Chicago Cubs Hitting
By Todd Johnson
It’s been two weeks now that the Dominican Summer League (DSL) began action. It’s a place and a league that does not get reported on much. Sometimes the stats can be misleading as it is a league filled with mainly 16 to 21-year-old kids. However, it is still very important to those players. For some, this is a chance to get off the island of Hispaniola. For others, they come from Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and other parts of the Caribbean Rim for a chance to play professional baseball in the United States.
The Cubs currently field two teams in the Dominican Summer League. Prior to 2016, the Cubs had one team in the Dominican and another team in a league in Venezuela. However, due to political turmoil in Venezuela, the Cubs, and every other team in the league, withdrew to the DSL.
I think there are a lot of misleading stereotypes when it comes to ball in the Dominican. Today’s SIX PACK looks at a couple of stereotypes and how the two teams are doing this summer.
1. One stereotype is that you have to hit your way off the island. I don’t subscribe to that notion and I don’t think the Cubs do, either. Approach and talent have more to do with getting to Mesa than batting average. Racking up some stats against 16 to 17-year-old pitchers only goes so far. Those types of things need to be taken into consideration when evaluating what goes on every summer. Just because the kid hits .327 in the DSL, it is not indicative of future MLB success. You always have to think a little deeper.
2. Baseball is not that different in the DSL. While the island has the rep as fastball dominant, there are all kinds of pitchers throwing different kind of pitches. The Cubs have two prospects, who will be in Mesa this year, in Faustino Carrera and Brailyn Marquez who rely on the change and curve to get ahead of hitters.
3 – The Cubs are sneaky. Over the last three International Free Agent signing periods, the Cubs have gone out and signed over 100 prospects despite financial limitations placed on it my MLB in two of those three years. Several of the top prospects from the 2015 class are just now getting to the US at 18 years of age. It takes a while.
4. DSL 1 is supposed to be the more experienced team. As of today, they do not have the best record of the two teams at 4-12. Yet, there are some prospects off to good starts. 18-year-old CF Fernando Kelli usually leads off and is hitting .323 with a .371 OBP. Another young outfielder who has been streaky is Carlos Pacheco. He really bears watching. The average is pedestrian at .275 but his OBP is amazing at .424. He has cranked out 2 HRs as a young 18- year-old from Mexico. Luis Hidalgo is in his last year (They do have an age limit in the DSL) and is hitting .278. There have been two surprises on the team. SS Christopher Morel, who has come North for instructs and spring training, is only hitting .152. He is part of the vaunted 2015 IFA class. The big surprise is 17-year-old Jeinser Brete (Jeimer Candelario’s cousin) is hitting .286 with a .444 OBP. The 3B is from SS central, San Pedro de Macoris. He started this year in the DSL just like catcher Franklin Tineo who is hitting .317 with a .440 OBP.
When it comes to pitching, this team struggles. Yovanny Cruz, all of 17, is the only starter with an ERA of under 3. He’s struck out 17 in 16 IP and has a nice WHIP of 0.91 and has only walked 2 in his 4 starts.
5. The DSL 2 is currently doing well and are almost at .500. Offensively, they have struggled. SS Orian Nunez is hitting .322 but his OBP is only slightly higher at .375. Catcher Jonathan Soto is hitting .286. The rest of the team is under .250.
This team has gotten it done with starting pitching. They have four SP with ERAs under 2.77. Emilio Ferrebus is in his 3rd year in the Cubs system. At 6’2” and 165, there could be something there as he physically matures. The hope, as it is with most players, is their performance this summer gets them an invite to fall instructs in Mesa. RHP Jesus Tejada is having success as a full time starter this year. He began making the transition last year.
Didier Vargas from Panama just turned 18 and he’s been excellent with a 0.70 WHIP and 12 Ks in his 3 starts. Ben Badler of Baseball America stated he has a good feel for his curve and changeup already. Vargas’ ERA is 0.63 and this is his first year as a Cub. Danis Correa is from Colombia. Although slight of build at 5’11” and 165, is peripherals for his 1.62 ERA show batters hitting .234 against him. Just 17, he seems to be able to pitch around trouble. Thankfully, he’s only walked four all year. Baseball America likes his fastball which sits between 91-96.
