If you did not get to see this in real time tonight, it pays homage to how the Cubs go out and find the players they draft. It is extremely well done. Give it a look.
By Todd Johnson
Hope is a powerful thing.
Right now there is not a lot of it at the major-league level for the Cubs. With 100 games to go, they are mired in mediocrity. Throughout the rest of the organization, hope is everywhere. The MLB draft this week will see the Cubs select 40 new players including two in the first round. Three of the Cubs affiliates are in the hunt for playoff spots this week as their seasons wrap up on Sunday the 18th. And, you can also add in that short season Eugene and rookie league Mesa begin play this week.
But in Chicago…
As I wrote in my recap of the Cubs win today vs. Colorado at BP Wrigleyville, there’s not one place you can point the finger at as to why the Cubs are not achieving. You can’t. Every aspect of the team has been lacking. Luckily, they have the rest of the summer to fix their offense, defense, and pitching.
Playing into November brought the Cubs a World Series championship. However, there have been several side effects of that run. It has taken its toll on the starting pitching. The starting pitching ERA is two runs higher than it was a year ago. That’s hard to overcome. In the next two months I expect the Cubs to make a deal for at least one starting pitcher to finish this year, and I see them picking up an additional arm in a prospect for prospect deal.
Coming into the year, I thought the bullpen would be the weakness of this team. Instead, Wade Davis has been unbelievable as the closer. Carl Edwards, Jr. is a breath of fresh air as has been the Koji Uehara. Sure there have been problems with Grimm, but I think those have been straightened out. I think there is still some (but not much) tinkering left to do as the trade deadline draws near.
As for the offense, not much has gone right. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jason Heyward seem to be pretty stable. The rest of the team is been a straight up dumpster fire most days. At this point, I don’t even want to look at or even type any of their offensive statistics despite four timely home runs today.
The season is far from over and I still have hope. But it’s not going to change overnight. It could take a while to right the ship.
To be quite frank, I don’t think this gets fixed until after the All-Star break. That means another 3 to 4 weeks of ups and downs. I think those four days off in July should be the difference in the season.
In retrospect, this season is isn’t that much different from the 2015 season where the Cubs just poured it on in the second half to get to 97 wins. I don’t think they can get to 97 this year, but they can win the division.
The schedule in the second half suits the Cubs much better and should provide for a run. That’s what I am hoping for. And, I think it will happen. Right now, it may be ugly to watch, but I think they will come out the other side.
By Todd Johnson
There are 108 games left in the Cubs’ season. They are currently 1 game out of first place. That’s a lot of time to make up 1 game. Even if this was July 1 or August 1, I still would be OK with where they are at. Even being 1 GB on September 1st would still be fine. For me, the ultimate goal is to get back to October by October.
The past two days have been pretty sweet, though. With two victories against the Cardinals, the atmosphere is beginning to feel a lot like last year and 2015. The Cubs have a chance to sweep tonight and I like those chances with Kyle Hendricks on the mound.
More Mock Drafts
Yesterday, I read a two round mock draft from John Sickels who had a community of baseball executives select picks. The person representing the Cubs selected #27 Alex Lange – LSU Pitcher; #30 Logan Warmoth – SS North Carolina; and #67 high school pitcher Steven Jennings. I liked the pic of Lange a lot. He has a bit higher floor than other pitchers and I think with some professional coaching he could be a quick riser in the system. I would slide him in the top 10 prospects almost immediately. Like Hatch, Lange would not pitch until next year as he has already pitched a full season for LSU.
No heavy hitting Chad Spanberger of Arkansas was anywhere to be seen in the two rounds. I will have more information tomorrow about six players rising and falling.
Minor League Happenings
There are now exactly two weeks left in the first half of the minor league season. Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend are all in the hunt for a spot. It’s hard to believe that half the season is almost over. For Tennessee, they are the only team that holds their destiny in their own hands as the only 1st place Cubs affiliate.
