Kyle Hendricks Gets an Extension!

By Todd Johnson

Oh, yes! I love this deal!

While the deal is cost efficient, the Cubs sew up a pitcher beyond the 2021 season. Before today’s extension, only Yu Darvish was signed beyond 2021.

Hendricks, who just turned 29, was originally in the Rangers’ organization before being acquired in the Ryan Dempster trade. He gets by on pinpoint control, a devastating changeup, and a lot of movement on all his pitches. As a Cub, he has posted a career 3.07 ERA over 5 summers. :Last year saw him get off to a poor start, but he recovered thanks in part to a very low 1.99 BB/9.

When the deal is complete, Hendricks will still be in his prime at 33 or 34, dependinging on his option. Considering that he doesn’t have a violent delivery or need a 95 mph to dominate hitters, this is a very good deal for a pitcher who should be a peak performer for several more years. I also like the deal as it secures a great role model for up and coming starters who could, and should, be arriving within the next two years.

Hendricks’ original deal was set to expire after 2020. The deal has no impact on this year’s “budget.”

It’s a win-win for everybody.


The Cards of Spring Training – Lots of Color to Start the Year

By Todd Johnson

I guess the title is a little misleading. Not all the cards come from spring training, but they all were made during that time frame. Culled from MiLB Pipeline, Stephanie Lynn, Rikk Carlson, the Eugene Emeralds, the Tennessee Smokies, the Pelicans, and Jordan Bastian, this collection really has a lot of color to it. Last year, I only had 44 cards from Spring Training. This year, a little over 80.

The theme for this collection turned out to be color. After a very cold and very wet winter in northern Illinois, I was ready for the bright colors of baseball in the spring.

Honorable Mention.
I love this card. The Kris Bryant card comes from Jordan Bastian of who let Kris Bryant have his camera for a few moments to grab this candid shot.

#10 Oscar de la Cruz
At some point last year, I grabbed this shot of Oscar in his Smokies alternate jersey that almost comes alive against the black template of my favorite card of my youth, the 1971. The wide angle shot fits perfectly in a template I usually associate with a Thurman Munson All-Star rookie card.

#9 James Norwood
Relievers often get the shaft when it comes to pics. Usually, it the closer who gets all the glory. In this case, I finally found a pic from the South Bend Cubs of James Norwood 3+ years after he pitched for them. I really like how the blue and red come out in the 1964 card.

#8 Nico Hoerner
Published by MiLB Pipeline, there’s an intensity here that I really enjoy in the card. Nico looks bound and determined to do something, and he did all spring.

#7 Cam Sanders
I went back through Eugene’s Facebook account to see if there were anymore pics I could find that would make a good card. And here was this beauty of Sanders in full extension. I am excited to see what he can do as a starter this year. He has such a smooth delivery.

#6 Miguel Amaya
Red naturally stands out in a card, sometimes too much. However, this red jersey that Miguel wore in the Futures Game just comes alive in this shot from MLB Pipeline.

#5 Jonathan Sierra
This shot by the Eugene Emeralds is all about Sierra’s 4th of July jersey meshing perfectly with the 1982 frame. It doesn’t get much better than this color scheme match.

#4 Justin Steele
Gold on gold. The 2001 template is a perfect complement to the yellow hues of Steele in a Pelicans’ jersey. The picture was published by the Pelicans.

#3 Matt Swarmer
The big righty looks to be pretty sneaky in this Pelicans’ picture capturing Swarmer in mid-delivery as he gets set to complete the pitch.

#2 Bailey Clark
Sometimes the jersey makes the card. Sometimes, it’s how the subject blends with the background. In this shot of Bailey Clark from spring training, Stephanie Lynn of Cubs Den gets some green, some gold, and some blue that really make Bailey Clark stand out, even with his face somewhat in shadows.

#1 Card of Spring
As for Yu Darvish, Rikk Carlson grabbed this excellent dugout shot of Yu in his spring training debut. Normally, I don’t include MLB cards in the top 10. But Rikk’s shot of Yu is almost perfect in color, background, and action! Put in a 1986 template just made the picture stand out even more. I really dig the mix of sunlight and shadows throughout Yu’s jersey! It’s a brilliant meld!

Roster Pandemonium Is Coming to an End…Hopefully

By Todd Johnson

As I get ready to head out to DeKalb and Rochelle to run some errands, all I can think of is that something will happen while I am out. There will either be a cut, a trade, or a demotion…or all three. As I drive, my mind will be on the rosters for both the major league club and the minor league rosters.

