Prospect Profile: Gustavo Polanco a Big Hit in 2017

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By Todd Johnson

One of the hottest hitter in the Cubs’ system over the past 12 days is Eugene’s Gustavo Polanco. In that span, he’s hitting .404 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, and an OPS of 1.088. He, at one point, lead the Northwest League in five offensive categories. But doing a Google search of Gustavo Polanco produced very few results. Sure, you can find stats, but there are no interviews out there, no in depth scouting report, nor did I find any news articles that did anything but mention what he did that day. It is not as if he is a ghost or the Cubs just recently signed him. This is his third season as a Cub prospect.

Polanco grew up in Venezuela and was signed as an international free agent in 2014. For his first season in 2015, he played in the concluding season of the Venezuelan Summer League. Originally a catcher, he caught 28 games that year and played 11 at first base. He hit .282 in 53 games and only struck out 12 times in 195 at-bats. On the other hand, he only walked ten times.

In 2016, Polanco headed north to Mesa to partake in the Arizona Rookie League.

Luckily, his bat came with as Polanco lead the Cubs in hitting. In 46 games, he hit .322 with a .351 OBP. His low strikeout rate continued as he whiffed only 21 times in 185 at-bats. Then again, he only walked 5 times. Catching, though, was likely not going to be his full time gig. He played 18 games at first, 7 behind the plate and was the DH quite a bit.

Current Info: 6’0” 190 lbs.; 20 years old – Throws Right, Bats Right

Strengths
Hit Tool
2 Strike Approach
Improves Every Year
Potential for Power
Low K rate

Areas of Concern
Defense
Arm
Doesn’t take a lot of walks

I thought just based on last year that he would hit for a high average and, if all went well, he might hit a few more dingers. No magnificent jump in performance was foreseen

I did not expect him to use a scorched Earth policy towards Northwest League pitchers. Watching him hit is very interesting. He knows what zones and types of pitches he can hit. With two strikes, he often goes the other way. On Friday night, he ripped a two out double to right field. It was a thing of beauty. I think naturally, his swing is inside out.

Conversely, his offense is not his defense. He played catcher one game this year and gave up 7 SBs in just one game. I don’t think he is going to catch again, especially with Miguel Amaya on the team. 1B and DH look to be safe places for him.

Going Forward
I don’t think there is anything alarming that screams at you when looking at Polanco. He is going to hit, so let him hit. He has a proven track record of doing just that. I do find it odd that his K and BB rates are so low. While he has struck out 6 times so far in 44 at bats, he has yet to take a walk. Then again, those are very similar to last year’s rates.

Now, about getting more lift on the ball…

He is actually hitting fly balls at a career high rate at 47.2 %. That explains his extremely high OPS. Before this year, his career fly ball rate was 17.7%. His groundball rate was 60.5% last year. I think the power will come, but he is going to need to pull the ball some more. To date, he’s only pulled 25% of batted balls while 44.4% of his “battered” balls go to right.

He is not going to hit .400+ all year. He will level off, but I think he will hit .300+. At just 20-years-old, there is plenty of time for him to improve that walk rate and to work on getting more power.

Prospect Update: Dylan Cease Gaining Strength After Ankle Injury

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By Todd Johnson

Photo – South Bend Cubs

It has been a strange year for Dylan Cease. Coming into the year, he was the most highly touted Cubs pitching prospect. Armed with an upper 90s fastball and a mid-70s curve, Cease wasted no time annihilating most of the Midwest League in April. In 5 starts, he pitched 23.2 innings with a 1.90 ERA while striking out 37. Opponents hit a measly .177 against him. The only issue Cease had was he issued 15 walks.

For his efforts, Cease was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month and he earned Midwest League Pitcher of the Week after he no hit Great Lakes for 6 innings.

However, come May, things were not as rosy as April. His first start was his normal 5 inning affair as he struck out 6 and allowed one run on three hits. His second start saw him struggle. In only 3.2 IP, he threw 89 pitches. He struck out 7, but gave up 6 hits. On May 18, his season changed quickly when he rolled his ankle covering third base. He tried to pitch again but was removed from the game after only 1.2 IP and 36 pitches. Cease would not return to pitch for almost a month.

