Cubs Central Baseball Cards of the Year

By Todd Johnson

For some strange reason, I made 889 baseball cards this year. I’m not sure what I was thinking, That’s enough for every prospect in the system to get three Cards made of them. But that’s not how it always works. I made more of some players than others and definitely more of some levels than others.

Normally, this would be the part where I would tell you about the theme and then show you a Google Slides presentation of the top 11 cards of the year. Instead, I piggybacked the cards from my top-secret Twitter burner account and are able to bring them to you without sucking up any storage space on WordPress.

#11
Picture by Larry Kave

A lot of times light will make a card. It could be bright sunlight, it could be shadows, or it could even be sunset. In this case it is sunset. Larry captures Bailey and his wind up in a camo jersey that kind of blends with his beard and the card frame in  one of my favorite shots of the year.

#10
By MiLB

I am not sure where this picture was taken, but the billboards blurriness in the background makes the whole shot. I also love that Thompson is in the road gray uniform of which we don’t see too many pictures.

#9
By Rikk Carlson

Sunday games are always best for pictures because of the large amount of sun. In this shot, Rikk perfectly captures pitcher Brendon Little in the daylight. That’s not what makes the picture, though. The earth toned crowd behind Little blends perfectly with the 2001 frame.

#8
By Dylan Heuer

Dylan has tweeted that he does not like the red alternate jerseys worn by the Iowa Cubs. In this pic, however, that red jersey just contrasts perfectly With the black flame frame of the 1971 card. Also, I just love the action in the card.

#7
By Briana Paciorka

This is a perfect picture of light and color matching perfectly with the frame in a day game from early in the year. It wasn’t long after this that Vosler found his way to AAA Iowa.

#6
By Jared Ravich

This was the card of the month for September and I just love how the light bounces off the different shades of green in the tie-dyed jersey. Taken right at sunset, it’s a magical shot!

#5
By Eugene Emeralds

Even though Luis Diaz didn’t last at Eugene all summer, the memory of this picture did. The sunlight coming in and illuminating half the hitter and the colors in the Monarcas jersey just seem to pop and it was one of my favorite cards of June.

#4
By Jared Ravich

Fernando Kelli has a lot of speed. This picture by Jared really captures Fernando‘s personality as he eyes third base early in the season. It really speaks to who Kelli is and what he can do in a baseball game to change the outcome.

#3
By John Conover

Taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan, John actually had a much wider view of the shot but when I zoomed in for the card, the angle just seemed to line up between Jared Young, the catcher, and the umpire. It really caught my eye and still does.

#2
By Tennessee Smokies

Just look at that smile! That sells the whole card.

#1
By Rikk Carlson

I just love everything about this card. From the 2008 Topps’ frame to the melting of red, white, and blue throughout the card, it has a really classic look. However, some might get lost in Miguel’s sunglasses as he looks like a viper about to strike. At the time this picture was taken, that’s exactly what Amaya was doing.

To see all 889 cards, head on over to the Facebook Photo Albums. I have also begun to make some cards this offseason. If you know of any recent shots of prospects floating around a hometown paper or website, let me know.

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MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs Actually Has Power

By Todd Johnson


MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs’ prospects actually has some pretty good power and power potential. You would think that a system ranked in the bottom five of farm systems by several sources (Baseball America, Keith Law, Pipeline) would not have a lot of power potential. Au contraire, my friend.

Piepline’s All-Star Team begins with their #87 prospect Miguel Amaya, who cranked out 12 HRs. 1B Jared Young hammered out 17 as did 2B Trent Giambrone and SS Zack Short. Jason Vosler rounded out the infield with 23 dingers. That’s 86 infield HRs. That’s not too shabby for minor league guys.

When I make MiLB all-star teams, I normally just do them on a monthly basis, by the half, or a preseason team. This is a pretty good list for what my 2019 preseason team will look like on the infield except for maybe Nico Hoerner.

When it comes to the outfield this year, MLB Pipeline went with Mark Zagunis, Roberto Caro, and Zach Davis. All three hit well enough to deserve their spots this year with Caro and Davis doing it across two levels. What is missing, though, is power. None of three hit many extra base hits but they did get on base at a pretty good clip. Davis had a wRC+ of 111, Caro was at 186 (wow!) in 38 games at South Bend and 113 in 41 games at Myrtle Beach. Zagunis was also at 111 with just 24 XBHs on the year.

However, come next year, there could be some different names in the outfield including Nelson Velazquez along with 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis.

As for pitching, Pipeline acknowledged Cory Abbott (Cubs Central POTY) as the top right-handed starter. Eugene’s Faustino Carrera was named the top lefty this year over Brailyn Marquez and Brian Glowicki got the reliever nod over Dakota Mekkes. Those are three very different arms.

