Draft Prep: Checking Out the Mock Drafts and Who Might Be Missing

Drafting at the back of the first round is pretty treacherous in terms of trying to predict who will fall to the Cubs at #27. It’s a crapshoot. There’s usually lots of movement on players boards up to and including draft night. With about ten days to go, there’s not really a consensus, and there probably shouldn’t be, on who the Cubs will take when it’s their turn.

Last weekend, I perused through some mock drafts and rankings just to see who some of the so-called “experts” have the Cubs taking.

Kody Hoese

MLB Pipeline – Rankings – Kody Hoese – 3B – Tulane; Mock draft – Braden Shewmake – SS – Texas A&M
Baseball America – Rankings – Braden Shewmake – SS – Texas A&M; Mock draft – Kameron Misner – OF – Missouri
Fangraphs – Logan Davidson, SS, Clemson
Draftsite.com – Kameron Misner
CBS – Seth Johnson – P – Campbell
MyMLBDraft.com – Rece Hinds – OF – IMG Academy
247 Sports – Tommy Henry – P – Michigan
Through the Fence – Tyler Callihan – 3B/1B – Province High School (FL)

Out of the players listed above, I don’t dislike any of them. Then again, I don’t think they are all on the Cubs’ radar either. Misner, who has slipped some this spring, might be the biggest name on the list. Hoese, for me, would be the best choice. Hopefully, he will still be there. Yet, I have a feeling he won’t be.

However, Shewmake could. Here’s what MLB Pipeline said about him:

His outstanding hand-eye coordination allows Shewmake to put the bat on the ball with ease. A left-handed hitter who’s a bit unorthodox at the plate, he tends to get caught out on his front foot but still has the dexterity to slap singles to the opposite field. He also has the bat speed and leverage in his still-projectable 6-foot-4 frame to turn on balls, hinting at average power in his future.

What I like about Shewmake’s profile is that there is plenty of room for him to add weight and he already has a solid approach.

However, not every top pick the Cubs could take are listed above. If the Cubs want to hit the lottery, OF Maurice Hampton, who might be a tough sign, could be the big power guy with the most talent 5 years down the road. Here is what Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo had to say about his skills.

Hampton needs refinement on the diamond, but his huge upside could make the patience that will be required in his development worth it. His right-handed swing could get smoother but still generates impressive bat speed and exit velocities, giving him the potential for 25 or more homers on an annual basis if he makes enough contact.

As for the who Cubs are going to take, more than likely, it is going to be a bat. Considering the depth of this draft, the Cubs could get two very good hitters. I would guesstimate that the Cubs are more likely to go college bat in the first and then a high school bat in the second.


2019 Draft Grades – Still Waiting for the Second Wave of Prospects

It is hard to believe that this is the sixth year that I have been handing out draft grades. Every year things change as players come and go, especially earlier in the Theo era. While some of those first classes produced bats, no class since 2014 has a player currently on the 25 man roster. However, a year from now, that all could change.

2011 – Previous Grades – B, B+
Baez and Maples are all that is left. Last year there were 4 guys, but attrition happens quicker than you think in the minors. Still, this class is far from done. With the Vogelbach trade bringing Mike Montgomery, that adds a little more to the class. Javy amd Monty are going to be around for a at least 2 more seasons.
2019 Grade – A.

2012 Previous Grades – B+, A-, B, B-, B-
I used to think this class was going to be really special but it just did not pan out. Albert Almora still is the headliner, but David Bote really seems to be stealing the show. Duane Underwood is still hanging around the minors, but I don’t know for how long.
2019 Grade – B.

2013 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A, A, A+, A+, A+
This draft class brought a MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a World Series title. And that’s just Kris Bryant. Down in the minors, Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door while Jake Hannemann and Charcer Burks are still plugging away at AAA and AA respectively.
2019 Grade – A+

2014 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A-, A, A, B
There are still nine guys in the system left from this draft. That’s quite a bit for 5 years, but just two are currently on the 25 man roster. Both Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis play in the OF in Chicago, but most of the others are still hanging on at AA and AAA hoping for a chance.
2019 Grade – B-.

