Who Should the Cubs Build Around?-Off the Radar

September 9, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) throws to first to retire a Pittsburgh Pirates batter during the fourth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Chicago Cubs committed to rebuilding in the off-season when they hired Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to run the team. The Cubs were one of the bigger sellers at the trade deadline as they sought to build the team for the future and get value for the players they had on the roster. As we did with the Rockies and Astros, here I will look at the Cubs 40 man roster (45 players including the 60 day DL members) and see which ones are part of the future for the Cubs.

Starting Pitchers:

Jake Brigham was acquired in a trade at the deadline from the Texas Rangers. He ended the season with an injury, but has MLB stuff. He has the breaking stuff to be a starter (they may actually be better than his fastball) but will have to be more consistent with his command and ability to stay healthy to thwart off a move to the bullpen.

Arodys Vizcaino was acquired from the Braves at the trade deadline. He has not pitched this year because of Tommy John, but he will most likely pitch next season. He has a power fastball (you usually don’t lose your fastball to Tommy John surgery) in the 95-97 range along with a curveball that can get him whiffs and a change that most likely needs work. Losing a year in development doesn’t help, but with that fastball and at least one solid off-speed pitch, there is no reason other than health to not believe that Vizcaino can be in the Cubs rotation for years to come.

Matt Garza had been in just about every trade rumor over the past year (after being acquired in what looks like an awful trade for the Cubs through no fault of Garza, who has pitched very well as a Cub), but the Cubs decided to keep him and he quickly got injured (and is currently on the 60 day DL). Assuming that the injury isn’t a huge question in the off-season, expect teams to be interested in a trade. The best scenario for the Cubs might be for Garza to show that he is healthy and pitch well in the first half so they can deal him at the trade deadline.

Chris Volstad’s first season with Chicago hasn’t gone great (116 FIP -), but he has pitched about as well as you have expected him to. Going into arbitration, he is a non tender candidate, but he could also be a guy that eats up some innings as a below average starter next year. Regardless, he isn’t a guy that you count on going forward and you sure hope you can find better starters.

Gerardo Concepcion was an interesting sign out of Cuba as despite being very far from the Majors and without a high ceiling, he was signed to a multi-year deal on the 40 man roster. He threw 52.1 innings with the Cubs A affiliate and wasn’t very good, 1.70 points of SIERA worse than league average and 1.74 FIP points higher, walking more batters than he struck out. Right now, we don’t really know who he is and there isn’t much reason to count on him.

Travis Wood has a ERA – of 104 and FIP – of 105 in 342.2 career innings. Despite a step back this year, that is a mid-rotation averagish starter type. He tries to make up for subpar velocity by moving and cutting his fastball. He doesn’t get many ground-balls and gives up a lot of line drives, but has an okay slider/curve/change combo. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2014 and isn’t a free agent until 2017. In a good world, he is a back of the rotation innings eater that you don’t rely on for the playoffs. There is some value there.

September 8, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Jeff Samardzija is a pitcher that the team had invested plenty of money in but when it was announced that the club was going to try him as a starter, the sabermetric/scouting community was very skeptical. He was very successful though, with a 87 FIP – and 3.40 SIERA. Strangely, his numbers and velocity was better than it had ever been out of the bullpen. He has a plus fastball and a very solid array of pitches. He is the kind of guy I would really want to make sure you keep around.

The Cubs have tried using Justin Germano as a starter after acquiring him from the Red Sox. It hasn’t worked very well. Germano relies on a sub 89 MPH fastball along with a sinker and a cutter. He throws a lot of slow curves along with a changeup but has a 114 FIP – in 307.2 career innings. He has had a little bit more success this year, but has actually seen a velocity drop.

Chris Rusin has gotten a little bit of time in the big leagues down the stretch and features under 90 MPH velocity with a sinker and cutter. He throws a change only to right-handers and throws a lot of curveballs when he is ahead of the count. He doesn’t get a ton of movement on his pitches, so other than keeping the ball low, it is hard to see how he can survive in the Majors. He just doesn’t have the stuff that makes you believe that he will be someone the Cubs can count on.

Brooks Raley is another young pitcher who made his MLB debut this year (he also made his AAA debut this year) and doesn’t strikeout many batters. He only throws about 89-90 MPH as well. His changeup is pretty good and he throws a curve and cutter as well. The curve is the pitch he relies on more and he gets slightly better movement than Rusin, but not by much and there is a real question as to whether he will be able to miss bats.

