road not taken

Geez, why couldn’t the Royals’ hitters lay off that high fastball? Who’s their hitting coach?

And speaking of people engaged in something perhaps more gratifying than managing the Cubs, Bochy was a strong contender for the Cubs’ managerial post when they hired Piniella in 2006. Piniella and Bochy were in play both in San Francisco and Chicago.

From the San Diego Union-Trib in October, 2006:

Cubs GM Jim Hendry said Thursday he was expecting to meet with Bochy soon, but according to Chicago sources, he shifted yesterday after being told by upper management he can’t go with Bochy because Piniella and Girardi, a former Cub, resonate more with the team’s fan base.

Fueling reports that he will become the Cubs manger, Piniella told San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean yesterday he is withdrawing from the Bay Area team’s managerial search.

Bochy said last night he wasn’t surprised to learn the Cubs appear as though they will hire either Piniella – a close friend of his – or Girardi. As for other would-be suitors, Bochy said, “I’ve got to think this through and digest it. I’ve got to do what’s best for myself and my family. That’s what I’m going to do the next couple of days.”

Bochy was destined for San Francisco later that month and ultimately, they’re saying, for Cooperstown, which is probably a lot better than the one-way ticket to Palookaville that the Cubs, in those bad old days, dangled in front of prospective hires.

Samardzija for Almora?

There’s a lot of excitement about the Cubs’ acquiring toolsy shortstop Addison Russell, who is at or near the top of a couple of major prospect lists; and while I’m excited along with everybody else, it still sticks in my mind that, not very long ago in 2012, when the new front office conducted its first June player draft on behalf of the Cubs, we drafted sixth, while Oakland took Russell at #11. We could have just picked Russell and not had to trade for him. Of course, we would have lost Almora to another team in that scenario. In effect, then, we traded Samardzija for Almora. Announced in that way, the deal would not have been as exciting.

I have to wonder whether the Cubs weren’t motivated to make the deal for Russell by the fact that they really liked him in 2012 but didn’t want to undercut Starlin Castro by selecting a shortstop as the first pick agreed upon by the new brain trust. Castro, after all, was the only player in the organization (with the possible exception of Samardzija) whom they considered a keeper. Russell and Almora were both drafted out of high school, and both hit well in their first full seasons in 2013, but Russell did it at A+, a level higher than Almora, and he also notched 17 homers and 21 SBs. Almora is not a base stealer; and while the Cubs believe he will develop more power as he matures, the same could be said for a kid who hit seventeen dingers in high-A at age nineteen.

In any event, if my hunch is correct that they preferred Russell on the day that they claimed Almora, the Cubs’ troika of Theo, Jed and Jason must have been kicking themselves over the past year, and must really have felt like putting a match to a few fireworks when they sealed the Samardzija-Russell deal on July fourth.

As to any worry about undermining Castro, they likely stopped caring about that when Javier Baez put up 16 homers and 24 SBs in 2012 at nineteen, and 37 HRs (with 20 SBs) in the following season at two levels including double A, without being asked to play an inning at second or third. Nor has Baez played anywhere but short this year at AAA. Even before the recent trade, the Cubs had two official shortstops of the future, with Baez’s future likely to win out if for no other reason than that he is a more instinctive defender. Aside from his glove, Baez’s power is such that fans, I among them, will pay to see him swing and miss. Fresh off his third all-star game appearance, Castro will bring a huge haul of pitching that might turn a group of upstart Cubs into contenders next year.

Throwing Russell into the mix means that they can trade Castro over the winter without having to worry much about Baez failing his first test in the majors. Since Baez is a Wilken pick with more swing-and-miss (or less “control of the strike zone,” as Jason McLeod likes to say) than they prefer, they may not quite trust him with a position that Castro would have handled satisfactorily for a decade. Russell is now insurance against a wrong decision about which shortstop-of-the-future to keep and which to shed. Assuming that Baez and Russell both fulfill their promise, a decision between those two shortstops can at least be deferred for a year or two. Believing as he does in the fungibility of baseball talent, Theo tends to avoid moving shortstops around to other positions, since they lose value in the shift, and as a result the value of the team’s total assets shrinks.

