The young core at Wrigley Field raised expectations to the point where winning 95 games and losing in the Wild Card Game this season is considered a disappointment.
As that young core gets older and more expensive—on a roster supported with win-now trades—the Cubs will need to restock their talent base and find their next wave of homegrown contributors.
“We have a lot of work to do in our farm system to continue building it back up to where it was,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “It’s not there now. It’s not close to where it was. That’s the goal—to get it back there—especially by the time that this generation of players is transitioning or potentially transitioning.”
That’s not to say the Cubs system didn’t produce bright spots in 2018.
Third baseman David Bote—an 18th-round pick in 2012 out of junior college—covered for Kris Bryant and emerged as a big league contributor who also started multiple games at second base. Bote ranked sixth in the major leagues in average exit velocity—93.5 mph—according to MLB Statcast data.
Low Class A South Bend catcher Miguel Amaya, who signed out of Panama in 2015, participated in the Futures Game this summer. And now that the Cubs are out of the international spending penalty box, they signed a couple of top free agents out of Venezuela this year in righthander Richard Gallardo ($1 million) and lefty Joel Machado ($850,000).
A cluster of recently drafted college righthanders also made strides—and stayed healthy—this year. The list includes Thomas Hatch, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, Keegan Thompson, Alex Lange, Matt Swarmer and Tyson Miller.
“I think our pitching is moving through the system at a pretty nice clip,” Epstein said. “A couple high-profile guys got hurt. That will happen with pitching, especially, but there were some really nice contributions at the High A and Double-A level. Some guys made some really nice strides in their career.
“I think you’ll see in major league camp a lot of guys from our system who will be able to help us both as rotation depth and protection and also in the bullpen.”
>> The Cubs see 24-year-old second baseman Trent Giambrone as a potential Bote 2.0 after he turned in a solid season at Double-A Tennessee. The 25th-round pick in 2016 out of Delta State (Miss.) hit .251/.333/.440 with 17 home runs and 26 stolen bases in 116 games. The Cubs assigned Giambrone to their Arizona Fall League taxi squad for exposure and the chance to work with hitting coordinator Jacob Cruz and infield coordinator Jeremy Farrell, who both live in the Phoenix area.
“Part of it is just being around that level of player, feeling like, ‘I belong in this locker room,’ ” senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said. “Working out of our complex with that team, he’s going to get that much more added time with those guys. Even on the days that he’s not playing, he’ll be getting his work in with our coordinators, which is big. And then when he is playing, he’s going to be facing some of the better prospects, and seeing how he stacks up with those guys.”
>> The Cubs made the decision to not have righthander Adbert Alzolay pitch anywhere in winter ball after a strained right lat muscle ended his season in late May. An optimistic scenario would be Alzolay making a good impression in spring training, stretching out again as a starter at Triple-A Iowa and getting ready for a callup when the Cubs need big league help in 2019.