In a change from the tiresome (if still totally understandable) discourse surrounding the Cubs’ big club, the minor league system continues to get loads of love. That includes predictions from Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of the Pipeline Podcast, both of whom lavished praise on the organization’s up-and-comers. And these aren’t two dudes talking out their backsides just to gas people up, they know their stuff.
Though more than a few Cubs fans more or less gave up on Pete Crow-Armstrong after [checks notes] a whopping 19 plate appearances, the talent is clearly still there. In addition to what is believed to be a starting price north of $200 million for a duration the front office finds unpalatable, part of the reason Cody Bellinger hasn’t felt like a priority is that PCA may be ready to take over full-time in center.
Even if the Cubs do end up forging a reunion with their bounceback star, having first base open and knowing they need more than three or four outfielders will give Crow-Armstrong plenty of room to roam. One of the experts believes there’ll be enough room to earn the organization’s top-rated prospect NL Rookie of the Year honors.
“[H’s] coming off of a 20/30 season in the Minors,” said Mayo. “We know about his defense. The defense and speed will keep him in the lineup every single day, and he’s going to contribute, and I think he’s going to hit enough for the counting numbers that a lot of people pay attention to [and that] will matter. I think his combination of talent and opportunity made him a solid, albeit, far from slam-dunk pick for me.”
Spending that much time in Chicago would push PCA from the prospect rankings, which Callis believes will be a good thing for the system in a way. The Cubs have so much depth on the farm that matriculation to the majors will actually improve their standing in comparison to the 29 other teams, perhaps even leading them to a No. 1 overall ranking.
“I went with the Cubs because I think they have the potential for the most Top 100 prospects at the end of the year when guys have graduated,” Callis explained. “Pete Crow-Armstrong is going to graduate this year. I think Cade Horton is going to graduate…
“Right now, Owen Caissie, Kevin Alcántara, Ben Brown, and Matt Shaw are all in the Top 100 list… I think Jackson Ferris is going to be a Top 100 guy by the end of the year. I think James Triantos is going to be a Top 100 guy by the end of the year. They’ve got Jefferson Rojas, super young international signee who they kind of fast-forwarded to Single-A last year and he held his own.”
Shaw stands out for Callis, who named the former Terrapin his biggest riser among the top 100 prospects. Currently ranked No. 96, it’s possible the slugging infielder forces his way to Chicago in 2024 and actually ruins this prediction in the best possible way.
“A little of the risk with him is that he could hit his way into the Cubs lineup by midseason, in which case he’ll be off the list,” Callis said. “They are crowded in the middle infield, obviously with Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson. I think he could wind up at third base. He could push Nico over to third and play second. That’s really my only concern with Matt Shaw — that he graduates. He soars up the list and graduates.”
I love the idea of Shaw being up next season, but I hate the thought of moving a Gold Glove second baseman over to the hot corner to accommodate a rookie who will likely represent a big defensive downgrade. For what it’s worth, I have equal disdain for moving Hoerner to third in order to allow Christopher Morel to play the keystone. Part of it is that I don’t buy the talk about Shaw’s arm not being able to handle third
I mean, have you ever seen Nick Madrigal over there? He basically had to do a pulldown every time he fielded a grounder, and he still ended up being one of the best defensive third basemen by several metrics. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing endeavor, but it worked. With Shaw, you have an opportunity to fill a position of need with a bat that will have a much greater impact than Madrigal’s.
This isn’t a call for the Cubs to simply roll with the young guys, though I do believe that’s part of the reason Craig Counsell was brought in. David Ross didn’t have a very deft touch when it came to balancing development with competitiveness, which may have driven a bit of a wedge between him and the front office over the course of this past season. And while I don’t want Counsell to be forced to manage a younger, cheaper roster, I’m confident he’s better equipped to do so than his predecessor.
Ah, but knowing how much talent they’ve got coming up to the upper reaches of the minors and even the bigs should give Jed Hoyer that much more confidence to take a big swing or two between free agency and trades. Lock down a position or three with proven veterans and allow the young guys to fill in…or to be part of what brings those players over. Having the best farm system means nothing if you just keep all those prospects in-house and let them block one another.
Bellinger’s fate should tell us which direction the Cubs are taking in ’24 and maybe beyond, but it’s long been clear that the system will have to provide a whole lot of the fuel for the journey.