Today, in the aftermath of Samardzija-Russell, the players who emerge as the “keepers” from the group that was inherited by the new regime in late 2011 are likely to be Baez and Alcantara.

Kids doing fine

I buy into the current Cubs’ front-office’s promises to build a championship-caliber team in due course, and am on-board with their timetable for success, even if it means enduring another uncompetitive season. But as the proprietor of a blog that has followed the progress of Cub prospects for going on six years now, I recognize that I might possibly have some ‘splainin’ to do. Why was it necessary for Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod to rebuild a team that had been acquiring and developing decent prospects for six years? And if they weren’t decent prospects, what have I been talking about?

Actually, the kids are doing fine, as the following list will indicate. A coherent time frame for this compilation might begin in late 2005 when Tim Wilken came aboard as national scouting director, and end in late 2011 when Jason McLeod took over from Wilken. During these six years, Oneri Fleita was responsible for scouting and signing international players. If you take all the players whom the Cubs acquired as prospects during this period, the following twenty-one players were on major-league rosters on opening day 2014: Brandon Guyer and Chris Archer (Rays), Ryan Flaherty (O’s), Al Alburquerque (Tigers), Josh Donaldson (A’s), Marwin Gonzalez (Astros), Jim Adduci (Rangers), Ryan Buchter (Braves), Josh Harrison (Pirates), Jim Henderson (Brewers), Angel Pagan (Giants), D.J. LeMahieu (Rockies), Andrew Cashner (Padres), Tony Campana (D’backs) and Welington Castillo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Junior Lake, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell and Brian Schlitter (Cubs).

That’s fourteen non-Cubs and seven Cubs. There are players who were prospects in this period–Robinson Chirinos (Rangers) and Sam Fuld (A’s), for example–who are major leaguers today but I didn’t count because they came to the Cubs earlier than 2006.

The number of major leaguers is bound to increase, since included in this time window are ten or twelve current prospects who, to varying degrees, still have a shot: Hak-Ju Lee, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Javier Baez, Zeke DeVoss, Shawon Dunston, Jr., Dan Vogelbach, Arismendy Alcantara, Rubi Silva, Zac Rosscup.

I think that’s a respectable haul, and I feel justified in having written about several of these players. I don’t see a murderer’s row here, but Donaldson, Baez, Castro and Lake were not a bad start to an offense. (Donaldson was fourth in MVP voting in the AL last season.) Colvin and Vitters may have been misses, but Vitters may still bloom late and in any case I’m convinced he will be a major leaguer. As for pitching, you could do worse than a starting threesome of Archer, Cashner and Samardzija.

Of course, the Cubs don’t have that starting threesome or that MVP-4, because it’s hard for a GM to hang onto his better young players. When your phone rings, people are mostly calling about your Donaldsons and Lees and Archers and Cashners. Hendry traded Donaldson for Ernie Broglio–I mean, Rich Harden–and Archer and Lee for Matt Garza, while Epstein exchanged Cashner for Anthony Rizzo. Epstein argued that Cashner’s balky shoulder made him a reliever and that a slugging 1B was a good return for a reliever (though probably not for the Padres’ starter on Opening Day).

After Donaldson, Archer and Cashner, the best Cub prospect to make the majors in our time frame might be Castro or it might be LeMahieu, a promising young second baseman for the Rockies. LeMahieu is a better hitter than Barney and almost as good a glove, with 3 errors in 750 innings at second compared to Barney’s 4 errors in 1237 innings. LeMahieu was something of a throw-in in an early Epstein deal, Colvin for Ian Stewart, in December 2011.

Like Colvin, LeMahieu was not an on-base guy and thus was a player McLeod would not have drafted, so he was considered expendable. I get that. The one issue I have with how they treated Wilken’s and Fleita’s prospects was that they tried to change them, to make them over, which I’m not sure can be done at this level. A former hitting coach, manager Dale Sveum has his fingerprints all over the declining offensive stats of Castro and Barney (and even of Brett Jackson–take at look at his Iowa numbers in 2011) over the last two seasons. They should have just played them, praised them and traded them if they didn’t like them, as I’m sure Theo and Jed and Jason would acknowledge (privately) by now.

