It certainly didn’t sneak up on us, what with talk of The Post-2021 Cliff going on for years, and then a Trade Deadline sell-off. But it’s definitely been the case – for me, at least – that the Cubs’ farm system has taken on a more central position in the Cubs’ world the last few months. I’m not at all prepared to say 2022 needs to be a year where the big league team’s efforts are actually best focused on the farm system (i.e., tanking and sell-off), so don’t misread me. I still want to see the Cubs assemble a has-a-shot roster (and then, yes, you re-evaluate in July), but I just find myself spending a whole lot more time focused on the state of the farm system than I have in a long time. Makes sense, given the transitional phase of the organization, the renewed focus on the subject at an org level the last two years, and the FREAKING LOCKOUT.
Anyway, that is all to say this is the kind of new article from The Athletic duo of Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney that REALLY grabs my attention these days:
Most teams have an offseason prospect camp. But what the Cubs are doing, an entire offseason camp for ~30 of their top prospects with housing and food, seems quite unique as they look to develop the next generation of Cubs talent. Story with @PJ_Mooney https://t.co/O454DWEFnN
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) January 24, 2022
Yes! Do it! Create whatever slight edges you can find (while treating your young players well), especially when the total reported cost is not even quite a million bucks. The Cubs’ large offseason camp is apparently much more than most (any?) other organizations are doing for their prospects this offseason. This is exactly the kind of thing the Cubs need to be doing with their theoretical financial advantage (recall, every other team in the NL Central is has been getting bonus competitive balance draft picks precisely because teams like the Cubs are supposed to have and deploy more financial resources).
The article is a great read on the state of the farm system from a developmental perspective. The Cubs are trying to think a little more holistically about what it means to develop great prospects into great big league players, including making sure the foundation is there when it’s time to actually play baseball:
For the first two-plus months of this prospect camp, the focus centered on strength and conditioning. For years, there had been a nagging feeling in the front office that younger prospects — usually international free agents or players drafted out of high school — were rushed into game action before their bodies were ready for a professional schedule. While that’s an issue all across baseball, the Cubs have tried to address it through multiphase plans that involve nutrition, weightlifting, yoga, speed training and plyometrics.
Every organization wants its young players to have that kind of physical foundation, but I’m certainly not aware of any that bring in their top 30 prospects for a multi-month process of systematically doing that physical, non-baseball work. Maybe it’ll pay off, maybe it won’t, but it sure as heck strikes me as a great idea if you’re trying to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities to improve (and if you’re trying to keep your young players healthy through the season).
The whole camp also just provides a great experience for these prospects together. Who knows how much hard-to-quantify value there is in guys being there, present together in groups, to push each other to succeed? We’re pretty sure being a good teammate and working together with others and all that is not worth zero. Why not get a jump start on having these guys develop together in that way, too?
Read the article for the full rundown on what the Cubs are trying to accomplish with this camp (note that 40-man players cannot attend, for obvious lockout reasons, but also note that the Cubs’ highest concentration of prospect talent is very young, and far off from the 40-man). If this works well for the Cubs, the dividends could pay off for years and years for this group of prospects.
… but also, every other organization will copy it immediately, and the edge gained might last one year. Such is the nature of the league!