Chicago Cubs

The Weekly: September Callups and the Playoff Push

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By Todd Johnson

There are just three weeks left in the MiLB season. With the Iowa Cubs out of the running, the Cubs will have some callups once September arrives and rosters expand. I would not expect too many players considering the Cubs are in the midst of a pennant race. Here are five players I think the Cubs will add for the final month. All but one are on the 40 man roster and a space will have to be made to add that one player.

Mark Zagunis – I think he is the only position player who gets added since Caratini arrived to replace Willson.

Jack Leathersich – A lefty, he’s been lights out at Iowa but I doubt he would pitch in Chicago except in a blowout.

Eddie Butler – I like adding him as a long man or backup starter.

Rob Zastryzny – He was just up for a day and should be up all September now that he is healthy.

Dillon Maples – He is the only one who is not on the 40 man roster. Then again, he could be added long before September comes the way he is pitching.

Outside shot of being added – Catcher Taylor Davis – I don’t think Manager Joe Maddon wants to go into the playoffs with a couple of run down catchers. Hopefully Willson will be back in a month. In the meantime, Davis would provide a day off for both catchers or an inning or two of relief in blowouts down the stretch to keep them fresh as well.


A month ago, I published an article about the Arizona Fall League and 40 man roster implications. At first, I thought about revisiting that post in the wake of the trades, but Eloy Jimenez was the only player affected from the post. Instead, the only possible outcome would be that there might be one more 40 man roster spot available. In the article, I predicted who the Cubs might protect from the Rule V Draft by adding them to the 40 man roster. I also suggested some possible prospects who could play in the AFL. The Cubs may want to save a spot for Willson Contreras to rehab considering how  well that worked for someone else last year to come back for the World Series.


In other news this week, Baseball America produced a new top 100 prospect list that includes this year’s draft picks. There are still no Cubs. I don’t think there will be until the middle of next year.


Coming up at Cubs Central.
School starts for me this week. After two days of institute on Wednesday and Thursday, the students arrive on Friday.  I have a couple of posts already in the queue ready to go. One is an interview with Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Duncan Robinson. The other is a post about investing in Cubs prospects. I will also examine possible names of some DSL players who should be headed north for Fall Instructs. That could be the week after. You never know how news flows.


Saying Goodbye
Yesterday morning, my wife and I had to put down one of our dogs. Phoebe was a terrier mix who was almost 13. She lived a good life of walks, treats, and belly rubs. In the past year, she had lost her sight and most of her hearing. We miss her already.


Around the Minors:
Iowa – 4-3: Jen-Ho Tseng continues to roll and reliever David Garner was promoted to AAA.

Tennessee – 3-3: 3.5 GB of a playoff spot – Yasiel Balaguert was named Southern League Hitter of the Week while Duane Underwood might be named Pitcher of the Week tomorrow.

Myrtle Beach – 1-5: It is rough all around in South Carolina. Reliever Pedro Araujo was promoted to AA Tennessee. I hope to see some infusion of talent from South Bend to give the Pelicans a shot at winning back-to-back-to-back titles.

South Bend – 4-2: I am seeing some growth and development from DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, and Bryan Hudson that is extremely promising. In addition, pitcher Tyler Peyton is on a great streak of pitching well the past three weeks. He has put himself into contention to make the monthly all-star team. Tomorrow’s post will be about how South Bend can help Myrtle Beach win the Mills Cup.

Eugene – 2-5: 1 Defensive woes derailed their week but they are still just one game away from a playoff spot. Brandon Hughes is starting to warm up again.

Mesa – 2-3: The kids are getting experience even if it doesn’t show up in wins. Delvin Zinn seems to be back in a groove hitting over .300 this month.

DSL 1 – 3-4 – OF Luis Hidalgo got the call to Mesa this week.
DSL 2 – 2-4 

Baseball Card of the Week

Players of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week
Cubs Insider:
Austin Upshaw Profile
MiLB Pitcher of the Year Discussion
Duane Underwood

The Weekly: Lots of Debuts, Rankings, and a Trio of High End Arms

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By Todd Johnson

The Cubs got a big win yesterday to stop a three game skid. There are still 53 games left to play and most of them are against teams with losing records. After next Sunday, the Cubs do not play a team with a winning record for the rest of the month. I feel pretty good about that.