Group of fifteen

A select group of prospects has been working out and hanging out in the Chicago area this week as part of the Cubs’ Rookie Development Program. Here they are by position:

Pitchers: Pierce Johnson, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Eric Jokisch, C.J. Edwards, Armando Rivero, Arodys Vizcaino
Outfielders: Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Rubi Silva
Infielders: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Christian Villanueva, Mike Olt, Arismendy Alcantara

To me, this looks like a real organizational honor roll, not just a list of invitees to whatever Cub convention or caravan goes on in January. These names merit some attention and thought, not least because of the implicit promise that these fifteen guys will get a shot at the majors. For example, Rubi Silva might get called up this year, whereas Matt Szczur probably won’t, even though Szczur often appears on Cub top-fifteen lists, while Silva never does. Apparently the Cubs like Silva’s fifteen home runs better than Szczur’s fifty walks. It probably doesn’t hurt Silva’s chances that, with Baez, Bryant, Almora and Soler all expected to come on line in the not-too-distant future, the Cubs will be very right-handed.

Another group-of-fifteen member who does not figure prominently in the usual prospect rankings is Eric Jokisch. But teams are always looking for southpaw hurlers, and Jokisch is the only one in the team’s top fifteen today. Don’t be surprised if he gets fitted for a Cub uniform in 2014.

Hitting Prospects 2013

This is a ranking system that considers a base that is stolen to be as valid a unit of offensive production as a base that is attained any other way. It takes the sum of total bases + walks + SBs, adjusts it slightly, and divides by games played to arrive at a score, according to which the players are ranked. (Hitting prospects are starters, not pinch hitters or defensive replacements, so dividing by games is about as valid as dividing by at-bats or plate appearances.)

The adjustment represented by the “adj points” column is Points minus Games. This adjustment rests on the idea that one total base (or walk or SB) per game is a baseline, required to get you to zero.

Players included here are at Kane County (A ball) or higher. I include Boise numbers if a player has advanced to Kane County (KC) or above.

Notes:

8/5: Matt Szczur appears to be having a productive season leading off at Tennessee, but his “total offense” score has dropped from a robust 1.42 last year at Daytona and Tennessee to a pedestrian 0.99 at Tennessee this year. His total bases per game are down (due to fewer extra-base hits) and his steals are way down.

Based on this ranking, Zeke DeVoss–listed 7th among players who are 25 or younger–is a legitimate prospect. A team chronically in search of a leadoff man will notice DeVoss’s 66 walks compared to Szczur’s 37. DeVoss’s score is consistent with, and in fact identical to, his number last year.

Justin Bour is hitting home runs at twice the rate he hit them last year–once in every 16 at bats compared to every 34 at bats–and will almost certainly win the promotion to Iowa that eluded him this spring.

View from the Potomac*

My wife and daughter and I went to the Saturday and Sunday games at Nationals Park. Bryce Harper sat on Saturday (and the night before) with an ingrown toenail. Sunday he was oh for two with two walks. Feldman gave him one walk, Russell the other. Both pitchers have pinpoint control but had no intention of throwing Harper a strike on 3-2, a count where he was likely to swing. Feldman basically pitched around Harper and Desmond (who swings almost as hard as Harper) and challenged everyone else, including LaRoche, who had a single in four at-bats with two strikeouts. Usually he does more damage than that against us.

I haven’t spent much time watching the Cubs this season, largely because the prospects I’ve been touting for several years are not much in evidence. Instead, we’re given hand-me-down players like Cody Ransom and Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston. At times, though, I have been tempted to pay more attention to this team since, when it loses, it barely loses. It seems to have a certain composure and soundness to it. If you fixed an erratic bullpen–which they may have done already with a rejuvenated Gregg and a healthy Fujikawa–the Cubs could win more games than they lose this season.

