In January, to the surprise of very few people, Cristian Hernandez signed with the Cubs. An international free agent, he was expected to sign with the Cubs in July 2020, but the signing period was kicked back. At the start of the Dominican League season, his success was expected to be complete and immediate. Baseball being what it is, his success wasn't. He's on a bit of a spurt, and updated his season homer total to four this past week, in 122 at-bats. Should this change the Cubs’ 2022 plans at all?
Anything that happens in one game can be looked at with skepticism. Justifiably so. Until something is backed up enough as to become expected, it's rather pot-luck. He is developing, and seemingly at a quick rate.
Hernandez, whose younger brother is projected to sign with the Cubs this coming January, is catching fire with the Cubs Red team in the Dominican League.
The shortstop for Cubs Blue is Pedro Ramirez. The youngest prospect in the entire pipeline, Ramirez has been hitting well all season. Like Hernandez, Ramirez is a shortstop.
This season, because of scads of injuries across the pipeline, the Cubs have only one Arizona Complex League squad. Which has meant some useful talent hasn't been able to play in as many games as likely if the Cubs had two squads. From pitchers to hitters, opportunities in games have been limited.
While the Cubs two DSL teams have seemed less deep than I remember from other seasons, Ramirez (.357 average and .919 OPS) and the elder Hernandez (.301 average and .864 OPS) should each get "starter’s minutes" over the five Arizona Complex League games per week in 2022. Which isn't to say shortstops should otherwise be avoided, but Ramirez on one AZCL squad, and Hernandez on the other, should be a goal. Which presumes two squads.
What steps can the Cubs go through to make more likely having two teams in the AZCL next year? The team planned two sides in the Complex League this time, but injuries quashed the idea. With a limit of 180 players, stateside, at the time, it was injuries to pitchers that made it less practical.
When pitchers are injured, and placed on the 60-day list, they can be replaced by another player in the system. However, adding low-level arms isn't the goal. With Kohl Franklin, Michael McAvene, and others out for the entire season, plugging in replacements at the upper levels of the pipeline is the goal. Pitchers in Mesa are developing, and if they aren't reliable enough to be used, no level of hope makes overcoming the injuries worth the risk.
One potential point coming to the Cubs' aid would be a return of the draft to June. With short-season ball beginning in late-June, draft picks (or post-draft free agents) can be used for short-term auditions as drafted players negotiate. Some players, particularly college seniors with no realistic leverage, are willing to take the $20,000 maximum signing fee for a chance in affiliated ball. Many of these players are better than 50/50 to fight through the lowest level of pro ball to try to surmount. Even with moderate injury misfortune, signing six or eight live college arms ought to get the Cubs most of the way to having enough pitchers to toss ten games in Complex League play instead of five.
Which leads to not only scads of arms for college arms set to show off, but hitters of all sort of skill sets, as well, as long as they can stay under the 180-player limit.
But, why would I think players unable to get at-bats in the Complex League with one Cubs affiliate would be useful enough to succeed at the level with a second squad? Y'know, if wishes were horses, and all. Why would it be useful to have two squads so two prospects can play, and toss out a string of unknowns with strange delusions of grandeur? Even at the lower levels?
Because that's the same rubbish I heard at the higher levels about Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega. And Frank Schwindel, and others.
Give players a chance to play. If they're bad? If they don't prove their worth over a valid stretch of time? Release them, and sign someone new to the spot on the 180-player list. However, if they are useful? Move them up to the next level, as happens in A-Ball, Double-A Ball, and anywhere else.
Put together enough pitching (and catching) to have the extra team. Players with more chances in-game for the light bulb to go on? For a few, they might benefit from it. As presently more-familiar players (than they were three months ago) MLB players apparently have.