Chicago Cubs Hitting

Cubs 2017 Draft Update: Position Players Proving to Be Very Athletic

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By Todd Johnson

I think it’s tough for draft picks to come in to an organization in the middle of the year and play well. I also think that you really shouldn’t evaluate the draft pick based on two months after they’ve already played a full season. Many of them have basically been playing since January. At some point they have to get tired regardless of how good they are.

In looking at this year’s draft class, I think there a couple key things to take notice of for next year. One, there is some serious athleticism in the group as a whole. Two, there are some guys who I think can really hit and will prove so next year.

Impressive Starts
Several draft picks came out of the gate pretty hot. Some have cooled off while others have been able to maintain some semblance of success.

Austin Upshaw – He came out of the gate very hot and now has cooled. He is still showing a solid approach but his hits have not been at falling in August like they did in July. He will be fine next year. He should begin the year at Myrtle Beach. They are going to love him there.

Luis Vazquez – Heading into Sunday, he was hitting .316. That is very good for a high school product to do that in rookie league just jumping right in. I still remember thinking how athletic he was in his prospect a video back on draft day. I cannot wait to get Arizona Phil’s take during instructs. He should be at Eugene next year as an 18-year-old kid.

Brandon Hughes – Like Upshaw, Hughes came out of the gate hard and has since slowed down. He bats third or fourth for Eugene and he’s been in the lineup most every day. The first thing you notice about him is his advanced athleticism and build. I see him being at South Bend to begin 2018.

Chris Singleton – A later round pick, the athletic outfielder began at Mesa and has been promoted to Eugene where he slid right into the leadoff spot. I really like what I have heard from the Eugene radio broadcasters, but I have not seen him play on TV yet. I am thinking he will be at South Bend to begin 2018.

Cam Balego – The young infielder has been playing all over the diamond for the rookie league Cubs and has hit almost .400 last month. I have not read much about him and I think I might not until fall instructs.

Ramsey Romano – He just got promoted to Eugene where he went two for five in his second game with two RBI. He can play all over the infield and I think this utility player will probably be at South Bend to begin 2018.

Austin Filiere – His average has been up-and-down but he has definitely shown some power in his bat. In the field, he gets by as a third baseman. His arm is average but that can be improved on. He will be at South Bend to start 2018.

Have some work to do…

Nelson Velazquez – He has flashed some serious athleticism and power in Mesa. However, he has not shown the ability to hit for average so far in rookie league and he strikes out a lot. Then again, he is still very young. He is one player who is going to improve dramatically with instruction this fall and in spring training. I think once he gets in the routine of doing things every day, we might see his power be a daily thing.

Chris Carrier – He has not had a good start to his career at both Mesa and Eugene where he is striking out about 75% of the time. More than likely, if he has a good spring training next year, he should be in South Bend.

Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate and announcer Pat Zajak concurs. In other words, the BABIP Gods have not been kind to him in Eugene. I see him beginning the year in South Bend in 2018. He’s a pretty good sized second baseman.

I don’t know if any of these position players will show up on any prospect list in the next year, but that is not going to stop them from succeeding. I would not be surprised to see Velazquez and Vazquez make a list in 2019. It is rare for the Cubs to select a HS position player in the Theo era. I can only think of a few the Cubs have signed – Kevonte Mitchell and DJ Wilson who are both in low A this year, Tyler Alamo at Myrtle Beach, and Charcer Burks at Tennessee. It takes a few years to get going.

Prospect Profile: Jhonny Bethencourt Draws Some Attention for His Skills

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By Todd Johnson

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trade Alert: Cubs Get Justin Wilson and Alex Avila

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The Cubs picked up hard throwing lefty reliever Justin Wilson and backup catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers late Sunday night. The Cubs filled two needs with the trade. It only cost the Cubs two prospects in 3B Jeimer Candelario and 18-year-old SS Isaac Paredes. There is also a player to be named later from the Cubs and/or cash heading to Detroit.

The Cubs will have to make room on the 25 man roster for the new players. Since the Cubs don’t play tomorrow, they have some time to sort that out.

I still don’t think the Cubs are done dealing. I think Theo might possibly have one more deal in him.

