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!

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State of the Cubs: MiLB System Could Have a New Hope Coming

By Todd Johnson

In years past, this article was spread out over two or three days. I would individually look at pitching, hitting, and relieving. It doesn’t need to be done that way anymore. Instead, today’s post will discuss how some parts of the system are trending.

Strengths
From AAA all the way down to rookie ball in Arizona, the Cubs have a plethora of starting pitching for 2019. It’s still a little uncertain as to who is going to pitch where next year, but the Cubs are awash with a lot of guys who could be back end of the rotation type guys. They’re only a handful of players who might be considered a 2 or a 3.  

The greatest aspect about the starting pitching strength is that the Cubs have a lot of depth. So much so, there are several arms who will be repeating AA and Iowa next year because of that depth. There are 15 names in play for the 10 spots at AA and AAA. Not everyone is going to make the cut to move up a level.

As a result, that depth is going to trickle down and create somewhat of a log jam in the lower part of the system. It’s also going to create competition and we might see better pitching as a result.

The second strength of the Cub system is its youth. The Cubs attacked the international free-agent signing periods from 2015 to 2018 with a lot of young arms and bats. Those players are just going to be reaching Eugene and South Bend in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see who keeps their head above water.

Concerns
In the summers from 2015 to 2017, the Cubs traded away a wealth of hitting and did not get any in return through the draft. As a result, they really don’t have a lot of impact bats in the system. Zack Short and Trent Giambrone are nice surprises from those drafts, as well as Jared Young, but the Cubs are hurting for hitters from Myrtle Beach on up to Iowa.

Last year saw the Cubs succeed with a few non-drafted free agents and the Cubs may be willing to go out and get more MiLB free agents to fill the middle part of their system. As well, the Cubs used three of their first four picks in the 2018 draft on Nico Hoerner, Cole Roederer, and Brennen Davis. All three, when healthy, seemed to have a pretty good first year in Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend.

The Hope
The Cubs may have one of the bottom five ranked systems in the minor leagues. They may lack your basic star impact prospects that we’ve seen in years past. But that doesn’t mean that the current crop of prospects is going to be bad. In fact, there a lot of prospects who should be MLB contributors in 2019. I can see Bailey Clark, Michael Rucker, and Dakota Mekkes pitching in the bullpen. I can see Mark Zagunis in a bench role. I can see Zack Short cranking out a home run or drawing a walk at Wrigley. There are several players who have what it takes.

The New Hope
In getting back to the youth, that’s probably where the next Cubs’ star is going to come from. Right now, Nico Hoerner is a glow-in-the-dark kind of prospect. He’s shining bright in the AFL with minimal experience against elite competition. Nico’s time in the minors could be fast-tracked.

Most of the Cubs MLB core is going to be playing on expiring contracts in 2021. The Cubs can’t sign them all so they do have some time to rebuild that system. The key is going to be the development of that youth the next two summers. Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Cole Roederer, Nelson Velasquez, Brennen Davis, Luis Vazquez, Jonathan Sierra, Fernando Kelli, and Richard Gallardo are going to be the guys to watch turn into stars. At least that’s the hope for 2019 and 2020.

State of the Cubs: Major League Team Due for Changes in 2019

By Todd Johnson

While the Cubs won 95 games this year, they certainly didn’t look like a 95 win team for most of the second-half. The offense struggled to score runs while you never knew which bullpen arm was going to blow up. Then again, they won 95 games with everything that went wrong from Darvish to Chatwood to Kris Bryant. The Cubs overcame a lot this season but just looked gassed down the stretch the last six weeks of the season.

As a result of how the season ended, it’s quite clear several things are going to change. As to the amount of change, that remains to be seen. With Bryce Harper’s free agency looming and questions surrounding Addison Russell, a lot could take place this off-season.

Staying the Same
Most of the Cubs’ core will be back. The Cubs brass would be foolish to make a lot of changes to the position players and every day lineup. Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, and Wilson Contreras will be back in the infield. The only major question is what to do with Addison Russell and who will replace him? Will the Cubs go get someone or will they fill with their own MLB players or prospects?

