Prospect Update: Jhonny Pereda’s 2018 Puts Him on the Map for 2019

By Todd Johnson

“Call me when they get to AA.”

That saying has multiple meanings. For me, AA is the level where prospects meet the ultimate challenge. AA contains the best collection of pure prospect talent. AA is where most of the current MLB Cub players dominated or performed at a very high level. AA is also the place where prospects peak in recent years in the Cubs’ system as AAA contains more MLB retreads than actual prospects.

In 2019, 22-year-old catcher Jhonny Pereda is scheduled to go to AA.

After a blistering first half in 2018 at Myrtle Beach, Pereda was one of the breakout players in the Cubs system. Originally, Pereda was slated to head back to South Bend to start the year. However, then Pelican manager Buddy Bailey insisted that Pereda break camp and head to the Carolina League. It was one of the better stories of the year.

Pereda excelled under the tutelage of Bailey in the first half and hit .284 with 5 HRs and 36 RBIs with a .368 OBP. He slipped a little in the second half as Pereda almost doubled his career high of games caught in a season with 83. He also saw action at DH in 39 more. And to top off the year, Pereda played in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. While he only saw action in 8 games, he held his own hitting .276 with a .344 OBP.

Here’s a great up close look at his swing

His swing is short and to the point. He is not going to hit for a lot of power, but he could hit for a decent average. He shows a great eye at the plate as he does not swing at a lot of bad pitches. Last year, his K rate was at 13.7% while his walk rate was a solid 10+. Both those stats bode well for 2019.

The fact that Pereda went to the Fall League is a good harbinger for how he is valued in the system. While his bat was the star of the first half of the system, don’t sleep on his defense. He showed excellent poise behind the plate last year in handling some of the Cubs’ top prospects at Myrtle Beach. He also has an excellent arm. He caught almost 40% of base runners who tried to steal off him last summer. That is just outstanding!!!

Marc Hulet of Fangraphs said the following about Pereda’s potential:

I think he’s going to continue to hit. He has a quiet set-up at the plate, a controlled swing and a great base for balance. I’m not sure he’s going to grow into much more power unless he changes his stance and/or swing. But his current approach allows him to make a lot of contact and he has a good eye so he doesn’t strike out much and he gets on base at a good clip via the free pass. Defensively, he has a good reputation and does an excellent job throwing out base runners. I see a big league back-up here with the potential to be a second-division starter if the bat continues to develop.

As for just 2019, AA is going to be a challenge for Pereda. He’s going to face competition similar to what he saw last fall. He should get in some MLB action in spring training the next few weeks. While he does profile as a backup catcher, the Cubs will have to make a decision on him by November 20. He will have to be added to the 40 man roster or he will become a 6 year MiLB free agent. Odds are, if he has a good season at Tennessee, he will have one of those coveted 40 man spots.

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Position Breakdown Series: Miguel Amaya Leads Off the Catchers

By Todd Johnson

 A year ago, I had Victor Caratini atop the Cubs catching prospects followed by Miguel Amaya, Ian Rice, PJ Higgins, and Will Remillard. The Cubs’ catching corps is still pretty deep this year. Only a few changes were made to the list since Victor now has a big league job.

With this year’s rankings, the top spot has to make everyone feel good. At number one, Miguel Amaya is quickly developing a potent bat to go along with his ability to be a defensive stalwart behind the plate. To have a power arm and a power bat as a catcher is a rare commodity for most organizations. The great thing about him is that he’s just going to be 20 this year and his bat is far from complete. This year‘s goal at the plate will be to continue to improve his pitch recognition skills and walk a bit more as well smack some more balls over the wall.

Jhonny Pereda had an excellent first half at Myrtle Beach and was one of the surprises of the year in the Cubs’ system. In that first half, he hit .284 with a .368 OBP and 5 HRs. As the year wore on, he kept on catching most games and slipped about 20 points in average and on-base percentage. Still, Pereda was given a ticket to the Arizona Fall League where he was decent at .276/.344. Like Rice and Higgins, he is also Rule V eligible. If he does not get taken, he should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. 

