It has been a busy week in the Cubs organization. The Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront for a player to be named later and catcher/utility player Victor Caratini from the Braves for James Russell and Emilio Bonafacio. The sell offs, as one might say, looks like they are over. One reason, the Cubs have no short term assets left to sell. They are now all in for acquiring long term major league assets. In addition, the team won three out of four from the Rockies while Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara contribute. Currently, the Cubs would have the fifth pick in next year’s draft. I don’t expect that to fluctuate more than 1 or 2 spots, up or down, the rest of the summer.
On the minor league front, the Cubs teams are trying to make it to the playoffs in September. Kane County is already in, Daytona is playing like a team possessed, while Iowa clings to a small lead, Tennessee and Boise are fighting for their lives. Five players are hitting like their pants are on fire: Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Jacob Rodgers, and Danny Canela. CJ Edwards found his way back to Tennessee while Corey Black and Pierce Johnson continue to strikeout men in large numbers. Jose Paniagua and Tyler Skulina found their way from Kane County to Daytona. Tyler Ihrig and Ben Wells made it from Boise to Kane County. And surprisingly, Dae-Eun Rhee continues to impress in Iowa and may earn a shot sometime next summer.
On Sunday, I am off to Kane County where I hope to see Caratini along with the player to be named later in the Darwin Barney deal, Jonathon Martinez. I have heard good things about him from his time in the Midwest League. Check back on Sunday night/Monday morning for some prospect photos and report of my day at the park.
SURPRISE PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR LIST
While Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber get most of the headlines in Cub Blogs, the system of the Chicago Cubs is filled with many worthwhile prospects. Some were known at the beginning of the year, and some were not known. While many expected prospects like Paul Blackburn to step their game up a notch, there are other prospects that have surprised scouts, bloggers, and the fans to position themselves for a move into a prospect list. Most of the list will be at the lowers levels of Class A and rookie, hence the surprise. If a player turns in a surprising season at AA and AAA, it is likely the result of a change of scenery from another organization. Here are my top (17) surprises of 2015.
1. Kevin Brown – Outfielder – Boise, Kane County – in his first year in 2013, Brown did nothing to impress anyone in rookie ball in Arizona hitting only .235. This year, he has quickly moved around the system and is hitting for a high average wherever he goes. When he filled in at Tennessee for a few games in late June, his bat acted like he belonged, and I think that the confidence gained at Kodak is propelling him through the system. He takes pitches, waits for one he can handle, and then gets a hit. He is not going to hit for a lot of power, but he will get on base, and he drives in runs.
2. Will Remillard – Catcher – Kane County – he is, without a doubt, the best defensive catcher in the system –hands down. In April and May, his bat was on fire, too, before small injuries derailed his season. He still can hit, but the first full season of pro ball is wearing on him a little bit. Having seen him call three games for Skulina, he is the one in charge on the diamond as he rarely looks to the dugout to call a pitch. He has a nice arm behind the plate and has a good approach at the plate. I would not have guessed his progress based on the fact that he did not play after being drafted in 2013.
3. Jacob Rodgers – First Baseman – Kane County – the more I see him, the more I like him. A 40th round pick in 2012, Rodgers has slowly worked his way up the system. He has great size at 6’5”, and at times this year, has flashed some power. However, his strength has been his ability to work deep into counts. He is hitting .269 but has a .375 OBP because he can work a walk to go with his 13 home runs. He reminds me of Adam LaRoche but with more power.
4. Chesny Young – Second Baseman – Boise, Kane County – Just drafted in June, Young has progressed all the way to Kane County. He looks like a baseball rat – a kid who spends all his life at the diamond. He has a great approach at the plate. However, I did not see the 14th round pick on the radar at all. Listening to the Boise games on the radio, he was front and center of Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis driving them in. he hit .354 at Boise and is hitting .304 in Kane County. I think the scrappy player could make some prospect lists next year.
5. Kevonte Mitchell – Outfielder – Arizona – When I first read the scouting reports on this year’s 1th round pick, I thought, it will be a couple of years before he could produce because he needed to fill in. I was wrong, dead wrong. The 6’4” and 185 pound athlete from Missouri has settled in nicely in Arizona and moved off of third to center field where he does nothing but get on base. He is currently, at 18 years old, hitting .306 with a .375 OBP. The power is not there yet, that will come as he fills in.
6. James Pugliese, Jose Arias, and Andrew McKirahan – relief pitchers – Kane County, and Tennessee – These three pitchers have been flat out filthy. As starters last year, Pugliese and Arias did not flash that kind of potential. In a relief role, they both have been dominant thanks in part to a simplified approach and arsenal – in other words, they became two pitch pitchers and worked on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. For McKirahan, the Texas product came into his own at Daytona posting a 0.99 ERA in 36 innings! The lefty has show a propensity to miss bats and good control. He is now at AA Tennessee after a recent promotion.
