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Andy Haines to replace Iapoce

Posted by timahuwe on December 2, 2015 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Cubs have named their new minor league hitting coordinator.  This article notes a few other pending system changes.

AZ Phil On Non-Tendering

Posted by timahuwe on December 2, 2015 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

As usual, Arizona Phil is on point regarding today's non-tender deadline.

Prospect Playlist-Tyler Ihrig

Posted by timahuwe on December 2, 2015 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Prospects come in all shapes and sizes. Some are radar gun types (They throw hard.). Others are stopwatch types (They run quickly.). Some are tape-measure types. (They have impressive power.) Others are more under-the-radar types. Tyler Ihrig is one of the latter types.

Ihrig was a 23rd Round draft selection by the Cubs in 2013. He was selected out of Marin College, which isn't a hotbed of big league talent. Unless you're talking comedy, in which case it is represented by the late Robin Williams.

In 2015, Ihrig pitched between five and 45 innings for each full-season affiliate the Cubs have. As long as he's in the pipeline, he'll be toggling to wherever he is needed. It's very difficult to fathom any situation in which he puts together a career of 100 MLB innings. With that being the case, some will argue that using Ihrig is a waste of time. He's far from it.

Ihrig knows how to pitch. With him in the dugout orbullpen, chit-chatting with a prep-signed pitcher, Ihrig can pass out some of the great equalizer. Experience. While we like to think baseball is about "bigger and faster", it really isn't always the case. Pitching is about getting hitters out. Ihrig has a career ERA a bit over three. While velocity with command is the top shelf, baseball always has a spot for players with guile.

If I were to guess, Ihrig would spend much of 2015 between Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A), Tennessee (Double-A), and Iowa (Triple-A), filling in where needed as a starter or reliever. He notched 90 innings last season, and if he stays healthy, a bit over 100 makes sense this season.

Innings, not miles per hour.

He changes speeds on the mound. Start the hitter with an 83 MPH pitch on the outside black. Follow that with a 72 MPH change. Then, maybe a 65 MPH curve ball. Then, with the count 1-2, hit the black with the 84 MPH fastball. He strikes out a bit over six per 9 innings. He loves getting early and weak contact.

"But, when will he ever make the major leagues with that type of low velocity?"

Being a minor league player isn't always about reaching the show. Yeah, it would be nice. However, only four of the 678th picks in the draft have ever elevated that far. Two of them had rather lengthy careers, though.

Ihrig is about getting the most from his abilities that he can. Maybe he gets no higher than Iowa. Perhaps, he has some scouting or coaching in his future. (He'd probably be good at either.)  When I was in Mesa, the players watching the side-by-side games were captivated when Ihrig took to the mound. On the other field, the pitcher may have been having middling success with low-90's velocity. However, on Ihrig's field, opponent's were swinging at his mix of off-speed deliveries, and the outfielders could have taken their gloves off.

I enjoy watching guys like Ihrig pitch. He gets the most out of his given abilities. He may never make a 40-Man roster. However, as a person wiser than said about him in a discussion, "He's a lefty. I never count out a lefty."

Prospect Playlist P.J. Higgins

Posted by timahuwe on November 30, 2015 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

While we like to assess trades in a vacuum, vacuums rarely exist. Recently, the Cubs dealt infield prospect Frandy Delarosa to Texas for relief pitcher Spencer Patton. One of the things to remember is that the Rangers recently hired former Cubs minor league hitting instructor Anthony Iapoce. Iapoce may have the best current knowledge of Cubs hitting prospects. It may have come down to P.J. Higgins or Delarosa. Dealing from depth is a positive. Today's piece is on Higgins.

Higgins was a 12th Round selection in 2015, from Old Dominion.

Selected as a 2B, he also played some third last year in Arizona and Eugene. The only time a 353rd pick had a career WAR over two was when the Dodgers plucked Jason Thompson out of high school. Thompson was still a pitcher then, but his pro success would come at 1B, after he went to college at Cal State-Northridge. With that, no 353 signing has had a WHIP over 2.0. (Briefly a Cub, Anthony Varvaro was Mr. 1.9.)

