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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Card of the Week

Made from a pic by Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs

Players of the Week

Draft Prep Profile – Mitchell Parker Could Be a Gamble That Pays off on Day 3

In the 2018 MLB draft, the Cubs took a long shot in selecting high school pitcher Mitchell Parker from Manzano, New Mexico. At the time, Parker had a strong commitment to Tennessee. There were rumored negotiations taking place that Mitchell might sign with the Cubs if they met his dollar figure but that did not happen.

Now that 2019 is here, Parker did not end up in Tennessee. Instead, he is pitching for San Jacinto North Junior College in San Jacinto, Texas. He is eligible to be drafted again this year and he is having quite the season.

Basic Info
Height – 6‘4“
Weight – 200 pounds
Throws – Left
Age 19

There’s a lot to like about Parker. He’s tall, lanky, and he could add a few more pounds and still remain pretty flexible. He’s been clocked anywhere from 86 to 92, depending on the day. His secondary pitches still need some work. So, another year of junior college might not be a bad thing as he gains experience. But what I like most about him are his mechanics. Even in high school, the Cubs liked what he flashed in this video from Fangraphs.

While he still needs to fine-tune his release point, Mitchell does not seem to throw the ball with much effort. He’s playing catch in the upper 80s and low 90s and getting some pretty good run. His curve has some good shape to it, but I don’t think it’s a pitch that he can consistently locate just yet.

This year at San Jacinto, Parker is averaging over 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. To go along with that stat, he’s averaging over 6 walks per nine innings. He’s not giving up a lot of hits, it’s just a matter of command. And that command should come through timing and repetition. He seems like a decent enough athlete that Parker will respond to pro coaching to fine-tune his delivery. And it’s also going to come with experience. He probably comes across more of a project than a prodigy. There’s definitely a lot to work with and that’s the key.

For the Cubs to take him, they’re going to have to have his permission. While his teammate 6’8” righty Jackson Rutledge is likely a first round pick, Mitchell would be a day three pick. The Cubs would have to decide whether Parker would benefit from another year of seasoning in college or developing through professional instruction.

Prospect Update: Tyson Miller Is Leap-Frogging Pitching Prospects

It was about a year ago that I wrote a post about then Myrtle Beach pitcher Tyson Miller. He had put some weight on, specifically muscle, and his pitches were ticking up a little bit. The great thing about that increase in velocity was that he also had command of those pitches. He had a pretty good year for Myrtle Beach. When it was announced in spring training that he might be in the bullpen for AA Tennessee, I just could not fathom why.

And I still can’t.

Luckily, Miller began to get stretched out at the end of spring training and earned a spot in Tennessee’s rotation. All Miller has done this year is to come out and dominate AA for the last six weeks. He had a 1.42 ERA in April and was the Cubs pitcher of the month. In May, he’s even better after 3 starts at 0.47. He has been dominant enough that he will be the biggest riser on my top 21 list come in the middle of June. In fact, he should be in the top 10.

Basic Facts
Ht – 6’4”
Wt – 215 lbs.
Throws – Right
Drafted in 2016, 4th round out of Cal Baptist

Besides his low ERA, opponents are only hitting .142 off of him and his strike out rate is 26% compared to a low 7% walk rate. Even more impressive is that 67% of his pitches are for strikes and his FIP Is 2.43. There is not one area that he is not excelling.

Miller’s productivity is a combination of pure talent, mental fortitude, and hard work. Tyson had put in the time and the effort to improve his body and mind while working on his pitches. I’ve only seen him pitch three  times this year and each time everything looked relaxed and easy. I even thought he could add another 10 pounds and tick up some more mph as he continues to get older and his body matures.

The Big Question
While Miller’s ascension is not an elephant in the room, he has moved up and cut in line in front of a few other pitchers towards the top of the system. My friend John and I always had a saying “call me when they get to AA.” Well, he’s here and he’s doing great. The saying explains that if he can make it at AA, his odds of getting to the majors are very, very good. He’s still got to do the work, but I am excited to see him continue his current path.

I don’t see him heading up to Iowa anytime soon, but he looks to be the first one to get the call. Miller‘s key to get there is going to be to continue to have great command of his pitches.

It is almost as if that Miller is playing a game of leapfrog. He’s jumped over several pitching prospects this year with his performance and there are a few more to go. I do see Miller having a shot at Chicago in the next two summers. Which summer is now the question?

Draft Prep Profile: Dante Biasi Is Coming On Strong

In 2016, the Cubs selected left-handed pitcher Dante Biasi from Hazelton, Pennsylvania in the 22nd round. The Cubs took a chance in selecting the high school senior. The first risk was that Biasi was a high school pitcher. The second risk factor was that Biasi would soon undergo TJS. The issue, at least for Biasi, was whether to do his rehab as a Cub or at Penn State. He chose Penn State.

After missing a whole year, the 6’0 southpaw debuted in 2018 for Penn State as a redshirt freshman, Biasi held his own in the Big Ten Conference. He had a 5.20 ERA in 14 games (13 as a starter). He struck out 51 in 62 IP and walked 36. Not the greatest ratio in the world, but those are not terrible numbers for a RS freshman.

