This Week In The Minors: Pondering Promotions

jae hoon ha[Note from Brett: The Wife and I are headed home, which interferes with the Bullets once again this morning. Back to your regularly-scheduled schedule tonight/tomorrow morning.]

The long awaited, injury delayed, and arguably overdue promotion of Jae-Hoon Ha, 22, to Iowa along with the flock of minor league veterans being traded out of the farm system lately may be the harbingers of promotions to come. There are plenty of candidates in the system, as well as some non-candidates that are frequently discussed. How can we tell the difference? What makes a promotion candidate a promotion candidate? Why are players promoted at some time and not others? We’ll dig into these and related questions after a quick survey of the organization.

An organization, I might add, that features a couple of first place teams.

Iowa Cubs : 38-39

The Cubs are in first place by a full game over the Memphis Redbirds of the Cardinals organization. In any other division in the Pacific Coast League their .494 winning percentage would be good for fourth, but in the PCL American North that record is good enough for the top spot. There is a lot of baseball yet to be played, but first place is first place. I’ll take it.

Tennessee Smokies : 2-2

The Smokies are tied for first in the Southern League North (with three other teams) despite not yet playing at home in the second half of the season. Now that the promotions have apparently begun, it will be interesting to see what the team that competes for a second half playoff slot winds up looking like.

Daytona Cubs : 2-1

Daytona holds a share of first place in the FSL North in the second half, and they are doing it without Jorge Soler in the lineup (Soler is on the DL with a minor leg injury). The loss of his big bat does not hurt this offense very much, though. With Baez and Geiger continuing to produce behind Andreoli and DeVoss, the Cubs are going to have little trouble putting runs on the board the rest of the summer. Whether or not they can make the playoffs will largely be up to the pitching.

Kane County Cougars : 0-3

The Cougars have slumped their way to an 0 and 3 start to the season. Again, do not let that record confuse you. This team is one of the youngest and most talented in the league, but it lacks experience. In the minors, that counts for a great deal when we are talking about team winning percentages. The talent level here is high enough that I still expect the Cougars to make a strong run at a second half title and a slot in the post season.

Boise Hawks : 4-4

The Hawks are just half a game behind the division leader. The end of the first half of the Northwest League season is just a little over a month away, so they have plenty of time to make up that gap. Look for the Boise roster to change several times over the next few weeks as more draft picks sign, get oriented in Arizona, and assigned elsewhere in the organization.

Arizona AZL Cubs : 1-1

The AZL Cubs are just getting underway in the Arizona Rookie League. Currently they sit a game behind the first place Angels, but with just a few games in the books that does not mean a great deal. As with Boise, this is a roster that should be in flux for some time yet.

To Promote

There are a few things to look for when scanning the organization for promotion candidates, and while success is certainly one of those things, it is not the necessarily the most important.

    • Age

If a player is a little old for the league, the promotion odds for that player are likely a little higher than for a player with similar production who is younger. We see this most frequently after the draft when college players are assigned to Arizona and Boise. Thanks in part to their more advanced game and greater baseball experience, these former collegiates often beat up on their largely former high school competition in the lower levels of the minors. When that happens, the college guys are likely to be moved up rapidly while the younger prospects are left in those lower levels to gain some experience.

One good recent example of this was Tim Saunders in 2012.

    • Games Played

A minor league season in a full season league is 140 games long, and many players spend about a full season at each of those four steps. That does not mean, however, that all 140 games of that season occur in the same year. A player who was promoted in the middle of the season last year is a solid candidate to be promoted again upon nearing the 140 games played threshold, even if that occurs in the middle of a season.

Matt Szczur is a very good example of this. He was promoted to Tennessee in the middle of last year after 121 games played for High A Daytona. He is still in Tennessee now in part because he only has 103 games at that level. Thanks to some injuries that kept him off the field for a time he likely has a few weeks before he completes a full season worth of games in Double A. He is probably a few weeks away from being a strong promotion candidate.

Jae-Hoon Ha, on the other hand, was overdue. Ha had spent 210 games in Tennessee; that’s about a season and a half. John Andreoli is similarly overdue in Daytona. His High-A games played meter currently reads 183.

    • Half Seasons

There are some players that we expect to be promoted mid-season. Highly ranked prospects who are assigned to Low-A, for example, we generally expect to move up once they have learned what Low-A has to teach them. Javier Baez was advanced from Peoria after 57 games last year, for example. And Pierce Johnson was recently promoted to Daytona after 69.2 innings for Kane County.

