stanford mark appelAs draft day draws closer, one story to watch will be the Boras vs Everyone subplot. Agent Scott Boras has made it pretty clear that he absolutely hates the new draft rules and penalties, and some think that he wielded the Mark Appel contract situation last season as a club in an effort to beat some sense into Major League Baseball. If that is the case … and that is a huge and largely unsubstantiated if … it stands to reason that he might do the same thing again this season. Could he convince Appel to demand a bonus so high it guarantees that the young Stanford pitcher will be signing his first professional contract in Japan? I wouldn’t rule it out.

But I wouldn’t count on it, either. At the end of the day the agents work for the players. Period. No agent can take actions a player does not like and expect to remain employed by that player. If Mark Appel wants to play Major League Baseball as soon as possible, then he will make sure Boras reaches a deal with the team that drafts him. While agents are powerful, the ultimate authority resides in the draftee. That is also something that needs to be kept in mind as the pre-draft rumor season goes into overdrive.

And speaking of pitching talent, we have some numbers to dig into a little later in this weekend’s article.

Iowa Cubs : 7-13

Iowa does have some road wins now, but this is not a team that looks like it is about to go on a tear. The pitching is in the middle of the pack (in terms of Runs Allowed Per Game), but the offense is third from the bottom. This is still a collection of major league bench spare parts masquerading as a baseball team. That situation should start to change in the second half of the season, but in the meantime this is essentially the Logan Watkins and Ryan Sweeney show.

Tennessee Smokies : 13-9

The Smokies did not have a great week, but they held on to first place. This is the team you want to watch if you want to see what the Cubs future could look like. Tennessee is one of the younger teams in the league, but both the hitting and the pitching are in the top three in terms of Runs per Game. The Smokies lead the league in Steals and Walks, are second in Doubles, and are third in Home Runs. And to top it off, the wave of talent that should arrive from Daytona in the second half of the season should upgrade the total talent level for this team. When the Chicago Cubs get you down, the Tennessee Smokies might just be your cure.

Daytona Cubs : 10-11

The wins are not piling up for this team yet, but things are starting to look generally upwards. Daytona is also one of the youngest teams in the league, and the combination of Jorge Soler and Javier Baez is tough to top in terms of raw upside. Despite the walk-adverse style of Baez, the Cubs are second in the league in that department; thanks in no small part to Baez, they are also second in strikeouts. Overall, though, this offense is putting up the third most runs per game in the league. Unfortunately, the pitching is allowing the second most.

Kane County Cougars : 7-11

The Kane County offense is one of the youngest in the league (are you noticing a trend yet?), but the pitching averages on the older side. So far, at least, that pitching has been the worst in the league. The talent is better than the results, I think, so I would not be surprised to see Kane County go on a run any time now. The offense has been holding it’s own (middle of the pack in the league), but I think it is not quite living up to the talent either. Look for this team to improve as the weather warms up, dries out, and becomes a little more consistent (or as consistent as it ever is in the Midwest).

WHIP Score

As promised, this week I’ll extend the idea of measuring a minor league player’s performance by comparing a key stat (or stats) to the average for that stat in the league in which he plays to pitching. Last week we looked at hitters, and in many ways hitters are easier to study. When looking for summary stats that measure total offensive contribution there are a number of worthy candidates. We can debate which stat is the best to go with, but it is sort of like debating which kind of pie to eat first. Some pies better suit some taste buds, but at the end of the day it is all amazingly delicious.

Pitching also has a number of candidates, but for the purposes of prospect evaluation all of them are badly flawed. Some argue the only thing that matters is K/9; if a guy isn’t striking out minor league hitters, he isn’t worth talking about. I don’t buy into that. My favorite stat is GO/AO, but that’s not really ideal for this study either. ERA is too dependent on defense (and minor league defenses tend to be pretty bad across the leagues) so that one is out. Runs allowed per game is handy, but I generally only use it for teams. SO/BB? Not a bad candidate, but it ignores too much.

Ultimately, for the purposes of this article, I settled on WHIP. WHIP (or Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched) has fallen out of favor among many in favor of many more advanced stats, but I think it does the job well enough, particularly when considering prospects.

First we’ll take a look at the average WHIP for each league and then at the adjusted WHIP for the team leader (min 10 IP) for each of the farm teams. This week I’ll be computing the normalized stat by dividing league average WHIP by the player’s WHIP. An average pitcher should have a WHIP Score around 1.000. Higher numbers are better.

