With the hectic flurry of the Trade Deadline in the rearview, it feels like I can stretch my wings a little bit and reflect about the departed prospects from the last two days. There are five in all, none of whom I would have in the top ten, one that I’ve had 11-20, and another one that I’d have had 21-30. While the names traded were names we know, this won’t go down as a seismic blow to the farm system.
To me, the best player dealt was clearly High-A starter Paul Richan. I wrote about Paul recently (you can bet Tigers scouts were at that particular start), after which he was lit up in his final start with Myrtle Beach on July 27. Richan is a traditional 4-pitch guy, with a slider as his best pitch, a good offering that commands very well. His curveball has days that it looks solid, but it’s inconsistent, and probably goes down as the make-or-break pitch for him.
He commands the fastball, and I think the Cubs helped him achieve increased armside run while in the system. The change-up didn’t make a lot of progress, I imagine that would have been the next significant thing to tackle developmentally. If there’s a guy likely to have a really good MLB season some day that was dealt, it’s Richan.
On the other hand, I still might tab Alex Lange as the likeliest to have a prolonged MLB career, but more as a back-end starter. Lange is someone I was very high on after the 2018 season, in which I thought his change-up emerged as a very solid pitch. I thought his last season control issues were probably an endurance issue, and I thought his body would allow him to regain his lost velocity.
I was 1-for-2 on that front, I’ll tell you. Velocity did come back for Lange this year, he sat more often in the 90s than last season, and the change-up still looked good for me. The control, though, remained a problem. Lange came out of the gates terribly, from when I was at Spring Training, all the way through April. With less-than-stellar fastball life and velocity, Lange needs to dot the ball around the strike zone. That issue has cropped back up recently, with 14 walks in 21 innings over his last four starts.
The good news for the Tigers is that Lange’s groundball rate went up noticeably this year, so perhaps that two-seam fastball will sink enough at upper levels. Lange has the mentality and experience to make it. The Tigers will look to get that curveball that was so lauded when the Cubs drafted him back as a consistent plus-to-better pitch. It wasn’t that for me over the last two seasons.
The other starter traded away was Tom Hatch, who I think intrigued people more than a third rounder usually does, primarily because he was the first player the Cubs drafted in 2016 (after losing their first- and second-round picks). Hatch was a guy that pretty much never missed a start in his three years in the Cubs organization, someone managers really could depend on. For me, the problem with Hatch can be found in one stat. Here are his platoon splits (OPS) by season:
2017 – Vs RHH: .612; Vs LHH: .806
2018 – Vs RHH: .683; Vs LHH: .867
2019 – Vs RHH: .752; Vs LHH: .885
Clearly, Hatch has an issue against left-handed hitters, and to me, it would have sent him to the bullpen in 2020. I think he’s got a real chance there, he seems to have the right make-up for it, and his stuff could well play up. But I still wonder if the platoon split will remain, because to me, his change-up wasn’t the problem. It was fine. I just think lefties see his fastball really clearly.
Oscar de la Cruz was designated for assignment to make room for Nick Castellanos, in my head he’ll almost always be a part of that trade. I could debate the merits of his DFA a bit, but I also think his loss will probably draw more cynicism than it should.
As for Oscar De La Cruz, who was DFA’d, he’ll go down as a victim of hype. After all the big hitting prospects graduated to Majors, ODLC remained as a default #1 prospect. That designation wasn’t fair for him – he wasn’t that guy. Too much of his story is wrapped in reputation.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 31, 2019
De La Cruz was someone that really struggled to stay healthy, and also never really got better. Shortly after he returned from a PED suspension this year, the Cubs moved him to the bullpen. A curveball that was described as a plus pitch when he was young never really got there for me. The change-up had moments of being better, but is inconsistent. His best asset is a heavy fastball, but the velocity never was consistently where it needed to be.
The Cubs final move at the Trade Deadline was trading High-A outfielder Jimmy Herron to the Rockies for International Bonus Spending Pool money, at lease some of which they sent to San Diego with Carl Edwards (we await the total money flipped in those two deals to see if the Cubs came out ahead). Herron, one of many players the Cubs have drafted from Duke in recent years, had a 93 OPS+ this season despite a BABIP of just .261.
Herron turned out more athletic this season than I’d initially pegged him last year, I think he’s someone that can probably stick in center field for awhile. His power should look a little better in a different hitting environment, but I worry that it won’t be what it needs to be ultimately. He could just end up as a tweener, or he could end up a good fourth outfielder. For the latter to be true, he needs to start hitting southpaws, he OPS’d just .618 against them with the Pelicans.
While the Cubs clearly have not done a good enough job developing pitching prospects during the Theo Epstein era, they have been able to flip plenty of minor league pitchers in trades. The starting depth will be impacted by this Deadline, but the Cubs finding ways to add significant MLB depth without trading any of their 20 highest-ceilinged prospects gets the nod of approval from the BN Prospect Guy.