1st Half Breakouts Prospects – Hits, Misses, and To Be Determined

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blackburn 65 2016 tenn

At the beginning of the minor league season, I predicted who I thought would breakout in the first half. I did two separate posts and broke them down by pitchers and hitters. And like always, I hit on some, and I missed on others. Then there are some I never saw coming. I think seeing a player break out in the minors is one of the coolest parts about covering the minors.

For the most part, players who breakout do so at the lower levels of the minors. To do so, their stats and performance have to be markedly better than previous seasons. I like what Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini did at Tennessee in the first half. However, those are not breakout performances, just continual growth. I love to see that, too.

The Hits: Craig Brooks, Trevor Clifton, Casey Bloomquist, and Scott Effross
Clifton 70 2016 mbUsually, you can see a breakout performance coming during the tail end of a season or in spring training. This belief holds true for all three pitchers. Craig Brooks and Scott Effross were dominant in the spring. While Effross had a bad April, he has been pretty near unhittable since the first of May. His ERA is under 0.50 since.

While Trevor Clifton was very good the last six weeks of 2015, he’s been near dominant this season. In his 11 appearances, he gave up 3 ERs in his first start of the year and has given up 2 ERs 5 times, 1 ER once, and 0 ERs 4 times. That’s some pretty consistent pitching.

Right now Casey Bloomquist is transitioning to a starter role. In May, he was dominant in relief with a 1.93 ERA. As a starter in June, he’s made 2 starts with 9 IP, 2 ERs, and struck out 7 while walking 1. I really love his bulldog mentality on the mound.

To Be Determined: Ryan Kellogg, James Norwood, Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson
For Cease and Hudson, they never made it to South Bend in late May like I envisioned. Both Norwood and Kellogg have been up and down this season. I can see both having excellent months later this summer.

The Misses: Daniel Lewis, Dillon Maples, Tommy Thorpe
For Daniel Lewis, he was held back in extended spring training followed by an inauspicious debut in Myrtle Beach. I still see him getting it together later this year. Dillon Maples didn’t make it out of an inning before he was injured. He recently came back. Take away one 2/3 of an inning outing and he has a 2.50 ERA. Thorpe is still a valuable part of the organization as a left handed reliever. He hasn’t had a terrible season, but it hasn’t been great either.

The Hits: Eloy Jimenez and Carlos Sepulveda
eloy 86 2016 sbIf you don’t know what Eloy has been up to, you have been living under a rock. He’s everything Cub fans could hope for in a 19 year old power hitting outfielder. What I have really enjoyed this season is his pitch recognition skills. He rarely gets fooled even if he does strike out a lot.

For Carlos Sepulveda, he spent most of April and May on the DL. He’s hitting .372 in June and has been healthy since the end of May. His ascendence allowed for Andrew Ely to go to Myrtle Beach.

To Be Determined: PJ Higgins and Ian Happ
I like what both of these hitters have done this year. However, I think they can do better. Higgins has been hitting well of late and Happ went three for four Tuesday night. I think in July, these two will tear it up in the .300 range. And perhaps, I think we’ll see a little more power.

The Misses: Matt Rose
I really feel for Matt Rose. Great kid, good sense of humor, and he has great balance in his swing with power. He was fourth on South Bend in homeruns for two months, but his batting average was not good. For April it seems as though everything he hit went right to somebody. Every time he hit the ball, he hit it hard. In fact, his BABIP for 2016 is .193, that’s some pretty bad luck. I hope he gets his batting average back together at Eugene because he does have a lot of potential, especially when it comes to power.

The Who Has Broken Out or The I Didn’t See Them Coming List
Pitchers: Zach Hedges,  Paul Blackburn, and Preston Morrison
hedges 86 mb 2016It seems like every time I went to a South Bend Cubs game last year, I got to see Zach Hedges. On a hot night in Burlington, Iowa, I saw him battle the heat and humidity for 5 innings with a masterful pitching performance before the humidity got to him in the sixth. I loved his slider then, and I love it now. What has happened since is Hedges has developed his muscle strength, gained a few pounds, and gained a couple miles an hour on his fastball.His slider is still a plus pitch. He tends to pitch to contact more which allows him to pitch deep into games. It is nothing to look at the box score see that he pitched in to the seventh or eighth inning.

For Paul Blackburn nobody expected him to have an ERA of 0.29 for the month of April. Like Hedges, Blackburn pitches mainly to contact. He’s had such masterful command for most of the year that even into May. It was expected that he could pitch 6 or 7 innings and not give up a run, or even one. He’s leveled off a bit since. But it will be interesting to see what he does in the second half of the year.Will it be more like the past year from when he came off the DL at Myrtle Beach, or will it be more like his previous years where his ERA hovered a little bit above three?

For two months, Preston Morrison has quietly gone about his job at South Bend. He did not get off to a good start in April with a 6.11 ERA. But since, he has been sensational. In May, things quieted down for him. He had a 2.66 ERA while striking out 23 in 23.1 innings. In June, he could be Pitcher of the Month if he continues on his current trend. He has a 1.47 ERA in 3 starts. On Thursday night, he struck out 9 helping the Cubs maintain a 1 game lead in the playoff race.

Rice 85 2016 sb

Hitters: Ian Rice, Andrew Ely, Daniel Spingola
Ian Rice is the breakout hitter of the first half. Despite missing most of April, he had a monster May hitting .378 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs. June’s been a little rougher going, but he’s still at .321 for the year. He also has rocketed four more homers in 15 games this month. His bat has returned to normal the last four games hitting .333.

For Ely and Spingola, both hit for high averages (.295 and .309, respectively) at South Bend before being promoted to Myrtle Beach. Both are singles hitters who also have high OBPs, .368 and .377.

It has been quite an exciting first half many prospects. I will be back early next week to profile who I think will be some breakout prospects in the second half. Most of them will be in the lower levels, but I think you will be surprised with a couple of picks in Myrtle Beach and South Bend!


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