Cubs Bullpen

Prospect Update: Jake Stinnett Has a New Role and So Far, So Great!

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By Todd Johnson

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies

Affiliates never know what is going to happen over the course of a minor league season. Prospects will come and go and roles may change. Over the past month, the Tennessee Smokies have had to deal with a lot of change. Starting pitcher Trevor Clifton and relievers Daury Torrez, James Norwood, Craig Brooks, and Dakota Mekkes were all called up to AAA Iowa. When Norwood and Brooks left last week, it opened up a lot of holes and roles to be filled at the back end of the pen. While Wyatt Short was promoted from Myrtle Beach, most of the changes would have to come from within.

For most of his pro career, Jake Stinnett has been a starting pitcher since being drafted out of Maryland in the second round in 2014. Everyone noticed right away that he had a lot of movement on his pitches. The problem Stinnett has struggled controlling that movement. At South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee, Stinnett worked to find some consistency with his pitches. Heading into last year, he had a career ERA of 4.39.

However, an injury forced him to miss most of the 2017 season. When he came back in late July 2017, he was relegated to the bullpen. And for the last six weeks of the season, he had the best month and a half of his career. Over 9 appearances, he put up a 0.61 ERA with 14 Ks in 14.1 innings.

Last fall, Jake was assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. He drew rave reviews as a reliever and it was thought that he would have some sort of back-end role when the 2018 season began. Sometimes, the best laid plans never get made. And sometimes, things have a funny way of working out.

After Norwood and Brooks were promoted on June 25, Manager Mark Johnson needed to find a new closer. For most of 2018, Stinnett was a set up man and long reliever. He looked good in April with a 2.16 ERA in 8 games. However, in May and June, he struggled more often than not. For the first half, he had a 5.54 ERA in 26 innings with 32 strikeouts. Opponents hit .264 against him, cranked 4 HRs, while Stinnett walked 12. Of the 16 ERs he allowed, 10 of them came in three games in which he gave up a HR. Get rid of the HRs, and his ERA was 2.57 in games where he did not allow a dinger.

For Stinnett to pitch in such a high leverage situation as a closer, he was going to have to make some changes. You often hear about hitters developing an approach at the plate. The same is true of pitchers. As for Jake, his pitches still look the same, but his demeanor does not. Broadcaster Mick Gillispie often comments now how quickly Stinnett works as a closer. In the old neighborhood, we used to just call it “rock and fire.” You just get the baseball, get your sign, and you let it rip. Hitters do not have a lot of time to think about what pitch is coming. So far, so great for Stinnett!

Heading into tonight’s game, Stinnett’s had 4 save opportunities since moving into the closer spot. He has yet to allow a run in four innings. He only has four strikeouts, but he has not walked a batter nor allowed a hit. His season ERA went from 5.46 down to 4.78 in less than two weeks. For the second half, his ERA is a sparkling 1.50 in 5 games.

Manager Mark Johnson has to feel good about moving Jake into the closer role. Stinnett is simply attacking the hitter. He needs to maintain that approach if he is going to succeed as the Smokies’ closer long-term. If he can continue to do what he’s done over the last 10 days, he becomes quite the interesting prospect heading into 2019.

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Which Prospects Could Breakout for the Cubs in the 2nd Half?

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By Todd Johnson

Yesterday, I wrote about who  broke out in the first half for Cubs Insider. But trying to predict breakouts prospects for the second half of the minor league season is a bit tougher. Most of the players one would expect to breakout will be playing for Mesa, Eugene, or South Bend. Some of them are 18 to 20-year-old kids while others are recent draft picks.

If I was to pick one hitter, one pitcher, and one reliever to break out in the second half, I would more than likely be wrong come the end of August. So, to hedge my bets, what I’m going to do is to pick three hitters, four starting pitchers, and three relievers who might make some waves in the Cubs’ system the next two months. Hopefully, one or more in each category will make it.  

