Last year in 2014, AAA Iowa was a place where the top prospects in the organization, including Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Jorge Soler played. This year, Iowa turned into something altogether different. It became more of a storehouse of players who might be needed in case of injury. There were only a few players on the roster who figured into the long term plans of the Cubs. Most of the roster projects as bench players, at best, beyond this year. In a prefect world, the Cubs should clean house at Iowa to make way for several prospects with long term potential.
Who Stays in the Organization?
Looking beyond 2015, I honestly don’t see a lot of the current Iowa roster returning to the Cubs organization next year. There are, however, a few exceptions. Javy Baez, who is on a tear again, shouldn’t be going anywhere unless it is Chicago. He’s still only 22 years old and I don’t see the Cubs giving up on a player that young.
When it comes to other current position players at Iowa, I don’t think you can count on many remaining. Just this week, Rubi Silva was released to make room for Emilio Bonifacio. Some of the so-called top prospects who have been around for several years, a group that includes Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcanatara, John Andreoli, and even Matt Szcur, could be thrown into a trade this winter.
Outside of Andreoli, all have had a chance in Chicago and it didn’t work for whatever reason. Despite Joe Maddon’s love for Alcantara, the versatile young player has not made any adjustments to get back to Chicago. In fact, he is having a very poor season at Iowa (.233/12/31). At 23, I think the Cubs will try to fix him. It could take a while, but Alcantara needs to learn to go the other way instead of trying to pull everything.
As for pitchers sticking beyond this year, the pickings are slim in a group that is mainly 27-29 years old. Carl Edwards, Jr. might be the lone exception, as he is very close to being ready to help in the big leagues. Armando Rivero has just not worked out. At 27, his days could be numbered.
Coming Up: New Blood
I think the Cub farm system is becoming deep enough to where they have enough quality players to move from AA Tennessee to AAA Iowa next year. In doing so, the Cubs system will actually be strengthened quite a bit with the infusion of talent coming from the bottom up. And, with most of the current Chicago 25-man roster set for a couple of years, those prospects will have plenty of time to continue developing as few positions on the roster will be available.
The three names I think you’ll see start out at Iowa in 2016 from Tennessee are Pierce Johnson, Ryan Williams, and Felix Pena. Johnson and Williams both had excellent years at AA Tennessee. I also think you’ll see several relievers, namely PJ Francescon, Michael Jensen, Taylor Scott, and Matt Brazis, also make the move to Iowa.
With a large majority of High-A Myrtle Beach’s starters and relievers ready to move forward to Tennessee next summer, cleaning house will have a domino effect through the organization. Players are going to have to perform to play and move forward. For example, a player and former top prospect like Corey Black is going to have to produce to make it to the next level. He struggled this year converting to a reliever and the Cubs will not promote him to Iowa until his performance dictates.
The lower levels are filled with quality pitchers who are going to push those above them for a job. In Theo Epstein’s opening remarks when he took over in late 2011, and that he has reiterated at every Cubs Convention since, the Cubs are looking to build a self-sustaining system on the premise of redundancy and competition at every position. That type of farm system will be ready in the next year or two. A house-cleaning at Iowa might ensure some space to do just that.
Looking at Tennessee’s roster, there are a lot of players ready to move forward, especially from the infield and behind the plate. C Willson Contreras, 1B Dan Vogelbach, 2B Stephen Bruno, and 3B Jeimer Candelario are all developed enough to make the move to AAA in 2016. Outfielder Billy McKinney, although currently injured, is also ready to make the jump. Outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. is getting closer offensively, along with Bijan Rademacher, who like Almora, Jr., has had a nice second half surge after a rough first half. Jacob Hannemann likely will stay behind in Tennessee for a little bit next spring for some work on his hitting. His defense, like Almora’s, is major league ready now.
What this means in the end…
The Cubs are going to have a lot of talent the next couple years heading towards to Des Moines, and ultimately Chicago. This year’s roster at Iowa was very thin. It had its moments with Bryant and Russell, then Schwarber, and later with Javy Baez, but it also had a lot of players who were 27-29 years old and on their last legs in baseball, not just with the Cubs. I don’t expect to see any of those players in Des Moines next summer. I expect to see a lot of new blood.
I think it’s a good thing that Iowa is really culled this winter. I think it strengthens the system with the players you have drafted and signed in international free agency. It is also a great sign that the Cubs system is so deep that it will not have to supply its AAA team with cast-offs and AAAA players. Instead, Iowa will be a team filled with players who have the potential to help the big league club as long term players. I think those are the players that AAA Iowa is supposed to have.