Notice that I listed Johnson’s appearance quantity in innings, not games played. Pitchers typically have a season innings limit, and for a guy like Johnson in his first full season as professional, that limit is likely to be in the 140-160 range. Johnson, then, was moved to Daytona after spending his half season or so in Kane County.

Kyle Hendricks might be a mid-season promotion candidate to Iowa. He is up to 83 innings now, and I suspect his limit for the year will be right around the 180-200 mark. I would not be at all surprised to see him bumped up a level after his next start or so.

Or Not To Promote

But there are very good reasons to not promote a player as well. Sometimes the best thing for a prospect is sit still despite any amount of struggles or successes.

    • Making Progress

This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the worst time to promote a player is when they are showing marked improvements in their game and taking significant strides forward. It could very well be that they are making those improvements because they are responding well to the coaching at that level. If those coaches and trainers are having success teaching that player exactly what he needs to be taught, why would the team rush to rip that player away and into a brand new environment with new coaches?

Yes, I am talking about Javier Baez. Baez began the season as a hyper-aggressive free-swinger who struck out at a ridiculous pace. Lately he has been a much more disciplined hitter who has even managed to talk a few walks here and there. To some degree the credit for that transition has to go to the coaching in Daytona. Since he is obviously making tremendous progress under the care of that coaching, why move him? When he has learned all he can the coaches, not the stat sheet, well let the Cubs know. Until then, leave him be.

That said, if we check Baez’s games played total we can see that he is approaching the promotion line I mentioned earlier.  I suspect he’ll only be in Daytona for another 30 games or so.  Possibly somewhat less.

    • Age

Age indeed cuts both ways. Sometimes, particularly with a player who is young, it is better to leave that player in one spot rather than knock him around from city to city. Moving is not an easy thing to do for adults. When you’re 19 and in a foreign country, it probably does not get any easier.

Take the case of Gioskar Amaya. Last summer Amaya put up some of the best numbers in the Northwest League. His OPS (.877) and home runs (8) made him (on paper anyway) one of the league’s best sluggers. Amaya plays second base. He is an excellent line drive hitter, but no one would ever mistake him for Dan Vogelbach. Despite his success, though, the Cubs left him in Boise all season. I strongly suspect his age had something to do with that.

    • Injury

The nice thing about Arizona and Florida is that it does not get cold there during the summer (if ever…). For a player, particular a pitcher who has had some arm trouble, that is a very good thing. There is no reason to risk aggravating a rehabbing injury by trying to warm it up and keep it warm in the frigid tundra of Iowa or Kane County when the sun-soaked meadows of the South are available. If that means a pitcher stays in Tennessee or Arizona for a few extra weeks, so be it. This crops up the most with pitchers left in extended spring training.

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation. He can be found on Twitter as ltblaize.

51 responses to “This Week In The Minors: Pondering Promotions”

  1. Dustin S

    Alluded to in a post here and there, but if it hasn’t been noted yet…Brett Jackson to the 15-day DL with a right calf strain. With the 2 recent trades and this, that’s 3 open roster spots. Curious to see who fills those.

    http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2013/06/22/iowa-cubs-roster-undergoes-major-changes/article

    1. Dustin S

      Looks like Jae-Hoon Ha was promoted and took Jackson’s spot.

  2. cubzfan

    I think now is the time to bring up Junior Lake.

    Cons: start service clock, he’s still working on plate discipline, he’s barely played the OF
    Pros: with DeJesus out, there are more ABs available for him: some at 3B, some in CF (with Sweeney perhaps getting a couple starts in left); he is on a hot streak; he needs to be challenged; he will have to be on the 40-man this Fall or be eligible for the Rule 5 draft; he is possible trade bait to showcase; he is very confident and a good friend of Castro, and maybe having him around would pick Starlin up a bit; he can always be sent back down if he’s overmatched

    1. cms0101

      I suspect he might get a call if/when they move Ransom before the deadline. Normally, I would think the FO would leave him in AAA until September to get him more at bats. But since he’s already on the 40-man roster, and they’ve been trading away all the infield depth in Iowa, he’s probably on a faster track to the majors than other players.

    2. willis

      Good with me. Just don’t promote him until tomorrow. I’m heading to the Memphis-Iowa game tonight and I’m going for two reasons, to see Lake and Rusin. After tonight, I say rock and roll.

    3. Jason Powers

      Spot on. More depth than I stated before.

