Last year, after a swirl of injuries in the infield, the Chicago Cubs called up hot-hitting infielder DJ LeMahieu. At the time, his was among the hottest bats in the Minor Leagues, and his future with the Cubs looked modestly bright. Coming up at that time and snagging some starts while they were available made some sense for a kid who might be the future at third or second base down the road. So the Cubs called him up.
And Mike Quade parked him on the bench.
LeMahieu was with the big club on May 30, and didn’t start regularly until June 19. Until then, he got a whopping 17 plate appearances, and just three starts. It was frustrating, confusing, and ultimately fruitless, as LeMahieu’s cooled bat had no success from June 19 to 27, when he was sent back down to the minors. After being sent down to AAA, LeMahieu hit just .286/.328/.366 in the hitting-friendly PCL.
I’m not saying there’s a causal element there (LeMahieu may have struggled anyway, the Cubs may have looked to move him anyway, etc.). I’m just pointing out that it was an incredibly frustrating time for those of us who want to see Cubs prospects playing every day.
Why am I telling the LeMahieu/Quade story? Because it sounds like new manager Dale Sveum has a slightly better appreciation for playing prospects regularly.
When asked about top prospect Brett Jackson making the team out of Spring Training, Sveum knocked it out of the park.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to have a kid like [Jackson] not play,” Sveum said. “He hasn’t played a full year in AAA. He’s either going to make the team and play every day, or he’s going to be in AAA.”
Boom. Nice. That is exactly what I wanted to hear.
For good measure, Sveum added that Jackson wouldn’t even be a great fit as a reserve, because “we have a heck of bench. With [Blake] DeWitt and Reed Johnson and [Jeff] Baker, we’ve probably got as good a bench as there is in the National League.”
I’ll allow you a moment to hesitate on Sveum’s mention of DeWitt as already on the bench (if asked, I doubt he’d confirm that – I think he was just speaking quickly from the top of his head, as he did when he listed potential starting pitchers. I don’t think he’s saying DeWitt is definitely on the team at this point.), before returning to the overall point.
This is good news. This is a manager who understands organizational priorities over his own, personal quest for marginal improvement in April. Sure, the team is ever-so-slightly better with Jackson on the bench than, say, Dave Sappelt. But, in the long-term, the organization could be much worse off, not only because it could stunt Jackson’s development, but also because it could cost the Cubs a year of control of Jackson. Absent a trade, then, Jackson is almost certain to start the year at AAA.
Well done, Dale.
(I know that the difference in prospect-dom between Jackson and LeMahieu is significant. But, at the time of his promotion, many saw LeMahieu as a future starter for the Cubs. That’s the point here. I’m not comparing the two.)