Sunday was just another day in a strange weekend when it came to rosters. The Cubs began the day by designating pitcher Brian Duensing for assignment while signing lefty Tim Collins and optioning Collins to AAA Iowa. Duensing’s DFA was not a surprise and yet it was. After Saturday’s cuts, the moves all but assured Mark Zagunis and Allen Webster spots on the roster. At the same time, it left a gaping hole in the bullpen for another lefty to go along with Mike Montgomery. That means that Randy Rosario and Kyle Ryan should be up for that last spot. Ryan had the much better spring.

Collins originally began his career with the Royals and missed three years due to two TJSs. He completed his comeback last year with the Nationals. On Sunday, he got in a spring training game against the Padres. He had a 1-2-3 inning.

However, Sunday’s moves looks like they could be the end of the transactions in the majors. Here is what Theo had to say about the possible end of the moves.

Meanwhile, in the Minors…

The Cubs released nine players yesterday. Some were expected, some were not. Regardless, there will be more cuts coming as the Cub system currently has a glut of players.

The Expected – About half of the 17 MiLB Free Agents the Cubs signed this winter will be cut, especially the pitchers. On Sunday, Mike Zagurski, Carlos Ramirez, Ryan Court, and Evan Marzilli were all released. In addition, the often injured reliever Jose Rosario was cut. Rosario flashed a bit as a pitcher in 2012-2014 before TJS and he has struggled to stay healthy since, especially since transitioning to a reliever. Also, Chesny Young, who hit well at every level but AAA, was let go. This would have been his third year at Iowa.

The Unexpected – I was quite surprised yesterday when the Cubs let go of Chris Singleton, Jake Steffens, and Austin Filiere. Chris Singleton had a rough spring. I thought he ended the season well at South Bend last year hitting over .300 in August. I thought that could possibly carry over to this spring. It did not.

I really like Jake Steffens. He’s a very nice young man who works hard. He was outstanding in a relief role at Eugene with an ERA in the ones both in 2017 and 2018. When he was promoted to South Bend last July, he saw action in just 12 games with a 3.65 ERA in relief. He struck out 31 in 41 total innings last year while only walking 10. I thought he would at least be back at South Bend this year at worst, at best at Myrtle Beach.

As for Mr. Filiere, the 2017 8th round pick out of MIT had an up and down first full year season as a pro at South Bend. He hit 8 home runs but had a swing change in June that took a whole month for him to adjust. I was looking forward to seeing if that adjustment paid off over the winter.

The trend taking place in the system this spring is that the Cubs are taking more stock in 2018 draft picks. International picks are being given some time to grow. However, that patience does not look like it applies to late round picks from the past three drafts.

There will be plenty more of cuts to come in the minors in the next week. Some could be tough, especially at the AA and AAA levels as the Cubs system gets ready to begin the season. Some familiar names who have been around awhile may be let go.

Spring Training News and Notes #7 – More Roster News and A Look Ahead

By Todd Johnson

The roster for the Chicago Cubs is still in flux. Late last night, the Cubs officially released the above ditty, some of which I wrote about earlier in the evening, specifically Ian Happ.  

The Cubs could be looking to add a third catcher in the coming days. I have a series of questions about the consequences of the Cubs picking up another catcher: “What happens to Victor Caratini? Does he head back to Iowa? Does he get traded for bullpen help? Does he even stay on the roster?” There are just 4 days left to find out.

Finalizing the bullpen would appear to be the main focus of the next two days. While the Cubs have had all winter to get this done, Theo and Jed have waited until the last possible second to do so.  The whole thing could turnover in just a few days. The only thing I know for sure is Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards will be on the opening day roster. Tyler Chatwood earned a spot as has Montgomery. It also appears Allen Webster has a place on the 25 man. And that’s about it. Injuries and poor performances have taken their toll on the squad. The final three spots will depend on who is healthy enough to go on Thursday and that could change again in a week. 

Part of me is just waiting on a trade. I doubt it happens but it could.

Then again, I did not think that this team/organization could ever be seen as dysfunctional under Theo Epstein. Yet, he we are.