6. When They Get to America – Sometimes it takes two to four years to make it north. Not every prospect gets a year to prove their worth. There is development just like the US. Not every prospect signs at 16 fully ready to go north like Eloy and Gleyber. It takes time. Chances are, some of the players listed above could head north when the season ends.
In a stunning turn of events this morning, OF Kyle Schwarber was sent down to AAA Iowa to work on getting back to being an excellent hitter. Schwarber’s struggles are well documented and I hope that he can figure things out. No one said that development is linear and Schwarber’s has definitely not been this season.
The Cubs also placed Jason Heyward on the 10 Day DL and recalled relief pitcher Dylan Floro. Joining Floro in Chicago will be OF Mark Zagunis. Zagunis is known for his eye at the plate and exceptional OBP. He does have some power and should see action in LF. I would think he would be perfect in a leadoff or number 9 hole role.
The Cubs are in Miami and play at 6 Central tonight.
Here is the article I wrote about Zagunis heading into the season.
By Todd Johnson
The second half of the minor-league season begins today. With Myrtle Beach already in the playoffs, Tennessee and South Bend will both be trying to get in after barely missing in the first half. Both of those teams will have to improve and infusion of talent could help. For the Iowa Cubs, they are going to need a lot to go right just to get back to .500. But then again, their main gig is to have players developed and ready to play in Chicago.
Iowa: 31-41 – Record is cumulative for the year (last place in Northern Division)
This team needs some starting pitching. They ranked 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Starter Zach Hedges joined Iowa a week ago, but they need one more arm in the rotation and maybe one or two in the pen. Dave Berg is turning out to be a pleasant surprise at this level. When it comes to hitting, who knew that Jake Hannemann would be profoundly better at AAA than at AA. He’s hitting .311 in 16 games. Expect to see Jen-Ho Tseng make it to Iowa after the All-Star Break. I don’t expect to see any promotions to Chicago except a bullpen arm like Zac Rosscup or Jack Leathersich.
Key Hitting Prospect: Victor Caratini – His bat has nothing left to accomplish in Iowa. It is all about his glove and arm the rest of the year.
Key Pitching Prospect: Jack Leathersich – After missing a year and a half, he looks to be in shape and ready to help out at the MLB level. In 6 June appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and has struck out 13 in 7.1 IP while opponents are only hitting .154 against him.
Tennessee: 36-33 First Half – 5.5 GB
This team had a nice stretch in May and then fell apart the past two weeks. They will be fine. I wonder how long Burks and Vosler stay at this level? They have been outstanding hitters along with Andrew Ely. Ian Rice has been streaky as has David Bote. But the key to their season is the bullpen. If Ryan McNeil gets it figured out, look out because Torrez and Pugliese have given up nothing in front of him all year and David Garner was having a good June. Dillon Maples and his MLB ready curveball have been excellent so far. Also, I am hoping that Jake Stinnett makes it back to pitch this year. If he does not, look for some starter from Myrtle Beach to move up to Tennessee soon.
Eloy Jimenez is coming…it is not a question of if, but when. He is being pitched around quite a bit in the Carolina League. I don’t expect this promotion to take long, though. When he does come, his bat will really change the lineup for those in front of him, and those behind, especially Jason Vosler.
Key Pitching Prospect: Trevor Clifton – Just 22, Clifton has gone a level a year. He had a good April and May and slumped a little in June. He should be back to normal after the break. He has been a stud in July and August the past two summers.
Key Hitting Prospect: Eloy – He better be.
Myrtle Beach: 43-27 First Half; Southern Division Champions
They won 20 out of 24 to close out the first half. All parts of the team clicked to make it happen – starting pitching, hitting, defense, and the bullpen. In the second half, Manager Buddy Bailey will surely have some roles to figure out as some players head to Tennessee and others come in from South Bend and the draft. Adbert Alzolay made a case to be promoted as he went deep into games most every night. It should be interesting to see who is on this roster come the first of July. Even then, this team will have plenty of starting pitching and a shut down bullpen to possibly win the second half title as well.