It’s an eclectic mix of players that were given the accolades. A year from now, things could change quite a bit in pitching as well. A few players will be coming back from injuries, a few could be traded this winter, and some guys might just breakout. You never know what will happen.

For this year’s group, though, their plaudits are well deserved through a mixture of performance, talent, and grinding it out.

2018 Affiliate Reviews: Two Mesa Teams Brimming with Talented Young Cubs

By Todd Johnson

Cubs 1: 38-18
Cubs 2: 28-25

The amount of talent of the Cubs had in their two rookie league teams was quite amazing. A lot of them came from the international free agent classes of 2015 through 2017. It looks to be a pretty good haul.

2018 season in Mesa was all about the Cubs q team just dominating the league with the best record for the entire summer. They ended up placing second, losing to the Dodgers team in a three-game series. I was hoping they would go win back-to-back titles but it just didn’t work out.

The Cubs 2 team was filled with a lot of talent from the draft including outfielders Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis, two of the Cubs’ second round picks. Roederer played 36 games with a 129 wRC+ while Davis played in 18 with a 138 wRC+. Those are two pretty impressive performances.

One thing I take away from the season was the massive depth in pitching the Cubs have on those two teams. Some of them were drafted this summer out of junior college and were impressive in their brief tenures in the Arizona Rookie League. Peyton Remy, a 2017 draft pick, made it to Eugene and played a central role out of the bullpen in long relief in the playoffs.

Pitchers Didier Vargas and Jesus Tejada seemed to really step up their game as the season went on with Vargas going 7+ innings in game two of the championship with the Cubs on the brink of elimination.

When it comes to hitting, there was no shortage of the guys who could put up some numbers. Catcher Alexander Guerra, second baseman Reivaj Garcia, first baseman Rafael Mejia and third baseman Fidel Mejia all hit well over .300 for most of the summer. Add in a healthy Jonathan Perlaza, who could move quickly in 2019, and you have bats everywhere.

Where are they headed in 2019?
That seems to be the million dollar question. The Cubs seem to have about 100 prospects for 50 spots at Myrtle Beach and South Bend. A lot of this year’s Mesa squad will head to Eugene next time at 19 and 20 years of age. Some could play as high as Myrtle Beach next year depending on their bat to ball skills and pitching repertoire. Perlaza, Rafael Mejia, and Guerra along with outfielder Edmond Americaan are definitely in play for South Bend along with a Roederer and Brennen Davis.

When he comes to pitching, guys who are starters this year may not be next year. It’s hard to tell how the competitive nature of having two rookie league teams and Eugene to squeeze into South Bend is going to play itself out. It should be a fun spring to cover.

2018 Affiliate Reviews: Eugene Went From Worst to First in 6 Weeks

By Todd Johnson

When the 2018 season began there was a lot of hope in Eugene. The opening day roster was filled with a lot of the players that won a championship in Mesa the year before. Chief among them was outfielder Nelson Velasquez, the Cubs’ August player of the month in 2017. Eugene also had a lot of hype surrounding outfielders Fernando Kelli and Jonathan Sierra. Maybe those guys could be the core of an outstanding team. Sometimes, things have a weird way of working themselves out.

Things got off on the wrong foot as most of the Cubs’ draft picks were not quite ready to play when the season began. As a result, a large portion of the team was either 18 or 19 years old. That included most of the infield and some of the pitching staff. It was not pretty for the first three weeks as the team struggled at the plate and on the mound. When’s the draft picks arrived in July, things began to straighten themselves out.

It took a whole half of going 14 and 24 before things started to change. By the end of July, most of the infield turned over except for shortstop Luis Vazquez. The outfield remained the same, but Eugene also had a new catching corps and several new pitchers of both the starting and relieving variety.

It proved to be an exciting August as the Ems clinched a playoff berth by finishing second to the winner of both halves, Hillsboro. Hillsboro pretty much had their way with Eugene winning 8 of their 12 games during the regular season. But in the playoffs you start over at 0 to 0.

In just two nights, Eugene changed their own fortunes by sweeping the Hops out of existence. Timely hitting by Caleb Knight and Levi Jordan insured that, along with some outstanding pitching by the bullpen. The pen threw 10.1 innings of action in the two game set and allowed just one run.

Timely hitting, good defense, and excellent starting pitching in the championship seires brought the Ems their second title in three years against Spokane! Their worst to first story culminated with a walk off balk.

