From now until the 2016 season opens, the Cubs are likely to be buyers. They may do some selling as well, but in general the message from the front office has been clear: they are willing and able to buy. And that includes via trades, including trading from the farm system.
Typically when we think of the Cubs trading a prospect, we tend to talk about the guys at the very top of the system. However, the very best position prospects in the game do not often get traded. The deal that brought Addison Russell to the Cubs is the exception, not the norm. The very best prospects just don’t get traded very often. Even though very few other farm systems have even one hitter that compares to the best bats in the Cubs’ organization, so far, it looks like the Cubs are in no hurry to deal away a part of that depth. Nor should they be.
But that doesn’t mean that the Cubs cannot make any trades from the farm system. Once we dive past the incredible cluster of talent at the top of the charts, we find the Cubs are loaded with plenty of other quality prospects that could factor into a lot of trade talks over the next few months. In fact, a lot of those guys who occupy the middle ranks in the Cubs organization would be at or near the top in a lot of farm systems, and should be valued accordingly. Just because a player isn’t a top ten talent for the Cubs doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be valued as a top ten guy in a more typical organization for trade purposes.
For example, according to the 2014 rankings at MLB Pipeline, a guy like Jeimer Candelario (ranked as the Cubs No. 11 prospect) would probably be a top five guy in the Washington Nationals system. Christian Villanueva (No. 18 for the Cubs) would arguably be in the top ten for the Yankees. Billy McKinney is just the 6th best hitter in the Cubs organization, but would likely be the best hitter in the Miami system. In short, the Cubs very likely have the capacity to make a number of major league improving trades without ever dealing from their best talent.
So, when we look over the depth of the Cubs system, what names can we expect to come up frequently over the course of the next year or so?
Let’s have a look.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B
2015 Destination: Double A Tennessee
Vogelbach can hit. Even during a 2014 season in which he struggled for a time, Vogelbach walked a lot, didn’t strike out very much, and sprayed line drives to all fields. His power numbers may look a little low at first glance, but a .429 SLG is not insignificant in the Florida State League. In fact, it ranked him No. 11 in 2014, and his 16 home runs slotted him in at number 5. Most of that damage, including 11 of the home runs, was done after the All Star break.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Vogelbach is not an option at any defensive position except first base, and at first base he is blocked by Rizzo. Since Rizzo is already arguably the best first baseman in baseball, I do not think Vogelbach will be replacing him in the Cubs lineup any time soon. That means he is probably the most tradable commodity in the organization.
Any team that lacks in left handed power in the farm system would be interested in Vogelbach, as would any team with a hole to fill at first base. Thanks in part to a pretty good showing in the Arizona Fall League, I suspect other teams have already seen enough of Vogelbach to be comfortable trading for him this winter. If he gets off to a strong start with the Smokies next season, I will be very surprised if he is still in the Cubs organization on August 1.
Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
2015 Destination: High A Myrtle Beach
Conventional wisdom says to sell high, and, after he effectively shut down Midwest League hitters as a teenager in 2014, it would be safe to say that Tseng’s value is high. A pitcher coming off a great Low A season isn’t going to bring a huge return on his own, but keep in mind that the Yankees got a season and a half of Soriano for a High A Corey Black and Washington acquired Scott Hairston for Low A Ivan Pineyro. I would not be surprised to see Tseng flipped for a veteran bat on an expensive or expiring contract, and depending on the bat, I would probably like the move.
Any team in baseball would be happy to acquire Tseng in the right deal. He doesn’t have great stuff or flashy strikeout numbers, but his absurdly low walk rate led him to one of the better seasons of any pitcher at any level of the minors in 2014, and he is still young enough to allow for a fair bit of projectable improvement. His ceiling remains a back of the rotation starter, but there is not a lot of risk in his numbers. He won’t be the key piece in a megadeal, but he could go a long way towards the Cubs adding a veteran bat.
Marco Hernandez, SS
2015 Destination: Double A Tennessee
The hot internet rumors seem to involve all the Cubs’ shortstops, but the lesser known Hernandez might be the guy most likely to be dealt. A defensively gifted left handed hitter (formerly a switch hitter), Hernandez has moved through the low minors in lock step with his double play partner Amaya and has made steady improvement at each stop. His 2014 campaign included some rocky stretches, including a pretty bad month of August, but he has shown enough with the bat that I think he has a pretty good chance to carve out a major league future for himself as a glove-first infielder.
