Heading into this season, the main strength of the Cubs’ minor league system was position players. Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennen Davis, Kevin Alcantara, and Cristian Hernandez lead a strong group of players that will be key members of the Cubs lineup in the future.
As a result, one of the main priorities for Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office has been building the organization’s pitching depth. Selecting pitchers with 16 of 20 MLB Draft selections and prioritizing pitching prospects at the trade deadline were two major steps toward adding to the pitching depth in the organization.
Cubs Prioritize Pitching Prospects in Deadline Deals
Of the five major trades the Cubs made at the trade deadline, only one player who returned to the organization was a position player, Zach McKinstry. Every other trade resulted in the Cubs receiving pitching prospects in return.
One of the most surprising deals of the deadline was the Cubs trade with the Yankees, which sent Scott Effross to New York in exchange for pitching prospect Hayden Wesneski. Wesneski has the potential to be an MLB starter in the future, and is almost ready to make his MLB debut. While Effross has multiple years remaining before he becomes a free agent, Wesneski is 24, four years younger than Effross, and will likely be a starting pitcher.
David Robertson was one of the best relievers available at this summer’s trade deadline, and he was eventually traded to the Phillies in exchange for pitching prospect Ben Brown. Brown is the 25th best prospect in the Phillies’ system according to FanGraphs but has had a breakout season so far. Brown had a 3.08 ERA in 73 innings for the Phillies High-A affiliate this year, with 12.95 K/9.
Mychal Givens and Dixon Machado were both also traded for pitchers. Saul Gonzalez, the pitcher the Cubs received from the Mets in the Givens trade, is currently in Low-A, where he has a 2.81 ERA. Raynel Espinal, who the Cubs received from the Giants in exchange for Machado, made two MLB appearances in 2021, and has had success in the minors in the past.
Overall, the Cubs had a clear goal at this year’s trade deadline, which was to acquire pitching depth for the organization in exchange for the relievers they traded. It reflects on a broader organizational strategy that seems to have been in place at this year’s MLB draft as well.
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Draft Deadline Show Front Office Goals
One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for the Cubs not having the sustained success the organization expected in 2015 was due to an inability to develop pitchers within the organization. It required the Cubs to look outside the organization for pitchers in both the bullpen and the rotation, and eventually made it difficult to build a truly competitive roster.
Heading into this year the Cubs’ minor league system had a similar balance of pitching prospects as it did in 2013 and 2014; meaning most of the best prospects in the organization were position players.
As a result, the Cubs have been extremely aggressive in acquiring pitching prospects this year. The trade deadline is another situation where that goal has become clear. At the deadline, the Cubs traded for one player who could contribute to their bullpen this year, Espinal, one who could contribute to it in the future, Gonzalez, and two potential members of the starting rotation in the future; Brown and Wesneski.
When the context that 16 of the 20 selections made by the Cubs at the draft this year were pitchers is added, it becomes clear what Jed Hoyer and GM Carter Hawkins are trying to accomplish. The organization believes it has the depth of position player prospects to have success in the future, and wants to ensure that there is pitching depth to support the lineup.
It is encouraging that Hoyer wants to address what was an area of concern from 2015-2020. As the Cubs move into the future the organization needs to avoid the same mistakes that put them in the position they are currently in. Adding almost 20 pitching prospects to the organization in the last two months will help Hoyer and the Cubs accomplish that.
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