Higgins is a hitter. While his numbers don't represent it yet, he sprays line drives all about. At least, in batting practice. Why would the Cubs be willing to part with Delarosa over Higgins? If it boiled to that, part of it may have been his time with the club.

Delarosa signed in 2012. He will be eligible for Rule 5 chicanery, in all its forms, in December of 2016. Higgins will be exempted until two years later. The two (Higgins and Delarosa) are more similar than dis-similar, and would have both been fighting for time at second in South Bend in April. April is a long way from now, but with Iapoce's say-so, the Rangers knew they were getting quality in Delarosa. That Higgins is similar to Delarosa could have made the trade that much easier. The Rangers likely didn't have that many teams in the market for Patton, and the possibility of a minor trade with the Cubs (over a situational smattering of a few of the other sides in the league) may be a foreshadowing of things to come in the league.

If Higgins hits as hoped (I doubt he turns into a Chesny Young, who hit better quicker in his first year), Higgins could move along quickly. However, even if he doesn't, he should provide quality depth in the system for quite a few years. If given the option of getting five-to-seven quality years in the minor leagues, with a possible morphing into a team scout/coach/exec, I think most teams ought to be happy with that from a 12th Round selection. (By the by, Higgins majored in Sports Management, and reads to be a baseball junkie.)

Based on the history of pick 353, it's a bit brash to expect more. However, he profiles as a guy who could trade for a reliever in rather short order. It may have almost happened, already. Or, enough of those line drives could find outfield gaps, and he could be better than I think.

$130-140 Million

Posted by timahuwe on November 30, 2015 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the early week stories is floating the Cubs budget over the next few seasons as being in the neighborhood of $130-140 million per. I doubt this will go over very well with fans who think that now is the time to invest heavily in free agency. As opposed to last year, and the year before, which were the times to invest heavily in free agency. While free agents are oftentimes well known, that doesn't make them worth their contracts. If the Edwin Jackson money hadn't been spent, but we know that story already. What does 130-140 mean for the off-season?

Obviously, free agent bulls will start with the 140 number. Because, they are free agent bulls. However, that doesn't mean it's the proper number. The team won 97 in the regular season in 2015, and most of the usual suspects will be back. The back-end of the rotation needs an upgrade, and a CF needs to be located. The most positive-sounding whisper news is that Cubs prospects are getting trade-value respect.  What's going to happen won't look to make much sense until 'the trade' is made.

'The trade' last year solidified the catching position, and things progressed from there. That was when Miguel Montero came to Chicago, and Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley went west.

I expect the prospects to help net a probable regular before Christmas. Then, the other pieces to the puzzle will become more apparent. Of course, some free agents might well be signed before the trade is made.

With Edwin Jackson, Jon Lester, and Miguel Montero under contract, the Cubs are already at $52 million. With two roster spots filled. Yeah, it will take some creativity to add all the pieces everyone wants. Particularly since the number will be closer to 130 than 140. To blow the entire shot off the start makes finishing tougher.

Why will the number be closer to $130 than $140?

In baseball, as with many other things, some things don't work out as planned. Regardless the time spent on the research. If the Cubs burn through $137 million before February starts, they are pretty much done for the season. There would, then, be precious little room for taking advantage of teams getting anxious at the deadlines. Or even if something is available in late-March.

So, whether you're looking at the Cot's site

or you have something else you use, expect the number to be closer to 130 than 140. Every team has a budget. Every fan base gripes that it ought to be higher, and then complains about how much the Dodgers and Yankees spend. While their fans complain they should spend more.


Instead of begging for 135 or 145, fans ought to do the unthinkable. Wonder how the team can get more from what they already have. How they can get other teams to prioritize their own prospects. Decide which of Carson Sands and Justin Steele should not get traded. Or maybe figure out who should take over for Derek Johnson or Anthony Iapoce, to keep the little talent development train humming.