For now, catcher Ian Rice is firmly implanted at number three. With an on-base percentage of close to .400 year last year, Rice worked mainly on his defense while also playing first and third base a bit. While his power numbers were down, Rice also did an excellent job of managing a pitching staff at Tennessee. I am very excited to see what he can do in the Pacific Coast League while at Iowa. He could be a Cub or he could not. It all depends on whether he is taken as a Rule V pick on December 13. Some other team is going to get a guy with the potential for 20 home runs with a smooth uppercut bat path and a good eye at the plate.

At #4, PJ Higgins tore it up at Myrtle Beach in the first half of 2018. At Tennessee, he kept his head above water and was fine behind the plate as he worked with a staff that he was quite familiar with. As for his experience in the Arizona Fall League, it did not go as planned as he struggled to hit most days. Then again, his AFL experience should shape his future. It should propel him to improve in the batter’s box. More than likely, he begins 2019 back at AA Tennessee.

In his first year as a Cub, Alexander Guerra put up some nice numbers in helping to lead the Cubs 1 team in Arizona to the best record in the league. He hit .267, had an OBP of .355 with 3 HRs, and drove in a team leading 30 RBI in 46 games. Based on that successful experience, he should be at South Bend to begin 2019. 

As for Michael Cruz, he looked like he figured some things out last summer at South Bend. He hit .322 in June and .286 in July to go with 27 RBI over the two months. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach and saw action in just 12 games in August and September. Cruz should be at Myrtle Beach to start 2019.

Still a Bit Unsure
A year ago, I had Will Remillard at number five. I thought he was going to be ready after missing 2.5 years. He got some work in at Tennessee and Iowa, but 29 games is not a lot. I hope he is back healthy and ready to go in 2019.

Sleepers for 2019
Henderson Perez – He’s listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs. Those were his 16-year-old traits. He is ripped now and did well in the second half for Mesa 2 hitting .311/.386/.411 with 15 RBI in 24 games. He will be just 19 when he starts next year at Eugene.

Marcus Mastrobuoni – After leading Mesa to an AZL title in 2017, Marcus missed all of 2018 with a knee injury. After hitting .308 with a .390 OBP and 6 dingers, Mastrobuoni looked prime to break out last year for South Bend. It didn’t happen for him but it could in 2019 even at 24 years of age. 

And I Wonder…
The Cubs signed two non-drafted free agent catchers in Caleb Knight and Brennon Kaleiwahea. I wonder what kind of roles they will have this year and with whom. And in a weird twist of fate, the Cubs can still sign 2018 23rd round pick Hunter Taylor of South Carolina up until 2 weeks before the 2019 draft. Because Taylor was a senior last year, the Cubs still have that strange right.

After the Rule V Draft, we shall see if this list is still the same.

The Weekly: 40 Man Spots, Jhonny Pereda, and Upcoming News

By Todd Johnson

Monday is a big day. On the 19th, the Cubs’ 40-man roster could contain  a few new names to protect them from being taken in the Rule V Draft slated for December 13. Expect to see Trevor Clifton, Justin Steele, and Jason Vosler get added. PJ Higgins, Erick Leal, and Jhonny Pereda are longshots to be put on the roster. The Cubs will likely roll the dice by leaving the last three off. A year from now, Pereda probably will get added and the same for Leal, if 2019 goes well.

I am really starting to dig Jhonny Pereda more and more. He had a great first half at Myrtle Beach this year. Like most catchers, he slipped a little in the second half as the grind begans to wear the catcher down. However, Pereda’s season wasn’t done as he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. Pereda only played in 8 games there but hit a reasonable .278 with a .354 OBP..

While some may be focusing on his bat, Pereda handles a pitching staff fairly well. He caught some of the Cubs’ best prospects in 2018 and managed their games in an excellent fashion. He also caught an outstanding 38% of base runners stealing this year.

Pereda will be at Tennessee in 2019. It should be interesting to see how he does at AA. Considering he held his own in the AFL, the odds are in his favor. Hopefully Pereda can stay strong all year and see some more time at first to keep him a little fresher down the stretch.