However, as a sophomore and 2 years removed from TJS, Biasi is now one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten. Two weeks ago, he was named Big 10 pitcher of the week for his 9 strikeout and 6.1 inning domination of Indiana. For the season, Biasi has made 11 starts and thrown 62.2 innings. Over that span, he’s struck out 90 while only walking 28. For the year, his ERA  is 2.01. Those numbers are excellent!

Matthew Knaub of the Daily Collegian detailed several keys to Biasi’s success this year. According to Knaub, via catcher Ryan Sloniger, the first key is Biasi’s fastball command. He can touch 95 throughout the course of his game. After striking out 13 UMass (Lowell) hitters, Biasi told Knaub, “We were just mixing pitches, whatever [assistant] coach Josh Newman and Sloniger thought was best,. We were working in and out and just [were] effective with the fastball.” The second area of Biasi’s improvement, according to Knaub, has to do with strength. He said he’s much stronger this year than last. That is true for most TJS comebacks, the second year is better than the first year.

Here he is in action last month.

What I like about his delivery is there is little wasted motion. It is compact and quick. He seems to hide the ball well. His breaking pitch has a nice sharp break that lefties struggle to pick up. His release point needs some work, but not much.

As for his projection, Biasi is almost maxed out physically at 6’ and 205 lbs. Maybe a reliever might be his best option, but if he can start and sustain success through AA; then by all means, let him start.

As for his chances in the draft. Biasi was originally seen as a day 3 pick as a draft eligible sophomore. Based on his track record this year in a power conference as a sophomore, Biasi could work his way into the second round. Biasi could easily go back to school and be a late first round pick next year. He holds all the cards as a draft eligible sophomore.

As for this year, day two is definitely not out of the question and probably suits his talents just fine. Currently, Baseball America has him ranked just outside the top 200.

Prospect Update: What’s Up with Oscar de la Cruz?

When Oscar de la Cruz received his suspension for using steroids last year, it was a little surprising, but not that surprising considering he had been often injured. I could understand him using the drug to rebuild muscle, but that doesn’t mean I condone it, which I don’t. 

He started this year by pitching a rehab assignment at Myrtle Beach the past few weeks. Yesterday, he made his debut at AA and went 5 innings with 4 BBs and 5 Ks while allowing 1 run.

With the exposition and suspension behind us, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of how he looked. Oscar’s strength has always been his low to mid 90s fastball and his classic 12 to 6 curve. It’s a simple plan for his success as he gets some arm side run on the fastball and he throws from the steep downhill angle. And it’s still there. In 15 innings for the Pelicans, he had a 1.27 ERA with 17 Ks in 3 games. After getting in some trouble in the first yesterday, he looked pretty good the rest of the way in.

Oscar looks a little trimmer and healthier to begin this year and not as bulky as in year’s past. Part of that might be the camera, but I don’t think so. In watching him throw a few home games this year, everything looks like the Oscar of old. I would expect nothing less, but I think his role for the future is a little bit obscured.

I still remember when he broke out for Eugene back in 2015 and has since struggled to stay healthy the past three summers at South Bend Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee. While he has avoided surgery, his total number of innings only amounts to 347 over his 5 year Cub career. Yet, I get the feeling that the Cubs still would like him to be a starter. I don’t know how much longer they can continue to hold that assumption.

The most innings Oscar has ever thrown in one season is 77.1 and that was last year. It’s not exactly reassuring for an arm that projects to be used for 180 to 200 innings a year. It could take years to stretch that out. So far, de la Cruz has pitched a whopping 15 this year in one month at Myrtle Beach. That pace is far below what he needs to continue to advance.

I’m tend to see him as a reliever. It’s not a denigration of his talents, it’s me just saying that would be the most efficient use of his talents. He obviously has trouble staying healthy in a starting role. We’ve got a few seasons of data and one steroid suspension to show that. To keep trotting him out there in hopes of him staying healthy is almost like buying a lottery ticket and then tearing it up or tearing off a couple numbers.

Here is what MLB Pipeline had to say about his present and his future:

At his best, De La Cruz has shown a 91-97 mph fastball with life and angle to go with a plus curveball that combines power and depth. In 2018, he sat more in the low 90s with his fastball and had trouble staying on top of his curveball because his arm slot wandered too much. He also has flashed a solid changeup at times but it wasn’t as effective last season.

De La Cruz’s control and command backed up in 2018 as well, in large part because he couldn’t maintain a consistent arm angle. Though the Cubs once had hopes that he might become a frontline starter, he has yet to prove he can hold up with quality stuff over a full season. It now appears more likely that if he contributes in Chicago, it will be as a reliever.

Should Oscar end up in the bullpen, that could raise his actual value. I don’t think you have to worry about him taking up too much time trying to stay healthy as a reliever, but rather it would make his training more efficient and there would be less wear and tear on the arm. His stuff would probably actually get a little bump and he could probably be in Chicago within a year if he learns how to adapt to the role.

But here’s the thing, and there’s no two ways of getting around this; He has starter stuff. And, his stuff is very, very good.The Cubs are going to invest in a guy that just turned 24. But will that investment continue to hold up? That is the key question and the only way to answer to answer it is to wait and see if it does.