Cubs’ prospects review: Russell, McKinney, Straily, Torrez

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Yesterday, the biggest Fourth of July fireworks in Cub Land was a blockbuster trade between the Cubs that sent top starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for three minor league prospects and a player to be named later. Here’s a trade recap. One of those prospects, SS Addison Russell, joins Cubs’ farmhands SS Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant and CF Albert Almora on MLB.com’s list of the top fifteen minor league prospects released prior to the 2014 season.

Today, we will feature the three players acquired in yesterday’s deal and a pitcher who has not garnered the attention that he perhaps merits.

Let’s get to work.

SS Addison Russell: Russell, 20 and the 14th overall selection in the 2012 draft, was in his third season in the A’s system at the time of the trade and was rated as their top prospect.  He split the 2012 season between the A’s rookie, short season Class A  and low-level Class A clubs.  In 244 plate appearances, Russell batted .369 with 10 doubles, nine triples, seven homers and 45 RBI.  He swiped 16 bases in 18 attempts and produced a .432 OBP and .594 slugging percentage.

Playing all but three games last year for the A’s Advanced A squad, Russell averaged .269 in 504 plate appearances with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 homers and 66 RBI.  He also stole 21 bases in 24 attempts.  His OBP was .369 and slugging percentage .495.

Addison

This season, hamstring injuries have limited Russell’s availability, but he was active at the time of the trade playing for the A’s AA squad.  In 13 games and 48 plate appearances, Russell was batting .333 with three doubles, one triple, one home run and 8 RBI.  His OBP was .439 and slugging percentage .500.

Scouts have compared Russell’s power and speed to that of Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds’ SS Barry Larkin.  He is considered an excellent gap hitter and has the potential to become an elite defender.  He will start his Cubs’ career at AA Tennessee.

Those who might pan the trade because the Cubs already have elite SS prospect Javier Baez, 22, at AAA Iowa and Starlin Castro, 24, producing an All-Star season for the Cubs, are being short-sighted.  One, despite their talent, there is no guarantee that Russell and Baez will succeed in the big leagues, though scouts are confident they will.  Two, assuming that both Russell and Baez excel in the majors, one or two of the Cubs’ shortstops could be moved to other positions.  Finally, the Cubs can always trade Castro or an elite prospect for whom there is no opening on the big league roster for a position of need, likely pitching.  In other words, positional duplication of talented players is a good problem to have.

It should be noted that several Hall of Fame players who started their careers at shortstop ended up playing many if not most of their games at other positions, including Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.  Gary Sheffield also fits this profile.

OF Billy McKinney:  McKinney, just 19 and the A’s second highest-rated prospect, was the 24th overall selection in the 2013 draft.  The left-handed hitting and throwing McKinney spent all but nine games last season playing for the A’s rookie league team.  In 243 plate appearances, McKinney batted .326 with a .387 OBP and .437 slugging percentage.  He tallied nine doubles, three triples, three home runs, 26 RBI and eight stolen bases in nine attempts.

This season for the A’s Advanced A club, McKinney was averaging .241 with 12 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 33 RBI and 36 walks.  His OBP was .330, and he was slugging .400.

Billy

McKinney is lauded by scouts for having a smooth, compact and refined swing that he repeats without much deviation.  He is also praised for having solid defensive instincts and getting a good jump on the ball in the outfield.  McKinney will start his Cubs career for Daytona playing in the same outfield as Almora.

RHP Dan Straily:  Strailey, ranked the 85th best prospect by BaseballProspectus.com prior to the 2013 season, had a solid first full season in the A’s rotation last year before struggling this season and being demoted to AAA.  In 27 starts for the A’s last season, the lanky Straily produced a record of 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA and 1.241 WHIP.  In 152.1 innings, he yielded 132 hits and 57 walks while fanning 124.

Since his demotion to the minors, Straily has continued to struggle.  Yet in part or all of six seasons in the minors, Straily has been very productive.  In 112 games (105 starts), he has produced a record of 42-30, an ERA of 3.68 and an impressive WHIP of 1.218.  In 614.1 innings, he has allowed 552 hits and 196 walks while fanning 659.

straily

Straily will start his Cubs career at AAA Iowa, but Cubs’ fans need to look no further than new staff ace Jake Arrieta to see how a high-ceiling but struggling pitcher can be resurrected under the tutelage of Cubs’ pitching coach Chris Bosio.  Bosio will be working with a pitcher with a low 90’s fastball that can reach 95 MPH, an above average slider and a curveball and changeup.

RHP Daury Torrez: The 21-year old pitcher for A Kane County has seemingly escaped the radar of Cubs’ fans and scouting publications.  But if he keeps pitching like he has his first two seasons in the Cubs’ system, he should be squarely on their radar soon.  Torrez signed with the Cubs from the  Dominican Republic in December of 2010.

Last season, Torrez pitched all but one game for the rookie league team.  In 12 games (two starts), Torrez tossed 49 innings, allowing 49 hits (two homers) and just five walks.  His ERA and WHIP of 3.31 and 1.102 were impressive, and his 9.80 SO/BB ratio was off the charts.

daury

In fifteen starts this season, Torrez has compiled a 9-3 record, a 2.89 ERA and an exceptional 1.042 WHIP.  In 87.1 innings, he has allowed 77 hits and just 14 walks while striking out 47.  While his SO/9 innings is down to 4.8 from last year’s 9.0, he still boasts an impressive SO/BB ratio of 3.36.

Torrez sports a fastball in the low to mid 90’s, possesses excellent command and has improving secondary pitchers, a slider and a changeup.  Torrez has been an integral part of the Cougars 57-28 overall record and first-half division title.

Check back next week for more Cubs’ prospects analysis.

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