7. Lars Anderson – 1st Baseman/Outfielder – Tennessee – Anderson is more of a guy who has come into his own the last month after having missed most of the year due to a head injury. The 6’4” 215 pound lefty started out in Iowa and produced with 4 HRs at a .287 clip in just 34 games. When Mike Olt was “reassigned to Iowa,” Anderson, a castoff out of the Red Sox system, went to Tennessee and has shown he has regained the promise that the Red Sox saw in him. In 8 games at Tennessee, Anderson is batting .346 with a .471 OBP with 1 HR and 3RBIs and a stellar 1.009 OPS. He has shown the power the Red Sox saw him. This week, Anderson made his debut in left field as his bat could play there, likely in backup lefty off the bench role, in the majors. The key for Anderson has always been his self-confidence. With the Red Sox, he lost it. This year, he has found it, and that has made all the difference.
8. Duane Underwood – Pitcher – Kane County – I knew he had potential. That being said, I didn’t think he would harness it this quickly. In 78 innings, he has flashed a 2.52 ERA while striking out 64 and walking 28. Possessing good arm action, Underwood works low in the zone and from his 6’3” frame, it is hard for hitters to get good solid contact on that downhill plane. When he leaves it up, he gets hit. He is approaching a new innings high so I would not be surprised to see him handled with kid gloves as he approaches 100.
9. Marco Hernandez and Gioskar Amaya – Daytona – These two have been around for a while. In fact, Hernandez and Amaya could be rule 5 picks this winter but it is doubtful someone will select them as they are only in high A ball and it would be a big jump to the majors from there. But this June and July has seen these two get on base at a regular clip near .300 and help lead Daytona to a 4.5 game lead in the Florida State League. Hernandez has always been a good glove after spending a couple of season in Kane County. Amaya really came into his own after having shown flashes of the bat at Kane County. Honestly, I thought that this year would be Hernandez’s last as a Cub. Amaya, I thought would be given another chance. Now, I can easily see the two of them at Tennessee next summer along with most of the highly prized position player Daytona teammates like Vogelbach, Almora (already at Tennessee), McKinney, and Schwarber.
10. Jacob Hannemann – Outfielder – Daytona – At the beginning of the year, I thought Hannemann would start at Daytona. He did not. And at Kane County it was a rough start. I thought he was going to be there all summer after his poor start and then he bumped and umpire and missed five games after he started to turn it on. I was surprised he was promoted and then even more surprised when he began smacking the crap out of the ball. In just 8 games he is batting .323 with 1 HR and 3 SBs. Above all else, Hannemann is a great atlete. He glides in the outfield, makes good reads, and takes good, smooth routes to the ball. His arm is average, but his bat is always going to be what moves him forward in the system. He has, at times, this year shown some power, and I think that skill needs to be developed. At Kane County, he stole32 bases in 88 games which projects out nicely to close to 60 for a season. Speed is something the big league club does not have in spades.
11. Billy McKinney and Addison Russell have surprised me with how good they are. McKinney is driving in runs at 130+/162 game clip and Addison Russell has turned the power on at Tennessee with 6 HRs in 22 games. I did not think the Cubs could get this type of talent for Samardjiza, and it looks like a trade that will work out for both teams.
12. Dae-Eun Rhee – Pitcher – Tennessee and Iowa – He continues to surprise me at Iowa. Out of all the pitchers at Tennesssee this year, he was the least hyped and most seen as an afterthought. When he was promoted to Iowa after the Samardjiza trade, I was a little surprised. I watched a couple of games on MiLB.TV and he was impressive changing speed, changing location, and keeping hitters off balance. In 3 starts there, he has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings with 11 strikeouts. In his last 2 starts, he has not given up an earned run.
13. Josh Conway – Pitcher – Boise – After missing the last two years, he is being used in short spurts of 2-3 innings and he has been outstanding! In 8 starts, he has had two poor ones and six sparkling ones where he gave up zero or one run. As he builds his arm strength back up, look for the chains to be taking off next year and he could advance 2 levels through Kane County and Daytona.
Next year when I make this list, I expect it to be filled with more pitching as the Cubs did select a lot of them in the draft in 2014 and some are just getting the beak wet in Boise and Arizona now. James Norwood made his first start last night and James Farris threw his first inning. It should be a fun year to watch them progress and see who else can surprise me in 2015.