Trade SZN is upon us, and with it, #hugwatch and bad trade proposals and fake Twitter accounts and the whole nine yards. More than any question right now, as a prospect guy, I’m constantly getting asked “so who the Cubs gonna trade?”
I haven’t the slightest clue, if you’re looking for certainty. But I thought it might be useful to learn from recent history to see what the Cubs have traded midseason during this four-year run, and find the comparable players that fit those archetypes. The point is not to suggest these guys are going to be or should be traded, it is instead to give you a sense of what those trades looked like and what these prospects look like in relation to possible future trades.
This one runs long, so strap in!
The Jose Quintana Price Point
The Headliners the Cubs Gave Up Then: Eloy Jimenez, a top 10 or so overall prospect with a gigantic ceiling. And Dylan Cease, a fringe top 100 prospect before 2017 started, whose first half had lifted his stock above that.
Current Comparisons: The Cubs simply don’t have a proxy for Eloy in the system right now. I would say that Nico Hoerner is the top dog, and with a good second half, could be in the mix to be a top 40/50 prospect in the game. That’s a far cry from where Jimenez was. But Nico has looked good since returning from injury, and has seen time at second base and in center field, so the Cubs are clearly thinking about him in their big league future. Hoerner won’t command the same return Jimenez once did, but he’s a trade headliner nonetheless.
The obvious comparison to Cease is Brailyn Marquez. Cease had made 13 starts in South Bend before getting traded; Marquez has made 13 now. Both had fastballs that spend time in the upper 90s, though Marquez has recently been above even that. Cease was a more complete pitcher then, but I’m not sure he was realistically a considerably better prospect at the time.
The throw-ins the Cubs gave up then: Bryant Flete, a 24-year-old utility infielder who was having a BABIP-driven breakout season in Myrtle Beach; and Matt Rose, who had enough of a power tool to dream on, but not enough hit tool to keep him in affiliated ball much longer.
Current Comparisons: My comparison for Flete is Delvin Zinn, who the Cubs promoted to Myrtle Beach on the back of his hit tool, but he doesn’t walk or hit for power enough. I suppose the Rose comparison would have to be Kevonte Mitchell, who leads Myrtle Beach with 10 home runs, but is hitting below the Mendoza line.
The Aroldis Chapman Price Point
The Headliner the Cubs Gave Up Then: Gleyber Torres, who was a top 50 prospect entering 2016 whose stock was on the way up big time with an above-average OPS at pitcher-friendly Myrtle Beach at age 19. Still, he didn’t really explode until after the trade, and then his breakout AFL campaign.
Current Comparison: I’m not saying Brennen Davis or Miguel Amaya are the prospect that Gleyber Torres was in 2016, but I think we’re talking about a similar type of prospect. Someone significantly younger than league average, where projection is still a huge part of their prospect profile, but showing enough on-field skills to make any scout a believer.
Like Torres, there’s a really good chance if the Cubs gave up either guy, they would be giving up someone who could make them look really silly down the line. These are arguably the two guys on the farm with the highest percent chance of playing in an All-Star Game some day.
The throw-ins the Cubs gave up then: Billy McKinney had been in the mix for the top 100 at one point, but was in the midst of a really bad season after a knee injury late the year before. The Yankees probably wondered if they could build him back up. Rashad Crawford had some run tool and a decent offensive profile. (Adam Warren was also in the deal, but was struggling badly, and was not a prospect.)
Current Comparisons: I can’t think of an offensive example of someone like McKinney, but I think Jose Albertos is a pretty interesting example on the mound. Someone with some pedigree, who blossomed at a young age and then couldn’t quite get back there. Someone who has Rule 5 eligibility closing in on him.
I might compare Jimmy Herron to Rashad Crawford, as both were outfielders playing in Myrtle Beach at age 22. I’ll admit I was surprised to see that Herron has his wRC+ in the Carolina League above 100, with 18 steals and some good defensive plays on his resume. A team sneaking in to grab the fourth outfielder profile Herron offers would be smart.
The Justin Wilson and Alex Avila Price Point
Who the Cubs Gave Up Then: Jeimer Candelario, who was playing well in Iowa but was totally and absolutely blocked. And Isaac Paredes, who was showing burgeoning power as a baby in the Midwest League.
Current Comparison: Let me start with Paredes, because the Cubs have a good example: Christopher Morel. The 20-year-old third baseman has been absolutely fantastic for almost 2 months now, with this line in his last 43 games: .331/.370/.554.