On Saturday the Cubs had six extra-base hits, but Sunday they won with singles and bunts and by applying pressure to the other team’s defense: by playing small-ball, in other words, a game the Cubs have not traditionally done well at. Everyone in the field can catch, including the guy playing third on a given day. Third has been a defensive soft spot for the Cubs probably since Santo. Ryan Sweeney, in the minors as recently as last week, made a beautiful catch in right in the eighth inning Sunday while fighting off a determined David DeJesus, who had made a clutch diving catch to retire the previous hitter.

The managing and coaching are improved. Sveum sent Soriano to third on a steal attempt with the game tied at one in the ninth, and the Cubs took the lead when the catcher threw wildly past the bag. Replays showed the throw deflecting off the batter’s bat. Sounds like a lucky break; but Sveum said they draw it up like that. They teach their righty hitters to stand still and not lower their bat on a steal of third. Make the catcher take a few steps to get in a position to throw.

Let’s not forget that this is the coaching crew that made Soriano into a two-way player. Sometimes he almost seems to be getting his legs back! Trading a player is not always in your control but you can still manage him. This is more than just the old Soriano with new lipstick.

I found it all very watchable and in fact I was proud of the Cubs, prouder than I was three years ago when they came to Washington in late August and won all three games against a Washington team that was coming off two 100-loss seasons and had signed Harper just the previous week.

* Actually, the ballpark is on the Anacostia River.

Cub prospects at the ML level in 2013

The prospects we hear the most about these days have little relevance to a season-ticket holder at Wrigley this season, unless that fan also plans to take in games at Fifth Third Stadium in Geneva, IL, where the Kane County Cougars, the Cubs’ new Midwest League affiliate, will play their home games. Almora and Vogelbach and others will likely play in Kane County in 2013. (Soler and Baez have already left A-ball behind them.) Fans will enjoy following this heralded demographic as it moves through Daytona and Knoxville on the way to Des Moines and Chicago. In the meantime, there are several older prospects who are likely to play in Chicago as rookies this season, with or without much buzz.

It is a fact that the Cub system under Hendry-Fleita-Wilken had already shown an ability to produce competent and even talented major leaguers and had established a pipeline from which, statistically, a couple or three prospects emerge every year. Below is a list of current and former Cub prospects whose age in 2013 will fall between 19 and 28. The list is ordered roughly by age but more specifically by experience: that is, by the number of years in which the prospect has earned a minor-league stat line in Baseball Reference. Experience correlates with age, of course, but some players start pro ball right out of high school while others begin at 21 or 22. Pro experience trumps age, I would say. Starlin Castro left the minor leagues for good in 2010 at the improbable age of twenty, but what makes it less improbable is that it was already his fourth year as a pro.

Looking at the players on the list with six or seven years of experience, I count seven confirmed major leaguers: Samardzija, Colvin, Castillo, Barney, Donaldson, Castro and Russell, with others like Cabrera and Dolis (and Clevenger, perhaps?) still having a decent shot.

If six-to-seven years in pro ball launched seven players on major-league careers, shouldn’t the next group of prospects, representing four-to-five years’ experience, produce another half dozen big leaguers? In that group we already find Harrison, who played in over a hundred games last year, and LeMahieu, who saw action in 81 games last season (batting .297). Cashner is a major-league pitcher when he is healthy. Borderline major leaguers with comparable senority who are no longer in the organization would include Carpenter, Campana, Flaherty.

Drafted in 2009 and with four seasons under his belt, Brett Jackson is an obvious candidate for a rookie season in 2013, but there are players with more experience who may be ahead of him in line, simply because it is now or never for them. Logan Watkins and Jay Jackson signed with the Cubs in 2008, a year ahead of Brett Jackson. Vitters joined the team in ’07–as did Junior Lake! We think of Vitters and Lake as still young, but they aren’t really. They are mature in experience, which is what counts–and also counts against them.

