The Cubs were busy at the trade deadline as many predicted. They made 3 trades which saw 2 starting pitchers and 2 position players moved from Chicago. In return the Cubs added five prospects of varying ability levels. The following is a breakdown of the players added to the system sorted by ceiling. At the end is a discussion of the players given up and the overall outlook for Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s first trade deadline on the northside.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino: This is the biggest prize Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer nabbed at the deadline. Vizcaino underwent Tommy John surgery on March 20 of this year, and won’t pitch until 2013 at the earliest. That is the bad news, but prior to that Arodys Vizcaino was an untouchable Braves pitching prospect that ranked in the top 50 prospects of baseball. He has electric stuff with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s that can reach 97. Vizcaino also has a plus curveball to go with the plus fastball. The changeup has been a work in progress but was showing signs of improvement in 2011. He was rushed to the big leagues at the age 20 in the Braves bullpen last year and was projected to be a part of that bullpen this year prior to surgery. The two plus pitch mix and durability concerns make it most likely that Vizcaino’s ceiling would be a future closer, but his stuff would make him a front of the rotation starter if he could hold up for 200 innings. Vizcaino is the definition of high risk and high reward, but his ceiling is probably the highest of any current Cub pitcher when he starts pitching sometime in 2013.
3B Christian Villanueva: Villanueva was the 100th rated prospect according to Baseball America this year. He has a plus glove with average speed, hit and power tools. He has played some SS and 2B with some speculating that he could move to 2B full time where his offensive skillset would play larger. He is a smallish infielder, and the amount of power that Villanueva is perhaps the biggest question about his ceiling. His power has been described more as doubles power, but if he developed into a 20 HR threat with his defense could be a very valuable big league 3B. If the power doesn’t develop, he could be a useful utility infielder with his defensive prowess at 3B and likely ability to fill in the middle of the diamond. He was playing at advanced A for the Rangers affiliate, and likely will take over the fulltime 3B at Daytona.
RHP Jacob Brigham: Brigham has the tools to be a back end of the rotation starter and looks the part of an innings eater with a big frame at 6’3” 210 lbs. He has four pitches with a fastball in the 91-94 range and a good curveball as his best weapons. He has been a pro for 6 years and has been slow to develop after losing a year and half to Tommy John surgery in 2008. His command is inconsistent, but he has a good shot at pitching in the big leagues. Some reports have suggested that he can hit 97 when letting loose out of the bullpen, but that is probably not something to be counted on going forward. Brigham is more likely to be a middle reliever than a starter, but the upside to be a backend of the rotation starter is there. He probably gets a spot in the Tennessee Smokies rotation.
RHP Kyle Hendricks: Hendricks has put up ridiculous numbers in advanced A ball. His ERA is a sparkling 2.82, and he is striking out over 7 batters per 9 innings while walking just over 1 per 9. Unfortunately Hendricks provides a classic example of the dangers of scouting the minors by statistics. Hendricks is 22, but the big flag is that his stuff is simply not that good. His fastball sits in the 87-89 range though apparently he is capable of reaching back to touch the low 90s. He has a five pitch mix, but none of them grade as anything more than average. Hendricks has a very good feel for his pitches and the strike zone as evidenced by 21 walks in over 165 career innings pitched. You just have the feeling that his below average stuff is going to get exposed at the higher levels against more experienced hitters. He has a shot to be a striking throwing back end of the rotation guy, but that is a pretty slim shot.
RHP Jaye Chapman: Jaye Chapman was the source of some comical confusion last night on twitter when some fans mistakenly thought the Cubs had gotten Aroldis Chapman. Unfortunately Jaye Chapman is a right handed reliever In AAA that tops up at 90. He has a good changeup but a weak breaking pitch. He has put up good numbers at Gwinnett with 60 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched, but he is walking too many batters with his fringy stuff at over 4 BB/9 for his career. His upside has been described as a ROOGY middle reliever. He is another arm in a weak system that might be a decent middle reliever if the Cubs are lucky.
PTBNL: The Cubs are getting a player to be named or later from the Rangers as well. The odds are this will be some cash going back to the Cubs, but there is the possibility of the Cubs getting a highly flawed prospect with some upside in the deal.
What the Cubs gave up: The Cubs traded Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto and Reed Johnson. Paul Maholm is probably the only player traded that would have been back next season if he hadn’t been traded. Dempster and Reed Johnson were free agents at the end of the year, and the likelihood of the Cubs keeping the veteran players during the rebuild was low. Geovany Soto was a candidate to be non-tendered. Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were pitching well above their career average at the time they were dealt, and represent a time the Cubs were selling relatively high. Reed Johnson is a good fourth OF and clubhouse guy, but his value in trade was a pot sweetener. The Cubs sold low on Soto who was hitting the worst of any point in his up and down career.
Randall Delgado: A breakdown of the trade deadline would not be complete without mentioning Randall Delgado. Ryan Dempster all but vetoed a deal to the Braves that would have netted them 22 year old starting pitcher Randall Delgado. Delgado would have been the best prospect the Cubs would have gotten at the deadline. Delgado has the upside of a number 3 starter, and is a relative safe bet to reach that upside. It was a blow to not get a 22 year old that could be plugged into the rotation right now, but if the Cubs had been able to land Delgado than Maholm would not have netted Vizcaino. Vizcaino has a ton more risk, which is why he is a lower prospect now than Delgado, but his upside is higher than Delgado. Vizcaino was actually the higher rated prospect going into the season between the two, and the Cubs netted another fringe top 100 prospect for Dempster. So while it stung a lot at the time for Dempster to balk at going to Atlanta (taking out any issues of whether he was in the right or wrong for doing so) in the end the Cubs might have done better on the collective haul. We will never know for certain, but I find it hard to believe that the Cubs would have done better than Vizcaino or even Villanueva for Maholm elsewhere.
Overall Outlook: The Cubs did not restock the farm system this trade deadline, but they traded players that were not part of the future and netted two guys that started the year in Baseball America’s Top 100 list. Vizcaino is the key acquisition. If he can stay healthy, either as a reliever or starter, the Cubs got an impact arm. If he can’t stay healthy, then this deadline probably does not do much to improve the future of the Cubs. Villanueva adds another interesting position prospect with a lot of upside to a system with a lot of intriguing position player prospects. He does not have super star potential, but he could be a pretty good major league 3B. Then there is a huge gap in ceilings between Vizcaino and Villanueva to the other players acquired. In a perfect world the Cubs have netted a front of the rotation starter, a backend starter and a good major league 3B. Odds are this is not a perfect world, but it certainly is reasonable to think the Cubs could have a closer and maybe another bullpen arm. At the end of the deadline the Cubs added at least two top 20 prospects to their increasingly deep system, and that is the goal this front office had from day 1. This trade deadline might not have been a home run, but there were several pieces that could play a role in a good Cubs team down the road added by 3 pm central July 31st.