      Good analysis of Lake.

  3. cub2014

    I read that soon the cubs will be sending down a reliever
    and bringing up a position player. I thought it would be
    Clevenger but now it looks like Lake. Since Clevenger
    is still hurting.

  4. Mat B

    Well, since I was opposed by so many in the debate regarding Matt Szczur, I guess I’ll just have to admit that there is no way for a a player with a .369 OBP in AA to succeed in the major leagues. So long Matt. I wish I’d taken advantage of your time in Peoria to get a chance to see you play in a league in which you could excell.

    1. cubzfan

      Not trying to restart a debate that I wasn’t part of, but here’s my take on Szczur. Matt may be very good at the things he does. Getting on base, playing defense, stealing bases. The question is whether other players will be able to do those things fairly well and also hit for power, which he doesn’t. Particularly in this system, you have Jae-Hoon Ha who is 3-4 years younger, plays equivalent defense, and has a strong platoon split–he kills lefties. Which do you keep as your 4th outfielder? Then, if your starters are mostly right-handed eventually (Almora, Soler, etc.), and you can pick up reserve LH outfielders for free like Sweeney, Borbon, and Bogusevic, doesn’t it make sense to see if another team would give you something you need more (like pitching) for a guy like Szczur? I think Matt will have a major league career, and maybe even be a starter for a while, but I doubt that is with the Cubs.

      1. cub2014

        cubzfan, i agree on Szczur his only chance to
        be a starter would be in centerfield as a leadoff
        guy and he could end up being a good one. But
        with Castro,Castillo,Soler,Baez,Bryant all being
        right handed hitters and Rizzo the only lefty, there
        maybe no place for him.

      2. Jp3

        Szczur is 1 year younger than Ha. That seems pretty much like a wash to me on the age front but no way can we have both those guys in the same lineup with Barney and a pitcher… I guess you’re right only one can be the 4th OF

      3. jt

        Szczur is 15 months OLDER than Ha.
        But what exactly does Ha do better than Szczur?
        Career SLG for Szczur is 10 pt’s higher and OBP is 43 pt’s higher
        Szczur is still in learning mode with 465 AA PA’s to 887 for Ha
        Ha is who he is. Szczur has been improving.
        2011 Szczur hit 10 HR’s. That is not the game he has been learning. But that is not to say he could not improve his power.
        I’m not saying that the former football player is a lock to see a major lg field without paying but at least give him 500 AAA PA’s before writing him off.
        After all, a lot of the same things were being said of Valbuena this past spring.

        1. Adam

          Szczur will be in AAA soon enough. From an organizational standpoint, it’s more useful to see an extra 10-15 games or so from Ha at the AAA level so the org can get a bigger sample on him.

          Szczur’s path is more or less set: He’s on the 40-man roster, will be at AAA at the end of this season, will be at the major league spring training camp, and then we’ll see…

          How Ha performs would inform/influence other decisions…. put him on the 40 man next year? If so, who’s off, how do they leave, & can you get anything in return? (e.g., try to use Sappelt as a throw-in on a trade?) If he struggles at AAA, then do you roll the dice on NOT putting him on the 40 and seeing if he slips through the Rule 5 draft?

        2. cubzfan

          I stand corrected on the age difference. Also, the point I was trying to make isn’t that Ha is better than Szczur, but that he is probably good enough to fill a 4th outfielder role (as is Lake), which may be all Szczur can aspire to as Almora catches up to him. For that reason, I think Szczur may be traded before he ever sees the majors.

  5. cub2014

    but then again if Vogelach can play the outfield
    and Candelario and Alcantera make it then you
    have better opportunities for more righties.

    1. Jp3

      No way you can hide Vogelbach in the OF. Not with Willie mays or Griffey Jr playing in their prime next to him in CF

      1. arta

        there have been worse!

  6. Mat B

    Szczur turns 24 next month. Ha is already 22. That’s not even 2 years difference. I’ve just stated Szczur deserves a chance.

    1. Dynastyin2017

      If they gave Campana a shot, surely they could do the same for Sczzur.

      1. jt

        I don’t know that Szczur can long term hit for any kind of power.
        But….
        Szczur’s career SLG is about 50 pt’s higher than Campana.
        That said, I don’t see how Szczur projects to be near has good a base runner as TC.

        1. arta

          one tool TC? all he ha was speed.

