With the Chicago Cubs sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, they’re now unbeaten in their past five series and playing all around better baseball. As such, you’re likely to have seen various pieces written lately using some auspicious adjectives: surging, rallying, commanding, first-place Pirates…
Well, the latter has been resolved, at least for now. Nonetheless, they’re perhaps a perfect segue into my point. And I love a good segue.
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning season was 1992. They went 96-66 and lost the NLCS in seven games. Barry Bonds was their top player and Jim Leyland was their manager. In 2010, the Bucs lost 105 games- their worst loss total since 1952 in which they lost 112. Teams didn’t play 162 games in 1952.
(What is this? I want Cubs news and you’re jabbering about the Pirates!? Shame…)
Sadly, hypothetical fan reaction, this is what we’re doomed to. For the next few years if we’re talking Cubs, we’re talking rebuilding. And if we’re talking rebuilding, I can’t think of a team that’s been under construction longer than the Pirates.
When you look into the topic of rebuilding a franchise, more often than not it’s done with prospects. Player development is the keystone to a big league clubs success. Thus, a quality farm system is as important to any ball club as _______ (insert your preference here). It’s not shocking that the St. Louis Cardinals are the most successful team in National League history. They’ve got a damn good farm system. They should. They created the idea.
(Hey! Branch Rickey! Talk about the Cubs, or I’m gone!)
Okay. Here’s the thing: for one reason or another, the Cubs were unable to formulate a quality farm system. When advances were made at one level, another level would be left short. I’m sure many of us can remember the 1990’s for not being the greatest in terms of both the Cubs big league team and their AAA affiliate. Whether it’s the fault of the Tribune Company, or Andy “Don’t Let the Haircut Fool You” MacPhail, the Cubs never had a genuine crop of prospects.
Then, with Jim Hendry at the helm things began to improve. Names like Corey Patterson and Felix Pie began to ring out and people began to pay attention to these young talents in Iowa, Tennessee, and Daytona. Say what you will about Patterson and Pie- busts or rushed to the majors- the Cubs minor leagues had begun to grow talent.
This is what we can look forward to this season. Sooner, rather than later. Depending on what moves are made by the trade deadline, it will be a cavalcade of the future talent. Who can we expect to see?
Brett Jackson OF- when the Cubs acquired Anthony Rizzo, Jackson was bumped to the #2 spot for top prospect. However, that doesn’t change the outlook on him. Earlier this season, he had a bit of a downturn at the plate resulting in his BA in mid .250 range. However, lately his stroke has seemed to return. He’s got speed for triples and stolen bases, racking up 10 triples and swiping 21 bases.
Josh Vitters 3B- it’s tough to know what to expect when a team’s hot corner has been occupied for nearly 10 years. However, when Aramis Ramirez’s time was over here in Chicago, many thought it wasn’t long before Vitters was called up. What is interesting with Vitters is that he has relatively small strikeout totals. But that coincides with his small walk totals as well. He would swing at a Styrofoam cup if you threw it hard enough. If he hit it, he’s got the power to send it a mile. Currently batting .301 with an OPS of .860 and a slugging % of .506, Ian Stewart won’t be long for a Cubs uniform.
Matt Szczur OF- although currently in Daytona, the looming possibility of all three Cubs outfielders being traded is enough reason to give Szczur a look. A speedy outfielder with range, he’s also a threat on the bases having stolen 30 so far in 2012. He has the potential to leadoff as he gets on base frequently and his runs scored totals are impressive as well.
Trey McNutt RHP- selected well into the 2009 draft (32nd round, 980 overall) McNutt no less looks to be the Cubs most promising starter. After a debut season of 10-1, he struggled in his sophomore year. A breaking ball that compliments his plus fastball (mid 90’s) is what he utilizes most. That said, a changeup is still not near where it needs to be in order for him to make it to the next level. If Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster are traded (or both), it could be an opportunity for McNutt to develop by fire.
Dave Sappelt OF- coming to the Cubs in the deal that sent Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds, Sappelt has already seen big league experience in 2011 with his old club. Another outfielder who hits for average, his real dynamic is his speed. He can be utilized in both center field and left as he plays both solidly. Struggles with offspeed pitches and adjusting in pitcher’s counts have dropped his OBP and limited his chance to show off on the base paths.
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