Chicago took Game 1 behind the Jon Lester-David Ross battery and Javier Baez's power.
David Ross doesn’t play all that often these days, what with Miguel Montero and Willson Contreras penciled in above him on the Cubs’ catching depth chart, but when he does—almost always every fifth day, when Jon Lester is pitching—he takes to the task with enormous seriousness of purpose. In his final big-league season, it’s his only chance to contribute to what has been a charmed season. As the league became increasingly aware that Lester—for whatever reason—doesn’t like to throw over to first, and so became increasingly enamored of taking the big lead and getting the early jump when Lester was pitching, Ross decided to take what had been a weakness and turn it into a strength.
In September, Major League Baseball plays a different game than in the other months of the regular season. With teams allowed to carry as many as 40 active players, the dynamics of every game are different. Every team has more pitching depth. Every team has better pinch-hitting and defensive replacement options. Since pitching depth and quality bench players are two of the game’s most scarce resources these days, the opening up of the rosters can force us to totally reevaluate teams on whom we were just starting to really get a handle.
About this time for each of the past few years, there have been calls for some sort of countermeasure, some game-to-game roster limitation that would turn September from an analog of baseball’s regular season to a more honest extension of it. I’m all for that, or alternatively, for replacing years of jail time for nonviolent crimes with a mandatory sentence of watching Terry Francona manage a close game in September. Until such a change comes, teams will continue to generate box scores that look like your history notes from freshman year of high school: loaded with more names than one can possibly keep straight, painstakingly footnoted, indented every so often for good measure, but ultimately, indecipherable, even to their creators.
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The Cubs have the luxury of getting creative in solving a problem other teams wish they had.
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Through Monday, Javier Baez was batting .311/.388/.522 in his first 103 plate appearances of the season at Triple-A Iowa. Despite dealing with the tragic loss of his younger sister at the beginning of the season, and taking time away from the team to share in his family’s grief, Baez appears to have absorbed (and made solid, critical strides toward implementing) the changes in approach and swing mechanics that became obviously necessary during his difficult rookie season.
View from the turtle during batting practice at this year's MLB Futures Game during All Star Weekend.
The Baseball Prospectus prospect team is constantly on the road, getting eyes on the top talent throughout baseball -- from the amateur ranks up through the majors. Moving forward I'll be working to bring you inside my travels (hopefully with contributions from others on the prospect team), including pictures and video. There will be a lot of baseball and some broader travel stuff if I think you might find it interesting.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Cubs shortstop Javier Baez and Cardinals lefty Rob Kaminsky.
Hitter of the Night: Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Iowa, AAA): 4-5, 2 R, 2 2B, HR.
No, one hot week doesn’t make up for six horrendous weeks, but it looks like Baez is officially out of his funk. He’s now 12-for-his-last-28 over his past seven games, and the power has returned as well, with five doubles and three home runs in that stretch. The most important indication that he’s turning things around, however, is that he has just five strikeouts over that span, and three of those came on Wednesday. For a player whose free-swinging ways are what gets him in trouble, putting the ball in play is half the battle, because when he does, he usually does it very hard.
Pitcher of the Night: Rob Kaminsky, LHP, Cardinals (Peoria, A-): 6 IP, 2 H, 2 R (0 ER), BB, 9 K.
Kaminsky’s big-time curveball has the ability to rack up strikeouts by the bunches when he’s throwing strikes, which he hasn’t done enough this year in his full-season debut.
Jurickson Profar makes his first appearance, but Gregory Polanco remains at the top.
The worst thing for a player who is performing at a high level in the minor leagues is to have a player (or players) ahead of him who is also getting the job done. This goes triple for position players, as a starting pitching prospect will force his way in there if his performance dictates that he deserves a job. If you look at the top names on this list (specifically the first five prospects), part of the reason why they are so prominently ranked is that they are significantly better from a talent perspective than what is ahead of them on the depth chart. Those five players, who are potentially going to be phased out, are (roughly) Travis Snider, Jon Jay, Luis Valbuena, Marc Krauss, and Cody Asche. Those are not impediments, they are placeholders.
The waters get much more murky when you have a player like Alexander Guerrero, who from a talent and performance standpoint should probably get a shot at major league playing time, but is behind Dee Gordon on the depth chart. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge obstacle, but Gordon (and his .385 on-base percentage) has been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball this season. So while Guerrero ends up in the Honorable Mention section again because he would likely get the call in the event of a Gordon injury, that’s a much less likely outcome than a near replacement player playing like a near replacement level player.
Notes on prospects who stood out over the weekend, including outfielders Victor Roache and Raimel Tapia.
Friday, May 2
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Iowa, AAA): 0-4, 2 K. When Baez homered in the I-Cubs’ final April game, we all hoped it would be the boost he needed to turn the page on a rough month. Instead, Baez is now 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts in May, including an 0-for-12 weekend that included eight punchouts. He’s not close right now.
We’ll keep the introduction short this week, but it’s the perfect time to touch on a very important topic, both when trying to predict which prospects will have both 2014 and long-term value.
Minor league statistics are deceiving. That’s not to say they can’t be informative, because they do tell the story of what has actually happened in professional games, but they don’t come close to explaining the whole picture. Take Eddie Butler for example—he’s been pitching well in Triple-A, but with the lowest strikeout rate of his minor league career. You could read this as a bad sign when you’re flipping through his Baseball Reference page, but the reality is that the stuff is still just as good as 2013 (if not better), and the Rockies are asking him to pitch to contact more.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo and Twins righty Alex Meyer
Hitter of the Night: Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets (St. Lucie, A+): 4-4, 2 R, 2B, HR.
Nimmo’s big day found him over the .400 mark on the season, but the real rarity on Monday night was that he actually didn’t take a walk. The extremely patient Nimmo takes a Votto-esque approach even to RBI situations, refusing to expand the strike zone for any occasion en route to 24 walks already this season and a .530 on-base percentage. How much power he will develop is still up in the air, but at the very least, he can hit atop a playoff-caliber lineup.
Pitcher of the Night: Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins (Rochester, AAA): 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K.
Meyer is pitching about as well as the Twins could have hoped for, with this being his second-straight 11-strikeout, scoreless start. There’s little doubt that Meyer is one of the five best starters in the Twins organization right now and is certainly better than Kevin Correa or Mike Pelfrey at the moment, but both of those guys have money committed to them. With a combined 6.04 ERA for their starting pitchers, the Twins need Meyer, but they don’t have a place for him unless they make a move. That may be enough justification to keep him in the minors until summer.
Javier Baez retains the top spot, but there's a new hot prospect ranked second.
Yes, there was no Stash List for the past two weeks, but that was all part of the plan. Any changes would be extremely minimal, as no one wants more overreaction to small sample sizes and there was never going to be much roster movement. Of course, then the Astros go and call up George Springer, and now everyone is eyeing the prospects on their benches and asking “why not me?”
Well, realistically, not for a while. The most impactful area of this column for the first two months of the season deals with prospects, and if you haven’t read Zachary Levine’s analysis on service time, it’s extremely important for stashers like you and me. We all know about Super Two, approximately when the deadline is and why teams do it. But it’s often forgotten that there are some big prospects who come up in the second half of April, once their teams have ensured that they don’t lose a full year of control.