2013 MLB Offseason Preview: The Announcement

Welcome to the 2013 MLB Offseason Preview at the Addison and Clark Blues. Over the next few weeks I’ll be tackling all 30 MLB teams by taking an in-depth look at all aspects of the team. The purpose of this preview isn’t to highlight players or talk in detail about statistics, it’s about looking at a team from the view of the roster in general and figuring out where the team is headed in the coming years.

The rankings have been determined by four different criteria, based on the 2013, 2014, and 2015 MLB seasons.

1. How many times will the team get to the playoffs?

If I think a team has set itself up to make the playoffs every year, they are going to be ranked highly. This is the main deciding criteria when you look at the overall list. It was how I originally broke the teams into groups, so if you see a team that was one of the worst teams this year that is in the middle of the list, it’s safe to assume I think they’ll make the playoffs at least once.

2. Will the team simply make the playoffs, or are they a World Series contender?

If a team gets to the playoffs, are they just going to win a wild card game and maybe the next round, or are they legitimate pennant winners who can win it all? This also ends up speaking to how often the team can make the playoffs, but is an important distinction within each group of playoff contenders.

3. Do I trust the front office and owner?

Does the team’s owner get what is going on and understand the plan the general manager has in place? Will he get in the way? These things matter, a lot, and factor into a team’s future. If it’s obvious that a team has a plan in place in terms of how they are running the team and they are making smart decisions, I’m going to trust that front office more than I will another that seems to be making moves that don’t match the personnel they have on the field. If a team is pushing for the playoffs after winning 75 games, they don’t understand where they are and will suffer in the rankings accordingly.

4. What direction will a team be heading in after the 2015 season?

After the 2015 season is over, what direction is team heading in? Are they now chock full of veterans who are getting into their mid-30s, or are do they have players just about to enter their prime with the farm churning out some more players to feed the major league team. The direction of the franchise at the end of the time period matters, although probably the least of all of these things.

All of this criteria is decided upon based on a team’s current talent at the major league level, the talent in their farm system that will be able to make an impact within the specified time line, and the organization’s ability to add talent by either trades or free agency. Teams with money to spend, a good MLB roster, and a deep farm system will do very, very well.

There is no number or rank I put on each individual measure of team to create some sort of grand number that symbolizes where the team is overall. I simply asked myself based on the criteria, where I thought each team was and sorted them out subjectively.

With all of that being said, enjoy the rankings. I hope to put out one every week day, which is quite ambitious of me. I may eventually slow down to three a week, but hopefully most, if not all, will be done by the time the offseason is just kicking into gear.


Cubs Trade Bait – June 25, 2013

The trade deadline is getting closer and the rumors are already swirling around the Cubs. Who stays and who goes all depends on the offers the Cubs get in the next few weeks. Things usually start to pick up after the All-Star Break, so nothing is expected to happen any time soon.

The list of possible buyers has actually grown since the last list, but things could change fast. The White Sox, Twins, Angels, Phillies, and Dodgers could call it quits soon, although I wouldn’t put it past either of the Los Angeles teams to be long-term buyers at the deadline.

List of Buyers (Right Now): Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Athletics, Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies, Padres

Limbo: Royals, Twins, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Dodgers

Definite Sellers: Mariners, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Brewers, Cubs

Slotting the Mariners as sellers might be a little hasty, but I just don’t see them as talented enough to be one or two pieces away from a playoff spot, especially given the two teams at the top of the division. Everyone else should be firmly looking to sell.

All But Gone

Matt Garza

Matt Garza    4.25 ERA, 7.87 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 42.1 IP
Possible Suitors: Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Pirates, Giants, Rockies, Padres
The Cubs have zero incentive to sign Garza to an extension before the trade deadline thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Instead, the Cubs could deal Garza at the deadline and, should they want to, try and sign him as a free agent since the team that trades for him will be unable to attach free agent compensation to Garza should he not sign with that team.

Most teams are in need of starters at the deadline, but the Blue Jays, Nationals, Giants, and Padres stick out for me. They seem in most desperate need for pitching with the best chance to contend and are in need of an impact starter to get them there. The Padres  have already been linked to the Cubs and Garza while the Nationals are aggressively pursuing pitching.

Scott FeldmanScott Feldman    3.39 ERA, 6.78 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 85.0 IP
Possible Suitors
: Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Pirates, Giants, Rockies, Padres
Feldman has regressed a little in his last few starts, but that doesn’t necessarily take all of the shine off of him. He’s still a solid starter that can eat some innings and keep a team in games. The Cubs should get something pretty good back for him too, especially since the market for him will probably be larger given the lower price than Garza. Something akin to the package the Cubs got for Ryan Dempster seems about right.

Kevin GreggKevin Gregg    1.11 ERA, 9.62 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 11 SV
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Rays, Tigers, Diamonbacks, Giants, Rockies, Padres
Gregg seems to be disregarded when you see sports writer’s best available relievers at the deadline, but his stat line says otherwise. Ok, yes, it is Kevin Gregg, but the results are what they are, and he’s been great for the Cubs. Why wouldn’t a team in need of bullpen help want him? The Red Sox have been chasing closers under GM Ben Cherrington, so why not try Gregg? The Tigers are probably looking for more of a shutdown closer, but could get Gregg as a set-up man.

