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The Prospect’s Progress series will take a look at the improvements (or lack of improvement) made by a number of Cub prospects during the 2012 season. Each of the articles will highlight two players, one hitter and one pitcher. It seems appropriate to start things off with Logan Watkins and Nick Struck, the Cubs Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year.

Nick Struck, RHP

Pre-Season Evaluation

Struck has put together a pretty good minor league career. He first came to the attention of Cub fans when he tossed a five inning, rain shortened no-hitter for Peoria in 2010. In 2011 he rocketed from Daytona at the start of the season all the way to Triple A Iowa, ultimately starting eleven games at the highest level of the system. Along the way we learned that Struck projected as a decent back of the rotation option for the Cubs one day, but before that could happen he had some work to do. In particular, he needed to show that he could put in a full work load as a starter, he needed to do a better job of keeping runners off the bases, and he needed to show enough improvement to keep his name in the hat for a possible look in spring training.

Post-Season Verdict

Mission accomplished. Struck earned his Pitcher of the Year accolades by throwing a career high number of innings and cutting his BB/9 and his H/9, all while raising his K/9. All 155 of his innings came for the Tennessee Smokies where he was a reliable, if unspectacular, fixture in their rotation. He finished the year with a respectable WHIP of 1.182 and an equally respectable K/BB of 2.80. It isn’t hard to project those number forward into a major league rotation job as a fifth starter in 2014 or so.

Future Prognosis

Unfortunately, I still think fifth starter is his ceiling. His best path to the majors is as a reliable, cheap, back of the rotation option who keeps the game close and consistently pitches into the seventh inning. To reach that target, I would like to see him cut back on his 2012 0.8 HR/9 rate and increase his workload into the 180 innings range next season. If he can do that while keeping his WHIP under 1.300 or so (remember, he’ll be in the PCL, a notorious hitters’ league) and his K/BB no worse than the 2.80 neighborhood, he could be in line for a September start or two.

If he is still in the farm system when spring training roles around, I think he will get some chances in spring training. I do not expect him to break camp on the Cubs roster. Long term, his future may be in the bullpen, not the rotation, but, so long as he can keep runners off the bases and avoid the long ball, he could have a nice career as a middle reliever.

Logan Watkins, 2B

Pre-Season Evaluation

Watkins had a very strong finish to his 2011 Daytona campaign. His finish was so strong, in fact, that there was reason to doubt that he could maintain those offensive improvements over a full season. We knew he projected as a potential plus defender with the arm to play in center and the range to play at short; what we didn’t know was whether or not he could hit enough to force himself into the Cubs plans. In 2012, he needed carry his hot finish to the 2011 season into Tennessee and maintain it all year long. He needed to prove at the plate that he was a project with all around major league potential.

Post-Season Verdict

He made it look easy. Watkins not only maintained his progress, he did so while setting career highs in SLG (.422), walks (76), and stolen bases (28). Suddenly, Watkins is not just a potential defense-first utility prospect for the Cubs bench, he is a legitimate second base prospect with a chance to see his name at the top of the Cubs’ order on a daily basis in another year or two.

But the news is not all good. Against right handers Watkins hit a robust .301/.406/.440. Against lefties, he slumped to a line of .221/.314/.369. That lefty split needs to improve if he is going to make the Cubs find a place for him in their daily lineup.

Future Prognosis

At worst, Watkins projects as a very useful left handed hitting utility player for the Cubs’ bench. He has the tools and athleticism to fill in at any position on the diamond, the speed to be useful in a pinch runner role, and the high OBP that should ensure him of plenty of at bats in a part time role.

At best, he’s the Cubs second baseman and lead off hitter starting in 2014 and continuing for some time to come. Watkins has the potential to be one of the league’s better defenders at second, and while he may not quite match Darwin Barney with the glove, he should have little trouble eclipsing Barney with the bat. Watkins has the combination of SB speed and OBP patience that Barney just doesn’t; at some point we may get to see these two battle for the starting second base job.

Look for Watkins to put up some very nice looking numbers in the hitter friendly PCL as a member of the Iowa Cubs in 2013. I would not be surprised if he turned in an OPS north of .900. The key number to watch will be his numbers against lefties; we need to see improvement in that department. He should get a long look from the Cubs in spring training (if he is still in the organization), but he is still at least a year away from being a serious contender for a major league job.

