It is still a little early in the year to say a prospect has broken out. There are prospects, however, who seem to be having solid starts that might be considered to be breaking out. Some of the prospects were foreseen, some were not. Over the next six weeks, these prospects have a chance to show that their great starts are not just that, but rather performances that can be sustained because of developments in their game.
The Foreseen: Adbert Alzolay, Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, James Norwood, and Eloy Jimenez.
Back in early April, I predicted four of these five to have a breakout year. Others predicted Norwood to do so. Alzolay and Clifton are using fastball command to get ahead of hitters. Alzolay (2.52 ERA) still has some work to do on his secondaries and could be even better later this summer. His ERA in April was 2.82 and in May he has a 1.64. He doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters (18 in 33 innings), but they don’t hit off him either (.183). Clifton has a similar trajectory this year. In May he has 25 Ks in 16.1 innings with a 1.10 ERA in 3 starts. Like last year, he still needs to work on his efficiency to pitch deeper into games.
I saw reliever James Norwood pitch the other night. His fastball looked great at 95-96. His other pitches did not. In May, his ERA is 0.00 in 7 appearances where has struck out ten. As his cutter improves, he could be a deadly relief arm. Jake Stinnett is having his best year as a Cub prospect. He had a 2.55 ERA in April and is currently at 3.38 in May. He’s stuck out 26 in 33.2 innings.
The 19 year old Eloy Jimenez is on fire right now. Currently at .329 with 5 HRs, Eloy is getting better as the temperature gets warmer. I see that continuing the rest of the year. His weakness has always been gameplay – he just had not had enough game experience. Now that he is getting it, it is amazing to watch his pitch recognition skills. The problem is he also strikes out a lot (27%). I think that will improve as he ages.
The Surprised Return From Injury: Jose Rosario
After missing all of 2015 to TJS, the former starter is now a reliever and doing very well. He has a 1.88 in 14 innings. I saw Rosario pitch for Peoria in 2013. He had good stuff and got a lot of bad swings. When I saw him pitch last night, not much changed in 3 years.
Didn’t See Them Coming: Paul Blackburn, James Farris, Jason Vosler, Gerardo Concepcion, Daniel Lockhart, Zach Hedges, and Andrew Ely
Every year, there are always prospects not foreseen early in the year who breakout. While Paul Blackburn has always been a well thought of prospect, his ERA in 3 years in the system never got below 3. This year, Blackburn is putting his control to work as he has a 1.08 ERA in 8 starts. Using precise command, Blackburn is getting weak ground ball outs every night.
James Farris was very good in 2015 as the closer for the South Bend Cubs. He struggled in a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach. This year, he was assigned to Myrtle Beach again and has pitched with a mission this season. He had 27 Ks in 20.1 innings and 6 saves with a 1.33 ERA before blowing his first save Friday..
Jason Vosler began to surprise me last year when he was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. He showed some power I didn’t know he had. This year, because of depth above him, he came back to high A and has been outstanding this season. He hit .311 in April and is at .328 for May. Like Zagunis, Vosler does not use batting gloves and has shown the ability for power, but only has 1 HR this year.
I looked up the other day and Andrew Ely and Daniel Lockhart both were closing in on .300. Both are excellent glove men, especially Lockhart, but neither has really hit. I think for Lockhart, this year has been special, considering he was not promoted to Myrtle Beach with his teammates of two championship teams.
Pitcher Zach Hedges has had an outstanding beginning this year except for one start. Heading into Wednesday’s start, his ERA was a low 1.89. After the start, 2.95. Hedges has added some zip to his fastball and still has a plus slider. At the beginning of the year, I did not know if Hedges would even be a starter. He’s been a workhorse going deep into games all year long.
I think what I like most about the players who are on the verge of breaking out is that some players could be seen improving last July and August.I also like the fact that many of these prospects are starting pitchers. Over the next month, some of these prospects will make their way onto the prospect lists. Their ascension is proof of the depth of the Cubs system.