By Todd Johnson
It is not uncommon for a top prospect to have a rough stretch of baseball. At each level in the minors, there’s a new period of adjustment. Current Myrtle Beach Pelican Austin Upshaw put it best last year about the difference at each level: “Everyone’s just a little more polished.”
Some of the Cubs’ most elite prospects are having a rough time to start the year. Part of it could be physical. Part of it could be mental. And part of it might be they just need to be a little more polished themselves.
At AA Tennessee
Zack Short – Currently, he is hitting .155 and .086 in his last ten games. However, he is still walking a lot – close to 25%. The problem is 28 Ks in 16 games. As he adjusts, the K rate should shrink, his power should return, and he will continue to walk. He has never been a big average guy. Even .250 would be fine as much as he walks. He was moved down in the order this week so that should help to take some pressure off of him.
Oscar de la Cruz – He is not fooling anybody this year with a 9.82 ERA. He is leaving the ball up in the zone and has been getting hit hard with batting average against at .339. In 3 starts, he has been rocked. In one start, he was outstanding with 6 Ks and 0 runs in 6 innings. Adjusting to a 5 day routine is big for someone who has never pitched 100 innings in a single season. His May should be worth watching as he continues to adjust.
At Myrtle Beach
Austin Upshaw – It has not been a good start for one of my favorite prospects from last year’s draft. I am actually stunned. The 21-year-old infielder is currently batting .171. Then again, he is starting show some signs of life. In his last two games, he’s 3 for 6 with a HR and 3 RBI. He is back to playing 1B after spending several games at third where he made 3 errors in 6 games. His approach is too good to be down for too long.
At South Bend
Jose Albertos – He looks a little slimmed down from last season. He also doesn’t look like the same pitcher I watched last summer at Eugene. His windup, delivery, and even the ball coming out of his hand all look the same. But the results are not good. Albertos has made 3 starts. He has not been productive in any of them. His first start was a 1 inning affair where he threw 30 pitches in the first inning, with 15 for strikes. He struggled mightily with fastball command.
In his second start, he was looking good for two outs and was one pitch away from getting out of the inning and then the wheels fell off as he gave up 2 runs in 2 innings on 40 pitches, only 21 strikes. His third start was yesterday. His strike rate for the day was just 40% as he gave up 8 runs, 6 of them earned. He was pulled with no outs in the second after 51 pitches. That is just not sustainable.
I would not be surprised to him head back to Mesa and extended spring training to rebuild his release point on his fastball and to get his confidence back. Without his fastball, he has nothing to pitch off of. And right now, he has to get that back. He could stay in South Bend and try and work it out in the Midwest League. However, the bullpen is just getting worn out covering the rest of the games. Luckily, yesterday was a doubleheader that only required five more innings after he left in the top of the second with nobody out.
Brendon Little – Unlike everyone else, I think Little is closet to putting it together. Each outing has been better than the one before. He has a beautiful curve and a developing change. But, like Albertos, without fastball command, he is not going to be very good. Well, he is getting it. On Sunday, I really liked his performance as he went 4.2 innings in the longest outing of his Cubs career. One player ate him alive with 2 dingers. Other than that guy, he only gave up 2 other hits on the day and allowed just 1 other run. He will be fine in time. The more he pitches, the better he will improve. And, he could improve rapidly.
I would not panic about any of these guys.
Sometimes, it just takes time to get a little more polished.