  • Tim

    Luke, do you see these two battlin for the second base job of the future? or in a couple years do you think baez will slide to second? or put him at short/third and move starlin castro

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Baez will likely be on third. Castro isn’t going anywhere.

      Watkins is just the first in a long line of second base prospects who have the chance to challenge for the starting job.

      • wilbur

        I think when Barney has a quality replacement, which very likely will be Watkins, the FP will seriously consider trading him to a team needing a SS, which he is as adept at or more so than 2b.

        I would assume his value as a good fielding SS with his offensive numbers is marginally higher than at 2b.

        This is not a knock on Barney, its actually more of a tribute. However, he is first of what appears to be a series of several major league second baseman the Cubs will be bringing along.

        Could be totally misreading the situation, but if the Cubs feel they have similar to superior talent among the replacements coming up they will insert the lower cost replacements and trade the marginally more costly talent for prospects or other proven MLB talent to fill holes. I think I’m restating what a lot of others have said, just using different words.

        • wilbur

          By the way, a FP, is my fingering of FO.

          • TWC

            You did *WHAT* to Theo?

          • EvenBetterNewsV2.0

            Perfect example of why we need emoticons.

            • wilbur

              That came out badly …

              No, the FO is fine, I just need to proof read better. I was alluding to my “fat fingering” the key board by hitting FP versus FO.

  • Fastball

    I think Watkins is the kind of player we need to include in off season trades to bring in the talent we need in area’s of weakness. This is what the minor leagues are for. Not every player or even most ever make it to the bigs so utilizing his advancement in the system should help improve areas of weakness. We already have a pretty good second baseman and have a few others in the system who can push Barney in a year or two. Utility infielders are not that hard to come by so lates get some value back for him in a multi player deal.

    • WGNstatic

      Meh…
      I have absolutely no problem trading him, but the Cubs need to get value in return. If the opposing GM says, and reasonably, “We see Watkins as a utility infielder.” Then Theo/Jed just aren’t going to get much for him.

      Looked at another way, I see Watkins current value as not a whole lot higher than Torreyes was when he was picked up from the Reds. He was viewed as a secondary piece in that deal, and I just don’t see Watkins being much better in any notable trade now.

    • terencem

      The problem is that, while there are some future stars in the minors finally, it’s mostly full of role players. You can’t trade 4 role players for a really talented young major league player. They’re going to want a very talented prospect in return. And if you’re going after a star caliber player in a trade, it’s going to cost you at least 2 of your best prospects in return. Especially when the best players in the Cubs system haven’t seen AA yet. The system isn’t really ready for a big trade yet when you consider that, if you lose two of Baez, Almora, or Soler, the system is not that exciting.

  • PeteG

    I see nothing special in either player. Dozens of other Cubs prospect impress me much more…

    • Drew7

      Dozens? C’mon…

    • terencem

      I don’t know about dozens, but Watkins ceiling at the moment is Ryan Theriot and Struck is nothing to be excited about but could be a back of the rotation guy if he can keep this progress up.

      • terencem

        So this was an accurate write-up on them and they are good players to have, but Watkins isn’t going to get you anyone more valuable than Barney.

        • Drew7

          Sure, but there probably arent “dozens” of guys in the system that will even sniff the Majors.

          Also, I think Watkins *projects* to be a utility IF’er. Even though it may not be much higher, his *ceiling* is certainly higher than that.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            huh, I wonder where you can find data on how many prospects signed from different years got to the different levels? I’d be interested to see whether the decay rates vary markedly from one level to the next, or whether different teams show different “extinction” rates.

  • CubFan Paul

    I think Barney is traded this offseason in an effort to maximize the young talent we accumulate to help jump start the Rebuild.

    Watkins looks like a guy who could make the team out of spring training, if a starter isn’t acquired post Gold-Glove Barney.

    • terencem

      I don’t know what the market is for defense first second basemen who is a below average hitter.

      • terencem

        Let’s try this again.

