The Cubs will be adding a few players to their 40-man roster in the next few weeks, so Cubs Insider has spent the last month or so discussing several prospects who are up for inclusion. Catching phenom Miguel Amaya looks to be a lock, righty reliever Dakota Mekkes should be added, and Oscar de la Cruz presents an interesting case.
Today, you’re getting two-for-one.
Zack Short and Trent Giambrone tend to be linked together based on circumstance. Both were selected in 2015 on day three of the draft and both played middle infield together that first year at Eugene. Then in 2016, they went their separate ways for a couple of years. Giambrone headed to Myrtle Beach while Short went to South Bend, but they would eventually catch up to one other in 2018 at Double-A Tennessee and again in 2019 at Triple-A Iowa.
Even without the timing aspects, stylistic similarities make comparisons inevitable. Short and Giambrone are somewhat short and speedy infielders who also have shown the ability to hit for power. And though Short has gotten more praise for his defensive skills, both are excellent in the field. Yet with all that seems to be working in their favor, the odds are against them when it comes to being added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster in December.
What seems to be holding them back is the ability to hit for average. Short has gotten by in the system because of an outstanding plate approach that has see him post on base percentages from .360-.400 in the minors. He showed that propensity to draw walks in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, reaching at a .360 clip.
Giambrone had a streaky 2019 that saw him hit 23 home runs while riding a roller coaster of monthly batting averages. He hit .241 in April, then went down to .194 in May and back up to .264 in June. He then peaked at .284 in July before falling back to .230 in August. While it’s not at all uncommon for players to go through streaks, the lack of consistency in general is an issue.
If not selected for the 40-man, both would become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in early December. Due the nature of that process and the level at which Short and Giambrone have performed, the Cubs are likely to take a chance that other GMs are not willing to take either player.
As a quick primer, a team that selects a player in that draft must pay his previous team $100,000 and add the player to their 25 man roster. If the new team chooses not to roster the player, he must be placed on outright waivers and, if he clears, must be offered back to his original team for $50,000. Only if the original team chooses not to reacquire him can the player be assigned to the minors with his new team.
All that said, I really like Short as a future bench player. He can hit for power, steal some bases, he’s got a great eye at plate, and he’s an outstanding defender. Being the more athletic of the two gives him a better shot at the 40-man and being a Rule 5 selection.
Giambrone, on the other hand, provides a little more defensive versatility as he played 32 games in the outfield at Iowa in 2019. He’s played everywhere but catcher and center field and he’s got enough pop to be an interesting option.
When it comes down to it, the Cubs are looking to add players who have dominated at the upper levels of minors. Though both players in question have had dominant stretches, neither has sustained it for long periods of time. I hope to see Short get more of a shot at Triple-A in 2020 after missing half of 2019 to an injury he sustained when he was hit by a pitch on his wrist. Giambrone just needs to display more consistent offensive performance.
The Cubs have struggled over the past four summers when it comes to evaluating their own players while also figuring out how other teams value their prospects. That whole production-over-talent thing Theo Epstein talked about last offseason wasn’t just about the big club, as the Cubs have favored athleticism a little too heavily in the minors as well.
With new directors of pitching and hitting in place, new philosophies — at least we have to hope that’s the case — will be dictating decisions on drafting and development moving forward. Will that mean taking bigger risks with players like Short and Giambrone? We will find out soon enough.