MiLB Roster Signing

The Cubs signed free agent Danny Zardon. The 24-year-old former 3B and OF will be transitioning to catcher. In college, he was all-world as a freshman at LSU as an OF and played his junior year at Nova Southeastern before being drafted by the Phillies in 2016 in the 17th round. He was released in 2017 after 18 games at low class A Lakeland. Then he played for the Joliet Slammers in the Frontier League the rest of that year and all of 2018. He will likely bide his time this spring learning catching in EXST before he likely ends up in Eugene or Mesa.

On the International Front…
The Cubs signed two more international free agents this week in Cristian More, a 17-year-old OF, and Jonathan Alvarez, a 19-year-old pitcher. Over at Baseball America, Ben Badler did not get to his Cubs 2018-2019 Review just yet but it is coming. In the meantime, you can go check out these two videos from his instagram account about two young international players the Cubs have been linked to for this July 2.
Shortstop Kevin Made
Catcher Ronnier Quintero

Baseball America MLB Draft Top 300
They expanded their top 200 into a top 300 this week. Three players I profiled so far made the list. Glenallen Hill came in at 115 (end of the third round), Ryan Kreidler at 148 (4th or 5th round pick), and Grae Kessinger was slotted at 234 (7th or 8th round pick). Those will change some depending on their springs. 

Bits of the Week at Cubs Central and Cubs Insider
Copa de la Diversion Announcements
Bailey Clark
Jordan Minch
Ryan Kreidler
Grae Kessinger
Prospect Stock Watch

I do have a draft profile coming out at some point over at Cubs Insider on Campbell University pitcher Seth Johnson. I will also be doing previews of Iowa and South Bend there as well, though the previews will probably come out the first week in April. They will be a little bit different than mine here.

Upcoming Stuff at Cubs Central…
Spring Break is coming at the perfect time for me. After a hectic seven weeks of history fairs, academic team matches, and taking my wife to doctor appointments, I am really ready for baseball season to begin. Come Thursday, I will be sitting at home in my chair checking out the big league action. A couple days before that on Tuesday the 26th, it is going to get really busy at Cubs Central.

Here is the plan…which is subject to change.
– Tuesday March 26 – The Cards of Spring Training – I am excited to share my top ten cards out of almost 80 I made over the last 3 months.
– Wednesday March 27Cubs Preview – Cautiously Optimistic – This will be a look at the upcoming season for the big league club. Considering the events of the past 20 hours, my optimism is at 2014 levels.
Friday March 29MiLB Preseason All-Star Team – Hitters – I really like the potential for this first half group.
– Saturday March 30MiLB Preseason All-Star Team Pitchers – This was one of the most frustrating posts to write considering the Cubs starting pitching depth in the minors.
– Sunday March 31 – The Final Spring Training News and Notes – This will basically be a preview of the affiliate previews.
– Monday April 1Iowa Preview – The focus of this post will be prospects who are just a phone call away.
– Tuesday April 2 – Tennessee Preview – The Smokies pitching staff will get most of the highlights except for some kid named *checks notes* Nico.
– Wednesday April 3 – Myrtle Beach – The Pelicans look to be the beneficiary of the youth movement and the 2017 and 2018 Drafts.
– Thursday April 4 – South Bend – The young Cubs will field a challenging roster of kids trying to break out in the system with several top 30 prospects.
Friday April 5 – MiLB Opening Day Recap – Luckily, there will be no late night games, but I am curious to see who the stars of the first night will be.
– Saturday April 6Preview of a Preview for Eugene – This is my favorite post to write as I look at players at EXST who have a good shot at making the short season club.
– Sunday April 7 – The Weekly – This post will contain the first players of the week for the year.

I also got the templates for the Players of the Week awards made a couple of days ago and I also got one made for Players of the Day, which is a new web site feature that will debut the morning of April 5.

Video of the Week

Happ Send Down Sends Out Some Serious Shock Waves

By Todd Johnson

Some years, you just never know about anything. 2019 could be one of those years for the Cubs’ system, especially when it comes to roster construction..

I sat down about 6 p.m. tonight to eat my fish sticks and tots. I about spit one of each out when I saw Sahadev Sharma’s simple tweet that Ian Happ will begin the year at Iowa instead of with the big league club. Before tonight’s game, Happ was hitting .135.

I understand he’s having a bad spring, but sometimes that happens. When the season begins, professionals have been known to turn it on. I thought he would make the roster and be given a chance to figure things out at the MLB level.

Well apparently not.

Joe Maddon said that Happ did not take it well. I don’t blame him.