        I don’t know what the market is for a defense-first second baseman who is also a below average hitter. I think teams expect a little more offense from their second baseman. 2012 was historic for Barney, but will he be a historic defender in future seasons and what’s that worth on a team looking for offense?

        • fortyonenorth

          2012 was historic in the sense the DB had an endless streak of errorless games. But, that streak was simply indicative of what a top-caliber defensive second baseman he has become. He may never see a streak like that again, but neither is he going to back-slide and become an “average” defensive player. I think his performance is a result of a lot of diligent work in the offseason and the natural progression of his improvement after his shift from SS.

  • Fastball

    Struck sounds like he is just another of what are system already has. Mediocre potential pitching. I find it hard to get excited over someone who projects as a 5th starter at best. I think the Cubs system has had a bunch of guys who probably don’t get to even AAA in other systems. So they get a longer look in the Cubs system these days. If Theo wants to hire some great coaches who know how to develop pitching maybe some of these guys could be something more than they are today.

    • ssckelley

      Yeah, I find that to be discouraging. Hopefully these pitching prospects in the lower levels have higher ceilings than 5th spot in the rotation.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Every team has a lot of players who don’t get to Triple A in any system. That’s the point of the minor leagues: teach, train, refine… and weed.

      Struck is clearly not in that category. As I mentioned, he already has 12 starts at Triple A. He’s not a super exciting prospect (back of the rotation guys rarely are), but he’s a long way from roster filler.

  • ssckelley

    To much is being made about Watkins struggles against left handed pitching, he bats left handed for cripes sake. Yes it is something that he needs to work on but to say it can keep him from being more than a utility player is crazy. His numbers against lefties is about as good as Barney’s, he just has a slightly lower batting average but better OBP and Slugging. Granted Watkins is not facing MLB pitching but I will take my chances on a guy who could be a better defender than Barney, projects to be a better hitter, and can potentially bat lead off.

  • cubchymyst

    If Watkins can play good defense I think he can unseat Barney with his bat even the bad lefty/righty split. If Watkins can keep an OBP of 0.300 versus lefties that is just good as Barney does. I can see Barney being traded this off season or at the trade deadline next season.

    • ssckelley

      I think if they are going to trade Barney now is the time to do it. If there is such a thing as “selling high” on Barney coming off a potential gold glove season is it. I think he has reached his ceiling both offensively and defensively and he may be an attractive option to a small market team since he is cheap and under control for a while. I do not think you will get anything more out of a trade by waiting until the trade deadline. Plus if you are going to trade him then you can go into spring training with Valbuena, Watkins, and Cardenas competing for the job.

      • cubchymyst

        Cardenas is another guy who was doing good at Iowa but never saw a lot of playing time. His L/R splits are not drastically different from each other and he has shown more better OBP and SLG than Barney did in the minors. If Barney is traded he is someone who could get a shot.

    • http://www.hookersorcake.com Jade

      Again, I’ve seen several people saying that we should trade Barney because his value will never be higher. If he wins the Gold Glove, and he should, the first one is the hardest one to get. He should have a good shot to win it next year or at the very least his defense will probably not decline. But he hasn’t really hit enough to be a coveted starting second baseman for a contending team. I’d be thrilled if some GM proved me wrong and offered a quality higher level arm but I just don’t see it happening.

      Barney doesn’t really have any plus tools other than his glove (and a being a good clubhouse guy). And maybe, just maybe Dale and co. can help him get to around .700 OPS and then he might have some decent value.

      To recap: Barney’s not a major trade piece for which the Cubs would receive any significant prospects. He provides more value to the Cubs right now, this season, than he would for another team. He isn’t blocking anyone, he works hard is a leader by example for on a young team and is a bit of a fan favorite. And if his bat improves one tic he still has 3 more years of team control and would be much more valuable in a trade while prospects like Watkins and Baez would be one year closer.

      • cubchymyst

        I don’t think Barney will every be the focal point of a trade, thinking more of a second player added to improve the return of a trade. There is no reason not to think Watkins will start next year at AAA after his year at AA. If he continues to show he is a better hitter than Barney with only a slight downgrade at defense Barney will have a tough job remaining the starter. The thing about fan favorites is that they can change very easily if a player is performing well.