I will be back in the morning with a new Top 21 list that could be out of date by the end of tomorrow afternoon if the Cubs go after another starting pitcher. I doubt if they do, though.

Prospect Profile: Aramis Ademan Is Showing Some Serious Promise

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By Todd Johnson

The Internet has changed how every prospect is covered. There is usually someone, somewhere, with a camera/phone taking pictures or shooting video. It is very hard to go unnoticed even in spring training, extended spring training, and fall instructs. I follow 9-10 people on Twitter just because they are covering that scene year round in Mesa. From blog writers, baseball magazine evaluators, and even photographers, I am always finding someone new with a different angle on what’s happening.

This spring, the buzz in minor league camp was that Aramis Ademan might be advanced enough with the bat to skip rookie ball in Mesa and go straight from the DSL to short season ball in Eugene. And that is exactly what happened when rosters were announced in mid-June.

I first learned of Aramis Ademan the spring before the Cubs signed him as an international free agent in 2015. Profiles of him appeared on Baseball America and MLB.com. He was not the top free agent the Cubs signed that summer, but he was labeled as a sure-handed shortstop. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com wrote this about Ademan’s potential in 2015:

Ademan has opened eyes with his athletic ability and skills on defense. He’s expected to fill out his frame as he matures and improve all facets of his game once he enters a team’s academy and receives daily instruction.

Some scouts consider Ademan a glove-first infielder who has to get stronger and become more physical as he matures. He has shown the ability to hit in games.

After a summer in the DSL in 2016 where hit .256 with a .366 OBP, Aramis arrived for fall instructs. In those few weeks, Ademan began to improve his game and develop his bat.

This spring, the bat played in extended spring training. He “unofficially” hit .270 with a .337 OBP with 1 HR and 8 RBI in 28 games (stats via The Cub Reporter). The fact that he hit a HR was something many people did not see coming including yours truly. When Cubs Farm Director Jaron Madison talked about Ademan to Baseball America’s JJ Cooper, Madison gushed about the young shortstop’s hitting approach:

“It’s a very mature approach on both sides of the ball. He’ll show you that he can be an everyday shortstop. Then he’ll go to the plate and really impact the ball and show you he can really swing the bat. He’s definitely getting stronger. Filling out. He’s still very young, but he’s impressed everyone who has seen him so far.”

Ademan is not done growing and his bat is not done developing.

I have been impressed with what he is doing now in Eugene. After a rough June where he only hit .224, Ademan is grooving along near .300 this month (.292). The big change occurred when he was moved out of the leadoff spot to the second spot in the batting order. For the year, he has two HRs with 3 triples and 1 double to go along with 8 SBs in 24 games.

His defense, which was supposed to be his calling card, has been decent. He has made 8 errors, mostly throwing and on somewhat routine plays. He does cover a large amount of ground on pop-ups and is excellent at taking throws on stolen bases.

The fact that he is just 18-years-old,and looks like a wisp of a young man, the sky is not literally the limit, but you can see he could be something special if his bat continues to develop. Defensively, he can stick at shortstop and be a premium player in the middle of the diamond. The question will always be, “How much can hit?”

The Friday Six-Pack: The Eloy Hitting Prospect Hangover Is Over

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By Todd Johnson

It was so strange seeing Eloy in a different uniform last night. He delivered a 2 run game winning single to lead the Dash over the Pelicans.

But it is time to move on.

There are other prospects for me to lavish my attention and words on. Most people know that the past strength of this organization was in developing hitters. As I said yesterday, the strength has shifted to pitching. That doesn’t mean that the Cubs have no hitting, the opposite is true. They do, it is just far from being developed or performing at a high level.

Several of the Cubs’ top hitting prospects have been discussed on here over the past 3 years. Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Chesny Young, Eddy Martinez, Wladimir Galindo, and Isaac Paredes have all been profiled and highlighted by Cubs Central. Even DJ Wilson was profiled last winter and Joe Martarano just joined the Cubs full-time. I just profiled Miguel Amaya a week ago for BP Wrigleyville, while Aramis Ademan is set for tomorrow on here. I m always hyping Delvin Zinn as an athlete to watch who is now in Mesa. They are the well-known names. But there are others, who over the next year, could make their name(s) shine brighter.