Casey Coleman has been used both as a starter and a reliever and for some reason has been much worse as a reliever. In 26 career starts, he has a 4.43 FIP and 1.31 GB/FB. Those are serviceable back of the rotation numbers if he can keep those up. He is another pitcher for the Cubs that throws under 90 MPH, mixing in a slider, change, and curve pretty consistently. He is 25, but wasn’t a high draft pick (15th round in 2008), so I don’t know how much of a chance he will get.

Position Players:

I wrote about Jorge Soler for the site earlier in the year. Considering his contract, he is part of the Cubs future. Tony Campana has the kind of speed you can’t teach, but is really lacking in other skills. He is kind of like a specialist reliever that is really nice to have on a competing team, but not very valuable on a rebuilding team.

Brett Jackson has a nice combo of speed and power, along with an ability to play centerfield. This is why he is considered a top 100 prospect in all of baseball. He has also shown the ability to take a walk. The big problem is the strikeouts. He whiffed 158 times in the PCL this year and was promoted only to whiff 48 times so far in the Majors. I don’t know if he can be a starting outfielder if he strikes out 200 times, and he looks like the kind of guy who will do that. There is still way too much time to throw dirt on him, but he is going to have to make adjustments to keep from pitchers exposing too many holes in his swing and approach.

September 7, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) reacts at first base after hitting a single against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

There have been bat speed questions surrounding Anthony Rizzo, but there is no question about his power. After falling flat on his face with the Padres last year, the return to the Majors has been very successful. A guy that has always put up big numbers in the minors, the big first baseman seems to be future for the Cubs at that position. You would like to see him walk more at this level, but time will let us and the Cubs get a better look at Rizzo.

The club has been trying to dump Alfonso Soriano and his big contract. He had a nice year this year and improved defensively and has 2 more years left on his gigantic deal. Most likely, their best bet is to keep him until the contract runs out (or until the trade deadline of 2014) as they aren’t going to get anything in return without eating all of the money anyway.

Junior Lake is a big guy currently that played shortstop in AA. From what I saw earlier this year, I doubt he is able to stick there and his best bet is probably 3rd base. He struck out too much and didn’t walk enough in AA with really mediocre offensive numbers. He was easily deceived in at-bats I saw him, and I don’t think he is much of a prospect.

Joe Mather has pretty much shown that he is not a big league player in 221 career games. He is a guy who hasn’t hit at all and has no real position. I don’t think he should be on any big league team in any role.

Ian Stewart is a non-tender candidate. When writing up the Stewart-Tyler Colvin trade, I liked the trade for the Cubs because I liked Stewart over Colvin. Oops. Stewart ended up hitting .201/.292/.335 in 55 games and was placed on the 60 day DL with a pretty bad wrist injury. I don’t see him in a Cubs uniform next year unless he re-signs for a very low salary.

Welington Castillo has done the most with his 47 career games in the big leagues, and is considered an adequate defensive option behind the plate. His K/BB is a little concerning, but he hits for some power. At age 25, he has racked up some decent numbers in AAA. Due to lack of other options, he may be the starting catcher for at least the next year or so. 26 year old Steve Clevenger has been terrible in a similar sample size in the Majors. He hasn’t hit as well as Castillo in AAA either. They acquired 29 year old Anthony Recker from the A’s earlier this year, but there isn’t much of a reason to think that he is a future option. He has hit well in AAA, but he has also played 300 games in AAA. That is usually a sign of a guy who isn’t part of the team’s future.

Luis Valbuena was picked off waivers from the Blue Jays when the season had just started (Toronto had traded for him in the off-season). He is about replacement level offensively, and his defense is somewhat spotty (defensive metrics don’t really agree). He looks like a AAAA player, with good AAA numbers, but nothing done offensively in the Majors.

Darwin Barney is an interesting player. The 26 year old 2nd baseman hasn’t hit much in his 313 games in the Majors (79 wRC+, 80 OPS +) but he is good defensively. He has been somewhat of a lightening rod in the Sabermetric community because it seems that shifts have caused some crazy results in defensive metrics. What the Cubs organization does with Barney may give us a window into how the defensive data teams have varies from the defensive data the public has.

