Arizona Rookie League

Prospect Profile: Jhonny Bethencourt Draws Some Attention for His Skills

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By Todd Johnson

With the promotion of Aramis Ademan to South Bend, the Eugene Emeralds’ lineup takes on a whole different mix now. Ademan was one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs organization in July. Then again, his first two weeks at Eugene were a disaster when he hit leadoff. Ademan did not start hitting until he went into the number two spot thanks in part to the guy who took over the leadoff spot and that is Jhonny Bethencourt.

 

Bethencourt had been hitting .400 down in the six spot behind Joe Martarano and Gustavo Polanco. Once Bethencourt moved into the leadoff spot, the Eugene offense started to coalesce. They missed the first half division title by just one game. With a .375 on base percentage, Bethancourt has shown a sharp eye at the plate and is a hitter to keep an eye on despite a mini slump in July that saw his average drop from .317.

Basic Info
Birthplace: Pampatar, Venezuela
Bats/Throws: R/R
Ht: 5′ 11″ Wt: 160
Age: 20.

Strengths
Hands, walks consistently, ability to hit to all fields, defense at 2B

Areas of Concern
Defense at 3B, lack of power, physical projection, consistency hitting

Signed by the Cubs as an international free agent in 2014, he’s had a somewhat steady rise through the system. It hasn’t been meteoric nor has he knocked anybody socks off, but he has put together a couple good seasons, including this year.

Bethencourt’s Cubs career began in Venezuela in 2015. In 61 games, he had .319 with a .410 on base percentage. He played second base and outfield but did not display any power. In 2016, he came stateside and played 38 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Even though he hit only .235, his approach at the plate stayed the same as he put up on base percentage of .353. He played second and third and spent a little bit of time in the outfield.

When it comes to fielding third base, ground balls sometimes eat him up. He has 7 errors in 14 games there. He seems a little more sure handed at second base with only 3 miscues in 17 games..   

Even though he is just 20 years old, there’s just something I like about him. He’s not going to be a world beater as he’s not that big of a kid. But he’s going to be able to hit and he’s shown the proclivity to do so in two of his three seasons in addition to showing the ability to get on base every year.

In 2015, he struck out 11.2% of the time, in Mesa, 14.4% – both decent numbers. This year, his K rate is 23% which is a little alarming and bears watching.

Two stats that I like to keep an eye on at the lower levels are how a player sprays the ball around the field and the percentage of types of balls he hits. Combined, they give you an idea of how he is hitting the ball. Sometimes players can get a little too pull happy and sometimes ground balls overwhelm the types of batted balls. This year, Bethencourt is pulling 43% of his batted balls while his ground ball rate is up to 50%. He needs to hit more liners and use the whole field. Still, they are just a partial picture of him as a hitter. Here is a nice hit of his going to right field. Notice the smooth stroke he has.

That’s about as well as he is going to hit the ball.

Aaron Alter of the Daily Emerald wrote a wonderful article about how bethencourt is dealing with the turmoil back home in Venezuela. Also, in that same article, Bethencourt describes his daily approach.

“The preparation for the game, it’s the most important thing. My routine in the cages, the BP, I try to put my best there. If I can’t do that, then I can’t just go in the game and hit.” […] The routine itself starts out with a one-handed-swings with a short training bat, a tried and true way to improve control at the plate. He follows that with full bat swings, mainly focusing on hitting the ball down the middle, and then the routine is finished. “It’s more psychological,” he said. “It gets me in the zone.”

With just four weeks left in the season, Bethencourt should stay at Eugene as the Emeralds try to make a run for a playoff spot to defend their Northwest League Championship.

I will be interested to see how does in South Bend next year against more advanced pitching. With a 140 game season at that level, it is always more telling of a prospect’s skills and tools. I think Bethencourt should be someone to watch with intent in 2018.

The Weekly – Just Five Weeks Left in the MiLB Season

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By Todd Johnson

The Good News
The Cubs are 1.5 games in front of Milwaukee. So, they will be leaving town in first place at the least. They only play 9 games in August against teams with winning records and they all happen in the first ten days.