On with the prospects.

Hitters

Everyone is going to be watching Nico Hoerner once he signs. The fans will watch his bat, his glove, his arm, and his speed, grit, and hustle. That kind of takes the pressure off of everyone else.

The batter that will impress everyone is Luke Reynolds, the Cubs tenth round pick out of Southern Mississippi. I would expect him to be a fast mover. He, like Hoerner, will probably start at Eugene, but neither will be there long as their approaches and skills will be too dominant.

Another hitter that could break out this summer is Fernando Kelli. While we know some about Kelli after his 58 stolen bases last season in the DSL, it is different playing in the US, especially skipping Mesa. The hardest adjustments for an 18-19 year old prospect from the DSL to make are just playing against quality competition. Kelli will need to adapt to quality changeups and curves; and guys trying to get him out in the batter’s box and also on the basepaths. In just 5 games, he has caused some havoc between the bases. His defense, on the other hand, might be better than we thought.

My third selection is Jonathan Sierra. Originally, he looked like Daryl Strawberry clone when the Cubs signed him in 2015 at 16 years-old. Now, he is getting his physique into something resembling Jorge Soler. What I really like about him so far is his approach. He shows to have a pretty good knowledge of the zone at 19 and he is not afraid to walk to this early in his career. The issue he has now is that his swing is a bit long. He needs to shorten that up or he will be eaten alive as he moves up the ladder. For now, though, game experience and seeing as many pitches as possible will be the goals for 2018.

Bonus Hitters – Kevin Moreno from Cuba (who is only 17) and Reivaj Garcia are two young hitters who have been tearing up EXST. They will both be in Mesa to begin the year. I love Luis Vazquez’s defense already. The fact that he got experience at SS in a major league spring training game says how highly the Cubs already think of him. He is in Eugene to start 2018. Focus on his defense, not the bat.

Starting Pitchers

One of the more interesting stories in August last year was the maturation of Jesus Tejada in the DSL. He was a stud with an ERA just under 2 for that month and he also threw a no-hitter. Now, the 19 year old will be stateside. This spring, one of the more interesting reports over time from Arizona Phil has been the growth in each performance of lefty Brailyn Marquez, who is really dialing it up as the spring goes along. Now that summer is here, the young 19-year-old pitcher is in Eugene as the ace of the staff. He can dial it up in the mid-90s. The issue has always been his command.

I liked the Cubs taking Derek Casey of Virginia in the ninth round of the 2018 draft a lot. He’s experienced, a senior, and he should be a valuable arm next year. This year, he will more than likely just pitch 2 or 3 innings a game in Eugene or South Bend. He should do well in those spots.

Faustino Carrera is not going to blow you away with his fastball, but he can make you swing wildly at his changeup. The 19-year-old lefty (I am noticing a theme here) has good command and can get hitters to do what he wants when he can control his upper 80s to low 90s heater. He also has a curve that comes in around 82 and he seems to hide the ball well to make it appear to have more zip than it does.

Bonus – In what is his third season as a Cub, Nathan Sweeney is back in the Arizona Rookie League. But here’s the thing, he’s still just 20 and, if he had gone to college, he would just be finishing his sophomore year. After two years of instruction from the college of pitching coaches in Mesa, he should start to put it together this year. His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s consistently.

Relievers

All three of my breakout reliever choices were taken in the draft this year. Ethan Roberts, Riley Thompson, and Layne Looney all had excellent careers in college in the bullpen. I would not be surprised to see any or all 3 get a chance at starting next year. But this year, they are just going to relieve. Thompson, who can bring it at 95, will need the most time to develop. Roberts might need to rest a bit after Tennessee Tech almost made it to Omaha for the College World Series. And Looney should be good to go as he was already playing summer ball. Expect to see Thompson to get in a game first and it should be at Mesa.

Here are a few other names who could break out as legitimate prospects this summer.