  • JB88

    Thank god we have some real talent in the lower levels of the minors because there is very little for me to be excited about with Watkins or Struck. Both scream organizational filler/bench/back-of-the-rotation guys.

    And if that was the best the Cubs’ minor league system had to offer, I would be completely, unconsolably depressed.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      These are not the best prospects in the system, not by a long shot. They arguably did not even have the best years.

      But they did have good years.

      • JB88

        I absolutely agree with both of those statements. And I am certain that they were given these awards for the message it sent (Watkins – high OBP/Struck low BB numbers) as much as the seasons they had.

        But looking at where they project, neither one of them has the tools to be a star in the league. Neither are probably even starters worth something above replacement.

        Here’s to hoping that some of the younger talent starts maturing and are the guys who are rewarded with these type of awards at the end of the season so that we don’t see a Nick Struck or Logan Watkins win this award in the future.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    f Theo wants to hire some great coaches who know how to develop pitching maybe some of these guys could be something more than they are today.

    Who are these coaches? If such people existed, then they would be well-known to hardcore baseball fans. The fact that no minor league system or minor league coaches consistently “elevate” prospects such as Struck suggests that they don’t exist.

    I suspect that the sorting is much earlier: signing talented arms. Minor-league coaching might not be piano-tuning the way that MLB coaching is, but it’s not piano-building, either. At best, it’s piano-stringing!

  • #1lahairfan

    Luke where is lake going to start?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Probably Iowa.

  • Fastball

    Did you every play any kind of baseball in college or in the minors?
    There are a lot of great coaches who are specialists and teach pitching very well.
    The Cubs organization has few if any of them! Look at the organizations that have great pitching depth in their systems. Look at the colleges who consistently turn out pitching. Look at the high schools who turn out great pitching. It’s because those coaches now how to teach fundamentals first and then develop kids to start on the path.

    Why don’t Fans know about these coaches? Because most fans never played above little league. I’m sorry but coaches don’t show up on a stat sheet. Why is it when players are interviewed the always talk about their coach at the lower levels who made this major difference in their life and baseball development.

    My opinions are based on experience. I played major college baseball and was drafted twice by the Phillies and Reds. All 3 of my sons played major college baseball for 4 years. Don’t tell me there are not coaches who know how to teach and get more out of a kid than ever imagined. A good coach unlocks potential or finds potential. That’s why kids change their position as the mature. Some smart coach understands what is happening and can see past the end of his nose.

    • BluBlud

      I agree with the coaching aspect. In fact, I would say it’s almost better to have you better coaches at the lower levels, at least your better developmental coaches.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Why don’t Fans know about these coaches?

      Wrong. Fans like us know about the coaches. It has nothing to do with playing little league or above: if particular guys have good track records, then we hear about them because they become coveted by GMs.

      It’s been posted many, many times, but look at the general correlation between where a player is drafted and the probability that he makes MLB or contributes much when he gets there. If coaching played that big of a difference and if some organizations really had better coaching, then this correlation would go away: it would be how players are developed rather than the tools for which they were drafted that would matter.

      Coaches can tune or even string the piano: but they cannot turn a Costco bargain standup into a Steinway!

    • Alou and Vinegar

      Great points. Everyone talks about having to suck and get the highest draft picks in order to rebuild (and I get that they get more money to spend for the higher spot) but the key is the development once they are in the system. This simply has not happened for the Cubs over the years. Just look at the Red Sox and Cardinals. Theo was not drafting high in Boston, yet developed a good farm system. And the Cardinals, as much as I hate them, bring up fundamentally sound players every year that were not drafted at the top of the draft. It will be interesting this offseason to see how many coaching changes happen in the minors

      • Noah

        It’s called overslot signings, something that can’t be done anywhere near to the extent it used to be due to the new CBA.

  • BluBlud

    I see Struck, Watkins, Lake, McNutt all making it to the big show this year. If not because they are super talented, then because the Cubs will need to see what they have in these guys, and see how they can make them better. Basicly what they did with Vitters and Jackson. I also think Baez will see some time in Chicago, but thats because I think baez will force there hand. Every year that passes means less chance the Cubs have to see what they have on the MLB level, because every year that passes, we should be moving closer to contention. At that point, promotions are made to help the team and not to see what you have.