With the starting pitching, Lester, Hendricks, and Quintana are certain to return. Hopefully, the Cubs will have Cole Hamels back and Yu Darvish will be healthy and ready to start 2019. If not, the Cubs have Drew Smyly and Mike Montgomery in reserve.

Not much is going to stay the same in the bullpen. About half the pen are free agents and the Cubs are not sold on everyone else.

Ch-Ch-Changes

As for the outfield, this is probably where the biggest changes are going to be. While the Cubs stand a great chance of luring Bryce Harper to Chicago as a free agent, it’s not 100% certain. If the Cubs do sign Harper, there will be a few roster changes that follow concerning some of the current outfield. There will not be enough room for everybody. We could see players traded and maybe even for parts that will shore up the bullpen.

The opening day roster, as we have seen in past years, is not going to be the final roster as it will be come October. 2018 left a bad taste in the mouths of management, players, and fans. If the Cubs sign Harper, it will totally change the state of the Cubs for 2019. And if they don’t…

This could be the most exciting off-season since the Cubs signed Jon Lester in December 2014.

MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs Actually Has Power

By Todd Johnson


MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs’ prospects actually has some pretty good power and power potential. You would think that a system ranked in the bottom five of farm systems by several sources (Baseball America, Keith Law, Pipeline) would not have a lot of power potential. Au contraire, my friend.

Piepline’s All-Star Team begins with their #87 prospect Miguel Amaya, who cranked out 12 HRs. 1B Jared Young hammered out 17 as did 2B Trent Giambrone and SS Zack Short. Jason Vosler rounded out the infield with 23 dingers. That’s 86 infield HRs. That’s not too shabby for minor league guys.

When I make MiLB all-star teams, I normally just do them on a monthly basis, by the half, or a preseason team. This is a pretty good list for what my 2019 preseason team will look like on the infield except for maybe Nico Hoerner.

When it comes to the outfield this year, MLB Pipeline went with Mark Zagunis, Roberto Caro, and Zach Davis. All three hit well enough to deserve their spots this year with Caro and Davis doing it across two levels. What is missing, though, is power. None of three hit many extra base hits but they did get on base at a pretty good clip. Davis had a wRC+ of 111, Caro was at 186 (wow!) in 38 games at South Bend and 113 in 41 games at Myrtle Beach. Zagunis was also at 111 with just 24 XBHs on the year.

However, come next year, there could be some different names in the outfield including Nelson Velazquez along with 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis.

As for pitching, Pipeline acknowledged Cory Abbott (Cubs Central POTY) as the top right-handed starter. Eugene’s Faustino Carrera was named the top lefty this year over Brailyn Marquez and Brian Glowicki got the reliever nod over Dakota Mekkes. Those are three very different arms.

It’s an eclectic mix of players that were given the accolades. A year from now, things could change quite a bit in pitching as well. A few players will be coming back from injuries, a few could be traded this winter, and some guys might just breakout. You never know what will happen.

For this year’s group, though, their plaudits are well deserved through a mixture of performance, talent, and grinding it out.

2018 Affiliate Reviews: Two Mesa Teams Brimming with Talented Young Cubs

By Todd Johnson

Cubs 1: 38-18
Cubs 2: 28-25

The amount of talent of the Cubs had in their two rookie league teams was quite amazing. A lot of them came from the international free agent classes of 2015 through 2017. It looks to be a pretty good haul.

2018 season in Mesa was all about the Cubs q team just dominating the league with the best record for the entire summer. They ended up placing second, losing to the Dodgers team in a three-game series. I was hoping they would go win back-to-back titles but it just didn’t work out.

The Cubs 2 team was filled with a lot of talent from the draft including outfielders Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis, two of the Cubs’ second round picks. Roederer played 36 games with a 129 wRC+ while Davis played in 18 with a 138 wRC+. Those are two pretty impressive performances.

One thing I take away from the season was the massive depth in pitching the Cubs have on those two teams. Some of them were drafted this summer out of junior college and were impressive in their brief tenures in the Arizona Rookie League. Peyton Remy, a 2017 draft pick, made it to Eugene and played a central role out of the bullpen in long relief in the playoffs.