DSL
Alexander Ovalles – OF; Carlos Morfa – OF; Fabian Pertuz – SS; Carlos Paula – SP

Mesa
Luis Verdugo – SS; Carlos Pacheco – OF (who is injured to start the year); Raidel Orta – SP; Eduarniel Nunez – SP; and Luis Hidalgo 1B/OF

Eugene
Luis Diaz – 2B and Jonathan Soto – C

The MiLB First Half All-Star Team Came Right Down to the Wire

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By Todd Johnson

In compiling the stats and possible prospects who might make the First Half All-Star Team, I started with a spreadsheet to get a head start. The 20 something players who made the list did not change much, but who would become the hitter and pitcher of the first half changed from week to week. The reliever of the first half was pretty much set in stone since the first month of the season.

It’s been interesting to watch players shoot up, down, or stay steady throughout the past 2.5 months. Still, it came down to the weekend to see who would make the team when it came to starting pitching (I had 12 at one point and it didn’t end up too far from that).

The biggest surprise the past two weeks has been the surge of Jhonny Bethencourt. Bethencourt is a 21-year-old infielder who plays 3B, SS, and 2B for South Bend. He can definitely handle a stick. He’s hitting almost .350 in June alone to bring his average up to .280. His issue, though, is his defense. He tends to rush plays with his arm. He can get to and field the grounder, it’s just the quality of his throws. However, as long as he hits, he is going to play somewhere.

I really like Jared Young and have been on the “Jared Young Train” since before he began to take off last August. His approach is too good. Not only can he hit for average, he can hit for power. Most teams in the Midwest League already employ a shift against him every night and it is not stopping him from going off. He is the hitter of the first half. I am ready for him to add 10-15 pounds of muscle this winter to add even more power to his game. He cranked out 8 HRs and lead the system in RBI this spring and also lead with a wRC+ of 146 while hitting .302.

Pitcher Matt Swarmer has been pretty steady. He’s had a couple of tough starts, but that is it. The lean and lanky starter already got promoted to Tennessee after being named the April Pitcher of the Month with a 1.72 ERA and 26 Ks in 20.2 IP. In May, he had a 2.92 ERA. In his first start at Tennessee, he got touched, but in his second start, he was scoreless through 3 before the rains came and delayed the game. For the first half, between the two levels, the pitcher of the first half put up a 2.47 ERA and had 65 Ks in 59.1 IP with a WHIP of 0.95.

Dakota Mekkes is the reliever of the first half. He had a 0.98 ERA between Iowa and Tennessee along with 36 Ks in 26.2 IP. His only issue is walks. He’s given out 15 free passes this year, but only 3 in Iowa (5+ BBs/9). Expect to see him in Chicago shortly.

Without further adieu, here is Cub Central’s First Half All-Star team.

 

The Friday 6 Pack Is Back – Random Thoughts About Non-Draft Stuff

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By Todd Johnson

Over the past two weeks, I wrote about the draft so much that I was a little burned out, even on the word. So what do I do on my first off day from writing in a while? That’s right, I go on the radio and talk about it. And tonight, I am talking with Sean Holland of Cubs Insider and Cubs Den on his podcast about it even more. Then….I am done. I swear!

So, today I wanted to write some random things down as June is usually a month of change in baseball in the majors and minors. Without anymore babbling, here are six things that have been coursing through my brain the past few days.

Vimael Machin – Courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies

1. I originally wanted to do a full-fledged profile about Vimael Machin. Machin is currently killing it since his promotion to AA Tennessee. In 18 games for the Smokies, the somewhat organizational journeyman is hitting .375 with OBP near .500 in 19 games. Machin, drafted in 2015 from VCU after a messianic CWS run, has bounced around the system the past three years. His identity as a prospect vs. a journeyman was questioned as he moved around freely playing everywhere from Eugene to Iowa. He finally got a steady gig at South Bend in the spring of 2017 and hit .320 in the first half. Machin was then promoted to Myrtle Beach shortly after the All-Star Break. At Myrtle Beach, his walk rate was astounding in spite of his bat. Now at AA, Machin’s bat has returned and he is still walking more than he strikes out, a trait the Cubs covet. Keep an eye on Vimael the rest of this month. He’s looking like a future utility piece as he can play all four infield positions.

