Cubs Continuing to Make MiLB Roster Moves

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs’ major league roster has changed very little this winter. However, at the MiLB level, the Cubs let go of some long time prospects like Stephen Bruno, Bijan Rademacher, and Daury Torrez. In total, 17 Cubs were let go. Some did re-sign with the Cubs like Corey Black. However, the Cubs went out and added 19 new MiLB names.

Here’s the total so far – a few more names could be added in the next month or so.

Catchers: Rafelin Lorenzo and Francisco Arcia
Infielders: Robel Garcia, Phillip Evans, and Ryan Court,
Outfielders: Zach Borenstein, Jim Adduci, Jose (Cardona) Gonzalez, and Evan Marzilli
Pitchers: Colin Rea, Luis Lugo, Alexander Vargas, Mike Zagurski Matt Carasiti, Carlos Ramirez, Jerry Vasto, Allen Webster, and Danny Hultzen

Most of them will make the squad at Iowa and few will be assigned to Tennessee while some will not make any team this spring. However, there are a couple names who raised my eyebrow as they literally could have an impact at the MLB level.

For one, Francisco Arcia is a legitimate backup catcher candidate. He did well at AAA last summer hitting .283 with a .353 OBP in Salt Lake. He got in 40 games with the Angels and cranked out 6 HRs but failed to hit for a decent average. He is 29 and going to be competing along with Taylor Davis for that backup to the backup role.

Pitcher Carlos Ramirez really piqued my interest when he signed. He actually has some MLB experience out of the pen, but not much. But he is an arm who has done well at most every level in the Blue Jays and A’s systems. He has good size at 6’5” and 205 lbs and is 27.

I would not be surprised to see the Cubs add some more independent/Frontier League guys for some of the lower level squads late in spring training.

In Other News…
MLB Pipeline is going to have a pretty busy upcoming two weeks. Starting today, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo begin releasing their top 10 lists at each MiLB position. Two dates to watch are Thursday the 17th and Wednesday the 23rd. Thursday should see Miguel Amaya make the top 10 catcher list while Nico Hoerner is a long shot to make the top 10 shortstop list on the 23rd.

On the 26th, Amaya should make Pipeline’s Top 100 list, considering he’s already at 87 it is a good bet. Hoerner and Adbert Alzolay will be longshots to make that list.

Pipeline will release their top 30 Cubs’ Prospect list in February.



The 5 Series: Erling Moreno Has a Big Year Coming Up

By Todd Johnson

It is hard to know what to make of Erling Moreno. It seems like he has been in the system forever. Signed as an international free agent in 2013, the now 21-year-old looks to be headed to Myrtle Beach but his future is still unclear. After spending a second season at South Bend in 2018, Moreno looks to be finally healthy for the first time since 2016.

There are a lot of things to like about what he can do on a baseball mound. The right-handed pitcher has been derailed by injuries but the quality of the his pitches is still quite evident. I last saw him pitch live on a hot and steamy night in Davenport in July of 2018. Moreno had missed the first two months of the year, which seems to be a theme for him. On that night, he sat 93-94 and flashed a plus curve. He went 6 IP with 2 ERs and 4 Ks. Over the next month he made 5 consecutive starts where he went 6 innings or more. It was a nice stretch and a hopefully a good harbinger of things to come.

Last year was the first year he hit 70+ IP. He struggled to pitch at home while his ERA was a low 2.36 on the road in 2018. It’s a weird stat, but getting away from South Bend might be the best thing that happens to his career.

Here are five reasons why he is still a viable arm.

1. The Fastball – He still can sit anywhere between 93 and 96.

2. His curve is still a mighty force – For some reason, his curve is just a vicious to left-handed hitters. It will be fun to see it continue in 2019.

3. His stuff could play up a little bit in the Carolina League. Myrtle Beach plays in a noted pitcher’s park and his stuff could shine there.

