Let's visit a parallel universe for a moment. Imagine the Cubs hadn't had that lost road trip i in June in Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. That they were about break-even with the Brewers at the All-Star break. The Cubs realize they need a few more starting pitchers to compete in 2021. Since Brennen Davis is off-limits, a handful of the team's brightest future options go elsewhere. Hopefully, October would have been successful, but a legitimate chance would have loomed for bad things happening. Most of the rest of this looks at the most recent Cubs acquisitions.
Many people run to a source, and read up on the new players. Or glean highlights from video drops. If something comes my way, I'll use it, but my preference is game action. Six nights a week, affiliates play. By prioritizing a game or two, I hear what happens in games. Depending on situations, I'll pop to another game to learn more from that one. I tend to prefer pitchers who get ahead in the count, and listening to a game tells me if a pitcher is doing that. The sound of contact on the bat often sways me with hitters.
I'm a clean slate with the new acquisitions. If my information in-game disagrees with what's being reported, I have to assess if my information is wrong, or if the prior information is no longer accurate. Regardless, August and September will be about finding out which Cubs prospects (newly added or not) are going to progress in the season's last two months.
Here are all the players acquired by the Cubs in July deals.
For Joc Pederson: Bryce Ball, first baseman
With power hitters, getting batting practice power to show up in games is what determines future success. Hitting 78 and straight 430 feet looks nice on video. Making solid contact against pitchers changing speeds and working the edges is entirely different.
Ball is a power guy. He's unlikely to hit .290 at any advanced level. His defense at first isn't as good as his new South Bend teammate Tyler Durna. Ball's success hinges on his power, and he's a patient hitter along those lines. He isn't madly hacking at whatever is being offered. He's hit a number of balls well for South Bend, but none have gone out of the yard, yet, as of today.
Ball should be in consideration for a Double-A first base/designated hitter time share in 2022, especially against right-handed pitching. Whether Ball reaches MLB or not, he was a good get for 3½ months of Pederson.
For Andrew Chafin: Greg Deichmann, right fielder
I was familiar with Deichmann from his college time at LSU. Many teams balance their drafts, and bring in a mix of players each draft. Some fast guys. Some power guys. A catcher or two. Quite a few arms. And outfielders that hit. Deichmann fell into the "outfielders that hit" category.
2020 being 2020 messed with just about everyone's development. Deichmann has been "on-base percentage over power" in 2021. That's been somewhat vexing, but Deichmann doesn't sound frustrated by it.
He will need to be added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid inclusion in the Rule 5 Draft. As such, and with a few players on the big league club with limited upside, look for Deichmann to get a rather extended look in 2021. There's no specific rush, but Deichmann keeping a roster spot this winter is more likely than with waiver wire adds Johneshwy Fargas or Frank Schwindel, who might well get non-tendered if unimpressive. Deichmann sounds capable enough in right field to stay there. And he'll come with a full compliment of minor league option seasons.
For Andrew Chafin: Daniel Palencia, right-handed pitcher
I enjoy listening to new pitchers. While I don't go with index cards any more, Palencia is from Venezuela. Rotation mate Richard Gallardo is from Venezuela. Myrtle Beach catcher Pablo Aliendo is from Venezuela. My hunch is that getting booted to a new team with no former teammates mid-season would be difficult. Another hunch: Having a catcher from your home country might help.
Palencia throws hard. The Cubs seem to be trying to develop a few mid-to-high 90's arms, and Palencia fits right there. He's had uneven numbers in his six pro starts for a Stockton Ports team that has been struggling recently. Since the Cubs and A's both train in Mesa, there is a much greater than zero percent chance the Cubs saw Palencia in an extended spring training game.
For Ryan Tepera: Bailey Horn, left-handed pitcher
When trying to locate a player in a minor faux-trade transaction, I have a fun trick I like to use. Look at the team-in-question's most recent draft (of those eligible to be traded), and choose a player who has not been horrible. I'm not conversant in all the other pipelines, but if a team invested a reasonable draft signing bonus in a player, he probably has some upside. Horn was the White Sox’ fifth-round pick in the five-round 2020 Draft. Whether this works or not, it's the type of move that makes sense to me.
