We’ve already talked about the record and the run differential and the walk rate and blah, blah, blah regarding how good the Cubs offense has been this season. It’s been so good, in fact, that the spillover is impacting minor league pitchers. That’s because the Cubs don’t have room or need to call up the next wave of prospects currently hanging out in the waiting room that is AAA Iowa.
When Jorge Soler and Javier Baez first came up, the Cubs were an abject disaster on the field. When Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber were promoted, it was to a team that had yet to really gain its footing. Now, however, we’re talking about an organization that felt comfortable adding proven vets like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward in order to make a title run. Absent a cup of coffee here or there due to injury or DH help, they simply can’t or won’t be making the call to bring anyone up.
Not even Albert Almora, Dan Vogelbach, or Willson Contreras.
Every member of that trio is hitting at least .331 on the season, all are slugging around .500, and all boast an OPS of .847 or greater. In any other year, fans would be clamoring for a promotion or three. The narrative has changed a bit over the last few years, though, and the focus is back on the big league club instead of the farm. As such, the hype surrounding these particular players is significantly less than their more-heralded predecessors.
It’s quite a luxury to be able to keep this many MLB-ready players in the incubator and this is a testament to the system the Cubs have established from top to bottom. Okay, that’s all well and good, but when will we see these guys at Wrigley? That’s an interesting question, to be sure, and one I’d like to try to answer below.
You may know by now that I harbor a deep affinity for Almora and have since I first saw him play for high-A Daytona a couple years back. His defensive instincts and ability to get to nearly anything out in center highlight his skills, but he’s also a fiery competitor and a darn good hitter. The weak spot with Almora has always been his ability to draw walks and get on base, though that’s something he’s working to improve.
The 22-year-old is only reaching base at a .358 clip despite a .336 batting average and it’s likely that he’ll never develop into the top-of-the-order table-setter many people have wanted to project him as in the past. But as a glove-first center fielder, the bat and plate approach should be quite enough to allow Almora to hold his own at the Major League level.
Of course, the Cubs already have a center fielder and are rumored to be in the market for every corner outfielder in on every losing team in the league. Then again, Dexter Fowler is likely to opt out of his contract after this season and I believe the big-splash trades are little more than pipe dreams and idle speculation at this point. That means Almora will likely be a part of the expanded roster come September and will then be getting regular run come 2017.
There was much grumbling and head-scratching among the Cubs faithful when Tim Federowicz was called up to fill in during Miggy Montero’s recent DL stint. Why not Contreras, they asked, which would have been a fair question were the roster move made in June or July. Given the timing, however, it just didn’t make sense to call the kid up for a couple weeks of backup duty, even though Feddy Wap has remained beyond Miggy’s reactivation.
Don’t get me wrong, the young man is legit and could hit at the highest level right now. It’s the catching that needs more work and that’s not something that he can improve by getting back there every third day or so. Barring any further injuries, I envision Contreras following a path very similar to the one I just laid out for Almora, but with some slight tweaks.
I know it’s easy to become so enamored of a young player that you want to hand him the reins right away, particularly when his predecessors are getting a little long in the tooth. Montero is signed through next year and doesn’t figure to have a lot of trade value, so the Cubs need a way to make the most of their investment. That means keeping him on as a mentor for Contreras and gradually passing the torch as the year goes on.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made the following analogy, so forgive me if you’ve heard/read it from me already, but I see this as a father teaching his son to ride a bike without training wheels. Miggy will run along with his hand on the seat until Contreras is able to pedal on his own, eventually ceding control of the ride to his young charge.
This one’s a little bittersweet, as I just don’t think Vogelbach will make it to the Bigs with the Cubs. It’s not for lack of ability, just that the guy has nowhere to play. Well, unless the NL adopts the DH posthaste. There’s no question Vogelbach can rake, but he’s limited to first base and the Cubs kinda-sorta already have a guy there. Hence, the left-handed-hitting prospect’s name has been included in every trade proposal ever.
I got to see Vogelbach along with Almora in both Daytona and Tennessee and was thoroughly impressed by his leadership and his willingness to put the team first. Heck, he even bunted for a hit in that Smokies game, though he pulled his hammy in the process. This kid will be a solid major leaguer, the kind who contributes on the field and is a great clubhouse presence to boot. He’s exactly the type of player the Cubs covet.
He’s also the type of player other teams covet and, in the end, the only way for Chicago to get the most possible value from him is via trade. I know that sounds a little callous, but it’s also the best way for Vogelbach to fully realize his own potential. Until then, however, he’s going to be putting Pacific Coast League opponents through hell trying to get him out. Same goes for his teammates.
So, sorry AAA pitchers, but this trio of would-be Cubs is going to continue tuning you up for a few months.