2. Promotions – When the 25-30 players from the “you-know-what” sign, several players will be moving to make room. A few pitchers already have gone up a level along with Machin. Next should be Jared Young from South Bend. He’s killing it right now. Over his last 10, he’s hitting .343 with 3 HRs and 10 RBI. For the year, he’s at .291. The problem is the promotions for position players will be scarce as the system is a little log jammed, especially at Catcher.

3. International Free Agency (IFA) – The Cubs are considered to be the favorites to sign pitcher Richard Gallardo, ranked as the #5 international player by MLB Pipeline. The Cubs should be able to sign some pretty good talent this year after two years of penalties. Now, a hard cap is in place for all teams. However, teams can trade bonus pool money. It would not surprise me to see the Cubs trade some prospects for some IFA money. If they do, the Cubs could easily outdo their talent haul from this week’s “event I refuse to call by its name.”

4. The Bullpen/Starter Conundrum in Chicago – While watching the game yesterday, I saw Joe Maddon trot out Cishek, Duensing, Wilson, Strop, and Morrow (not in that order) to seal the victory. It’s a scene I’ve witnessed far too often this year. A starter doesn’t make out of the fifth or into the sixth and the bullpen is used for the rest of the game. If this continues, there will be no bullpen left. I checked how many games these guys already pitched in and everyone was over 25 with 103 left. At the rate they are going, the five aforementioned guys will make between 70-75 appearances in the regular season. They will be gassed for the postseason. The starters have to go longer so the bullpen can pitch less.

As for help, Dillon Maples has been much better of late the past three weeks. He has not allowed a run over his last six games. Also, now that Dakota Mekkes is just a phone call away, expect that call to come to Chicago sometime later this summer.

5. The Art of a Deal – The Cubs, more than likely, are not going to be making a big deal this summer unless it’s for a bullpen arm or a bench player. There’s not going to be a big name guy coming to town. I just don’t see Theo giving up what’s left of the system this year. This is pretty much the team as it is. Help, if needed, is more than likely to come from Iowa.

6. Ryan Williams – He is getting very close to returning to playing in a game that matters. Yesterday, he threw 67 pitches in extended spring training. He’s one of my favorite Cubs to watch pitch. He’s such a bulldog out there. Still, he’s missed the past two plus years with shoulder issues. I was wondering if he was ever going to return. He’s not quite ready, but we could see him rehabbing up through the system in July. That would be a great sight to see. 

I will be back tomorrow with a preview of Trevor Clifton’s AAA debut. On Sunday, “The Weekly” looks ahead at Theo’s latest interview and the last week of the first half of the MiLB season. And a peak at the Eugene and Mesa rosters is coming next week as they begin play a week from today.

 

The Six Pack – Six Relievers Are Dominating This Spring

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Dakota Mekkes – Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies

By Todd Johnson

Last winter, I thought that catcher might be the most dominant position that the Cubs had in their minor league system. When it comes time to reassess the system this fall, I might be persuaded to change my mind based on the work of this year’s relief corps; 3 of whom could find their way to Chicago this year, if needed.

1. Dillon Maples might be the reliever that most Cub fans know about in the minor-league system. He got off to a bit of a rough start this year at AAA Iowa but has been pitching well since the second week of the season. His K rate is astronomical at over 20 per nine innings. Still, when the time has came to bring up a pitcher to Chicago, Maples has been bypassed five times already as he continues to try to cut down on his walks. He’s walked 6 in 10 appearances. At some point this year, he’s going to get another crack at the majors. 