The Cubs should be a very good team in 2016. The temptation might be to over-value 2016, at the detriment of the years to follow. I am accused of worrying too much about the future, and I'll own it. However, very rearely do I hear others admit that they placed too heavy of a value on, for instance, 2013, which was clearly a development season.

Baseball is a long game. It is a full mosaic. It isn't a rush to acquired talent. That leads to mistakes. The market, as Jed Hoyer phrased it on Monday, is "developing". Nobody wants to make a move before the market settles itself for the year. Teams want Cubs prospects, but things don't happen in a vacuum.

I don't have any specific expectations. However, I fully expect two starting pitchers to be added, and I expect CF to be dealt with as well. Be that by trade or free agency, it will happen. Yeah, I wish things would happen 'quicker', but I'd prefer slow and astute moves, to rash and foolish ones. And I expect the number to be far closer to $130 million than $140 million. Because October is more important than April.

Is It Bad To Make An MLB Roster?

Posted by timahuwe on November 30, 2015 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I wanted to run a piece on a baseball wives tale. I had to peg a headline that touched on it, but was vague enough to not mention Rule 5 players. Oops, I did it anyway. The wives tale is that a player will have negatives from being on a 40 Man roster. This, of course, seems like rubbish. However, some opponents of the Rule 5 draft in general like to perpetuate that a player is harmed by a year in the majors with Rule 5 stipulations. Today, I want to walk through the argument to see if it holds water.

I need an example, so I'll float Michael Heesch

... going to the White Sox. Doubtful, but let's walk it through.

As of now, today, Heesch is probably doubtful to make the Cubs MLB spring training. He will likely report to Mesa in early-March, though he would be welcomed to show up earlier. Obviously, as I'm a fan of the Cubs coaches, Heesch would likely get good training if in Mesa. However, in this exercise, Don Cooper will be his primary pitching coach until mid-March at the least. Cooper is generally well-respected, except by some Sox fans. Spending six weeks with Cooper, pushing for a big league roster spot, wouldn't hurt Heesch. To the contrary, it would seem to advance his skills.

Dealing with another wise pitching coach would add to his arsenal, not subtract from it. Lessons are gleaned from visitors at MLB training camp, as well. I remember Andrew McKirihan tweeting this...




The tale isn't that being in camp is bad, however. The comment is that Heesch, making $507,500 for the season, is somehow a drawback to him. This is patently absurd. Players who didn't get a huge bonus (Heesch earned a $100,000 bonus, and has been earning scraps ever since) would welcome a year of top-side earnings.. Plugging into a half-mil before taxes would give Heesch, or any other career minor league performer, a really needed bump.

To summarize, Heesch would be helped in camp, and his finances would be helped for the rest of his life, and that of his kids.

But it's a bad thing.

"But, it crushes his development."

He knows where he'll be, at least for awhile. He gets to know the coaches, and builds cameraderie with MLB team mates. Talking with guys in the pen, he learns how to deal with hitters he's never faced. Yeah, sounds crppling. The only way it hinders his development is if he makes the roster. Which was his goal the entire time in his development.

"But he doesn't get regular innings."

This is the closest thing to valid. In Heesch's case, if he were getting regular innings in (presumably) Double-A, he might get in the neighborhood of 70 innings, if he stays healthy. In the show, as a 'last option' in the pen, he'd probably get between 40 and 50. He'd also get in some side work on a day when he might not be likely used in the game. All the time, his efforts would be monitored by a big league staff.

Imagining, as the doomsday scenario progresses, he doesn't make the 25 the next spring, he goes to Double-A or Triple-A. Oh, horrors. His career has been ruined, because he took in about 300 K over six months. Now, gasp, he gets paid the added stipend of a Triple-A salary of a guy on the 40 Man roster. He is also, likely to be one of the first one's called up if injuries happen. If he pitches well the next few years, he is closer to arbitration, free agency, or both.

