Eugene Is Setting the Northwest League on Fire

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Jesus Castillo watches from the dugout – Photo – Eugene Emeralds

When the Eugene Emeralds began play on June 17, I was extremely excited because I would get to see them on MiLB.TV. Of course, the first night it didn’t work. It has been great since to watch his team play almost every night at about 9:30 Central. Going into Monday’s game they are 17-7 and have a 5.5 game lead in their division in the Northwest League. Their magic number is now down to 10. It seems as though they just started playing, but when the first half of your season runs from June 17 to July 25, it happens very quickly.

This year’s Emeralds team is a very experienced one. Returning players include reliever Mark Malave, starting pitcher Jose Paulino, third baseman Matt Rose, and outfielder Kevonte Mitchell. Most of the team played together last year in the Arizona Rookie League where they qualified for the playoffs but lost in the first round. It is a team built around starting pitching, speed, and power.

Most of the plaudits for the team are about it’s starting rotation. Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson may be the big headliners for prospect lovers, but Jose Paulino, Jesus Castillo, and Manny Rondon have out pitched the two on the field and in the scorebook. Paulino has an ERA of 0.46 while Rondon has a 1.42 ERA, both players have made four starts.  Jesus Castillo has twice put up double-digit strikeout numbers. In four starts, Castillo has struck out 29 batters and walked only 3 with a WHIP of 0.92.

cease 71 2016 eug

What I like most about these five starters is they are all relatively young. Cease and Castillo are 20. Hudson is 19, and Rondon and Paulino just turned 21. Hudson and Cease both put up a 3.18 ERA despite each of them struggled a bit in two of their starts. For Hudson, in one start, he walked seven but was able to pitch of jams on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff. Cease, meanwhile, struggles in the first inning. Once he gets out of that inning, he is pretty smooth. In his last start, he went a career high five innings, a great sign for him.

When the season began, Andrew Monasterio drove the offense. He only lasted 17 games before he was promoted to South Bend after hitting 324 and leading the Northwest League with 12 RBIs. As a result, manager Jesus Feliciano has made some adjustments to the lineup; and with draft picks signing, he will have more changes to make.

pieters 86 2016 eugRight now, the stars of the team appear to be first baseman Chris Pieters and third baseman Matt Rose. Pieters is hitting a solid .308 with one home run, 13 RBIs, and 8 SBs. But it is his glove work at first base that impresses me the most. He makes a lot of scoops and stretches to get wild throws in order to get runners at first. Rose, on the other hand, looks to be a much more relaxed at Eugene then he was at South Bend earlier in the year. He hit the ball hard, just at somebody. At Eugene, he is hitting .271 and is tied for the team in home runs with 4 and leads in RBIs with 16.

The player I like the most is outfielder Robert Garcia. He has impressed me a lot with his ability to get on base, glove work, approach, and his speed. He is currently heading .286 with a .354 on-base percentage. Another speedster is shortstop Yeiler Peguero. The young 18 year-old has been a table setter with his speed that turns any ground ball he hits into a race. He is currently hitting .280.

3B Wladimir Galindo has shown the ability to hit for power, 4 home runs, but also to swing at  pitches that he should not (25 Ks). Catcher Tyler Payne is also hitting extremely well at .282. Trent Giambrone, who recently was drafted by the Cubs, has done well in his 10 games hitting .271 with 1 home run. Last year’s fourth round pick, Darryl Wilson, is struggling to hit (.167) but has shown a solid approach drawing 13 walks.

As for the bullpen, it’s settling in a little bit. Jared Cheek and Mark Malave have taken over the closer spots, while Michael Knighton has impressed me a lot with his ability as a setup man. Wyatt Short, the Cubs 13th round pick, made his debut last night and pitched a scoreless inning.

Paulino 82 2016 eugWhen it comes down to it, this team has a lot of power and speed in the daily lineup and it has a lot of power arms in the rotation, something not seen in the rest of the system. Unlike many Cub pitchers at AA and AAA, these kids have some serious out pitches. They are going to strike out a lot of batters. The fact that the Emeralds go five deep with power arms is a testament to the redundancy found in the lower part of the Cubs’ system. In most years, Paulino would’ve already been promoted to South Bend. The competition to start at South Bend and Myrtle Beach in spring training was so steep this year, that Paulino did not make it despite having excellent stuff.

As the first half draws to a close, Eugene will likely nab a playoff spot. Considering who they have pitching, the Ems could have a playoff spot sewn up by the end of the week. When the second half begins on July 26, Eugene will likely have more pitching prospects from the draft on the roster and in the bullpen. It should be very exciting!

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