The Chicago Cubs have signed four new players to minor league deals, according to Baseball America: second baseman Jemile Weeks, left-hander Daniel Moskos, catcher Ali Solis, and right-hander Fernando Rodriguez. Each has the potential to impact the big league Cubs in 2017, so it’s worth a healthy look.
Each of the players may receive a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.
In this group of four, you’ll find two former first round draft picks (actually they were both within the top 12 overall), and two former free agent signings. Let’s start with the high picks and work our way through.
Jemile Weeks, almost 30, was most recently an infielder within the San Diego Padres organization, but was a member of the Red Sox, Orioles, and Athletics before that. The Athletics drafted Weeks in the first round (12th overall) of the 2008 MLB Draft. He progressed through the system pretty quickly, eventually making his Major League debut in June 2011. Through just under 100 games that season, Weeks was off to a great start, slashing .303/.340/.421 (111 wRC+) and just slightly below average defense.
Aside from a full (but unsuccessful) season of play in 2012, Weeks hasn’t got more than a small taste of MLB in each season since. But while his offensive line has never come close to that rookie season again, he has offered potentially improving and more versatile defense. If you’re looking for the Cubs’ hook, you might consider that Weeks walked (14.3%) twice as much as he struck out (7.1%) in Triple-A last season. Weeks is also a switch-hitter who’s capable of stealing bases. If he sticks with the Cubs’ organization, Weeks will likely serve as middle infield and bench depth for the Chicago Cubs at Triple-A Iowa.
The next former first-rounder, Daniel Moskos, was selected fourth overall in the 2007 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Some names that went after him include Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, Devin Mesoraco, Rick Porcello, Todd Frazier, Sean Doolittle, and Josh Donaldson. But before you start laughing, I’ll remind you that although the Pirates may have missed a bit with their fourth pick … the Chicago Cubs picked third.
But what’s done is done, so let’s talk about Moskos.
Not unlike Weeks, Moskos, 30, made his way through the Minor Leagues pretty directly, before ultimately making his debut in 2011. As a rookie reliever, Moskos had a pretty solid debut (2.96 ERA, 3.23 FIP) through his first 24.1 IP. A year later, however, Moskos was subjected to waivers and snagged by the Chicago White Sox – who eventually released him a year later. From 2013 until 2015, Moskos spent time in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, the Dodgers organization, and in the Mexican Professional Winter League. Just before the 2016 season he signed a minor league deal with the Padres, which is where he spent 2016.
Through 61.0 Triple-A relief innings, Moskos compiled a 3.98 ERA (3.79 FIP), a mediocre 17.5% strikeout rate, and a decent, but unspectacular 8.2% walk rate. In a small sample, Moskos’ numbers were actually worse against fellow left-handers (.381 wOBA) than right-handers (.258 wOBA). We’ll see if the Cubs can will something out of him.
The Padres signed catcher Ali Solis as a 17-year-old international free agent back in February 2005. Aside from 21 games in the Mexican League in 2010, he spent six straight seasons in the Padres’ Minor League organization, before making his debut in 2012. Near the end of the season, however, Solis was subjected to and claimed off of waivers by the Pirates, who then outrighted him to the minors. He eventually made his way to the Rays, Dodgers, and Red Sox, before winding up with the Cubs this winter.
According to his scouting report from last season, Solis is a veteran, defensive-minded catcher with limitations on offense, but a strong presence behind the plate. In that sense, this signing sounds perfect. The Cubs need (and have telegraphed signing) such a player to stash in the upper minors, considering that the Major League battery will be led by an inexperienced Willson Contreras and an aging/previously-injured Miguel Montero. With any luck, the Cubs won’t have to lean heavily on Solis at any point in 2017, but his presence is a clear plus.
And finally, let’s discuss Fernando Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, 32, was drafted by the Angels in the 18th round of the 2003 amateur draft, but took until 2009 to finally debut in the Majors (just 0.2 IP). Following that performance, he headed back to Triple-A, before being traded to the Houston Astros in 2011. But unlike the previous three signees, Rodriguez has actually spent a significant chunk of time in the Majors since then.
From 2011-2012, Rodriguez tossed 231 innings of relief for the Astros, posting a 4.29 ERA (with even better peripherals (3.77 FIP) in the process. His 10.9% walk rate was certainly high, but he did manage to pair it with a nice 24.6% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his Major League momentum was stalled a bit by Tommy John surgery in March of 2013, but he has since made it back.
From 2015-2016, Rodriguez threw 99.1 IP with the Athletics, once again with peripherals (3.30 FIP) that were slightly better than his actual results (3.99 ERA). To be sure, he was pitching in front of one of the worst defenses in baseball last year, so that could explain a lot. In fact, by joining the Cubs (from the Athletics) he’s leaving the team with the lowest Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) in baseball to the team with the highest:
Chicago Cubs (1st): +69.0 Def
Oakland Athletics (30th): -56.4 Def
Given his Major League experience, strong peripherals, and move to the Cubs, Rodriguez is probably the guy with the best (outside) chance of actually cracking the Cubs’ big league roster, among all of the various Minor League signing/probable-non-roster-invite types so far.
So it’s a speedy, switch-hitting second baseman, a reverse-split left-handed reliever, a veteran defensive-minded catcher, and a right-hander with a real shot of cracking the bullpen for the Cubs. As we say every time, these moves might not have the highest hit-rate, but when they pay off, it can be quite rewarding.
For more information on the four players, you can check out Baseball America or head over to The Cubs Reporter for some good, solid info from Arizona Phil.