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August 11, 2010

Future Shock

Org Watch: Cubs, Indians, Blue Jays

by Kevin Goldstein

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It's going to be a fairly competitive stretch run—with the exception of the American League West, all divisions are seemingly up for grabs. Still, though, like every mid-August of a baseball season, certain teams are already cooked. Today we're going to look at the future potential of three such squads: the Cubs, Indians, and Blue Jays.

For the Cubs, only one major contract comes off the books this winter—so the rebuild could take a few years.

The Indians used to be the model for building mid-market teams; that's less the case these days, but their system is very deep.

The Jays suffer the fate of playing in the AL East—and to compound that problem, their organization is not currently rich in talent.

The Cubs

The bad news here is that the team is still more than a year away from being able to begin a true rebuilding process; the only big contract coming off the books this winter is Derrek Lee.

While shortstop Starlin Castro and righty Andrew Cashner have given the club a minor glimpse of the future, the problem is runs scored (the Cubs are currently 12th in the NL ). Josh Vitters hasn't lived up to expectations, so Brett Jackson is the only guy in the system who can seemingly contribute offensively in the next couple of years.

There's better news on the pitching level—but much of that goes to the Cubs' hopefully making the decision to return Cashner to the rotation. After selecting him with their first pick in 2008 as the top college closer in the county, the Cubs made the risky decision to convert him to a starter, but they handled the transformation in a way that should be a template for every team considering the same. To toss all of that work aside for a 60-70 inning reliever would be a sad waste of fantastic execution.

Another potential answer could be—believe it or not—Jeff Samardzija. His bonus was a little ridiculous and his career major-league ERA is 5.89, but at Triple-A Iowa, he's added an 87-90 mph cutter that finally gives him a second pitch. This should help him be more successful the next time he's pitching at Wrigley Field. Also at Triple-A, righty Jay Jackson should be able to contribute in a starting or relief role, but the inability to score runs could plague this team for years to come.

The Indians

In the mid-1990s under John Hart, the Indians were a model for how to successfully build mid-market teams. It hasn't been the case of late, though. This year will be the ninth time in the past decade that Cleveland has missed the playoffs.

There's good news, though. Their farm system is very deep; at every position there are a few guys you could classify as "intriguing," even if there's not another true stud like Carlos Santana.

The biggest problems in the big-league lineup revolve around the infield, and the club has answers on the way. Converted to second base in the offseason, 2009 second-round pick Jason Kipnis has been nothing short of a revelation this year, batting .315/.398/.506 in his first full season at Double-A. At the hot corner, 2008 first-rounder Lonnie Chisenhall looks more and more like the answer. After a slow start, Chisenhall has found his power stroke of late, hitting six home runs in 87 at-bats since the All-Star break while slugging .540. Both he and Kipnis could be ready by 2011; when they make the Indians' big-league lineup, they should be above-average everyday players at their positions.

The club's two most recent first-rounders, left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz (2010) and right-hander Alex White (2009), both look like future rotation stalwarts. The most pleasant surprise in the system has been another pitcher, 2009 third-round pick Joe Gardner. The UC Santa Barbara product doesn't light up a radar gun, but his sinker is among the best in the minors, as across two A-levels he's allowed just 82 hits in 120 innings while striking out 123.

The Blue Jays

While the Blue Jays are on the verge of their fourth winning season in the past six years, they haven't reached the postseason since their last World Series championship in 1993. That's partially (if not mostly) because of playing in the AL East; however, that fact isn't likely to change soon, so the Jays need to develop talent to give them a fighting chance.

Unfortunately, any such progress in that area is going to take some time. While J.P. Arencibia had a stunning big-league debut and should become a star-level offensive catcher in short order, most of the team's top position prospects are in A-ball or below and should offer little help in the near future.

