Lost in all the hubbub of the Theo Epstein news was the fact that the Cubs signed six minor league free agents and assigned them to Triple-A Iowa. The most recognizable names are Jerry Vasto and Ian Miller, both of whom were re-signed after testing the market a bit. The other four players are pitchers Jake Jewell and D.J. Snelten, outfielder Rafael Ortega, and catcher Taylor Gushue.
Miller was having a very good spring training and even led the league in stolen bases as he made a strong case to make the 26-man roster. He quickly became a favorite of Cubs Insider, but never really got a chance to showcase hit skills following the shutdown. Considering the financial constraints the Cubs are under next year as a result of the pandemic, Miller stands a pretty good chance of making the squad, especially after a few players are non-tendered by December 2.
Vasto, a left-handed reliever, was originally signed by the Cubs two winters ago but has failed to pitch in a game due to injuries. The 28-year-old had some success with the Royals in 2018 in just five games and was in spring training in 2020 before the pandemic hit, so he could have a shot if he is healthy next spring.
Gushue is a 26-year-old switch-hitting catcher who was drafted by the Pirates in the fourth round out of Florida in 2014. Outside of 2018, he’s had a pretty good career in the minors and I’m not sure why the Pirates and Nats gave up on him. He hit 11 home runs in 74 games for Triple-A Fresno, the Nationals’ Pacific Coast League affiliate in 2019. That’s an area in which the Cubs system needs improvement.
— Gigantes del Cibao ® (@Gigantes_Cibao) October 23, 2018
Jewell’s unfortunate claim to fame is suffering a broken leg while covering home plate as a member of the Angels in 2018. He pitched an underwhelming 28 innings for Anaheim in both 2018 and 2019, but he is still only 27 and had a pretty good career in the minors after he moved from the rotation to the bullpen. This might be a matter of just getting healthy.
Ortega has had a pretty long minor league career since signing at 16 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. The experience of nearly 4,700 plate appearances in the minors hasn’t translated into any success at the major league level, but the 29-year-old hit 21 home runs at Triple-A Gwinnett and had had enough chances with the Braves to have tallied nearly one full season of work over four partial campaigns.
Snelton has taken a circuitous route to get to Chicago, including pitching for the Chicago Dogs in 2019. The Lake Forest native struck out 112 batters in 118 innings and recent videos have surfaced of him throwing 100 mph at Driveline throwing close to 100 miles an hour. A former Rays farmhand, the southpaw was a reliever who wound up being used as a starter in independent ball.
He's available to sign with your favorite team!
And, next time, DJ promises he will hit 101 wearing his PitchingNinja T shirt. pic.twitter.com/K3Tfv7HvSN
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) November 10, 2020
This is just the first wave of several minor league free agents the Cubs are going to sign this winter. Considering their overall lack of position player depth at the upper levels, we’re likely to see a pretty steady stream of additions over the course of the winter. They’re also likely to add more lefty relievers like Snelten, as that seems to be an area the Cubs need to strengthen.