To miss a month cannot be easy for a pitcher. It’s almost as if you would be starting spring training over when you returned. And that is how the Cubs have handled Cease in his return. He only threw 36 pitches in 1.2 IP when he came back on June 11. On June 16th, he went two innings and threw just 28 pitches. I thought they maybe the Cubs could have stretched him out a bit more, but there could have been other factors that night that I might not now, or maybe two innings was his agreed upon limit to build him back up. The next time he pitched was in the MWL All-Star Game on the 20th as he got in 1 inning of work.

Yesterday, I looked forward to seeing how long of a leash Cease would be given. A rain delay before the game did not help matters any. I just hoped he would not be scratched when play began.

Cease came on in the bottom of the first and looked, well, like Dylan Cease. Being a strikeout pitcher, he sometimes has a tendency to throw a lot of pitches in an inning, especially the first. Such was the case last year in the first half at Eugene, and such was the case in the first inning. His fastball sat 94-96. He struck out 2, 1 of them looking, but walked one. In all, 22 pitches was a pretty high count. He would not come close to that in an inning the rest of the day.

Right now, Cease is pretty much a two pitch pitcher. His fastball looked much better in innings 2-4. He was efficient as he was able to command it better than in the first. When his curve comes in at 74, that has to be extremely head shaking for the opposing hitters. But that’s what he does. That’s who he is. When Cease can get ahead of hitters, as he did in the second, third, and fourth, he has a 1.74 ERA. When he falls behind hitters, his ERA jumps to 6.23.

Consequently, Cease went 10 pitches, 12 pitches, and finally 8 pitches to finish his day. He did not allow a hit. He did walk 2, but he struck out 5, picked off a runner off of second, and touched 97 in the fourth.

I thought he pitched really well after the first. That is what he needs to do going forward. If he can be efficient, strike guys out, and go deep into the 7th inning, look out! I tend to think that 100 innings pitched at this level is a good solid amount to build up arm strength. Right now, Cease is at 42.1 IP with about 12- 13 starts left. It can be done without taxing his arm. 5-6 IP a night would be perfect.

Today was only four innings, but it showed that he is slowly being built back up to be let loose in July. It also reaffirmed the promise of that arm.

Cease’s next start will likely be Friday the 30th against Lansing.

The Weekly: Good News Around the System and Draft Signings

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By Todd Johnson

Even though there are now eight minor league games a day, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. The draft is complete, the second half began, and all the rookie and short season leagues are in high gear. Yet, here I sit wondering what to write about for the next week. There are, however, good things happening throughout the Cubs system. Here are 14 of them.

1. Trent Giambrone is on fire. He’s hitting .361 with 4 HRs and 8 RBI over his last ten games.
2. Thomas Hatch has allowed one earned run all month. That calculates to a 0.33 ERA.
3. Isaac Paredes, all of 18-years-old, has figured it out at South Bend. He’s hitting .316 and slugging .526 as a shortstop this month.
4. Catcher Alberto Mineo looks to have mastered South Bend. He’s hitting at .323 clip this month.
5. I thought Vimael Machin was going to be a utility/organizational player this year. He has proved me wrong. He is hitting .311 in June and .289 on the year.
6. Justin Steele’s ERA for just May was 1.63. In June, it is 1.62.
7. Charcer Burks is the most unheralded Cub prospect going. He’s hitting .353 for the month and .309 on the year. And, he is a gold glove defender.
8. Victor Caratini’s monthly averages this year are .312, .366, and .333.
9. Bijan Radmacher is on a tear this month. He’s hitting .375 with a .455 OBP
10. Eugene’s Gustavo Polanco has everyone beat in his first 9 games. He’s crushing it at a .486 clip. His OPS is a staggering 1.311.
11. Joe Martarano might be better than I thought. After missing most of 2 years while focusing on football, he’s going at it. He has a .385 average and a .455 OBP. I really like his at-bats. Even when he makes an out, he works counts and lays off stuff out of the zone.
12. Yapson Gomez is the bomb out of the pen for Eugene. He threw 6.1 IP this week and struckout 8.
13. I watched Alex Lange pitch for LSU on Friday. He’s the real deal. He’s not a MLB #1 starter, but he and his curve will do just fine.
14. Carson Sands made his first start of the year in Mesa last night. He had elbow surgery in the off-season to remove elbow splints. He went three scoreless with 6 GB outs.

