A Chat With Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks on Cubs Prospects, International Additions, and So Much More

baez almora solerBaseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks is full of want.

That is to say, when it comes to the prospecting game, Parks is one of the best. He is the National Prospect and Player Development Writer for Baseball Prospectus, and the co-host of the Fringe Average podcast.

You probably already follow him on Twitter (@ProfessorParks), but, if you don’t, rectify that. It is because I do follow Jason on Twitter that we started chatting about a variety of things. That turned into a full-blown interview-type-thing, of which you will now be the benefactor. Jason was awesome enough to speak to me at length today about a wide range of Cubs-related topics.

After the usual pleasantries …

So, I know you’ve been taking in an Eastern League series at New Britain. Dare I assume there’s some Miguel Sano fawning going on? How far does having two elite prospects like Sano and Byron Buxton take a system? Like, let’s assume the Twins had absolutely nothing behind those two beside organizational filler. Still a top 15 system? Better?

Jason: You know what, it is for me. I lean heavy toward impact. That’s one reason I’ve been vocal about the Cubs’ system being as good as it is, despite what some people refer to as suspect depth, especially with arms. While it’s true that the Cubs don’t have the Cardinals’ or Padres’ depth, they have impact players, and baseball is about impact players. That’s the biggest commodity in the game. Impact. Whether you trade a minor leaguer for a big league player or let them develop into a cost-controlled big leaguer, the teams that win are the ones who have guys who can impact the game, not just play the game and be fringe average. So, with the Twins, you take those two monsters, and they alone make that system worthwhile. Think about what kind of player those guys could get right now if the Twins traded them. It’s always good to have depth, but in a system with two stars like the Twins, as it relates to the Cubs, well they have four guys I can think of right now that a top 30 type impact talents, and that doesn’t even count guys who are in top 100 consideration like Arismendy Alcantara or Dan Vogelbach. And Pierce Johnson’s not a slouch.

Speaking of the Twins’ system, you’ve mentioned recently that you see them as the top dog right now, with the Cubs/Cardinals/Astros/Pirates behind them somewhere in the top five. In a world where the Cubs unload heavily in the run up to the Trade Deadline, landing a top 50 prospect from a desperate team for Matt Garza (plus another lesser, but quality prospect), a top 100 prospect for Scott Feldman (because sometimes teams go crazy), and a smattering of organizational top 20 types for their other moveable pieces, and considering the upcoming international period, is it conceivable that the Cubs could slide into the top spot by August 1? 

Jason: It’s not.

[Momentary silence while I pick my shattered hopes and dreams up off of the ground, and Jason chuckles softly.]

Jason: That was a short answer. I just don’t believe that it is. First of all, I have a sense of what the trade market is going to be like for Garza, and I think a team is going to have to be in a pretty desperate situation to give up a top 50 guy for him, unless it happens to be a top 50 guy with a lot of question marks. Maybe that speaks more to my distrust of Garza.

What don’t you like about Garza?

Jason: No, I like him. I just think more teams are scared of trading prospects right now. A lot of teams, especially with the new CBA and with the way things are going, more teams are hesitant to unload youth. I really don’t believe a lot of the rumors out there. Maybe as we get closer to the deadline teams get more desperate. Maybe one team makes a move and it forces a division rival to get desperate and move a big prospect.

[Circling back to the Cubs' system's upward mobility this month.]

Jason: A team like the Pirates, I think they’re ranking might take a hit because they’re in a position to go out and get someone. That will affect their depth, but they’re really really loaded. The Twins, they’re not going to be buying players. I like what they did in the Draft. I really like Kohl Stewart. The Twins have a lot of depth, too.

The 2013-14 international signing period opens up, and the biggest name attached to the Cubs is 16-year-old Dominican player Eloy Jimenez who is rumored to be commanding a $2.5 to $2.7 million deal. You mentioned when we chatted on Twitter that there were some things you saw in his game that you didn’t love.