Key Hitting Prospect – Trent Giambrone – He is coming on strong. After barely hitting .220 in the first half, he is hitting almost .300 in June
Key Pitching Prospect – Thomas Hatch – He has yet to give up a run this month and looks to have his command and control down perfectly.
South Bend: 39-30 First Half – 1.5 GB of a Wild Card Spot
They were blowing the doors of teams in May and then they hit a wall. The 18-20 year-old hitters just looked tired at the end of late May and they began slumping at the worst possible time. Wladimir Galindo broke his leg and some key bullpen arms were promoted, not to mention Dylan Cease’s ankle injury. Still, there’s a lot of hope for the second half. They’re a very young team but they can hit. Zack Short seems an old man at 21. Duncan Robinson was a nice first half surprise along with Short, Vimael Machin, and Albert Mineo. I think several college picks could arrive to help the bullpen and to offset any losses for position players – remember the name Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State.
Key Hitting Prospect: Isaac Paredes – He is already hitting over .300 for June. It took a while, but I think he is beginning to live up to the faith the Cubs brass had in him skipping Eugene.
Key Pitching Prospect: Dylan Cease – He really needs innings and developing efficiency is the key to him strengthening that arm. Right now, he has 38.1 IP. He has about 13-14 starts left. Hopefully, he can get over 100 IP in this year. That would be great!
Overall, I don’t see a lot of promotions taking place this month. Maybe one starting pitcher/reliever per team and maybe one position player as well. I think most of the movement is going to come with draft picks. As a result, the lower levels will have the most impact, specifically South Bend and Eugene.
By Todd Johnson
Jesse Hodges has a mythos about him. Born and raised in Canada, at first glance he and his beard look like they could catch fish with their bare hands and wrestle a grizzly bear for kicks. His upbringing was nothing like that. Today, the bearded wonder is one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs minor-league system over the last 10 games. He is hitting .324 with a .378 OBP along with 2 HRs and 7 RBI.
Hodges was a key cog in the Pelicans’ first half title run. He played mostly third base and was one of the best hitters on the team. Announcer Scott Kornberg said, “Hodges plays with his heart and emotions on his sleeve and is one of the hardest working players on the team.”
For Hodges, his road to Myrtle Beach has not been easy. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after he had a game-winning home run for team Canada in the 18U World Tournament in Seoul. I first became aware of the Hodges when he was at Boise in 2015.
In those early days, Hodges admits that he was swinging for the fences or “to hit the ball as hard as I could every time up.” He has since changed his approach.
Hodges advanced from Boise to South Bend and hit .238 in 2015 with only 6 HRs in 90 games. He returned to South Bend much improved in 2016. The biggest change was in his average as hit .287 with a .349 OBP. That earned him a midseason promotion to Myrtle Beach last summer. He got 100 at bats in and was part of the Mills Cup Championship team. However, he only hit .186 for the Pelicans.
Areas of Concern
K rate (21.8%)
Rolling over the ball
Heading into 2017
In talking with Hodges, his routine has changed quite a bit since it was early days at Boise. Now, he says, “Batting practice involves working on my bat path and trying to hit the ball up the middle. If I am a little early I pull it if I am a little late it goes through right field.” Hodges also told me that while others focus on the meditative aspects of the mental skills program, he chooses to incorporate breathing techniques into his approach at the plate to help calm his nerves. Hodges also revealed that he does talk to his teammates about hitting, but he relies mainly on the coaching staff to make adjustments.
Hodges has been improving every month this year. April was a little rough but May saw him hit .293 with a .386 OBP. When he gets ahead in the count, he is hitting .383 with and amazing .574 OBP. That is a testament to his approach at the plate.
June has seen him on an excellent 10 day streak that I think is apart of his process to stay up the middle and the focus on his bat path. In 2016, he hit all of 1 HR. This year, he has 6 in the first half. This approach is paying off.
