It’s been an emotional few days for Cubdom as Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini were traded to San Diego what most viewed as a beanstalk and a handful of beans. Adding to the frustration, the Cubs even had to kick in $3 million. Rather than coming away with top-10 Padres prospects, they got four players who’ve got zero combined plate appearances above rookie ball. It doesn’t help that there was no minor league season, though that might end up being a good thing.
After digging into all the available information on these players, I’m feeling a little better about this as a high-risk/high-reward move rather than a pure fleecing. Once the trade was officially announced late Tuesday night, MLB Pipeline quickly reshuffled the Cubs’ Top 30 prospect list to include all four new players in the top 20. Shortstop Reginald Preciado was the highest at 10, followed by outfielder Owen Caissie at 11, outfielder Ismael Mena at 16 and shortstop Yeison Santana just one spot behind.
Eric Longenhagan of FanGraphs said he would put the 18-year-old Preciado at No. 3 or 4, above first-round draft pick Ed Howard. That was a surprise to some, which may have been part of the point, but Longenhagen spoke glowingly of Preciado’s tools. While acknowledging that the 6-foot-4, 185 teenager is likely to shift to third base at some point, “there’s rare hit/power combination potential here and it just takes confidence in one’s eyes to see it might already have arrived.”
In a Tuesday appearance on the on 670 the Score, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline said Santana, the other shortstop in the deal, is not far behind Howard after hitting .346 in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019. Santana just turned 20 and is the only member of the quartet who has logged any professional stats, having racked up 162 at-bats at rookie ball in 2019 and 132 more in the Dominican Summer League the previous season.
Caissie, a 2020 second round pick of the Padres, has drawn rave reviews for his power potential and his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark. He’s a 6-foot-4, 190 pound left-handed hitter who is reportedly a sponge for knowledge and is very much into the tech side of the game, which will fit right in with the new hitting infrastructure the Cubs have put together.
He even scouted himself.
— Alexis Brudnicki (@baseballexis) December 29, 2020
Mena signed for $2.2 million as an international free agent in 2019, just a little less than what the Cubs gave catcher Ronnier Quintero that year. A 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter who is still developing at the plate, everything I I have seen on Mena points to him being an outstanding defender who gets good jumps, has a decent arm, and can play all three outfield spots.
Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter is particularly high on Mena and slots him behind only Miguel Amaya, Brennen Davis, Chase Strumpf, and Preciado. That would put him in top-10 territory.
Ismael Mena was our top Padres breakout prospect pick in this year's handbook 👀
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 29, 2020
As promising as we’ve made this seem, frustration still remains after the Cubs were unable to land a top 5 Padres prospect like outfielder Robert Hassell or shortstop CJ Abrams? Callis said Cubs fans can point the finger straight at Tom Ricketts, whose constant complaints about money and so-called “biblical” losses really undercut the Cubs market. Teams knew the Cubs were basically dumping salary rather than trying to get the best prospects they could, so the Padres had all the leverage. So, in other words, Ricketts’ moaning undermined Jed Hoyer‘s ability to do his job.
AZ Phil also pointed out that the Cubs almost certainly could have gotten more advanced or highly rated prospects had they been willing to eat more than just $3 million of Darvish’s remaining salary. Never mind that he earned that same amount by finishing second in NL Cy Young voting, a performance that made him highly coveted in the first place. But paying down big portions of salaries is a non-starter for the Cubs, so their options are limited.
It’s going to be a couple years before we know how good some of these young players really are, particularly after such a turbulent season. There’s also the matter of a restructured MiLB system that doesn’t have as much room as in years past. I’d expect three of these new guys to get a little seasoning at the rookie level, though spring performances could see at least one of them starting at high-A South Bend.
Like it or not, and many of you are probably in the latter camp, this is what the Cubs have to work with at this point and it’ll be interesting to see how these players perform once the 2021 season gets underway.