Monday, May 25, 2015

My Five Favorite Chicago Cubs Prospects

The Cubs just wrapped up a 3-3 road trip, which looked a lot better than the previous trip that saw the team go 2-5. Entering a homestand against two great teams in the Nationals and Royals, so far it seems the Cubs are here to stay this year and should finally at least be in contention for the postseason again.

Since it looks like the Cubs may actually be buyers at the trade deadline this year, we can expect the Cole Hamels rumors to be in full swing within the next few weeks. I am fully in support of a move to acquire Hamels this year, knowing that the organization will have to give up prospects to do so.

Later this week, I'll discuss what I think would be a fair trade for Hamels. First, however, I thought I should note where I rank the prospects and which ones I'm most anticipating to arrive in Chicago.

This is not a prospect ranking list based on skill sets (you can find tons of those on other sites) or even value within the organization, as I know some prospects will bring back more trade value than others. This list is simply my favorite Cubs prospects as of May 2015.

One last note is that Javy Baez is technically no longer a prospect, so I'm leaving him off. However, since he's finally heating up, I think the Cubs will need to find a spot for him in Chicago or possibly even trade him this summer.

Below are my current five favorite Cubs prospects:

1. Kyle Schwarber - Schwarber has to top just about any Cubs prospect list at this point. His minor league numbers compared to Kris Bryant's through this point in their careers only gives weight to the expectation that Schwarber could very well be the "next" Bryant, going from draft to the middle of the Cubs lineup in no time. While next April would put him exactly a year behind Bryant, recent reports have alluded that the Cubs may entertain promoting Schwarber this season if that option could help the team. To me, Schwarber has to be the only prospect who is an untouchable. If he remains at catcher, he's only that much more valuable.

2. Billy McKinney - I've already talked about McKinney's great walk-to-strike out ratio, and I think he's clearly the best true outfield prospect in the organization right now. That being said, I think any team sending anything of value to the Cubs will have to be getting a package featuring McKinney in return.

3. Gleyber Torres - Just what we need, right? Another awesome shortstop. I don't know how it will all work out, getting all of these guys in the same lineup, and I assume that ultimately it won't. But I'm really excited about Torres, and if Starlin Castro remains with the Cubs (which I hope he does!), this will become an issue to monitor at some point.

4. Duane Underwood - You love to see pitchers improving each season in the minors, and that's exactly what Underwood is doing. In his first year at high-A, Underwood is 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA so far. He finished last season with a 2.50 ERA through 22 games at A-Kane County. I'm hoping to see him get to AA-Tennessee this year (and that I can see him pitch there).

5. Dan Vogelbach - Vogelbach may have the most trade value (after Schwarber), and he is having a great season at Tennessee. With 32 walks and 38 strike outs, he seems to be a perfect fit for the Cubs organization. Unfortunately, with Anthony Rizzo blocking him in Chicago, Vogelbach's days as a Cubs prospect may be numbered. I don't know if I'm convinced that his skills will translate into Major League success, but that's bound to be another team's problem anyway.

Honorable Mention:

- I think Carson Sands will be a top of the rotation starter.

- I am fully rooting for Albert Almora and Jacob Hanemann, but even if both come through as Major League players, it's plausible that only one plays in Chicago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cubs Look to Start a New Win Streak in San Diego

Well, a 6-1 Chicago Cubs homestand sure helped to take the sting out of a 2-5 road trip! The six-game win streak before Sunday's loss to the Pirates showed just how exciting this team can be. And as Joe Maddon would say, even with the last loss, the Cubs still Meatloafed the series. Of course, it'd be fine if the records for each of the last two weeks were more like 4-3, but hopefully the team will play better on the road this week. Below are five thoughts as the Cubs get set to face the San Diego Padres tonight.

1. This Jon Lester guy is pretty good, right? Seriously, though. He's allowed five earned runs in his last four starts, all wins, with three of them being won by only one run. Having a true ace at the top of this rotation only makes me want to see the Cubs go after Cole Hamels even more. (Later this week I'll highlight my favorite current Cubs prospects and then discuss what I'd be willing to give up for Hamels.)

2. Most of the offense is clicking right now, but Anthony Rizzo is standing out as an early MVP candidate. His .470 OBP is amazing, and it actually went up (from .469) on Sunday despite an 0-for-2 day, thanks to two walks. Kris Bryant continues to impress, and I believe it's only a matter of time before Jorge Soler gets consistent production at the plate.