Be Ready to Go

David DeJesusDavid DeJesus    .260/.318/.445  5 HR, 3 SB
Possible Suitors: Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Reds, Giants, Padres
DeJesus was doing so well the last time I made this list. Since then, his numbers have slipped and he landed on the DL. Even so, DeJesus is an outfielder a lot of teams could use in center or right field that hits at the top of their line up. It sounds like he’s on track to come back shortly after (or right after) the All-Star Break. The Tigers aren’t too likely since they can simply call up Castellanos. The Giants and Yankees probably make the most sense since they are thin in the outfield.

Nate SchierholtzNate Schierholtz    .296/.347/.558  10 HR, 4 SB
Possible Suitors:
 Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Reds, Giants, Padres
Schierholtz has been on a tear and has already matched his career high in home runs. He’s also hitting for average and proving to be an extremely effective half of a platoon. He also has one arbitration year in front of him, adding to his value since teams don’t have to pay free agent money for him. Like DeJesus, the Giants and Yankees make the most sense. The Royals, should they go on a run, would be a good fit as well.

If the Money Gets Figured Out

MLB: MAR 28 Mariners v Cubs Alfonso Soriano    .248/.278/.398  7 HR, 8 SB
Possible SuitorsYankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Reds, Giants, Padres
Soriano’s bat has lagged so far this season and he hasn’t gone on one of his patented tears for awhile, so one might say he’s due. It’s unlikely Soriano will be traded by the July 31 deadline, but he can easily be traded after during the waiver deadline, so there’s no rush.

Carlos MarmolCarlos Marmol    5.86 ERA, 10.41 K/9, 6.83 BB/9, 2 SV
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Dodgers
Marmol was designated for assignment by the Cubs today and has 10 days to clear waivers or be traded, so he’s still technically trade bait! That being said, it’s unlikely the Cubs will get anything for him. Teams would rather pay him the minimum or sign him to a minor league deal than assume the $5 million or so left on his contract for first dibs.

If the Right Offer is on the Table

James RussellJames Russell    2.22 ERA, 8.26 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 28.1 IP
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Dodgers
Russell still has two arbitration years ahead of him, but he’s pitching so well it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him get traded. I don’t think the Cubs are trying to trade him, but they will certainly listen and consider offers. Quality left handed relievers aren’t too easy to find, so he’ll attract a large group of possible contenders to the table.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago CubsLuis Valbuena    .242/.355/.410  6 HR, 1 SB
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, Braves
Valbuena has raised his walk rate to extreme levels so far this season while hitting for a decent average and some pop while playing good defense. It’s crazy to say, but he’s been really good. He has three arbitration years ahead of him, so there’s no rush, but if a good enough offer hits the table, don’t expect the Cubs to flinch. The Red Sox seem like the best fit, but the Indians fit the bill as well.

Extremely Unlikely but Possible

Darwin BarneyDarwin Barney    .230/.293/.350  4 HR, 2 SB
Possible Suitors: Orioles, Blue Jays, Nationals, Rockies
Barney has improved his average a bit while giving a little in his walk rate. The power is still there from earlier this season, and he’s been very good against lefties. His entrance from the DL came, not coincidentally, to when the Cubs defense stopped throwing the ball around so recklessly.  I don’t think a trade will happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.

When Starlin Met Theo

Starlin CastroStarlin Castro is currently mired in a slump. That’s no secret, as is currently sitting on a .235/.269/.327 line. To put those numbers in perspective, Castro walk rate, isolated power, and batting average, as they stand right now, are at career lows while his strikeout rate is at a career high.

As I was listening to the Fringe Average podcast today, they brought up the topic of management trying to change a hitter in the hopes of those changes manifesting in the player, therefore becoming better. Castro has been criticized, seemingly ever since he came up, for not walking enough. Under general manager Jim Hendry (who signed several free swingers), that wasn’t much of a problem. But when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the show, it was certainly something of an issue.

What I am getting at isn’t an accusation of guilt, but an inquiry in search of an indictment. It’s next to impossible to assign blame to any one person, let alone an entire organization, without knowledge of their inner workings and what actually happened. What I want to present is a statement of facts about the Cubs’ potential superstar shortstop under the two regimes, and for you to make your own judgement based on the data supplied.

Let’s start by pointing out some things right away. First off, Starlin had more plate appearances with Hendry than he has had with Theo. Second, I hypothesized (based on data), that Starlin Castro walks more in the second half of the season than the first. He obviously hasn’t had the second second half under Theo, so take the walk rate with a grain of salt. Also worth remembering, and this is such a duh statement, Castro was older and more experienced under Theo, meaning he should naturally hit for more power and, one would hope, better in general with age.

2010 1.76 19.50% 51.30% 29.20% 7.00%
2011 1.55 20.10% 48.60% 31.30% 3.30%
2012 1.48 20.50% 47.50% 32.00% 9.10%
2013 1.42 18.70% 47.70% 33.60% 6.90%

Looking at this first set of numbers, you can see that Castro’s number really aren’t all that different between the two regimes. His line drive rate is lower than ever this year, but his other numbers are about average. The only thing really worth delving into is his ground ball to fly ball rate, which has actually improved. When it comes to Castro’s performance on balls he made contact with, he’s gotten better with age. No surprise there. This should naturally happen as he gets closer to his prime.

Hendry 1221 .304 .343 .422 .118 5.24% 13.67%
Theo 907 .270 .310 .402 .132 5.18% 16.21%

This box isn’t as kind. As you can see, almost every one of his numbers has gotten worse under Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. His batting average is 34 points lower and his walk and strikeout rates are both worse. The only thing to improve was his isolated power, which isn’t surprising given the increased strength that comes with age.

