If the Cubs sent a squad of 28 or so prospects to a campus 40 miles from you in the fall, would you go to watch?
Last week, I learned something new. Texas Tech, who has Jace Jung, a player toward the bottom of my top 12 draft names, hosted a game against an odd foe: An amalgam of Texas Rangers farmhands. After the Red Raiders’ win, they were justifiably proud. A few people wondered out loud on Twitter why a pro organization would even chance losing to college players. My thoughts? This is a brilliant idea, and the Cubs should play six or eight games every fall against college teams.
In “the fall,” which varies from campus to campus as far as a specific time, many colleges play Fall Ball. These are scrimmages/practices for the entire squad, before the inevitable roster cutdown early in the year. Jordan Nwogu was in danger of not making the team at Michigan as a freshman, but hit much better after winter break, and made the team. During Fall Ball, coaches switch from roster scribbles to actual expectations of who will earn legitimate innings in the real season, that starts in February.
Usually, teams fit in games against “appropriate competition” to see how their squad looks. Perhaps a game on Friday, and another on Saturday, with pitchers all trying to get in an inning or two. The hitters get to play some, with the healthy regulars getting the 60/40 or 70/30 split. It’s an exhibition for both sides. Hopefully, they all stay healthy, and a few pitchers on both sides hit 95 miles per hour for bragging rights.
I knew about fall college baseball, but didn’t know pro squads were allowed to cross-pollinate with Fall Ball. By mid-August, much less September or October, most pro pitchers are on tighlty regulated pitch count limits. However, if such seasonal limits haven’t been met, squuezing in eight or 10 more innings make sense, up to a point, for a somewhat under-utilized pitcher. To be clear, I’m not talking about running out DJ Herz or someone elitely regarded in the system for five innings against a Top 15 level college team. I’m interested in getting enough innings out of more pitchers so as many arms as possible have been extended to their ideal point.
As far as hitters, hitters generally benefit from any at-bats when they aren’t submerged or injured. Players heading to Winter Ball or the Arizona Fall League aren’t to be considered, here. This would, largely, be in conjunction with the Instructional League, which was 19 games played in September and October. If this is to happen, I see an opportunity to justify sending even more players into Instructs. I enjoy the Cubs playing about 20 games against a few locally located Cactus League foes.Because it allows more players to get more looks. Getting in a few scrimmages agains either Arizona State or Grand Canyon University (both in the Phoenix metro area) shouldn’t be that hard of an ask. Then, as camp ends, send a select group, guys who could use 30 more at-bats or 10 more innings pitched before the bow is tied on the season, to eight different sites around the country for road games.
In October, in the minor leagues, winning is even less essential than in July. Players getting better is the prime directive. Which 12 or so pitchers and 14 or so hitters make the trip is completely up for grabs, especially as this is talking 2022 and beyond. Two obvious spots to hit, for my money, could be Champaign/Urbana and Louisville. (Their timeframes may be completely divergent from “end of Instructs.” Getting in extra games for applicable players is more important than specific dates.) Bradley or Illinois State would make sense. Visiting Texas, Florida, or California schools could make sense, as well.
Minor leagues were eliminated in MLB’s cutbacks. I’m still a bit broken over that. Since games have been eliminated, create more games in the fly. I’ll talk about scads of prospects this offseason. All have their individual work expectations. Find schools that want to play prospect teams, and get players extra looks. If that becomes a reality, sort players in the organization as far as when their season should end, and don’t be tied to the MiLB schedule. If a specific player (often, recent signees, or players returning from injury) are done when the season is, pull the plug on them then.
However, whether hitter or pitcher, if he has three weeks left before his internal battery drops to three percent or lower, find a way to keep using him. Turn Instructs into more of a mindset. Be watchful of pitchers, but if that A-Ball hurler is going back to Mesa, anyway (as most Myrtle Beach pitchers did), get him into a game against a college team. Send a pitching coach, a hitting coach, a manager, a videotape specialist. And two scouts with each trip. If a baseball fan on campus sees his team play against the Cubs in a “friendly” (to use a soccer/football term), it should aid in player development, spreading the brand name, and scouting the schools.
It could even lead to an invite to a tournament in Mesa in February. Which might as well happen this February if the big league players are locked out.
And, for goodness sake, treat the traveling Cubs like business professionals. Pay them, and cover their rooms, so they don’t have to sardine 12 to a room. Give them a per diem. I think the development benefit would outweigh the cost. And if it happens? The Cubs might have to locate three or four more starting pitchers every cycle to keep up the trend.