After shutting out the Brewers Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs are 51-67 and sitting well behind the pack in the cellar of the NL Central. And I am deeply terrified of the team they are about to become.
This year's Cubs are terrible. Dreadful, really. Anthony Rizzo is an MVP candidate and Starlin Castro is good, but not as good as he should probably be. Other than them and a half-season of Jeff Samerzisaisdhfa, the Cubs have had very little successes at the major league level.
In the minors, however, the Cubs are a sleeping giant. Javier Baez, recently called up and holding his own with the Cubs, was ranked an A prospect by John Sickels prior to the season and was the fifth-best prospect in the game according to Baseball America. Kris Bryant? An A grade and the 8th-best prospect. Alberto Almora was an A- and the 36th-best prospect. Jorge Soler was a B+ the 41st-best prospect. C.J. Edwards was a B+ and the 28th-best prospect. Arismendy Alcantara, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario, Dan Vogelbach...all B prospects or better, according to Sickels.
And then add on to that the fact the Cubs picked up Addison Russell from the Athletics for Samaidizzidjga. Russell was rated an A prospect by Sickels, was the 14th-best prospect in the nation according to Baseball America, and seemingly has all the potential in the world.
And also Russell, Bryant, Soler, Almora and Edwards are all in the upper levels of the minors and should be poised to help soon. Alcantara and Baez are already up. Rizzo and Castro are still young and will be key players for the next several years. The only issue with the Cubs' minor league system is that it is lacking in pitchers. Edwards and Pierce are both up there, but neither is necessarily a front-line type pitcher.
Sound like someone you know?
One decade ago, the Brewers were pitiful. Heading into the 2004 season, they hadn't had even a .500 campaign since 1992. Ben Sheets was great and Geoff Jenkins and Lyle Overbay were solid, but the rest of the roster was filled with Junior Spivey and Wes Helms and Chad Moeller and Brady Clark. The rotation had Victor Santos and Wes Obermueller and Doug Davis.
The bright spot for the Brewers, however, was their minor league system. A system that had Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and, a little later, Ryan Braun. Meanwhile, the team had little in the way of pitching prospects as Yovani Gallardo was their only big success to come from the farm until Wily Peralta.
As these big bats came up, the Brewers had their first non-losing season in 2005. In 2007, they made a serious playoff run. In 2008 they did make the playoffs, and went back in 2011. The team had some help by outside acquisitions like CC Sabathia, but it was that core from the minors that led them to success.
Such is the plan for the Cubs. The scary thing, however, is that Chicago is poised to be even better than the Brewers were and are. Both crops of prospects are comparable, but the Cubs have one thing the Brewers have never had: Huge gobs of cash. Especially with a new TV deal incoming. The Cubs will be able to outspend any team in the division. That means that though they don't have the pitching now, they can get it through free agency.
Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are already rumored to be on the Cubs' wishlist in the off season. Such deals could make the Cubs contenders sooner than later. Imagine if the Brewers had been able to do that. If they had been able to afford bringing Sabathia back or to sign Pedro Martinez when he was a free agent, or any other big-ticket pitcher who would have been available? They probably would have made the playoffs more than twice in the last decade.
Still, prospects are just prospects and there's no guarantee that they pan out. However, the Brewers serve as a good example of what the Cubs soon could be. And that won't be very fun for the other teams in the division.