Iowa: 2-4; 24-30
Seth Frankoff is starting to make a name for himself at Iowa. After two solid starts this week, his ERA has dropped all the way down to 2.79. Should there be a need for a spot starter, he would get the call. Also, Stephen Bruno and Taylor Davis are two of the hottest hitters in the Cubs’ system. While Davis did make last month’s All-Star team, I wonder how long he and Bruno will stay much past this year. Both are 26 and have not gotten a shot in Chicago.
Tennessee: 1-5; 30-25
Despite losing five of six this week, they are still in first place by ½ a game over Chattanooga and Montgomery. They ran into some bad luck this week and had some bad pitching themselves. To finish the first half, they have three five-game sets against Jackson, who are a game and a half out, Chattanooga who are one-half a games out, and Birmingham, who are not in contention in the other division. The only good news this week was Trevor Clifton’s six inning start. On the other hand Zack Hedges, Preston Morrison, and Duane Underwood all gave up more than seven runs apiece. I think they’re happy to forget about last week.
Myrtle Beach: 4-2; 31-25
Thomas Hatch looks like he has finally arrived. He had two starts in the past week. In the first one he went 5 and 2/3 innings pitched and struck out 13. Last night he went 6 and 1/3 while striking out 5. He has put together three really good starts in a row. Matt Rose hit two home runs this week, and Eloy finished the week strong after and 0-9 skump.
South Bend: 4-3; 32-21
Duncan Robinson head two seven-innings starts and struck out a combined 15 batters. Luis Ayala continues to terrorize baseballs had over a .400 to clip the past two weeks. Along with new South Bend Cub Roberto Caro, the two have made a formidable bottom of the order. The problem for the Cubs is getting some consistent starting pitching from Tyson Miller, Jose Paulino, and Manny Rondon. They are four games out of first place and one behind Dayton for the wild-card position. Last year the playoff race came down to the final game of the first half before the Cubs clinched a playoff spot. It’s déjà vu all over again.
DSL 2: 0-1; 0-1
Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
Trey Martin’s rehab is going exceedingly well as he has been bashing the ball around a lot. Two names are emerging as possible breakout candidates, too. Shortstop Rafael Narea is putting himself into the SS competition with his daily hitting performance. His glove may not be as good as Aramis Ademan’s, but Narea’s hitting sure is. Rafael Mejia is another hitter who has been hitting well lately. The catcher/first baseman also has a bit of power.
I am pretty sure the next week will be consumed with two things: the draft and pitching prospects. While the draft is eight days away, there is a lot of volatility as players move up and down the list, some based on performance, some based on projections, and some based on signability. I am sure there will be a profile of a prospect and maybe an update on a pitcher or two.
My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Oscar de la Cruz
By Todd Johnson
What I thought would be the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night debut of Eddie Butler for Chicago. He went six innings, gave up two hits and three walks, but struck out five and did not allow a run as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3 to 2. Butler displayed a nice collection of pitches that included a fastball with some nice arm side run. He should get one more start before the Cubs decide on whether to keep him as the fifth starter.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ made his MLB debut against the Cardinals. His first at-bat was not very auspicious as he struck out on four pitches. He later homered in the game – Not a bad first game. On the other hand, he will likely be back in Iowa in ten days.
We were not done yet.
Eloy Jimenez finally was scheduled to play in a game that mattered on Saturday night for Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the game was called because of rain. So, Myrtle Beach will play two today. I doubt if Eloy does.
Finally, Wladimir Galindo returned from the DL for South Bend. In his first at-bat, he drove in two. For the night, he went 1-4 with 3 Ks. His average is now .321.
While some prospects have made a lot of noise with their bats and arms this season, there are several other prospects who are quietly going about their business and putting together some very nice seasons.
- Duncan Robinson has gone back and forth between starting and piggybacking. He now looks like a starter after a 7 IP, 5 K performance where he lowered his ERA down to 1.52.
- Michael Rucker has been very hard to score on out of the bullpen for South Bend. Currently, his ERA is 1.42.