Yeah, it's gotta suck to make a 25 man roster as the 25th guy.


Donnie Veal

The purest Cub-centric example of this is Donald Veal. He had been in the Cubs system in December of 2008 since 2005. He had fairly zoomed to Double-A Tennessee. There he started 56 of 57 outings, evenly split between 2007 and 2008. He had, to an extent, stalled out. Which is why he was left unprotected.

Looking at his numbers, I'm not sure if a promotion to Iowa was guaranteed. If he earned it, I'm not sure it would have taken. He was on the verge of being a minor league free agent in a few years. However, the Pirates drafted him. He bounced around a few teams, earning 1.4 million in his career so far. He may well get a look in spring training in 2015.

I doubt Veal was hurt much by his time in Pittsburgh, and I'm sure he and his famly are happy to be a bit more solvent. 

Maybe the complainers are upset about specific cases of players who made the parent club roster, despite being ill-equipped for the task. If that's the case, they still got their money. They probably wouldn't have gotten in any other way, and they get a minute MLB pension the rest of their lives. The problem shouldn't be "the guy making the roster, and his development", so much as "the lack of development of the players in the pipeline at the time, which made the Hail Mary of grabbing a sub-standard option appealing in the first place".

In the final analysis, I doubt most of the people decrying how the Rule 5 draftee has his career ruined, really care about said player. They want a more familiar name on the roster. Not that familiar guys are, necessarily any better than Rule 5 guys. But, I'm sure it makes sense in their world somehow. After all, if a competitive team has a better option than a Rule 5 guy, he'll be dispatched, anyway.

Unless, like Hector Rondon, the team sees him as being worthwhile into the future, beyond his first season. With the "Lendy Castillo-case", the Cubs training camp was littered with players that weren't very good in the first place. With commitment to player development at the forefront, the team will have better options now. All roster spots should have to be earned.

Which is a maxim that I'm generally good with.

Pro Scouting Story

Posted by timahuwe on November 30, 2015 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Last March, I made the jaunt out to Mesa. It was very enjoyable watching all the fields being in play for practice. Four fields of players taking batting practice, tracking flies, and taking fielding instruction. Among the 'invisible' decisions is which players to keep. No, not the high draft picks. They're sticking around, anyway. With options like Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, it was a question of where they were getting assigned. With other players, the decision is more final. Such was the story with Tanner Witt.

Witt had a successful season in the Frontier League in Rockford in 2014. His OPS was .770 as an infielder, mostly. He had played mostly at second, but as a 24 year old in Mesa, he was playing wherever the team had at-bats. Or infield grounder practice The premise was, if he could stick with South Bend, it would make sense for him to make the jump to the minor leagues. However, at 24, staying in the Mesa compound made no sense. 

In the bottom rung of the state-side legues, he would get chump change for pay. He'd be better off in the Frontier League, where the pay is a bit better. As it happened, he didn't make the team he wanted to make, and was (effectively) released. He returned to Rockford, and had an OPS of .864 in the Frontier League his second time around. He stayed there a month, until....

The Frederick Keys came a-calling. A rival of the Carolina League Myrtle Beach Pelicans, they are an Orioles affiliate. The O's signed Witt to play in the Carolina League, and he represented rather well. Playing mostly at 3B, Witt posted an OPS of .683, and probably will be with the Orioles pipeline into next season.

Scouting and developing should never stop. They might not come to fruition for the pipeline, but I'm reasonably confident Witt will note to former Frontier League mates that the Cubs facility in Mesa made him a better player. Both for the Rockford Aviators, and eventually, the Baltimore Orioles system.

On The DH

Posted by timahuwe on November 29, 2015 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

As people look for things to talk about when baseball takes a few days off, the bi-polarity of the DH came up in a few places recently. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in just over a year. While the length of the season, integrity of the game, and draft issues might take center stage, normalizing the designated hitter ought to get more play than it does. However, it won't. As much as I don't like it in theory, the DH belongs in both leagues.