2. Randy Rosario – What I liked about the Rosario signing this winter was that he was young, 23, had some MLB experience, and was a left-hander. The Cubs have kept him down at AAA Iowa, and, over the past six weeks, he has yet to allow run. He is also missing some bats as he’s struck out 10 in 15 innings and his batting average against is a minuscule .173.

3. Dakota Mekkes – If there was any prospect that could skip AAA and go to the majors from AA, it would be Mekkes – although I doubt that happens. However, Dakota has just been dominating AA. And like Myrtle Beach last year, Mekkes has not allowed a run in his 13.1 innings in 10 games. That include Includes Tuesday night’s extra innings save where he began the inning with a man on second base. His walk rate is a little better this year, but, like Maples, Mekkes still has room to improve. But to be frank, I don’t think there’s much left for him to do at AA. He should be in Des Moines and soon.

4. Jhon Romero – As the season goes on, Romero’s two pitch mix, a 93 to 95 mile an hour fastball and a sharp breaking curve, seem to be improving in Myrtle Beach. When I first saw him at South Bend last year, I wondered what he was doing there as he baffled Midwest League hitters. What I like about Romero is that he gets some ugly swings as batters just can’t time him up, especially on the curve ball. I don’t think he’s long for Myrtle Beach either.

5. Bailey Clark has already been promoted once, and at the rate he’s going in Myrtle Beach, he’s not gonna be there long either. Last year, Maples went from Myrtle Beach to the majors. I think Clark could come close to moving three levels this year. But first, he’s got to continue what he’s doing well. He’s using a mid 90s to upper 90s fastball in combination with a hard biting slider that he’s able to command. Right now, between the two levels this year, he has a 1.17 ERA with 28 Ks in 23 IP. The big stat no one is talking about is he is averaging almost 5 ground outs for every fly ball/pop up – an astonishing rate. If he can continue to do that, he should be in Tennessee by mid June. However, the key will be to take it one level at a time.

6. Tyler Peyton – I really liked and enjoyed the progress I saw in him last summer in a relief role in South Bend as he was one of the best relievers in the system in August with a 1.29 ERA. He’s doing pretty much the same thing this year at Myrtle Beach and he’s even moved into the closer role a few times. I don’t know if he’s going to move up this year, but I like what I’m seeing as he continues to flash a 93 to 95 mile an hour fastball with a nice curve and change.

I’m not really surprised these guys above are doing well. I am surprised that they are so dominant to begin the season. As it warms up, things could change a little bit over the next 4 to 6 weeks, but I think their ability to throw strikes is paramount to their success.

I would also have included Rollie Lacy of South Bend on this list. However, he now has a rotation spot in South Bend replacing Jose Albertos. Still, I don’t know if Lacy will do that permanently or for the time being.

Names to Know for May and Early June

Brendan King has only just begun to pitch at South Bend. King pitched well as a starter last year for Mesa. The 2017 draft pick out of Holy Cross has done very well in relief at South Bend. I don’t know if he’s going to get a chance to start, but I would be interested to see how he would do in that role, too. He usually is the upper 80s with his fastball to go along with a curve that he control and throw at will. With his command and a plus curve, he should do well at this level and high A.

There could be other relievers who will pop in the next month from the bullpen. One never knows who is coming and when.

Prospect Stock Watch – The April Edition

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By Todd Johnson

Come next Tuesday, I will release my first monthly MiLB All-Star Team. This April was a little hard to judge due to the many rainouts (which are still happening), the cold (which is hopefully gone for good), and the snow (see the cold). It looks like most Cub affiliates will get in between 20 and 22 games for the month. That does not seem like a lot. Well, it is not.

There are some interesting trends taking place at the plate and the mound. Some players are off to great starts while some other well-known names are struggling, some mightily. Here is this month’s monthly stock watch.