1. Nelson Velazquez – The Cubs 2017 fifth round pick is a child in a monster body. The outfielder has yet to play, but should be rostered at Mesa soon. In a system devoid of power hitters now, Velazquez stands out as someone with the potential to hit a lot of dingers.

2. Brandon Hughes – I have only seen him play in four games, but the kid can hit. Drafted this year out of Michigan State in the 16th round, the 6’2″ OF was known more for his speed. Last night, he had three doubles. I think he has the frame to develop power but not the swing just yet. That could be something that is worked on with the 21-year-old.

3. Jonathan Sierra – This year, it has been about flashes for the tall and lanky 18 year-old OF. Currently at Mesa, he’s been up and down. While he hasn’t hit for a high average, he does take his walks showing a good approach at the plate. The lefty showed the same discipline in the DSL last summer. Right now, it’s all about potential. If you look back at Eloy’s early career, he didn’t set the system on fire until South Bend. I think Sierra could have that same career arc that just needs game experience for everything to click.

4. Alsonso Gaitan – I have no idea who this 19 year old kid on the Cubs DSL #2 team is. What I do know is that he is destroying pitching in that league. Signed last summer out of Mexico, the right-handed hitting OF is batting .382 this season and over .450 in his last 10 games. Every day lately, I check the box scores and he is going 3/4, 2/4, or 2/5. He is one to keep an eye on.

5. Luis Vazquez – The Cubs have not drafted a lot of high school position players since 2012. They do take a while to develop. For Vazquez, out of Puerto Rico, his lanky frame with a long swing could generate some power down the line. I love his recruiting/showcase video because you do get to see the potential of a star in the making.

6. Carlos Sepulveda – Most Cubs fans who follow minor league baseball know who Sepulveda is. He is a left-handed hitting second baseman who has missed most of this year with injuries. He is just 19 and I hope to see him hit again before this year is out. He has a great eye at the plate and was beginning to develop some “doubles” power last year at South Bend.

Between the draft, international free agency, and maybe even some trades this winter, the Cubs will be acquiring new talent to develop in hopes of having them major league ready by 2020/2021. The system is not bare, far from it.

The Cubs Farm System in a Post-Eloy World Built on Youth and Pitching

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By Todd Johnson

You wouldn’t think that trading two of your top prospects would gut your farm system. But for the Cubs today, it did rip a pretty good gash in the system. Eloy Jimenez was the top ranked hitter and Dylan Cease was the top ranked pitcher. Combined, they were the only two prospects the Cubs had in Baseball America’s Top 100. Jeimer Candelario is the only Cub that remains on MLB.com’s Pipeline Top 100. That’s a drastic change from 2013-2014 when the Cubs had as many as 6 prospects in the list.

However, the Cubs farm system will be fine in the long run.

The organization can be rebuilt quickly. Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod did it once, they can do it again. Next year, they have the regular draft, likely 1-2 comp picks, and international free agency restrictions will be lifted. You can be assured the Cubs will attack acquiring talent in several means. In fact, the system is just beginning a quiet rebuild with the 2015 international free agent class hitting these shores, many of them at just 18 years-old.

Some of them are just blossoming in the states. Names like Jose Albertos, Miguel Amaya, Isaac Paredes, Johnathan Sierra, Aramis Ademan, and Brailyn Marquez could become household names in the next two years as they mature. John Arguello of 2080 Baseball wrote an excellent piece on the depth of the Cubs’ cull that year. I think that the group will be the foundation of the system the next three years.

But when it comes to now, just who exactly moves up the prospect lists in the void left the trade of Jimenez and Cease? MLB.com listed Jeimer Candelario as the new top prospect. I don’t think that he is. Sure, he’s a good player with value, but I think there others who project much higher.

Here are the top 5 names after Jeimer that could assume the mantle of the Cubs’ Top Prospect in the next two summers.

Aramis Ademan – Shortstop

Age – 18
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He skipped rookie ball and is playing in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system. The bat is slowly coming around and has more pop than first thought. In July, he’s hitting over .300 and improving rapidly on offense.

Trevor Clifton – Pitcher

Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018/2019
He was pretty consistent in April and May and hit a bit of a bump after the All-Star break. 2017 was easily his best start in his career. 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. He is pitching tonight for Tennessee.