I enjoy watching him play, especially late in games. He seems to have a knack for timely hits, putting a good barrel on the ball, and he is very solid defensively. I think he is really developing at the plate as he progresses and matures through the system.
It’s hard to see where Hodges is going to be in the future. He plays at a position that is one of the most redundant in the Cubs’ system. But all he focus on is what he can do each day – to stick with that approach. I think next year will be the telling year for him, as it is for many prospects, when they hit AA. But what Hodges is doing now is getting the process down every day, focusing on his path in BP, and driving the ball up the middle.
By Todd Johnson
Now that there is some distance between me searching for basic information on draft picks the day of the draft and finding out detailed information, I am beginning to like, for the most part, what the Cubs did on draft day. Overall, it was a good draft haul that is built on ascending players, some established arms, and a couple of high risk players.
Here is who I like best from the three days and a brief statement why I like them.
Brendon Little – P – Manatee – 97 from the left. Any questions?
Alex Lange – P – LSU – I think the Cubs got a steal when he dropped to them. He is one of the top college arms who with a little pro coaching could really take off. He already has a plus curve.
Keegan Thompson – SP – Auburn – Experience, Experience, Experience
Nelson Velazquez – OF – Puerto Rico – He has tools that could develop into a top flight outfielder with power and speed
Austin Filiere – 3B – MIT – Track record of power and he went to MIT
Chris Carrier – OF – Memphis – Sculpted body who might have lurking power in his body somewhere waiting for the Cubs coaches to draw it out.
Brian Glowicki – RP – Minnesota – Experience closing in a power conference
Luis Vazquez – SS – Puerto Rico – Like Velazquez, he’s young, moldable, and has a lot of raw tools.
Jared Young – 2B – Old Dominion – He comes from a good baseball school. The more I read, the more I like about him.
Brandon Hughes – OF- Michigan State – The Cubs can take his swing and adjust it. He hit for average and he has the body to hit for power and natural speed.
Casey Ryan – RP – Hawaii – He’s a big man with a power arm at the back of the pen.
Brendan King – SP – Holy Cross – Those Ivy League guys seem to do well for the Cubs.
Darius Vines – SP – Oxnard – He’s a toolsy player but the Cubs like his pitching more than his hitting. Hopefully the Cubs can sign him.
I am sure there will be some prospects who surprise everyone, too. The Cubs scouts have shown that they can find some gems in later rounds.
Now comes the hard part – signing them. The Cubs should be able to sign between 25-28 out of the 41 picks from my calculations. You need to be following @Savermetrics on Twitter, he has a pretty good collection of tweets, hometown articles, and quotes about what the players’ intentions are.
Here is what I think will happen between now and the final day to sign on July 15 (I have also heard July 7).
Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Nelson Velazquez, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Austin Filiere, Chris Carrier, Brian Glowicki, Rollie Lacy, Austin Upshaw, Jared Young, Brandon Hughes, Casey Ryan, Chris Singleton, Brendan KIng, Sean Barry, Brady Miller, Mitch Stophel, Jacob Steffens, Ramsay Romano, Cam Balego, and Jeffrey Passantino
Luis Vazquez and Peyton Remy
Ben Hecht and Braxton Light,
Jeremy Estrada, Skyler Messinger, Darius Vines, and Kier Meredith
Bryce Bonin, Hunter Ruth, Joe Donavan, Ben Ramirez, Tanner Allen, Alex Cornwell, Russell Smith, Cooper Coldiron
I will keep you posted on who signs and when they debut. Eugene should get the most players while South Bend will get a few. It is rare that draft pick goes to Myrtle Beach, but it does happen occasionally the first year. The last time it happened was Dave Berg.
By Todd Johnson
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.
By Todd Johnson
Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.
I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.
I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.
I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.
Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.
10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.
9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.
8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.
7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!
6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.
5. Trevor Clifton – SP
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.
4. Tom Hatch – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.
2. Dylan Cease – SP
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.
1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.