  7. Chad

    I personally think Lake needs some more time in AAA. He’s only had like what 60 ABs there. I think he can end up being a big part of the Cubs foundation as a super utility guy, but we don’t need to rush him. Especially this year. It could end up really hurting his development. And right now the cubs do not need a 6th OF again. I’d rather to see Vitters perhaps (though I don’t know if he’s ready for it). Put him at 3rd and maybe even let him play 1B a bit. See if he’s developed. But I don’t think you see him until the cubs make a move/or September.

    1. another JP

      The way I see it Lake could conceivably see time in Chicago this summer. If Castro continues to slide, the Cubs have to consider a replacement- if for no other reason than to shock this guy into performing like he cares. Junior is the only other SS on the 40 man roster and he has the ability to fill in other positions if necessary. At $5.8M the next two seasons Castro needs to get fixed ASAP before his contract really becomes a detriment to moving him if he fails to progress and room needs to be made for Baez et. al.

      1. Cedlandrum

        I don’t understand the performing like he cares. Where does this come from? Is he supposed to jump up and down and scream when he gets out? I think he cares plenty which probably isn’t helping his slump.

        1. another JP

          Lighten up Francis. When a guy like Castro stops spending time in clubs and performing better on the field I’ll use a different choice of words.

          1. Caryatid62

            I bet a thousand dollars that you’ve never seen starlin Castro in a club in your life.

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              Moreover, what if he had? MLBers hit clubs all the time. That includes the ones playing well and the ones not playing well. Obviously, it’s not associated with performance.

              1. another JP

                Oh yeah? Maybe you haven’t talked to guys like Dennis Eckersley then.

                1. caryatid62

                  Neither have you.

                  Besides, Eckersley was an alcoholic who was also snorting cocaine and asking clubhouse attendants to buy drugs for him. Are you claiming that, based upon your zero interactions with or observations of Castro, that he’s doing similar things?

                  If you’re going to call a guy out with an accusation of this magnitude, you sure as hell better have eyewitness proof.

                  1. another JP

                    Hey loud mouth, I wasn’t speaking to you so watch just what you say to me. If you want someone to argue with put words in your own mouth instead of mine.

                    I personally witnessed Eckersley partying on the Riverfront in St. Louis after a game he pitched in summer 1985, so maybe you should know who you’re speaking to before you run your mouth. And Castro was exonerated on sexual assault charges last year with a woman he met after the last game of the season. I don’t believe they met at Walgreens if the police reports are correct. So respond all you want to this message because it won’t be returned.

                    1. Cedlandrum

                      You’re a tool.

              2. Jp3

                Doc, I’m going to see the splits on what you’re referring to😝. Major leaguers going to clubs vs MLBers not going to clubs

          2. Cedlandrum

            Your cool, nice work with your originality.

        2. another JP

          Up yours big boy.

  8. Dynastyin2017

    Luke, your ‘Making Progress’ section is balls on accurate. If a player in improving, leave him alone and allow his new swing/approach/pitch, whatever it is, to become habit. The only thing you left out, IMO, is a player who is not being challenged. That player should be moved up. Currently, the only player that may fit that mold is Almora, and he’s only had about 100 PA’s. Another thing I would consider, is the two week ‘cup of coffee’ thing. If a prospect is playing well, move him up during the last few weeks. Challenge them to see what they need to work on during the next step of their development.

  9. Ivy Walls

    The parlor game of who or when really is immaterial, to take a page out of ‘Moneyball’ as Peter Brand states the following wisdom:

    “There is an epidemic failure within the
    game to understand what’s really
    happening. And it leads people who run
    major league teams to misjudge their
    players and mismanage their teams.
    They’re still asking the wrong questions.
    People who run baseball teams still think
    in terms of buying players. Sorry to say
    that.”
    …” The goal shouldn’t be to buy players,
    what you want to buy is wins. To buy
    wins, you buy runs.”

    Thus the question is not the person who comes up to the club but the amount of runs or stopping of runs…that is being developed.

    I could care less if it is Ha or Baez or Soler

  10. Adam

    Szczur will be in AAA soon enough. From an organizational standpoint, it’s more useful to see an extra 10-15 games or so from Ha at the AAA level so the org can get a bigger sample on him.

    Szczur’s path is more or less set: He’s on the 40-man roster, will be at AAA at the end of this season, will be at the major league spring training camp, and then we’ll see…

    How Ha performs would inform/influence other decisions…. put him on the 40 man next year? If so, who’s off, how do they leave, & can you get anything in return? (e.g., try to use Sappelt as a throw-in on a trade?) If he struggles at AAA, then do you roll the dice on NOT putting him on the 40 and seeing if he slips through the Rule 5 draft?

