The World Series champion has been crowned and now it is finally time for the Cubs front office to go out and make the team better. While we would all like for Theo Epstein reach into an unlimited checkbook to sign Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg, we are going to take a step back and be a little more realistic for the offseason expectations.
That could mean being open to the very real possibility of the front office being forced into cheapo-mode, maybe even more than last winter. That could mean shopping the bargain bin to find replacements for Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, and Pedro Strop, among others. Not a very exciting prospect.
Or maybe they will be able to lean on some very exciting prospects in 2020 as they shift into a new phase that sees them bringing up another wave of players. Two of the possibilities we’ll discuss below are already well known to Cubs fans, but another pair might still be under the radar. For now.
This is the obvious one here, folks. Hoerner became the first player from the 2018 draft class to see MLB action, a promotion based on necessity as injuries ruled out Javy Báez, Addison Russell, and Dixon Machado. But the 22-year-old Stanford product held his own down the stretch and should break camp with the Cubs whether at second base or in center.
Hoerner brings a particular skillset that the front office has worked in vain to bring into this team. Though he doesn’t walk as often as you’d like to see from a leadoff hitter, his bat-to-ball skills are arguably the best in the system he should hit for a high average.
He wowed everyone in his Cubs debut, but battled injuries late in the season and wasn’t quite able to replicate that early success. Groomed as a starter throughout the entirety of his career thus far, look for Alzolay to make an impact as a reliever in 2020.
The upcoming season will be his final option year and he could excel if given an opportunity in a bullpen role. Expect the fastball to play up a bit in shorter stints and for Alzolay to use his devastating curveball as his main put-away pitch. If he pitches to his potential, he more than a satisfactory replacement for Strop or Brandon Kintzler.
There will be a big void in the starting rotation next year and staying in the organization to fill it would give the Cubs more financial flexibility to address other needs. Abbot was named the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2019 as his ability to tunnel pitches led to him being the most consistently dominating pitcher in a system that also includes Brailyn Marquez.
Those pitch overlay videos you see on Twitter aren’t just cool clickbait, they’re exactly what Cubs pitchers are learning to do in the heralded Pitch Lab. Abbot’s ability to disguise his sinker as a slider or his slider as a changeup led to a 3.01 ERA and a 27.8% strikeout rate in 2019. He regularly went deep into ballgames and could make the jump from Double-A to be an answer in the starting rotation moving forward.
Here is your wild card. If you want a guy with a similar skillset to Zobrist, look no further than the 26-year-old former 10th round draft pick. Machin hit for a high average (.295) and walked more (13.0%) than he struck out (11.7%). He played extended innings at each infield spot and even accomplished the incredible feat of playing all eight defensive positions in a game to end the season.
He probably should have spent more time in Triple-A given the way he dominated Double-A pitching to the tune of a 129 wRC+, but plenty of players have excelled despite little-to-no experience at the highest leve of the minors. Even though it’s a longshot, there is a non-zero chance of Machin breaking camp in 2020 with the big league club.
Look, I’m not going to argue that starting the 2020 campaign all four of these guys on the active roster will win the Cubs more games than going big in free agency. At the same time, the Cubs do have enough talent in the minors to augment what might otherwise be a quiet winter in terms of acquisitions.