4. He is still relatively young – He turns 22 in January, which is still pretty young for a pitcher. The only problem Cubs have with him is that his development may run out of time before his contract does. Even though he was eligible for the rule five draft last fall, no one selected him. If he has a good year in 2019, I can’t promise that next winter.

5. A Big Year Coming Up – Usually when a prospect breaks out, it’s down at the lower levels of class A. Some guys ramp it up at South Bend. Other guys can get it done in Myrtle Beach. But by the time you get to Tennessee, there are very few guys who somehow make it click for the first time at AA.

2019 might be the year that Moreno does begin to put things together. To me, he is the perfect Arizona Fall League candidate (It’s way too early to say that, but he is if he has a good year). It’s not as if it’s a make-or-break year for him, but it is a very important one.

The problem for him is that he’s been passed up by a lot of pitchers the Cubs have taken in the last two drafts. If Moreno is going to move up through the system after Myrtle Beach, he’s really going to have to set himself apart to get there. Considering the amount of pitching talent the Cubs have at AA and AAA, He’s going to have to make his way into a spot that right now is not there. Hopefully, he can stay within himself and let his stuff do the work for him and, most importantly, stay healthy..

MiLB Questions Abound for Next Sunday’s “Down on the Farm” Session

By Todd Johnson

With the Convention coming up, I  have a lot of questions about the minor leagues. A few of those will get answered next Sunday morning by Jaron Madison, the Cubs Director of Player Development. The session known as “Down on the Farm” is usually the last of the Convention and I doubt they would let me stand there and ask questions for 15 minutes. They include a lot of players specific queries. But what if they did let me just ask away?

Here are just a few things I would ask:.

Nico Hoerner – Where is Nico going to start 2019? Is there a timetable or a performance level before he moves up? Would it be wrong to suggest that he should move faster than normal? Can we expect to see him in Chicago by the end of the summer, or the beginning of next year?

Cole and Brennen – Just how good are these two kids? What can we expect to see from both in 2019? Where are both going to start out in 2019? Are you going to make them stay in low class A for a whole year?

Pitching Assignments – Who is going to be where to start 2019? Who gets left behind at AA? Were the Augusts of Alex Lange and Thomas Hatch a foreshadowing of what they could be in 2019? If Trevor Clifton is lights out at AAA, does he jump ahead of Alec Mills?

Jose Albertos – Just exactly what went wrong with Jose Albertos last year? Was it more mental or more physical? What did he work on this off-season? What’s the prognosis for him for 2019? Where is he going to return?

AAA – It seems like only a few prospects get to AAA anymore. Even after a successful stint at AA, not many make it. Why is that? How come you keep filling Iowa up with guys who are basically AAAA players that don’t even have a shot? Are those players that much better than the Cubs’ prospects?

Miguel Amaya – Just how good do you think this kid can be? Is he a guy that is just going to sit at Myrtle Beach all day regardless of how he does in 2019? What are the odds on him moving to Tennessee midsummer? Do you think he’s destined to be a starter at the major-league level? Is he going to get some reps in spring training with the big league club?

Jhonny Pereda – After his breakout year, what are the expectations for him for 2019? Just how good can he be offensively? Could he be a guy that’s a backup at the next level or could he be a starter?

Tennessee Smokies – What’s up with that video feed? Can you get that looked at or fixed?

Matt Swarmer – Even though he was a big breakout last year, even bigger things could be in store for 2019. How do you think his stuff is going to play at AAA? And will he get to log some innings in spring training with the big league club?

Rookie League – Give us the name of somebody, other than Pedro Martinez, who might surprise in Arizona this year?

Of course, in the real world, I only get to ask one question. But, I have a week to decide!

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part 2: Arms Waiting to Break Out

By Todd Johnson

When I originally started writing this series, today’s post was supposed to be from South Bend on down. However, Tennessee and Iowa were so strong, that first article didn’t leave any room for Myrtle Beach. Unlike the last week’s list, which had a clear-cut pecking order, this list does not. I’m unsure of who is going to be where and that might be a good thing for the system. Spring training could be organized chaos as arms move between levels frequently. In the end, though, here are some names that I am going to keep an eye on as right-handed starting pitchers from class A on down.