Adrian Cardenas was a 1st round (supplemental) pick by the Phillies back in 2006 and was shipped to the A’s in the Joe Blanton trade. This off-season, the Cubs got him off waivers and he made his MLB debut, playing in 38 games this year. He didn’t play very well, and you usually don’t count on much from guys who have played off 300 AAA games.

Whether you like Starlin Castro or not, and there are a lot of reasons to like him and a lot of reasons not to, he is around for a long time. He was signed by the Cubs to a 7 year 60 million dollar deal just a couple of weeks ago. He is going to be around for a long time barring a weird trade. He has the talent to stick at shortstop, but makes a lot of mistakes (which isn’t abnormal considering his age). Some have speculated that his future might be at centerfield (he has not shown the power to be put at a corner position).

Josh Vitters was a 3rd overall pick by the Cubs in 2007, but the 23 year old has been far from impressive so far in his career. Known for a really pretty swing, he has not shown the plate discipline (a .319 OBP in the minors coming into this year) to give you much confidence that he is a future piece. He has gotten his first shot in the Majors this year and in 27 games has been downright miserable, with a -6 (!!!) wRC+, striking out 31% of the time with a 4.6 BB%. His defense is also universally regarded as bad at 3rd base.

David DeJesus is signed through the 2013 season with a 6.5 million dollar option (1.5 million dollar buyout) for the 2014 season. It is probably too early to speculate whether or not they will buy him out or not, but he is most likely not worth this much money (although Fangraphs has him worth 7.6 Million dollars with the way he has played so far this year). He is a nice player, known more for OBP skills than power (even at a corner position), but there is a good chance he isn’t a Cub after 2013.

Bryan LaHair has a 108 wRC + in 579 career plate appearances (just short of a full season but he has played in 179 games), which is solid, but he is slow and not a good defender in the outfield (and 1st base seems to be taken by Rizzo). He hits enough that you want him in the Majors, but because of lack of other skills, is probably just a good NL bench player. I would think he is trade bait in the off-season.

Dave Sappelt was acquired in the Sean Marshall deal in the off-season. With just 48 games to his credit, it is hard to get anything out of his big league statistics. In AAA this year, he struggled mightily, not hitting for really any power. He didn’t strikeout much, but didn’t really walk much either. He has good speed but is not an exceptional fielder with an average to below average arm.

Matt Szczur was called the fastest baserunner in the organization by Baseball America before the season started. After putting up nice numbers in A ball in 2011, he put up big numbers in High A this year before being promoted to AA (where he did not perform well in a small sample size). The tools are there if he works on his plate discipline, but the transition to AA may be tough. If he shows that he can hit at that level, he could be a solid player in the Cubs future.

Relievers:

Shawn Camp was cut by the Mariners in spring training but amazingly leads the league in relief appearances this season. At 36, he isn’t a future piece, but he deserves a shout out for having a nice year and it will be interesting to see what happens with him in free agency this year.

 

September 4, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Miguel Socolovich (47) reacts after giving up a solo home run to Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (background) in the sixth inning at Nationals Park. The Nationals defeated the Cubs 11 – 5. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Miguel Socolovich was a waiver claim from the Orioles whom I find interesting. The results haven’t come yet in a small sample size in the Majors, but he has a good mix of pitches along with a slightly above average fastball. So far, he has thrown the 4-seamer about as much as the sinker, along with a change and a slider. He gets quite a bit of movement on his pitches and he is 26, but he could be a decent bullpen piece if he further develops his command.

Alberto Cabrera made his MLB debut earlier this year and has pitched in 13 MLB games. He has shown a 94 MPH fastball along with a slider, curve, and change (all about the same velocity). He mainly relies on the fastball and slider and has worked for him in AA and AAA as a reliever. As a starter, Cabrera was pretty bad, so the future is definitely in the bullpen where he could be serviceable for the Cubs in the future.

James Russell has been sort of a weird reliever. After two years of just being bad out of the bullpen, he has been solid this year (89 FIP -). He has always been a guy who doesn’t throw very hard and instead relies mainly on the slider. This year, he has thrown some more changeups, and that may be one of the reasons he is having more success. I don’t think he is anyone you would miss if you lost him.

Blake Parker got his first 6 big league innings before being placed on the 60 day DL with an elbow injury. He has an okay fastball (averaged 91.9 MPH in his short sample in the bigs) and throws a lot of sliders. It has a hard slider, averaging almost 90 MPH with vertical but not horizontal movement. If healthy, he is interesting (the high strikeout totals and solid FIPs in the minors certainly don’t hurt), especially with all of the team control he has.