Stock Going Up: Hitters
Jeffrey Baez,  Trey Martin, Jared Young, Andruw Monasterio, Yeiler Peguero, Mark Zagunis, and Jhonny Pereda

I don’t think any these guys are going to break into a prospect list right now. Zagunis is the only one listed on mine, but I think Jared Young might make the Top 21 List by the end of the summer. The problem for Young, though, is that he is currently on the DL after a good start hitting .406 in South Bend. Jeffrey Baez and Trey Martin are repeating AA but they are currently dominating in all facets of the game. Baez, who has always been a streaky hitter with 5 tool potential, has 3 HRs and is closing in on .400. Martin, meanwhile, looks like a veteran bat who is improving his lot in the system. He has 2 gold gloves to his credit, but this year is all about his bat which is currently in the mid .300s.

That fact that there are so few hitters gives you a clear indication of the lack of elite hitting in the system. However, come June, that will all change via the draft and 5 short-season rookie league and class A teams begin play.

Stock Going Up: Pitchers
Rob Zastryzny, Randy Rosario, Thomas Hatch, Dakota Mekkes, Matt Swarmer, Tyler Peyton, Wyatt Short, Jhon Romero, Brian Glowicki, Ben Hecht, Cory Abbott, Rollie Lacy, Bailey Clark, Javier Assad,  and Tyler Thomas

To be honest, I have never been very high on Rob Zastryzny until he started using a cutter and his career took off in 2016. Last year, he had a bunch of nagging little injuries. Now healthy, he’s been pretty dominant out of the bullpen this spring in Iowa. 8.2 IP, 0 runs allowed. If Dakota Mekkes of Tennessee cuts his walk rate in half, he is likely the first guy to be promoted because he’s not giving up hits or runs. Swarmer has been the most surprising prospect. In three starts, he has a 1.72 ERA. He can locate his fastball and his curve is a little tighter this year and has that classic 12-6 break. Hitters have trouble timing him up. With an over the top delivery and a freakishly high leg kick, there’s a lot going on in his delivery to distract even the best hitters.

The South Bend pitchers have been pretty impressive – Javier Assad especially. He did not have good stuff to start the day last Saturday. He made what he had work for a couple of innings and until got into a groove. He stranded seven in the first three innings. It was a master class in getting out of a jam you put yourself into.

In addition, Tyler Thomas will be one to watch in May. His 0.60 ERA over 3 starts leads all Cubs’ starters. Piggyback starters Bailey Clark and Rollie Lacy have been near dominant in their 7 opportunities.

Hatch and Mekkes are the only pitchers listed from above that are on my Top 21 List. Assad could easily break on to a list this summer. I really like his FB and curve combo.

It is still a little early to start moving prospects around lists just based on a 20+ game set. However, that set gives a good indication of who is playing well to start the year and who is carrying over from the end of last year – a more interesting trend to me. The May Watch List might be more interesting because that will list will have a 40 game set of qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate.

Still, this list is a start to check out the talent in the system for 2018.

 

Do the Cubs Have a Short-Term Lefty Shortage?

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By Todd Johnson

When minor league rosters were first announced, one of the strangest things I noticed was that the Tennessee Smokies did not have one single left-handed pitcher on the roster. That was pretty hard to miss. At the same time, South Bend mustered two lefty starters and one in a relief role who has already spent time on the 7-day DL last week. The lack of lefties in the minors does seem to be a bit strange considering their high value to the major league club.

At the major-league level, the Cubs have Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as left-handed starters and they have plenty of help in the bullpen with Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing, and Mike Montgomery. AAA Iowa currently has four lefties in starter Michael Roth and relievers Rob Zastryzny, Alberto Baldonado, and Randy Rosario.

In total, the Cubs have about 30 left-handed pitchers in the entire system. Myrtle Beach and Chicago account for 10 of the 30 left-handed pitchers which leaves almost 20 spread across the other 8 teams. The shortage of lefties might not be a big deal right now, but it could be if something happens at the big league level.