Draft Signings: 17 to date
The MLB Draft was moved back a bit this year. As a result, draft picks who had normally signed and started playing short season ball are just now getting their physicals. It looks like the Cubs could sign as many as 28-30 players this year.

Rounds 1-10: LHP Brendon Little, RHP Cory Abbott, RHP Keegan Thompson, RHP Erich Uelmen, LHP Ricky Tyler Thomas, 3B/1B/OF Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, and RHP Brian Glowicki

Rounds 11-20: RHP Casey Ryan, RHP Brendan King, RHP Peyton Remy,

Rounds 21-30: RHP Sean Barry, RHP Mitch Stophel, RHP Jake Steffens, RHP Braxton Light, and 2B Cam Balego

Rounds 31-40: IF Ramsey Romano

They should game begin action later this week, most likely in Mesa. The more advanced college players will go to Eugene. There are a few others rumored to be signed, but their physicals must be completed before the signing becomes official. The deadline day to sign is July 15 at 4 PM,  CDST.

Promotion Commotion
Daniel Spingola made his way to Tennessee this week. Conor Myers is back with Myrtle Beach after being with Eugene for the past week.

Around the Minors


Iowa: 3-3; 32-43 – This starting pitching thing will hopefully straighten itself out in the next couple of weeks. Zach Hedges was much better in his second start. He will adjust.

Tennessee: 0-3; 0-3 – The second half got off to a rough start with a tropical storm and then losing both ends of a double header. Trevor Clifton was roughed up in his worst start of the year.

Myrtle Beach: 1-2; 1-2 – Going into Friday’s start, all five starting pitchers had ERAs under 3.18 for the month. Then Ryan Kellogg was uncharacteristically shelled by Down East. Michael Rucker was dominant last night in 5 IP before a rain delay ended his start after only 56 pitches.

South Bend: 1-2; 1-2 – First game back and Zack Short hit a HR. Manny Rondon thn had his best start of the year Thursday and Jose Paulino moved to the bullpen this half. I will have to keep an eye on that rotation. Bryan Hudson was excellent last night. Dylan Cease should be coming up.

Eugene – 3-3; 5-5 – Gustavo Polanco es en fuego and Yapson Gomez has been money in the pen. And who is Jhon Romero (Yes, that’s how he spells it)? 2B Rafael Narea seems to have taken off since he was moved to the leadoff spot. He went 3 for 4 with 2 BBs last night. He’s batting .344 with a .488 OBP.

Mesa:  1-0; 1-0 – Opening day went very well except for that one part where they batted out of order. However, Delvin Zinn did well (2-5) as did Rafael Mejia (3-4, HR). Carson Sands had 1 K in his 3 innings.

DSL 1: 1-4; 5-13 – It was a rough week. Let’s leave it at that.

DSL 2: 2-3; 8-10 – This team has some serious starting pitching but can’t score a lot of runs.


Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Cubs Articles on the Web from this Week

BP Wrigleyville: Thomas Hatch

Cubs Insider: Alex Lange

Mesa Cubs Preview – The Young, Younger, and Youngest Cubs

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By Todd Johnson

The Cubs’ rookie league team in Mesa begins play today. It’s roster is a mix of young players, most of whom are 18 or 19 years old and are in need game experience. This year’s team has a decidedly Latin flavor. That will change once the draft picks have been signed and passed their physicals.  

Last year, the Mesa Cubs made the playoffs in the Arizona Rookie League before falling to the Mariners in the opening series. The strength of this year’s team should be their pitching. There are a few draft picks, but most of the starting staff are standouts from last year’s DSL teams.

Here is the opening day roster. In rookie league, each team can have 35 players on the roster with only 25 activated for each game.