Prospects Lists Getting Closer – I saw where Baseball Prospectus will be publishing their top 10 Cubs prospects on December 11, Baseball America started releasing their lists this past week, and Minor League Baseball has 4 done and more to come. I don’t have any idea about Fangraphs while MLB Pipeline is going for January 1 for their top 30, the same date as my new Top 21.

As well, Baseball America released their Draft Grades for the Cubs. I did very well in my predictions. I only whiffed on a couple, but then again, I might be right.

MiLB Transactions – The Cubs did have two transactions this week of the minor league variety. The Cubs re-signed speedy outfielder Wynton Bernard and reliever Jose Rosario, who was injured most of the past two summers.

The Mailbag – Those posts are going well. I have one I am working on about the developmental process in the system based on a question from Rikk Carlson. Then, after that, I have questions about pitching in the last draft and a Zach Hedges query. Still, I could go for more questions to write about and more posts. Those questions help beat the doldrums of winter and writer’s block. They actually make me energized! The next mailbag will be the week of the 26th. It would not bother me in the slightest to answer them all winter long!!!

Position Breakdown Series – This popular yearly series returns with its debut on Friday, the day after Turkey Day. I am read to get the catchers out there first. 

Other Stuff on the Web – I am trying to write more original content for Cubs Insider this winter. This past week, I wrote about Erick Leal and Trent Giambrone. Over at BP Wrigleyville, my last two articles were on the Arizona Fall League and the 2015 International Free Agent Class.

The 5 Series – Originally, Levi Jordan was going to be the first player profiled in this off season series. Instead, I changed my mind and decided to go with Jimmy Herron, whom I have a lot of questions about. I haven’t written one word on Herron. Then again, on Saturday (yesterday), I was watching the snow come down and all I could think of was Jose Albertos. Who knows what I will do? The 5 Series debuts on the 27th. Stay tuned!

Card of the Week

What Cubs’ MiLB Position Is the Strongest?

By Todd Johnson

The first half of the MiLB season ends on Sunday. It always goes quick. By the end of this week, short season ball begins, some players will be off to All-Star games, some will go home, and draft picks will be signing. 70 games goes by fast.

It especially flew by this month. I finished teaching the 24th of May and I will be on summer vacation 3 weeks as of tomorrow. I got some things done around the house, mostly in the yard and on the deck. And in doing so, I had plenty of time to think while working. Yesterday, for example, I put in three small trees on the west side of the yard. While I was shoveling and moving dirt, I wondered to myself, “If I was to rank the Cubs’ system by position strength, how would that look? Which group is the deepest, is the most talented, and is filled with players with the most projection?”

So, here they are with #1 being the top area. And, yes, this list includes recent draft picks.

1. Starting Pitching
Key Prospects
– Adbert Alzolay, Thomas Lange, Oscar de la Cruz, Trevor Clifton, and many more.
The Cubs targeted pitching in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. That pitching has spread across the system from South Bend all the way up to Iowa already. In putting together my first half All-Star team, there are nine pitchers who have an ERA of 3.25 or lower for the first half and another three between 3.26 and 3.50. That’s some pretty good depth for just four affiliates. Another fact I like is that at AAA Iowa there are four starting pitchers who are 23 years old in Clifton, Tseng, Alzolay, and Underwood. So, the pitching is still relatively young but playing at a high level.

2. Catchers
Key Prospects
– Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis, Ian Rice, Jhonny Pereda, PJ Higgins, Miguel Amaya, et al.
After the Eloy trade, this became the deepest and most productive everyday position in the Cubs system. If the Cubs were to make a trade this summer, you can be pretty sure that one of the Cubs’ many backstops would be included. If Caratini were still eligible to be on a prospect list, he would be the Cubs number one prospect with Miguel Amaya close behind at number three. That’s pretty deep.