    1. jt

      “Buy runs!”
      It’s a nice sentiment.
      How do you implement?

      1. jt

        Sorry; the above was response to Ivy Walls
        *
        To Adam:
        Yeah, evaluate and trade. Agreed in whole.
        Should be interesting.

  11. willis

    Geez what a shitty season for Brett Jackson. If he isn’t injured he’s K’ing at an alarming rate. Pretty disgusting and I’m afraid, as much as I was on his wagon, that we can close the books on him.

    1. Cedlandrum

      When I saw him a few weeks ago he seemed like he had a bit of a limp. I don’t think he has ever been right this season. I think he needs to sit out till he is 100% healthy and then see what he can do. If you are trying to change your swing, having a bad shoulder, toe and calf aren’t going to help.

  12. Stevie B

    I for one love this time of year…when certain players are forced to reveal themselves. Fish or cut bait, crap or get off the pot…etc etc.
    We all have had high expectations / hopes for Jackson and Szczur yet it is time for them to either reach said goals, or make room for those who can / possibly can.
    We all know that only a fraction of a small percentage of elite athletes become successful MLB regulars / stars. I’m just ready for a few of our minor leaguers to make it.

    1. Danny Ballgame

      From what a have read, Jackson is a lost cause. There is no reason to count out Szcur. He has been improving all year long and has not even seen the PCL. Give him time

  13. JoeyCollins

    I’m all for leaving guys where they are until they force a promotion, or are no longer being challenged, but I’d like to see some of the bigger name guys move sooner than later. My main reasoning behind that is what happened with Baez last year in Daytona. He got the late season promotion to see what he could do for a couple weeks at High-A, but got rained out what seemed like 2 of every 3 games. It almost would have been better for him to stay where he was than to not play in Daytona. That being said it would be nice to get Baez and Soler out of Daytona before that season hit so they have more chances to play. I think Almora will show very shortly, if he hasn’t already, that he isn’t being challenged in Kane County. I dont want him going to Daytona late in the year just to watch the rain, so they might as well promote him a little earlier than they did with Baez just to make sure he gets enough games in at the level to make the promotion worth it.

    1. Jp3

      I couldn’t agree more Joey, I remember that last year. Baez was rained out of about every other game. That’s got to be frustrating for sure when it’s all about timing and what not. I’m actually all for Almora staying down in KC for the season then starting in Daytona next year and getting the bump to Tenn if he’s still ripping everything in sight.

      1. JoeyCollins

        I’d be fine with that also. The only problem is if hes not getting challenged then he needs to move. I’d just want them to move him early to make sure he gets some games in or, as you said, leave him at KC, then maybe send him to the AFL. I know their allowed two guys under AA and i’d like if Almora was one of the two. The AFL is also another good reason to get Soler and Baez to AA before the season is out so they can both go and not be one of our guys below AA.

  14. WiscoCubs

    Probably not the most important set of promotions (but especially with Takahashi traded) I think its time to bring Rosscup up to AAA and then Frank del Valle up to AA.

    Rosscup fits many of your well described criteria for promotion. Age (just turned 25), Games played/innings pitched (35 games, 50+ innings seems plenty for a reliever), and half seasons (spent end of last year in AA). The second half of the year seems important to find out if Rosscup’s very solid AA numbers might carry over to Chicago in September or more importantly next year. Both Iowa and Chicago could certainly use the bullpen help. Would be nice to have a second lefty option in the pen next year.

    Del Valle, age (23) games (44, 140+ innings), seasons (has been in Daytona for parts of 3 seasons and results (2.60 era, 46 so in 35 innings) seems worthy of a promotion as well.

    For what its worth by the later stages of this year I would like to see Batista, McNutt, Zych, and Rosscup all in Iowa. Schlitter, Coleman, Caridad, and some of the other AAA retreads shouldnt all be given the rest of the season to show us yet again that they are AAAA players at best. With that being said maybe Schlitter and Coleman can replace Camp/Marmol by August and get their last shot at sticking in the pen.

  15. another JP

    I agree totally on Rosscup, Schlitter, Coleman promos. All these older pitchers with decent numbers are a perfect way to solidify the relief pitching instead of trading for retreads or signing FA for $4M or more a year.

    1. AB

      If you’re counting on guys like that to solidify relief pitching, you’re also likely counting on another 70 win season.

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