The Jim Hendry era in Chicago was known for stockpiling rentals, aging veterans and a high payroll.
The June Draft hardly ever panned out under his leadership, and the minor league system suffered greatly.
Following the recent trades pulled by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, the Cubs system looks better than ever. In dealing front-of-the line starter Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers yesterday, Chicago pulled in a series of prospects that adds a plethora of depth to the system.
First, and foremost, third baseman Mike Olt came to the Cubs. Olt was ranked the second-best prospect in the Texas Rangers organization, according to Baseball America, and was ranked as the 44th-best prospect in all of baseball in the midseason prospect rankings put out by the publication.
Olt is now known as a “low-average, high power” third baseman, according to scouting reports. Since his return from vision problems that plagued him in April, Olt has hit just .213 but has hit 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs. His best season, which came in 2012 with Double-A Frisco, Olt tagged 28 home runs and drove in 82 runs while hitting .288. However, since suffering a concussion last year, he has yet to regain that form.
Pitcher Justin Grimm was added in the Garza deal as well, and has struggled this season after showing signs of promise earlier in his career, and likely won’t amount to much more than a dependable back-of-the-rotation arm for Chicago, or maybe a long-relief arm in the pen. Although still in the low-levels of the minors, C.J. Edwards could prove to be the deciding piece of this deal long-term, as he has dazzled in his limited professional career.
This season, the left-hander was assigned to Class A Hickory in the Texas League. “He had started 18 games and had fashioned a record of 8-2. His ERA at the time of the trade was an outstanding 1.83 with a 1.029 WHIP,” according to MLB.com. At just 21 years old, and being a former 48th Round pick, he could proved to be a sleeper in this whole discussion.
“What it comes down to is we had the players to do it,” Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said following the trade. ”The work our scouts and our player development [people] and coaches and trainers . . . have done to allow us to put these guys in a deal and get a pitcher of Matt’s caliber can’t be overstated.”
Time will tell, but it looks like Texas’ desire to win a World Series soon paid dividends for Chicago.
All of this talent was part of the Garza trade, and completely ignores the talent that is already working its way through the Cubs system. The accolades of organizational top prospect Javier Baez have not gone unnoticed by Cubs fans, as he’s hitting .263 with 27 home runs and 65 RBIs between Advanced-A and Double A this season, including a four-home run game earlier this year.
Albert Almora and Jorge Soler have also improved over the course of the season, but are still unlikely to debut for the big league club until 2015 at the earliest. All three of these prospects are projected to be part of the team’s 2016 starting lineup, according to Baseball America.
Beyond the obvious names all Cubs fans know, first baseman Dan Vogelbach has shown a lot of pop in the lower levels of the minors, pounding 14 homers while driving in 62 RBIs. More importantly, he has hit almost .300 over the course of the season.
There are two prospects whose stock is fading fast – Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. Jackson is struggling to stay above the Mendoza line in Iowa, hitting just over .220 with an on-base percentage of just .300. He has shown a lack of plate discipline over the past few years, and with Soler, Almora and Junior Lake on the rise, time is running out.
With the team’s First Round pick in the June MLB Draft going towards Kris Bryant, it’s clear that the organization is ready to move forward with a new plan at the hot corner. Josh Vitters has managed a respectable .297 mark with Iowa this season, but has played in just 23 games – a very limited sample size.
What is clear is that under Epstein and Hoyer, the Chicago Cubs organization is going in a direction not seen for decades – pursuing a title with young talent taught how to play the game the right way – the Cubs Way.