It gets worse. On June 12, 2012, it was reported that the Cubs fired Rudy Jaramillo as their hitting coach and replaced him with James Rowson. This was another decision that moved the Cubs from the Hendry regime to the Epstein/Hoyer regime. At that time, Castro was hitting .308/.320/.445. He finished 2012 at .283/.323/.430. As you can see from the below graph, Castro hasn’t seen much success since firing Jaramillo.

Jaramillo 1480 .305 .339 .426 .121 5.06% 15.17%
Rowson 740 .254 .301 .381 .127 5.92% 16.16%

Castro’s average plummets another 16 points while the strikeout rate only ticks down a bit. The walk rate actually improves here, but everything else is a mess, all because of the low batting average.

It’s impossible to know what happened with Castro, but we can set two different end points and find the same results: Castro has been worse under hitting coach James Rowson than Jaramillo, and worse under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer than his time with Jim Hendry as general manager. I don’t want to recommend anyone getting fired as I don’t even know 1% of what is going on in the Cubs clubhouse, film room, or dugout, but the data certainly points that something has gone horribly wrong with Castro. Maybe this would have happened regardless of the general manager or hitting coach. We have no idea.

But what we think we know about the situation is that the new regime had an interest in improving the plate discipline of its hitters so they would walk more and get better pitches to hit. James Rowson was a symbolic change to that philosophy. All signs point to the Cubs tinkering with Castro’s approach and trying to get him to be more selective at the plate. This would be done with the player’s best interest in mind, but the results haven’t met the intentions thus far.

That being said, they may not have tinkered with his approach at all. Jacoby Ellsbury has never walked much, but there aren’t any signs (as far as I can tell) that Theo tinkered with his approach while he was in Boston.

The bottom line is, we have no idea. We just have data, and it says something has gone horribly wrong in the last year. At the beginning, I said I was merely looking for an indictment based on the data. I’d say there’s enough here to go to trial.

All statistics taken from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

2013 Draft: Day 2 Picks for the Cubs

After two solid picks in the first two rounds of the draft, the Cubs look to improve their depth on day 2. Generally speaking, the first three or four rounds are where most of the MLB talent is taken, and anything after that is seen as a bonus. As we get deeper in the draft, the information will get quite scarce to non-existent. I’ll see what I can find for each one though.

Draft Resources
Draft Tracker
Draft Slot Amounts

jacob hannemannThird Round Pick: Jacob Hannemann, CF BYU L/L
Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis said Hannemann played football for the Cougras as well as baseball. They said he is an athletic player with plus speed and a below average arm. He is a little older than some other players because he went on a mission trip for two years and obviously hasn’t been able to fully dedicate himself to playing baseball because of it and football, but played well regardless.  Mayo wondered how much better he could be since, should he sign, he’ll be able to focus on baseball and start to develop those tools. Callis compared him to Patrick Kevlehan, a pick of the Seattle Mariners last year, in terms of his path to baseball thus far.

Mayo wrote the following about Hannemann on the draft tracker…

Hannemann is only a freshman, but don’t let that fool you. The two-sport standout went on his Mormon mission before heading to college, making him 22 years old. Also a football player, Hannemann has some athletic tools to work with, even if they are a bit raw. The WCC Freshman of the Year hit well in his first taste of college ball, impressive considering he hadn’t played in two years. He has the chance to hit and run well and could be a solid center field prospect for a team willing to be patient.

Hannemann is going to be a tricky prospect to follow because of how far behind he is in terms of just playing the game. A 22-year-old player in Low A doesn’t exactly pop off the screen, but this is the kind of player teams need to have in their system. Think about how much players like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter have contributed to the Cardinals despite being older prospects. It’s nice to see the hit tool mentioned as well.

Keith Law mentioned Hannemann in his chat and had this to say…

Great athlete, can run, limited experience, and oh he’s a 22-year-old freshman because he went on a mission (he’s Mormon). He’s 18 months older than Bryce Harper.

That certainly puts the age into context. He also mentioned the other two Cubs picks later…

Skulina’s got a huge arm, good value at that round. Masek was on my top 100, future reliever but a solid one.

Sounds like Law has no problem with the picks, which is good to hear. Now to hit those two with more detail…

Tyler SkulinaFourth Round Pick: Tyler Skulina, RHP Kent State
Mayo and Callis mentioned that Skulina was a big reason Kent State went on their College World Series run last year. He transfered to Kent State from Virginia and is a tall right hander who throws 91-96. Callis said he actually played against the Cubs’ first round pick Kris Bryant earlier in the year. He added that Bryant has a good fastball and curveball, and has (and it is very important to read carefully here) the looks of a number 2 or 3 starter in the majors. Mayo seemed a little less optimistic about Skulina, noting that his change-up needs work, but agreeing that the size and arm strength are there. He tagged him as a fourth starter.

Here’s some video of Skulina from last year. I couldn’t find anything newer, unfortunately.

Mayo wrote the following about Skulina on the draft tracker…

Skulina played a key role in Kent State’s Cinderella run to the 2012 College World Series and has taken on an even bigger role this spring as the Golden Flashes ace. He relies on his fastball-curveball combination to attack hitters and isn’t afraid to challenge them. Skulina’s fastball sits in the low-90s and runs in on right-handers. His curveball has good break and should be a Major League average offering. He uses his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame to create a good downhill plane for both pitches. Skulina needs to develop his changeup to reach his potential.

It’s nice to hear that he has some movement on his fastball. It’s clear that there’s something to dream on with Skulina, and it should take him some time to crack the majors. A couple years working on refining the curveball and the change-up should be enough for the Cubs’ fourth college player.