Tom Hatch – Pitcher

Age: 21
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.

Adbert Alzolay – Pitcher

Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2018
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. In his AA Tennessee debut, he announced his presence with authority by striking out 10. I could see him as a back-end starter, but he would be dynamite as a reliever topping out near 100.

Jose Albertos – Pitcher

Age: 18
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – 97 mph fastball, command
ETA – 2020
The young 18-year-old out of Mexico throws between 95-97. He has elite command of his fastball and employs a plus changeup. The curve, when developed, will give him three plus pitches.The ball just flies out of his hand. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him pitch (last Sunday). He is just deadly with the fastball. He is extremely advanced for his age.

While this list is pitching heavy, expect that to be the trend. The Cubs have a lot of good arms who should be arriving in Chicago in 2018 and 2019. It’s not about the hitters anymore.

To see my updated Top 21 List, click here.

 

 

The Cubs’ 2017 Draft: One Month Later – 9 Out of 29 Are in Action

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By Todd Johnson

Last week’s draft signing deadline was a close cut for three prospects.  Alex Lange, Jeremiah Estrada, and Nelson Velazquez were all able to sign contracts with the Cubs. That brought the total number of draft picks signed to 29, a high for the Theo era.

Nine of those 29 picks are playing in South Bend, Eugene, and Mesa. The other 20, 16 at which are pitchers, have not begun their Cubs careers. Here some initial impressions about who is doing what and where.

At South Bend
Austin Upshaw – I really like this kid. He has a smooth left-handed stroke and some power. He can play either second base or first base.  He is hitting over .400 after a couple of weeks and has been put in the middle of the lineup.

At Eugene
Brian Glowicki – In 2 relief appearances, he’s given up one earned run and struck out three. In the second appearance on Sunday, he looked pretty good throwing in the low 90s.

Jake Steffens – He is a big boy and throws on a steep downhill plane. He’s not going to strike out a lot of hitters, but he will get a lot of ground balls.

Casey Ryan – He is a huge presence that on the mound. He’s made 2 appearances for Eugene and nothing has really happened other than a lot of ground balls. He’s got some nice arm side run that goes in on the hands of right-handed hitters.

Austin Filiere – In just 8 games he’s shown the ability to hit for power to all fields. He came on strong at first and is having a little slump in the last couple of games.

Jared Young – The first thing you notice is that he is a 6’2” second baseman. He has shown a good approach at the plate from the left side in just a few games. I am very impressed with how he carries himself when he’s looking for a pitch to hit.

Brandon Hughes – He provided all the offense on Sunday, including a home run. I think the Cubs are going to try and tinker with his swing a little bit to create more lift. At Michigan State, he relied on speed to get on base. He has only played in a couple of games so far with excellent results. Love the bat drop.

At Mesa
Cam Balego – He currently leads the team in hitting and has only been there a couple of weeks. He’s just played second base.

Chris Carrier – He started his first game on Monday night so it’s a little early to tell. He has good size and speed and we will know more when he gets to Eugene.

20 Others
I expect most of these players to be rostered by the end of next week with the majority of them in Mesa and Eugene, and a few might matriculate their way to South Bend. I would not be surprised to see some of the starting pitchers shut down for the year based upon how many pitches they have already thrown in college this spring.  

Pitchers
Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Jeremiah Estrada, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Rollie Lacy, Ben Hecht, Peyton Remy, Brendan  King, Sean Barry, Mitch Stophel, Brady Miller, Braxton Light, and Jeff Passantino.

There is a lot up in the air with this group of arms. I think Little might see some action in the pen but start next year. I doubt if Lange pitches this year after throwing over 120 innings at LSU. I think it could take a while to shake these roles out. You would think that Abbott, Thompson, Uelmen, and Estrada are destined to be starters. 

Position Players
Nelson Velazquez, Luis Vazquez, Chris Singleton, and Ramsey Romano

I’m looking forward to seeing how Velasquez and Vazquez do in rookie ball. The Cubs have not selected a lot of high school position players the past few years so they are the exception rather than the mainstream type of pick. As for Singleton, his mother was killed in the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting for around 2015.

Hopefully, I can see some of the newest Cubs when South Bend travels to Beloit in 10 days.