Pitchers: Jose Albertos, Faustino Carrera, Jed Carter, Alfredo Colorado, Fauris Guerrero, Luis Hernandez, Chi-Feng Lee, Jose Leidenz, Jose MacDonna, Brailyn Marquez, Carlos Ocampo, Pablo Ochoa, Eugenio Palma, Yunior Perez, Eury Ramos, Stephen Ridings, Nathan Sweeney

Catchers: Carlos Diaz, Richard Nunez, and Kevin Zamudio

Infield: Fidel Mejia, Rafael Mejia, Yonathan Perlaza, and Delvin Zinn

Outfield: Yovanny Cuevas, Jose Gutierrez, Ruben Reyes, and Jonathan Sierra


Here are some names that will probably be the key players over the next two months.

Card made from a picture by Bill Mitchell/MiLB

Jose Albertos – The 18-year-old top prospect stayed behind to work on the grip on his curve. Once he has that down, he will be off to bigger and better things.   

Faustino Carrera – He put up very good numbers in the Dominican last year. He had a 1.06 ERA in 13 starts for the summer. He is not that big but has good control of his pitches. He likely will be a reliever.

Brailyn Marquez – I think this kid could be a breakout pitcher in the next couple of years. In EXST this spring, he struggled in 11.1 IP. He has excellent size and I look forward to watching him develop. He had a 1.48 ERA in 12 starts last summer in the DSL.

Stephen Ridings – The 2016 8th round pick is a wildcard at 6’8”. He can throw in the upper 90s but has trouble repeating his delivery and, as a result, trouble controlling his pitches. He did not pitch last year after being drafted.  

Nathan Sweeney – I did not think he would sign last year after being drafted out of high school, but he said college was not for him. So, he is now a Cub and I wonder if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever. He’s just 19, so they have some time.   

Kevin Zamudio – He should do well in his second go around in Mesa. He hit .237 last year and he plays a little at first, a little catcher, and a little DH. He is only 19 and is part of the Cubs new Mexican free agency foray from 2015.

Image may contain: one or more peopleDelvin Zinn – He might be my favorite pick from last year’s draft. He is an exceptional athlete who I think is going to be a breakout player before too long. He had some trouble with injuries this spring and that’s why he is in Mesa rather than in Eugene. He might not be in Mesa very long.   

Jonathan Sierra – Everytime I mention him, I talk about how he is physically a Darryl Strawberry clone. At just 18, he will be in the outfield every day this summer garnering game experience. He showed some improvement this spring after hitting .264 last summer in the DSL.

Yovanny Cuevas – He was one of the delights of EXST. This spring, he improved dramatically and earned a trip stateside for the year.   


Draft Picks Who Should Be in Mesa All Season  

Nelson Velazquez – I hope the Cubs can sign this kid is he seems to be a physical specimen and could be a five tool player within a couple of years. I think the Cubs may have gotten a steal in the fifth round.   

Luis Vazquez – If the Cubs can get this toolsy SS signed, he would be stationed here. It will be interesting to see how he does in such an atmosphere. He looks long and lean for a SS with the potential for power as he fills out.

Alex Lange Thundered Away at Oregon State and Looked Amazing

Posted on Updated on

By Todd Johnson

Photo – Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

 

About a year ago, I sat down and watched recent Cubs draft pick Thomas Hatch of Oklahoma State throw in the College World Series. Today, I did the same with Alex Lange. The Cubs selected Lange with the 30th selection in the 2017 MLB Draft. The 6’3” 197 lb. right hander from Louisiana State University (LSU) faced off against Oregon State, the number one team in the nation. For LSU, it was win or go home. For Lange, he did not disappoint.

In 7.1 IP, Lange looked dominant at times, frustrated, and even vulnerable at one point. He struck out 8, allowed one run, but walked 4 (3 in one inning) while only giving up only 2 doubles on the day. He needed 115 pitches to get it done as his team came away with a 3-1 victory. I came away impressed, extremely impressed in fact, with Lange.