Because of the log jam at Iowa in Tennessee, Erich Uelmen will more than likely begin 2019 at Myrtle Beach. Uelmen looks to be the odd man out after struggling somewhat after being promoted from South Bend. I still like his off-speed stuff especially his sinker that kept Midwest League hitters off balance.

Riley Thompson is another one of my guys. The big righty out of Louisville sits at 95 and if he develops any kind of secondaries this year, he’s going to do very, very well. He may be the most promising pitcher from last year‘s draft class. He’s not a finished prospect but he could really take off in 2019.

Derek Casey was drafted out of Virginia and got in some work last summer at Eugene. However, he didn’t even throw 10 innings. Still, his experience in the ACC and throwing on a downhill plane makes it hard for hitters to square him up. I have been saying since August that he could skip South Bend and start 2019 at Myrtle Beach.

Erling Moreno – This guy has a ton of talent but he just can’t stay healthy for an extended amount of time. Moreno has pro type stuff. He’s got a plus curve and can sit 93 to 95 with his fastball. The only thing stopping him is him. He should begin 2019 in the Carolina League.

Richard Gallardo -The Cubs top international signing from last summer has been drawing a lot of praise in recent prospect lists. Both Fangraphs and Baseball America have Gallardo debuting in Mesa and not the DSL in 2018. He is going to be one to watch in 2019. Now that Anderson Tavarez is the new Mesa pitching coach, I am a little excited about his prospects.

Yovanny Cruz – I came away extremely impressed with Cruz from just 1 start. After he spent most of the year in Mesa, he got a spot start in Eugene and just baffled guys with a curve, a changeup, and great command. At only 19. I want to see more of him, a lot more.

Paul Richan – He got a lot of work in early in the summer for Eugene and then met his innings limit. He does have a plus curve and a nice change and he commanded his fastball well The problem is I don’t know if his fastball is going to be enough once he gets to Myrtle Beach. His off speed stuff will be fine in South Bend, but after that I don’t know what the future holds for him. That fastball needs to get up around 93 consistently.

Peyton Remy is a guy who attacks the strike zone. He spent most of the summer in Mesa last year and the junior college product looked extremely polished sitting at 91-93. He was amazing for Eugene in long relief in the playoffs and he should be starting at South Bend to begin 2019.

Danis Correa – Two summers ago, he was the talk of the Dominican Summer League as he was pushing the upper 90s. An injury last spring sidelined him for most of 2018 but he was able to rebound and pitch two scoreless outings for Mesa. He will only be 19 and should be at Eugene to start 2019.

Jeremiah Estrada – 2018 was a blank season for the young California kid, but everyone is still anxious to see how his pro career is going to go. I expect to see the 2017 6th round pick to 2019 in Eugene as the Cubs will probably take it slow with him coming off Tommy John surgery.

Blake Whitney is probably the guy everyone is saying, “Who the hell is Blake Whitney?“ Well the 29th round pick out of South Carolina Upstate did very well as a starter last year in Mesa for the Cubs 2 team and should be in competition to start in South Bend. He had an ERA of 2.30 in 31.1 IP with 37 Ks. That bodes well..

Part of me wonders if I’m only halfway through this list. I don’t know how Jaron Madison, the Cubs director of player development, is going to get these guys innings this summer to continue their development. I didn’t even mention names like Javier Assad, Eury Ramos, Jesus Tejada, Jesus Camargo, Jose Albertos, and Kohl Franklin.

The Cubs have a lot of arms in play and some of these guys could start anywhere from Eugene up to Myrtle Beach. It will be interesting to see who is assigned where and for how long. These are good problems to have. I remember 7 winters ago, it was a system devoid of pitching. Now, it’s brimming with it.