He may need a strong start to the 2015 season before he starts showing up on a lot of radars, but should that happen I think he has a pretty good chance of being dealt in a mid-season trade. The Cubs are so loaded with young infield talent already that it didn’t make much sense to invest a roster slot protecting Hernandez from the Rule 5 Draft this year. But, if he shows he can hit reasonably well at Double A, next year might be a question. In the meantime, Hernandez is not going to carry a major trade himself, but he could be a nice additional piece once he shows he can handle upper minors pitching.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B
2015 Destination: High A Myrtle Beach
Candelario had a tough time in Daytona Beach to start the season, but he appeared to work out most the kinks after returning to the Midwest League. There have been questions in the past about his ability to stay at third base long term, and, while I don’t think he will ever become a gold glove candidate at that position, I do think he has a good chance to stay there. Unfortunately, if he has to move off of third his only other option is first base. Then again, by the time Candelario is ready to challenge for a major league job third base at Wrigley, it may be just as blocked as first base is now.
It is the bat that will make Candelario most attractive to other teams. A switch hitter, Candelario shows unusual polish and power from both sides of the plate. He isn’t in the same league as Baez or Bryant in terms of slugging, but he still ranks a notch or three above average. It isn’t hard to imagine Candelario evolving into a solid offensive contributor who hits for power as well as for average. It is hard, however, to imagine that happening in a Cubs uniform.
His best chance is at third base, and yet at third base he is already behind Bryant, Baez, and Russell. The Cubs can afford to deal Candelario, and there are plenty of teams who would like to have him. Anyone who desires left handed power or a quality corner infield prospect would be in on Candelario, and he could be a key piece in a big trade. This guy could be a top five player in most farm systems. In fact, he has a chance to jump up to that level in the Cubs system with a strong showing in 2015.
I think he will start in High-A Myrtle Beach, but, if he looks good in the spring, the Cubs may challenge him again with a jump to Tennessee. Assuming he is still in the system, that is.
Mike Olt, 3B
2015 Destination: Triple A Iowa
Yes, Mike Olt still has value. After a rough stint in the majors to start 2014, he returned to Iowa and posted some solid numbers before looking somewhat improved in a return to the majors. There are no questions about the quality of his glove at third base, or his power at the plate, but there remain serious concerns about his ability to make enough contact to hold down a major league starting job.
It is now also questionable whether or not he has has a starting job available to try and win. Luis Valbuena has emerged as one of the Cubs more valuable players (and is a notable trade chip in his own right), but even Valbuena will have a hard time keeping the baseball-destroying monster that is Kris Bryant from claiming third base as his own, at least for a time. Olt, then, despite his power, is something of a luxury for the Cubs.
The problem with dealing Olt is figuring out his value. Is he just a AAAA guy who can’t stick in the majors? Or should be be valued as a low average slugger who can play above average defense at third? Those two valuations are worlds apart, and there is evidence pointing to both conclusions. Unless the Cubs find a trade partner who generally lines up with their own assessment of Olt, I’m not sure he will be dealt before spring training. A strong showing in Arizona and a good start to 2015 could spark some interest, but the question still remains whether or not the Cubs can find a way to keep him in the lineup with any regularity once Bryant comes to Chicago.
Then again, if the Cubs aren’t convinced he is any more than a AAAA guy themselves, they may just opt to option or deroster him instead.
Billy McKinney could be dealt again in the right deal (although I tend to suspect the Cubs would be reluctant to do that). Bijan Rademacher has been moving up the prospect charts lately, and will get some attention with a good start to his Double A campaign. Corey Black has been a starter thus far in his minor league career, but it is easy to see his hard stuff playing up in a bullpen. The Cubs are loaded in the bullpen already (although you can never have too much) and Black could draw interest from teams as a guy who could help in a major league pen as soon as 2015. Christian Villanueva is blocked at third base by Bryant and company and could be available in a deal. Eric Jokisch is one of the Cubs few major league ready southpaws, but the major league team is so stacked with back of the rotation types they could be willing to flip Jokisch in a deal to shore up another position. Matt Szczur plays very good defense in center, but his bat is on the light side and the Cubs are rich in fourth outfielders already. He could be in a deal should the trade partner be looking for some defensive help off the bench.
And there are even more that I haven’t mentioned here.
It is important, though, to keep in mind that these are not the players that are going to bring a Cole Hamels from Philadelphia or a Jordan Zimmerman from Washington. Not by themselves, anyway (although they could go along in such a deal). But these are the players who could go the other way in deals that bring the Cubs other critical components as they build up a team that competes for an NL Central title.