Horn throws in the Justin Steele range, and pitched (albeit not quite as much) in the SEC. He was much better than the Low-A level (and the Sox’ Low-A team hasn't been good, at all), but has struggled at the Advanced-A level. While it's possible Horn is only Low-A good, I'm willing to let him have four or five outings in South Bend before I consider him broken.
If Horn breaks camp with Tennessee in 2022, this was probably a rather good get for Tepera. I have doubts on Horn as a long-term starter, but getting a live wire arm for a set-up reliever seems a nice addition in a broken season. May he learn something this winter in the Pitch Lab.
For Anthony Rizzo: Alexander Vizcaino, right-handed pitcher
Here's where the week completely broke. Assessing anything the Cubs would get for Rizzo, apart from emotions built up over almost a decade, would be absurd. When your favorite player is traded for someone entirely unfamiliar, the emotions and logic get garbled, potentially like a electrified wire in some standing water. If you choose to hate Jed Hoyer, Tom Ricketts, or anyone else over some of the roster moves, I'm not blaming you. These trades are about the future, not the present.
Vizcaino throws hard, has a highly-regarded change, was added to the 40-man roster this winter, and has struggled to get anyone out this year. Vizcaino has been added to the South Bend roster, though he was not "on the list of eligible pitchers" as of Friday night.
On Friday night, Manuel Rodriguez debuted for the Cubs. It took years for him to be developed enough to be a usable piece in an MLB game. Vizcaino's Cubs career is just starting. How it progresses is anyone's guess. To have the most current, most accurate information on Vizcaino, watch or listen in when he's pitching. Last month's information, or last year's information, is outdated. If Vizcaino is getting better from outing to outing, that would be a step toward a positive return for Rizzo.
Which won't be enough for many people.
For Anthony Rizzo: Kevin Alcantara, center fielder
Alcantara is a very athletic, very toolsy center fielder. To an extent, he'll fit in quite well with the Owen Caissie and Reggie Preciado contingent. At 6-6, he'll be intimidating. Especially if he limits his swing-and-miss tendencies. (He's 19.)
Promoted mid-season in 2019 from the DSL to the Yankees’ Florida compound, he was off to a solid early start in 2021 with a homer and a .360 batting average in the Florida Compound League. Four walks, seven strikeouts, and a .968 OPS. It sounds like he's already willing to accept a base on balls, and was with the Mesa Cubs playing in Saturday’s game, where he went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.
For the Cubs to become who they want to become, some of the younger, developing players would almost need to be All-Star types in their early cost-controlled seasons. Alcantara is one who could be that good. If they have one, that's nice. If they have three or four, that's 2015 getting revisited.
For Craig Kimbrel: Codi Heuer, right-handed relief pitcher
Earlier this season, I had an article on whether the Cubs' Pitch Lab was a mere mirage, or would be a useful piece into the future. Heuer, no longer a prospect, is an honest-to-goodness struggling relief pitcher. He has pieces. He's had success. His struggles have overtaken the success. Can the Cubs turn Heuer back into a useful arm?
If so, the team will have cost-control for well into the future. It's amusing how people who liked the bulk of the Cubs’ July trades disliked this one, and the other way around. Baseball isn't buying paper plates for a picnic. Heuer might figure it out. Or he might not. There's a legitimate chance of either.
As much as anything, this trade admits that the team will need a team to put on the field in 2022 (perhaps) and 2023 (almost certainly). Heuer should get quite a few looks in 2021, and if he's a leverage guy in 2024, few will complain about trading a pitcher that some wanted DFAd in each of the last three years for Heuer.
For Craig Kimbrel: Nick Madrigal, infielder
I'm going with infield, because I'm not confident I know who is taking which spots into the future. Madrigal was the fire-starter for Oregon State in the first college baseball game I attended. He was the best player on the field that night, though Adley Rutschmann and Trevor Larnach may have passed him since then. For me, he's very Nico Hoerner. Was trading for a Hoerner comp the best thing to do when sending away Kimbrel? I'd seen a couple starting pitching prospects from the Dodgers floated at the same general time.
It's not that I don't like the trade. It's that it wasn't what I expected. If Madrigal keeps being Nick Madrigal, this should be a reasonable long-term get. The Cubs, and up-the middle types. The American League has some really good teams.