Trey MasekFifth Round Pick: Trey Masek, RHP Texas Tech
Yet another college player! The Cubs have yet to pick a player out of the high school ranks in this draft and are once again going pitcher heavy. Mayo and Callis said he is a high upside arm with durability concerns. Callis said he played in the Cape Cod league and did well there and carried that success into the regular season until some rotator cuff issues caused him to miss several starts, but did pitch near the end of the season. Callis said Masek smoothed out his delivery this season with the help of his pitching coach. Unlike the other two pitchers the Cubs drafted this season, Masek was actually Texas Tech’s Saturday starter (in other words, not their staff ace).

It’s obvious from the video that he doesn’t have the height you want out of a right handed starter, but there’s always hope that he can be an exception. Jonathan Mayo wrote the following about him on the draft tracker…

Masek had a very strong summer in the Cape Cod League and it was carrying over as Texas Tech’s Saturday starter, though some arm soreness in late March kept him out of action for a spell. Assuming health, the slightly undersized right-hander will show three pretty good pitches. He can run his fastball up to 94 mph, throws a solid curveball and has a good feel for a sinking changeup. His funky delivery adds deception to his stuff, though his command can be inconsistent. He gets high marks for his aggressiveness and poise on the mound. That, plus Masek’s size and injury history, have some thinking his future might be in a big league bullpen.

It’s not surprising to hear about a future in the bullpen. Starters that can’t stay healthy often go there. If that’s what the Cubs are getting with their fifth round pick, they will be more than happy. Until that happens, it’s nice to see that he can dial it up to 94 and has two solid pitches to complement it.

The Cubs’ pick is the first one today that is included in Keith Law’s top 100 list, so there’s actually a scouting report for him on ESPN (Insider required). Law said Masek’s arsenal is starter quality and saw a “so-so” slider from him to go along with the curve. He adds that Masek is a strike thrower who should be pushed as a starter and moved to the pen if things don’t work out in the rotation.

Scott FrazierSixth Round Pick: Scott Frazier, RHP Pepperdine
Mayo and Callis initially missed the pick in the fury that apparently is the sixth round, but Callis came back to Frazier and said this was a buy-low opportunity for the Cubs. He said Frazier had a bad season but has a good arm.

The Cubs continue to draft projectable college arms. Three pitches with a big frame and a good arm is something to dream on. Mayo wrote on the draft tracker about Frazier…

The big right-hander served as Pepperdine’s Saturday starter in 2012, then moved into the Friday slot as a junior, continuing to show the big arm that has always intrigued scouts. His fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range, and he backs it up with a curve and changeup. He’s shown gradual improvement over time with the Waves and while his results as a junior have been up and down, he’s the kind of college arm that could sneak into the back end of the first round. After his sophomore season, Frazier pitched in the Cape Cod League to cap off 2012. Even with his uneven performances, his size and arm strength were still getting a lot of interest as the Draft approached.

Wow. That’s what you want to hear. Getting a guy Mayo thought could slip into the first round in the sixth is a steal. This is great news. Now let’s just hope the pick works out.

Frazier was also in Keith Law’s top 100 (Insider required). He mentions that Frazier was actually taken in the fifth round in the 2010 draft and is probably looking for a big bonus (think somewhere between $500,000 to $1 million, his draft slot amount is $267,600) in this year’s draft. It’s a low risk at this point of the draft, and I wonder if some of their picks (I’m thinking Hannemann) were part of the plan to get a guy like Frazier.

Law calls the delivery ugly, but doesn’t seem to hold that against him too much as he says the stuff looks good. He said the fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and touches 98(!) but lacks control of it. He also has a curve and change-up, and Law sees him as a project. Hopefully the Cubs can swing the money and get him into their system to make the needed changes.

NCAA Baseball: April 24  Michigan State vs Notre DameSeventh Round Pick: David Garner, RHP Michigan State
That’s seven-for-seven in terms of college players. Mayo and Callis both said they liked the idea of putting Garner in the pen right away and moving him quickly through the minors. They said he’s not a big guy, but has a nice arm and threw well in the Cape Cod League. He has a hard slider that should work well in the bullpen and Callis said his mechanics can get away from him at times. At this point of the draft, a guy like this is a nice pick.

Mayo wrote a ton about Garner in his draft tracker write-up of Garner…

His slight frame is not an indication of the power the right-hander possesses. Garner owns a fastball that can touch 95 mph, while his hard-breaking slider is his primary out-pitch. He has a free delivery and aggressive approach, and his electric stuff has led to 192 strikeouts in 217 2/3 innings pitched for Michigan State during his three years in East Lansing. At times, Garner can lose his control, as he walked 27 batters this year, while also hitting six and throwing 10 wild pitches. In his first two seasons at Michigan State, Garner was in and out of the rotation, but he made all 14 appearances as a starter during his junior year. He went 4-5 with a 4.10 ERA, lifting his career numbers to 15-12 and 3.97, respectively. Garner stood out in the Cape Cod League each of the past two summers, especially in 2012, when he was named to the West Division All-Star Team. In 43 1/3 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Garner registered 41 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA, both of which were good for top 20 in the league.

You know who this kind of sounds like? Carlos Marmol! C’mon! You loved Carlos when he would strike out everyone while walking two batters an inning! Bring it back! Bring it back!

I thought there was a chance Garner was a senior (he’s not) because of the bullpen projection, which would allow the Cubs to funnel more money towards guys like Frazier. They still may be able to, but not as much as they would if Garner was a senior sign.