The Eugene Trio: It’s been a beautiful week for the starting pitching of Eugene. When their All-Star break ended and play resumed on Thursday night, Jose Albertos pitched five innings of one hit ball. On Friday night, first-round draft pick Alex Lange made his professional debut with two innings of hitless ball. And on Saturday night, the Cubs other first round pick, Brendon Little, made his second start (but not a good one) as a Cubs prospect. That’s a promising peak into the future, provided they all stay healthy.

Cubs MiLB Awards: I expected that the Cubs would announce their awards on Saturday for minor league hitter and pitcher of the month for July but not a peep.

MiLB Farm System Rankings: Both Baseball America and MLB.com released their midseason farm system rankings this week. Not surprisingly, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 28th out of 30 teams. Considering who they traded this summer, no big news there. MLB.com only ranked the top 10, but they put the White Sox as number one.

John Sickels : He takes a while to release his midseason rankings. By the time he’s done, the season is usually over. After seeing MLB.com’s rankings last week , I was interested to see John’s take on the Cubs’ system and just who he thinks the top Cubs prospects are. It should be out today or tomorrow. I might even do a post about it, depending on how he ranks them.

Around the Minors: September 4 is coming quick. That is when the MILB season ends. Right now, only Myrtle Beach has punched a ticket to the postseason. Iowa and South Bend are pretty much out of the running along with the two Dominican summer league teams.Tennessee, on the other hand, is only three games back of Montgomery for a wildcard berth. Eugene has a slim one game lead as the second half division leader. In Mesa, despite being with the second worst team in the league the first half, is only one game back in the second.

Iowa – 4-2: Rob Zastryzny made it back from rehab and made it back from rehab and made his way to Chicago very quickly. Victor Caratini returned and promptly hit home runs both Friday and Saturday nights.

Tennessee – 5-2: Craig Brooks was named the Southern League’s Reliever of the Month after not giving up an earned run throughout July. Trevor Clifton missed a start this week but will be ready to go today. Hopefully, he can just relax and let his pitches do the work. Duane Underwood has now made two excellent starts in a row including a seven inning affair on Friday night where he struck out seven.

Myrtle Beach – 3-5: This team is having some issues as they have the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half after having the best the first. It is not the fault of Zack Short who seems to be making an excellent adjustment to high A ball. Over his last 10 games, the young shortstop is hitting .351 with a .405 OBP from the leadoff spot. In addition, pitcher Michael Rucker continues to do well. This week, he scattered 11 hits but only allowed one run in his start.

South Bend – 3-4: Erling Moreno returned to action on Friday night and pitched three innings while giving up just a run. Bryan Hudson also had an excellent start this week where he did not allow run in five innings. As well, Tyler Peyton had his best start as he gave up just one run in five innings. At the plate, Andruw Monasterio and Aramis Ademan make a formidable duo at the top of the lineup. I see this team maturing in small bits the past month. That bodes well for next year.

Eugene – 3-1: Several new players arrived this week including outfielder Chris Singleton and infielder Ramsey Romano. Singleton is off to a pretty good start and Romano struggled in his first two games after hitting almost 400 at Mesa. Pitcher Cory Abbott was also added to the team but has not thrown yet. Every time Ricky Tyler Thomas pitches, I come away extremely impressed with his performance, even if it is as a reliever.

Mesa – 2-4: It looks like their starting pitching might be starting to stabilize. Faustino Carrera had his best start of the year this week and Brailyn Marquez has looked amazing at times and terrible at others. Either way, he is striking out a lot of hitters (32 in 25.1 IP). Stephen Ridings had his best outing of year on Friday night and it looks like Brendan King might be a sleeper based on his short outings (1.59 ERA).

