Meet David Bote.
In October 2011, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod took over the Cubs front office. Since then, Bote is the only player not drafted in the first three rounds or a significant international free agent signing to make a significant contribution to the team.
And yet, the numbers for Bote haven’t been all that great. In two seasons, the former 18th round pick has slashed a modest .251/.346/.417/.763. Bote does have 17 home runs and 74 RBI, but his fielding at both second and third base has been below average. Consequently, the Cubs added veteran Jason Kipnis to challenge for the starting second base job.
While drafting and signing in baseball has improved over the years, it is still an imperfect science. With an age range between 17-years-old and the mid-20’s, there is a wide variance of experience among prospects. Add to that the uncertain talent levels or foreign leagues, high school districts, and colleges. Even with more scouts and advanced scouting methods, it is still a crap shoot as to whether a player can make it to the majors. High draft choices and prime international free agents are no exception.
It’s why many teams invest on training and developing all of their players, not just the high profile ones.
Yet that hasn’t been the case for the Cubs.
That has been reflected by their minor league system, which was among the best in 2015. Presently, it is considered in the bottom third of major league organizations.
To that end, the Cubs retooled their infrastructure this off-season. Hired were Pitching Coordinator Craig Breslow and Minor League Pitching Coordinator Casey Jacobson. Together, It is hoped that the Cubs can find some consistency and production in their pitching development. The Cubs also also improved on the other side of the plate by adding Hitting Coordinator Justin Stone and Hitting Lab Technician Rachel Folden. Getting all of their young hitters on the right path will be crucial for the Cubs‘ future success.
Let’s look at some players that can benefit from these changes.
D.J. Artis, OF
Selecting the 23-year-old Artis in the 7th round of the 2018 draft, the Cubs have a player with many of the qualities they look for in a lead-off hitter. In 64 games over three different stops last season, Artis put up a .371 OBP, swiping 19 bags. What Artis needs in order to up his game is to be more selective at the plate and drive the ball more. At 5′ 9″, 165-pounds, Artis is not going to generate a lot of power, so his extra base numbers will have to come for his speed. While he may be a stretch defensively in centerfield, Artis has the ability to provide the Cubs with their first legitimate lead-off hitter since Dexter Fowler. If he makes the adjustments.
Javier Assad, RHP
The 22-year-old right-hander out of Mexico has always been in the shadow of much heralded prospect Jose Albertos. But Assad has proven to be a workhorse, averaging about 5.1 innings per start. Striking out nearly a batter per inning, Assad also has a very good 294:106 strikeout to walk ratio. What Assad needs is to reduce his hard contact rate in order to bring down an ERA that hovers around 4.00. By working with the staff to sequence his pitches better, Assad may be able to reduce his contact rate while upping his strikeout total.
Bailey Clark, RHP
Coming to the Cubs organization in the 5th round of the 2016 draft, Clark has battled injury throughout his career. When the 25-year-old has been able to make it to the field, he has flashed an upper 90’s fastball along with a slider. The lack of a consistent third pitch has finally convinced the Cubs to move Clark to the pen. Clark had some success in 44 innings for Double-A Tennessee last season. Going 2-1 with 4 saves, Clark had a 3.68 ERA and 1.432 WHIP. The key to cutting those last two numbers will be reducing the free passes, which numbered 25 in 2019. Commanding the strike zone, as well as staying in one piece, will be the key.
Brendon Little, LHP
Three seasons removed fro being selected in the first round, the “b-word” is beginning to swirl around the 23-year-old Little. While the left-hander has also had to battle injuries, the biggest issue Little has had is with his mechanics. Little had a combined 3.58 ERA last year, but that was buoyed by a 1.91 ERA in Low-A South Bend. Both his low-to-mid 90’s fastball and curve have excellent spin rates, but control remains a problem. Getting Little to develop a repeatable delivery is the top priority to gaining consistency. A decision also needs to be made as to whether to continue to develop his change, or junk it and move Little to the bullpen.
Jonathan Sierra, OF
If there is a sleeper prospect that can benefit from the changes, the most likely is Jonathan Sierra. After signing with the Cubs in 2015, the left-handed hitter was said to have the best swing and power potential out of all Cubs prospects. However, Sierra has yet to turn that potential into production. In 101 games last year, Sierra slashed .242/.283/.324/.606. Just turning 21-years old in October, Sierra still has time to make the necessary adjustments in his game. Not the most skilled outfielder in the system, Sierra could still find a place if his left-handed power develops.
Delvin Zinn, INF
The Cubs liked the skill set of Delvin Zinn so much, they drafted him in the successive years of 2015 and 2016. Progress has been a little slow for the 22-year-old, as he has had to fight for playing time with a number of middle infield prospects. But Zinn was able to get a promotion to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach in July of last season. Their, Zinn was able to hold his own at the plate while adding centerfield to his resume. Much like D.J. Artis, Zinn has the speed and contact ability to project to the top of the order. Zinn swiped 30 bases while batting .259 over two levels last year. Getting Zinn to be more selective and drawing more walks will accelerate his advancement.