Jason: Well, he’s got a corner [outfield] profile, and it’s a lot of power, but it’s a sell-out, showcase power. Which is one of the things I don’t like about showcases, in general. Dominican kids aren’t playing in organized leagues, they learn how to showcase from a very early age. They know how to show the arm, they know how to hit for power. But they don’t know how to play in games, or on a team. They don’t know how to do fundamental things. Jimenez is a prototypical showcase talent. He’s a guy who can put on massive power in BP, but I thought he was terrible in games. Obviously he’s 16 and you’ve got to be careful with what you say when it comes to what’s happening now and what can happen in the future. Some teams must believe he can develop into a good hitter, but I personally don’t believe it. The guy can hit bombs. He got a standing ovation at a showcase because he was hitting bomb after bomb after bomb. I get it.

Some believe you can teach the other stuff, but you can’t teach the physical ability to have power.

Jason: Yeah, but I happen to believe the converse – good hitters can learn to hit for power, but you can’t teach a hitter how to hit. Neurologically, Jimenez is still young enough that he can develop the ball skills, but I also think that kind of stuff gets harder and harder the older you get. I get it from a physical standpoint. The guy is a specimen. But he’s a corner specimen, so he’s going to have to hit. He’s got a good arm. He looks the part. I totally get it. I get why he’s a seven figure guy. There’s not a lot of power in the market and there’s a lot of power in his bat. But three or four folks I talked to didn’t make him a seven figure guy because they didn’t think he could hit.

Together with Jimenez, the Cubs are rumored to be strongly in on Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, another prospect who is expected to command a huge bonus. Those two, alone, could eat up a huge chunk of the Cubs’ international spending pool, assuming they don’t add a bunch of money via trades. You mentioned to me that you didn’t love that approach – going for two huge pieces, rather than spreading it out over quantity. 

Jason: I don’t like that approach, but I understand why the Cubs are doing it. The Cubs are in a different situation than most teams in baseball. The Cubs are similar to the big money teams – the prestige teams – in the sense that, eventually, this regime has to win at the major league level. They can’t be like the Royals and just stockpile prospects for five years and not win in the big leagues. They’re a team that doesn’t afford that kind of patience. So, instead of getting like 10 to 15 guys at $50,000 to $100,000 and then let them slowly become players down the line – survival of the fittest – the Cubs will go for the impact talent now. You can use that talent as currency sooner rather than later.

[Shifting into that idea of using minor league talent as currency to build the big league roster.]

Jason: Because the Cubs are going to need to get better at the Major League level within the next two to three years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Javier Baez is the first guy moved. Only because front offices like their toys. They like the guys that they get, not the guys they inherit. Even though Baez is an impact guy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moved because he wasn’t theirs. There are a lot of teams that would love Javier Baez. I’m not sold that he’s a ‘Cubs guy,’ if that makes sense. He’s a hell of a talent, and they’re not going to make a foolish decision.

Good points. This front office is smart enough to know the right way to build the organization, but is also smart enough to know they’re going to need to win in the next two or three years.

Jason: Sure. Because they could lose their own people. [VP of Scouting and Player Development] Jason McLeod is one of the brightest stars in baseball. And there are a lot of people who think that losing McLeod would be far worse than losing Theo Epstein. McLeod has so much respect among the scouting community.

Well there’s already an expectation among Cubs fans – at least Cubs fans who are into this kind of stuff – that he is going to be gone within a year or two when the right opening comes up. We’re bracing ourselves for the fact that he’s going to get poached.

Jason: Yeah, and that’s a problem. Because he’s a real talent. What happens when [Seattle Mariners GM] Jack Zduriencik gets fired? What other jobs are going to be open this year? I can’t think of one outside of the Mariners job.

Maybe Dayton Moore?

Jason: [The Royals] are playing all right. Maybe. Maybe Kansas City. If I had to pick a GM candidate right now, there’d be three guys on my list. They’d be Jason McLeod, John Coppolella with the Braves, and Damon Oppenheimer with the Yankees. Those are the three that I think are the biggest stars coming up right now.