2015 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B, B, C
12 guys remaining from this class are still in the game for the Cubs. However, the impact at the MLB level is nil this year. While Ian Happ struggled in April, May has seen some improvement by him. Meanwhile, PJ Higgins and Craig Brooks are off to great starts this year. While there is still hope for this class, they are stuck in the logjam that is the Cubs’ system now.
2019 Grade – C-

2016 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B-, B+
16 guys still remain with many of them having a legitimate shot at Chicago in the next two years. Tyson Miller looks to be at the head of the line as a pitcher and could be the first Cubs’ draft pick in the Theo era to stick in the rotation in the next two years. Zack Short leads the hitting side, but he is probably slated more for a utility role in the future. Dakota Mekkes, Duncan Robinson, and Matt Swarmer are at AAA and the top pick, a third rounder at that, Thomas Hatch is at AA with Bailey Clark and a few others. Eventually, there could be 3-4 guys make it from this class which outpaces any class on this list.
2019 Grade – B+

2017 Draft Class  – Previous Grades – B-
In just two years, this class is all over the place. There were several cuts already, some surprises, some injuries, some trades, and some players who look close to being Chicago-ready just two years after signing. Cory Abbott, right now at least, has the makings of a rotation guy in the next two years. Some of the other big arms the Cubs took in this draft are not having their best year or a year at all in some cases. Jeremiah Estrada hopefully will be ready to go for Eugene in a few weeks and Nelson Velazquez is off to a great start at South Bend to begin this season. I am still waiting for Keegan Thompson and Erich Uelmen to start it back up this year.
2019 Grade – B-.

2018 Draft ClassThey will get their own post and grade next Tuesday. And it’s a good and very hopeful one that involves some hitting, for a change, and some surprising pitching.

Prospect Update – Javier Assad Off to a Great Start in 2019

Pitcher Javier Assad is having himself a month at Myrtle Beach. Dating back to the 27th of April, he’s thrown 21 straight scoreless innings. Included in there are a wave of 20 strikeouts in those 21 frames. WIth a 2.19 ERA and falling, Assad is in the running for the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher of the Month for May.

Basic Info
Ht: 6’1”
Wt: 200 lbs.
Throws: Right
Signed as an IFA in 2015
From: Tijuana, Mexico
Age 21

When I last wrote about Javier at the end of 2017, he had just finished Eugene and I said he would have his work cut out for him in 2018 at South Bend. And he did.

He came out on fire for South Bend with an 0.95 ERA in 4 starts in April and was decent in May with a 3.91 ERA. He began to labor through things a bit in June with a 5.87 ERA. Then, all of a sudden, he turned it back on in July with a 2.55 ERA In 5 starts. It looked like he figured things out. Then, he bottomed out in August as he was shelled with a 9.00 ERA. It was tough to watch at times.

Heading into this season, Fangraphs said that Assad was “a maxed-out righty with advanced pitchability for his age. His stuff is average.” His stuff doesn’t appear so average at this stage of the season.

Something is clicking for Assad this year. Part of it could be maturity, part of it could be he’s in better shape, and part of it could be his stuff.

Currently, Assad has a 2.19 ERA over 7 starts. Take away his worst start where he gave up 5 runs in 5 innings and his ERA drops to 1.41 over 32 innings. Going back and re-watching him, I noticed some things about Assad that are happening.

1. Conditioning
He just looks more trim than in previous seasons. He used to carry, for lack of a better term, some baby fat. The upper part of his frame looks more athletic. Last fall, the Cubs changed up their offseason program for their prospects. Instructs were no longer in the fall. Instead, conditioning took its place. Assad looks to have benefitted from that change. Now, instructs take place a few weeks before spring training. Any changes he made over the winter and in instructs now carry right into spring training and the season.

2. Spots
He is hitting them with regularity. Rarely will Miguel Amaya or Teddy Payne adjust their glove for his fastball. Having good fastball command is always a key at this level.

3. Walks
He is not giving up many. He’s averaging around 2.5 per nine innings.

4. Efficiency
6, 6, 7. Those are his last three inning totals this season. In April, he made 4 starts with a 4.50 ERA. In 5 starts, he only managed 19 innings. And in those five starts, his innings and pitch totals are quite different when compared to May. For April – 5 innings, 75 pitches; 4 innings, 81 pitches; 4 innings, 86 pitches, and 5 innings, 86 pitches. Contrast that with May – 6 innings, 80 pitches; 6 innings, 85 pitches; and 7 innings, 85 pitches.

