At the height of the rebuild, I heard one question more than most: What are the Cubs going to do with all these shortstops?
They had Starlin Castro, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, and Gleyber Torres at the top, plus a number of other fine shortstop prospects scattered throughout the system. But the answer to this question is always the same: You can never have too many shortstop prospects.
Whether they (1) outgrow the position as they move up, (2) fall out of favor as prospects/players altogether, or (3) are used as currency in trade, shortstop prospects are like blue jeans … they never go out of style. And one way or another, the glut will either work itself out or turn into a boon for your organization.
Speaking of Shortstops …
And while I’ll stop short of anointing the current group of prospects the next whoever, there is certainly a glut of young, high-upside shortstops prospects in the Cubs system.
Cubs Top-30 MLB Pipeline Rankings:
#3: Christian Hernandez, 17 years old
#7 Ed Howard, 19 years old
#8 Reggie Preciado, 18 years old
#11 James Triantos, 18 years old*
#17 Kevin Made, 19 years old
Also: Yeison Santana (20), Luis Vasquez (21)
*Triantos may be more of a third or second baseman, but he’s listed as a shortstop for now. More on him in the next section.
And look at the different ways they were all acquired: Hernadez and Made were international free agent signings, Howard and Triantos were taken at the top of their respective drafts, Preciado and Santana were acquired in the Yu Darvish trade, and Vazquez was a late-round draft pick. And there’s even some nice variety too, with a mix of big offensive upside and legitimate defensive ability. It’s just a really nice position group.
Now, they just have to do the hard part and put it all together as they face tougher competition. But the way Gordon Wittenmyer tells it at NBC Sports Chicago, there’s no shortage of confidence from these players, especially not from Kevin Made, who had a message for Jed Hoyer as he approaches free agency: “I’m ready to be in the majors,” Made said in Spanish, breaking into a big smile. “Don’t [sign] any shortstops. You have a lot.” God, I love that.
You’ll definitely want to scoot over to NBC Sports Chicago to read the rest of Wittenmyer’s piece. It has some more quotes from the shortstops, themselves, as well as the Cubs farm director Matt Dorey, who dropped an old classic on us: “It’s a really good problem to have.”
James Triantos Is Awesome
The more I did into Triantos, the more I think the Cubs may have gotten themselves a second-round steal this year … and that’s said knowing that his selection was considered by some to be a reach at the time. In 25 games at the complex league, Triantos is slashing .327/.376/.594 (143 wRC+) with 6 homers and a 16.5% strikeout rate.
Yesterday, he went 1-3 with a homer, a walk, and a stolen base while playing second. Just take a look at this explosive swing (and then remember he’s an 18-year-old middle infielder):
— Prospects Worldwide (@ProspectsWorldW) September 22, 2021
Triantos will probably open next season at Low-A, but he could be a fast-riser if the bat carries him as well as we think it might. Like I said above, it doesn’t sound like shortstop is his long-term spot, but he definitely projects to have enough bat for second and could do the same for third if things go his way. He’s one of my favorite prospects to track right now.
Prospects on the Rise
Baseball America identified one player from each organization who “really improved their stock” this season, and I don’t think the Cubs selection should surprise anyone:
D.J. Herz, LHP
In a year to forget for Cubs pitching prospects, Herz has had a marvelous season. He’s led the system in strikeouts, and his 14.44 strikeouts per nine innings was the third-best figure among pitchers who threw 80 or more innings.
We’ve been talking about Herz a lot this season because he’s earned it. The 2o-year-old left-hander was promoted to High-A late this season and has struck out 26(!) batters in his first 16.0 innings. That’s a 40.6% strikeout rate. And in case you think it’s a small sample problem, I’ll remind you that he had a … 40.4% strikeout rate in 17 starts at A-ball earlier this year. The walk rate is a bit high, but he reeled it in a bit at High-A and is definitely an “on-the-radar” guy going into 2022.
What to do with Cory Abbott?
I’m not sure exactly what to do with Cory Abbott. On the one hand, he was a second-round pick not too long ago, and even though he’s already 26 years old, losing a season to the pandemic is a pretty good excuse. But on the other hand, he struggled to get batters out in his cup of coffee this year (8.03 ERA with a walk rate higher than his strikeout rate), and his numbers at Triple-A don’t look great on the surface.
But as Tommy Birch points out, things may be looking up here lately.
Some legit swing and miss stuff. One of the most impressive but overlooked arms this season. Seems like one bad inning has overshadowed a lot of solid outings. https://t.co/jzAFcH3RZg
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) September 23, 2021
I think, ultimately, Abbott’s future with the Cubs could be as a very useful depth starter next season. He may have to fall in behind 2 or more pitchers in the Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson, Justin Steele group, but he has multiple minor league options remaining, so there’s not too much concern in the near term. Definitely worth keeping and seeing what you’ve got.
If you’re reading this post *and* you’ve made it this far down, I’m guessing you’re well aware of Brennen Davis’s immediate dominance upon his promotion to Triple-A Iowa, including ANOTHER homer last night, but just in case you’re not up to date, here’s the slash line over his first seven games: .444/.516/.927 (273 wRC+); 12.9 BB%, 16.1 K%.
He’s been flying up prospect rankings all season and was just named the 2nd hottest prospect in MLB of the last week for Baseball America, not that he let that get to him:
Brennen Davis just wants to impress the Chicago Cubs. It is going to be so sweet seeing him play in Chicago! pic.twitter.com/OXU34yFWlv
— DaWindyCityFS (@DaWindyCityFS) September 22, 2021
Ethan Roberts is another prospect who got the bump up to Triple-A this season after dominating at Double-A (1.97 ERA, 2.53 FIP over 32.0 IP). And while his results with Iowa aren’t quite there yet overall (4.50 ERA), the peripherals tell a different story: 27.8% strikeout rate, 8.2 BB%, an unsustainably low 58.7% strand rate, and an elevated .317 BABIP.
Those are good numbers under the hood, and that’s why everything that’s happened lately is unsurprising:
His peripherals have been way better than the results too (entered with a 2.47 FIP, compared to the 4.95 ERA), so he's finally getting more deserved fortune, it seems.
— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) September 23, 2021
If the Cubs are really turning into one of these organizations where they just pump out relievers year-in and year-out I will be so dang happy.