First, I’d like to apologize for the sporadic minor league coverage this season. My computer had been in for repairs for quite some time before it return today, and I’ve been covering the Chicago Fire for ChiCitySports.com more since I got a press pass for their home games. That said, I fully intend to return to more regular coverage now, and you can follow my WSD twitter profile @WSDScofield for more frequent and in-game updates. Further, “Minor League Report” sounds bland, and the beginning of each week isn’t always the best time to post about the prospects, depending on when big news comes out, so I hereby introduce the “Future Alert”, which will not necessarily be weekly, but should be similarly frequent.
Garza Return and Effect on Vitters, Bryant – The Cubs traded Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers on Monday, receiving a haul of 3B Mike Olt, RHP C.J. Edwards, RHP Justin Grimm, and either one or two players to be named later.
- 3B Mike Olt: Olt climbed his way up the prospect rankings since signing a professional contract, and peaked at #11 in all of baseball on Baseball American’s mid-season Top 50 list in 2012. Vision problems ultimately dropped Olt down to #22 in the pre-season and then #44 by mid-season, but Olt still holds good stock as a prospect and may have even found a solution to his vision problems. Olt hit two homers in the last series against the Iowa Cubs and accredited his turnaround to Manny Ramirez, who spent time with Texas’s AAA affiliate after signing. Olt has gold glove potential defensively and good power, and could be the Cubs everyday third baseman by the end of the season.
- RHP C.J. Edwards: Edwards came into the season ranked #14 in the Rangers farm system, per Baseball America. Since then, he has been dominant and checked in at #73 on John Sickels’s mid-season Top 76 prospects list. Boasting a minor league career 1.68 ERA since 2012, Edwards has not allowed a home run in his 161 innings of professional ball. Striking out almost twelve batters per 9 innings, Edwards has likely become the Cubs top pitching prospect, and may be the biggest piece of the trade if his frame holds up well enough for him to last as a starter (he weighs just 155 pounds).
- RHP Justin Grimm: Grimm came into the season ranked #5 in the Texas farm system, but has struggled mightily in the major leagues this season. Far from a center piece of the deal (Keith Law stated in his insider-only article that Edwards and Olt alone would have been a good return for Garza), Grimm emerges as more of an Arrieta-type of experiment. Both Arrieta, acquired in the Scott Feldman trade) and Grimm have major league experience, and were at least somewhat well regarded prospects before their struggles in the Show. Grimm may be better suited as a reliever, only having two pitches – a fastball with very little movement and a curveball – and still needs to develop a usable change-up. The Cubs preferred Rougned Odor, but when the Rangers questioned Garza’s elbow, the Cubs ultimately settled for Grimm.
- The PTBNL or Two: One thing is certain: the Player to be Named Later will be a pitcher, according to Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer. Something that isn’t certain: how many there will be. The Cubs have their choice of taking Neil Ramirez or two others from a pool of lesser prospects. Ramirez’s health was the deal breaker in the first potential trade that would have also netted the Cubs Olt, Edwards, and infielder Luis Sardinas for Garza and James Russell.
- Josh Vitters has been moved to the outfield as a result, as both he and Olt are on the Iowa roster (along with Grimm) and in need of at-bats. Vitters returned from the DL over the weekend and already has had multiple two-hit games during the stretch. Bryant will remain at third base, just as Baez remains at shortstop despite the presence of Starlin Castro.
Junior Lake – Junior Lake debuted on Friday at Coors Field and has yet to fail to impress in four major league games. Lake doubled on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues, and finished the night three for four with the double and a stolen base. Lake followed it up on Saturday with a 1-3 performance with a walk, but did get caught stealing and make a costly error in the 9-3 Cubs loss. On Sunday, Lake went just one for five with three strikeouts, but followed it up well on Monday. As of now, the Cubs lead 3-2 in the seventh inning at Arizona, and Lake has made his presence felt. Lake has already hit his first major league home run, a two-run bomb, and has hit TWO bunt singles in a three for four performance from the leadoff spot. (UPDATE: RBI single in ninth inning, four-hit performance) On the down side, Lake was caught stealing to end an inning, and nearly collided with Starlin Castro (who is finally heating up to say the very least), allowing a ball to drop for a hit. Playing in center field for the first time as a pro, Lake has looked very good defensively (with that considered), and his stock is way up from when he did not make the cut for the WSD Top 13 Prospects List earlier this year.
