As I've mentioned a few times previously, my brother is a Buffalo Bills fan. True of any organization's fan base, certain buzzwords become popular with some teams more than others. One that became part and parcel of the Bills fans (before they endangered card tables) was Captain Checkdown. The nickname of Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, he was particularly known for dropping off his primary receiver early, and “checking down” to secondary or tertiary targets. With Edwards in mind, I look at the last portion of the Cubs season.
With less than two months of play remaining, a rather significant part of the rest of the Cubs season is to not have any key players seriously injured. Willson Contreras was shelved midweek. Adbert Alzolay will.likely miss time, maybe even the rest of the year. As little as we might want it to be the case, the rest of the season will probably be assessing the merits of guys like Adam Morgan and Johneshwy Fargas, determining which current rostered players deserve an off-season 40-man roster spot. Rafael Ortega and Patrick Wisdom have already staked their claims to that.
However, when players either show they are undeserving, or unable, moves will be made. To that end, I've made a five-column list to help with the remainder of the season. The column farthest to the left is the current roster. The second column is the list of players on the 40 man roster, but not on the current 26-man roster. The likely callups are circled. The center column is of the injured players, whether on the 10- or 60-day lists.
Which leaves the two right-hand columns. They include the current Iowa roster, with the more-likely players to be summoned in the left column, and the ones on the right, less-likely. Here are some current I-Cubs who might get a late summons to Wrigley.
Adrian Sampson has recently been the best starting pitcher for Iowa, of the traditional starters. He has passed Joe Biagini, Matt Swarmer, and Mike Hauschild. If the Cubs need another starting pitcher in 2021 beyond the players currently on the 40-man roster, it should be Sampson.
From a longer-term perspective, if he does get a look, and is not at all horrible, he can be retained into 2022, similar to Wisdom, Ortega, or Jake Jewell, and for the same reason: Lack of MLB service time.
The I-Cubs strength this season has been the bullpen. Unsurprisingly, it still is. Tony Cingrani has some MLB experience with the Reds, and Cingrani has done fairly well with Iowa. (No earned runs allowed in 7⅔ innings with 10 strikeouts, through Sunday.) A hiccup is that Cingrani will be a free agent this offseason, either way. Nonetheless, he's likely the best lefty option in Iowa.
Ben Leeper has been fantastic in 2021, both in Tennessee or Iowa. Leeper won't be Rule 5 Draft-eligible this winter, so adding Leeper somewhat subtracts a 40-man roster spot this winter. However, he has been really good.
Ethan Roberts recently arrived in Des Moines. Nonetheless, Roberts was fantastic in Tennessee. He has been touched up a bit in Iowa. Also, Roberts is Rule 5 Draft-eligible this off-season, and could be a bullpen-ready December Draft selection. I'd prefer to add Roberts over Leeper for that reason.
Dakota Mekkes has been Rule 5 Draft-eligible for a few years, but wasn't selected. Victimized by some soft-contact singles and fluke plays, his ERA/WHIP numbers are higher than they might be expected to be. I'd probably try Mekkes before Leeper, but after Roberts.
When I started this list, Ryan Meisinger was on it. I substitute Scott Effross, a 15th Round Cubs choice in 2015. Leeper is the better pitcher, but I might lean Effross with the longer-term in mind. Fun fact: Effross and Kyle Schwarber were teammates at Indiana University.
We've seen Taylor Gushue. He is still around, if anything happens. He's probably better than he showed before, but he's the best available catching option in Des Moines.
The other option would be Erick Castillo. A bit of an organizational guy, he could end up being a non-tender grateful for the chance. He's a defense-first type of backstop.
Alfonso Rivas was added in the Tony Kemp trade. A legitimate first baseman defensively, he also runs well. He probably belongs on the 40-man roster this winter. As far as adding him this season, I'd be good with it if there's a clear roster spot. Frank Schwindel was supposed to be an easy DFA, but is playing like he doesn't want to leave.
Jared Young is also Rule 5 Draft-eligible this season. More of a hitter than any specific position, locating a spot for him.in 2021 might be moderately challenging. He's likely benefiting from regular time in Iowa.
Abiatal Avelino is the logical callup if an extra middle infielder is required. He isn't better than MLB average at anything, but probably gets the call if a shortstop type is needed.
Michael Hermosillo belongs, and likely belonged before the trade deadline. However, an injury pushed that back. He's homered in two of four games since his return.
Trayce Thompson is half a rung beneath Hermosillo. Both have MLB experience, but both would benefit from a realistic chance. Since Ian Happ and Rafael Ortega figure to get regular time, with Fargas around and Greg Deichmann also at Iowa, where either Thompson or Hermosillo get looks is unclear.
No, that isn't uplifting, but as any players are needed, those are the most likely next options. Checkdown lists aren't expected to be cheerful.