3. Relief Pitchers
Key Prospects
– DIllon Maples, Dakota Mekkes, Wyatt Short, James Norwood, Tyler Peyton, Ethan Roberts, and Mike Glowicki.
This group of players made the biggest jump this season. Part of their high ranking is due to the fact that they have two players who are basically ready to head to Chicago at a moments notice in Maples and Mekkes. I am also excited to see what Ethan Roberts can do when he steps onto a mound for Eugene in the next couple of weeks. Recent draft pick Layne Looney might be one worth watching, too.

4. Shortstops
Key Players
-Aramis Ademan, Zack Short, Luis Vazquez, Luis Verdugo, Fabian Pertuz, and Nico Hoerner.
This is easily the youngest group and the one who could shoot up the rankings the fastest. While Short is at AA and Ademan at high A, the rest are all playing short season ball and are 18 or younger except for Hoerner. It will be interesting to see how quickly Horner moves in the system in relation to Ademan and whether they both play a mixture of short and second from here on out. WIth Vazquez, Verdugo, and Pertuz lurking down in short season ball, this should be the number one everyday position in 2-3 years.

5. Third Base
Key Players
– Jason Vosler, Wladimir Galindo, Jesse Hodges, Luke Reynolds, and Austin Filiere.
Four years ago, the Cubs had some great third base prospects in the system. While this position has the most power in the system now, it’s still a bit uneven as it doesn’t have the most depth, yet. I like what Vosler has been doing for the past month at Tennessee and I am interested to see how well Luke Reynolds does this summer in Eugene and South Bend. If Wladimir Galindo can stay healthy, this position gets a lot stronger because of the impact of his bat..

6. First Base
Key Players
– Jared Young, Yasiel Balaguert, Tyler Alamo, Austin Upshaw, Luis Hidalgo, and Tyler Durna.
In the Theo era, the Cubs have only drafted two first baseman and one of them was last week. This is a position where everybody tends to be sent to get some at-bats. This year, Jared Young has really taken off at the plate by showing more power sooner than I thought he would. It’ll be interesting to see how Durna does when he suits up in Eugene.

7. Second Base
Key Players – David Bote, Chesny Young, Andruw Monasterio, Trent Giambrone, Vimael Machin and Christian Donahue.
Outside of Bote, this is a position that lacks the biggest impact in power mode. However, there are some players who can hit well for average and get on base.

8. Outfield
Key Players
– Mark Zagunis, Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, and Jonathan Sierra.
There’s potential here but a lot of that potential is not having a good year outside of Rademacher and Mitchell. Zagunis and Burks have struggled and the lack of HRs from this position is a little disconcerting. There are plenty of young players in A ball on down who can hit and get on base while also showing some glovework, but HRs are rare there, too.

If I redo this in September, and/or a year from now, the rankings  change because of the impact of the younger levels. I don’t expect a lot of change from the prospects in Tennessee and Iowa, but the young kids throughout the lower levels could give some hope to each position.

Pitching will be #1 again as it is just too strong and getting better. With several young Latin pitchers getting ready to start their season in Eugene and Mesa, the starting pitching is only going to get stronger.

The Backup Catcher Debate: Just a Week Left – For Now

By Todd Johnson

Every off-season, I rank every position in the Cubs system. This year was no different. Six years ago, catching was a major weakness in the system and now is one of the strongest positions in the organization. This goes for both major and minor league levels. With an All-Star and possible MVP candidate in Willson Contreras, the Cubs are trying find a backup for Contreras for the upcoming season. This spring training has seen prospect Victor Caratini battle with journeyman catcher Chris Gimenez for that spot for this season. With a week to go, there is still uncertainty about who is going to make the club.

When I start to think about who would be best for the spot, my mind starts to wander in a variety of ways. There’s the concept of what is best for the team versus what is best for the individual. Going in that direction, you have to think about whether playing once a rotation would be best for Victor Caratini and his development, or would he need to play two or three times a week. I think Gimenez might actually be more suited to that type of arrangement where he only has to play once every five days.

Then again, come the playoffs, do you want Gimenez exposed in a key situation/game or would you rather have Victor’s bat? This is an important way to look at the position for later in the year. In fact, this dilemma might not be solved until then. Who knows, maybe all three will be on the playoff roster. .