Sam WilsonEigth Round Pick: Sam Wilson, LHP Lamar CC (CO)
Wilson is yet another college pitcher (junior college, but still) who has had some issues in the past. Mayo and Callis said he moved around a bit, initially attending the University of New Mexico, but had to red shirt due to academic issues. Mayo said he’s been a two way player his whole career, plaing in the outfield as well as pitching, but said his future is most certainly on the mound. Callis said he’s thrown 93-94 on the fastball, but was only hitting 88-91 this spring with a curve and change to go with it. The hope, as both mentioned, is that his stuff plays up with uninterrupted time on the mound.

Mayo wrote about Wilson on the draft tracker…

Wilson was drafted by the Rangers in the 20th round in 2010, but he chose to attend New Mexico. He was a two-way player as a freshman, but academic issues forced him to redshirt last season and he ultimately transferred to Lamar Community College this year. Wilson has continued as a two-way player for the Runnin’ Lopes, but his professional future is on the mound. He throws his fastball around 90 mph and he has touched 94 mph in the past. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, both of which have the potential to be Major League-average offerings. Wilson is athletic, has good size (he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and repeats his delivery well.

It’s nice to hear the Cubs are still finding projectable three pitch guys at this point in the draft. There’s obviously a bit of a knock against him for the academic issues, but if the guy loves baseball and is willing to work hard at it, that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s hard to see what the issue is that put him this late in the draft given the size and his ability to repeat his delivery. I would have thought a guy like this would have gone a couple rounds earlier.

Charcer BurkesNinth Round Pick: Charcer Burks, CF William B. Travis HS R/R
The Cubs finally take a high school player in the ninth round of the draft. Callis said during the draft cast that Burks is one of the better athletes in the Houston area and is an above average runner. He played shortstop in high school, but it looks like the Cubs will move him to center. Callis said Burks didn’t have the actions teams look for in a shortstop, so this is an aggressive move to put him in the outfield instead of developing him at short and then moving him. His bat has a way to go and hopefully he can hit enough for a center fielder.

2013 Draft: Cubs’ Top Picks

Kris BryantThe Cubs have the second pick in the MLB Draft. After that, they don’t pick again until the 40th overall pick (2nd Round/2nd Pick). The rest of their picks will be made on Friday night, with the second pick in each round.

Day 2 Coverage of the MLB Draft

Draft Resources
Draft Order
Draft Tracker
Draft Signing Tracker

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B University of San Diego
Bryant is loaded with power. Crazy, crazy power. He out-homered entire teams with his 31 bombs. Whether he will stay at third is a question, but he could move to left or right field without a problem. Bryant has a wide stance and from what I can tell (in other words, I am not a scout), he has a big frame with long legs and that Buck Showalter high butt that you look for (Derrek Lee had it too).

Keith Law of ESPN writes (Insider required) that Bryant has a quiet swing that may not induce a lot of contact, but he can certainly destroy a fastball. He adds that Bryant has legitimate 30 home run power and rates his tools as average otherwise.

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com wrote the following about Bryant (link is to a different story)…

Teams looking for the best power college bat in the class may not have to look further than San Diego. Bryant has been an excellent performer in a weak college conference, but he also led Team USA this summer in slugging percentage. He has easy plus power, maybe more, with the ability to hit the ball out to all fields. He also has a plus arm, and while some feel he’ll have to move to first in the future, others feel he has the actions, arm and power bat to profile well at the hot corner. He’s also shown the ability to play a corner outfield spot during his junior season. There is a good amount of swing and miss to his game, but the team that feels he’ll hit enough will likely take his power bat off the board fairly early in the Draft.

Notice the trend here: not a guy who should hit for a high average, but will make it up in spades with the power. Sticking at third is also a question, from what Mayo hears. It’s also worth noting that he hasn’t been in a tough conference, so the talent he is facing isn’t the top level. That could mean some extra time in the minors.

Connor Glassey of Baseball America writes the following…

Opponents have pitched him very carefully, but he has remained patient, posting a 56-31 walk-strikeout mark. Bryant’s best tool is his plus-plus righthanded power, allowing him to launch towering shots over the light standard in left field or hit balls over the fence to the opposite field. He has adopted a wider base and a simpler approach at the plate this year, and he has impressed scouts with his ability to turn on inside fastballs or go the other way with sliders over the outer half. His plate discipline and ability to consistently barrel up a variety of pitches make him a safe bet to be at least an average hitter, and many scouts think he’ll be better than that. Bryant’s arm gives him another above-average tool. His athleticism gives him at least a chance to stick at third, although he’ll need plenty more repetitions to master the position. Some scouts project him as a prototypical right fielder. He has average speed and can be faster under way, and he has shown good instincts in right and center.

The patience is there, and the arm should play anywhere.

Baseball America also rates Bryant as one of the top power hitters and had the best strike zone judgement among college hitters. Those are two huge reasons to take him.

Baseball Prospectus wrote a nice article on Bryant’s tools. His only below average tool is his speed, which is actually average right now, but they predict he will slow down as he fills out.

At third base he has adequate hands and controls his body well on the move, but his lower-half quickness is below average and his footwork requires a fair amount of work. With reps and pro instruction he might be able to develop into a solid defender at the five-spot, but the path of least resistance is in right, and that’s the spot that should allow his bat to progress the quickest.

The Cubs under Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein seem to be taking their time with their prospects, so a switch to the outfield, if it ever happens, will likely happen later in his development.