The Sad News
Cubs Den founder John Arguello passed away yesterday. I send my condolences out to his family, friends, and web site. He was an inspiration in my starting this site and John was always helpful along the way. I wrote about his direct role in my career last night. He is already missed.

Trade News
While tomorrow is the non-waiver trade deadline, I don’t think I will be surprised on who or what the Cubs acquire. I think a catcher will be acquired, and maybe even a pitcher. What could surprise me is what the Cubs might give up to acquire a catcher, reliever, and/or starter. I will post and update throughout the day on Monday. Despite Jed and Theo saying the Cubs have already made their big trade, the Cubs still have enough assets to get more.

Promotion News
James Norwood was promoted from Myrtle Beach up to Tennessee and Yapson Gomez went from Eugene to South Bend. Also, Jake Stinnett is off the DL and appeared in relief in Myrtle Beach. He will not be starting the rest of this year, which is only five weeks.

The Final Draft Pick Is Assigned
Alex Lange will be in Eugene and will be limited to 10 innings according to the Emeralds’ broadcaster, Matt Dompe.

Prospect Lists
MLB Pipeline came out with its latest prospect lists this week. They produced a top 100 for all of MLB and each team got its own top 30 list. The Cubs only placed one player in the top 100. Jeimer Candelario was ranked at #92 and was followed in the Cubs list by Oscar de la Cruz, Jose Albertos, and Adbert Alzolay. The Cubs top 30 is a very pitcher driven list with 8 out of the top 12, and 19 total, being potential arms.

Meanwhile, over at Fangraphs, Chris Mitchell released the latest KATOH rankings. Mitchell uses data from prospect ranking along with MiLB statistics from the past two season to produce a “Wins Above Replacement” forecast up to six years. The Cubs placed three in the top 100. Mark Zagunis (#77), Jeimer Candelario (#83), and Victor Caratini (#91) received the honors. When it comes to just stats only, Ian Rice made that list at #60. In addition, Caratini, Zagunis and Isaac Paredes were found in the 70s on the stats only list.

John Sickels of Minor League Baseball should be coming out with his mid-season Cubs prospect list this week or next.


Also, Chris Kusiolek tweeted a couple of evaluations from Arizona on how a couple young players from the Mesa Cubs are looking early in their career.

After a rough start, he has popped a couple of dingers and his average is climbing over .200. His fellow countrymen, Luis Vazquez, seems to following the same career trajectory but it closing in on .250. Kusiolek also chimed in on pitcher Brailyn Marquez who had an excellent start this week with 7 Ks in 5.1 IP.


Card of the Week – The photo was taken by me last Sunday in Beloit.

It will be a busy week coming up at Cubs Central.
Monday – I will be reporting on any trades the Cubs make and the impact that could have on the MLB club and the MiLB system.

Tuesday – The Monthly All-Star Team will be published. There are a lot of new names this month. You might want to get used to that.

Wednesday – My monthly Baseball Cards of the Month post comes out. Action is this month’s theme.

Thursday – I will be rounding up the month of July on each affiliate. It hasn’t been the best of months for this farm system when it comes to winning.


Around the Minors This Week
It was a brutal week for most teams across the system. I will spare you the details but know that the DSL 1 team is playing well. Also, Brendon Little made his first start and now has to wait until next weekend after the Northwest League All-Star Break to make his second.


Players of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week

Cubs Insider:
Brendon Little Debut
Pipeline Releases New Cubs Top 30
Mekkes Interview: Part One

Second Half Breakout Prospects …… So Far

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By Todd Johnson

At the beginning of the second half of the minor league season, I picked 10 players I thought would break out and become better known prospects through their performance. Out of those 10, I’ve only got one right…so far. The key phrase there is so far. There are still six weeks left to go in the minor-league season.

But like usual, every year there are prospects who outperform expectations that we didn’t see coming. In the past month, several young players have stepped up their game and improved their stock in the system. .

Jesus Camargo – He missed all of 2016 but has come back with a vengeance in 2017. He has a beautiful changeup and a nice 1.69 ERA with 38 Ks in 32 IP for Eugene.

