to a more-pressing and very pertinent line of questions. How long is this (word permitted in game threads, but not articles) reload going to take? How long until we know how long until the Cubs will be good, again? Will it be nine years? Or 14 years? Maybe somewhere over 30? How will we know if the plan is going according to the plans, such as they are? When will September games matter, again?
Many Cubs fans seem to have specific numbers for how long the mediocrity will last. Upon what numbers those are based are somewhat unclear. Pessimism? Realism? Random belief in history? Mistrust or hostility toward the executive or ownership branches of the team? Some of these are justified, to an extent. Much of the rest of this article walks through a way how 2022 itself, however long or short the MLB season persists, could start to answer those questions. Now, on to Hodge.
Right-handed pitcher. 6-4, 230. Born February 21, 2001. Salt Lake City, Utah.
Cubs 13th Round Draft (2019) Cottonwood High School, Salt Lake City, Utah
Normally, I don’t post weight and height, but I did for Hodge, whose size plays in with his usage and any projection he has. A big guy, the Cubs extended his outings frequently in Mesa in 2021. While many pitchers in the Compound League were getting pulled rather early from their starts, Hodge was left in longer, and I mean longer. While pitch counts aren’t in box scores at the Compound League, Hodge went four or five innings in his last five Compound starts.
It wasn’t because he was breezing through starts, either. As I was watching the results come in during late-July and early August, Hodge kept going further than I expected. Called up to Myrtle Beach, because that’s what happens with useful arms in the Compound League, he eventually became a starting pitcher there, as well. His last three Low-A starts were for over 72 pitches each. Hodge can be written in with a No. 2 pencil as a potential rotation guy in Myrtle Beach in April. His numbers weren’t as delicate as you might prefer, but given another chance, he represents the type of player the Cubs will give the ball once a week in the rotation. Particularly if he improves with another off-season of growth and maturation.
It’s very reasonable to think that, by the 2022 MLB trade deadline that Hodge, or someone like Hodge in the Myrtle Beach rotation, will have done well enough to earn a promotion to South Bend. As such, when the Cubs end up trading a rotation arm near the deadline (as the 2021 Cubs did with Trevor Williams), someone might get called up (as happened with Adrian Sampson in 2021).
Walking it through, perhaps the Cubs trade away Wade Miley at the deadline, along with a few relief pitchers, and an outfielder added on a minor-league deal between today and the opening of training camp. In separate deals. And, yes, I can hear you say “Oh, goodness. Not this, again!?!?!”
We’ll start with Miley. Imagine he gets dealt for a (game thread word, again) pitcher in Low-A Ball, as happened in 2021 with Andrew Chafin. The newly-acquired-arm goes to Myrtle Beach just after the deadline. Hodge, having earned a promotion, moves up to South Bend. Perhaps, by then, DJ Herz will have done enough to have earned a promotion to Double-A, with Anderson Espinoza getting a deserved call-up to Triple-A. With Miley’s spot open, Caleb Kilian might be ready for Wrigley. As players earn promotions, they step to a new level of challenge, and see how the new level works for them. And if a player beats one level, they try the next.
Then a minor-league contract outfielder such as Michael Hermosillo or Jake Marisnick gets flipped out for a piece, as well. An outfielder, be it Brennen Davis, Nelson Velazquez, Greg Deichmann, or someone else, now gets regular chances at the big league level. Someone successful in Double-A (perhaps Alexander Canario) grabs their spot, and so forth.
There is no magical number as far as how many years until the Cubs will be successful, again. As players who are internal replacements who had been carving Triple-A like a Thanksgiving turkey, move up, they are replaced by players who had done so at a lower level. Not all will excel, but those that do will be Cubs for as long as makes sense, with more players pushing up behind them at most levels in the pipeline. Vacancies are filled through either Triple-A talent, trades of players who seem more B-listers than A-listers, and honest to goodness free agency. With scads of money to spend, because people are interested in seeing the new, young talent.
No key prospect pieces have been surrendered, and the developing talent keeps developing.
The success happens sooner if the young talent toward the top is better than mediocre. At some point, the Cubs start trading pieces who are less-than-ideal fits, much as Tampa Bay has been doing this winter. (Trade a player on the 40 man roster who doesn’t reperesent a long-term piece for a recent draft pick to plug in, somewhere.) And, to the extent that the developing players make sense as far as being contract extension candidates, perhaps they will be more interested than Kris Bryant was; along the lines of Anthony Rizzo.
If you’re looking at the way things were done in the 1960s into the 1970s (keeping the same seven guys around forever, because free agency didn’t yet exist), I doubt that will be the recipe. Develop players as if it’s more important than giving out long-term contracts like candy, because players on shorter-term deals have to play well to get a raise. Players like Hodge develop as far as they do, and define themselves as A-listers to be retained through cost-control, or flipped for an upgrade at a deadline in the future.
And keep doing that for decades.