As for next year…
The normal step for next year would be for many of these prospects just go to South Bend. For the last couple years, we’ve seen the Cubs be a little bit more aggressive with some prospects. Some might skip South Bend all together and that could be the case for a few of the more mature Emeralds who graced the roster this year. Andy Weber, Luke Reynolds, Derek Casey, and Sean Barry might not need any additional seasoning in the Midwest League.

Who could be coming up
The most logical choices to make it to Eugene next year are this year’s high school and junior college draft picks. But I don’t know if Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis will be in Eugene by the middle of June. They both could make their way to South Bend if they are as good as everyone says.

There are also going to be a lot of guys from the DSL who will be competing in spring training to get to Eugene in June. Shortstop Fabian Pertuz and pitcher Luis Rodriguez from the Dominican are just two of a group of about 10 to 12 players trying to get to Eugene next summer.

Right now the biggest name that should likely be a Eugene Emerald/Monarc next year is pitcher Kohl Franklin, the Cubs 2018 sixth round pick out of high school, who pitched really well in August at Mesa. Lefty Didier Vargas is also a player who I think should be ready to start at either Eugene or South Bend along with fellow young 19-year-old pitchers Jeremiah Estrada and Danis Correa who were both injured all of 2018. 

Most of the roster will be filled with draft picks come early July unless the Cubs speed up their signing process. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs grab a lot of college position players as they did this year.

Until then….

The Weekly: The Lame Duck Effect, Arizona Fall League Begins, and Awards Come In

By Todd Johnson

Joe Maddon’s Lame Duck Effect
Amidst all the hoopla of Chili Davis being let go as hitting coach, it got me thinking of what effect Joe Maddon’s contract is going to have on the future of the Cubs. Right now, he is only signed through 2019. And with that in mind, it’s gonna be hard to get personnel on the coaching side for just one year.

However, when it comes to free agency, I don’t think Joe’s contract is going to have much impact. Players are going to come here for the money and the culture, but mainly for the money. Their teammates will be a bigger draw than Joe would be.

Arizona Fall League Stats
The Arizona Fall League kicked off this week and several Cub players got in some action. Even though there will be a total of about 36 games, most of the position players the Cubs sent will be lucky if they see action in 20 of them. Trent Giambrone was impressive in his first turn at third base. Former Scout Bernie Pleskoff was impressed by Trent’s short, quick stroke to the ball as Trent wrapped out four singles in his debut.

Shortstop Nico Horner took a few games to shake the rust off before going three for five on Friday. Catcher Johnny Pereda went one for four and PJ Higgins was one for two with two walks. Outfielder DJ Wilson has gotten one hit in three games opening week.

As for pitching, Bailey Clark was scoreless in two innings along with fellow reliever Manny Rondon. Justin Steele got bumped around in his 1.2 innings of work as he gave up four runs. On the other hand, Erick Leal struck out three in 2.1 innings of scoreless work, although he did have to be rescued in the third.

It’s just the first week and I don’t think you want to take too much away from just a couple of games. There is a lot of baseball left to be played against quality competition. It’ll be interesting to see how they do adjust over the next few weeks. Every Sunday I will have an update, but I will be positing highlights Mondays-Saturdays on Twitter. (@CubsCentral08)

Baseball America and Pipeline Awards
Baseball America released its top 20 prospects in the Northwest League and the Cubs placed two in the top 10. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez came in at number three and outfielder Nelson Velasquez came in at number eight. I like seeing that the two 19-year-olds, who were key parts of the team, get some love. I am looking forward to seeing both at South Bend, hopefully, in 2019.

In the Arizona League, OF Cole Roederer came in at #7 while SS Luis Verdugo got a lot of love for his defense at 17 years of age. Verdugo was assigned #17. Pitcher Yovanny Cruz just missed according to BA’s Bill Mitchell.

Over at MiLB Pipeline, They released their Players of the Year for each organization. Here’s what they said about Cubs Jason Vosler and Cory Abbott.

Jason Vosler, 3B: For the second straight season, he set career highs in homers (23), extra-base hits (54) and RBIs (93), pacing the system in all three categories.
Cory Abbott, RHP: Thriving on deception, Abbott led all Cubs farmhands in ERA (2.50), hit rate (7.4 per nine innings) and strikeout rate (10.3 per nine innings).

On the 18th, Pipeline will release their All-Star teams for each system. That should be interesting to see. If I can, I will have a full post on it come Friday morning. I have Parent-Teacher Conferences Thursday night, so those come first…

Coming Up This Week
The 2018 affiliate reviews end as I look at Eugene and Mesa on Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday I’m going to put out the annual baseball cards of the year post with my top 11 cards going all the way back to spring training. It was a lot of fun to put that together!

If some other major news breaks during the day, I will probably have something on it at night. October already seems to be flying by.

