The first half of the minor league season all came to a close on Sunday. South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee all have a little mid-season break this week for their respective All-Star games. The Eugene Emeralds began play this past Thursday night and the Arizona Rookie league squad began play yesterday. Today gives us a good time to reflect back on the season so far and look forward to what the second half might bring in the minor leagues.
Ten Second Half Predictions
A lot can happen in the second half of a minor league season for a player or a team. Adjustments are made, new players come in and other players move out. A team can be terrible in the first half and wonderful the second, and vice versa. You never know how it is going to work.
- Promotions to the major leagues
I think there will be only a few barring injuries. When Javier Baez is back and healthy for a month, I think he heads back to Chicago and begins playing every day. I know Joe Maddon loves his defense, and his new approach and stance might make him stick this time. Pitchers Armando Rivero and Carl Edwards, Jr. getting better every week. They could help out in the bullpen if needed along with Tennessee’s Corey Black who is making the transition to reliever. In addition, starter Pierce Johnson is back and throwing darts. In two starts, Pierce has yet to give up a run. I could see him making his way to Chicago this year, if needed. Based on the way Wada and Hendricks are throwing, Pierce is the best option.
- Promotions within the minor leagues
Because of the redundancy built in the system, there are very few places for players to go. I think after Schwarber goes to Iowa on Monday, only Dan Vogelbach and relievers PJ Fracescon and Michael Jensen move to Iowa. Mark Zagunis moves to Tennessee along with Chesny Young and maybe Duane Underwood. If Underwood goes to Tennessee, then Jeremy Null moves to Myrtle Beach. I think Gleyber Torres stays in South Bend as long as possible. I don’t think the Cubs are ready to put an 18 year old in high A just yet.
- Late Bloomers
Some players are known in the system for having great second halves. Among them are reliever Stephen Perakslis, starter Pierce Johnson, and pitcher Carlos Pimentel. All three have shown signs of waking up, especially Pimentel who only has allowed 5 earned runs in his last five starts. Johnson is just getting healthy after a series of minor issues (not related to his arm). For Perakslis, he is well known for having blistering stuff the last two months of the past two years. For someone who throws 95, that means he could sneak his way into the bullpen discussion for a September callup.
- Making the adjustment
Part of being a player in the minors is learning how to make adjustments. The first go around through a league is interesting as players see what they are made of. The second go around is even more eye opening as adjustments are made by pitchers and hitters alike to improve their place in the organization. Two such pitchers are likely Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett. They both have blistering stuff, but they both need to make adjustments to get through the first two innings unscathed. They are both good at making in-game adjustments to hitters, even within an at bat, they just have to be ready at the start. Other players who need to make some adjustments in their approach include Paul Blackburn, Daury Torrez, and Jen-Ho Tseng. All three pitchers were filthy at Kane County in 2014. That has not carried over and up a level in 2015. I think Stinnett might have the easier time out of all five. If he takes a little off his pitches, he gains some control as he did on Thursday going 6 with 4 Ks and only allowing one run. I am starting to like him more and more. He just needs some experience.
- Drafted players reinvigorate the system
Most of the lower levels of the Cubs’ minor league system is filled with 18-20 year old kids with little or no experience. The college players (both pitchers and position players) have a wealth of experience from which to reinvigorate the system and help the younger players. Ian Happ and Donnie Dewees are likely to move quickly from one team to the next this summer. On the other hand, Matt Rose, Sutton Whiting, and Alex Bautista might bring with them the maturity that these young kids need to develop quicker.
- There will be breakout players this summer
A few weeks ago, I posted a whole article about some players who could breakout. Those predictions stand true. With a few weeks to learn more about some of the Cubs draft picks, let me add three names to the list. Reliever David Berg from UCLA should shoot up the system along with fellow closer Tyler Peitzmeier of Fullerton. When it comes to position players, the more I learn about 11th round pick Matt Rose, the more I like his poise, plate discipline, and makeup. He could be a quick mover too.
- South Bend Wins the Second Half
This team has talent, a lot of it. It doesn’t show up in the win column, but this team could easily whip out win streaks of 5 or 7 games. It has talented starting pitchers and young hitters. At home they were 16-17 in the first half and an abysmal 12-21 on the road. They lost a lot of close games and a lot of games late. For the month of May, they were playing behind as the starters gave up 2-3 runs in the first inning every start. However, two of those starters have clearly made adjustments in Jake Stinnett and Zach Hedges (2.50 ERA in June). Some new players and some in game adjustments could allow them to go from worst to first.
- South of the Border
Although stats south of the border are a little sketchy, they do bear watching. 20 games into the season for the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer League teams there are a few names worth watching. On the other hand, there are no big name international free agents assigned to either team. Unlike previous years, I do not expect any of them to end up in the states at all, even in Arizona in rookie league. You might see some in instructs in October, but those chances are slim.
- The Big League Club will make a trade
However, it will not be the blockbuster. The only big name prospects I can see going anywhere are Christian Villanueva, Dan Vogelbach, and Arismendy Alcantara. The Cubs could send a lower level relief pitcher, but they are not going to send any starting pitcher in the system unless it is from the Dominican or Venezuelan leagues. The last thing the Cubs want to do is to trade a prospect they will have to see 10-20 times a year. So, if the Cubs do make a trade with any of the big prospects, odds are it will be to the American League. And who they trade for they will have long term – no rentals for Theo.
- The Cubs Will Strike It Big in International Free Agency
Not only do I think the Cubs will blow by their pool and incur the dreaded dollar for dollar penalty, I also think the Cubs will sign some marquee names currently ranked on MLB.com’s top 30 International Free Agent list. The Cubs have been associated with six one-million dollar names on the list so far, I think they will also be in on some of the late additions to the pool like Eddy Martinez and Lucius Fox. Those could be two stellar signings. I think Martinez stands a good shot of coming to the Cubs. He has been eligible to sign for a while now but hasn’t.
It should be interesting to see what does come true and how it impacts the system and the development of the young players.