3. I like Travis Wood in the bullpen. I don't know if he'll be available to pinch hit and pinch run as often as he was as a starter, but I guess you never really know with Maddon. He could enter each game with a different mindset about how he'll use Wood that day, reserving him as a reliever on some days, and keeping him in the dugout as an offensive reserve on others. Either way, I like giving Wada a shot at the rotation, and I assume this gets us one step closer to seeing Edwin Jackson leave town. (Also, can we be done with Schlitter for good yet, or what?)

4. The roster should have more flexibility now that Welington Castillo has been traded. Although it took months longer than any of us thought it would, Castillo is finally gone, and the Cubs roster now features the more typical total of two catchers. It'll be good to see Junior Lake on the bench instead of a third catcher.

5. Please don't let James Shields become a "Cubs Killer." When the Cubs made a late push to sign Shields this offseason and failed to do so, it automatically became an easy "story" for everyone to talk about whenever the team faces him. Shields is 5-0, and I'm already tired of hearing about how the Cubs let him "get away" when the team was never expected to sign a second big name after Lester anyway. Let's get Shields his first loss tonight and move toward Meatloafing another set.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cubs Go 2-5 on Road Trip

Writing these blogs is a lot more fun when the team is winning, and after a 2-5 road trip, wins seem very tough to come by these days. But there are still a lot of positives surrounding this team, and unlike the last few years, at least the Cubs are still in a position to compete here in early-May. Here are a few thoughts as the Cubs return home to face the Mets tonight.

1. The St. Louis Cardinals are just a very good organization. We all knew this already. In a way, the 1-3 outcome in St. Louis shouldn't be surprising at all. The Cardinals did just enough to come back and win the first two games, signs of a quality team facing a young team who hasn't learned to win yet. However, at least the goal is now right there in front of every Cubs player. They should collectively be thinking: "We're getting pretty good. But until we're THAT good, we aren't good enough." It's something that could take years to achieve, but at least we know where the bar is set.

2. I have no clue how to fix this bullpen. Luckily, I'm not one of the people being paid to do it. But really, where do they start? If it were as easy as sending Edwin Jackson packing, I'd say do it. However, when Edwin Jackson starts to look like a GOOD option, you're beyond just needing some help. If trading Welington Castillo could bring back a decent reliever, the front office needs to make that happen. I wasn't worried about the lack of pitching depth in the organization until now. We were told the hitters could always be traded for pitchers. It might be time to think about doing that.

3. At 15-15, the team is .500, which seems about right for this team. The Cubs have the talent to beat anyone. But this lineup will strike out a lot, and the bullpen has become an unavoidable wreck lately. For a team that started 13-27 last year, this is still a refreshing change. Fans are just hoping to see more victories starting soon.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cubs Lose Series to Brewers

I know I've been doing five quick thoughts following each series, but this last one was depressing. Other than the first game, when Jon Lester finally looked like an ace, and Addison Russell hit his first home run, it was not a fun weekend. The Cubs just lost a series to a Milwaukee Brewers team that fired its coach after winning its first series of the year. So as we look forward to an important set in St. Louis and hope for better results, here's my one quick thought.

1. We hate the Brewers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cubs Win Pirates Series, Face Brewers Next

A busy work week leads to much shorter post, but here are my five quick thoughts following another series win against Pittsburgh.

1. Joe Maddon makes me hungry. After the Cubs lost to the Pirates 8-1 on Wednesday, Maddon said the team had "Meatloaf" in the series. You know. Cause they won two out of three. He said he wanted "Meatloaf" all season long. I don't know much about the singer or that song, but dang. Now I want meatloaf! All season long.

2. The bullpen struggled on Wednesday, but it didn't lose the game. It would've been different if the team lost 8-5. But the final was 8-1, and Kyle Hendricks gave up two of the runs himself. If the bullpen is going to have a bad game, it might as well be the one when the offense is shut down.

3. Junior Lake could be an important piece here. I've already discussed the left field position a bunch over the last two weeks, and this series shows why. Chris Coghlan was 0-for-7 in his two starts against Pittsburgh, while Lake went 2-for-5 in his start, his first game of the season. If Lake can produce, it will probably still remain a platoon for a while. But I like the potential of Lake earning the job eventually.

4. Miguel Montero needs to continue getting consistent work. I know the team is trying to maximize Welington Castillo's value, but it may be time to accept a loss there and move him for a low-level prospect or a potential bullpen piece.

5. We hate the Brewers. Grab Bag Sports has a history with this team and mainly its fans, so I'm obviously hoping for a sweep here. Again. We HATE the Brewers.