For Javier Báez and Trevor Williams: Pete Crow-Armstrong, outfielder
When doing my 2020 Draft Prep, I distanced myself from Crow-Armstrong. I'm not convinced preps can hit, and I didn't think video of him hitting against a high school junior throwing 78 and straight would convince me of anything. Everything else was there, the size, the ability to play center. Even the occasional pop. It's hard to tell if a prep star is going to hit MLB-level sliders.
In a Mets spring training game in 2021, Armstrong got to play. For the parent club. He ripped a triple. Yeah, it was one swing, but I wondered if I had protesteth too much. The swing looked fine. Mets fans on my timeline had me covetous as he pounded the Low-A League he was in. A collarbone injury ended his 2021 season prematurely after 24 at-bats. He had ten hits, seven walks, and only six strikeouts. He was over two years younger than the pitchers he was facing.
Armstrong should be the center fielder in South Bend in 2022. Will he definitely surmount the obstacles on his way to an MLB career? Nothing is guaranteed. He represents the type who could handle center by himself. Time will tell. As much as it sucks that Javier Báez will be with the Mets the rest of the season, the Cubs added a nice piece for the future for their trouble.
And Trevor Williams is likely better than the thrice-released (by the Mets, this season) Jerad Eickhoff.
For Kris Bryant: Alexander Canario, outfield
Until given evidence to the contrary, I buy into my own hunches. When the Bryant return came through, I scratched my head. That's it? I wasn't familiar with either name off-hand, and the snap responses were muted. A bit like Vizcaino above, Canario had already been added to the 40-man roster, for the same reason. His numbers in Low-A Ball (the west-coast version of the Pelicans level) weren't that impressive. A bit of power? Yes. However, something was missing.
Fortunately, I'm more interested in getting my ears around a player's game. With Ezequiel Pagan, Jordan Nwogu, Jonathan Sierra, and Yohendrick Pinango in Myrtle Beach, Canario ought to find enough at-bats to get adjusted, but get days off. Where will he play? (Likely the corners, as his speed won't play in center.) How often? On the 40-man roster already, he'll get looks.
The power and bat speed are the buy, here. Will it cash? Probably not. However, if it does, Canario could be special.
For Kris Bryant: Caleb Kilian, right-handed pitcher
"You can't tell if a guy can play off of a minor league Baseball-Reference page."
This is probably sage advice. However, in this instance, I learned a few things that were informative. First, Kilian went to Texas Tech in Lubbock, and was an 8th Round choice in 2019. Which means he's ineligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. He began his 2021 campaign in High-A Eugene, winning three of four starts (which meant he went at least five in three of four starts), allowing nine hits in 21⅔ innings. He walked (checks notes) one guy. (Stupid ump doesn't know the strike zone.)
This earned his a very rapid call-up to Double-A. In 11 starts, he's completed two, with one shutout. In 63 innings, he's allowed 51 hits. In Double-A. He's walked eight, fanning 64.
I don't care what his Fangraphs rating is. Or where he fits in a Cubs prospect list. Those numbers are head, neck, and shoulders above any Smokies starter in Tennessee. Add five or six starts similar to that, and he belongs in Iowa. You don't put up numbers like that in Double-A without something useful.
Kilian is the piece I like here. Perhaps the Cubs hitting coaches can figure out how to get Canario to improve like Nwogu has, but Kilian is already doing things.
For Jake Marisnick: Anderson Espinoza, right-handed pitcher
Espinoza had thrown no innings entering 2021 since 2016. He started a dozen games in Fort Wayne of the Padres system, showing some rust. It's certainly possible to be using a 40-man spot on a pitcher with fewer than 30 innings pitched since the Cubs parade, but remember two things. If a roster spot is needed that badly, he could be DFAd. (Preferably after the Rule 5 Draft.) Also, this is a trade return for Jake Marisnick, who some here thought wasn't worth a teen-level prospect in the White Sox pipeline.
Espinoza had been ramped up to 69 and 61 pitches in his last two starts. He's peaked at three innings pitched. The velocity moves the needle. When he gets his next start (he last pitched on July 28), I'll be able to add to what I think I know about Espinoza. Espinoza, Horn, and Vizcaino should be pitching soon for South Bend.
Will any of these new additions play on a post-season Cubs squad? I hope so, but I'm not fool enough to make that sort of declaration. If the Cubs now-improved pipeline starts to churn, the future is eventually going to be brighter because of it. Not today. Not this month. But, eventually, and with a much stronger long-term pipeline.