Rob ZastryznySecond Round Pick: Rob Zastryzny, LHP Missouri
The Cubs selected a left handed starter out of the University of Missourri.

Zastryzny’s name is obviously made for torture (it’s pronounced zah-strizz-knee), but he’s an interesting pick for the Cubs. This isn’t a high ceiling arm, but more of a crafty lefty that could fit in the middle of the rotation. This might also be a move to improve the team’s immediate starting pitching depth (and by immediate, I don’t mean this year and probably not next year either).

Information on Zastryzny is thin, but here’s what Jonathan Mayo had to say about him…

The latest in a long line of talented Missouri pitchers, Zastryzny has a good feel for the craft of pitching. His fastball typically sits in the upper-80s, but Zastryzny has the ability to add and subtract velocity as necessary. His fastball velocity typically ranges from 86 mph to 94 mph. Zastryzny, a left-hander, uses his height – he’s listed at 6-foot-3 – to create a downhill angle for his fastball, which has late action. Zastryzny also throws a changeup and slider. He commands his whole arsenal well and all three of his pitches have the chance to be at least Major League-average offerings.

It’s interesting that his fastball ranges into the mid 90s. If he could sit 91-92 and touch 94, this looks like a much better pick than I initially thought. He has the height and the body doesn’t look too bad. He could be a Paul Maholm type and be a mid-rotation guy if things work out.

ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider required) wrote that he has four pitches without a real out pitch. He also possibly explains the varying velocity, noting that he has a four and two-seam fastball and their velocities sit at 92-93 mph and 87-88 mph. That certainly makes more sense than ranging from 86 to 94. He also has a change-up and curveball. It’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs decide to do with him. They could add a slider and work on his mechanics to get the most out of him.

The video points out that he’s a fast worker and doesn’t take much time between pitches. In a weird way, he’s a Mark Appel replacement: a guy that can get to the majors quickly and jump into the rotation. If he follows the Pierce Johnson plan, he’ll probably get some time in Rookie and Short Season ball, followed by an assignment to Low A next season. If the Cubs feel he is more advanced, the aggressive move would be to High A.

More bits on Bryant
The Houston Astros were the only team picking ahead of the Chicago Cubs, and they selected Stanford RHP Mark Appel. I was hoping the Cubs would be able to pick Appel, and apparently, so were the Cubs.

This makes a lot of sense. Appel was a polished, high ceiling-high floor player that could get to the big leagues quickly and jump in the rotation. Oklahoma RHP Jonathan Gray scared me a bit because of his lack of polish in comparison and pop-up velocity, as Baseball Prospectus’ Nick Faleris writes.

Again, this isn’t too surprising. The Cubs don’t necessarily have that big time power bat in their line up. They have 20+ home run guys like Almora and Soler, but legitimate 30+ home run hitters from the right side are tough to find. While Baez could certainly match that description, he’s no sure thing.

At least we know the Cubs knew a lot about the player given those relationships. Intelligence sometimes is overlooked in this stuff, but it does matter to teams. I’m sure that was something that made Appel a more interesting prospect as well. Talent always comes first, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a smart player as well. The all academic honors also speaks to his work ethic and maturity.

Don’t expect to see Bryant next year, although it is possible. Bryant will probably take a little time. He’ll be 22 next season, which is usually when prospects hit Double A. If he signs quickly enough, he could be assigned to High A Daytona after a quick stint in Rookie Ball. He could also be assigned to Short Season ball. Low A Kane County would make some sense, but Jeimer Candelario is blocking third there.

Bryant easily slips into the fourth spot on my Chicago Cubs top prospect list, behind Baez, Almora, and Soler. Zastryzny is a little trickier, and would probably land in the 7-12 range.

Day 2 Draft Coverage is continued here.

The Strange Seasons of the Cubs Middle Infielders

Starlin Barney
Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are both off to slow starts. Both players have had OBPs under .300 for most of the season and are hitting for much lower batting averages than they have in their careers. Needless to say, both players are struggling.

I wanted to know why. What was it that was keeping these players in a funk? I hope to look at some other odd seasons in the future.

Starlin CastroStarlin Castro
.264/.295/.366  3 HR, 3 SB, 3.8% BB, 16.5% K

Castro is supposed to be a .300 hitter, but he’s been well under that mark for most of the season. He also isn’t walking much, which isn’t necessarily surprising, but is disappointing. After the All Star break in 2012, Castro’s walk rate improved to 7.3%, walking twice as much in the second half than in the first half in almost the same amount of plate appearances. I had hope that his progress would continue into this season, which it still might.

Castro has been wildly impatient in the first two months of the season throughout his career. In the first two months of 2011 and 2012 (in other words, his two full seasons), Castro drew 13 walks in 449 PAs for a 2.9% walk rate. In the rest of the season, his walk rate improved to 6.1%. It’s entirely possible that this trend continues again this season.

Season Split BB% AVG OBP SLG
Career Mar/Apr 3.00% .319 .340 .438
Career May 4.00% .287 .315 .395
Career Jun 6.60% .271 .318 .396
Career Jul 4.40% .281 .314 .431
Career Aug 5.50% .305 .347 .445
Career Sept/Oct 7.00% .294 .355 .408

As for the batting average, there’s an explanation for that as well, and it’s surprising. Castro is hitting .287/.309/.408 against right handers this year, which is right in line with his career numbers against them: .288/.321/.413. What’s different this year is how he is performing again left handers. Castro is struggling to do much of anything against them so far, hitting a mere .214/.267/.271 against them. This is far, far away from his career line of .309/.361/.434 against lefties. That’s a 95 point drop in batting average and 163 point drop in slugging from his career numbers, which include this year’s numbers.

