By Todd Johnson
2017 was a topsy-turvy year for some of the Cubs more established prospects. Injuries took their toll on some and several former top prospects struggled to produce consistently. 2018 could be a big year for a lot of these somewhat established players, many of them will be in the upper echelon of the system.
Part 1: The Walking Wounded
Corey Black recently started throwing on flat ground after missing all of 2017. He received high praise from farm director Jaron Madison at the Cubs Convention for his maturity and 4 pitch arsenal. Black said on Twitter that he feels more comfortable heading into this year than he has in recent memory. It should be exciting to see what he can do when he is ready.
Ryan Williams missed two straight years with shoulder issues. I really liked his tenacity as a starter and his ability to control the zone. After flying through South Bend and Tennessee in 2015, he’s never really had a chance to get it going at Iowa. As a result of the injuries, I don’t know whether he’s gonna be down in the bullpen or if the Cubs will let him be a starter again.
I remember seeing reliever Tommy Nance for the very first time in Clinton, Iowa when he pitched for South Bend. You could just hear the opponent’s bats crack or splinter consistently. He can throw in the mid to upper 90s, but he sits comfortably at 93 with a hard sinking fastball and reminds me of former Diamondback Brandon Webb. I bet if I could actually hit his pitches, my hands would be numb for a week after making contact. Hopefully, he can return to normalcy this season.
Jake Stinnett missed four out of five months last year and, when he did return, he was relegated to working out of the bullpen. He had more success as a reliever than as a starter. In the Arizona Fall League, Stinnett continued his rebirth and could be a possible piece this summer as a reliever.
When I watched Carson Sands struggle last year up in Beloit Wisconsin, I felt really bad for the kid. He missed most of 2017 after having elbow splints removed and he just did not look right nor did he look comfortable on the mound, especially when a man got on base. He was shut down after a just a few weeks at South Bend and Eugene. Hopefully, he can get back to the pitcher he was in April and May of 2016 before the elbow splints begin to affect his performance.
For catcher Gioskar Amaya, his TJ S could not have come at a worse time. He was getting ready to play AA baseball and he now could be heading back to the infield after spending three summers catching. It will be interesting to see what position he will play this summer and at what level. He should be slated in at AA Tennessee.
The 6’3″ right handed starter Erick Leal missed all of 2017. I’m unsure of what role he’s going to have this year at AA. He could start, piggyback, or relieve, it just depends on his arm and recuperation rates. I really enjoyed his 2016 season at Myrtle Beach (3.23 ERA in 92 IP) as he used solid command of a low 90s fastball. Currently, he is rostered with Tennessee and should be competing for one of five spots in the rotation.
At one point, Keith Law ranked Carlos Sepulveda as one of the top 10 second baseman in minor league baseball. After fighting through an injury for most of April last year, Sepulveda was shut down for three months before returning to rehab in the Arizona Rookie League. I am hopeful that Gioskar will be at Tennessee, but I wouldn’t put any money on it. Because he didn’t really do very well at Myrtle Beach when he was there, I wouldn’t be surprised if he begins the year back in South Carolina for at least a month, at the minimum.
Will Remillard came back last August and just destroyed the baseball for a month and showed no ill effects of missing two and a half seasons because of two Tommy John surgeries. Remillard could end up anywhere in the system. I love his leadership behind the plate and his ability to manage a pitcher on the mound. His arm looked great and I think he is ready to go.
It was a strange year as many of these prospects were at one point all Top 30 prospects, most top 10, at one point in their minor league career. Their resurgence should be a boost to the system.
I will have part two of this series next week as I look at seven players who will try to overcome a poor or uneven 2017 in 2018 at Tennessee and Iowa.