Arismendy Alcantara – Speaking of former shortstops whose stocks have risen mightily, the Cubs second base prospect who hit a home run in the All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field has generally appeared in the 50-60 range on recent mid-season rankings after performing extremely well in Tennessee this season. He won’t jump to the major permanently from AA as Castro did, but could post some monster numbers next year in the hitter-friendly AAA Pacific Coast League in 2014, and may be a September call-up this season.
Seven Top 100’s? – In 2013, no team had more than six Top 100 prospects coming into the season (St. Louis had six, quite unfortunately), but the Cubs seem to have jumped from three (Baez, Almora, and Soler) to a grand total of seven (Baez, Almora, Soler, Bryant, Olt, Alcantara, and Edwards) and possibly more if Pierce Johnson or Daniel Vogelbach make the cut. Quite an improvement for a team that just a year and a half ago considered Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur to be among its top four prospects.
Farm System’s Tiers Taking Shape – The top tier of the farm system has been clear for over a year now, the trio of Baez, Soler, and Almora having recently been joined by 2013 first round pick Kris Bryant (who debuted with the AZL Cubs on Sunday with a hitless performance featuring three errors and a strikeout). With the acquisition of Olt and the rise of Alcantara, a second tier (or perhaps a second level inside the first tier as most organizations would be excited to have just four Top 100’s in the first place) has emerged. Edwards may move into that category as his stock continues to rise, but for now I’m content labeling him as his own level or the head of the Johnson/Vogelbach/etc. grouping. The Cubs still have no pitchers in the top two tiers, which makes it even more vital that Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have emerged in the past two seasons. Regardless of the lack of pitching, this is a very good farm system that may hail only to St. Louis (again, unfortunately) in terms of young talent. It will be interesting to see how many end up in the Top 100 for 2014, though it can be expected that at least the aforementioned seven will make it, which is simply impressive.
Logjams Galore – Since not every prospect pans out, having these logjams will likely mean nothing, but they are appearing regardless. The outfield picture’s shortlist now includes Almora, Soler, Bryant (likely) and Lake, with Szczur, Vitters, and Jackson still lurking. For four infield spots, and with Castro and Rizzo already occupying two of them, there is Baez, Olt, Alcantara, and Vogelbach looking for a way into the major league roster in the future. This is even when ignoring the big international acquisitions of Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres. As for pitching, that’s another story.
- Chicago 4-2, FINAL: Castro 2-5, 2B, K; Lake 4-5, HR, 3 RBI, R
- New Orleans 9 – 2 Iowa, FINAL: Watkins 1-3, BB; Vitters 0-2, BB, 2 K
- Jacksonville 5 – 4 Tennessee, FINAL: Baez 0-4, 2K, Alcantara 0-4, K; Hendricks 7 IP, 6 K, 2 R, 0 ER
- Daytona rained out.
- Lansing 5 – 2 Kane County, FINAL: Almora 0-4, BB; Vogelbach 1-3, 2 BB, K; Paniagua 3.1 IP, 4 K, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 E
- Boise 10 – 0 Everett, FINAL: Rogers 2-5, HR, 2B, RBI, R, 2 K; Zastryzny 2 IP, K, 0 ER (allowed just one base runner)
- AZL Cubs 2 – 1 Royals, FINAL: DeJesus 2-4, 2B, 2 R; Bryant 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI
- DSL scores have yet to be posted for today’s games.
- Rays 4 – 2 VSL, FINAL; no player with more than 1 hit. Adbert Alzolay got the loss despite going 5 IP, allowing just 2 runs (1 earned) and striking out 11.