Tom Gorzelanny is on his way to Washington where he should have a chance to compete for a slot in the starting rotation. Coming back to the Cubs are three pretty interesting looking prospects. The players coming back to the Cubs aren’t the same calibre of prospect as Hak-Ju Lee, who the Cubs sent to Tampa in the Garza deal, but that doesn’t make it a bad trade. This is simply the Cubs trading from today’s strength in hopes of helping tomorrow’s team. In other words, it was a good move. Just how good a move it was depends on what we can expect from the players coming back. So, let’s have a look at Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris, and Graham Hicks.
Outfielder Michael Burgess is a power hitter, no doubt about that. His 18 HR and 85 RBIs between high A and double last year are testimony to that. As is all too typical with power hitters, Burgess does have a problem with strikeouts. Between the two leagues last season he struck out 25% of the time, and that rate was consistent between the two leagues.
In the Arizona Fall League, that rate climbed a bit to 31%, but I’m still not that worried. Look at his Arizona numbers again, but this time focus on his numbers with bases empty, runners on, and runners in scoring position. With the bases empty, the situation that we would expect to be the roughest on a hitter due to the pitcher being able to use his entire arsenal of pitches, Burgess hit .242 and struck out 18% of the time. Granted, he had just 33 AB in that situation. With runners on base, his strikeout rate jumped to roughly 45%. Why?
I’m guessing the answer is that when Burgess comes to the plate with runners on base, he is trying to do too much. When a hitter tries to swing for the fence, pitchers can often take advantage. That type of aggressive attitude in potential RBI situations is a great thing for a player to have, he just needs to learn to harness his aggressiveness and not swing at bad pitches. Fortunately, he has one of the best training staffs in baseball around him and at least two years before we can expect to see him in Wrigley. It is way to early to decide if Burgess will work out or not. The potential is clearly there, but, based on his numbers, I’d say how far he goes is largely up to him.
A.J. Morris is another fairly high draft pick. A right handed starter, Morris has pitched at the rookie level as well as both levels of A, and has had some success. Looking at his 2010 numbers, his BB/9 are a touch high at 2.9, but his K/BB ratio is a nice 2.54. That number will only improve as he cuts down on the walks a bit. His HR/9 is a pristine 0.5. He has both started and come out of the pen, which is good for the Cubs. His odds of making it to Wrigley are probably much higher as a reliever due to the depth of right handed pitching in the Cubs system, but I wouldn’t count him out in either roll. While Burgess is generally seen as the key acquisition for the Cubs, I think Morris needs to be considered just about as highly. He is still a couple of years away from Wrigley, but I will be very surprised if we don’t hear from him again.
That leaves left hander Graham Hicks, another fairly high draft pick. At 20, Hicks is the youngest of the trio. In general, Hicks’ numbers look a lot like Morris’, only one level further down. His walks are a bit high, his strikeouts right where we want them, and his home runs allowed nice and low. His H/9 is way too high, but given his age I think this is something that can improve with time. Hicks is the furthest away of the three, but is a very welcome addition for a Cubs farm system that is weak on left handed pitching.
I expect Burgess will start at AA Tennessee and not move from there until he can harness his power and cut back on the strikeouts, especially in key situations. Morris doesn’t look to have anything left to prove in A ball, so I think he should arrive in Tennessee fairly shortly. Right now I have Hicks penciled in for Daytona ,but I think Peoria is about as likely.
All in all, I think this is a good trade for the Cubs. Any of these three guys could appear in the majors one day, or none of them. Regardless, they are all three good gambles to take. Gorzelanny was getting crowded out of the Cubs rotation, so getting this much potential in return for him has to be considered a win.