Austin Upshaw – I interviewed him Saturday afternoon, and he will get his own article later in the week. Upshaw has a smooth stroke from the left and he plays first and second for South Bend. He is the draft pick who has reached the highest level so far. Upshaw is hitting a tad north of .300 for the Cubs.

Brandon Hughes – He is very athletic and has some ultra quick hands through the zone. He is hitting almost .400 at Eugene. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the next year. 

Jhonny Bethencourt – I really enjoy watching him hit for Eugene. He has now moved into the leadoff spot for the Emeralds and is hitting .315 this summer.

Manuel Rodriguez – Last year’s top International Free Agent attacks the zone as a reliever for Eugene. He gets it up to 93/94. He has a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 IP to go along with an amazing 25 Ks.

Ricky Tyler Thomas – He’s been pretty impressive in his brief relief appearances. I love his changeup. He’s only made three appearances since signing but the 7th round pick has struck out 8 in 6 innings without allowing a run.

Matt Swarmer – He began the year as a reliever at South Bend and has been starting at Eugene. His slider has been improving along with his fastball command. He has a pretty good data set for 6 starts with a 2.37 ERA and 31 Ks in 30.1 IP.

Close but No Cigar

There are still several players who I think are on the verge of busting out. They just lack the consistency in their performance. Most notable of these is Bailey Clark. When he is on, he is a joy to watch pitch. When he is not… Joe Martarano hit .385 at Eugene and has struggled at South Bend. It will take time for him after missing the better part of two years.

I have been surprised by the bat of Aramis Ademan which is a much more advanced bat than I first thought. As well, Miguel Amaya’s arm is something out of the Wild West. Then again, everyone knew those two 18-year old prospects would be coming.

Still Question Marks

I still need to see a bigger sample size from draft picks Ramsey Romano, Cam Balego, and Chris Singleton, as well as catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni, who are all doing well in the Arizona Rookie League.

In the Dominican Summer League…

Even though they have been playing for two months, it will be interesting to see how they finish the last month and then who gets to come north for instructs will give us a better idea on their development. Here are some players having excellent seasons and it could be a precursor to them doing well stateside next year.

OF Alonso Gaitan, SP Didier Vargas, OF Alberto Hinirio, SS Orian Nunez, SP Jesus Tejada, SP Emilio Ferribus, OF Fernando Kelli, C Daniel Diaz, and P Yovanny Cruz.

The Weekly – Closing In On Playoff Spots, Baseball Cards, and Traveling to Beloit

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By Todd Johnson

The big league club went 4-1 at home this week and has won 7 out of 8 since the break. They now sit one game behind Milwaukee and are 5.5 games behind both Arizona and Colorado for a wild card spot. There are 66 games to go.That’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Jose Quintana goes tonight against the Cardinals on ESPN at 7.

That late start time for the Sunday game works great for me as I will be back in Beloit at 2 p.m. today watching South Bend play the Snappers, the A’s class A affiliate in the Midwest League. Yesterday, I got to interview reliever Wyatt Short and recent draft pick Austin Upshaw. I hope to talk to hitting coach Jeremy Farrell today about Kevonte Mitchell and Isaac Paredes. I will be going back to Beloit Monday night, but probably just as a normal fan.

I posted several pics I took last night on the Pics/Video page. You can see close up at-bats on video of Kevonte Mitchell, Isaac Paredes, Austin Upshaw, and Luis Ayala. I will add some more pics/video from today when I got home and there could be a few more on Monday.

For the month of July, I have made almost 150 baseball cards. The pictures have just been so good that I cannot stop. They are all stored on our Facebook account. It will be hard to pick just ten for the Cards of the Month.

Around the Minors This Week
Iowa: 3-5; 45-53 – Pitching still seems to be a big issue except for Jen-Ho Tseng. He went 7 IP last night and now has a 1.40 ERA in 3 starts at AAA. In a weird set of circumstances on Friday, John Andreoli was injured on one play, replaced by Bijan Radmacher, who was then injured on the very next play.

Tennessee: 2-3; 16-12 – Between the raindrops along the Gulf, the Smokies have run into some starting pitching issues. Hopefully, those can be resolved quickly as they are now tied with Montgomery for a playoff spot.

