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Cubs minor leagues: Three up, three down and Ben Leeper intrigue

Could the undrafted free agent from 2020 be MLB-ready?

Ben Leeper
Dylan Heuer

I enjoy questions that don’t have obvious answers. Not necessarily because I don’t know the answer (there are hundreds of thousands of those), but ones where several very similar answers all make a bit of sense. The multiple-choice question, where all four options have valid aspects to consider. Sort them all, over the matter of a few minutes or weeks, until an answer becomes obvious. Two reasonably thinking adults might come to different reads on the situation, You do the homework, come up with your preference, and future declares who was right. Toss in a few variables that I have no control over, and my mind can run in a virtual loop for three weeks until the problem is solved. Ben Leeper’s Triple-A success for the Cubs is creating one of those scenarios.

Leeper was a rather wild pitcher at Oklahome State in his four seasons on the team. He pitched 72 college innings, walking 56. In 2020, he walked six in 7⅓ innings. He chose to take the Cubs $20,000 signing offer (the maximum permitted for non-drafted players last cycle) over a positive history with a Cubs scout. Bryan’s article is fantastic, and allows me to get to the Leeper scenario more immediately and directly.

Leeper sounds MLB-ready. Is he actually MLB-ready?

If it were a case of sending down a reliever with an ERA in the 7 range, and calling up 98-99 miles per hour with a filthy slider, that’s one thing. That’s why Triple-A exists: to show who likely can, and who is still short of being ready. However, the Cubs have a few things to sort through, still.

The frivolous DFA is almost always a bad thing. In July, some team should likely be willing to trade something of future value for a bullpen upgrade. It won’t be as much as desired, and teams seem allergic to trading recent draft choices. However, if Leeper would replace someone in late July, who would it be? Why are we confident he wold be better than that person? I was a bit “this way” last season regarding Burl Carraway, who some wanted to call up, because “Why not?” With Leeper, he actually has a successful performance record in professional baseball.

Would Leeper be an upgrade to the Cubs bullpen? Would he be worth the loss of talent his addition to the 40-man roster would necessitate? Other Triple-A arms (Jake Jewell and Dillon Maples among them) might be lost to the organization this off-season if not added to the roster. Should room be made for them? Add in that, if Leeper is added to the big club, he likely misses a decent chunk of next season if there is a work stoppage. The way MLB is organized, quite a few legitimate questions ought to be patiently sorted through. Along with “Will he get outs right now?” I’ll buy into pretty much any solution that admits to quite a bit of uncertainty, and the understanding that you’ve sorted through a handful of the layers of uncertainty.

Three Up

Toss into the Ben Leeper Scenario the case of Michael Hermosillo. Few Cubs hitters have shredded at Triple-A (I mean, really shredded) for a long time over the last 50 years. Anyone who started to shred would likely get called up. After all, in how many seasons have the Cubs had their entire roster producing through the years. Add in that the Cubs’ development has been a bit dicey much of that time. Kris Bryant was called up “on the date,” and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras pounded for awhile. Usually, though, the clarion calls a player up when he’s doing well, and “duration” is considered a bad thing.

Hermosillo has hit much better at Triple-A than most purported Cubs prospects through the years. (No, he isn’t truly a prospect. He does have a few MLB at-bats with the Angels from 2018-20.) However, to call up Hermosillo, someone else has to go away. While it’s easy the last week of June to call for the ouster of Eric Sogard, he figures to be gone soon. Releasing or trading Jason Heyward is unlikely, given his contract status before a potential work stoppage. As much as Hermosillo might deserve a spot, teams aren’t clamoring for trading future value for a Jake Marisnick type. That makes a Hermosillo callup unlikely. But, he’s been fantastic (in a small sample size).

The Cubs hitting across the board has been rather horrific. Pitchers needing innings to get extended have been sidelined. Among the few bats that have been reliable recently has been Yonathan Perlaza. A former infielder, he's moved to the outfield for 2021.

In the last 15 days, Perlaza's OPS has been .848. That .848 gets him on the list is a bit depressing, but such is the 2021 pipeline.

Reggie Preciado homered and walked three times in his pro debut in Mesa on Monday night. Yeah, it's a very small sample size, but it's my feature. I welcome the Arizona Compound League, and look forward to the Dominican Summer League, as well.

Three Down

Nineteen South Bend pitchers are listed as "current" on the roster. Over the last 15 days, five have an ERA of over 16. Two more are over 9. Two more are over 8. South Bend's pitching hasn't been very good recently.

Myrtle Beach's offense is still 11th of 12 in OPS. They're "up" to .618, but far from 10th place Down East at .666.

Iowa has started 14 different players on the mound. Some have been regulars. A few have been rehabbers, or one-offs. Only four have started more than four times. It's very difficult to have any consistency without some semblance of a regular rotation. The Robert Stock start in New York was a horrible gamble with an expected result.