DSL 1 – 2-3: After a good week last week, the pitching hit the skids this week. Fernando Kelli has stolen almost 50 SBs. I am starting to get questions about the young switch hitting 18-year-old outfielder.

DSL 2 – 3-3: I still like some of the pitchers they have left. Danis Correa was promoted to Mesa and he might be followed by Emilio Ferrebus and Jesus Tejada. At the very least, expect Ferrebus and Tejada to be at instructs.

Coming up at Cubs Central.
1. Draft Player Update – In two separate posts, I will be giving an update on how this year’s draft class is performing as Cubs.
2. The other post I might write this week could be on some players I think who are ascending the past two months and might break out at the beginning of next year, if they have not already this year. Then again, I may wait until September to do this post.

3. I will continue to do updates on several of the Cubs top pitching prospects. That seems to be my focus of late.

4. I will also be interviewing pitcher Duncan Robinson in the early part of this week. Look for information from that discussion to be on all three platforms.

Card of the Week
Don’t ask me how, but I made 150 last month. This week, I already made over 30. Good thing school starts in a week: 2017 Cards: August .

Players of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week
BP Wrigleyville
Michael Rucker
Alex Lange Debut

Cubs Insider:
Kevonte Mitchell: New Breed of Cubs Prospect
Which Cubs Prospects Have Next?
Alex Lange Debut

Alex Lange Makes His Debut and Makes Quick Work of Spokane

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By Todd Johnson

When the Cubs drafted Alex Lange, I thought the pick was an outstanding one. At the time, I thought it was a steal and I still do. Lange is 21-years-old and he has a lot of experience pitching on a big stage. Whether he starts or relieves when he gets to Chicago does not matter to me. To go along with his uber-competitive nature, he has a major league curveball already.

When I watched him pitch in the College World Series, I came away very impressed with his ability to locate his fastball and pitch is way out of trouble. I did not expect the Cubs to let him pitch this year. For LSU, he threw 120+ innings. I thought he would just hang out and get acclimated to the pro lifestyle and show up at fall instructs and throw some BP there – sort of like Thomas Hatch did in 2016. That didn’t happen.

Strikeout #1 Pattern – MiLB Gameday

Last night in Spokane, Lange made his professional debut with Eugene Emeralds. The Cubs predetermined that Lange will only pitch 10 innings the rest of this year. I thought that Lange might go 2 innings, tops, to stay within that mandate. But what a two innings!

Lange faced six batters. He struck out three, got two grounders, and forced a popup. He only used 22 pitches in his two inning outing. Clearly, Lange was the dominant primordial beast on the mound. You can see from the pitch chart, he moved the ball around both up and down and inside and out.

His fastball came in between 89 and 93. His curve, according to Eugene radio announcer Pat Zajak, was “as good as advertized” in getting two of his strikeouts.

In the first, Lange was a bit wild but calmed down in the second. He was efficient as 15 of 22 pitches were for strikes and he did not walk a batter.

I got the sense that Lange is beyond short season ball. With his background and big game experience, Eugene might just be a safe place for him to get his 10 innings in. I, for one, would like to see how he does against more advanced hitters. The average age of the six batters he faced last night was 19.67. That is not really going to challenge someone who has pitched 3 years of SEC baseball.

Who knows, maybe Lange’s next start will be in South Bend. Something tells me, he likely would not be long there either.

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.

The Friday Six Pack – Six Reasons for the Cubs’ Surge Into First

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By Todd Johnson

The All-Star Break seems like an eternity ago. The Cubs were 43-45 and 5.5 games behind Milwaukee and 7.5 behind Colorado. What a difference the last two weeks have been. Heading into today’s game in Milwaukee, the Cubs are 1.5 games ahead of Milwaukee and don’t have to worry about the Wildcard. Here are six reasons for the “surge” into first place.

1. The 11-2 record since the break is built on the dead bones of teams under .500. Every single team they have played since June 14 had a losing record. Today’s series is the Cubs’ first and only series this month against a team with a winning record. In August, things look rosy, too, as they only play nine games against teams with a winning record. In September, it is just 7 games.