The common defense of the DH is 'tradition'. While I respect the idea, many traditions have gone away. Outhouses were a tradition, as were horse-drawn carriages, along with women being treated as property. When is it time to bid adieu to a tradition? One of the reasons to stop doing something is when it puts you at a competitive dis-advantage.

I can still remember watching the game in 1985. Rick Sutcliffe, who prided himself as a good hitter, hit one to the left side of the infield in a game in Atlanta. Respecting 90, he ran the ball out, taking that long last aggressive last step. His hamstring gave out, and he was never the same. It's well and good hearkening back to the days of Ferguson Jenkins being a good hitter. However, few pitchers are good enough hitters to justify the swings they take.

To be a good pro hitter, the most logical way to advance is to take hacks in Short-Season Ball. Then, move to A-Ball, Advanced A-Ball, then Double-A, and Triple-A, learning at each step how to be a better hitter. Pitchers don't hit as pros in many levels. They watch as hitters DH for them. The Northwest League employs the DH, as do the Midwest League and the Carolina League. It makes sense for multiple reasons.

As the goal is development in those leagues, development is best represented by a designated hitter getting in four at-bats in a game. The swings are what keeps them getting better. In some cases, they are most of the swings a guy gets in a week. It makes managing far easier, and it protects bull pens. The manager doesn't have to wrestle with burning his last outfielder in the tenth inning, hitting for a pitcher, just to see his CF pull up lame in the 14th inning. From a development standpoint, having a pitcher, who will likely never pitch in a big league park, hit seems rather a waste.

By this realization, players who have their career based on if they can hit, get the at bats.

Of course, in Double-A Ball, pitchers start to hit again. After a string of levels where they don't bat. A few years back, the Smokies went until August before they got a hit from a pitcher. Which really helped in their development.

American League teams have a huge edge when it comes to using the DH. Their pitchers are just that, They pitch. They don't run the bases. They don't hit. They pitch, and play defense. They don't blow out their hamstrings trying to reach on an infield hit. That is left to hitters. Rosters in the AL tend toward having an extra hitter. Even though the offenses are better, the pitchers don't have to worry about getting lifted for a pinch hitter. Therefore, they can pitch until they are done, one way or another.

The American League front office gets a huge edge when it comes to acquiring talent, with the DH. For instance, in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, NL squads have to use combinations and permutations. "How many wins will it cost us to have this guy that can't hit very well on our bench?" "Is it worth hiding this pitcher in the bullpen, when he might cost us a few games every season?"

In the American League, the thought process is a bit different.

"I don't really care about the last spot on our bench. We're in the AL. He wasn't going to play much anyway."

That is a rather large concession.

American League teams can grab guys with limited current contribution ability. An AL team figures they can make a roster move as needed to disable a veteran hitter, if needed. The "Rule 5 guy" won't play much anyway. The game can go 14 innings in the World Series, and the team will only use two or three reserves. Why would they use any more in a regular season game. 

Jose Bautista ended up with the Pirates for a few years, but eventually, the weight of his roster spot became too heavy. He was dealt to Toronto, in part, beacuse Toronto was in the American League. He wasn't going to be needed every day. Then, when the light went on, at long last, the Blue Jays could use him every day. The Pirates had Robinzon Diaz for just south of 150 plate appearances.

Tradition is fine, until it starts interfering with what's important. College baseball uses a DH, and most pitchers don't hit. Many overseas leagues use the DH. The AL doesn't want to give it up. Why should they? It gives them an edge.

Yeah, it's kind of nice when the Cubs are in the field, and a lousy hitting pitcher comes up. It's traditional. That tradition is costing the NL. 