Triple A – Pacific Coast League : 1.495
Double A – Southern League : 1.288
High A – Florida State League : 1.319
Low A – Midwest League : 1.366

Iowa : Yoanner Negin. WHIP: 1.135. WHIP Score : 1.317

At age 29 Negrin is definitely on the old side for this league, but he has pitched well for the Cubs in six appearances out of the pen. His effectiveness is greatly enhanced by his robust 10.9 K/9 rate. Look for him to get a chance in Chicago sometime this summer.

Tennessee : Dae-Eun Rhee. WHIP: 0.581. WHIP Score: 2.217

Rhee has only made two starts this season and his innings total comes in just over the 10 inning minimum I set for this study. In those ten innigsn he has given up just three hits and three walks. Neither of those rates are excessively high, but nor are they all that surprising out of a 24 year old who has seen Double A before. Still, success is success. When it comes to pitching prospects and the Cubs, we’ll take what we can get.

Daytona : Yao-Lin Wang. WHIP: 1.054. WHIP Score: 1.251

Wang has appeared in four games and made one start for Daytona, and so far he has average about a strikeout an inning while being stingy of both hits and walks. This guy is a legitimate pitching prospect who is too often overlooked in the Cubs system, but it remains to be seen if his future in the rotation or the bullpen. He has struck out hitters at every stop of his minor league journey; so long as he can keep that up I think the Cubs will groom him as a potential mid-rotation starter.

Kane County : Felix Pena. WHIP 0.981. WHIP Score: 1.392

And now the benefit of normalizing prospect stats against league averages becomes very apparent. Despite a WHIP that is quite a bit lower than that of Negrin’s, the two have WHIP scores that are quite close. Pena has appeared in three games (two starts) for the Cougars, and his success comes mainly from limiting the damage. He is not a strikeout artist; he just doesn’t put people on base. His K/9 rate is actually one of the lowest on the team. Can he keep up this level of success as the season (and his career) continues? Maybe. For now, though, he has the best WHIP on the team.

With the possible exception of Rhee, odds are good that all of these pitchers have a future in the bullpen. I’d love to see Wang stick in the rotation, but I suspect he’ll be heading for the back of a bullpen sometime in the next year or two. It is early yet and the leaders will likely change as the season progresses, but for now it appears the most successful pitchers in the farm system are working out of the bullpen. That is good news for the future of the team (plenty of cheap bullpen depth is a nice thing for any team to have stashed in the minors), but it also bad news for the future of team (high end, cheap starting pitching is nice too have too).

I’ll repeat these studies as well as other similar examinations as the season progresses. It will be interesting both to see how the numbers change and to see how opinions on some players change in response to those numbers.

  • Jp3

    Not to be a pest Luke but any word on why Vogelbach was pulled last night after 2 ABs in the 5th inning? Hopefully nothing serious.

    • Bric

      I just don’t get all the Vogelbach love. Same can be said for Junior Lake. The JIm Hendry Farm System PR and Koolaid Machine has finally been shut down. Let’s not put it back in business.

      • Voice of Reason

        Proving the point that even a blind squirrel can find a nut, vogelbach is hendrys nut. He was a pathetic gm, but he did well with vogelbach!

        So, hate on hendry and all of his terrible moves, but don’t hate on vogelbach!!!

        • Dynastyin2016

          Hendry was NOT a horrible GM. He drafted horribly, he left the organization baron of talent, but the major league team had the best ten year run since the ’40s under him.

          • Voice of Reason

            He drafted horribly and left the major league team baron of talent. That right there is enough to make him a pathetic general manager.

            But wait…. there’s more! He was given an open check book yet still couldn’t win a works series. I would hope they won some games over the past number of years since the tribune let him spend, spend, spend yet he dry couldnt win a world series cause he didn’t know how to build a winner.

            In recap…. hendry stunk cause he didn’t draft, left the team with no talent and had an open check book and couldn’t buy a world series. Sure he had some good years, but what gm wouldn’t?

            Based on those things he’s worst gm cubs ever had, period.

        • X The Cubs Fan

          I mean the guy also brought Javier Baez, Brett Jackson, Logan Watkins, Josh Vitters and last but not least Starlin Castro.

  • BWA

    Maybe its because Vogelbach has a ton of talent as a pure hitter with a patient approach and a ton of power? Also, are we supposed to hate on Baez too then?

    • Bric

      No, Baez, Almora, and Solar have true potential which is reflected in their status on most non partisan scouting websites. What do these same websites say about guys like Vogelbach and Lake and the rest of the minors? These 3 are the only legitimate prospects in the entire system.

