The Cubs Are Using One Piece of Technology in Player Development in a Way No Other Organization Is

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The Cubs Are Using One Piece of Technology in Player Development in a Way No Other Organization Is

Chicago Cubs

I was this morning re-reading the long, detailed, and thorough piece at The Athletic about the state of the current Chicago Cubs rebuild, specifically because I was in a prospect-y mood, and wanted to digest some more about the changes the Cubs have made this time around. We know that the Cubs have INTENDED to do things very differently the last four-ish years than they did from 2012 to 2018, and we know that there have been significant personnel changes in that time. We also know that there was a strategic shift in the draft, and a reimagined player development process. All good stuff.

But I was looking at the piece again today because I wanted to think again about the technology component. We know that the Cubs have fancied themselves a technologically advanced organization since the time of the first rebuild, but we also know that there have been plenty of whispers that the Cubs were getting their lunch eaten on that side in the 2016 to 2018 window (which, perhaps not coincidentally, corresponded with the big fall-off in farm talent).

The gains you can make with the proper acquisition and deployment of technology are very slim, but if you’re the only major-market club in your division, it should be WORTH it to you to spend that extra $500,000 or $1 million or whatever to get that edge. As I always point out: the “competitive balance” elements of the Collective Bargaining Agreement are structured ON THE ASSUMPTION that a team like the Cubs is going to outspend the other NL Central teams not only on payroll, but on personnel, facilities, and technology. You either spend that extra money, or you’re not actually being “competitive.”

Anyway, so I’m re-reading The Athletic piece, and a specific mention in this section really stood out to me (emphasis mine):

Ten years ago, Theo Epstein earnestly outlined his idealized vision of a “Cubs Way” during his press conference to open spring training ahead of the 2012 season. He described unified systems of teaching from Wrigley Field through the Dominican Summer League, granular details all the way down to which foot a player should hit the bag with when he’s making the turn. Those instructional manuals now sound quaint compared to the Myrtle Beach hitter who walks out of the hotel for a morning workout at a military-inspired mobile facility. The intensity of those workout sessions is turned up or down based on the load-management data collected from the performance vest and GPS unit the player wears during games.

Advanced motion capture technology tracks the hitter’s swing in practice and games. Even at a lower level like Myrtle Beach, the Cubs are presenting a hitter like Alcántara with the type of information he would see in a major-league clubhouse, detailed breakdowns of where sliders are being thrown and in which counts he’s typically seeing that pitch. Between Wrigley Field, Triple-A Iowa and their Arizona complex, the Cubs have three of the extremely limited number of Trajekt Arc pitching robots in circulation, giving their hitters the chance to practice against a machine that projects an image of Madison Bumgarner — or any major-league pitcher with an available data profile — and fires baseballs with the exact same characteristics as Bumgarner’s pitches from an identical arm angle.

That’s all good stuff, but the bolded part is what jumped out at me this morning. The description of the tech and even the name … it sound familiar.

That Trajekt Arc pitching robot thing. I started to remember something from earlier this year about the Cubs being one of the few teams that use it, and the only one in the NL Central. Then I started to think about having three of those machines in use, and that seemed like a lot. Using them in Iowa and Arizona? For prospect development? That kinda stuck in the back of my brain as notable. New news, old news. Either way, it just kinda stuck with me.

Then I remembered reading reports some time ago that only one club was using The Arc machine in 2021. Then I remembered reading that the Cubs used a prototype of a machine like this last year in Arizona … and sure enough, it was The Arc. So that means the Cubs were that one team – the team that was in on The Arc first.

Not only that, but reports from late in the 2022 summer indicated that there were a total of seven teams using Arc machines, and a total of nine units of the machine. Do a little math, and if the Cubs have three of those nine machines, that means they are the *ONLY* organization in MLB that is using multiple Arc pitching machines.

While you might initially think of the machines as being useful for big leaguer practice reps against big league pitching – you know, like, advance scouting work – and I’m sure they use it for that, too. But there’s no way the Cubs are limiting these machines to those purposes if they’ve got three of the machines in three different locations. This is clearly about player development (hence its inclusion in the section about technology and player development in the first place). Trajekt, itself, even touts its relationship with the Cubs and its value for player development.

In other words, while six other MLB organizations have and use a single Arc pitching machine, it’s not at all clear to what extent they are being used – if at all – for player development. The Cubs, by contrast, are pretty clearly going full-court-press on that front. And again, no other organization has three in service.

In other-other words, if you want to talk about the Cubs trying to take a big step forward on the technological side? To be first on something? Use their financial weight to make a real difference? This is definitely one way to do it. And the best part? The Athletic has reported that the Cubs actually have an EXCLUSIVE multi-year agreement with Trajekt to get the three machines, and although the exclusivity portion is a little unclear (only team that can have it in the minor leagues? only team in their division?), the Cubs are for now still the only NL Central club using it. That exclusivity was probably extra pricey.

None of this is brand new information. It’s been out there in bits and pieces going back to the summer. But it wasn’t until the snippet in the latest Athletic piece, when contextualized with the Cubs’ player development process, that it really leapt out at me and made me start to want digging a little bit more.

In addition to having access to these three machines – a boon to position player development, no doubt, over the past two years – the whole thing just makes me optimistic that the current front office is seeking out every possible edge they can find, whatever the price. It also makes me buy in just a touch more to the prospect development breakout stories we’ve seen over the past season. It makes me feel like the Chicago Cubs really and truly may be on to some things that will continue to bear surprising, “extra” fruit in the years ahead. That’s so much of what was missing during the first rebuild, and why things really stalled out after the World Series win. Maybe they’re getting it right the second time.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.