Marcos Mateo has 44.2 big league innings to his name, but is on the 60 day DL and hasn’t pitched at all this year. He had Tommy John surgery in early June, so one would expect that the earliest he will be back is mid-season. He has a decent fastball with a lot 86 MPH sliders mixed in between. He has shown the ability to miss some bats and gets chases out of the zone. Another at least interesting bullpen piece if he comes back healthy.

Carlos Marmol is owned 9.8 million dollars next year, but will be a free agent after the 2013 season ends. The frustrating closer has gained his velocity back this year after losing a good 3 MPH in 2011. Contract aside, Marmol has pitched reasonably well for the Cubs in his career with a ton of strikeouts and limiting homers. I can’t imagine that they would try to bring him back though as it wouldn’t make sense to continue to pay big money to relievers if they aren’t in contention. They will most likely shop him in the off-season or at the deadline to a competing team that needs bullpen help, but will probably have to pay some of the salary.

Rafael Dolis has been pretty bad (145 FIP -) in 32.2 career big league innings with more walks than strikeouts, but features a fastball that averages about 95 MPH. He has yet to really show any confidence in a secondary pitch (he has thrown a handful of sliders and changeups). Even with a solid fastball, he will have to develop a secondary pitch. He got two almost full years in AA in 2010-2011 and didn’t really dominate or show any improvement. Because of his lack of a second pitch, he has yet to strikeout many batters. Right now, he isn’t much, but there is some potential there just because of the fastball.

In 352.2 career innings between the Rockies and Cubs, Manuel Corpas has a 87 ERA – and 88 FIP -, so he has been pretty solid. However, his career path has been pretty strange. He was dominant early in his career with the Rockies, fell off quite a bit, and was released after 2010. He signed with the Rangers in 2011, but never pitched for them and was picked up by the Cubs in the off-season. This year, he has been horrible with diminished velocity and relying on his slider more than he ever has before. He is probably not a big league pitcher anymore.

Jaye Chapman was acquired by the Cubs when they traded Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. He has made his big league debut after the trade, but has only thrown 4.1 innings in the big leagues. He has sort of a starter’s repertoire, even though he has basically only be a reliever in his minor league career. His fastball is below average and he relies a lot on a changeup. I am not sure what to make of him, as you don’t see many really good relievers with that kind of stuff.

Lendy Castillo’s MLB debut has not been good so far, but he pitched really well all through out the minors, mainly as a reliever. He was a rule 5 pick by the Cubs from the Phillies, but has spent most of the year on the DL (could be a real injury or just Rule 5 shenanigans). His velocity is not impressive, but certainly not bad either. He also throws an 83 MPH slider that seems to have worked for him in the past. He is really young at 23, and should start in the minors next year.

Michael Bowden was acquired for Marlon Byrd by the Cubs earlier this year (from Epstein’s old team, the Boston Red Sox) and has a 110 FIP – in 86 career innings. A former first rounder (supplemental), the 26 year old hasn’t put it together yet, and has just an averagish fastball. He has started relying on his slider and a changeup more (ditching the curve he had earlier in his career). I don’t think he is anything significant, although  he isn’t a free agent until 2018.

Jason Berken was recently acquired by the Cubs from the Orioles and has been a disaster as a starter in his career. As a reliever, he has been less of a disaster, but hasn’t been very good. He is 28 years old and hasn’t had much success in the big leagues, so despite a decent fastball, there isn’t much reason for thinking this will turn around.

Jeff Beliveau made his big league debut this year at age 25. He struck out a ton of batters through out his minor league career despite not much of a fastball. He has a really good mix of pitches despite not starting a professional game since 2009. He gets some 2 plane break on his change and his fastball isn’t straight. With his this and his curveball, he could be better than his fastball suggests, I just wonder why he isn’t a starter.

Summary

I think the Cubs are in a better position than the Rockies or Astros. The front office is a front office that has won before, they are in an organization that has and will spend the money. They have at least a couple starting pitchers they can build around and a couple players they can trade for more value. The bullpen is a mess, but that is the easiest part of the team to build. They have some young hitters with team control that should be able to carry the lineup while they try to fill their other positions. As long as they are smart with their money, they should be able to build a contender for years to come.

Topics: Chicago Cubs, Off The Radar, Roster Analysis

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