The Cub farm system is alive and well in spite of all the talk about its having been “gutted” by the Garza deal. Below is a table of win-loss records at the four minor-league levels for the six teams in the NL Central. The Cubs do significantly better than their rivals in this comparison.
The Cubs do best at the two levels, double A and high A, where genuine prospects spend the most time. Triple A is not a good level to look for prospects: in the 16-team Pacific Coast League, the average age of pitchers is 27.3 and of hitters, 26.9. And while most young players punch their tickets at low A, hitting prospects on the fast track seem to spend the least amount of time there. Campana was at Peoria for 18 games. Brett Jackson played 26 games there. Castro never saw Peoria. It would be very unusual for a hitter to skip over Daytona, which is considered a pitcher’s league and a test for hitters–although Brandon Guyer tried it a couple of seasons ago, before falling back and logging his 73 games there.
The Cubs’ high-A team, Daytona, is the first team in the minor leagues this season to win 30 games. In the Florida State League, they are first in hitting, measured by runs per game (5.40), and second in pitching, measured by fewest runs per game (3.67).
Hitting-wise, none of the other teams in the AA Southern League measure up to Tennessee. Tennessee’s hitting line is .304/.364/.490, with an .853 OPS, 707 total bases and 50 home runs. Montgomery, the second best hitting team, has a line of .286/.361/.418, with a .779 OPS, 570 total bases and 30 home runs. Of the 30 teams in the AA universe, only the Padres’ San Antonio Missions in the Texas League have better hitting numbers than the Smokies.
The Smokies are the youngest team in the Southern League, with an average age of 23.6.
Guyer and/or Fuld might have arm-wrestled Reed Johnson over the 5th outfielder spot coming out of spring training, and who knows, Chirinos might have gotten a call-up when Soto went on the DL. The Cubs seem to like Welington Castillo (strong arm, power bat) and not like him (they don’t want to see him in games). Mostly, though, the trade has weakened Iowa, which will recover as reinforcements arrive from Tennessee. Hot-hitting Steve Clevenger moved to Iowa recently, and they won’t be sending him back willingly to Tennessee any time soon. He is hitting like Chirinos did last year.
Then there’s Hak-Ju Lee, the leading hitter in the high-A Florida State League. Lee will undoubtedly represent South-Division Charlotte at shortstop in the FSL all-star game. His counterpart from the North will likely be Daytona’s Junior Lake, who is hitting .292 as a leadoff hitter, with 14 stolen bases. Lake is the same age as Starlin Castro, just turned 21. The Cubs have a very attractive 19-year-old shortstop prospect, Arismendy Alcantara, at Peoria. 22-year-old Marwin Gonzalez is a slick-fielding lefty-hitting shortstop with pop at Tennessee. The shortstop position was not gutted by the trade. Even if it had been, the Cubs are set at that position for the foreseeable future.