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Welcome to the Hot Stove Season. The Cubs made a nice signing, and then Miami packed up their major league roster and mailed them to Canada. Not only did the balance of power in the AL East just lurch towards the north, but the dynamic of the winter just changed as well. Scratch Miami and Toronto as free agent players of any significance, factor in Baltimore possibly needing to respond, add in the relative instability of the Yankees as they watch the division shift without them, and suddenly the Winter Meetings start to take on a bit of a different tone.

So what does the Minor League Editor do as the baseball world collectively goes nuts? Takes suggestions from Twitter, that’s what. Thanks to readers Tommy Cook and Stan Croussett, Trey Martin will be featured in today’s Prospects’ Progress. That trade has me in more of a major league frame of mind, though, so for the pitcher I think we’ll look at Alberto Cabrera.

Prospects’ Progress sometimes talks about top prospects, but the focus here is on individual players of all levels of prospectdom and their progression (or lack of it) over the course of the past season. The rankings and lists are coming sometime in early 2013.

Alberto Cabrera, RHP

Pre-Season Evaluation

The stuff is there. Cabrera has one of the best fastballs in the system, and when he is starting he can keep going back to the fastball even late in the game. He has the size and endurance scouts love in starting pitchers, he has a potential standout pitch in that fastball, he has a slider that looks unhitable at at times, and he compliments it all with a changeup that shows plenty of potential. What’s not to love?

Namely, his walk rate. His professional career walk rate is 7.48 BB/9. That is awful. If he can clean up that part of his game, he could yet emerge as a legitimate major league number three starter.

Post-Season Verdict

We did see some improvement, but not where it mattered the most. His BB/9 in the majors (21.2 innings) was 7.5. Cabrera looked better in the minors (2.52 with Tennessee and 1.86 with Iowa), but that major league number is still cause for significant concern. He worked out of the bullpen this season, making his high walk rate even more difficult to swallow.

Then again, he did post a SO/9 of 11.2 in the majors. We can’t ignore that.

The Cubs have seen enough potential that they talk openly about moving Cabrera back into the rotation; I like that idea. I suspect what the Cubs are seeing… and working to fix… is mechanical. High BB/9 can be a symptom of a guy who is not consistently repeating his pitching motion. That can lead to slightly different release points, and that in turn can lead to a pitcher having difficulty placing the ball where he wants it. It is a fixable problem, and there is plenty of upside here if the Cubs can fix it.

Future Prognosis

I expect Cabrera to be one of the last players cut from the spring training roster. He may wind up with more spring innings than any one else (if he stays healthy, of course). Ultimately he will almost certainly begin the year in Iowa as he starts the transition back to the rotation. If he can clean up any lingering mechanical issues in the first half of the season, he could be in Chicago’s starting rotation for the second half. The upside is that of a solid No 3 starter with strikeout stuff in the rotation, or a valuable 8th/9th inning guy in the bullpen.

If he can’t clean up his mechanics or if his BB/9 consistently stay high, he will remain in Iowa for much of the year. He will only be 23 next season, so he still has a little time to put it all together and take full advantage of his potential. Since he does have some impressive stuff and did show improvement in the minors last year, I don’t think the Cubs will have any issues trading him should they decide he isn’t going to pan out. Fairly young flame throwers who are nearly major league ready generally have some value on the trade market (often as part of a larger deal). If the Cubs don’t see enough progress out of Cabrera by the end of July, he may well be in a different uniform by the end of August.

Trey Martin

Pre-Season Evaluation

The Cubs took Martin in the 2011 draft, but not many fans noticed. Martin was a nice pickup, but he did not stand out in a draft class that was loaded with premium position talent. After signing, Martin was sent to the Arizona Rookie League for 18 games. He posted an OPS of .647 that told us basically nothing. There were whispers that the Cubs had something in Martin, but whispers are just that until there are numbers to back them up. Martin’s job in 2012 was to produce those numbers and show us exactly what caliber of prospect he is.

Post-Season Verdict

FanGraphs rated Martin as the 15th best prospect in the Cubs’ system so there must be something here, but it isn’t showing up on the stat sheet.

He spent most of the season with Boise (57 games, versus 7 with Arizona), but his numbers with the Hawks were not impressive in the slightest. His line of .270/.318/.377 is acceptable for a 19 year old in that league, but nothing remarkable. He stole six bases, but was caught five times. He showed a little power (3 HR, 4 3B), but does not project to be much of a slugger. He struck out at a 21.0% clip, and only walked 5.7% of the time. None of those numbers stand out.

On the other hand, his defense is solid enough that he would play center field on most teams (he played left field once Almora joined Boise), and his arm should work from any of the outfield slots. At 6’2″ and 188 lbs, it is easy to imagine quite a bit of additional power developing as he packs on more muscle. A lot of baseball people who watch him play seem to love this guy, and those opinions cannot be ignored.

But neither can the stat sheet.

Future Pronosis

Spoiler alert; I’m derailing this hype train. Trey Martin will not be ranked in my Top 15. Right now I see him as a fringe guy with a lot of projectability. There is no denying that he has the potential to develop into a quality prospect, but I need to see more out of him before I classify him that way.

