As the last two years have shown us, the Cubs need to keep Triple-A Iowa stocked with helpful players for any big league injury scenario. I couldn’t believe last offseason as the Cub added pitcher after pitcher to minor league free agent deals, despite what seemed like a stocked Iowa pitching staff internally. It was smart, though, as attrition hit Iowa hard, and they had to continue adding externally until season’s end.
I thought it would be informative to discuss the early blueprint for the 2020 Iowa Cubs, and where we’re most likely to see the Cubs add in minor league free agency.
Up first: the position players.
Catcher and First Base
This season, the Cubs went with Jim Adduci as the primary 1B, and split time at C between Taylor Davis, Francisco Arcia, Erick Castillo and P.J. Higgins. Of all those players, only P.J. Higgins is under team control in 2020.
Higgins had a really good August in Iowa, showing newfound power with the juiced ball, and probably enters 2020 as the likely starting backstop. However, I don’t anticipate the Cubs will add Higgins to the 40-man roster, so there is an outside chance he’s snagged in the Rule 5 Draft.
For Higgins’ back-up, I see a few options. First, they could bring back one or both of Davis and Jhonny Pereda in minor league free agency. Davis has so much familiarity with the Iowa staff, he’s essentially an extension of the coaching staff. And if the big league squad needs an extra catcher for a week, he won’t be intimidated by the promotion. There’s value in that.
Pereda is coming off a relatively disappointing season in Double-A, where his GB rate (53.7%) didn’t allow him to capitalize from a really good K rate (13.8%). And despite a big body, he’s yet to really show power. Still, he’s a good defensive catcher that his pitchers love, and I think that offense still has room to blossom. I hope he’s back, if even as the third guy (Iowa will always have three catchers, even if one is on the reserve roster).
Either way, expect the Cubs to add a catcher or two.
Whether Jim Adduci is retained, or the Cubs add a different name in minor league free agency, the first base spot will be filled externally for 2020. I’d like to see the Cubs grab a bat-first guy – there’s plenty available each year – in case they need someone for a few days, as they did with Adduci in Houston this season.
Second, Short and Third
Even while allowing for minor league free agency, the Cubs have these names in pencil for these positions: Zack Short, Trent Giambrone, Nico Hoerner (maybe), Robel Garcia (maybe), and Vimael Machin. Obviously, the depth will depend on if Hoerner and/or Garcia make the 26-man big league roster, or if the other three are plucked in the Rule 5 Draft, but that’s a fine grouping.
The Cubs are set to lose Dixon Machado and Phillip Evans in free agency, both of whom were very helpful contributors to Iowa’s first place team. I’d love to see Evans retained, specifically, as his versatility plus ability to destroy left-handed pitching (.349/.430/.550 this year) could eventually be helpful in the Majors. He also has two options remaining.
I would expect 1-2 veterans added in free agency, as the five names above do still have some volatility.
It was actually a nice piece of business by the Cubs to get Mark Zagunis through outright assignment waivers, as he’s under team control for one more season. Zagunis will be out of options, so he’s more of an emergency fill-in than an I-80 Shuttle Guy, but the depth is appreciated nonetheless.
The Cubs will also return Donnie Dewees, who had a very solid year with his contact-first bat, especially against right-handed pitching. However, the Cubs are set to lose these names in free agency: Johnny Field, Charcer Burks, Roberto Caro. I would imagine they push especially hard to retain Caro, who combined 31 steals with a 13.5 BB% in Double-A this year, providing a package of skills not otherwise seen in the system.
I’ll be interested to see if the Cubs give Connor Myers the boost to Triple-A, as he would be helpful even in a bench role. Myers is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system, and has some pop that could really show up with the juiced ball. His bugaboo has always been accepting the walk.
Also look for the Cubs to find plenty of time to get their infielders innings in the outfield, be it Robel Garcia in left, Trent Giambrone in any spot, and even guys like Nico and Machin. But still, the Cubs will likely be aggressive in adding players to this spot. I would expect two names, at least, to be added.
Projected 2020 Iowa Cubs Lineup
- Vimael Machin, 3b
- Mark Zagunis, rf
- Robel Garcia, 2b/lf
- 1B Free Agent, 1b
- Trent Giambrone, 2b/lf
- P.J. Higgins, c
- Donnie Dewees or FA, cf
- Zack Short, ss
(And, in this version, Nico Hoerner is in the Major Leagues.)
Coming next time: the Iowa pitching staff.