- Bryant Flete has been a go to guy for the pelicans. He is one of the team leaders in RBIs while playing a very good shortstop.
- Both David Bote and Charcer Burks go about their business quietly and have been essential cogs at the top of the lineup for Tennessee.
- Matt Rose missed two weeks but it has not stopped him from being one of the team leaders in homers and RBIs for Myrtle Beach. Since returning from his injury, his average is slowly creeping up towards .250. I think he could go on a tear once the weather warms up a little bit more. Last August, he hit seven dinners in August at South Bend.
Here at Cubs Central
The Facebook page is beginning to take off with the Players of the Day segment. Every day we select the best hitter, starting pitcher, and reliever in the minors and give them some props and put their baseball card on the Internet. There is also a page on this site that keeps a record of who we selected. AND another new page on this site keeps track of each monthly All-Star team. If you are on your phone, you can click the drop-down menu in the header. If you have a computer, there should be a tab at the top of the page to select.
Around the System This Week
Iowa: 1-6; 14-20 – 8.5 GB
The Cubs can score 11 runs in a game, but then they give up 12. With Butler now in Chicago, I think there will be a mostly new rotation the second half. Alec Mills could be the only remaining starter come July.
Tennessee: 5-3; 22-14- First Place
The Smokies moved into first place in the Southern League’s Northern Division. Using a combination of excellent starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen, and some ascending hitters, the Smokies are a team to watch this year. Hopefully, they can clinch a playoff spot for the first half next month.
Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 19-16 – 2.5 GB
They have not really gone on a winning streak this year. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be in a groove just yet. Right now, they seem to be susceptible to the big inning. Adbert Alzolay looks like he could be the real deal this year.
South Bend: 5-2; 23-12 – 1.5 GB
This team does not have a lot of power at the plate. Nevertheless, they can put up some crooked numbers in a hurry. From 1 to 9, they might have the best lineup in the system. Pitcher of Bryan Hudson also had an encouraging start this week. If Manny Rondon can get straightened out like he was last night (6IP, 0 Runs), this team could be unstoppable with some consistent starting pitching.
Extended Spring Training
There is less than a month left and some of the pitchers are starting to get stretched out a bit. Jose Albertos had a very good scoreless three inning start this week and I expect to see him hit four innings this next week.
Players of the Week
POWER! in the System
Friday Six Pack
Saturday Prospect Profile
Grading the Drafts
My Posts on Other Sites This Week
By Todd Johnson
On Monday, Ian Rice was named Hitter of the Week in the Southern League. For the week, the Tennessee Smokies catcher/first baseman hit .613 with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs. For the year, Rice is hitting .311 with an amazing .462 OBP along 3 HRs and 11. The 6’ 195 pound catcher has been wreaking havoc for the last year with his bat while drawing lots of walks. The University of Houston product has been working primarily on catching this year at Tennessee. His bat, and approach, are doing very well as his 1.003 OPS attests.
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) May 8, 2017
Last year, I profiled Rice breaking out at South Bend in early June. After that article, Rice was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he continued hitting dingers for the Pelicans. He wound up hitting .265 between South Bend and Myrtle Beach with a combined .380 OBP. He also smashed 15 home runs, which was second most in the Cubs minor league system. And he drove in 58 runs in 97 games.
His quick start at AA is somewhat of a surprise. Rice was expected to head back to Myrtle Beach to get some more seasoning on his defense. Things changed in the last two weeks of the preseason and Rice headed to Tennessee where he now learns under the auspices of Mark Johnson, the Smokies manager and a former major league catcher.
In the 97 games he appeared in 2016, he only caught in 31. He has already caught 14 in games out of Tennessee’s 30. He only caught 12% of base stealers in 2016 (5/37) and this year he has not caught one (0/9). He has plenty to work on behind the plate.
Then again, it is all about his bat.
