A National Perspective on the Cubs and Minor League Baseball: an Interview with Jim Callis

Jim Callis, Senior Writer for MLB.com

[Concerning Nico Hoerner] I think there’s sneaky power in there. It’s really good hitting abilities, you’re going to get the most out of it. So I think this is a guy who could hit .280 to .300, 15 to 20 homers, he draws walks. He’s not a blazer, but he’s got solid speed and good instincts.'”

Jim Callis on Nico Hoerner

A special thanks to Jim Callis, Senior Writer for MLB.com for joining

While fans (myself included) eagerly await the first minor league baseball game in 567 days [Author’s note: an hour after this was posted, reports were released confirming that AAA games would indeed be cancelled making the duration 595 days in between minor league games], scouts, front office executives, and player development staff are playing another waiting game. Everyone involved in talent evaluation wants to know, “how do our players look after the shutdown?” and “what will minor league baseball look like after reorganization?” The answer to those questions will require even longer to answer since players should receive a considerably long leash due to the significant gap between professional games. I had the opportunity to discuss this and many other perspectives from Jim Callis. Besides being incredibly generous with his time, anyone who meets Jim notes how much he has a genuine care for the game. After the massive changes that have occurred due to the reorganization and the pandemic, there’s never been a more important time to care about minor league baseball.

During the shutdown, no one knew when baseball would return. Fans of the minor leagues missed an entire season of minor league games, however a brief moment of excitement took place over two days in June for the MLB Draft. This five-round event paled in comparison to the unrivaled forty-round behemoth that was the MLB draft. Many believe that the days of a draft process of that length are likely over. As someone who has covered the MLB draft for, largely, his entire baseball career, Jim speculates that a more modest draft length is in the near future. According to Callis, “We have the CBA coming up with one less or two less minor league affiliates for some clubs and player [roster] limits. I think we’re probably not going to see a draft beyond 20 rounds going forward, maybe 25. But as it is now, I think typical team signs around 30 players in the draft.” Jim continued, “As it is, you aren’t going to need to sign as many [players] because theoretically going forward, when you sign guys, you’re going to have to release guys.”

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There will be a very significant increase in games played in 2021 than the shutdown 2020 season. As fans rejoice at the prospect of more baseball this year, substantial player development and health considerations loom on the horizon. Count Jim Callis among those concerned about the state of pitching in 2021 (and beyond) post-shutdown. According to Jim, “I’m worried about pitching as a whole everywhere. We’re going from (at the major league level) 60 games to 162. At the minor league level (I just think game innings are different than throwing bullpens and throwing on the side), you’re going from zero games to 120. At the amateur level you’re going from 15 games and nothing in the summer back up to 60 in summer leagues.” Jim continued with an even more ominous statement, “It’s hard enough to keep pitchers healthy as it is. I hope we don’t look back and see that the Coronavirus broke pitching for two or three years of baseball. I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t think anybody knows”.

“It’s hard enough to keep pitchers healthy as it is. I hope we don’t look back and see that the Coronavirus broke pitching for two or three years of baseball. I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t think anybody knows”

Jim Callis on pitching

The Pitch Lab

Cub fans have heard the singing of praises of the vaunted Chicago Cubs Pitch Lab for the better part of two seasons. These fans have also seen successes from within the Lab, especially in the demographic of signing relievers with good “stuff” and helping them reach the next-level. Pitchers like Rowan Wick, Ryan Tepera, and Brad Wieck immediately come to mind. But what the Cubs have yet to deliver on tangible results is the long-term development of an impactful homegrown starting pitcher. Cub fans hope that the brief, but compelling results from Adbert Alzolay suggest that the Cubs are about to deliver on the promise of the improvements to the pitching infrastructure. rom a national perspective, Callis agrees that the improvements are encouraging, but the results will ultimately dictate the level of success, “It’s great to read about, but I’m sure Cubs fans [think] ‘okay, that’s great, but turn Braylin Marquez into an ace and turn Ryan Jensen into a starter and polish Kohl Franklin up’. I want to read articles about that happening rather than, ‘hey, they have this cutting-edge pitching lab’. I think it can only help the organization. But ultimately, it needs to produce more results.” Callis said.

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Nico Hoerner

Jim is optimistic about several of the players in the Cubs organization. One of which is the much-discussed Nico Hoerner. The young second baseman effectively went from the couch to the field as an emergency injury replacement in 2019. Along the way, he showed off some significant pop. In 2020, it was a mixed bag, at best, as Nico took multiple steps back, especially against breaking pitches. Callis questioned whether Hoerner would have had the same struggles had there been a minor league season, so Nico wasn’t forced into major league games. “His first long-term exposure to the big leagues came in with a very unusual set of circumstances,” Callis said.

Jim offered the notion that while there’s work to be done, he still thinks Nico could hit his ceiling of a quality big-league player. [Concerning Nico Hoerner] I think there’s sneaky power in there. It’s really good hitting abilities; you’re going to get the most out of it. So I think this is a guy who could hit .280 to .300, 15 to 20 homers, he draws walks. He’s not a blazer, but he’s got solid speed and good instincts.” Callis said. Jim went on to elaborate further, “I still really believe in him, and like I said, there’s a variety of factors [to consider]. There are a lot of good big-league players like your Christian Yelich’s of the world who didn’t have a good year last year either. I’m not saying he’s going to be an MVP, but I just think it was such an odd year, and he had almost no minor league experience. I’m not worried about it, and I give him more of a mulligan than most for 2020.” Callis said.

MLB Pipeline Sleeper prospect

The release of the annual teams prospect rankings become an annual event for many for follow the minor leagues. As the official prospect rankings of MLB.com and a completely free medium, MLB Pipeline’s lists are often referenced in news reports, trade discussions, and blogs. Needless to say, MLB Pipeline’s rankings shape a lot of conversations within baseball circles. The Cubs list is due in March, but Jim Callis did provide a name of a prospect who should definitely make the list after not being ranked last year. MLB Pipeline will join Keith Law at The Athletic (8th) and Baseball America (25th) in ranking young outfielder Yohendrick Pinango in the Cubs top 30.

Want to hear more insights into the scouting and minor league changes in baseball? Or hear Jim’s thoughts on Jordan Nwogu, Andy Weber, and others? The full interview is available now at

Another special thanks to Brad (@ballskwok) and Navin Doré (@RaisinMan101) for sending in questions.

Published by

Greg Zumach

Following the Cubs minor leagues and the MLB draft has been my passion since I became a fan. I try to focus on deeper dives into players along with MLB Draft content throughout the year.

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