What to Watch for in the Future
Considering the streak Assad is currently on, I am not concerned when it will end but more so how it will end. Will it be a big blowout or just a simple run or two in a single game? Finding that consistency is key. Throwing in the low to mid 90s with his fastball, he is going to head to AA at some point in the future. Could it be this summer? With the plethora of pitching the Cubs have, and the fact that Assad is still just 21, he should be at the Beach all year. You never know, though, stranger things have happened in this system.

Overall, I would just like to see him be consistent from month to month and to stay healthy. AA is going to be the big test of how his stuff could play at the MLB level. One area of concern that I have, that in spite of his troubles or successes, he is still throwing about 62-63% if his pitches for strikes. He’s going to need to bump that up to 66-67% to succeed at the higher levels of the minors.

The Weekly: Players Return from the IL and Some Roster News

Despite raindrops falling all over the midwest US, Cubs affiliates still got several games in this week. There was a not of lot of big-time news happening, though. It was just a week of players trying to improve and grind away.

The highlights of the week when it came to hitting involved the HR. The Cubs system does not have much power hitting, but this week, there seemed to be a lot more. Delvin Zinn, who had 1 career HR before Thursday, cracked two of them Thursday night. Kevonte Mitchell cracked them on back-to-back days.

Pitching, on the other hand, had a great week. Paul Richan, Colin Rea, Javier Assad, and Tyson Miller all had excellent starts and have begun moving ahead of the pack when it comes to being Pitcher of the Morning nth. All three likely have 2 starts each before June arrives.

There was one promotion this week. Pitcher Ryan Lawlor was moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. Good for him! The big lefty has been used mainly in relief for the Cubs but I would not be surprised to see him do some piggyback/long relief outings with the Pelicans’ Erich Uelmen, who is set to come back to Myrtle Beach very soon.

Roster News
Adbert Alzolay had a rehab start for Myrtle Beach early in the week and found himself at Des Moines by week’s end. Neither start went particularly well. But for Alzolay, this is pretty much his spring training for 2-3 more starts.

OF Jake Hannemann is also back in Iowa. Rule 5 pick Alexander Vargas, a pitcher, debuted for Myrtle Beach. His first outing was in relief and his second game saw him throw a 5 perfect innings. My guy, reliever Sean Barry, debuted for South Bend and has been excellent so far. And Erich Uelmen went 4 innings in EXST this week and he should be in Myrtle Beach very, very soon.

And last, but not least, 2B Gioskar Amaya returned to action after 2 years of injuries. He went 1-for-3 in his return to AA Tennessee. He is no longer catching, but is back in the infield.

And in a bit of sad news, Ryan Williams was released after struggling with shoulder issues the past 2.5 years.

Weekly Roundup
Iowa – (1-5; 25-17) – It was a tough week in Des Moines as the pitching and hitting went south in a hurry. The bright spots for the week were pitcher Colin Rea and IF Robel Garcia. Rea is starting to string together good start after good start. His ERA for the year is 2.91 but it is a measly 1.74 in 4 May starts. Garcia, at least offensively, has not slowed down since getting the bump to Des Moines.
Tennessee – (4-3; 21-21) – This team is a little bit Jekyll and a little bit Mr. Hyde. The hitting has plummeted in May with only Vimael Machin and Christian Donahue playing at an All-Star level. As for pitching, Tyson Miller, Cory Abbott, and Oscar de la Cruz keep humming along. The questions should begin to rise about if any of the three will get a shot at Iowa this this summer.
Myrtle Beach – (3-4; 15-28) – Alexander Vargas’ 5 inning no hit start on Friday might be the surprise performance of the year. Vargas is just 21 and was a Rule 5 pick this winter.
South Bend – (4-2; 23-17) – Look out for South Bend! They are playing very well and their bullpen is the unsung hero of this winning stretch with 5 of the 8 having ERAs of 0.00 this month.

Short Season Start Dates
Dominican Summer League – June 3
Eugene – June 14
Arizona Rookie League – June 17

Draft News
It is now just two weeks away. More and more mock drafts are coming out and the first round looks to be getting very crowded with college bats. Some of the high school hitters are falling out of the first at a very fast rate. As a result, the Cubs can get two quality hitters in the first two rounds. However, it looks as though Seth Johnson of Campbell, a pitcher I profiled for Cubs Insider, could be available at the end of the first round. An even more intriguing option might be 3B Kody Hoese of Tulane. I have a profile of him coming up soon over at Cubs Insider as well.