Strengths
Extra plus curve (MLB ready)
Fastball Command
Repeats delivery well
Hitters were 0-20 with the bases loaded against him

Areas of Concern
Effort in Delivery
Pitching from the stretch
Third pitch

From a technical standpoint, he does have some effort in his delivery. He has a medium leg kick that brings his knee and thigh perpendicular to his waist. He comes right over the top at about a 7/8 arm slot. The effort comes on his extension of his arm as it comes forward. He did pitch fairly quickly and did not waste time in between pitches. He just gets the ball, nods his head, and throws. He sat 91 most of the day, topping out at 93 a few times. On his 112th pitch, he reached back and got it up to 93 for his 8th K of the day.

For the first two innings, he looked extremely sharp. Using only 23 pitches, he moved the ball around the zone quite a bit. A pop up here, a ground out there, and 2 Ks later, the third inning awaited.

I think rough best describes Lange’s performance in the third inning. He threw a changeup for the first time. It was not pretty. Otherwise, he looked normal as he was sitting 93 to begin the inning. After a strikeout to start the inning, he gave up a double and three walks. Luckily, Lange was able to pitch around his walks, but he did so giving up one run.

The troubles started after a double and Lange was forced to go to the stretch. He did not look prepared to do so. He fell behind the first hitter 2-0. He was throwing high, then wide. It was almost as if his release point was way off. To me, he appeared to be flying open. His arm was not keeping up with the rest of his body in the delivery and the ball sailed. It took him 31 pitches to survive the inning.

Lange sat at 56 pitches after three innings. I don’t know who that pitcher was in the third, but he did not show up the rest of the day. The next four innings looked like it was a man against boys. From the windup, he shut down the vaunted #1 team in the nation.

Oregon State never did pull a ball for a hit all day. In fact, both hits were from the left and sliced down the left field line. If anybody did pull the ball, it was a ground out.

Two things impressed me a lot in Lange’s 4.1 inning run.
1. He began to paint the outside corner with fastball after fastball. It was pinpoint command and if a hitter tried to go get it, they could not do much with it.
2. His curved reminded me of Josh Beckett’s. It has that classic 12-6 roll of the table look. I don’t know how a hitter can get to it as the break is down and deep. All they could do is to pound it into the dirt as the angle of descent is steep.

And I was not the only one impressed on the day. Baseball America’s Michael Lananna echoed my sentiments on Lange’s performance.

After 7 innings, Lange had thrown 112 pitches. I was not surprised he came back out in the 8th, but I was cringing the whole time. He got the first batter to ground out and he was lifted. I was quite relieved.

Overall, I think once he signs, he will not pitch the rest of the year. He’s over 120 IP now. Lange will probably do the “Hatch” thing and travel around with the team as a non-playing member of the team to get acclimated to the MiLB lifestyle.

As for next year, I am sure the Cubs will make a few adjustments to his delivery and they could even include a slide step as he does have a bit of a leg kick even in the stretch. He won’t be much different. I don’t think it should take him long next year to move either. He’s likely to be a #3 or #4 type starter very quickly. His curve is a thing of beauty. The Cubs got a good one in Lange.

Friday Six Pack: The Cubs’ Dominican Summer League Teams Bear Watching

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By Todd Johnson

It’s been two weeks now that the Dominican Summer League (DSL) began action. It’s a place and a league that does not get reported on much. Sometimes the stats can be misleading as it is a league filled with mainly 16 to 21-year-old kids. However, it is still very important to those players. For some, this is a chance to get off the island of Hispaniola. For others, they come from Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and other parts of the Caribbean Rim for a chance to play professional baseball in the United States.

The Cubs currently field two teams in the Dominican Summer League. Prior to 2016, the Cubs had one team in the Dominican and another team in a league in Venezuela. However, due to political turmoil in Venezuela, the Cubs, and every other team in the league, withdrew to the DSL.

I think there are a lot of misleading stereotypes when it comes to ball in the Dominican. Today’s SIX PACK looks at a couple of stereotypes and how the two teams are doing this summer.

1. One stereotype is that you have to hit your way off the island. I don’t subscribe to that notion and I don’t think the Cubs do, either. Approach and talent have more to do with getting to Mesa than batting average. Racking up some stats against 16 to 17-year-old pitchers only goes so far. Those types of things need to be taken into consideration when evaluating what goes on every summer. Just because the kid hits .327 in the DSL, it is not indicative of future MLB success. You always have to think a little deeper.