    • JB88

      If even half of those four made it to the majors this year (Struck, Watkins, Lake, and McNutt), I would be fairly shocked. Each of them would need to make huge strides to do that. Hell, I’m not even convinced that Lake and McNutt are going to start next year in Iowa and I don’t see this FO bringing kids up from AA, particularly without some serious seasoning first in AAA.

      • BluBlud

        You are basicly making my point for me. Look at Jackson’s 2012 season. It was basicly a disappointment. But he was promoted any way, so the team could see up close what they had and so the team could give him MLB coaching. I not saying these guys are stars, but that they are the developmental point, or almost at the point where it’s either sink or swin. No different then Jackson.

        • JB88

          There were parts of Jackson’s season at AAA that were a disappointment (Ks, low BA) but his OBP, iso power numbers, speed and premier defensive position separate him from all of the payers you originally mentioned.

          In other words, while Jackson is certainly a flawed player, his strengths are strengths you want a club, whereas Watkins’ strengths scream bench player and there is no evidence that, if Barney is still on the team, the Cubs are going to bring up Watkins to sit behind Barney or to bench Barney to play Watkins full time.

          In that sense, Jackson and Vitters presented unique situations where legitimate talent wasn’t in front of them. I just don’t see those 4 coming up next season.

        • ssckelley

          I hope the Cubs are not going to keep using the MLB club to develop prospects.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Struck and McNutt, maybe. Watkins and Lake, I doubt it.

      Struck could be up in September or as a second half emergency fill in should a rotation injury occur.

      McNutt could join the Cubs bullpen any time next season. Once he adjusted to working out of the pen, he became pretty effective in a hurry. He is likely behind Zych on the bullpen depth chart still, but I would not be shocked to see both Zych and McNutt in Chicago by August 1.

  • scorecardpaul

    Fastball,
    I think you and Doc are saying very similar things, and you just wont admit it. To find what we are all looking for (an ace) is a very very very hard thing to do. Your cases point directly to that. I am quite sure that you and all of your boys were, or are, very good pitchers. Some times it takes more than just coaching. To get to that level it takes everything!! If I had to list what everything is this post would be longer than it already is, and it would still be missing many important aspects, or events. I agree the Cubs should have the best coaches possible, but just because it doesn’t work out perfectly every time ddoean’t mean that it is a coaching problem. This is why I love profesional sports. We get to see and follow the very best players who have all that it takes to be the best.

  • Rizzo 44

    Here are a few trades to consider. 1) Garza and Barney to the Red Soxs for Ellsbury and Pedoria. 2) David DeJesus and Bryan LaHair to the Indians for Justin Masterson. 3) Masterson, Vitters, Lake, and BJax to the Padres for Chase Headley and Robbie Erlin. 4) Marmal, Valbuena, and Struck to the Giants for Lincecum. 5) Soriano and 28M to the Braves for Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham. Cubs then sign Josh Hamilton to a 5 year 150M, B.J. Upton to 4 year 60M, Francisco Liriano 3 years 25M, Anibal Sanchez 3 years 27M, Ervin Santana 1 year with a club option for 15M total, Jonathan Broxton 2 years 18M, Mike Adams 2 years 15M, J.P. Howell 3 years 15M, Sean Burnett 2 years 8M,Carlos Villanueva 2 years with a option for 12M, Reed Johnson 1 year 2M, and Jeff Keppinger 2 years 10M.

    • Kyle

      Other team says “no way” to the first three.

      • Rizzo 44

        Can I get a reson?

        • Kyle

          Because you tried to trade an average starter and a sore-armed pitcher for two really good players, a below-average RFer and a AAA 1b for cost-controlled SP with a live arm, and a collection of spare parts for an elite 3b.

          Basically, the other team got ripped off in all three of those deals.

          • King Jeff

            I think you can add trade 4 to that list too.

            • hansman1982

              and he spent $122M in payroll next year…

              • Noah

                I’m pretty sure he also gave up our 2nd through 5th round draft picks.

            • fortyonenorth

              Are the Giants shopping Lincecum?