Myrtle Beach: 4-4; 12-16 – The bats have not woken up since the Eloy trade. Pitcher Michael Rucker has been amazing and Duncan Robinson had his best start since being promoted. Vimael Machin continues to hit since moving to high A.

South Bend: 3-3; 15-14 – It looks like they have their bullpen issues resolved, now they need to solidify the starting pitching. Carson Sands had 2 rough starts on his way back from having bone spurs removed this past winter. On the other hand, I have been impressed with Tyson Miller the last few starts. I will get to see his slider Monday.

Eugene: 4-3; 21-16 – Their first half ends today. If they win and Hillsboro loses, they make the playoffs. Hopefully the Emeralds can get it done. Miguel Amaya seems to have broken out of his slump the last four games and his average is up over .200 to .220. #1 draft pick Brendon Little debuts on Tuesday against Salem-Keiser. Also, Jesus Camargo looks a little too advanced for short season ball. His changeup is other wordly at this level.

Mesa: 2-4, 7-16 – It is becoming all about the draft picks. Chris Singleton seems to fit in the leadoff spot and Ramsey Romano and Cam Balego continue to rake at .400 clips. Pitcher Brendan King from Holy Cross made a start on Saturday and went 3 IP while allowing a run.

DSL 1: 2-3; 21-20  
DSL 2: 2-4; 21-21 –

Draft Pick News
Alex Lange is the only draft pick that is left to be assigned to a team.

Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central
Another Jose Albertos Start
Dakota Mekkes Interview Part 2
South Bend Turning It Around
Second Half Surprises
Brendon Little’s First Start
Austin Upshaw Profile

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web
BP Wrigleyville:
Why Jose Albertos Should Take Over the Top Spot
Brandon Hughes Profile

Cubs Insider:
11 Cubs Pitching Prospects Taking Off in July
Baseball America’s Midseason List Spurs Debate
Trent Giambrone Interview

Prospect Profile: Jose Albertos Is No Longer a Ghost

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By Todd Johnson

All it took was four innings of baseball to turn Jose Albertos into a mythical right-handed beast that only a few people had seen. After one start in the Arizona Rookie League in 2016, Albertos became a top ten ranked Cubs pitching prospect within weeks. Baseball America had him as the #10 Cubs prospect. Fangraphs put him at #5. MLB Pipeline slotted him in at #10. Mysteriously, the Cubs shut him down for the season after that one start for what they said was a precaution. The organization said he had a strain or tightness in his forearm. And thus began the legend of Jose Albertos.

Card made from a picture by Bill Mitchell/MiLB

I first got wind of the totality of Albertos’ talent on MLB.com’s Pipeline Prospect rankings in midsummer 2016. Here is what Jim Callis said a year ago:

Albertos doesn’t have a ton of projection remaining in his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, but he doesn’t need it because his present stuff already is impressive. He operates with a 93-95 mph fastball and can reach 97, showing the ability to throw it for strikes on both sides of the plate. He’s still refining his secondary pitches but already flashes a well above-average changeup and a solid slider. More advanced than the typical teenaged pitcher, Albertos has good command of his pitches and can add and subtract from them.

This year, Albertos was ready to go in Spring Training. He did not make a full season roster nor did I expect the 18-year-old to do so. He did, however, struggle a bit at times in Extended Spring Training. Per Arizona Phil, Albertos put up an “unofficial” 2.93 ERA in 15.1 IP. He gave up 5 ERs while striking out 6 and walking 13. Not earth shattering by any means. In fact, it’s a bit wild.

When extended camp broke, Albertos stayed behind in Mesa to work on his curveball grip according to Arizona Phil. Albertos was assigned to rookie league and made two starts. In the first start, he did not allow a single hit in 4 innings. He was sailing along in his second start before hitting the fourth inning where he gave up a double, hit a guy, and then two triples brought in a run. Luckily, one of those triples saw the hitter get thrown out at home. Albertos came back out for the fifth before leaving after two straight singles. Both runners would later come around to score.

After his second start, Albertos was promoted to short season Eugene. He made his first start on Saturday the 8th. 