Morel is the type of player this system lacks: completely devoid of polish, but maxed up on tools. He never walks; he makes a ton of mistakes in the field. But he’s flashy and his power and bat speed for his size and build is shocking. I really don’t want the Cubs to trade him – and I was that same kind of bummed when Paredes was dealt.
As for Candelario, I think my example would be Zack Short. While it wouldn’t seem like anyone capable of playing second base is “blocked” in the Cubs organization right now, the Cubs are currently juggling a lot of different young options at second base, be it David Bote, Robel Garcia, Ian Happ, or Nico Hoerner.
Finding space for Short, who lost two months with a hand injury, is a tough thing to project. He’s a high-floor guy at the back end of my internal top 10/15 list, as Candelario once was. A polished guy at the plate, where some question how high his ultimate ceiling really is. Sounds familiar.
The Mike Montgomery Price Point
Who the Cubs Gave Up Then: Daniel Vogelbach, who was a blocked prospect just destroying the baseball in Triple-A, who many scouts had concerns would simply be a Quad-A player. And Paul Blackburn, a former first-round pick that while he didn’t have many strikeouts, had reached Double-A posting an ERA below 3.50 at every level he’d played.
Current Comparison: Starting with Blackburn, how about Alex Lange? While Lange’s rough stretch to start the year was never matched by Blackburn, the general lack of excitement that his strikeout numbers convey, and the first round pedigree are a match.
The Cubs don’t have a young masher like Vogelbach, so my example is a pitcher: Dakota Mekkes. Here’s a guy that doesn’t do things the traditional way, someone who continues to prove doubters wrong by dominating at every stop.
Mekkes was up to 95 in his last outing, and was really good for a month stretch before a recent minor injury. He seems like he deserves a spot, but the guys in front of him that are already on the 40-man keep cannibalizing those opportunities. A smart team would poach Mekkes and insert him right into their bullpen. And like the Mariners, I would bet they would see nice results from someone who doesn’t look like all the others.
The Chris Coghlan Price Point
Who the Cubs Gave Up Then: Arismendy Alcantara, who at that point was sputtering, already having us think the best was in the past. Alcantara was so promising in 2014, but couldn’t handle that jump up to the bigs. His Major League options were running thin.
Current Comparison: Not a mildly similar player, but Mark Zagunis’ career feels like it’s at a similar crossroads. Zagunis will be out of options next season, and he did not capture his Major League opportunity this past March and April.
Zagunis is doing very well in Triple-A, but underneath the hood reveals some weird numbers. He’s striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, and walking at the lowest rate he has in years. He told Tommy Birch about the swing changes he made to add power, and that’s great if it doesn’t cost his core competencies. A less successful team could benefit by giving him a prolonged try.
The Cole Hamels or Jesse Chavez Price Point
Who the Cubs Gave Up Then: The Cubs gave up really similar players in their two Rangers deals last year: Tyler Thomas and Rollie Lacy, two guys who’d been drafted out of college the year before and popped up with big first halves in the Midwest League.
Current Comparison: The Cubs are flush in these examples. Cam Sanders was a Midwest League All-Star, and if a scout watched him on Saturday, surely would be filing a really good report. Sanders was up to 96 mph with his fastball, posted his first zero-walk outing of the season, and mixed in all his secondaries: a big, slow low-70s curveball, a sometimes above-average change-up and a fringier mid 80s slider.
I recently talked about Jack Patterson, a pop-up guy from the 31st round last year, that threw four innings without an earned run in his first start in High-A on Friday. Patterson has been dominant this season, and I think you could hope to project him as a starter with the bullpen making for a high floor.
I might mention Riley Thompson as a guy that feels like a better prospect than this group, but has a similar profile. And Peyton Remy, who is probably a notch below, but is a guy that if a scout walked into him on the right day, could absolutely catch his notice with a fastball up to 94 and a pair of interesting breaking balls.
The Joe Smith or Brandon Kintzler Price Point
Who the Cubs Gave Up Then: Smith cost Jesus Castillo, who at that point had made seven good starts in Eugene after previously being transitioned to relief. And for Kintzler the Cubs traded Jhon Romero, a minor league reliever with a good arm who wasn’t advancing quick enough.
Current Comparison: I think you could probably go with Manny Rodriguez as a Romero comparison, a guy who will show 96 mph and a good curveball, but just has not put together a dominant stretch with the Cubs. For Castillo, I’d look at a guy like Ivan Medina, who the Cubs promoted out of Eugene after just two games, and are now stretching out a bit with South Bend. He has a 13/1 K/BB ratio this year in just 11 innings (and 92/19 in last three years). Feels like another team’s R&D department would be stoked to get a guy like Medina.