A lot of fun Cubs prospect stuff to get in front of you today …
⇒ Which Cubs lefty is on the rise? And what does it mean to be on the rise? Can you name him without checking:
⇒ It’s first rounder Jordan Wicks, of course. Jim Callis notes that Wicks was the best lefty in the draft, had the best changeup in the draft, already a plus-plus offering. Most notably, Callis says that Wicks is the 2021 draftee outside the top 100 who is most likely to enter the top 100 next year. I love it.
⇒ You don’t want to go TOO far with what the praise is saying – there are 14 first rounders already in the top 100, so Wicks (pick 21) isn’t that far outside of what you might expect anyway for a deep draft – but you definitely can do some extrapolating from the comment. Specifically, what this means is that the eyes-on reports from what Wicks was showing in Arizona, before and after his brief stint at South Bend, was a good translation from his performance in college. That first dose of pro ball – even at the back fields – is kind of a threshold checkpoint. It won’t prove too much, but it can certainly show you if there were serious deficiencies that went uncovered to that point. So, at a minimum, you can say that Callis is hearing THAT didn’t happen for Wicks. And that’s a good first step.
⇒ The next is seeing where he is assigned coming out of Spring Training, and how he performs in his first full pro season, AND how well what he’s showing projects against better hitters (i.e., he might get great results at High-A/Double-A because of his polish, pitch mix, and execution – but you need to be able to project it well against better and better hitters to say he’s clearly a top 75 (or whatever) prospect).
⇒ Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Cubs 2021 draftees who could be midseason top 100 prospects, I’ll add that if second rounder James Triantos shows out in his first dose of full-season ball, he’s going to get some folks who believe he’s back-end top 100 already. He was that good in the Arizona Complex League.
⇒ Speaking of Triantos, I missed this earlier, but if you want more insight into the Cubs system from the FanGraphs crew, including praise for Triantos:
Eric and Kevin talk about the Cubs' prospect list here from 32:56 to about 50:00. The James Triantos discussion is especially fun (around 38:00) https://t.co/YWiwLnL2KB
— Brad (@ballskwok) December 20, 2021
⇒ Max exit velocity is one of those sneaky underlying metrics that can tell you a whole lot about a guy’s offensive potential. You still gotta do a whole lot else, of course, and you have to be able to hit the ball hard with some level of frequency for any of it to matter. But when a young guy has shown that he is *able* to hit the ball above the 108 mph mark as a prospect (arbitrary cut-off, pick yours), it’s worth noting:
Cubs prospects that have recorded in-game, verified max exit velos > 108 mph according to Fangraphs:
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) December 30, 2021
⇒ Ed Howard and Christian Franklin stand out because of the potential it implies for a couple guys with superlative up-the-middle gloves. And obviously Owen Caissie’s number is eye-popping for such a young player (though it’s not shocking, since we’d heard he was kind of on a level of his own in the system). The data is new, but the concept is as old school as it gets: guys who hit the ball really hard have a better chance of being productive hitters.
⇒ (For a frame of reference on player development by the time you get to the big leagues, there were 338(!) players who had a max exit velo of at least 109 mph in 2021. Like other skills, it’s something you want to see progressing, for the system as a whole, but also for individual players as they get older/bigger/stronger/better swings/better pitch selection. The data is better and more complete in the big leagues, the ball is different, and the pitchers throw harder, etc., so those are factors, but generally speaking, things have to progress in this department. Again, for a frame of reference, among the players who didn’t have a max exit velo of at least 109 mph in 2021, very few of them are productive hitters. Hitting the ball really hard, alone, doesn’t make you a good hitter. But not hitting the ball really hard, well, it presents a challenge to productivity.)
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⇒ Kinda apropos of our earlier discussion on player improvement changes in 2021 (the Cubs seem to have gotten better at it!), MLB Pipeline discussed its most improved farm systems in 2021. I say that’s only kinda apropos of the earlier discussion, because they’re evaluating different things (though the better you get at player development, the better your farm system better get in the long run). In this case, Pipeline does not see the Cubs as one of the five most improved systems in 2021, which is not a surprise, as most publications (outside of FanGraphs) see the Cubs as having only slightly improved their system (gains in prospect volume were offset by injuries and a lack of impact-level breakouts besides Brennen Davis).
⇒ The lack of a high draft pick or large bonus pool in 2021 was also clearly a factor: three of the five mentioned farm systems were picking in the top 7 (Red Sox, Rangers, Royals), the Nationals were picking 11th, and the Reds were picking 17th. But the Reds leapt from the range where the Cubs are now (20th) to the 10th ranked farm system, largely on the strength of internal development gains for their previously very high picks. Good on them for getting the most out of those players, I suppose. The Cubs will need to get the most out of their large cache of prospects next year, and also do very well in the draft, where they’ll be drafting higher than they have in almost a decade.
⇒ It’ll be a bit of an uphill battle for Cole Roederer to become an impact prospect from here because of time lost the last couple years, but he’s healthy now, is only 22, and the tools are still loud. He as about a league-average hitter in full-season A-ball – a challenging debut for a high school draftee in his first full pro season – though he raked in the second half. Then the pandemic hit for 2020. Then, just 20 games into his 2021 season at High-A … Tommy John surgery struck. Such a bummer of a timeline for the Cubs’ other 2018 second round high school outfielder. Would love to see him bounce back in 2022.
Can't wait to see @ColeRoederer back on the field again in 2022! He's got the TJS 'battle scar' and other reminders on his arm about playing the game. Looking for a great bounce-back from him after his injury! pic.twitter.com/Si2XPnCnhh
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) January 3, 2022