It’s like a blessing and a curse for Cubs fans. You want the best surrounding the front office, but that’s what happens. Rising stars get opportunities.

Shifting abruptly back to the Cubs’ system, we all know that the high impact pieces in the Cubs’ farm system right now are all pretty solidly on the positional side. Is there any hope for a guy to emerge this year on the pitching side who could join the Big Four (Almora, Baez, Bryant (presumably) and Soler)? You mentioned Pierce Johnson earlier. Paul Blackburn, who is killing it at Boise right now? Dillon Maples if he ever harnesses the stuff? Juan Paniagua if he can ever make it to the States [Jason laughs and says nobody seems to know anything about his status, by the way]?

Jason: I don’t think so. I think it’s going to take more time than that. Those hitters are top tier guys. And I don’t see a guy in the Cubs’ system jumping into top 50 discussion right now. The good thing about the Cubs’ system is that they actually have some arms to work with. You mention Blackburn, and that’s a guy who’s taking a step forward now. There’s talent in that system that hasn’t been able to stay healthy or get going. Folks in the Cubs’ organization believe the talent is still there [on the pitching side]. They haven’t soured on any ceilings. The starts have been slow. That gives you hope for some of the younger guys, like you mentioned Dillon Maples. It’s erratic as hell, but he’s a young player. Sometimes it takes a long time to click. Whether it’s on-the-field maturity issues or off-the-field maturity issues. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with a young player just like it’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with a young person, in general. Especially when they’re dealing with failure early in careers. These guys are studs. They never failed at anything in their lives. They were the best player on their team since they were four years old. Then they get into short season ball, and they realize they aren’t where they need to be. You fail for the first time, you’re living away from home for the first time. These things compound. As you mature, you learn how to deal with failure. Sometimes it takes these young guys until they’re 20, 21, or sometimes it takes until they’re in another organization for the light to go on.

Hopefully with the new regime in place, and the development protocols that go along with that, maybe some of the stalling out with Cubs prospects that we’ve seen in recent years will go away – maybe that’s just a Cubs fan’s bias.

Jason: They’ve had combinations of bad luck and maybe some bad player development, but ultimately talent fails or succeeds because of talent. If you can acquire the right talent at the right time, it’s up to them. You can coax and help and guide them, but it comes down to the talent and whether they’re willing to work hard and have the skills to begin with. The failure, if anything, might just be not getting the right players to start with.

Sure. That, too, is hopefully something that’s turning around.

Jason: I think so, man. That Almora kid? Man, he’s awesome.

You’re as high on him as anybody. 

Jason: Well, he’s awesome, that’s why. I recognize what awesome looks like. And it’s him.

He’s going through his first little adjustment phase right now, maybe a cold week and a half stretch. I’m always nervous with super talented prospects that they’ll be able to kill too long at a level and swing at everything because they can hit everything at that level, and that becomes a habit as they move up the ladder. So I’m actually pleased to see Almora struggle a bit.

Jason: That’s a really excellent point, and I heard a variation of that from a scout about Almora who said that, yeah, some of the production is going down but I don’t think he’s challenged at the level. I think he’s just going out and playing baseball, and he happens to be really good at it. He’s going through a minor slump, but he’s not challenged by the level because he’s such an advanced baseball mind. The way he goes about playing in the field, his instincts are crazy. He’s always in the right spot. Sometimes a guy will struggle when he needs a challenge. I know that sounds like doublespeak, but sometimes when an advanced player struggles, he needs a challenge. Because they get complacent, and they make mistakes, and they’re giving away at bats. I don’t want to say it’s out of boredom, but some need a little more of a challenge so they can rise to the challenge.

And scene. A fantastic chat with a bright baseball mind. Thought you’d want to read it.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

122 responses to “A Chat With Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks on Cubs Prospects, International Additions, and So Much More”

  1. Jp3

    So many great tidbits but that last one about Almora was the icing on the cake.

