There was quite a bit made about the Cubs losing Jeff Beliveau on waivers last week to the Rangers. Beliveau has the makings of a good lefty specialist (LOOGY) and he was the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year just the season before last. Did the Cubs give up on him too quickly? Or did a calculated gamble backfire?
Whether or not Beliveau will realize his promise with the Rangers’ organization or not is a debate for another day. But being named as a player or pitcher of the year in the Cubs organization has become more of an exercise in ‘whatever happened to’ than seeing the player meet or exceed expectations in blue pinstripes.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have repeated since day one that their goal is to build an organization with sustained success. To have a minor league system that is strong enough to feed the big league team with talent and keep the team playing in October so hopefully they will be able to knock the door down one day.
The Cubs minor league system has not produced enough quality players over the years. And there is a multitude of reasons as to why. Either from bad drafts or the unwillingness to spend over slot for the top talent in the draft or signing free agents tied to draft pick compensation and loosing those picks for that given year (see the 2006 draft) or not selecting the players recommended by the scouting director, the list goes on and on. And to add insult to bad drafting, the Cubs did not have a system-wide development plan in place to teach the game to the players in order to maximize their talent.
Only a handful of the organization’s pitchers and players of the year have contributed to the Cubs at the big league level since 2002. While players such as Chris Archer (2010), Brandon Guyer (2010), Kevin Hart (2007), Eric Patterson (2005), Sean Gallagher (2005), Renyel Pinto (2004) and Hee-Seop Choi (2002) have been used in trades to land Matt Garza, Rich Harden, John Grabow, Juan Pierre, Tom Gorzelanny and Derrek Lee, the list of the Cubs’ pitchers and players of the year have not become the Major League players that some thought they would.
Cubs Minor League Players and Pitchers of the Year 2012-2002
It is yet to be seen how Logan Watkins and Nick Struck will perform in the majors. Watkins has the tools to be the next Darwin Barney or at least a solid utility player. Struck has good stuff but some question if it will translate into outs in the big leagues.
Bryan LaHair had a career-year in 2011 both at the Triple-A level and in winter ball. LaHair then performed well enough in September to earn a shot the next season with the new regime. As with most career minor leaguers, LaHair could not sustain his early success that got him voted onto the NL All-Star squad and will play in Japan for the next two seasons.
As for Jeff Beliveau, he struggled with throwing strikes in 2012 starting with a less than stellar Spring Training. Beliveau, as mentioned, has the stuff to be a lefty specialist for a long time in the big leagues … that is if he can throw enough strikes.
Chris Archer has the best shot of having a successful big league career of any of the Cubs recent pitchers of the year. Archer was sent to Tampa in the Matt Garza deal, along with Brandon Guyer. Archer has excellent stuff that could land him in the back of Tampa’s pen before it is all said and done. Guyer figures to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and he could carve out a successful career … that is if he can stay off the disabled list and on the field.
Casey Coleman drew unfair comps to Greg Maddux early in his career. Coleman was considered (and still is) a smart pitcher without overpowering stuff that would be able to locate his pitches for strikes. Coleman was given multiple chances by the previous regime and simply could not throw enough quality strikes. Coleman was then mishandled during Spring Training in 2011 and was thrust into the rotation after injuries to Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells left the Cubs without many options. Coleman was not stretched out as a starter during camp and has struggled since.
The Cubs acquired Kyler Burke from the Padres, along with Rob Bowen, in the Michael Barrett trade and it appeared then that the Cubs might have received a useable player moving forward. But the southpaw could not hit enough and has since been converted to a starting pitcher. Burke (3-9 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 27 games, 19 starts, for Peoria and Daytona) did well last year and could end up in the backend of the Cubs’ pen one day.
The Cubs selected Mitch Atkins in the seventh round of the 2004 draft. Atkins had two cups of coffee with the Cubs in 2009 and 2010. Atkins pitched in seven games, all in relief, in the two seasons and managed a 5.25 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP in 12 innings. Atkins finished out 2010 with the Orioles, spent 2011 in Baltimore’s system then signed a minor league contract with the Nationals. Atkins spent the 2012 campaign at the Triple-A level in Washington’s system. Atkins, like so many Cubs’ pitching prospects, could not throw the ball over the plate.
