The question of how to continue Cubs prospects’ development without a minor league season was already a concern before Tuesday’s news. But after Minor League Baseball announced on Tuesday that its season was officially cancelled, development became an official hurdle.
“In theory, would we like to add prospects and get some more development time at South Bend?” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday, referencing the team’s alternate training site. “Absolutely. In an ideal world, we would. But we can’t take our eye off the main priority, which is the big leagues, to do that.”
The 10 open spots in the Cubs’ player pool leave open the option to add more prospects. But the Cubs' next moves depend on its evaluation of the 50 players who made the initial list on Sunday.
“The more we talked and the more we got familiar with the rules, we felt the right thing to do was to leave space,” Hoyer said. “You can add a player any time. There’s no restriction to adding players.”
Removing a player from the 60-player pool is more complicated. The move requires a “bona fide transaction,” the 2020 operations manual says, like a trade, release or placement on the COVID-19 related injured list. Players on the 40-man roster can also be removed from the player pool if placed on the 45-day injured list, but injured players who aren’t on the 40-man roster continue to count against the player pool limit.
“We’re doing something for the first time,” Hoyer said. “So why not dip your toe in the water a little bit, and we can pivot from there in the right direction -- we just don’t know exactly what the right direction is going to be, as we sit here today.”
Erring on the side of caution, the Cubs invited just seven of their top 30 prospects, as ranked by mlb.com, to summer camp. None of their 2020 draft picks made the cut, but that was the case for most teams. Only the Mariners made this year’s draft picks a priority, including four of their six picks in their player pool.
The Cubs will decide how many of their open player-pool spots will go to prospects after eliminating some uncertainties. One of their most pressing questions is, how have players held up over a three-month hiatus?
“The feedback that we’ve gotten from the coaching staff and players, the communication, has been phenomenal,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “And I’m so thankful for the group of guys we have, the work they put in. But I also know myself as a (former) player and I want to get my eyes on guys and see where they’re at physically.”
Although Hoyer and Ross didn’t mention it specifically, the novel coronavirus could also affect the Cubs’ roster. According to Hoyer, no player had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon. But most players will undergo intake screening on Wednesday.
“There’s going to be positive tests,” Hoyer said. “There’s no way around that. We have too many players in the league; it’s unrealistic to think we’re not going to have some positive tests.”
The Cubs’ depth at each position could change dramatically with a few positive tests, or a few out-of-shape players. Three weeks of discussions are behind the Cubs’ 50-player pool, and the team’s hesitation at this fork in the road is more strategy than decision-paralysis.
“If we get to a place where we feel we need more major-league depth, we can pivot in that direction,” Hoyer said. “If we get to a place where we feel like we can add a few more prospects to our list then we can do that as well. But we sort of felt like, why pigeonhole ourselves now when we could leave that flexibility of 10?”