MiLB News: Manager and Coaching Changes Along with Other Tidbits

By Todd Johnson

The Chicago Cubs announced their 2019 minor league managers, coaches, and coordinators yesterday. The biggest surprise was the switching of manager Buddy Bailey to South Bend and Jimmy Gonzalez moving up to be the skipper at Myrtle Beach. As far as individual coaching assignments, Anderson Tavarez, who did wonders the past two seasons as the pitching coach in Myrtle Beach, will be in Mesa and possibly overseeing prodigy Richard Gallardo. 

As someone who follows South Bend on a regular basis, I am pretty excited to see Buddy Bailey up close. He has done some great work with several current Cubs including David Bote. For the past few summers, some of the best part of the Pelicans’ MiLB.TV broadcasts were of announcer Scott Kornberg spinning yarns about, and praising the talents of, Buddy.

I also think this change in managers at South Bend might foreshadow just who might be at South Bend next summer. I would love to see what Buddy can do with Nelson Velazquez, Cole Roederer, Fernando Kelli, Luis Vazquez, and other young guys. The knowledge he could pass on this early in a prospect’s career could be tremendous.

As for Iowa, Tennessee, and Eugene, Managers Marty Pevey, Mark Johnson, and Steve Lerud all return to their previous posts. In addition, former Cub Chris Valaika was promoted to Minor League Hitting Coordinator replacing Jaccob Cruz who joined the Pirates’ MLB staff.

Here is the staff for each affiliate:
Myrtle Beach
South Bend

January Instructs???
This week also saw the Cubs’s  new January Instructs begin. Rather than take place in October, the Cubs gave the prospects some time off after the season and hope that January instruction will carry over into the season better. Baseball America had a nice article on it yesterday.

IFA Signings continue…
Despite a limited budget and a hard cap, the Cubs continue adding talent through international free agency. Since July 2, the Cubs have signed 15 players according to Arizona Phil of the Cub Reporter. Here is the list so far.

Pitchers: Richard Gallardo, Darling Grullon, Manuel Heredia, Gabriel Jaramillo, Joel Machado, and Yander Montero.
Infield:Edwin Castillo, Rafael Morel, Lizardo Ruiz, and Ronny Simon
Outfield: Ezequiel Alvarez, Samuel Duarte, Orlando Guzman, Jose Lopez, and Yohendrick Pinango

I will be back tomorrow with the organization breakdown. I will be examining right-handed starting pitching from Myrtle Beach on down.

Trying to Stay Positive About a Few Things

By Todd Johnson

The longer this off-season drags on, the more tension there seems to be throughout the Cub universe. Almost all of that negativity has to do with major talent acquisition, or the lack thereof. In other major professional sport leagues, when free agency comes, there is a ton of movement in the first few days when teams can officially sign players. Baseball is just not that way. That should be a bone of contention the next time they open up the collective-bargaining agreement.

I like to think that I’m a pretty positive guy. As a Cub fan there are still plenty of other things to remain hopeful and excited about for 2019.  Here are a few things I am looking forward to seeing this year.

The Copa de la Diversión will begin spreading out to more minor league teams this year. Last year, Eugene did an excellent job with Monarcas de Eugene. I’m excited to see what Myrtle Beach and Iowa will come up with this year. Rest assured, I’ll be buying some gear the day they start selling it. Hopefully, Tennessee and South Bend will be a part of Copa de la Diversión in 2020.

2. Competition – I’m going to be relying on Arizona Phil for the rosters of the class A teams during spring training. It’s going to be a hot mess because there will be a lot of competition for roster spots at Myrtle Beach and South Bend. The rosters will probably in flux right up to opening day. I find that exciting to follow.

3. Three More Prospect Lists – Baseball Prospectus,  Keith Law, and MLB Pipeline are taking their time in assembling their top Cubs Prospect lists. Baseball Prospectus should be releasing their’s next week on January 17. I look forward to seeing each list and who they have at number one and just all who they have in their top 10. MLB Pipeline goes to 30 and that should be to fun to examine for its depth.