As six-year veterans of pro baseball, Vitters and Lake are under real pressure to graduate to the majors early enough in 2013 to post respectable rookie numbers. They are nearly out of time, since players with seven or more years of minor-league experience seldom have successful rookie seasons (or rookie seasons at all). Below is a list of NL rookies in the last five years who garnered at least one point in the polling for Rookie of the Year. The Experience column at the right is simply their Rookie Age minus their Start Age, how old they were in their first year as a pro.

Of the forty-two rookies in the list, two are veterans of the Japanese Baseball League. These two players are difficult to compare with the other forty, who learned their trade in an up-or-out regime in a system of feeder leagues to the majors. Among the forty players with more normal backgrounds, the average number of years spent in the minors is 4.225. One player (guess who?) made the majors with a single year of pro experience. Three had two years. Eleven had three years. Nine of the rookies needed four years. Eight had five years to their names, while another eight have six years’ experience. Just two players graduated to the majors with more than six years of ball on their professional résumé. Geovany Soto’s rookie season came in his eighth year as a pro, while Garrett Jones waited until his eleventh season to make a splash in the majors. You can see the vertical bars for Jones and Soto at the far left of the graph below.

It is clear that prospecthood falls over a cliff at the end of a player’s seventh year. In the next offseason–assuming they haven’t already attained rookie status–Vitters and Lake will officially be failed prospects and will be traded or released accordingly.

How should a smart team deal with a situation where Vitters and Lake need urgently an opportunity, first of all, and then to seize it? A team should do what the Cubs have done by leaving third base muddied, with Stewart and Valbuena, a couple of lefty-swinging place-fillers, as the lead candidates going into the spring. Any rookie success achieved by Vitters or Lake will not make that player the Cubs’ third baseman of the future. That isn’t the point. The point is to add a major-league asset to the team’s pool, just as the Cubs did with Barney over the last two seasons. Nobody is sure whether Barney is the team’s 2B of the future, but he is certainly an asset with real value in a trade. An organization is built around the internal development of competent major leaguers at positions where blue-chippers have not yet materialized. Think of the Cardinals’ success in adding journeymen like Alan Craig and Jon Jay to their roster every year, while they wait for the next Pujols or Molina to come along. They’ve been waiting eight years for lightning to strike again, but meanwhile they usually have a solid, mostly home-grown roster.

Speaking of leaving a position muddied, the Cubs have acquired several righty starting pitchers this offseason but no lefties. It’s not that they love Travis Wood, whom they haven’t even declared a member of the starting rotation. They may just be keeping some space open for Rusin and Raley, both entering their fifth seasons as pros in 2013. The two were taken fairly early in the 2009 draft, Rusin in the 4th round and Raley in the 6th. Both lefties were called up pre-September in 2012. It is a well-kept secret, but both did pretty well in their respective half-dozen-or-so starts. Only in two instances were they allowed to pitch into the sixth inning, and Raley was shut down after he pitched his 155th inning of the season (minors and majors) on August 30 against the Brewers. A year-and-a-half older, Rusin was allowed to go 173 innings and was never closed down.

In five starts, Raley had a quality start against Cincinnati on 8/12, a win the following week at Cincinnati in which he gave up 5 hits and 3 earned runs in 5.1 innings, and another five-inning stint on 8/25 in which he yielded 5 hits and 2 runs. That’s one quality start and two near-quality starts under an innings ceiling that discouraged the manager from sending his starter to the mound in the sixth. A quality start requires six innings with fewer than three earned runs allowed.

Rusin never pitched into the sixth, but in seven starts he had four solid outings, three of them on the road. Any of these could have been a quality start if Rusin had not been pitching under a curfew of sorts.





In summary, Cub fans should expect to see several of the following players at the ball park in 2013, many of them for the first time: Vitters, Lake, Rusin, Raley, Watkins, J. Jackson, B. Jackson, Antigua, Sappelt, Rhee, Harris, Batista, Whitenack, McNutt, Struck, Kirk, Ha. The interesting prospects will not all be at Kane County and Daytona, after all!

