I enjoy talking about “incrementalism” in affiliated baseball. While many fans pooh-pooh minor upgrades, a perceived minor upgrade can eventually turn into a monstrous improvement of the entire organization. The Padres’ waiver claim of Kirby Yates in 2017 drew 26 comments on MLB Trade Rumors, and none projected successive fantastic seasons. A transaction that fills an empty 40-man roster spot, or upgrades the final spot, is probably a useful move regardless of any fanfare. Even if it doesn’t pay off long-term, a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction. Similarly, some draft selections seem rather uninspiring, especially if the uninspired fan is unfamiliar with the player. Here is a look at Cubs prospect Cayne Ueckert.
Cayne Ueckert, right-handed pitcher
Born May 28, 1996, Jasper, Texas
Drafted in 2019 by the Cubs in the 27th Round from McNeese State, Lake Charles, Louisiana
What is the threshold over which a Cubs draft pick must reach for you to be supportive of him? Easy question. Does a player have to reach the Cubs top 50 prospects for you to want him to do well? Perhaps he has to be really good at Double-A before you dismiss him as more than a wannabe athlete who ought to be considered a poseur and a hack? To what level of advancement must a player reach before hearing about an injury to them makes you upset? Why is it seemingly required that players attempting to persevere and get better are considered wasted protoplasm?
Perhaps that paragraph came on a bit strong, but I “blunt” fairly well sometimes. For me, if a player is giving their level best in the Cubs pipeline, I want them to be successful. Yeah, a player selected late on the third day of the draft is fighting against long odds. No, I don’t expect many of you to take up my entirely serious recommendation to prioritize as minor league game over the Chicago game once a week to keep yourself grounded in reality. Every time, though, that I hear “he’s only in A-Ball, though,” I wonder why basic human empathy ought to be denied to a child because “they’re only in third grade,” or some such hogwash.
I prefer minor league games to big league games, in part because I learn more in minor league games. I hear about players I’m less familiar with, and try to put puzzle pieces together so I have a better idea who, at those levels, are more worthwhile longer-term. Because few others seem to be doing so, as opposed to time trying to learn where all the stuff is already known, my time would be better spent at lower levels.
Ueckert (pronounced Eck-ert) tossed 28 innings over 24 relief outings for Double-A Tennessee in 2021. He had a brief cameo in Advanced-A South Bend before getting promoted. In any other year you’re familiar with in Cubs pipeline development, an ERA of 1.45 and a WHIP of 0.806 would have earned a promotion. However, the bullpen in Iowa was largely really good most of the season. In many years, an ERA like that gets a promotion to a spring training invite the next year. I doubt Ueckert gets one, though he might.
Incrementally speaking, it’s fantastic that the Cubs have an arm like Ueckert who will likely be “in the mix” for a spot in Triple-A Des Moines, without having to try to wedge him in. If he starts in Tennessee because the Des Moines bullpen is too strong, so be it. However, a draft pick of limited fanfare from “Joe Dumars University” pitched really well for the Cubs in the upper-minors, and isn’t Rule 5-eligible unril next December. In which years were “quality relievers” lined up in Double-A and not promoted, before?
It’s still trendy to say the Cubs “have no pitching in the pipeline.” When I hear that, my reflex is to ask how many Double-A and Triple-A games the person watched or listened to. And as that number approaches zero, why would I even remotely be interested in their opinions? If you want to know about the US Bond markets, pay attention to the US Bond markets. If you want to know about the Cubs developing pitching prospects, listen to or watch the developing Cubs pitching prospects.
FWIW, I try to say very little about the US Bond markets.
Ueckert, though, might become an interesting enough relief prospect that even that most bearish Cubs fan regarding the pitching pipeline might pay attention to him. Especially if the lockout lets him start 2022 in Triple-A.