Coming up
On Monday ,I’m going to release a profile update on pitcher Javier Assad. The next day,  I’m going to revisit the draft grades from 2011 through 2017. As for the rest of the week, I will let it just roll out as I have no plans.

Card of the Week

Made from a pic by Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs

Players of the Week

Prospect Update: PJ Higgins Looks Like He Is Back in the Infield

While Nico Horner and Robel Garcia were getting all the press down in Tennessee for the Smokies to begin this season, one guy that’s also did well was PJ Higgins. He came out of the gate hot and has cooled off some. This year, Higgins has been playing a mixture of catcher, first base, and third base and he’s been doing it at a high-level.

When the Cubs signed PJ Higgins in 2015, he was the last player to sign and he played a mixture of third and second that summer. Then come 2016, he was behind the plate for South Bend. Even then, I loved his approach and his ability to put the bat on the ball. 

He even caught the eye of Fangraphs before 2017. They said,

A viable but unspectacular defensive catcher with a solid hit tool and exceptional approach, Higgins had nearly as many walks as strikeouts in the Midwest League last year but was 23 and his complete lack of power has many skeptical about his ability to sustain his walk rate at upper levels.

At South Bend, Higgins played 77 games behind the plate and 17 at first while also getting a lot of plate work in as the DH. It was a very successful year as he hit .283 with a .389 OBP and wRC+ of 127. At Myrtle Beach in 2017, Higgins had some bad luck in front of the dish but not behind it. His BABIP was an uncharacteristically low .260. He would rebound in 2018 at Myrtle Beach as he had a scintillating first half with a 126 wRC+, thanks in large part to a .381 OBP.

When Higgins got his promotion to Tennessee, he kept on catching as he got in 21 games behind the dish in July and August.

Things went well enough for Higgins last year that the Cubs sent him to play in the Arizona Fall League. That did not go so well as he only hit .158 for the term. Then again, he only played in 10 games out of 38. But 2080 Baseball did get some video of him in action.

Things are changing this year for Higgins, but not when it comes to hitting.

As of May 16, he was hitting .285 with a .364 OBP and a wRC+ of 129. He also had 3 HRs and 16 RBI at that time. Except for 2017, Higgins has always been able to square up the baseball, draw a walk, and get on base at every level. His power may have been a concern but not his pitch recognition skills nor his approach at the plate.

The Cubs have a lot of depth at catching right now, and to stand out, any prospect is really going to have to get noticed on both sides of the ball. That prospect is going to have to throw out runners, manage pitchers, and produce at the plate. Higgins did that at both stops in class A. 

ImageHowever, his fielding position is now different in 2019. He is playing the field much more than catching. This year, he only has five games behind the plate. He’s spent 18 games at first, one at second and 13 at third. He started playing the infield more and more when he was promoted last July. And that trend looks like it is going to continue through this year.

When I start thinking about what Higgins role could be for the Cubs, it is a little cloudy due to the Cubs depth. Still, Higgins could be an asset as a utility guy considering his bat skills, versatility as a fielder, and consistent double digit walk rates throughout his career. Higgins can hit, but can he hit enough to keep moving up? And just exactly what position is he going to play?

It should be an interesting summer in Tennessee.

A New Top 21 List Is on the Horizon – Who Could Be Added?

With the draft 17 days away, for some strange reason I started thinking about the top 21 list and how I’m going to put it together after the draft. I wondered aloud about who could enter the list and who would leave. I also began thinking about what range would this year’s top pick fall if they were a pitcher or a batter. After a bit, I then began to ponder where a couple of this year’s international free agents could slide.

Let’s just say that nothing is definite yet. 

As a result, I’m a little hesitant to pin down anything just yet except for a few players. They definitely shot up in terms of their worth.

Image1. Tyson Miller is going to leapfrog over almost everybody. I am half tempted to make him the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system. Right now, I’m going to hold off until the end of the year to make that decision. I don’t think there’s been a pitcher quite like him with this level of dominance of AA since Kyle Hendricks in 2013. I’m looking forward to seeing his production in June and July.

2. I really like Riley Thompson as a possible arm of the future. He’s got a pretty good sized frame that he can add weight on as he throws 94 to 96 now He’s got a developing curve and if he adds a third pitch that’s as good as the first two, then he could really take off.


3. Oscar de la Cruz – He looks to be back in the best shape of his career. Maybe getting suspended was the best thing that happened to him. It might force him to stay clean and to keep healthy. Between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee this year, he’s been flat out filthy with a 1.04 ERA over 5 starts.