What Rice brings to the plate are three things that make him successful
- A short, quick stroke
- Elite pitch recognition skills
- The ability to lay off pitches and work a walk
In the video below, you see how quick Rice can get to the ball and thus provide lift from his 6’ frame.
While Rice is having a nice season to date, there’s no need to rush him to Iowa as Victor Caratini is there doing Victor Caratini things. At 23, Rice’s bat is clearly his calling card. His defense will determine how fast he makes it to the next level..
Rice is part of an organization that has some redundancy at Catcher with Caratini, Myrtle Beach’s PJ Higgins, and 18-year-old Miguel Amaya, Rice is going to have to separate himself from the others. Hitting .600 in a week is a start.
By Todd Johnson
The big league team seems to be having some issues this week. They are 16-14 and still in first place, but the starting pitching looks pretty shaky in the first couple of innings of each game. Brett Anderson looks like his time is close to being done. Mike Montgomery will likely take Anderson’s turn in the rotation.
I don’t think the Cubs are at the point where they feel this is a disaster or need to make a trade. The point I do think they are at is it’s starting to become a concern. The Cubs have the prospects to go out and get another starting pitcher, if needed. However, it is way too early in the year. The logical choice is the Cubs will try and find one within for now.
In addition, the Cubs designated outfielder Matt Szczur for assignment. You would hope that the Cubs could get something for him, but he is most likely going to clear waivers and then he could pick where he lands in 10 days. At best, the Cubs could get a class A or Rookie League pitcher for him. Then again, that’s not very likely.
To beef up the bullpen, The Cubs recalled Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny from Iowa and sent down Justin Grimm. David Rollins, Zac Rosscup, and Pierce Johnson also remain ready if needed.
International Free Agency
According to MLB Pipeline, the Cubs are rumored to be the top team in the pursuit of shortstop Luis Verdugo. The Cubs are limited The Cubs are limited again as to how much they can spend on a player in the next international free-agent signing period. That sum caps out at $300,000. Verdugo is a 5’11” 168 lb. shortstop from Mexico who is a switch hitter and throws right. He is best known for his defense and his hitting is said to be a work in progress. Here is what MLB Pipeline had to say about the #30 ranked international free agent:
The top position prospect from Mexico, Verdugo is best known for his strong arm and defensive prowess in the middle of the diamond.
He’s athletic with good instincts on both sides of the ball, but he is a below average runner right now. Verdugo is a contact hitter, shows a good bat path through the strike zone and puts the ball in play. However, the belief is that he could still improve on his overall hit tool and that he will once he enters a team’s academy.
Verdugo has been praised for his solid defensive actions and footwork. He has quick hands and makes all of the plays. Scouts also like his makeup and maturity level.
Based on the inroads the Cubs have made the past two summers in Mexico, this prediction looks to be on the money. For those of you who read Spanish, here is a nice history of him and it also where I got the picture of him.
Around the System
Iowa: 3-3; 13-15 overall – 2nd place
The pitching rotation appears to be getting better as Aaron Brooks threw a sixth inning start and only gave up one run. Chesny Young appears to be getting back on track. His average creeped across the .270 mark this week. And, Eddie Butler got back on the mound last night and did very well. He went six scoreless with six Ks.
This team is been looking good the last three weeks. Jacob Hannemann and Ian Rice have both been doing very well. I still think it’s the bullpen that is exceptional on this team. This team looks really strong at the plate the past two weeks thanks to Jason Vosler’s power stroke.
Myrtle Beach: 4-3; 17-13 overall – 2nd place
They’ve taken two in a row from 1st place Buies Creek to close within two games. If the starting pitching can hold up, I don’t think there’s any limit to what this team can do. Still no word on when Eloy could or will return.
South Bend: 4-1: 18-10 overall 2nd place
The schedule says they only played five games this week, but a 19 inning affair sapped the bullpen on Friday night. Then on Saturday, Matt Swarmer came in and saved Dylan Cease’s first win with a four inning save. I am really impressed with Swarmer’s curveball. It’s got a lot of movement down and away from righties.
