So far, Josh Vitters looks like a beta version of the player he will become. By contrast, Starlin Castro, Hak-Ju Lee, Brett Jackson and D.J. LeMahieu have shown polished two-way skills that may propel them to the majors while Vitters is working on his glove, his plate discipline, his power stroke. Either way–whoever gets there first–it’s a bumper crop of position prospects. The glut of infielders may (or may not) push Vitters over to first. Jackson plays center field, where there is a big opening for him if he can rise in the ranks quickly and grab it.
All are babies. Lee turned 19 yesterday. Castro is 19 and Vitters barely 20. LeMahieu and Jackson turned 21 in July and August, respectively. Two other middle-infield prospects who have opened eyes in the organization, Junior Lake and Logan Watkins, are in this age cohort. Lake’s birth date is within a couple of days of Castro’s, and Watkins is the same age as Vitters.
While we’re inching up the age chart, Chris Archer, Kyler Burke and Chris Huseby are 21 and Jay Jackson turned 22 late last month. Casey Coleman is four months older than Jackson.
This array of talent among teens and low-twentysomethings on the Cub farm has surely aroused the curiosity of competing teams. When Jim Hendry calls a friendly GM and leaves a message about Milton Bradley, he should not be surprised when the call is returned. As long as the Cubs have Castro, Lee, LeMahieu, Flaherty, Barney, Watkins and Lake (not to mention Theriot) vying for the same shortstop position, Jim Hendry will be popular with his peers. If Hendry was willing to part with, say, Castro and Vitters, he could get a lot of money for them. The Red Sox just paid $8.5 million to 19-year-old Cuban Jose Iglesias. Iglesias and Castro are rival shortstops on the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL. Castro’s BA today is 200 points higher than the Cuban’s.
What Castro or Vitters or some of the others are worth today is of no interest to me, but I’m afraid it may mean something to Hendry, who could theoretically add prospects to a package involving Bradley, and a few more to a package involving Fukudome, and actually tempt other teams to assume financial responsibility for these overpriced Cubs. What other GMs would really be doing is paying fat signing bonuses to promising players who hit the ground running in A ball. It would not really be about Bradley and Fukudome.
Hendry likes to lay everything on the line for the next Cub season, and that tendency should hold in the weeks following a new owner’s announcement that the manager and the GM will be “held accountable” when next season is over. All right, then, he must be saying to himself, how do we win it all in 2010? I have no money to spend. Maybe there is a way . . .
The Cubs are an old team on the verge of becoming a very young team. 2010 is a transition season, which the Cubs can utilize in two ways. They can ride out one more year of Bradley and Fukudome, hoping that the two outfielders will produce numbers that make them tradeable a year from now. Even Milton Bradley will start to become tradeable as the clock winds down on 2011. Or they can shed the dead weight quickly and at the same time free up significant budget, simply by liquidating some of the wealth in the farm system.
I suspect that Jim Hendry is not thinking beyond 2010, and that the GMs he talks to in the next few weeks will find him open to creative ideas, though they may be destructive ideas in terms of the future of the Cubs. That future is in the hands of the owners now. I hope, when Hendry brings proposals on how to cure what ails the Cubs, they give him the advice given to doctors for two milennia: primum non nocere–first do no harm.