Tradition is day games in Wrigley. Tradition is the bleachers being half-empty. Baseball and society have many good, and bad, traditions. To make a case for retaining the DH, defenders really ought to admit that retaining the tradition of the designated hitter is costing the league competitiveness. It's making the game less desirable for consumers who want to watch good hitters swing, not watching pitchers try to hit. Or bunt.

Roll with whichever opinion you want. The National League is disadvantaged by having players not good at hitting or running the bases, hitting or running the bases. Those at-bats burned on pitchers in Iowa could instead be used by hitters who need extra swings to be better at their craft. Very rarely do I hear defenders of pitchers hitting note the following.

I'm glad we only have three available players left in the twelfth inning. And they're all pitchers.

Baseball games will continue to go extra innings. In the American League, it will continue to not matter. In the National League, front offices will conitnue to have to account for it. And the better hitting talent will tip toward AL sides in situations that involve Rule 5 players, or those in options jeopardy. But some will continue to fight the fight for tradition's sake.

Tradition only makes sense when no newer better way has been developed.

I don't like the DH, but it's here to stay. Like inter-league play, the transition time will  be very short. The NL ought to push to adopt the deisnated hitter. The American League hopes they won't, for competitive balance reasons. Being competitively equal trumps being traditional, in this instance. Whether the player's association calls for it or not, the NL should push for the designated hitter.

Non-Tender: It Tastes Like Chicken

Posted by timahuwe on November 29, 2015 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Baseball is filled wih deadlines. Two trade deadlines exist, one each at the end of July and August. We just passed a deadline to exempt players from the Rule 5 draft in December. However, to prevent you from going too long without a deadline, teams face a non-tender deadline on December 2nd.

Most of the Cubs non-tendering discussion, as it will be, will be on Travis Wood. They can keep the lefty pitcher, and give him whatever the fee ends up being. Or, they could let him go, and try to fill his 'skeleton key' role elsewhere. But Wood's case isn't the one under consideration. Look for a minute at the page on The Cub Reporter.

Non-tendering means, in effect, not giving the player the standard/automatic contract. In part, this has to do with productivity. However, a decent chunk is to save a 40 Man roster spot.

Among the Cubs options on the 40, Yoervis Medina, Christian Villanueva, and Matt Szczur all look like potential options to be non-tendered, as well. If the team and player (in advance) come to an agreement, he can be brought back off of the 40 Man. (Even at the league minimum of $500,000 plus a bit, a player like Dallas Beeler is a steal. As he has an option left, there's no reason to mess with his status. You never know when the required command might arrive. With Beeler, Eric Jokisch, Drew Rucinski, and Pierce Johnson, the Cubs are well on their way to a usable rotation in Iowa.)

 The three mentioned above would have next-to-no trade value, as they would have to break camp with the team out of spring training. As they are still under contract to the Cubs, they really can't negotiate elsewhere. If given a valid offer, the temptation to remain 'in system' would be tempting. Which is why it's a nice tool to use.

Having spots open in the 40 Man is a tool. The guys you add might not work out. In some instances, the next option might even be to run them through waivers again. An off-season goal should be to add as much potential talent as feasible. No, it won't always work. Oftentimes, it won't. However, having a guy around for spring training give your team one more chance to benefit from the next Miguel Socolovich.

Socolovich bounced from team to team, including the Cubs, before gaining his footing in St. Louis. Now, since he was in the minor leagues for so long, he is cost-controlled until 2022. For pitchers, the light may never 'go on', but the benefits are plenty for the team that has him when they do. The Cubs briefly had Liam Hendriks in the fold. He was recently dealt for Jesse Chavez.

Look for the Cubs (and other teams) to carve out a bit more roster space by Wednesday. With the Cubs, that day will be Wednesday. When the Cubs have a deadline, they will push the edges of it. Then do what they have to. Then, they will likey have a few more roster spots open. As other teams might non-tender players the Cubs value, some of those roster spots might fill sooner than later.

Look for the third (Thursday) to be a busy day.