  2. Rebuilding

    Great stuff, Brett. A few things: interesting take on the international market. I agree with him that when talking about 16 year olds spreading the money around seems to make more sense. Also, I agree with him about Almora. I think he is one of those guys that needs to be moved up until he really is challenged. Again, thanks, great read

    1. Dynastyin2017

      Rebuilding, don’t you think Jason contradicted himself? In one answer he talked about the need for impact talent, then when discussing the international guys, he kinda said go for the quantity.
      If the Cubs are spending 4 million on Lottery tickets, why not go for the ones with the highest payouts? (Hope Jason is wrong on Jiminez). We already have a ton of second tier talent, and will probably get more at the trade deadline.

      1. Kyle

        The problem is that raw 16-year-olds are so very, very far from the finished product that it’s almost impossible to guess which ones will turn into impact 21-year-olds, most of the time. It’s a bit of a paradox, but the best way to get impact talent out of traditional IFAs is to cast a wide net.

    2. Rebuilding

      I don’t think he contradicted himself at all. In one context he was talking about how he evaluates minor league systems where you have some data and in the other he is talking about 16 year olds putting on homerun shows. I agree with him on both. Impact trumps when judging minor league systems because ultimately you only have 8 position players and 5 starters. With respect to the international market you might as well be in Vegas – I like spread my chips around on a lot of numbers. If the Clevenger rumor is true maybe we can use the Marlins money to do that

  3. Kyle

    *jaw drops*

    That’s the best Cubs content I’ve seen anywhere on the web all year, easily. 80 quality.

  4. Mark S

    Living in Connecticut, I cannot wait to visit a Rock Cat’s game and watch Sano and Buxton play.

  5. Aaron

    This was fantastic. Took a while to read through (longer than most BN posts, anyway), but it is definitely worth it. I like that Parks didn’t just tell you what he thought you wanted to hear. He was brutally honest on where he sees our system right now. As a daily reader of this site, it is easy to “drink the Kool-Aid” and think that we all-of-a-sudden have a top farm system or that Garza will command a huge haul. Also interesting to hear the take on Baez being a trade piece – never really thought about that. Still a lot of work needs to be done!

    Thanks, Brett, for all you do to make sure we’re all well-informed!

  6. rickyp024

    awesome read, thanks for sharing, Brett. Awesome to hear how high he is on Almora. Can’t wait to see him in Des Moines!

  7. Cedlandrum

    very cool. Nice job Brett.

  8. Die hard

    Insight or incite ful as he knows what he’s talking about which concerns me… In one swoop he throws Theo under the bus and points out how desperate the Cubs are to win in 2-3 yrs which will overshadow all of their decisions on development and promotion … So if it doesn’t happen in this short time period which coincidently is the time left on Theos contract, is Theo replaced by McLeod? And are Theos moves with this in mind to save his job rather than build a long term winner ? I thought that’s what got Hendry fired? Scary!!

    1. Carew

      how do you think the way you do?

      1. MoneyBoy

        Carew … Why toast your brain *trying* to answer THAT question???

    2. Scott

      Based on Parks opinion of McLeod, we’re going to be luck if he’s around to potentially take Theo’s place.

      1. Kyle

        I’ve kind of been hoping that’s been the plan all along. Epstein leaves after his five-year deal is up, Hoyer and McLeod each move up.

  9. Dumpgobbler

    Great piece Brett, Thanks. Hopefully people wont get too excited about Eloy right off. Parks is correct. Just to hit home a point, the kid is 16 and has clearly been coached on how to wow people. 16 is really, really young. I’d wait until hes 19 or 20 doing something in Daytona before I started to believe. He certainly looks the part, but the bust rate is so insane with guys like Eloy..

  10. Jp3

    Can we please get Baez, Soler and Pierce out of Daytona before they drown… Their make up games today were rained out… It’s almost that time of year there and this is not going to help them develope getting every other game rained out. I just assume to leave Vogs and almora at KC for the rest of the year as to get rained out all the time in Daytona.

    1. Die hard

      Move em to a team in Cuba where they play year round?

