It really sucked that the Cubs’ positional injury crunch got so severe that they had to open up a 40-man roster spot at one point in the way you hope you never have to: by DFA’ing an interesting pitching prospect.
We could grumble and rumble about the choice to make that prospect Tyson Miller, who was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and thus lost for nothing, but we wish him nothing but the best. He stayed on the 40-man roster with the Rangers.
I say that and mention it that way because, when you’re in the market to pick up a prospect on the waiver wire, you don’t necessarily WANT to have to keep the guy on the 40-man roster, both because of the in-season limitations (if he’s not a guy you expect to come up and down then he’s kinda just eating up a spot you can’t use), and because of the need to carry him on the 40-man all offseason, when things can get much more crowded thanks to the lack of a 60-day IL and adding prospects ahead of the Rule 5 Draft.
Now to set up what this post is actually about: today the Cubs got recently DFA’d pitcher Dakota Chalmers through waivers, and successfully outrighted him to Double-A Tennessee.
That means that Chalmers, 24, is now a Cubs minor league prospect free and clear, so to speak. With an open 40-man spot, the Cubs were able to claim him, and then they passed him through waivers to get him back off the 40-man roster, and now he’s a prospect in the system in a more traditional sense. To be sure, I don’t want to celebrate it TOO much, since being off the 40-man kinda sucks for a player (he makes less money and doesn’t get certain protections afforded by being on the big league 40-man), but I do really like the idea that the Cubs just picked up a super interesting pitching prospect for free.
Chalmers, 24, was an Oakland A’s third rounder in 2015 when, surprise, Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz was running their draft. He was a way over-slot signing out of high school, and Baseball America had him as the 34th best prospect in that year’s draft. Chalmers has a whole lot of prospect pedigree, but obviously the hype has fallen way off that he was waived by the Twins and lasted all the way to the Cubs to claim him.
Chalmers was with the Twins at that point having been traded from the A’s for Fernando Rodney in a midseason deal back in 2018. That was shortly after he underwent Tommy John surgery, which means 2020 would have been his first full season back from surgery, but, alas, pandemic. He did get to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 to add a little more time, but then missing virtually all of 2020 with the shutdown didn’t do his development any favors, I reckon. Then he hit Double-A this year, couldn’t throw strikes at all, and that was that.
Here’s how he was described in an early 2020 Baseball America article, before things went further sideways:
“Before he got hurt, we knew he had exceptional swing-and-miss pitches. He had raw major league stuff at 19—big velocity, mid-to-upper 90s, quick arm,” [Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek] Falvey said. “He was walking guys at a pretty good clip, too. But there was a feeling that, if we stand back and let him heal, then help refine him a little bit, develop more command, he could progress quickly.”
The 23-year-old returned last July and proved the Twins’ wisdom correct. Chalmers embarked on a six-week audition between Rookie ball and high Class A in which he struck out 48 batters and walked 23 in 34.2 innings.
After that Minnesota sent him to the Arizona Fall League. His performance there was sometimes rough—a 5.09 ERA in six starts—but encouraging as well. His stuff was so encouraging that the Twins placed Chalmers on the 40-man roster after the season, and he made the team’s 60-man player pool.
“It’s electric. You notice his velocity, but his curve just dives into the dirt—a great pitch,” Falvey said. “There’s more work to be done in terms of strikes, but in our minds, he had to be protected.”
That’s basically the story with Chalmers, and is why you LOVE to have him in your farm system, but don’t necessarily want him on your 40-man roster. Big-league-caliber stuff, absurdly high strikeout rates in the minors … and even more absurd control issues that made him available to you. Now the Cubs get a chance to go to work and see what they can do.
Note, by the way, that Chalmers’ stuff is considered so good that, despite his issues and the surgery, he was still ranked the Twins’ 24th best prospect earlier this year by BA, though he was just outside the top 39 at FanGraphs.
A little more scouting from BA when Chalmers was in the AFL:
Chalmers has been working with three pitches—fastball, curveball, changeup—during his time in the Arizona Fall League. Both his fastball and breaking ball grade as well above-average pitches, with his mid-90s fastball drawing plenty of swings and misses, as evidenced by his 25 strikeouts in 17.2 AFL innings. An American League scout said that Chalmers’ curveball may be the best in the league, but that he struggles with pitch selection. Chalmers will also need to improve his command to avoid an eventual move to the bullpen, according to the scout.
Now, then, there is one consideration when you claim and outright a guy successfully: it lines him up to be a free agent after the season. So the Cubs will still ultimately have to make a decision on Chalmers – they can add him to the 40-man at the end of the year if his development merits it, or, if not that, then they get the first crack at re-upping him on a minor league deal. He would be Rule 5-eligible in the latter case, but it seems unlikely that he would develop enough for a team to want to grab him for their 26-man roster, but not enough for the Cubs to want to protect him on their 40-man roster.