Allow me to sit down here in the armchair of Jaron Madison, the Cubs farm director. I have this pet idea, which may totally not be original, to spark some inspiration for my minor leaguers. In short: why not spend a half-day at camp pairing up a Major League veteran with a prospect? Give the kid a few hours to live life as a big leaguer while receiving some money-can’t-buy instruction.
It’s a Big Brothers program for prospects! I have ideas!
With an eye on development, we will make our pairings strategically. The goal is to pair up similar-ish players, encouraging the Major Leaguers to talk about the specific skills that separate them from the youngster. For instance, we’ll try to match only players who bat from the same side or pitch with the same hand. Similar pitch mixes or builds are prioritized. The idea is both semi-serious, and also semi-fun.
What might that look like?
Here are my nine favorite matches, explained.
Cole Hamels — Brailyn Marquez
There’s just not that many people in the world that know what it’s like to be a 6-foot-4 southpaw who throws 95 mph. Here are two. Hamels was a first-round pick, whose 2003 season in the minors was one of the all-time best by a teenager: 101 IP, 61 H, 1.34 ERA, 39 BB, 147 K, 0 HR. Marquez is that age, entering that level, with the talent to have an incredible year. Would love to hear Hamels speak to him, and for Marquez to borrow what he can from one of the all-time best southpaw change-ups.
Javy Baez — Christopher Morel
Morel is a super toolsy, free swinging, skinny RHH with loads of raw power. Sound familiar? Would love to have Baez give Morel tips about how to make such an aggressive plate approach work, given that Morel was demoted last summer after going 25 games in Eugene without a walk. Javy could also give perspective on how he turned hitting curveballs from a weakness to Major League best.
Steve Cishek — Matt Swarmer
Okay, so their arm slots could not be more different; Swarmer is as over-the-top as you’ll find. However, their super-lanky builds and delivery funk are similarly death on right-handed hitters. Cishek allowed a .528 OPS to RHH in the Majors last year, while Swarmer was at .488 between High- and Double-A. Both have great sliders. A conversation about utilizing their strengths for sustained success is a natural pairing.
Kris Bryant — Brennen Davis
As Davis continues to fill out, it’s very likely he ends up with an extremely similar build and athletic profile as KB. Since signing, the Cubs have worked hard at rebuilding Davis’ swing to tap into some of his natural strength. Bryant, meanwhile, is one of the team’s most cerebral players in talking and thinking about maximizing the power in his swing. If anything can get Davis closer to his massive ceiling, it should be attempted.
Jose Quintana — Brendon Little
There might not be a closer match between two players on here. Both 6-foot-1 lefties with low 90s fastballs, good curveballs, and a change-up that comes and goes. The difference between them is command, command, command. Quintana is excellent at getting ahead in the count, a statistic by which you can accurately measure Little’s great and terrible outings. I would imagine what Quintana considers the checkpoints for his success would really speak to Little.
Mike Montgomery — Bryan Hudson
Thanks to a downhill plane and heavy sinker, Hudson’s strength is that he always finds himself among the top groundball inducers at every level he pitches. It just so happens the Cubs have another tall southpaw wormburner pitching in the Majors. As Hudson enters a season where he might be asked to pitch in a few different roles, learning Montgomery’s process couldn’t hurt. You also wonder if Montgomery could give some teaching on a change-up that keeps getting better.
Ian Happ — Yonathan Perlaza
The Cubs gave seven figure bonuses to two switch-hitters in the summer of 2015: Ian Happ as a first-round 2B from Cincinnati and Yonathan Perlaza, a shortstop from Venezuela. Almost four years later, Perlaza has yet to arrive in full-season ball, but had a really nice summer in Mesa last year. Happ and Perlaza are very similar builds, small and strong, and neither may have a future as a middle infielder anymore. The key for Perlaza’s future will be if he can begin to tap into some power – surely something Happ can speak to.
Ben Zobrist — Nico Hoerner
Seeing the similarities here is a bit of a stretch; I just want to get the two in a room talking shop. In his 14-game cup of coffee after getting drafted, Hoerner put together a Zobrist-like 9 BB / 4 K in 60 plate appearances. However, in the Arizona Fall League, as he was working on a few adjustments against better pitching, he had just 2 walks and 16 K’s in 94 PA’s. Perhaps hearing Zobrist talk about how plate approach is the foundation of his game would keep Hoerner focused on doing the same. And hey, Zobrist came up as a shortstop before becoming synonymous with super utility.
Kyle Hendricks — Alex Lange
If Lange is going to fulfill the promise of his first-round selection, he’s probably going to need to have embrace becoming a control artist. It’s not an impossible ask: in his first 11 starts last year, Lange walked just ten in 57.2 innings (1.56 BB/9). Hendricks and Lange have similar builds and both have the FB/CH/CV pitch mix. Lange’s change-up took big strides last year, but if he could learn a bit more about the way Hendricks’ change exists in the exact tunnel of his fastball, it could really take off.
For quick fun, here are a handful of others:
- Kyle Schwarber and Cole Roederer. Because short and powerful.
- Jason Heyward and Jonathan Sierra. Because tall, quick and cut.
- Jon Lester and Justin Steele. Truly hope Steele learns that Lester cutter in camp.
- Albert Almora and Jimmy Herron. Center fielders with line drive approaches.
- Brad Brach and Trevor Clifton. Future reliever?
- Willson Contreras and Miguel Amaya. Obviously.
- Yu Darvish and Keegan Thompson. Builds couldn’t be more different, but balancing six pitches is a skill shared by few.
- Pedro Strop and Yovanny Cruz. Or Garrett Kelly. I couldn’t decide.
- Daniel Descalso and D.J. Wilson. Or Jared Young. I couldn’t decide.
- Carl Edwards and Tyson Miller. Talking that natural 4-seam cut.
- Xavier Cedeno and Wyatt Short. Extremely short lefties pitching in the high 80s with insane groundball rates.
- Brandon Kintzler and Erich Uelmen. Because sinker.