Who Could Help This Year If Needed?

While the Cubs did select lefty Brendon Little with the first pick in the 2017 Draft, Little is far from a polished prospect. Rather, he might be more of a project that pays off much later. His ability to get to Chicago depends on a few years of development.

If lefty help is going to come this year, Zastryzny will like more than likely be the first name called up for the bullpen. In Iowa, all Zastryzny has done is to come out of the pen and not allow a run in 5.1 IP this year and has struck out 5. That’s a good beginning for him.

I did find it surprising that Roth made Iowa’s starting rotation. So far, he’s made 2 starts and has not allowed a run over 9.2 innings while striking out 8.

As for Randy Rosario, he’s only 23, which I find to be amazing, and he could be a steal and a long term piece for the pen. The Cubs control Rosario through 2023, the same as Zastryzny. So far, Rosario has not allowed a run in 3 appearances for Iowa. He might be the most intriguing arm to watch. Then again, Rosario, who appeared in 2 MLB games last June, did so with disastrous results as he allowed 8 runs in 2.1 innings.

As for Baldanaldo at Iowa, … it’s not going well at Iowa.

Another lefty, Kyle Ryan, is in Arizona in extended spring training and will likely be assigned to Iowa at a later date. Ryan spent two full years being successful in the majors for the Tigers before struggling last year with an ERA over 7.

Ultimately, in the short term, the odds are not ideal for lefties in the system. On the other hand (pun intended), depending on the need and impact of a lefty needed at the major league level, the Cubs could go and get one via the trade market this summer. The aforementioned lefties from Iowa would be fine for a short DL stint or two. But if a loogy is needed for the season and the playoffs, expect the Cubs to go and get the players they need like they have done in the past.

As for the Future…

The odds for developing lefty pitchers are much better in the long-term. Here are a few names of some lefties, other than Little, who might be worth watching this summer. Bear in mind, none of the following names will not make it to Chicago this summer or even next year. 

Tyler Thomas – The 6’ and 175 pound lefty out of Fresno State has dazzled in his first two starts for South Bend this year, including throwing five innings of no-hit ball against Bowling Green. Armed with a low 90s fastball and a beautiful changeup, Thomas works at a quick pace keeping everyone on their toes. He was one of the top collegiate pitchers in 2016, but struggled a bit in the spring of 2017 at Fresno State. However when he came to Eugene, he was lights out in a relief role (24 Ks in 19.1 IP).

Brailyn Marquez – He just turned 19 in January, but at 6’5”, he is still growing into his frame and can throw in the mid 90s. He played last year at Mesa and struck out 52 batters in 44 innings. The issue was not that he walked just 12 guys all summer, rather it was that opponents hit .275 off him. His secondaries are a work in progress. Marquez should be at short season Eugene which starts play in the middle of June.

Bryan Hudson – His first start in 2018 didn’t go so well for Myrtle Beach but there’s plenty of time to recover. On Saturday, in his second start, he went 5 IP and struck out 4 but gave up 3 runs. The 6’8” 220 pound 20-year-old is improving gradually every year. He was a ground ball machine at South Bend in 2017. For his career, he has averaged 2.96 ground balls to 1 flyout. His curve/slider used to be his calling card, but now it’s his ability to get guys to beat the ball into the ground with his fastball as well.

And Don’t Forget…

Justin Steele – He had his best season as a Cub in 2017 with an ERA of 2.92 for Myrtle Beach. However, he wound up having Tommy John surgery in August. He’s not gonna come back to pitching as a starter this year, but hopefully he can be seen tossing the ball around in Mesa in August. I highly doubt if he gets in any games. He should be back on track to pitch at AA Tennessee in 2019.

What most impressed me about Steele last year before the injury was a new mental focus. Steele credited to the Cubs’ mental skills program that involved meditation for a lot of his success. Steele is an arm who could relieve, or he could also start. He is still just 22.