One could look at Victor as a high-value prospect to include in a trade. That he is. But what if something happens (God forbid) to Wilson or Gimenez this year. What does that leave you with. I don’t think Joe Maddon wants to pencil in journeymen every day. Joe’s going to want Victor to play as much as Wilson did. I like the idea of having Caratini around as an insurance plan. However,  when you have that kind of bat with improving defensive skills, someone is going to want to acquire those talents in one player. The Cubs can probably hold them off for another year, but it’s not doing Victor any good just to use him as insurance in the prime of his career.

The Cubs do have some prospects in the minor leagues that might be better suited to be back up catchers in the long run. The problem is they are not ready yet. PJ Higgins will be at Tennessee this summer. He is very good defensively but he is still working to improve his offensive side of the game. Will Remillard might be the best hitting catcher but he missed 2 and 1/2 years after two Tommy John surgeries. He looked great on a rehab assignment in Eugene last fall and has been outstanding catching runners this spring according to the box scores by Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter. Remillard should be at Myrtle Beach this spring.

In the end, the catcher that everybody’s going to be looking at in two-three years is going to be Miguel Amaya. He’s got a rifle for an arm and a potential power bat. Then again, Amaya’s not destined to be a backup either.

It should be interesting to see what the Cubs do here in the next week for the near future and how they deal with this issue this summer. My guess would be Victor goes down to Iowa, for the time being, until his talents are needed.

In the end, it’s a good problem to have. You know your team is doing well when you spend 626 words discussing the backup catcher and the implications for it years down the road.

Leveling Up Series: Miguel Amaya – It’s All About the Arm

By Todd Johnson

There are certain prospects that make my eyes light up when I start talking about them and I get really animated. Eloy used to be one, Jose Albertos is one, and Miguel Amaya is another one. The 18-year-old catcher was blessed with a golden right arm. The very first time I saw him throw down to second while catching for Eugene last year, I feel immediately in love with that arm.

Basic Info
Catcher
6’1” 185 lbs. (Still growing)
Age 18
Bats/Throws Right
International free agent from Panama
2018 Affiliate – South Bend

Leveling Up
Amaya is far from perfect, but his ceiling is pretty high. The issue right now, is that his floor has some work to be done.

At Eugene in 2017, Amaya struggled the first half the year at the plate until he moved down in the lineup where he hit almost .300 in the month of August. He’s still got a little ways to fill out but he has shown the ability to pull the ball and to pull it for power.

Fangraphs said this of Amaya’s bat:

Offensively, Amaya’s approach to hitting is geared for contact. He expands the zone too often right now but has promising hand-eye coordination and bat control. He often finds a way to get the bat on the ball, making sub-optimal contact rather than no contact at all. He has the physical tools to hit but needs a refined approach, and his frame suggests there might eventually be some power here, too.

That’s promising. But to be really honest, I don’t care about the bat. It’s all about the arm.

At one point last year, he was throwing out over 50% of base runners. At the same time, Amaya struggled to catch a ball in the dirt. He then showed a lackadaisical approach in jogging back to the backstop to go get the ball that just went between his legs. As the year went on, that effort dramatically improved. He hustled after everything in August. However, he still has some work to do on blocking.

Amaya also needs to work on going out and calming his pitchers down when they are struggling. In June, he rarely went out to talk to anybody, but as the year went by, he got much better and there were certain pitchers he seemed to be more comfortable with like Jose Albertos and Jesus Camargo.

South Bend will be a different animal for him. The weather will be much different as will the size of the stadiums. A lot of the issues Amaya currently has should fade away quickly with game experience. He is, after all, just 18 for one more month.

Amaya’s also going to have to continue to be patient at the plate like he was in August last year. And, as a 19-year-old, he’s really going to be behind the eight ball in helping to manage a pitching staff with a lot of talent. He is going to be catching three of the Cubs top six prospects in Albertos, Lange, and Little. That’s a huge responsibility.

I think the effort really has to be there on every pitch. There needs to be an emphasis on blocking balls in the dirt and keeping his pitchers calm. Everything else is a cherry on top of that arm.