Pitchers Didier Vargas and Jesus Tejada seemed to really step up their game as the season went on with Vargas going 7+ innings in game two of the championship with the Cubs on the brink of elimination.

When it comes to hitting, there was no shortage of the guys who could put up some numbers. Catcher Alexander Guerra, second baseman Reivaj Garcia, first baseman Rafael Mejia and third baseman Fidel Mejia all hit well over .300 for most of the summer. Add in a healthy Jonathan Perlaza, who could move quickly in 2019, and you have bats everywhere.

Where are they headed in 2019?
That seems to be the million dollar question. The Cubs seem to have about 100 prospects for 50 spots at Myrtle Beach and South Bend. A lot of this year’s Mesa squad will head to Eugene next time at 19 and 20 years of age. Some could play as high as Myrtle Beach next year depending on their bat to ball skills and pitching repertoire. Perlaza, Rafael Mejia, and Guerra along with outfielder Edmond Americaan are definitely in play for South Bend along with a Roederer and Brennen Davis.

When he comes to pitching, guys who are starters this year may not be next year. It’s hard to tell how the competitive nature of having two rookie league teams and Eugene to squeeze into South Bend is going to play itself out. It should be a fun spring to cover.

The Chili Davis Era Ends Quickly

By Todd Johnson

And just like that, the Cubs will have their third hitting coach in three years.

I am not so sure that is a good thing and I am not so sure it is a bad thing. Then again, it might get ugly. Or, maybe it already is.

The Cubs inability to score more than a run for 1/4 of their games was the likely reason for Chili’s downfall. Add in the regression of Kris Bryant (who was injured), Ian Happ, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, and other top players did not help Chili’s case to stay one more year.

It is going to be tough to find a new hitting coach for a few reasons. The most pertinent being that Manager Joe Maddon is only signed through 2019. As a result, the Cubs cannot offer that coach anything more than a one year deal. In addition to those two aspects, the scrutiny of being the third hitting coach in three years is going to be unbelievable.

Whoever the Cubs go out and get is going to have just a few objectives.

1. Improve run production
2. Improve the ability of hitters to make productive outs
3. Improve the production of Bryant, Willson, Happ, Schwarber, and more.
4. Dingers
5. Win a World Series

If successful, that hitting coach will be quite in demand. Then again, the Cubs would be wise to sign that hitting coach to a 1 year deal with options.

It’s easy to understand that this new hitting coach’s fortunes will be tied to the Cubs success and with a career path identical to Joe’s. I am just wondering who is going to sign on for all those objectives and demands of the job?

 

Theo’s Post-Mortem Covers Most of the Bases

By Todd Johnson

Like he does every year, Theo Epstein, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, held court as he does every year the day after the season ends. Often referred to as “The Post-Mortem,” Epstein waxed poetic about a myriad number of topics from Addison Russell to Kris Bryant to MiLB Pitching to Cole Hamels to Joe Maddon to the lack of offense and much, much more. The complete video is down below. To keep things short, here are two key points that were the most important and eye-opening.

“I mean this with no disrespect to any of our players: part of getting better is facing the problem. Our offense broke somewhere along the line.”

Anyone who watched this team over the second half, suffered through a major drop off in run production. Theo actually stated that that the Cubs were 37-13 when they scored 2 runs or more in the second half. For the season, the Cubs came in second to the Orioles in scoring 0 or 1 runs the most. The team struggled with hitting with men in scoring position since the first of August. Last night was painful to watch the Cubs have the chance to win three of the last four home games and not get more than 1 run each time. That has to change.

“It’s time to stop evaluating in terms of talent and start doing it in terms of production.”

This was the most honest and brutal statement of the day. Simply put, when Theo, Jed, Joe, and the rest of the management sit down this off season to look at the personnel, there will probably be some changes. The Cubs offensive core will have some changes next season. It will be interesting to see who will survive a probable cull. There is not going to be a purge of young talent, but some familiar faces could find themselves playing someplace else in 2019.

When it comes to next year…
The Cubs should find a way to bring back Cole Hamels to the rotation and Theo echoed that sentiment. That would give the Cubs the top 1-5 staff in the NL if Darvish can come back healthy.

Enjoy the whole range of topics in the video below.

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