Unlike the Mesa Cubs, the Eugene Emeralds have MiLB.TV. To me, this start by Albertos was the most anxious I have been to see a pitcher since watching Dylan Cease last year at Eugene. While excited, I was not placing any expectations on what Albertos should do or throw. I planned on just kicking back and watching.

Photo via Eugene Emeralds/MiLB.TV

When Albertos’ time was done on Sunday afternoon, he threw 80 pitches in 5 full innings (He had 44 after just two). He struck out 4 while walking only 1. He gave up just one hit  He survived three errors from the defense, one of which lead to an unearned run in the first. He sat 96 most of the day, even in the fifth.

I came away extremely impressed with his poise, polish, and command of his fastball. The ball comes out easily from his hand. He repeats his delivery well and catcher Miguel Amaya hardly moved his glove for that pitch all day. When he missed with his fastball, it was down below the zone. Not one hitter was able to square up the ball all day. It was all weak grounders and pop ups. Only three balls found the outfield all day.

His curve came in about 78-80 and is a work in progress. Sometimes it went 59’6”, other times the backstop (2 wild pitches), and then he found the mitt with it starting in the third inning. When he gets command of that pitch, he will be deadlier.

As for his changeup. He threw it a few times and got hitters out in front, hence the weak groundouts.

What I liked most about his first start for Eugene,\ was that Albertos was not trying to strike everyone out. He moved the ball around the zone, pitched in on the hands, and changed levels. His fastball command is elite. In talking with fried after Albertos was done, he could not believe how his command improved throughout the game. It was all so very impressive.

If he continues to dominate like he did on Sunday, he will be in South Bend, Indiana by Aug 1. His next start will likely be next Sunday against Everett. 

Prospect Profile: Isaac Paredes Developing Power at a Steady Pace

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By Todd Johnson

Isaac Paredes put together a monster night Friday as he drove in 4 and scored 3 runs in leading South Bend to a victory against Dayton. The young 18-year-old is developing at a nice steady pace as one of the Cubs’ top hitting prospects.

Current Info
5’11” and 175; Throws Right; Bats Right

Strengths
Makeup, Hit Tool, Can play SS and 3B, Potential for Power, Youth

Areas of Concern
Consistency, Speed, Maturity

Early Career
This is his early career. At just 18, Isaac Paredes is rather advanced when it comes to hitting. He makes solid contact and is driving the ball extremely well in 2017. He was signed by the Cubs as an International Free Agent in 2015. From Mexico, he played on the same team as Jose Albertos. As a Cub, he began play at Mesa in 2016. He hit .305 with 1 HR and 26 RBI in 47 games. He first appeared at South Bend in 2016 during the last week of the season. The then 17-year-old only saw action in 3 regular season games and 3 postseason games.

Heading into 2017, Paredes was ranked the 29th best Cubs prospect by Baseball America. MLB.com currently has him at #17. Jim Callis said this of Paredes’ skills:

Paredes has more pop than Aramis Ademan and Carlos Sepulveda, but less likelihood of playing up the middle. He has enough loft and bat speed from the right side of the plate to develop into a 15-homer threat. He also has a good feel for hitting, already showing the ability to control the strike zone and use the whole field. Paredes has enough arm strength to play anywhere in the infield, but his fringy speed and quickness limit his range. He could shift to second base but more scouts think he’s destined for third base because he figures to lose a step as he fills out.

The description holds mostly true. In fact, Paredes has shown he can hang playing shortstop this year. He’s played 45 games there this year and just 6 a 3B. He’s only made 5 errors in over 200 chances this season. His arm is improving and has gotten a lot stronger than in the above analysis.

The bat on the other hand is still developing and adapting.

In April of this year, Paredes struggled hitting only .222 in 21 games. Despite that poor average, there was a glimmer of hope. He only struck out 13 times and walked 6. May saw an improvement in his statistics across the board. He hit .267 with 1 HR and 15 RBI and put up an OBP of .330 – somewhat respectable numbers. He only struck out 11 in 26 games and walked 7.

