Let's Recalibrate Our Cubs Prospect Expectations (and Math) After All Those Changes to Minor League Baseball

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Let’s Recalibrate Our Cubs Prospect Expectations (and Math) After All Those Changes to Minor League Baseball

Chicago Cubs

There have been so many changes across every level of Minor League Baseball over this past year, it’s been almost impossible to keep up. The juiced ball of the 2019 Pacific Coast League is gone, shifts are “banned” at the Double-A level, and the Cubs High-A and Low-A teams, and leagues, literally switched places (to name a few examples).

Amidst these (and other) changes, I haven’t yet taken stock of how certain statistics have evolved since 2019. I knew it would be significant at Triple-A, as the I-Cubs moved from the juiced PCL to a normal-er Triple-A East. But the run scoring environment at every level looks different this year, and the quick tools we had previously used to judge player performance (like a hitter’s batting line or a pitcher’s ERA) need some re-calibrating.

So I crunched some numbers (well, I did so last Thursday). And below, you’ll find the run-scoring differences for each league including a current Cubs affiliate. Let’s look at how the overall numbers have changed, and use those to discuss some specific numbers from eight players.

Triple-A

•   Runs: Down 18% (4.8 R/G from 5.85)
•   OPS: Down 10% (.747 from .831)
•   Strikeouts: Up 10% (24.5% from 22.2%)
•   Walks: Up 6% (10.3 from 9.7)
•   HR/9: Down 19.6% (1.23 from 1.53)

General Thought: Yeah, that ball was juiced as hell.

One Cubs hitting prospect this affects: I think the depressed offensive environment really should make what Michael Hermosillo has done in his 157 PA’s as an Iowa Cub stand out even more. In 2019, Hermosillo’s teammate with the Salt Lake Bees Taylor Ward hit .306/.427/.584 and it represented a wRC+ of 145. Flash forward two seasons, and Hermosillo is hitting a similar-but-worse .305/.427/.539, but the wRC+ is way higher at 159. And while Hermosillo’s strikeout rate of 25.5% is definitely elevated, the context is that it’s barely above 2021 league average (which wouldn’t have been quite true in 2019). This guy needs a prolonged shot in the second half.

One Cubs pitching prospect this affects: In 2019, I would have kind of tossed Cory Abbott’s home run rate aside as a victim of context. But now it really highlights the biggest problem standing in the way of a successful Major League future. He simply needs to find something — a new pitch, a different pitch mix, anything — that will limit the home runs that left-handed hitters in particular hit against him.

Double-A

•   Runs: Up 15% (4.64 R/G from 4.03)
•   OPS: Up 6% (.716 from .684)
•   Strikeouts: Up 14% (26% from 22.8)
•   Walks: Up 12.5% (9.9% from 8.8)
•   HR/9: Up 49% (1.06 from 0.71)

General Thought: The rise in Three True Outcomes is everywhere, but feels most pronounced here. That jump to one home run per nine innings is pretty wild.

One Cubs hitting prospect this affects: We’re still awaiting word on how much time Miguel Amaya is going to miss with a forearm/elbow injury, and the 106 PA he logged before getting hurt doesn’t give us much to go on. But I think it’s worth acknowledging just how much better Miggy’s strike zone judgment is than the average hitter, much less one a good amount younger than his competition. Amaya keeping the strikeout rate down at 20.8%, which is a good 20% better than league average, while walking at double the league average rate is what keeps me optimistic about his floor.

One Cubs pitching prospect this affects: As I was looking at guys different relationships with the Three True Outcomes, it struck me how close lefty reliever Brandon Hughes was to league average in all three departments: 27 K%, 9.5 BB%, 1.08 HR/9. Hughes, 25, is in just his second season as a full-time pitcher, and having a lot of success with a three-quarters arm slot, 91-95 mph fastball and solid slider. Keeping his head well-above water in Double-A while still in his infancy as a pitcher is a nice sign worth continued monitoring.

High-A

•   Runs: Up 24% (5.05 R/G from 4.06)
•   OPS: Up 6% (.721 from .682)
•   Strikeouts: Up 13% (26 from 23)
•   Walks: Up 18% (10.7 from 9.1)
   HR/9: Up 52% (0.96 from 0.63)

General Thought: The walk rate jump here is noticeable to me, as teams are chasing stuff in the lower levels harder than ever.

One Cubs hitting prospect this affects: When the Cubs acquired Bryce Ball last week, I thought a pair of worthwhile accompanying transactions would be to move Jared Young to Triple-A and allow South Bend’s Tyler Durna to try his hand at Double-A. Durna, 24, is always going to struggle hitting with enough power to profile as a Major League player, but he’s really good in just about every category. The glove is elite, the walk rate (13.2%) always hovers above league average and he’s elite in the contact department. While a 16.8 K% wouldn’t seem special in the baseball of our youth, compared against that High-A Central average of 26%, you get an appreciation for a plus hit tool.

One Cubs hitting prospect this affects: In your latest reminder of how cruel the Baseball Gods are, Derek Casey was having just about his best career start on July 8, when he suffered a minor injury reaching for a comebacker against his final batter. Casey was amazing that night, showing stuff that really does suggest a breakout, and not just an older dude dominating a younger level. But it’s worth pointing out that the latter is happening, too, where he’s showing well above-average rates in all Three True Outcome departments (especially preventing home runs).

Low-A

•   Runs: Up 20% (5.12 from 4.28)
•   OPS: Up 5% (.710 from .678)
•   Strikeouts: Up 14% (26.4 from 23.2)
•   Walks: Up 16% (11 from 9.5)
•   HR/9: Up 38% (0.84 from 0.61)

General Thought: So, so many strikeouts.

One Cubs hitting prospect this affects: Roster crunches are coming to the low minors as the Draft’s signees begin to effect the 180-player farm system maximum. One guy I hope doesn’t get squeezed on playing time, even though his overall numbers don’t suggest much, is Jacob Wetzel. Overall, the 2020 undrafted free agent is hitting just .228/.345/.331. But that line jumps to above league-average against right-handed pitchers, and he’s one of the only Pelicans to check in above league-average in walk and strikeout rates. I really think he’s worth a longer leash, even when Christian Franklin and Parker Chavers eventually make it to Myrtle Beach.

One Cubs pitching prospect this affects: One of my favorite random guys to throw on and watch in the system is Myrtle Beach reliever Danis Correa. Listed at just 5-foot-11, Correa has elite arm speed that allows him to routinely get to the upper 90s. But I find it so noteworthy that he can do that at age 21 in this level with an above league-average walk rate. In a recent outing, I saw Correa throw a couple sliders in the 88 mph range that were legitimately above-average offerings. It’s a newer pitch for him, and has helped achieve a 35.3 K%. Again, when the college arms arrive here (like recently signed Frankie Scalvo), I wouldn’t mind seeing Correa get the bump to High-A. He’s earned it.



Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.