Photo courtesy of Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight, the Chicago Cubs are playing the New York Mets at Wrigley Field in Chicago. We always knew that (or, at least, we have known that since September of last year, when the 2015 schedule was released). What we didn’t know until late last Friday evening was this, from ESPN New York beat writer Adam Rubin:
Noah debut Tuesday
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) May 8, 2015
“Noah” is, of course, Noah Syndergaard. And Noah Syndergaard is a minor-league pitcher for the Mets who is projected, by all accounts, to be a very good major-league pitcher for the Mets. BP’s own prospect team, for example, recently ranked him not only the best prospect in the Mets’ system, but the ninth best prospect in baseball overall. Given that two of the prospects ranked above Syndergaard on that list—Addison Russell and Kris Bryant (heard of them?)—have already made their debuts in the Show, it’s fair to consider Syndergaard the seventh-highest-ranked prospect currently in the minors.
But not for long. In fact, not even for a day longer. Syndergaard will be pitching tonight, at Wrigley, against the Cubs. That fact led me to ponder a number of questions this morning. First among them was: “How is it that Noah Syndergaard is able to grow such a luxuriant beard, while I, one month his senior, am forced to convince bartenders by means of state-issued identification that I am in fact a Real Adult on a regular basis?” That is a dilemma that I will not pursue further here.
Second among my questions, however, was this: “How have the Chicago Cubs fared the last few times a prospect of Syndergaard’s stature has made his debut against them?” And it is that question that is the subject of this post. Using BP’s prospect rankings, which go back to 2007, it is possible to identify four previous occasions on which a prospect ranked no. 1 in his system made his debut against the Cubs.* What follows are brief descriptions of what happened on each of those occasions.
We begin in 2007, with …
- Chase Headley, Padres It’s easy to forget now that the Padres employ a plethora of right-handed, weak-hipped sluggers, but there was once a time when pitching ruled the roost in San Diego, and that time was 2007. It was into this context that Chase Headley, the Friars no. 1 prospect at the time, stepped into a major-league batter’s box for the first time on June 15th at Wrigley Field. Unfortunately, things didn’t go too well for Headley: He went 0-for-3 on the night, and the Cubs ended up winning the game 4-1 on their way to a division championship. He ended up putting just 18 more plate appearances on the board in 2007, batting .222 with a 68 OPS+. Luckily, things clicked for him shortly thereafter, and he’s put up a pretty decent big-league career since.
- Jason Heyward, Braves If you remember one debut on this list, you probably remember this one. Heyward, who like Syndergaard was—besides being his teams’ top prospect—also a top ten prospect in baseball, made his debut against the Cubs on Opening Day 2010 in Atlanta and promptly homered off of mercurial Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano. He finished the night 2-for-5 with four RBIs, and the Braves won the game 16-5. It was not, clearly, a shining night for the Cubs’ franchise. Heyward went on to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010, put up a number of solid seasons for the Braves, and was traded last offseason to the Cardinals, where he continues to be a thorn in the side of the North Side franchise. Let’s hope Syndergaard’s debut isn’t equally dismal for the Cubs.
- Mark Rogers, Brewers. This one, you might not remember as well as Heyward’s. Rogers, who has a name that almost begs to be forgotten, and who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012, was once the top prospect in the Brewers’ system. Moreover, he made his debut in late September of 2010 against a fifth-place Cubs’ team, throwing a 1-2-3 ninth inning in a 4-0 Cubs win in Milwaukee. Not much notable happened in that one inning, but he did strike out Micah Hoffpauir to end the frame, which caused me to remember, right now, that Micah Hoffpauir once was the starting first-baseman for the Chicago Cubs.
- Jordan Lyles, Astros. Lyles, who now pitches for the Rockies (traded there, in fact, for current-Cub Dexter Fowler), made a rather successful debut against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on the last day of May, 2011. Pitching against a team that—like its immediate predecessors and successors—would finish in fifth place, he threw seven innings of two-run ball, striking out two and walking none. The ‘Stros ended up winning the game 7-3, although 2011 was, if anything, a worse year for them than it was for the Cubs. Lyles, as I already mentioned, pitched for the Astros until he was traded to Colorado in December 2013, and in the mountains he remains.
Two other No. 1 prospects (Jenrry Mejia of the Mets, and Billy Hamilton of the Reds) have also made their hitting debuts against the Cubs since 2007, but as Mejia was and is a pitcher, and Hamilton made his debut appearance on a big-league field as a pinch-runner against the Cardinals, they haven’t been included here. What has been included here, rather, is a record of the last four times the Cubs got ‘Sydnergaard-ed'; i.e., the last four times the Cubs had a team’s no. 1 prospect debut against them. And that record shows one poor debut (Headley), one middling debut (Rogers), and two quite good debuts (Heyward & Lyles). Tonight, Syndergaard will add to that list.
*Thanks are due, as is often the case, to BP’s Rob McQuown for research help, and a willingness to answer my stupider questions.