When I heard earlier this winter that a New York-Penn League short-season affiliate had become available, I remember thinking that it would be cool if the Cubs added another short-season team. I was disappointed that the Cubs did not snatch up that affiliate, as I thought it offered a unique opportunity to expand the lower part of the system.
So imagine my surprise when I got home after my Scholastic Bowl obligations and noticed this little blurb in an article about the Cubs minor league coaching staffs for the 2018 season:
Jonathan Mota begins his first year as a manager, taking over the club’s second rookie league team in Mesa.
I was taken aback because the rest of the piece was relatively ho-hum stuff about the coaching staffs and this was just sort of dropped in the article without any kind of fanfare. Oh yeah, we added another team, no big deal. The more I thought about it, the more I began to really like the level at which they added another affiliate to the system.
The Cubs have been bringing in around 30-35 new international free agents on a yearly basis. Add in another 25 or so draft picks and that’s a pretty substantial number of players flooding into the system each year. Combine that with the lack of turnover at the big-league level and you can see how they’re easily able to populate another team.
It’s easy to see the general benefits, but here are some specific reasons the Cubs adding another rookie-level team is a great idea.
This is a great opportunity for many young players to get more at-bats and playing time than they would in a normal short-season league. Most prospects are forced to share playing time over the course of a 50-60 game season, but this enables them to spread their wings a bit more. More players will get everyday playing time, training their bodies and getting used to the grind that much earlier. They will see more pitches, get more at-bats, and get more work in the field.
The idea of creating six more starting rotation positions in the lower minors is very appealing. The Cubs have publicly acknowledged an organizational shift when it comes to developing pitchers, so this goes a long way toward providing key access to the mound on a steady basis and allowing these young men to stretch out their arms a bit earlier in their careers.
I love the fact that this could create more competition within the organization and thereby improve play and performance as players have to really work to earn a promotion to Eugene.
When prospects from the other levels of the system are injured, they go to Mesa to do rehab that includes strength and conditioning as well as getting some work in during the Arizona Rookie League. Those rehabbing players end up usurping playing time from the young prospects in the Arizona Rookie League. Having this second team prevents some of that.
When the 2018 Arizona Rookie League season begins in the middle of June, both teams are going to have serious international flavor to their rosters. Much of that will consist of pitching talent and I am excited to see how it all shakes out and which arms end up proving themselves in this new setup.