In the eyes of most scouts, with Arencibia up, the only Blue Jays hitter at Double- or Triple-A who projects as an everyday player is 21-year-old Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who is already big-league ready (and more) on a defensive level and is making big strides with the bat; his line at Double-A New Hampshire is now .297/.333/.392.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Is Colvin not part of the Cubs future?

Aug 11, 2010 09:25 AM
rating: 2

The Indians are still following the same model for mid-market success; they just have not gotten the wave of development that occurred in the early to mid-90's.

It is amazing that they only have three players (Carmona, Hafner, and Sizemore) under "fair market" contracts for next season. All other players are either arbitration eligible or pre-arb. With so much young, intriguing talent, it looks like it will be another year of hoping that the next wave comes in.

Aug 11, 2010 10:29 AM
rating: 0

Kevin - looking only at guys already in the organization, who would be your picks for starting five among Blue Jays arms?

Aug 11, 2010 10:36 AM
rating: 1
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Kind of an ignorant statement to say "that fact isn't likely to change soon" regarding the Blue Jays. I think you've been spending too much time watching minor league baseball to see all the good things going on at the major league level. The rotation is young, cheap, controllable and has proven that they can handle the AL East at a very young age. Snider's performance since April has been jaw-dropping for a 22 year old (if only Cito would realize this), Lind & Hill have drastically underperformed and have shown strong signs of shaking that lately. Throw in the fact that ownership has publicly committed (through Beeston) to up the payroll to $130+ mil when the time is right to build around a strong, young nucleus. I believe they are committed to ~50 mil for next season which essentially brings back the same roster minus a few bullpen arms and Buck (Arencibia).

Aug 11, 2010 12:37 PM
rating: -4

Upon reading it again, I think "that fact" that KG is speaking of is the fact that the Blue Jays play in the AL East.

Aug 11, 2010 13:09 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Steph Bee
BP staff

I could certainly be wrong, but I think Kevin was referencing that the Jays being in the AL East is a fact that's not about to change anytime soon unless there is some sort of realignment. The Jays have to develop their talent because they don't have the payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox, and they don't have as deep of a farm system as the Rays. They've got talent, but because they are in the toughest division, it's going to be harder for them to make the playoffs because of the teams they play 19 times a year.

Aug 11, 2010 13:11 PM

"Lind & Hill have drastically underperformed"

Bautista has drastically overperformed, lets not forget about that.

Aug 11, 2010 13:17 PM
rating: 5

The obvious five pitchers for 2011 are Marcum, Romero, Morrow, Cecil and Drabek. For the price that they will be paid next year, does any rotation forecast as being more cost effective? As has already been stated, though, cost effective won't beat the Yankees or Red Sox in the East.

Aug 11, 2010 14:14 PM
rating: 0

Zach Stewart is also in the mix for the Jays' 2011 rotation, should someone get injured or traded. He's a good starting pitching prospect who has excelled over the last couple of months. The next tier of potential starters includes players like Mills, Rzepczynski, Litsch and Ray.

A front six of Romero/Marcum/Cecil/Morrow/Drabek/Stewart could be very good. The offense and defense probably isn't quite there yet, but with players like Snider, Arencibia, Escobar, Hill, Lind and Bautista, there is a good foundation in place at the major-league level. Adding a couple of players like Beltre or Crawford could vault the team in contention, although I expect AA to continue on the rebuilding path for the time being (which is probably wise).

Aug 11, 2010 16:06 PM
rating: 0

What about Chris Archer? Hasn't he established himself as someone who could get a shot in the rotation sometime next season?

Aug 11, 2010 21:17 PM
rating: 0

Is Zach Stewart going to get a September look do you think? And just how good a prospect is Hechevarria in the big picture?

Aug 11, 2010 21:41 PM
rating: 0

My guess is that Stewart will be recalled as long as it doesn't interfere with New Hampshire's AA playoff hopes. He's almost 24 and has earned a September callup with his performances over the last two years.

Aug 12, 2010 04:45 AM
rating: 0
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