Given how the various Cubs moves this past week all had a connection to the farm system, I wanted to jump in with some of my thoughts on the players involved and their impacts on the system overall …
- Prior to the Rule 5 protection deadline, the Cubs acquired Miles Mastrobuoni from the Rays for Alfredo Zarraga, which Brett talked about here and here. I liked Brett’s note on Mastrobuoni’s increased weight transfer possibly leading to the power boost, and I’ll add that he’s clearly done a good job adding muscle during his development. I don’t think the Cubs will mess with the double toe tap he uses to initiate his swing, but Dustin Kelly and Triple-A hitting coach Griffin Benedict will have to monitor if he’s able to sync up and pull Major League quality velocity with how he uses his front foot.
- I watched a month worth of Mastrobuoni playing in the field, as his defensive versatility is a big part of the trade, to try and get a feel for his capabilities with the glove. I wondered if the thin offerings in the 3B and CF free agent markets might have motivated the trade, as perhaps the Cubs liked what they saw at either of those positions. After watching Mastrobuoni, I’m quite confident that his ideal position is second base. He moves well laterally and I really like how he turns a double play. Conversely, I wouldn’t have high expectations for how he’ll grade defensively in the outfield. I saw numerous examples of slow or incorrect first steps. Mastrobuoni didn’t play third base much in 2022, but that’s one spot I think the Cubs should explore with him next season.
- At first blush, it seems like the right range for Mastrobuoni in the prospect rankings will be somewhere between 18 and 28.
- I touched on Zarraga a few times this year during Five Stars, a player that broke out during Extended Spring Training, dominated in Low-A, and then saw his season shortened with a broken hand in High-A. Zarraga’s combination of low release height, present velocity, above-average slider and remaining projectability had me feeling good about him. There’s a real chance the Rays can coach him up to become a Major League set-up man. But even still, he was in the sixties in the rough draft of my rankings.
- The reason the Cubs can trade a 60-something ranked player for a 20-something ranked player is because a prospect’s value in the MLB marketplace does slightly drop when they are added to the 40-man roster, as that can squeeze out others, and they are forced to begin using minor league options. Given how the Tampa Bay Rays were seen as having MLB’s most significant roster crunch, it’s not surprising that there was some value in negotiating with them to aid that problem.
- One reason the Cubs were willing to trade Zarraga, and why they only protected four players in the Rule 5, is that right-handed relief arms are a real strength in the system (particularly after a draft where they only picked pitchers). Yes, the team might lose someone like Danis Correa or Cam Sanders in the Rule 5 Draft. But there’s optimism in guys like Ben Leeper and Zac Leigh in a similar spot in the system. While Zarraga is an A-ball arm capable of high 90s velocity, the Cubs will look at guys like Angel Gonzalez, Michael Arias, or Wilber Rodriguez as guys to step in that void. Transactions create opportunities, and depth can step into them.
- While I don’t think they’re directly connected, I do wonder if the decision to claim Rylan Bannon was slightly motivated (even subconsciously!) by a concern that Chase Strumpf might be a guy selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs’ options at 2B/3B for Iowa next year is so long: Bannon, Strumpf, Mastrobuoni, Esteban Quiroz, David Bote, Jake Slaughter, Andy Weber, and Levi Jordan.
- I’ll be curious if the Cubs can have Zach McKinstry eventually join that list. I believe part of the reason that McKinstry was tendered a contract yesterday was because he is not yet at a level where he can elect free agency if sent outright to Triple-A Iowa. So when a free agent signing causes a player be Designated for Assignment next month, the Cubs will likely try to sneak McKinstry through waivers, and if successful, they’d have him in Iowa as depth for 2023. This is the same tactic I expect they’ll explore with Bannon and Alfonso Rivas. I’ll also note that this won’t work with Mark Leiter Jr, Michael Rucker, or P.J. Higgins, all of whom can elect free agency if they are outrighted.
- The Cubs opted for a different route with former top pitching prospect Brailyn Marquez, who was non-tendered after missing his second consecutive season with a shoulder injury. I suspect the Cubs will offer Marquez an above-league average minor league contract, but the ball moves to Brailyn’s court in whether or not to accept it. I suspect there’s some mutual frustration from both the Cubs and Marquez camps on how his development stalled over the last three years, but at the same time, the Cubs do have the best handle on the current state of Brailyn’s shoulder and how best to move forward.
- By the way, it’s definitely weird to dunk on people about the end of the Marquez era. It’s just sad, and a reminder that pitching prospects will break your heart. While the Cubs’ 2022 season in the system did offer some good breakouts and steps forward, I don’t think it can be considered a real successful season on the farm given the large number of (rather catastrophic) injuries that occurred.
- I do not expect any conversations to be had with Alexander Vizcaino about a reunion, as Vizcaino left Spring Training this year and opted not to return. Over the summer, it appeared that Vizcaino was leaning towards retirement, which is too bad given his rather ridiculous natural ability. But the minor league grind is understandably not for everyone!
- A reminder that the minor league Rule 5 Draft is also a thing, and while we won’t see the Cubs’ list of protected players in the public space, I made a mock one. Remember, if you lose a player in the minor league phase of the draft, there’s no rules for his new organization to retain him, he’s just gone:
Things Got REALLY Wild in the Venezuelan Winter League Tonight: Second Baseman Clobbered a Batter After a Big Bat Flip
Do the Moves Pick Up Now? Non-Tender Decisions, the Loss of Marquez, Soriano Memory, and Other Cubs Bullets