  Split BA OBP SLG BAbip BB% K%
Career vs RHP .288 .321 .413 .325 4.2% 14.6%
2013 vs RHP .287 .309 .408 .328 2.5% 16.0%
Career vs LHP .309 .361 .434 .351 7.7% 13.2%
2013 vs LHP .214 .267 .271 .263 6.7% 17.3%

It’s extremely unlikely this will continue. Right handed batters do not typically stop hitting lefties, especially when they are still hitting against right handed pitching. Castro is striking out in 17.3% of PAs, which is much higher than his 13.2% in his career (if you remove this season’s numbers, his career K rate sat at 12.5%). All of this means that Castro should be ready for a bounce back, despite his BABIP sitting at a reasonable .308.

The rest of Castro’s game seems to be getting better as well. He is 3 for 4 in stolen bases, possibly meaning he is being more selective on the base paths. His defense is also improving, despite recording 7 errors thus far. In fact, Castro is actually on pace for a career low in that category with just 21 (his previous low was 27). Castro’s defensive WAR sits at .1 on Baseball Reference and -1.0 on Fangraphs (Fangraphs number isn’t actually defensive WAR, but UZR, which typically has a 10:1 relation to WAR. BR’s numbers are generally seen as being more accurate as UZR has its issues). Defensive WAR isn’t perfect and it needs a lot of data in order to be fully accurate, so given Castro’s past performance (1.3 BR, -8.0 FG), it’s safe to say he’s a slightly above average shortstop who is starting to cut out the errors in his game.

Darwin Barney (1)Darwin Barney
.209/.296/.343  2 HR, 2 SB, 9.2% BB, 11.1% K

When Barney was having his breakout first half in 2011, there was a lot of talk about the bright future of the Cubs’ middle infield by the national media. In particular, I remember FOX profiling the two in a game. I wasn’t so sure. I saw Barney as a singles hitter with little power at second base. In other words, not a guy that was going to keep the starter’s job.

Barney has proven that assumption wrong. He’s a very good defender whose bat has evolved over the last few years. Barney’s walk rate has steadily climbed from 3.9% to 5.6% to 9.2% so far this season while his strikeout rate has stayed the same. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average, which tells you how much power a batter is hitting for) has climbed as well, from .078 to .100 to .134. Unfortunately, Barney’s batting average has dipped over that time from .276 to .254 to .209.

2011 .276 .313 .353 .078 3.90% 11.70%
2012 .254 .299 .354 .100 5.60% 9.90%
2013 .209 .296 .343 .134 9.20% 11.10%

Barney is struggling against right handers this season, which is much more concerning than Castro’s weakness against lefties. He’s hitting a mere .177/.245/.281 this season while bashing lefties at a .289/.413/.500 clip. It could be a mere BABIP illusion though, as Barney’s BABIP against righties is a mere .200 (it’s .290 against lefties). He is hitting about half of his balls in play as ground balls, which certainly doesn’t help, but that matches his career numbers. He’s also been hitting fewer line drives, so while his BABIP should improve, it probably won’t get all the way to the league average of about .300 without improving on that number. If this continues, it wouldn’t surprise me if his adjusted batting average was closer to .250

  Split LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB
Career vs R 21.70% 49.90% 28.40% 9.70% 2.80%
2013 vs R 17.60% 50.60% 31.80% 0.00% 0.00%
Career vs L 21.30% 43.40% 35.20% 5.30% 4.30%
2013 vs L 12.10% 36.40% 51.50% 11.80% 11.80%

All statistics taken from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

Cubs Trade Bait – May 29, 2013

The trade deadline is still two months away, but the Cubs already have to be thinking about moving players on or before the July deadline thanks to a 20-30 record in a division with three 30 win teams. A sell-off is all but inevitable now, so it’s time to take a look at what players could be moved at the July 31st deadline.

List of All Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians, Royals, White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Angels, Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies

The list of suitors may seem to be odd (the Phillies and White Sox stand out), but all of these teams expect to win this year and are teams I can see making a push at the deadline to get a player. Things could obviously change, but all of these teams make sense as of right now.

All But Gone

Matt Garza

Matt Garza    4.00 ERA, 12.00 K/9, 7.00 BB/9, 9 IP
Possible Suitors: Yankees, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Angels, Pirates, Giants, Rockies
The talk about Garza is whether or not the Cubs will re-sign him or trade him. To me, the plan is clear: he’s going to be traded. The Cubs’ future rotation will have Edwin Jackson (4 years/$52 million) and Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs are looking to extend Samardzija, but unlike Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, Samardzija already has life-altering money in his bank account and decided to forgo a deal this season and prove his true value (good decision so far), so the Cubs will have to pay him more than those two team friendly deals. So let’s assume Samardzija and Garza get the same sort of deal as Jackson when it comes to average annual value (AAV). That would mean paying three pitchers a total of $39 million and relying on Samardzija to be your ace. We aren’t sure if he can get there, if he’s a verified Game 1 starter.

If the Cubs believe in Samardzija and the leftover pitcher they will supposedly draft with the second pick of the draft (either Stanford’s Mark Appel or Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray), then there’s a possibility they keep Garza. But given his recent injury history and the financial hole he would put them in, it’s tough to see them keeping Garza.

