Chicago Cubs: Don’t blame player development (too much) for collapse

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Ian Happ / Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs: It’s been a mixed bag developing guys at the big league level

A seemingly more serious problem is that system-grown players drafted since 2014 have contributed little to the Cubs (or anyone else). The Astros managed to produce Alex Bregman, drafted in 2015, and the Dodgers developed Walker Buehler and Will Smith, drafted in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

But player development did contribute significantly to the post-Series Cubs. All of Contreras’ and almost all of Baez’s contributions happened after 2016.

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Even if one accepts my rather back-of the-envelope method of evaluating player development success, it obviously leaves a lot of things out. For one thing, development occurs at the major league level too.

Jake Arrieta only became Jake Arrieta when he got to Chicago, after three grim seasons with the Orioles. On the other hand, the Cubs have struggled to develop Happ since his arrival in the majors.

Happ has been awful this year, though he is due some positive regression given his ghastly BABIP, which as of this writing is .252. This would be the 11th-worst in baseball if Happ had enough plate appearances to qualify. (Rizzo somewhat surprisingly is 10th). Even if Happ’s bat does recover, it may not be good enough to play in left, and his center field defense is just OK.

It’s certainly fair to say the Cubs’ farm system did not prevent the long decline, and it has had some missteps. However, during Epstein’s tenure it performed in the aggregate about as well as two other organizations generally considered to be among the best in the game.

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The problem was not so much the farm’s lack of production as the depth of the hole the Cubs needed to fill. We’ll explore that further in a future post.