4. A Dominator – One reason the Cubs’ farm system has not been highly ranked for the past two years is that they just don’t have a dominating player(s). There is no guy that just tears up a league on the mound or in the batter’s box. That could change this year. In fact, I think there are three or four guys could come out and just destroy a league, depending on the level. By the end of the year I would not be surprised to see three Cub prospects listed on a top 100 list. Nico should be on that list as could a few of last year’s draft picks.

5. Despite the pace of this off-season, I’m still very much interested to see the configuration of the 25 man roster…in July. It’s definitely going to change from Opening Day as players come and go as the Cubs’ brass adds and subtracts based on injuries and production. I am looking forward to seeing exactly which players are going to be Cubs for the home stretch of the 2019 season. WIll Dakota Mekkes be there? WIll Norwood? Adbert Alzolay most definitely should.

I know it’s hard, but there are positive things happening in the Cubs’ system. Anyone who is focusing on the negative wears me down. However, no amount of fan vitriol will cause Theo Epstein to change anything. Theo’s going to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the team in the short and long term. It’s worked so far. Yes, last year was disappointing. This year, we will just have to have some patience until an actual deal is made.

The 5 Series: Brailyn Marquez Se Incendia

By Todd Johnson

Over the past eight months, no pitching prospect has risen faster in the Cubs’ system than Brailyn Marquez. The 6‘5“ left-hander has come from the back of the pack to be one of the top 5 prospects in the system in a short amount of time.

Last year, Marquez pitched at short season Eugene for most of the year before getting in two starts at South Bend. Currently, he is projected to start 2019 at A+ Myrtle Beach. He could begin the year at South Bend, but he probably would not be there long.

That’s a bit of a jump to go from short season to the Carolina League with just a cup of coffee at South Bend. But when you watch Marquez pitch, it doesn’t seem like much of a jump. At just 19 years old, soon to be 20, he looks like he could be something that the Cubs don’t have in their system. And that is a high end starter.

Here are five things to remember and to be cautious about Marquez.

1. Tool Kit – He has a fastball that he can sit at 94 to 97 without extreme effort. A few times he did top out at 98, but that was the exception rather than the norm.

2. Wipe Out – He has this slurvey breaking ball that slides across the plate. He gets a lot of movement from left to right and up to down. It is a pitch that just devastates left-handers.

3. Working Counts – Marquez showed a lot of growth last year in his efficiency. Early in the year, he worked a lot of deep counts and rarely made it past the third or fourth inning. By the end of the year, he could work into the fifth or sixth earnings, hence why his stock shot up. The velocity shooting above 95 didn’t hurt either.

4. Game Experience – The more he pitches, the better he’s going to be. Marquez looks like he is learning on the mound. He doesn’t look scared, but you can tell these are new situations and he is learning how to adapt to them on a game-by-game basis.

5. Time – This is a tricky concept for Marquez. Here is a guy who is very young with some plus pitches and he could move very quickly. If he comes out dealing in Myrtle Beach, I wonder if the Cubs are just going to let him sit and dominate all year, or would they put him at AA at the age of 20. It’s an interesting conundrum. You want to challenge him and, at the same time, get him experience.

There are no sure things in baseball when it comes to prospects. You never know what will happen. But it’s going to be exciting watching what Marquez will do this year. Marquez might be the prospect everyone wants to see just based on radar gun readings. While those are nice, I like to see more of his ability to go deep into a game without using a large amount of pitches. He has pitches he can get guys out, some are of the swinging variety and other pitches hitters just watch because they just cannot hit it.

Here is what Fangraphs had to say about his future:

Marquez is perhaps the hardest-throwing teenage southpaw on the planet right now. He also has pretty advanced fastball command for someone with that kind of heat to go along with a 6.5% walk rate over his last 100 innings of work. His secondary stuff is pretty pedestrian, but everything of his plays up against left-handed hitters because Marquez has a weird, sawed off, low-slot arm action. He’ll need to develop better ways to deal with right-handed hitters, either via command or better secondary stuff