2. The starting pitching has been excellent. In addition to an ERA under 2.00, they are taking the heat off the bullpen by pitching into the seventh and eighth innings.

3. Health – Heyward and Zobrist are back and the lineup is doing OK despite Joe’s machinations on how he constructs it on a daily basis. The Cubs got lucky with Bryant’s finger as it was only a sprain, but I am sure everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the x-rays.

4. The Trade – As if there were any other trade, it had to energize the team for the long run to come. I like the trade for beyond 2017, but I was sad to see Eloy go, but it was the best thing for the team. If you can a #2 starter locked up for a few years at rock bottom prices, I think you have to take that chance. As a result, the burden is lessened and it allows Montgomery to slide into the pen and be a weapon late in games.

5. Milwaukee hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard and their bullpen has imploded a few times. The league took its sweet time in figuring out how to defeat this team and Eric Thames. But I think Shaw is still a factor and so will be a healthy Ryan Braun. The Cubs caught the Brewers at the most opportune time. Let me make this perfectly clear – The Brewers are not going anywhere. They have a loaded farm system and will be a thorn in the Cubs’ side for years to come. The only question is, can the Brew Crew compete with the financial flexibility and power of the Cubs’ economic engine?

6. Who doesn’t like dingers? I love home runs and the Cubs have been clouting lots of them including several by a young boy from Ohio who hit 2 last night, along with triple, and has 5 of them in July. In addition, he’s hitting .280 for the month with a .368 OBP and an OPS of 1.048.

Things are looking very good now, very good.

Over the next 10 days, the Cubs have their longest stretch the rest of the year against teams with winning records (Milwaukee, Arizona, and Washington) and that is nine games. Thankfully, the Cubs will be at home for six of them with one day off.

And then there’s the matter that the front office still has almost four full days before the non-waiver trade deadline Monday afternoon to add a couple of players to strengthen the team.

Things are looking up, way up.

Ten Things I Think About Michael Rucker

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By Todd Johnson

When I last talked in early June about Michael Rucker, he had just made his first start as a pitcher as a Cubs prospect. Since then, he made 8 more starts and was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week twice…in back-to-back weeks. Altogether, Rucker’s performance are raising a lot of eyebrows and questions about whether the Cubs may have an unearthed a gem in the 11th round of last year’s draft. Here are “Ten Things I Think” about the 23 year old starter.

1. I think the Cubs knew what they were getting in Rucker. He was the Friday night starter for BYU his junior year. He had gone 11-1 with a 2.73 ERA. The reason Rucker fell to the 11th round was signability. He still had one year of eligibility left.

2. The Yankees were also reportedly in on him along with a few other teams. While BYU may not seem like a baseball powerhouse, it did also produce fellow Cub Jake Hannemann.

3. One reason for his success is he is more mature than other prospects. Being married at a young age will do that.

4. He was upset about starting at first. According to Pelicans’ announcer Scott Kornberg, Rucker was upset because of his concern for teammate Oscar de la Cruz’s shoulder strain.

5. As a starter in June, he went 25.2 IP with a 2.10 ERA. He made my June All-Star Team after making the May one as a reliever.

6. In July, he has a 1.83 ERA in 9 starts with just 4 BBs and 49 Ks in just 24 innings. Those are some impressive statistics to put up in back-to-back months.

7. I like him a lot because he throws strikes. It’s not that he attacks hitters (he’s only hit one). Rather, he just puts the ball in the zone with some nice armside run on his fastball.

8. His velocity has been pretty consistent all year. Usually, if a guy becomes a starter after being a reliever, there’s usually a downturn in velocity. Not for Rucker. He’s been able to maintain his velocity between 93-96 all year with a couple reports of him touching 97. And he’s been able to sustain that velocity deep into games.

9. He stands a pretty good shot of being named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month late next week. Right now, I would say it is down to Rucker, Jen-Ho Tseng of Iowa, and Jesus Camargo of Eugene. All have 1 start left in the month.