Top-of-the-order hitters

Cub fans, take heart! The days of a Mather or a Vitters hitting in the 1- or 2-hole may soon be over. Notable in the Top Ten list of 2012 hitting prospects are the players who made it based on their walks and steals more than on their total bases. Here is a quick ranking of the natural top-of-the-order hitters in the overall top ten:



The formula is walks plus steals divided by walks plus steals plus total bases. Since BB + SB + TB gives you the “total offense” of a hitter, this formula tells you the percentage of total offense supplied by “non-kinetic” means–walks and steals–that are usually associated with top-of-the-order hitters.

Any of the first seven players in this list–Jackson and above, with the possible exception of Rogers–would be naturals at #1 or #2. Baez and Soler and possibly Jackson profile as 3-4-5 hitters, with the less speedy Rogers and Valbuena perhaps at #6 or #7.

Ranking the 2012 hitting prospects

These are the final regular-season numbers for Cub hitting prospects in 2012. Rizzo is the starting 1B on the major-league team for the foreseeable future, and is kept on this list for historical purposes. (He did spend half the season at Iowa.) I exclude him from the top-ten list of hitting prospects, which, based on the ranking formula laid out at the bottom of this page (below the table), looks like this today:

1) Jacob Rogers
2) Jorge Soler
3) Brett Jackson
4) Tim Saunders
5) Javier Baez
6) Matt Szczur
7) John Andreoli
8) Luis Valbuena
9) Logan Watkins
10) Zeke DeVoss

Here are the next five:

11) Adrian Cardenas
12) Josh Vitters
13) Arismendy Alcantera
14) Junior Lake
15) Greg Rohan

A few of these players have major-league numbers this season, but I exclude those numbers from the table data. A few have Arizona League numbers, which I also exclude. I exclude Boise numbers unless the player was promoted to Peoria or Daytona, in which case I include the Boise stats. A player is thus excluded from the table if he played no higher than Boise. So much for Almora, Vogelbach, Candelario, Bruno, et al.

Rogers and Soler get a big boost from the small size of their data samples, sixteen and twenty games as a Peoria Chief, respectively. Rogers raked in 26 games with the Arizona League Cubs, however, and Soler didn’t disappoint in 14 games; so I let their Peoria numbers stand. Jacob Rogers was a 40th round pick this past June. (There is no 41st round.) You may be seeing his name for the first time. It would surprise me if anyone else has referred to him as a prospect, but we follow the numbers where they lead.

Like Tim Saunders, Rogers was drafted as a college senior and is a bit old (22) for his level (A).


This is a ranking system that considers a base that is stolen to be as valid a unit of offensive production as a base that is attained any other way. It takes the sum of total bases + walks + SBs, adjusts it slightly, and divides by games played to arrive at a score, according to which the players are ranked. (Hitting prospects are starters, not pinch hitters or defensive replacements, so dividing by games is about as valid as dividing by at-bats or plate appearances.)

The adjustment represented by the “adj points” column is Points minus Games. This adjustment rests on the idea that one total base (or walk or SB) per game is a baseline, required to get you to zero.

Not exactly barren

We hear a lot lately about the Cub minor leagues being barren of talent except at the lower levels. This note is struck mainly in the blogosphere but it really started in Boston when the Red Sox and Cubs were negotiating compensation for Theo Epstein. This was Nick Cafardo in the Boston Globe last October:

One of the problems in coming up with a deal for Theo Epstein is that the Cubs have so few prospects that even appeal to the Red Sox.

The ones they have, they want to keep.

“Couldn’t Theo have picked the Texas Rangers or the Tampa Bay Rays?” quipped one American League general manager. “It’s got to be difficult to make a deal given the pool of players you want is so limited.”

Theo himself took up the theme when he addressed the media in Chicago in April.

We need more talent; we lack impact talent. We have a number of interesting guys, especially at the lower levels, but every organization has a number of interesting guys at the lower level …. We need some more impact talent, and we need some guys who have ability and can break through. It would be really nice to get a breakthrough player this year and have somebody move from that interesting prospect category to that potentially impact category. So we’ll see. There’s a lot of work to do.

I find this subject awkward because I’ve been touting the system-stocking abilities of former scouting director Tim Wilken for several years now.