      1. Jp3

        Ha, that would be a new can of worms…

  11. jayrig5

    That was excellent.

  12. TonyS

    “I recognize what awesome looks like. And it’s him”

    gold.

  13. hansman1982

    I’d repost the slow clap from before but I don’t want to burn it out.

    Great get Brett and great interview. Double word score.

  14. TonyS

    Baez for Gausman?

  15. Luke

    Niece piece.

    He is extremely high on Almora, and that is not exactly common. I don’t remember too many times when someone with Parks’ experience and credentials raved about a particular player in Low A like that.

    1. Rebuilding

      That struck me too. It’s about as high as you’ll hear one of these guys get on a player. They are paid to find flaws

    2. Kyle

      See: Everyone else in baseball re: Buxton

      1. Rebuilding

        Yep. I was just reading an article entitled: Buxton – better prospect than Trout, Maurer and Pujols?

      2. Luke

        Exactly.

      3. Rebuilding

        “One National League scout, after watching Buxton for two days, jokingly said ‘what wouldn’t I slap an 80 on?’”

        1. Kyle

          In 20 years, I think we may have a Bowie/Jordan situation with Correa/Buxton.

          1. Rich H

            I actually said almost the same thing to Jim Callis today on twitter and he said he still had no issue with it because the Astro’s also got Ruiz. So I said 2 quality prospects were better than a phenomenal prospect? That he would not respond to.

  16. On The Farm

    Thanks for posting Brett, fantastic stuff as always.

    If you were a blogger for a different team all I would be able to say is: Brett Taylor #want

  17. RD

    Awesome read, Brett, this stuff is right up my ally. That was also very nice of Jason. I can’t wait to see where the Cubs system comes in after the trades/international signings!

  18. HackAttack

    Ben Badler of Baseball America fame said on twitter that the International Free Agent signing period doesn’t start until 9 am (ET) tomorrow. So we’ll have to wait until morning for any deals.

  19. Michael D

    Great chat. I just wish he would have answered the specific question about where the Cubs would rank if Garza was traded for a top 50, etc. I don’t necessarily disagree with the expected return, but it would have been nice to know whether the Cubs could have the top system if it did happen.

    Now that I re-read it, I can see my interpretation of the question is not the only possible one.

    1. Rebuilding

      I think he did answer it. Basically he doesn’t think Garza gets a Top 50 guy unless he is flawed. Therefore not an impact talent and no moving up due to Garza trade

      1. Michael D

        That gets to the two ways to interpret the question. I read it as if A and B happens would the Cubs have the top system? He answered it more generally and said A would not happen.

        1. Rebuilding

          Yes, I think his answer should give us a glimpse at an outside experts opinion on the return for Garza as opposed to some ideas thrown around here. I just took it as he didnt think it was a possibility so it didn’t make sense to answer. I assume if we were to pick up another Top 25-50 guy (especially a pitcher) and had 5 guys in that range along with Alcantara, Vogelbach and Johnson as fringe Top 100 guys we would likely be #1

  20. Guancous

    Great, great interview. Articles like this make Bleacher Nation the best Cubs site.

  21. Jason Powers

    Great article.

    IFA – 16 year olds with still maturing minds(still far from developed) and bodies(75% cooked) are extremely risky. But money spent there is about finding the personal work ethics and standards with the overwhelming talent. Maturity.

    Like the info on showcases. All about that tool: great arm, fast as lightening, or bombs, bombs, bombs.

    I lean towards pitchers. If you get them early, control their workouts, and teach/mature them well, the impact from 5-6 years of grooming can produce an MLB pitcher – from good working material.

    In my opinion, pitchers NEED mentoring and mechanics help nearly always, whereas batters are just through repeating a natural swing, learning pitchers’ approaches, and concentration and patience.

    Just my two cents.

    Again, great stuff.

  22. Kyle

    These IFA signings (mostly 16, some 17) are going to spend their first year at the club academy, then progress their way to the DSL. If they have a good first full season in the DSL, then they get promoted to the domestic system the next year, where they will start in extended spring training and hopefully play in the Arizona Rookie League at 18. They are basically nine full steps below the majors.