10. What I am most interested in seeing in the next month are two lists. One came out Monday night and that was MLB.com’s Top 30 organizational prospect list. He did not make the list. The other list coming out in a couple of weeks is from Minor League Ball by John Sickels. Inclusion would be a sign of his standing as a prospect.

It doesn’t seem like 50+ innings as a starter by the end of this month would anoint Michael Rucker as an elite prospect, but it could. Oscar de la Cruz’s 73 inning performance in 2015 did it for him. But making a prospect list isn’t just about performance. It also involves skills, projection, and the quality of his pitches. For me, he’s a “prospect of interest.” I would imagine, that right now, he is what he is. I don’t know how much more his skills will improve. If there is room for improvement, which I think there is, that changes his outlook.

But he’s looking good. He should be in the discussion as a possible arm for the future.

Next year, he will be at AA. That puts him pretty close to Chicago. I’d say he’s a guy to watch. One can rise quickly in the system and that is just what he is doing.

Dakota Mekkes Interview Part 2: His Future Is Getting Close

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By Todd Johnson

I think Chris Mitchell of Fangraphs predicted Mekkes’ current success best when he said,

As you’re certainly aware, a strong college performance doesn’t come close to guaranteeing success at higher levels. But certain characteristics — such as strikeout rate — are predictive of success in the majors. Mekkes posted one of the top strikeout rates in the country in one of the top college conferences in the country. My math says that bodes very well for his future.

In part one of my interview last week with Dakota Mekkes, Mekks talked about his daily routine, differences in coaching in the Cubs’ system, the adjustments he made moving up a level, and using video . Today, in part two of that interview, Mekkes discusses his deceptive delivery, the effect it has on hitters, and possibly being promoted to Tennessee.

In talking with other people, Mekkes’ biggest strength is his deceptive delivery. He throws his fastball in the low 90s. Former South Bend teammate Chad Hockin said, “He just hides the ball really well. He doesn’t pitch from his height, though. He really gets deep on his stride.” In other words, a 92 mph fastball from Mekkes could look 96 or 97 to a hitter.

Mekkes said the following about the evolution of his deception and delivery.

“I’ve just kind been like this my whole life.I don’t really use my height to my advantage, I think I really use my length. I kinda crouch down, but I get a nice long stride and try to stride as far as I can and then I release the ball as close to home as I can. I try to give the hitter a split second less time. I try to cut down the time as much as possible. I’m not a guy that throws too hard.”

I discussed some of the swings I have seen and how I could not believe the ugliness of the swings. He responded, “It’s kinda confusing to me almost. I will throw a fastball like 90 and he’ll be behind it. I just attribute that to my length.”

After talking about the differences in temperature and humidity between South Bend and Myrtle I asked him if he uses rosin out on the mound.  

“I’m not a real rosin guy. I like to have complete control of the ball. Sometimes, I will lick my fingers. The rosin could be too sticky or not sticky enough. I never know what I might get. I am a big guy and I sweat a lot but I find another way to keep my arm and hand as dry as possible.”

At Myrtle Beach so far, Mekkes has made 13 appearances and thrown 22.2 innings. Amazingly, he has yet to allow a run in that span. He’s struck out 25 and opponents are only hitting .154 against him. He has walked 12. At South Bend, h made 18 appearances with 31 IP, 47 Ks, 14 BBs, and a .133 batting average against. His ERA was 0.55 when he was promoted.

As for the next step, I talked to Dakota about being promoted and whether the Cubs talked to him about what he needs to accomplish to get to AA Tennessee.

“They haven’t really said too much. I just go about my business and hopefully let my performance speak for itself. Whatever happens, happens. If I get moved up I do. If I stay here, either way, I’m happy.”

With less than six weeks left in the season, I would think a promotion to AA would have to happen in the next two weeks. Then again, if the Cubs want to see how he does against advanced competition, the franchise could use one of their eight spots in the Arizona Fall League to see him in action against elite players.

Aside from issuing less walks, I don’t think there is much left for him to prove in Myrtle Beach. He has utterly dominated two levels in one year.

His future looks pretty close after this year.