All of that being said, Garza should be able to give them plenty in return. He’s the best pitcher on the market if he stays healthy and is a great teammate. Almost every team at the deadline will be in need of a starter, and the Cubs should be able to field multiple offers and work them into even better ones.

Scott FeldmanScott Feldman    2.80 ERA, 7.24 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 54.2 IP
Possible Suitors
: Yankees, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Angels, Pirates, Giants, Rockies
Feldman is on a 1 year/$6 million deal, so the Cubs have every incentive to trade the starter on a hotstreak. Again, most teams need pitching at the deadline, and a guy like Feldman is an easy pickup to make. He shouldn’t cost as much as a guy like Garza and should be easy enough for a team to re-sign. Feldman isn’t a sub-3.00 ERA guy, but he can deliver innings and can transition to the bullpen in the postseason if need-be.

Kevin GreggKevin Gregg    0.00 ERA, 8.78 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 6 SV
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Dodgers
Gregg has solidified the closer’s role for the Cubs after Marmol nearly caused certain media members’ heads to explode seemingly every time he pitched with a narrow lead. Gregg hasn’t given up an earned run in 13.1 innings and has a sub-1.00 WHIP while striking out 13. Sure, there’s some luck there, but proven closers are always a commodity at the deadline, and the Cubs have every incentive to trade him for something. Jose Valverde is doing ok so far, but if he starts to go out of whack they could be suitors. The Braves bullpen is thinning quickly and the Orioles aren’t having the same success out of the bullpen as last season and may be comfortable trading for him as they had him the last two years.

Be Ready to Go

David DeJesusDavid DeJesus    .277/.345/.471  5 HR, 3 SB
Possible Suitors: Royals, White Sox, Rangers, Phillies, Giants
DeJesus is having the perfect season for the Cubs, getting on base and hitting for power. There’s no doubt the Cubs would love for this to continue and trade the outfielder for something big in return. DeJesus also has an option year on his contract (which would almost certainly be picked up), so the team that got him would be able to justify giving up a better prospect for him. The Royals have a Jeff Francouer-sized hole in right and are seemingly allergic to walking as a team. The White Sox aren’t a patient team either, and could keep DeJesus in center. The Rangers outfield isn’t what it was, but if they move Kinsler there things could look much better and not need a guy like DeJesus. The Phillies outfield is a disaster, and the Giants could upgrade there as well.

Nate SchierholtzNate Schierholtz    .288/.320/.496  5 HR, 4 SB
Possible Suitors:
Royals, White Sox, Rangers, Phillies, Giants
Schierholtz has been another good find by Jed and Theo, and has made himself a good platoon option for a team that doesn’t quite need a starter. The Giants could take him back, or the Royals could platoon him with Francouer. The Sox, Rangers, and Phillies could easily put Schierholtz in their mix for an upgrade.

If the Money Gets Figured Out

MLB: MAR 28 Mariners v Cubs Alfonso Soriano    .278/.309/.422  5 HR, 6 SB
Possible SuitorsRoyals, White Sox, Rangers, Phillies
Any team looking for right-handed power need look no further than Soriano. He’s never been good at getting on base, but it’s nearly impossible to find 30+ home run power at the deadline, especially from the right side. The Phillies might make the most sense, but they also might be out of it. The Giants are highly unlikely since Soriano vetoed a trade there last year. The Rangers would be interesting, but may pass due to the low OBP.

Carlos MarmolCarlos Marmol    4.26 ERA, 8.53 K/9, 6.63 BB/9, 2 SV
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Dodgers
Believe it or not, Marmol hasn’t been that bad since moving out of the closer’s role. It seems there is some sort of mental block for him when he pitches in the ninth, but he’s been fine elsewhere. The Red Sox could use another arm in the pen, as could the Orioles and Tigers. The Jays may be unlikely, while the Braves probably wouldn’t be too interested. The Dodgers could certainly eat the money, and it does seem like something GM Ned Colletti would do. And the Angels almost traded for him, so they are clearly interested.

If the Right Offer is on the Table

James RussellJames Russell    0.95 ERA, 9.47 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 19 IP
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Dodgers
Russell still has two arbitration years ahead of him, so the Cubs should be in no rush to trade the lefty out of the pen. Even so, the season Russell is putting together might be too good of an opportunity to sell high on a legitimate left handed reliever. The usual suspects apply, but other teams could easily join in to get a left hander they can deploy late in games.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago CubsLuis Valbuena    .252/.362/.429  5 HR, 1 SB
Possible Suitors: Yankees, Indians, Pirates, Dodgers
It sounds weird to say, but Valbuena is having an excellent season. He’s walking like crazy, making a decent amount of contact, and fielding his position well. Valbuena fills a hole at third for the Cubs and still has three arbitration years ahead of him, so the Cubs have no reason to trade him now, but if the right offer was on the table, it’s hard to see the Cubs not selling high on the third baseman they picked up on waivers last season.

Extremely Unlikely but Possible

Darwin BarneyDarwin Barney    .200/.284/.336  2 HR, 2 SB
Possible Suitors: Orioles, Blue Jays, Royals, Dodgers, Rockies
It’s not every year that you can pick up a Gold Glove with a decent bat at the deadline, but this could be the year. I personally don’t see this happening, but if they got a good enough offer, there’s a chance the Cubs could unload Barney. That being said, it’s hard to imagine trading away a Gold Glove second baseman that has improved his walk rate tremendously and is hitting for more power than ever. The batting average hasn’t followed yet, but if it does, there’s a chance Barney gets signed to a long term deal (think 3-5 years).