Extended Spring Training
Jose Albertos made his debut this week. It was just 46 pitches. It may not seem much to write about, but it was good he got back out on the mound in a game. Also, Joe Martarano might be the player to watch once short season ball begins. He is showing power and the capability to hit for average in his full-time return to baseball.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
Power in Unusual Places
Friday Six Pack
The Reincarnation of Justin Steele
By Todd Johnson
In spite of all the turmoil, the blown saves, and the missed hitting opportunities, we wake up this morning with the Chicago Cubs in first place for the second day in a row. We also wake up today with Tommy La Stella optioned to AAA. That pretty much answers the Szczur/La Stella issue for now. As a result, I hope that people can just relax and let the games play out instead of fixating on every mistake or loss. There are still 140+ games to go.
Meanwhile in the minors…
Pitching was the name of the game this week. All across the system starting pitching dominated the headlines. Eddie Butler, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton, Jen-Ho Tseng, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, Dylan Cease, and Manny Rondon were the feature stories from Iowa on down to South Bend. All pitched at least five innings and only gave up two runs or less. Cease did not give up a hit in his six innings while Alzolay struck out 7.
Every night it is a hard decision on what game to watch on MILB TV. I usually like to watch South Bend, especially if Cease is pitching. I also like to watch Trevor Clifton if I can at Tennessee, and Oscar de la Cruz is another pitcher I really enjoy getting a look at. However, when they all pitch at the same time, it’s a bit nerve-racking trying to watch.
Extended Spring Training News per The Cub Reporter:
In extended spring training, Eloy began playing the outfield this week. He had not made a throw into the infield as of Friday. Jake Hanneman finally returned to Tennessee just after Trey Martin was injured. In addition, Jose Albertos began throwing batting practice. Former Boise State football player Joe Martarano has gone from smashing running backs to smashing baseballs pretty easily. He has also been seeing playing the outfield, although not too well. That will take time.
The MLB draft is just six weeks away, which I find hard to believe. I am still fascinated with David Peterson from Oregon, high school player Mark Vientos, and pitcher Brendon Little. Baseball America came out with their first mock draft through the first round. They had the Cubs selecting Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck. That would’ve been a good selection a year ago, but Houck has had a lot of issues this year. I don’t think the Cubs are going to select a descending player unless they know something everyone else does not. For the 30th pick, Baseball America had the Cubs selecting a junior college picture and they also mentioned Little. I tend to think they’re going to go with one high school bat and one college pitcher.
Around the System
Iowa: 4-3; 9-8 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ continues to hit dingers (7) but his average has started to slip below .250. It’s just how he is. He’ll go up, he’ll go down, he’ll come back up. Felix Pena is putting together a nice little resume as a reliever. I expect him to be the first to get called up when that time happens.
Tennessee: 4-1; 8-7 overall – fourth place
I really hope that Jen-Ho Tseng has recaptured the essence of who he is as a pitcher. Through three starts he has been outstanding and looks like 2014 Jen-Ho.
Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 8-9 overall – third place
Justin Steele continues to look better with every start. He is attacking the zone and looks extremely confident on the mound and in throwing any of these three pitches for strikes. Matt Rose is also starting to come around with the bat. Hopefully, he can continue hitting home runs as well as increasing his average at the plate.
South Bend: 4-2; 9-7 second place
When the bats woke up so did this team. They are 9-4 in their last 13 games. Their bullpen is nearly unhittable. I cannot wait to see how they continue to improve over the next month. The only thing this team lacks is a power bat. However, I don’t think they need it. Jhonny Pereda has really turned it on after skipping Eugene. He’s hitting .313 on the season.
Extended Spring Training
Bryan Hudson continues to shine as a starter. This week he did not allow run in a start and has struck out 12 in 11 innings the past two weeks along with getting 15 ground ball outs. Odds are that he will not make it to Eugene. Instead, he will likely fill-in at South Bend at the first opportunity. Good for him!
April MILB All-Star team