2. Baseball is not that different in the DSL. While the island has the rep as fastball dominant, there are all kinds of pitchers throwing different kind of pitches. The Cubs have two prospects, who will be in Mesa this year, in Faustino Carrera and Brailyn Marquez who rely on the change and curve to get ahead of hitters.

3 – The Cubs are sneaky. Over the last three International Free Agent signing periods, the Cubs have gone out and signed over 100 prospects despite financial limitations placed on it my MLB in two of those three years. Several of the top prospects from the 2015 class are just now getting to the US at 18 years of age. It takes a while.

4. DSL 1 is supposed to be the more experienced team. As of today, they do not have the best record of the two teams at 4-12. Yet, there are some prospects off to good starts. 18-year-old CF Fernando Kelli usually leads off and is hitting .323 with a .371 OBP. Another young outfielder who has been streaky is Carlos Pacheco. He really bears watching. The average is pedestrian at .275 but his OBP is amazing at .424. He has cranked out 2 HRs as a young 18- year-old from Mexico. Luis Hidalgo is in his last year (They do have an age limit in the DSL) and is hitting .278. There have been two surprises on the team. SS Christopher Morel, who has come North for instructs and spring training, is only hitting .152. He is part of the vaunted 2015 IFA class. The big surprise is 17-year-old Jeinser Brete (Jeimer Candelario’s cousin) is hitting .286 with a .444 OBP. The 3B is from SS central, San Pedro de Macoris. He started this year in the DSL just like catcher Franklin Tineo who is hitting .317 with a .440 OBP.

When it comes to pitching, this team struggles. Yovanny Cruz, all of 17, is the only starter with an ERA of under 3. He’s struck out 17 in 16 IP and has a nice WHIP of 0.91 and has only walked 2 in his 4 starts.

Carlos Pacheco at his signing.

5. The DSL 2 is currently doing well and are almost at .500. Offensively, they have struggled. SS Orian Nunez is hitting .322 but his OBP is only slightly higher at .375. Catcher Jonathan Soto is hitting .286. The rest of the team is under .250.

This team has gotten it done with starting pitching. They have four SP with ERAs under 2.77. Emilio Ferrebus is in his 3rd year in the Cubs system. At 6’2” and 165, there could be something there as he physically matures. The hope, as it is with most players, is their performance this summer gets them an invite to fall instructs in Mesa. RHP Jesus Tejada is having success as a full time starter this year. He began making the transition last year.

Didier Vargas from Panama just turned 18 and he’s been excellent with a 0.70 WHIP and 12 Ks in his 3 starts. Ben Badler of Baseball America stated he has a good feel for his curve and changeup already. Vargas’ ERA is 0.63 and this is his first year as a Cub. Danis Correa is from Colombia. Although slight of build at 5’11” and 165, is peripherals for his 1.62 ERA show batters hitting .234 against him. Just 17, he seems to be able to pitch around trouble. Thankfully, he’s only walked four all year. Baseball America likes his fastball which sits between 91-96.

6. When They Get to America – Sometimes it takes two to four years to make it north. Not every prospect gets a year to prove their worth. There is development just like the US. Not every prospect signs at 16 fully ready to go north like Eloy and Gleyber. It takes time. Chances are, some of the players listed above could head north when the season ends.

Schwarber Goes Down, Zagunis Comes Up

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In a stunning turn of events this morning, OF Kyle Schwarber was sent down to AAA Iowa to work on getting back to being an excellent hitter. Schwarber’s struggles are well documented and I hope that he can figure things out. No one said that development is linear and Schwarber’s has definitely not been this season.

The Cubs also placed Jason Heyward on the 10 Day DL and recalled relief pitcher Dylan Floro. Joining Floro in Chicago will be OF Mark Zagunis. Zagunis is known for his eye at the plate and exceptional OBP. He does have some power and should see action in LF. I would think he would be perfect in a leadoff or number 9 hole role.

The Cubs are in Miami and play at 6 Central tonight.

Here is the article I wrote about Zagunis heading into the season.