As a result of continually improving, Paredes seemed to breakout a bit in June. His average for the month went up to .289 but his OBP skyrocketed to .404 as the youngster walked 12 times in 24 games. He did strike out 21 times, but his plate discipline and pitch recognition is still amazing for his age. His OPS for the month was .898. He slashed 8 doubles and cranked out 3 HRs. Every ball he hits seems to be hit very hard.

In examining where Paredes hits the ball, he is pulling 51.8% of batted balls with 21.6% going to CF and 26.6% going to right. That is a little pull happy, but the ball is finding a place to land.

I currently have him ranked at #15 on my Top 21 List. I don’t think he will move much at the end of this year. However, the power potential is there. He’s a strong kid who is getting stronger and has gained a lot of valuable experience at such a young age. His ability to put the bat on the ball is going to take him places regardless of his position.

I would like to see him continue to drive the ball, as he has done most of the year, but to also use the whole field to do so. As he continues to physically and mentally mature, he could be a special hitter.

The Friday Six Pack: Zinn is a Hit in Mesa While Sands’ Rehab Is Going Well

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By Todd Johnson

The Mesa Cubs now have two weeks under their belt. A few things are starting to emerge and the extremely young team is trying to adapt, Many of them are new to the United States. Currently, the club has a record of 5-6. At times, they struggle with hitting and, at other times, they struggle with pitching. Today’s six pack will examine a few things happening out in the Arizona Rookie League.

1. Yonathan Perlaza – Most days, the 18-year-old switch hitter seems to be hitting well. There are other days where is bat does not show up. Signed as part of the 2015 international free agent class, this is his first year playing in the States and it will continue to be an adjustment for him. He’s mainly been playing second, but I expect him to get his time at third. Currently, he is hitting .268 with on base percentage of .348.

2. Carson Sands – At South Bend last year, he was one of their best pitchers in the rotation in the first half. Then things fell apart in the second half. Part of that could’ve been due to elbow splints that he had removed over the winter. As a result, his full season has been delayed. However, in three inning rehab starts at Mesa, he has been excellent. He’s struck out 5 but he has handed out 8 walks – this is, basically, his spring training. Right now, it’s more about the process and strengthening the arm. I hope that he can return to a full season team by the end of July.

3. Delvin Zinn – This is my guy. I love his athleticism! Although, I am not entirely sold on him sticking at short or even second. I think he could play the outfield and do an excellent job. His bat, meanwhile, has been outstanding and consistent. If not for an injury in spring training, he would’ve started the season at Eugene. He should be there shortly as he is hitting .281 with an on-base percentage of .324.

4. Marco Mastrobuoni – This is his second go around in the Arizona Rookie League and his bat has been doing marvelous things. Not only is he heading for high average (.333) but he is also hitting for power. As of today, he has 3 HRs and 8 RBI in 9 games as a catcher and DH.

5. Cam Balego – I have been really surprised by the 31st round pick out of Mercyhurst. He’s played mostly second and third and is showing the ability to handle the stick as he is hitting .333, At that pace, I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be in Mesa. Then again there’s not really a place for him to move in Eugene.

6. Jed Carter -. Relievers in rookie league don’t get much pub. It’s not a glorified position at that level, but Carter is making it his. The 2016 draft pick seems to have found his groove in his first full season is a Cub. To date he’s pitched 5 innings, He has not allowed in earned run, and he has struck out 6 while only walking 2. I hope he gets to go to Eugene very soon.

Bonus One
7. Jonathan Sierra – Like Perlaza, this 18-year-old has been up and down. Batting cleanup most every day, he has shown the ability for timely hits but then not get one for three days. He is batting .250 with 5 RBIs and an OBP of .302. The tall lefty has yet to hit a homer.

The starting pitching has been pretty volatile. Jose Albertos is now in Eugene and more draft picks should be getting some action in over the weekend. One always has to keep their eyes on the Arizona roster as it is in flux daily. Between players making rehab appearances, draft picks coming and going, and later in the year, players from the Dominican coming north, it is always a test to report on. DJ Wilson of South Bend has played in 3 rehab games and is 4/8 with 3 HRs.

Only three draft picks saw action so far in Mesa. Two have moved on to Eugene. I will be back with a post on all where the draft picks are at and how they are doing early next week.