With a solid spring training he should be assigned to Kane County to open the year. Baring an unexpected breakout, that’s probably where he finishes the year as well. I’d like to see his BB/9 come up somewhat. 5.7% isn’t bad, but I’d feel a lot better about his chances of moving up the system if he showed something three or four points higher than that. The power I think will come in time, and for that reason I’m not too concerned by the K% just yet. If he can keep it around 20% (and no higher), I think he’ll be just fine.

For now I have his ceiling in the same area as Jae-Hoon Ha. I like the defense (although he is not as good in that department as Ha), but the bat is still suspect. There is major league potential here, but there is a ton of risk as well. He is definitely one to keep an eye on throughout the 2013 season, but not someone we need to be excited by just yet.

  • calicubsfan007

    Hey Luke, good article. I am curious, what is the best avenue for the Cubs to take to fill the hole at 3rd? Free agency, trade, or the farm system?

    • kranzman54

      I feel like 3B has filler written all over it this year. Maybe we sign some guy to a small Baker-esque type contract or just let Ian Stewart/Valbuena have another crack at it. And I am betting we will all be talking about getting a D-Wright type next year. Basically, we will fill the spot this year and start looking at a long term fit via free-agency next offseason or the following (I am guessing Villanueva will not be the guy longterm).

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Don’t forget about Vitters. He struggled in his brief time in the majors, but so have a lot of other players. And he is still fairly young, despite the fact he’s been in the farm system since forever. He could be a real contender for the job by mid-summer.

        • DarthHater

          I’d love to see you proved correct, but this seems like a pipe dream to me.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            I’ll go more into Vitters when I do his Prospects’ Progress (not sure when I’ll get to him, but I’ll get to him). I suspect a lot of fans only remember his struggles in Chicago and forget that he put together a solid season at a young age in Iowa. .305/.356/.513 at the age of 22 in the PCL is nothing to ignore.

            • Jimmy James

              agree, people are down on him because he seems like he has been in the system so long that he must be too old by now and he hasn’t had a “breakout” season but he is slowly putting it together and if we get that breakout season next year in iowa we’ll all be calling for him in july (that is if he is still a cub)

              • Mick

                Who knows what happens with Vitters but for some prospects it just takes longer to develop than others. Take Torii Hunter for example. He was drafted at 17 years old and didn’t put together a solid minor league season until he was 22. Even then he didn’t put together a decent MLB season until he was 25 and the rest is history. Our next best 3B prospect, Baez, will be in A+ this next year so it’s not like we can’t afford to give Vitters a couple more years to see what we’ve actually got in him.

  • D.G.Lang

    Quick question, is BB/9 the correct expression to use? I thought that the walk percentage represented the percentage of total ‘appearances’ nor related to percentage of every nine innings.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I think those are two different things – you described the “walk percentage,” while Luke referred to the “walk rate,” which is a per-9-innings stat.

      • hansman1982

        Maybe I am wrong here but I typically use BB/9 (BB*IP/9) for pitchers and BB% (BB/PA) for batters.

        • kranzman54

          It’s weird because the stat is meant to be walks per nine innings but if you wanted to calculate it you would do (BB/IP)*9. That actually gives you walks per nine inning of work.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            That is how you calculate walk rate. What am I missing?

            • kranzman54

              Nothing, Hansman was using BB*IP/9 which is calculating I believe not a stat. I just gave him the correct equation.

              • hansman1982

                oh goodness, you are correct – had it all sorts of wrong – not sure what I was doing there

                • DarthHater
                  • Leroy

                    since i”m in the army, can I see if I fail this?

                  • Kyle

                    Those were all extremely easy. *flex*

                    Just don’t ask me to take the “are you anywhere nearly in good enough physical shape to be a marine” test.

                  • hansman1982

                    I am smarter – I realized only 2 questions in they are trying to get as many page views as humanly possible from this quiz.

                    That and I served in the Army.

                    • wilbur

                      Over hill, over dale …

                    • DarthHater

                      I figure anyone who volunteers to do amphibious landings while being shot at can’t be that smart, anyway. :-P

        • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

          % is more informative for pitchers. (although, everyone uses /9, so it’s easier to stick with it)
          Extreme example:

          Pitcher A: 9 innings, 12 k’s, 0 bb’s, 3 hits
          Pitcher B: 9 innings, 12 k’s, 5 bb’s, 9 hits

          Pitcher A: 9K/9, 30%
          Pitcher B: 9K/9, 22%

  • Derrick

    Luke are you going to give a look at Reggie Golden and Evan Crawford two forgotten Ofs in the Cubs system?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Not sure Luke could do a whole PP on them, since they didn’t play in 2012.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Pretty much. I might do a roundup of injured players at the tail end of the series, but it won’t say much but “This guy was injured; can he stay healthy in 2013?”

  • http://bleachernation.com someday…2015?