At the end of last year, Theo said 2019 would be all about performance. I did not think he meant in spring training. Happ’s send down looks to be the first shot across the bow by management. 2 summers ago, Kyle Schwarber revisited Iowa after a horrible start.

Happ will be playing mostly in the outfield in Iowa and that demotion looks to open a door for Mark Zagunis to earn a job as the 4th outfielder and also allow Albert Almore more of an everyday role in CF along with Kyle Schwarber in left.

Some other moves were alluded to be happening. Reliever Junichi Tazawa was rumored to be released but no official word was announced until I posted this. Yesterday, pitcher Alec Mills was sent down to AAA Iowa. I expect some more announcements later tonight or on Sunday as the Cubs need to get down to their 25 man roster. Of most interest will be whether David Bote or Cristhian Adames (or both) make the squad as bench guys with Zagunis and Caratini.

The bullpen should be the last decisions made as the Cubs are likely waiting to see who is going to actually be healthy come opening day in 5 days. Right now, Dillon Maples, Allen Webster, Kyle Ryan, and Jordan Minch are still on the roster. Webster looks to be as close to a spot as anyone.

There are approximately 12 more days until the MiLB season begins on April 4. And yet, here I am, with a somewhat cursory look at the possible rosters. All winter I have said that trying to figure out the rosters for this year would be a hot mess. Even with less than two weeks, that sentiment still holds true.

When it comes to MiLB Rosters, three things are making the rosters a mess right now:
1. Injuries, and the prevention thereof, in the pitching department are turning things on their heads a bit. The following arms have either been shut down or are seeing limited action: Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Erich Uelmen, Brendon Little, Erling Moreno, Paul Richan, and Brailyn Marquez. They have been pulled from the mound because of concerns/injuries.
2. Outfield Spots – While the infield and catcher spots look to be pretty much sewn up, who is going to be playing in the grass is a giant question mark. From Iowa to South Bend, there’s a lot of uncertainty and it begins in Iowa and flows downhill.
3. Relievers – On overage, most affiliates carry 12-13 pitchers. Of those 7 or 8 are relievers. In their current construct, there about 10-12 relievers on each roster. That means 4-5 guys are not going to be playing comes that matter in April. That’s a lot. And like the outfielders, Iowa will set the trend and it goes from there.

Here are the current roster totals and predictions to be on the roster (so far) for each affiliate per Arizona Phil. A lot can still change between now and the start of the MiLB season on April 4..

By next weekend, hopefully the rosters will be more fully formed.

Draft Prep Profile: Grae Kessinger Is His Own Man

By Todd Johnson

I can still remember Vince Lloyd’s call from when I was a child, “It’s a ground ball to Kessinger, he shovels it to Beckert who flips it to Pepitone for a six-to-four-to-three double play.” That seems like forever ago and yesterday at the same time.

I am having deja vu all over again this spring. The reason for that is every week I keep checking the statistics for one Grae Kessinger, a shortstop for the University of Mississippi. I am not going to compare him to his grandfather as Grae is most definitely his own kind of player.

Grae was born in 1998 and raised in Oxford, Mississippi. In 2016, the Padres took Grae in the 26th round but he chose to attend the University of MIssissippi instead. He saw plenty of action as freshman starting 53 games. He only hit .175 but his high walk rate bumped his OBP to .287.

As a sophomore, Grae hit 8 HRs while hitting .300 and putting up a .389 OBP. He also made the NCAA Regional All-Tournament team. His slugging percentage was pretty good at .473 for an .862 OPS. He had 26 XBH, mostly doubles.

Photo by University of Mississippi Athletics

Grae, however, only played in one game in a wooden bat league as he went 0-3 in the Cape Cod League. The Cubs usually like for their prospects to have experience in the Cape or Northwoods League.

Then again, heading into this year, Grae was seen as a possible guy who might be able  to sneak into day one of the draft of the draft (rounds 1+2). A poor start to 2019 put the brakes on that. However, his bat has started to come alive the past couple weekends. HIs average is up to .262 after bottoming out at .217 early in the month. It’s only 20 games into the season and there are still about 35 games left. He has plenty of games (six weeks) to get things in order for the draft.

The Potential

Considering the Cubs SS depth, the Cubs might not prioritize the position for years to come with Hoerner, Short, and Ademan in the pipeline. Still, Kessinger does have value. He has great size at 6’2” and 200 lbs. He could add or subtract depending on if he sticks at shortstop. He could possibly play 3B, 2B, or the outfield with his natural defensive abilities.