Well, everything is relative. I know for sure that Wilken came along in 2006 and fixed something that was badly broken. His predecessor, John Stockstill, chose the following seven players in the first or supplemental rounds of the June (amateur) draft during his tenure:

2001 Mark Prior, RHP, #2
2002 Bobby Brownlie, RHP, #21
2002 Luke Hagerty, LHP, #32
2002 Chadd Blasko, RHP, #36
2002 Matt Clanton, RHP, #38
2003 Ryan Harvey, OF, #6
2005 Mark Pawelek, LHP, #20

Six of these first-round draftees were pitchers. Apart from Prior, not one of the pitchers tasted the majors and only one, Brownlie, pitched for Iowa.

Harvey, the one non-pitcher in the group and the sixth player drafted in 2003, failed to reach AAA and in fact did not earn his promotion to AA.

Then came 2006, Wilken’s first year as scouting director. Here are Wilken’s first- and supplemental-round draft picks in that year and the next five years:

2006 Tyler Colvin, OF, #13
2007 Josh Vitters, 3B, #3
2007 Josh Donaldson, C, #48
2008 Andrew Cashner, RHP, #19
2008 Ryan Flaherty, SS, #41
2009 Brett Jackson, CF, #31
2010 Hayden Simpson, RHP, #16
2011 Javier Baez, SS, #9

All six of Wilken’s picks through 2009 are in the majors today. Four are ex-Cubs: Colvin is on the Rockies, Donaldson the A’s, Cashner the Padres and Flaherty the Orioles. Cashner and Flaherty are on the DL, while Colvin is in the starting lineup regularly in right field or at first; Donaldson starts at third; and Jackson is a starting centerfielder. Vitters has been sharing third base but has been promised more playing time. You may argue that Jackson and Vitters are auditioning or being showcased. The fact remains that it’s pre-September, they are on a 25-man major-league roster and they are starting.

D.J. LeMahieu, Wilken’s second-round pick in 2009, starts at second base for the Rockies at age twenty-three.

That leaves two Wilken first-rounders, Hayden Simpson in 2010 and Javier Baez in 2011. Baez, in high-A ball at nineteen, is generally considered the biggest talent in the organization, probably including Castro and Rizzo. Simpson is widely considered a bust (although he is throwing better lately).

If we leave Baez out of the picture and call Simpson a lemon, Wilken can still claim six of seven first rounders who became major leaguers, while Stockstill can claim one out of seven.

While it is true that several of Stockstill’s picks had arm problems, it is also true that a promising pitcher with arm issues can still rise through the system. Wilken first-rounder Andrew Cashner had health problems with the Cubs and then again this season with the Padres; but he still passed a medical exam and was traded for Anthony Rizzo. Third-rounder Chris Carpenter had two elbow surgeries in college and a third surgery this June for a bone spur in his elbow, just a few months after he was traded to the Red Sox for . . . Theo Epstein!

Which of the Wilken picks is an impact player is still hard to predict. Today, Baez would get the most votes. I can see Colvin, Vitters, Cashner and Jackson having an impact. The A’s, meanwhile, who are shrewd about talent, seem to like Donaldson. In any event, the new Cub management has raised the bar with their talk about players having impact. Impact is highly desirable, but we should remember that when Stockstill left, it was a big deal if his successor could come in and simply draft major leaguers.

While it may be true that strong young arms have been scarce at Iowa in 2012, we can attribute this to Wilken’s drafting only eleven pitchers in the first five rounds in his six drafts. Not one pitcher was drafted in those upper rounds in 2007. See the table below.

Samardzija, Cashner and Carpenter are major leaguers, while Shafer and Bristow have washed out. Rusin pitched for the Cubs yesterday and earned another start at least. He and the other five pitchers are still pending.

One may conjecture that after the spate of sore-armed pitchers that Jim Hendry and Stockstill encountered in earlier drafts, Hendry advised Wilken to concentrate on position players in the first several rounds of the draft while the organization tried to build a pitching staff via trades (Harden, Heilman, Garza) and veteran free-agent signings (Dempster, Lilly).