Whether you’ve been entertained by the productive – or better! – seasons put together by the Cubs’ veteran minor league acquisitions, you no doubt have the same fundamental question we all do: can guys like Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, and Michael Hermosillo actually contribute meaningfully to the 2022 Cubs, or should we just enjoy this year’s crazy flash in the pan and move on to the next thing* next year?
Kevin Goldstein took a closer look at those four Cubs players, and it’s definitely worth reading his perspective:
The Cubs Audition Some Not-So-Young Hitters https://t.co/mil0WrRNkf
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) September 14, 2021
The generally-encouraging takeaway is that all four could conceivably be worthwhile contributors in 2022 for the Cubs, even if you cannot realistically expect them to perform at the same levels they have this year (Hermosillo’s performance primarily having been at Triple-A, by the way). Here’s a baseball reality: if you get TWO decent part-time contributors out of this group in 2022, having unearthed them in 2021, that’s a huge win. If one of them was a quality, above-average, everyday player in 2022? That’s an over-the-moon win. So you just can’t bank on it.
The writeups on all four players are illuminating and worth reading, both for background on how these guys were already better than many thought, as well as for grounding your expectations in the future.
That said, I was most pleased by the takeaway on Frank Schwindel, whose results so far this year are obviously outpacing his ability to reproduce them in the future (with apologies, he likely won’t hit like an MVP candidate next year), but who nevertheless looks like he really could be a good big league hitter for a while. The Schwindel section starts with a bio, which notes that back in 2017, Schwindel was “a darling for many analysts in the industry thanks to his rare combination of excellent contact rates and exit velocities.” That didn’t quite give him enough on the production side of things, and his prospect stock waned in the lead-up to 2021.
From there, I really like this take:
What He’s Doing: With a 169 wRC+ in 174 plate appearances, Schwindel hasn’t just been the best Cubs hitter of late; he’s been among the best in baseball. More predictive stats tell us that he is clearly in over his head, but it also says he’s a real hitter, with his combination of getting the bat on the ball combining with plus-plus exit velocities that are found in star-level players.
2022 Outlook: Schwindel absolutely obliterates fastballs but struggles against anything offspeed, so expect a steady diet of secondary pitches against him for the remainder of the season, if not his career. He also remains an overly aggressive hitter, which is frequent for high-contact types with his kind of plate coverage, so fewer strikes are likely as well. Adjustments will need to be made, but he feels like a productive everyday first baseman going forward, though with a smaller window than most due to his age and the kind of toolset that tends not to age gracefully.
We’ve discussed the disconnect between Schwindel’s results and his underlying contact data, but as Goldstein rightly notes, the underlying data doesn’t suggest that he’s a phantom. Instead, it simply suggests he’s a pretty good hitter rather than Barry dang Bonds. Saying that Schwindel can be a “productive everyday first baseman going forward” is an enormous compliment, even if it’s couched because of his age.
As for the struggles with offspeed, that’s been shown this year so far on the changeup, but not any breaking pitches (Schwindel rates out positively against all pitch types except changeup). The sample, however, is very small, so I won’t totally second-guess scouting reports that go back before this year. By the Statcast metrics, Schwindel has obliterated fastballs to the tune of a sizable .405 expected wOBA. That figure against breaking pitches is .293, which is playable. Against offspeed – so, the various kinds of changeups – it’s just .186. The sample is tiny, though, so that cuts both ways. In theory, Schwindel should see a LOAD of offspeed pitches the rest of this year to give us (and him) a little more for evaluation. I hope so, anyway.
Sahadev Sharma and I have joked on our podcast about talking ourselves into a Frank Schwindel-Alfonso Rivas platoon for 2022, but it’s probably not really all that joke-y when guys like Goldstein see some reality in Schwindel. If I were the Cubs, I still wouldn’t go into the offseason acting like that platoon was LOCKED DOWN CANNOT BE CHANGED NO MATTER WHAT. But if the Cubs spend money elsewhere and otherwise plan to give those two a shot to hold down the position (with Rivas also rotating elsewhere), I’m not sure I’d complain, depending on those other moves. It might be pretty productive for no external expenditures that could perhaps better be used in the rotation, in the outfield, and/or at shortstop. That’s a huge part of why you want to find these kinds of surprise breakouts. It isn’t just about what THEY can do in 2022. It’s about what else it lets YOU do.
Give Goldstein’s piece a read for the full download on Schwindel and the other three Cubs.
*Long side note on that asterisk way up at the top …
Whether the Cubs do give more opportunities to these four players next year, and whether they sign or trade for a bunch of established stars, it’s STILL going to be important to find surprising contributors every year. We have seen it consistently with the Cubs in the bullpen, but not in the rotation, and not as much on the positional side. Part of that is probably related to opportunities – there haven’t been many starts available for these surprise types until this year – but I hope at least some of it is related to the Cubs figuring some things out on the acquisition and development side.
It would be nice to know that the Cubs can generally find some depth contributions each year from guys they pulled out of minor league free agency or off the waiver wire. You are never going to get stars consistently that way, but contributions? Depth? Periodic impact? Yeah, great organizations find ways to pull that off more years than not.
So, even if Schwindel and Wisdom and Ortega and Hermosillo all were to fall off between now and May, your hope would be that the Cubs will, by then, have acquired and developed some other interesting options from a similar tier of available players (in addition to, obviously, having brought in/developed higher-tier starters).