At the beginning of the 2019 season, Driveline Baseball attempted to quantify a team’s ability to acquire and develop players over the past seven years (2012-19). By creating a database of minor league players based on their tools and net present value, their researchers were able to roughly gauge the effectiveness of a team’s scouting and player development departments.
The start of that study coincides with Theo Epstein’s regime in Chicago, which began in October of 2011. In Boston, Epstein was able to build a system that consistently produced major leaguers, but MLB’s rules were different then when it came to acquiring amateur talent. Although the Cubs did take advantage before an international free agency loophole was closed (netting them Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres), no longer were teams allowed to go massively over their IFA or MLB Draft budgets.
That meant development would have to precedence when it came to building the next winning Cubs team(s), since throwing money at the farm wouldn’t be enough. So how have the Cubs fared over that time?
According to Driveline, quite poorly. While big market teams like the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros can all be seen at the top of the list, the Cubs finished in the bottom five. When breaking it down between position players and pitchers, it’s quite obvious what has been hurting them. Based on the study’s estimates, the Cubs have generated a net loss of $126 million thanks to their lack of pitching development over the past seven years.
Their pitchers have not displayed significant velocity gains, which is a big part of what led them to shift to a more aggressive development philosophy. And, other than David Bote, the Cubs have also failed to hit on late-round draft picks. Those two factors have led to the Cubs having a bottom five farm system, but they’re showing signs of improvement on both fronts.
While the top of the system is still littered with highly drafted position players, a few pitchers have made noticeable strides. We’ve already seen Adbert Alzolay — who is currently shut down with right biceps scoreness — in Chicago, and Tyson Miller had a great season at Double-A before his recent promotion to Triple-A. Ryan Jensen is emblematic of the new philosophy the Cubs are employing and Richard Gallego has displayed promising traits.
Perhaps most intriguing of all is Brailyn Marquez, the 20-year-old southpaw who recently set a South Bend Cubs record with 14 strikeouts over just six innings of work. He did it with a fastball that hit 101 mph and a wicked slider that he was able to command. Even if Marquez never reaches his ceiling, the floor is pretty high.
As for the draft picks, Zack Short (No. 11) is the first player not drafted in the first five rounds who appears on the MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Cubs prospects list. He’s struggled with injuries this season, but has been excellent when healthy. Trent Giambrone (25th round, No. 20) and Dakota Mekkes (10th round, No. 24) are the only others to appear.
Although the success rate of draft picks drops substantially after the first few rounds, the Cubs’ general inability to identify and develop players from later in the draft doesn’t bode well for the future. This will have a long-lasting impact, since they’ll need to have young players waiting in the wings once this current core’s window comes to an end after the 2021 season.
Whereas the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros still have farm systems brimming with talent, the Cubs do not. And if they can’t successfully develop this current crop of minor leaguers, particularly pitchers and later draft picks, another rebuild may be in order for the early part of the next decade.