Card of the Week

The Chili Davis Era Ends Quickly

By Todd Johnson

And just like that, the Cubs will have their third hitting coach in three years.

I am not so sure that is a good thing and I am not so sure it is a bad thing. Then again, it might get ugly. Or, maybe it already is.

The Cubs inability to score more than a run for 1/4 of their games was the likely reason for Chili’s downfall. Add in the regression of Kris Bryant (who was injured), Ian Happ, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, and other top players did not help Chili’s case to stay one more year.

It is going to be tough to find a new hitting coach for a few reasons. The most pertinent being that Manager Joe Maddon is only signed through 2019. As a result, the Cubs cannot offer that coach anything more than a one year deal. In addition to those two aspects, the scrutiny of being the third hitting coach in three years is going to be unbelievable.

Whoever the Cubs go out and get is going to have just a few objectives.

1. Improve run production
2. Improve the ability of hitters to make productive outs
3. Improve the production of Bryant, Willson, Happ, Schwarber, and more.
4. Dingers
5. Win a World Series

If successful, that hitting coach will be quite in demand. Then again, the Cubs would be wise to sign that hitting coach to a 1 year deal with options.

It’s easy to understand that this new hitting coach’s fortunes will be tied to the Cubs success and with a career path identical to Joe’s. I am just wondering who is going to sign on for all those objectives and demands of the job?

 

2018 Affiliate Reviews: South Bend’s Deep Starting Staff Was the Highlight

By Todd Johnson

2018 Record
64-74

Strengths and Highlights
Starting Pitching – From the beginning of 2018, South Bend was supposed to be most exciting franchise/affiliate to watch because of its starting pitching. It didn’t start out that way as elite prospect Jose Albertos began a struggle that lasted all year. But Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, Cory Abbott, Brendon Little, Javier Assad, and Ricky Tyler Thomas did do very well for the Cubs Midwest League affiliate on the mound. Later, Jesus Camargo, and Brailyn Marquez were two more solid pitching prospects to grace the bump for the Cubs. About half of the starting pitchers went on to have success at Myrtle Beach while two (Lacy and Thomas) wound up being traded in the Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez trades.

South Bend also produced one of the top closers in the system in Brian Glowicki who turned into a bulldog on the mound in the last month of the year. He did not allow an earned run in August. Add in the success of Brendan King, Enrique de los Rios, and Garrett Kelly and it was a pretty good year for pitching for the Cubs.

At the plate, most, but not all, of the Cubs struggled. In the beginning of the year, first baseman Jared Young and catcher Miguel Amaya were a nice back-to-back power duo. Young wound up in Myrtle Beach in July while Amaya caught almost every day in July and August but still showed a burgeoning bat with 12 HRs on the year and a wRC+ of 114.. In addition, Christian Donahue and Delvin Zinn displayed they can be successful role players. Austin Filiere struggled at times in the first half of the year but seemed to rebound and was very good at the plate the last six weeks of the season.

2019 Roster
A few players who ended the season in South Bend could be back to begin the 2019 season in the Midwest League. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is the most obvious. Outfielder Jimmy Herron, the Cubs third round pick in 2018, could return for a short stint or he could even start the year in Myrtle Beach.

However, most of the roster will be made up of players from the lower levels of the Cubs system. There are usually prerequisites to get to South Bend. First is Mesa, then Eugene. However, in recent years, some prospects have been skipping Eugene altogether and going straight from Mesa to Indiana with only a pit stop in extended spring training.

There will be no shortage of pitchers and hitters for Jaron Madison to select. There are over 100 rostered players between the two Mesa teams and Eugene to squeeze onto the 25 man roster in South Bend to begin 2019. And that’s pretty much the theme for the lower part of the system in 2019.  That competition will only benefit the Cubs in the long run and increased focus for each and every prospect.

Nelson Velazquez, Fernando Kelli, and Jonathan Sierra should be in South Bend manning the outfield on day one but will 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, and Edmond Americaan give them a run for their money?

The most interesting battles I see coming in 2019 will be over the starting rotation. Riley Thompson is the guy I want to see most next year. Armed with a 95 mph fastball, he’s going to be facing some stiff competition with Faustino Carrera, Yovanny Cruz, Didier Vargas, Jack Patterson, Eury Ramos, Brailyn Marquez, Jesus Tejada, Peyton Remy, Blake Whitney, and more to start every sixth day.

I am not going near the bullpen at this point or who might even be in the infield. There are lot of prospects to fit in and too many questions to answer.

2019 Sleeper
He didn’t see any action in 2018 after pitching for Arkansas in the College World Series. However, that might not stop reliever Jake Reindl from doing well in 2019 with his experience at such a high-level in a power conference.