Minor League Ball posted its pre-season ranking of the farm systems this week. And the Cubs landed at the top of John Sickels’ list.
The Cubs are one of five elite organizations in the game according to John Sickels, along with the Red Sox (2), Twins (3), Dodgers (4) and Rangers (5). Sickels thinks the Cubs system has “impact talent with no fewer than three hopefully future stars in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler.” Sickels doesn’t think Kyle Schwarber is too far behind the top three and “there is considerable depth backing them up so that the potential failure of Javier Baez is not a disaster.”
Sickels pointed out the pitching has improved, which is why he bumped the Cubs up from a fifth place ranking a year ago. But the pitching in the system is behind the position players.
The Mets (6), Pirates (7), Blue Jays (8), Rockies (9) and Astros (10) rounded out Sickels’ top 10.
The Cubs organization was talked about and dissected throughout the off-season. And while the accolades are nice to see and read, the front office knows all of the hard work spent building up the organization doesn’t mean anything unless it translates to wins at the big league level.
The Cubs would like for Kyle Schwarber to stay behind the plate. And to Schwarber’s credit he has a passion for catching and wants to be a big league catcher.
Kyle Schwarber will be on the Smokies’ Opening Day roster when it’s announced and he will spend his first full year in pro ball catching in the Southern League. Few doubt that Schwarber will be able to hit in the majors, but not many outside of the Cubs think when it’s all said and done that he will be a catcher.
Schwarber made strides last fall working with Tim Cossins and Mark Johnson during instructs and impressed the front office enough that Theo Epstein said in October he would be a catcher full time during the 2015 season.
During the convention in January, Schwarber said he was not taught how to catch. What he knew about catching he learned from watching games on television. After working with Tim Cossins in the fall, he realized everything he did before then was wrong and it all started to click.
J.J. Cooper posted an excellent report that explained what the Cubs have done to teach him how to be a receiver and just not a catcher.
Schwarber quickly realized what he was doing prior to signing with the Cubs was wrong and would not work. Just because a player can put the gear on and catch a ball behind the plate doesn’t make him a catcher. There is a technique for everything.
According to J.J. Cooper, “The Cubs made Schwarber redo almost everything about his receiving mechanics, his thought process and his practice routine.”
The Cubs changed his set-up. Prior to applying the changes the Cubs made, Schwarber “would leave much of his weight sitting on the insides of his two big toes, making it hard for him to find proper balance.” Schwarber put too much weight “on his ankle and knee ligaments” which could be a big problem due to his weight and build. Cooper explained, Schwarber “would bring his glove back to the center of his chest and leave it there, only presenting a target for pitcher after they began their deliveries.” He had an inconsistent glove path to the ball and “he’d drop his left knee to the ground as he tried to snare the pitch.” His throwing mechanics were also wrong.
Schwarber’s arm “stroke was too long and he gripped the ball in the palm of his hand instead of his fingers.”
Since Schwarber started working with Tim Cossins, his setup has improved and he’s distributing his weight by “spreading his toes in his cleats and resting his weight on a much larger contact patch of his foot.” And Schwarber has learned a lot goes into being a good catcher.
“It’s about how you present your glove,” Schwarber told J.J. Cooper. “If it’s on your left knee, you don’t want it to get too deep. You want to force it back to the plate. On your right knee, you have to work around it and kind of swallow it. Down the middle and low, you might need to funnel it, or you might have to go under there and just stick it. It’s a lot of different details.”
According to J.J. Cooper, Schwarber spent the fall only working on his defense. He did not pick up a bat and went back to the Cubs facility to work with Cossins for another week in the off-season.
Tim Cossins told Baseball America, “You start running through a checklist of things that have to happen. When I run through the checklist with Kyle, he checks a lot of those boxes.”
Kyle Schwarber has a lot of work left to do before he is ready to catch in the big leagues. The Cubs cannot guarantee that he’ll end up as a catcher. Schwarber is putting the work in and he and the Cubs have seen the progress he’s made in a short amount of time.
According to the transactions page on Cubs.com, the organization released RHP Justin Amlung and LHP Austin Kirk.
The Cubs selected RHP Justin Amlung in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. The 24-year old (May 21) made it to Daytona last year. Amlung was 4-4 in 15 games, nine starts, with a 4.37 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with the D-Cubs. Amlung allowed 72 hits with 19 walks and 45 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.
The Cubs used their third round pick to draft Austin Kirk in 2009. Kirk did not make it above the Double-A level in the system and pitched for Daytona and Tennessee last season. In 13 relief appearances for the Smokies, Kirk was 1-4 with a 4.84 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP.
Austin Kirk threw a no-hitter on July 4, 2011 for Low-A Peoria. Kirk completed the first nine-inning no hitter for the Chiefs since Mike Aspray in 1988. Kirk was the second Chiefs hurler in has many seasons at the time to throw a no-hitter. Nick Struck completed a rain-shortened, five inning no-hitter on April 30, 2010.
Cubs Minor News and Notes
• According to Phil Rogers, there is talent flowing through the entire Cubs pipeline.
• Keith Law posted an update to his Top 50 prospect list. Kris Bryant (1), Addison Russell (4) and Jorge Soler (14) are still in the top 14 spots, same as the Cubs’ prospects were ranked in January. Law added Yoan Moncada at No. 16.