    1. Jason Powers

      I know this. But thanks.

  23. Jason Powers

    By mentoring: close individual throughout. Tough to do, but possible for the gains at the end for the right pitcher.

    1. MoneyBoy

      Jason – Not absolutely sure, but wouldn’t all of what you said be why Ricketts made the investment he did in the D.R.??

      Get your own place, get your own guys (for as long as Bud Seligdorf allows you to) and teach them the E/H&Co way?

      1. Jason Powers

        Yep. That’s a plan. ;)

      2. Jason Powers

        I want to see the execution of that plan. 5 years since we are talking the IFA. Can we get a few sprouts that do it. Will see.

  24. SenorGato

    Great article.

    I agree with Parks most specifically on this:

    “…good hitters can learn to hit for power, but you can’t teach a hitter how to hit.”

    I think most prospects are flawed so getting a top 50 guy for Garza should be easy. Zac Wheeler was had strike throwing issues and sometimes inconsistent mechanics. Wil Myers has his swing and miss issues.

  25. Rich H

    Great article Brett. I follow Parks and pick his brain ALOT, Great baseball mind that understands the combination of stats and eyes better than most prospect guys. You did one hell of a job getting him to go into detail on stuff he normally just goes over the top on when tweeting.

  26. Scott

    I like that Parks used the Orwell reference to doublespeak when talking about Almora and how his current struggle (small sample alert) might just be because he’s not being challenged.

  27. The Dude

    Brett, this was just an awesome read. Thank you and thanks to Jason for dropping that knowledge.

    Two points that really got my attention. First, that Jason McLeod might be a bigger talent than Theo. This is just my own gatherings from reading quotes from all three executives but I def have the impression that he’s more intelligent then Jed. He comes across as the superstar grinder that you don’t want at the very top though because those guys can’t always manage. Theo congress across as a great manager. He could move into a completely different industry tomorrow and be successful. Nonetheless, I agree that losing McLeod would be a huge loss to the organization.

    The second point, regarding the return from the trade deadline; Parks dues a great job of managing expectations. It’s easy to caught up in the Twitter hype but we won’t be getting a huge haul of products this month. That could all change if they trade Shark, and that’s why I’ve been coming around on that idea.

    Thanks, again, Brett. I absolutely love your work, man.

    1. The Dude

      Autocorrect my ass… This phone couldn’t fix a flat tire.

      1. Rebuilding

        Nice post, Dude. I feel your pain on phone autocorrect. There were so many things in the article I forgot about the McLeod point. Interesting that Parks said he had a great reputation in the scouting community, given this front office is supposedly more saber oriented. If true, I like the balance. I agree with your point that Theo has a CEO type demeaned and McLeod seems like a GM. While Hoyer is like the little brother that runs computer simulations. I base that on nothing other than how they come across

    2. The Dude

      Lol Rebuilding… I get a similar impression of Jed. I would describe it more like he’s the guy that makes Theo and Jed feel cool so they put him in a great spot that sounds important but doesn’t actually have the final say on any important decisions.

  28. MoneyBoy

    Um, Brett – Sorry to be late to the ‘dance.’ That just might be the best single piece ever on this site. (Sorry Luke, sorry Sahadev). I saw Parks on Draft Day – dude makes Mel Kiper look like Al Bundy. I know I’m crossing sports.

    The information here is astonishing in both quality and quality!

  29. mysterious4th

    I agree! His awesome comment was the cats pajamas!

  30. Andrew

    What was said about Almora at the end was spot on. I was in Appleton Saturday night watching the game and you could tell he wasn’t looking to be patient at the plate or have a good at bat, he was swinging at anything. It’s nice to see that he’s confident in himself, but at the same time he was clearly not giving a full effort.

    On the other hand, Vogelbach was patient at the plate, and had a good game Saturday and Sunday as well I thought. Reggie Golden looked extremely good and you could instantly see why he was once considered a really good prospect.

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