      “I dispute the ratings of our farm system. We may not have many prospects in the top 100, but we’re loaded in the second 100”- Jim Hendry gem of a quote from about 5 years ago. That strategy worked out well.

      • Luke

        Those websites say Vogelbach is a borderline top 100 guy. I (on a “partisan” site) rated him lower than almost anyone else.

        • Bric

          So if Brett Jackson was rated as #38 on BA in 2011 and Trey McNutt was rated at 48 that same year, what does that say for Vogelbach? BTW, Luke, I don’t really consider your views slanted toward the Cubs.

          But since you contribute to these sites seriously- what do you consider the chances of Vog, Lake, Maples, McNutt and any other names that frequently pop up making it to the Cubs (and I don’t mean in September)? I gives all of these guys less than 10%.

          • Blublud

            Well 49% of 2nd round picks make the majors, do I would put Vogs odds at, IDK, 49%.

            • Bric

              ? I don’t know what the league average is for 2nd round picks but as far as the Cubs go, over the last 15 years only 22% of FIRST round picks have actually made the team. In that same span only 3 players selected in the 2nd have actually made it (Bobby Hill, Jake Fox, and D.J. Lameiheu).

              So again, as far as the Cubs go it looks about 10%. But again, I get what you’re saying and we’ll see.

              • Bric

                Edit: Word about the math. Since the league has a funky compensatory system there were a few years where the Cubs had no 2nd round pick and several when they had several 1st round compensatory picks so I simply used the 1st player selected as the 1st round pick as a 1st and anyone else selected above the 3rd round as a 2nd round pick.

      • Blublud

        Vogelbach is just as good if not better eith the stick. He is not a top 100 prospect only because “he doesn’t have a position.” Vogs is a legit prospect.

        • Bric

          Then trade him to an AL team.

          • Blublud

            I disagree with the position argument, just quoting the experts.

      • X The Cubs Fan

        They’re elite prospects but you don’t have to be an elite prospect to be a great one. Vogelbach has a great approach can hit for average and mega power I think you’re just hating on him because he was part of the Hendry era.

        • Bric

          I’m not hating on him because he’s part of the Hendry era. I’m just curious about his defense. But aAfter watching Castro let another one go right through his glove I’m just saying the with the worst defensive team in the league this should be a little more a concern among the young guys.

      • AB

        Bric please don’t comment on minor league posts if you are going to write garbage like this.

        There’s plenty of people that want to have discussions about 2nd and 3rd tier prospects that actually follow and know alot more about the Cubs follow and understand how minor league systems and want to have discussions without the same old tired meatball cliches.

        • Bric

          Okay, here’s 3 names for you: Brian Dopirak, Ryan Harvey, Jake Fox. A first rounder and two second rounders very similar to this kid. How’d these guys work out? But, as you say, I know nothing of the Cubs or their production from the minors so why don’t you enlighten with three more names in the Cubs that are similar to him and did succeed?

  • Jp3

    I’m not a fan of Lake at all really, but I think Vogelbach has a very high ceiling that’s all. He’s heating up I think. Because he hit 17 HRs last season in about 60 games while hitting about .320. I like all those things and he doesn’t K so damn much like the rest of our power prospects excluding(Soler).

    • Blublud

      Yeah. I stated this before. Every talks about the offensive upside of Soler, Baez, Almora and others. However, don’t be suprised if when they are all in the bigs in 4 years if Vogelbach is a better offensive player then any of them. He is not driving the ball this year yet, but what I didn’t realize from the other, he has never played this early in the season. Vogs is a beast.

    • Bric

      Fair enough. We’ll see. Go Cubs.

  • Stu

    Watkins, Sweeney will probably get called up after the trade deadline. Jackson K percentage running at 40 percent is not promising.

    I guess you really have a hard time improving on making contact. You either have it or you don’t.

  • JR

    Luke, any idea what is going on with Soler? He has really struggled since he went psycho a few weeks ago. He hasn’t been hitting at all lately..

    • Luke

      FSL pitchers likely adjusted to him. Now he just needs to adjust to them. I’m not worried about him yet.

      • JR

        Cool. Thats what i thought. I am sure he’ll come around. Hopefully soon, so he can spend a good amount of time in AA this year.

  • Jono

    That would be a bummer if the Cubs drafted a pitcher they couldn’t sign. Major bummer

  • The Dude Abides

    Ian Stewart is 3-32 with 7 BB, 1 2B, 5 R, 4 RBI, 12 K and 4 errors in ten games with Iowa.

    • Jimmy James