Micah Hoffpauir became the guy that just about everyone rooted for. The Cubs tabbed Hoffpauir in the 13th round of the 2002 draft and he finished his breakout season of 2008 with the big league team. Hoffpauir was very good during a 33-game stretch in 2008, was exposed in 2009 (.239/.300/.427/.727 with 12 doubles and 10 home runs) then faded in 2010 (.173/.246/.231/.476 with three doubles in 24 games). The Cubs let Hoffpauir out of his contract and he went to Japan in 2011. Hoffpauir is coming off a decent second season overseas.
The Cubs landed Kevin Hart as the PTBNL in the Freddie Bynum deal with the Orioles in December of 2006 and it appeared the Cubs had landed a backend of the rotation starter for a utility player. Hart was excellent in 2007 but struggled in the majors and when it was starting to look like he was putting it together, the Cubs shipped him to Pittsburgh, along with Josh Harrison and Jose Ascanio, for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. The trade with the Bucs was finalized and announced after Hart beat the Astros. Hart has struggled with injuries since and has not pitched in the majors since 2009. Hart spent last season in Independent Ball.
Geovany Soto has performed better in the majors than any other pitcher or player of the year in the last 10 years. Soto was known as a defensive catcher prior to his breakout season of 2007. While Lou Piniella was busy going through catcher after catcher with the Cubs in 2007, Soto was putting numbers on the board in Iowa. Soto finished the year with the Cubs and was named Rookie of the Year the following season. Soto could never build on his 2008 season and inconsistency, along with an out of proportion contract, forced the new regime to trade him last July.
The Cubs did not name a position player of the year in 2006 and decided to give the Minor League Player of the Year award to a pair of lefties … Rich Hill and Donald Veal. Rich Hill and his devastating curve ball carved up the PCL in 2005 and 2006. Hill then helped the Cubs win the NL Central Crown in 2007 but was never the same after his game three start in the playoffs that began with a long home run off the bat of Chris Young. Hill struggled in 2008 and was dealt to the Orioles in February of 2009 for cash considerations or a PTBNL (the two teams settled the deal with an undisclosed amount of money).
Donald Veal, like so many players around this time, was mishandled by the Cubs organization and they lost him in the Rule 5 Draft to the Pirates in December of 2008. After injuries derailed his career for a couple of seasons, the southpaw from Arizona discovered his niche last season in the White Sox bullpen.
Both Sean Gallagher and Eric Patterson were traded to Oakland in the Rich Harden deal, along with Josh Donaldson, in July of 2008. Gallagher and Patterson did not do much in Oakland but Josh Donaldson stepped up last season for the AL West Champions. Gallagher struggled with his command and was not able to live up to the Baseball America rankings (ranked fifth in the Cubs system by BA in both 2007 and 2008) selection while Eric Patterson has pretty much followed the same career path as his older brother and spent last season at the Triple-A level in the Tigers’ system.
Renyel Pinto was dealt to the Marlins in the Juan Pierre trade along with Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco in December of 2005. Pinto owns a career mark of 8-10 in 244 games, all in relief, over five seasons with the Marlins. Pinto posted a 3.62 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP and spent last season with the Softbank Hawks in Japan.
Brian Dopirak was the Cubs second round pick in the 2002 draft and was ranked as the 21st best player in the game prior to the 2005 season. Dopirak had a monster season with Class-A Lansing in 2004 and posted a .307/.363/.593/.957 line with 38 doubles and 39 home runs. Dopirak could not repeat his success and was released in 2008. Dopirak tried to catch on with the Blue Jays and Astros but never made it to the big leagues.
- Minor League Player of the Year – Chadd Blasko
The Cubs did not designate between pitchers and position players when handing out minor league awards until after the 2003 season.
The Cubs selected Chadd Blasko in the supplemental round of the 2002 draft out of Purdue. Blasko was 10-6 in 26 combined starts for Lansing and Daytona in 2003 with a 1.95 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Blasko made it as high as Double-A West Tenn in 2004.
- Minor League Player of the Year – Hee-Seop Choi
Hee-Seop Choi had a tremendous 2002 campaign with the I-Cubs in which he posted a .287/.406/.513/.919 line with 24 doubles and 26 home runs and appeared to be on his way with the big league team until he hit his head on the turf during a game at Wrigley Field against the Yankees in 2003. The Cubs traded Choi, along with Mike Nannini to the Marlins for Derrek Lee in November of 2003.
There is no doubt that being named an organization’s player or pitcher of the year is an honor and it should not be discounted. With that said, it would speak volumes moving forward if the players that are tabbed as the organization’s player and pitcher of the year end up being productive big leaguers for the Cubs … or the team in which they were traded.