    Hey Brett, not sure if you answered this question yet, but do you see Cabrera as as future closer? Im not sure if he’s ever going to reach his ceiling as a #3 starter or a starter in general. Like you said, good fastball, good movement, needs work on his control. I would like to see Cabrera get a shot at closer next year, you think that could be a possibility?

    • calicubsfan007

      @someday: Although I am not Brett, I would like to say that it would be worth a shot at giving him a chance to close. I would like to think that the Cubs would have traded Marmol by the time they consider Cabrera at closer.

      • http://bleachernation.com someday…2015?

        Yeah, just after watching him a bit last year, he was one of the few pitchers that caught my eye. Cabrera seemed to have that “late inning stuff” you need to be a closer. Like you said, its worth a shot to give him a chance.

        • calicubsfan007

          @someday: My only problem with the idea of moving him is that it seems like a ton of our farm system starters are being converted to relievers. I can’t imagine that being exactly a good thing. Take McNutt for example. He was expected to be a good starter for us, then he lost his endurance and he is becoming a reliever.

          • AB

            Cabera numbers as a SP in the minors are very poor.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

              That’s due in no small part to the command and control issues that I strongly suspect are due to his mechanical issues.

              If the Cubs can fix that, many of those issues should vanish as well.

          • wilbur

            This is probably an issue that the folks who follow the minors closely could address with numbers. However, my ad hoc observation is that most pitchers begin their career as starters and then many migrate to the pen for a wide range of reasons.

            So what may look like a negative trend in the Cubs system is really the natural trend of what every system experiences, more or less.

            Thoughts, stats, trends? Thanks …

        • kranzman54

          I’ve never understood this “late inning stuff” argument and I must just not understand. If your stuff is unhittable in the 9th inning and you have the endurance to pitch 7 or 8 on a good day, I want you as a starter. For me if we move Cabrera to closer it better be because he doesn’t have the endurance or he unexplainably pitches better out of the bullpen #Lincecum2012. But if we are moving him to closer because he has swing and miss stuff I would way rather add a key piece to our rotation. What is this “late inning stuff”?

          • Kyle

            It wouldn’t be inexplicable if he pitched better out of the bullpen. Most guys do.

            And he’s already failed miserably as a starter.

            • kranzman54

              But then that’s an endurance issue correct? His slider doesn’t bite as much or he can’t reach back for that fastball beyond 2 IP, whatever. If he doesn’t have the endurance to pitch 6 solid innings fine, but then when we say he has “closer-stuff”‘ do we really mean “he lacks the endurance to be a starter but can still strike guys out?”

              • Kyle

                Yep, pretty much that’s what we mean.

                Some guys are in the bullpen because the gain in stuff that everyone gets is enough to make the difference for them between being a useful pitcher and not (I’m looking at you, Bowden).

                Other guys are in the pen because they can’t handle the rigors of 200 innings.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            The shortest possible answer is that it’s frequently a combination of stamina (some guys don’t have it), velocity (some guys can crank it up when they’re throwing only 15 pitches, rather than 100, and a couple MPH can make a huge difference), and number of big league quality pitches (the third time through the order, you will get shellacked if you don’t have a third pitch – in the pen, you can get away with just two).

            • kranzman54

              Thanks Brett, so does this mean when we say he has “closer-stuff” he is good but there are deffiencies from him being a starter? I mean if we thought Cabrera could succeed as either we would make him a starter correct?

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Bingo.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      He’s got late-inning potential, yes. But it sounds like they’re going to commit to him as a starter for a little bit longer before crossing that bridge.

  • JR

    If by some miracle Cabrera could become a decent starting pitcher, that would be so awesome. It would be like adding one of the stud arms we could have gotten if Garza wouldn’t have broke at the worst time possible. Good stuff.

  • Tommy

    Nice write up, Lukester. Are you aware that if you didn’t call out Cabrera by name, I would have thought you were talking about Marmol?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      That thought occurred to me as I was writing this.

      The key difference, at least for me, is that I think Cabrera could be an effective starter. Marmol does not offer that option.

  • Brandon – AA Correspondent

    Hey Luke, do you have a list of the Cubs Minor league free agents? With the signings of Jim Adduci and Juan Apodaca this week to the Rangers; I am wondering what other former Cubs farm hands may be free agents. (Nate Samson etc.)

    It will be interesting to see which players will be non tendered or released; and may not sign on with new teams. Makes me also wonder if they may end up in a coaching capacity (with the Cubs) back in the minor leagues where some may have had a “cult like following” while not projecting as major leaguers. (Ex: Blake Lalli)

    Also, seems to me that the Minor League managerial decisions seem to come down very late…..any reason why? The Smokies seem to have had pretty high turnover; which may be normal. Just wondering what you may have heard about who may be managing in the Cubs system in 2013.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I don’t have a list in front of me, but I suspect one is out there. If Brett doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll try to dig one up tonight.

      It seems to me that minor league coaching decisions often wait until after the winter meetings. We may have a few more weeks before that picture is completely colored in.

    • Spriggs

      FWIW, Brian Harper told me at an AFL game last month that he will be managing AAA next year.

  • Brandon – AA Correspondent

    THANKS!!

    Brandon

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