Like any other prospects, if Kessinger can hit, any team will find a place for him to play. Let’s take a look at his swing.

The High School Swing

What comes across as impressive in the video is that he showed great fundamentals when it came to fielding and throwing. From a high handset, his swing was quick and to the point, but it did not look like it could generate much power from his pretty good frame.

Last Year as a Sophomore

In the second video, the hands have noticeably dropped to below his armpits to begin the swing, but eventually they creep up a bit to start the swing. It’s a small thing, but it does take away a bit of power and quickness to the ball. He also swings a bit flat footed as he does not stride. It’s all hips and hands. Those small things can easily be fixed. If not, he would be extremely susceptible to any pitch that does not start with a F.

He’s not perfect but there are some great foundational skills in place. I love his actions in the field. He looks very smooth and free out there. He’s not going to need a lot of work on defense. The bat can be fixed in due time. Actually, the Cubs coaching staff in Mesa has done some wondrous things in a few weeks of tweaking. If the Cubs took Kessinger, he would go in the middle of day two unless he stays hot in April and May for Mississippi.

Prospect Profile – Jordan Minch Could Gain Some Serious Confidence from This Spring

By Todd Johnson

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies

When you get drafted in the 35th round of the MLB as a draft eligible sophomore, odds are that prospect is heading back to school. However, in 2014, when Jordan Minch was taken by the Cubs and signed, it came as a bit of a shock. The lefty reliever out of Purdue began his career in Mesa that year and skipped to South Bend to start 2015. After some nagging injuries in 2016 and 2017, Minch is now at AA and has spent a lot of time pitching with the big leaguers this spring. This leads to the question of whether or not Minch has a chance to make it to Chicago.

Photo by Rikk Carlson

The great thing about being a lefty reliever in the Cub system is that you are a lefty reliever. I know, it sounds stupid, but there is some context to it. Last year, between AA and AAA, there were a whopping 4 lefties at the end of the year with just 1 in high A Myrtle Beach. 

But here’s the thing…That was last year. As a result of that depravity, the Cubs went out and signed several MiLB left handed free agent relievers over the winter.

This spring, Minch has appeared in only 4 games with the big league club but he has yet to allow a run. While Minch has been assigned to the Cubs since February 24, he is not going to make the 25 man squad this year, but the experience has to be an eye opening one for the 25-year-old even if it is just a few games. The experience of pitching this deep into camp has to do wonders for his confidence.

When Minch is going well, he is deadly against lefties. Last spring, he put up a 1.35 ERA against them in April and May before getting promoted to Tennessee. He’s not going to light up a radar gun but sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s. When he commands his breaking stuff, he’s tough to square up from any side of the plate.

Last year’s splits show a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience.

April @ Myrtle Beach – 5.79 ERA in 8 games, 9.1 IP, 14 Ks, 5 BBs
May @ Myrtle Beach – 2.57 ERA in 9 games, 14 IP, 13 Ks, 7 BBs
June @ Tennessee – 3.00 ERA in 8 games, 15 IP, 10 Ks, 8 BBs
July @ Tennessee – 6.75 ERA in 8 games, 13.1 IP, 7 Ks, 8 BBs
August @ Tennessee – 0.00 ERA in 9 games, 11 IP, 9 Ks, 3 BBs

The ending to the season is a main reason for a positive outlook for Minch’s current career arc. Still, I like to say I am from Missouri (I’m not) and Minch will need to “show me.”

Minch will head back to the MiLB camp coming up this weekend. His 2019 season will need to begin like 2018 ended. He’s got to command his offspeed pitches. He’s got to be consistent from month to month.

Minch described what he needs to do to be successful way back when he was at South Bend. Minch told

“Lately I’ve been getting ahead of hitters and throwing the off-speed in any count and it’s a totally different game when you get ahead of hitters; it’s a lot easier to work. I rely on my fastball, which is up to between 92-96 MPH, so once I establish that pitch then I can go to the off-speed and keep the hitters off balance. I just have to continue to keep getting ahead of hitters and trust my stuff because the hitters only get better.”

That quote is 4 years old and solid as a rock. Still, that same plan is time-tested and could pay off in a big way for Minch in 2019. I am hoping he continues in April with what he’s done in March. He should be pretty confident when he gets back to Tennessee. Who wouldn’t be?