4. Robel Garcia – Nobody foresaw the kind of impact he is having. Now at Iowa, the 26-year-old is holding his own as he looks to be the Cubs’ hitter of the first half and also its breakout hitter of the first half.

5. Javier Assad looks to be a fast riser. He is currently in the midst of 21 inning scoreless streak as he’s giving Tyson Miller a run for pitcher of the month for May. Last year, Assad came out strong for South Bend and then faded as the season played out. Assad looks to be in much better shape this year to maintain himself for the whole season.

6. Ronnier Quintero – Most of your are probably asking “Who is that?” Well, he could be a Cub come July 2 and his swing is to die for.

 There are other guys who been impressive who I really want to see more from them. Before I put them on the list. Cam Sanders of South Bend is definitely one of those guys and I want to see how Paul Richan and his fastball continue to play up at Myrtle Beach.

I am also toying with returning Jose Albertos to the list. However, I think it would be wise if I waited until he accumulate some starts pitching at Eugene this summer. If he is consistent and productive this summer, he could easily be a top 10 guy again. I don’t know how high he could get in there since the talent level in the organization has changed a bit since I had him at #1.

The new Top 21 List could have a lot of new twists and turns in less than a month.

Halfway Through May – Who Is Having a Good Month So Far?

One my favorite things to do on this site is put together the monthly All-Star team. I do five a year and I never know who’s going to be on one from month to month. That’s probably the biggest reason why I like it so much.

Today marks the 16th of May. While it’s technically halfway through the month, it’s a pretty good point in time to take a look at who has been producing at a high-level in the Cubs system this month. It’s not that the results were shocking, but I remember doing something similar a month ago and that monthly team turned up totally different than at the mid point. Only 13 players from that team made the final monthly team.

But if I was to make the All-Star team today, there would not be many of the Cubs’ top prospects on the list. There would be a few, but not as many as you would normally think. In fact there are only be two from the top 10.

Heading into today, Wynton Bernard, Donnie Dewees, and Philip Evans of Iowa were the top three hitters in the system for the month of May. Outfielder Jimmy Herron is right with them and most surprising is Jhonny Bettencourt of Myrtle Beach.

However the one I’m most excited to see on this list is none other than Cole Roederer of South Bend. It’s two weeks, mind you, but he’s quietly going about his business at South Bend and improving week by week. When I got to see him play 10 days ago, I really liked the smoothness of his swing and just exactly how hard he squares up the ball. The ball doesn’t always fall in, but sometimes that’s the game.

Also making the position player squad were Christian Donahue and Vimael Machin of Tennessee. Aramis Ademan also made the mid-month team with fellow Pelicans Teddy Payne and Kevonte Mitchell, who could be finally figuring it out. Joining Roederer from South Bend are infielder Levi Jordan and catcher Rafelin Lorenzo. Second baseman Andy Weber is coming on strong as he went 8/11 over last weekend and through Tuesday. His average for the month is .325.

When it comes to pitching, I’d have a tough time picking just six starters. Normally, the prerequisite to even make the team is an ERA under 3.00. Currently, there are 12 starting pitchers who meet that standard. I would be hard-pressed to leave some of them off the team if I had to make a choice.

Iowa – Colin Rea
Tennessee – Tyson Miller, Oscar de la Cruz, Cory Abbott
Myrtle Beach – Javier Assad, Alex Lange, Luis Lugo, and Paul Richan
South Bend – Faustino Carrera, Derek Casey, Riley Thompson, Brailyn Marquez

When it comes to relievers, it’s pretty clear cut who is in the running to make this squad. The issue is that seven guys at South Bend have an ERA of 0.00 as of the 15th. They’ve just been dominant out of the bullpen. Some of that will shake out over the next two weeks as well.

Relievers So Far: James Norwood, Craig Brooks, Manny Rodriquez, and half of South Bend’s bullpen (Ethan Roberts, Peyton Remy, Jeff Passantino, Ryan Lawlor, and Sean Barry).

And if you’re looking for a team of the month, Iowa (9-5)  is just been blistering their opponents in the Pacific Coast League all month before a 4 game losing streak this week. South Bend is on a roll lately and Myrtle Beach is playing .500 ball. Tennessee seems to have slipped a bit in their pursuit of excellence  

When the real All-Star Team comes out on June 1, I hope to see many of the prospects listed above still on the team.