    • cubchymyst

      I don’t like 30 million a year for Hamilton. Plus Hamilton has said he doesn’t like to play day games and over his career he has a 0.789 OPS in day games.

      • Rizzo 44

        Okay thats understandable

    • MichiganGoat

      Ah crazy unrealistic off season trade speculation. The simple fact is that the Cubs have Garza and then nothing another team would be willing to give any player of quality for and even Garza’s value has diminished with the injury and the fact that he is a rental for any team that picks him up.

      And NO NO NO to Hamilton, if the Cubs were one player away from a WS caliber team then maybe but he is not the type of player to sign to an extended contract on a team in a building mode.

  • Rizzo 44

    If Garza is healthy in the Spring I meant. I disagree with the Masterson deal as well since they need offence. With Masterson the deal for Headley is better still needs a little help though so I can see that one.

  • ruby2626

    Does anyone have an opinion on Maine South’s Brian Schlitter? After his unsuccessful callup in 2010 I believe he had arm surgery and missed 2011. He started out slow this year but he seemed to come on quite a bit at AA toward the end of the season. I know he had more K’s than innings pitched which is always a great thing. I bring him up (other than the fact I know his Dad) because he as least is a guy (6’5″ 240) with a mid to upper 90’s fastball which seems to be in short supply in the Cub system. People have mentioned the importance of coaching, he would seem to be a guy that if he could be coached up to have an above average breaking ball could be a decent relief pitcher. Getting tired of all these 5th starter at best guys who can’t even throw 90 on a consistent basis.

    • King Jeff

      I think Schlitter is a bullpen arm at best who still struggles with location. He wasn’t all that impressive pre-injury,. I don’t think he has enough of a repertoire to ever be a starter, even if he can bring some heat.

    • WI Jeff

      Bringing out the Maine South Love for Schlitter…..I am okay with providing him a real shot in Spring Training, but might be a Rule 5 guy since he will probably be left unprotected.
      I see guys like Tony Zych and Alberto Cabrera and possibly McNutt a head of Brian.
      Rule 5 Eligible if not on 40 man Roster
      Jeffry Antigua, LHP
      Frank Batista, RHP
      Justin Bour, 1B
      Michael Brenly, C
      Michael Burgess, OF
      David Cales, RHP
      Esmailin Caridad, RHP
      Matt Cerda, INF
      Hunter Cervenka, LHP
      Evan Crawford, OF
      Willengton Cruz, LHP
      Antonio Encarnacion, RHP
      Eduardo Figueroa, RHP
      Marcus Hatley, RHP
      Ty’Relle Harris, RHP
      Jay Jackson, RHP
      Alvido Jimenez, RHP
      Austin Kirk, LHP
      Luis Liria, RHP
      Jeff Lorick, LHP
      David Macias, IF-OF
      Nate Maldonado, C
      Trey McNutt, RHP
      Pedro Medina, RHP (ex-OF)
      Jose Montesino, INF
      A. J. Morris, RHP
      Enyelberth Pena, RHP
      Felix Pena, RHP
      Starling Peralta, RHP
      Nelson Perez, OF
      Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
      Rebel Ridling, 1B
      Greg Rohan, IF-OF
      Jose Rosario, RHP
      Zac Rosscup, LHP
      Julio Sanchez, RHP
      Brian Schlitter, RHP
      Ryan Searle, RHP
      Matt Spencer, LHP (ex-OF)
      Nick Struck, RHP
      Larry Suarez, RHP
      Francisco Turbi, RHP
      Christian Villanueva, 3B
      Brett Wallach, RHP
      Logan Watkins, INF
      Casey Weathers, RHP
      Rob Whitenack, RHP
      Ty Wright, OF

      • Noah

        Not many guys on that list I’m looking at and really think should be added to the 40 man. It’s really just Villanueva, Watkins, Struck and Rhee.

  • Mike

    “His best path to the majors is as a reliable, cheap, back of the rotation option who keeps the game close and consistently pitches into the seventh inning.”
    How many back-end of the rotation starters actually keep games close, AND actually consistently pitch into the seventh inning? If back of the rotation starts could do that consistently, lots of mlb clubs would be very happy.

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