The Weekly: Transactions, a Hall of Fame Ballot, and Upcoming News

By Todd Johnson

The only Cub news this week came on Tuesday when the Cubs traded for pitcher Rowan Wick from San Diego in exchange for 3B Jason Vosler. That same day, the Cubs claimed pitcher Ian Clarkin off of waivers and selected pitcher Justin Steele for the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule V Draft on December 13.

The draft takes place on the last day of the GM meetings and that week is probably when things will start cooking in free agency. I don’t see the Cubs making a major move until then. Most deals before then will be a minor-league transaction such as what happened this week when Alberto Baldonado re-signed with the Cubs on a minor-league contract.

H.O.F.
I filled out my fake Hall of Fame ballot this week. If I could have voted for 15 guys, I would have. I think I am over the steroids thing and enough time has passed to move on as a fan. It was, and always will be, a popularity contest of memories. These type of things are not my forte, I vote too personally.

Website News and Upcoming Series
This will also be the last “Weekly” until the minor league season starts in April. Until then, I will be having regular posts on Sundays on one topic until “Spring Training News and Notes” begins in February and lasts through March. 

The “Position Breakdown Series” kicked off on Friday the 23rd with my look at catchers in the system. Next week, the first baseman will be on Friday the 30th.

In addition, this year’s off season prospect series begins on Tuesday the 27th. It is called “The 5 Series.” What I like about the premise is that I am only going to write about five things about a prospect. They can be questions, statistics, concerns, or maybe even things to work on for 2019. 

Card of the Week
When it came to making baseball cards in the off-season, I didn’t think I would be making a lot every month. I got that wrong. I have made almost 100 cards since October 1. I think I’m going to go ahead and do a top cards of the off-season post at some point next month. 

See you Tuesday for the debut of the 5 Series. 

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The Weekly: Hot and Cold Stove, Fall Awards, AFL News, Lists, and Things to Come

By Todd Johnson

The “MLB Hot Stove” is just not very hot this week during the GM Meetings. The Cubs have not signed any free agents nor have they have made any trades. The only thing coming out of the meeting is that it appears pitching coach Jim Hickey will also not be returning in 2019. I thought he was outstanding in keeping the rotation afloat and the young bullpen arms productive last summer. Theo also said that he was not going to comment at this time as it was not appropriate. So, it looks like more information will be coming down the pike later.

On Friday, Buster Olney of ESPN floated that the Cubs were open to trading Kris Bryant based on comments Theo made that there were no untouchables. Buster made a bit of a stretch putting Kris Bryant on the block. Kris is going to be a Cubs through 2020 and into 2021 and hopefully beyond.

In the awards section, Anthony Rizzo won his second Gold Glove and Mr. Javier Baez won his first Silver Slugger award. I doubt if Javy wins MVP, but it was such a thrilling season to watch him day in and day out.

AFL Action
While Nico continues to hit well along with Trent Giambrone, pitcher Erick Leal is beginning to draw praise as he is the only starting pitcher in the Arizona Fall League who has yet to allow an earned run. Leal’s streak reached 17 innings this week and his curveball has been getting rave reviews for its ability to miss baseball bats. Erick should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. Unless the Cubs put them on the 40 man roster by November 20, he is eligible to be selected in the next month’s Rule V Draft. I will have a full fledged post on him for Tuesday.

In addition, catcher Johnny Pereda is trending upwards as this AFL season comes to a close. It’s hard to believe that next week is the sixth week and final week of the season. Pereda’s average at one point hit .273 this week. On the other hand, pitcher Bailey Clark has struggled a little bit in the second half. He gave up a monster home run to White Sox product Louis Robert the other day. However, he is still looking good sitting around 95 most days. Last night, he was in trouble as he gave up 4 hits in 2 innings but did not allow a run. This has been a great experience for him going up against some of the top talent in MILB. Bailey’s ERA is at 2.45 in 11 innings.

Then there’s this guy…

Lists Are Coming
Baseball America it’s getting closer to putting out their draft grade on the Cubs and their latest top 10 prospect list. I will analyze that list as soon as it arrives sometime in the next two weeks. As well, John Sickel’s Minor League Ball began releasing their prospect lists this week but have yet to get to the Cubs.

The 5 Series
Starting the day after Turkey Day, my two offseason series will officially begin. As per usual, the position breakdown series will begin with catchers that day. And then I’m going to do something a little bit different this year in my offseason look at prospects. Rather than do a whole historical write up and talent evaluation of prospects, this year’s series is going to be brief and to the point. It is called the “Five Series” and each profile contains five things and the theme will change for each prospect.

In addition, it’s going to be class A centric. Not too many players above either Eugene, South Bend or Myrtle Beach are going to get examined. The first prospect on the clock is shortstop Levi Jordan, the Cubs 29th round pick out of the University of Washington in 2018 who played at Eugene after signing with the Cubs. After that, third round pick OF Jimmy Herron out of Duke has been piquing my interest.

Mailbag
I want to do a few mailbag posts like I did last year. So, send me your Cub MiLB questions you have this offseason about next year. It can be about any level, the draft, international free agency, the AFL, or trades. You can do it on Twitter or you can email me at CubsCentral2016@gmail.com. I advertised for some on Twitter yesterday and a few of the Qs I am thinking about actually turning into full fledged posts about Erick Leal, South Bend’s OF in 2019, Adbert Alzolay’s future (Probably at BPW), and Trent Giambrone’s amazing AFL experience (at Cubs Insider).

Acquisitions This Week
MiLB Free Agents – Corey Black
IFA – Edwin Castillo, INF , Darling Grullon, P,  Orlando Guzman, OF – That brings their 2018/19 total to 11.
MiLB Re-signed to 6th year/Successor contract (per Arizona Phil)– Erick Leal, Roberto Caro, Gioskar Amaya, Anderson Acevedo, James Buckelew, Yan de la Cruz, Dalton Geekie, Danny Hultzen, Ryan Lawlor, Yasiel Balaguert, Erick Castillo, and Chris Pieters

Card of the Week

Cubs Central Baseball Cards of the Year

By Todd Johnson

For some strange reason, I made 889 baseball cards this year. I’m not sure what I was thinking, That’s enough for every prospect in the system to get three Cards made of them. But that’s not how it always works. I made more of some players than others and definitely more of some levels than others.

Normally, this would be the part where I would tell you about the theme and then show you a Google Slides presentation of the top 11 cards of the year. Instead, I piggybacked the cards from my top-secret Twitter burner account and are able to bring them to you without sucking up any storage space on WordPress.

#11
Picture by Larry Kave

A lot of times light will make a card. It could be bright sunlight, it could be shadows, or it could even be sunset. In this case it is sunset. Larry captures Bailey and his wind up in a camo jersey that kind of blends with his beard and the card frame in  one of my favorite shots of the year.

#10
By MiLB

I am not sure where this picture was taken, but the billboards blurriness in the background makes the whole shot. I also love that Thompson is in the road gray uniform of which we don’t see too many pictures.

#9
By Rikk Carlson

Sunday games are always best for pictures because of the large amount of sun. In this shot, Rikk perfectly captures pitcher Brendon Little in the daylight. That’s not what makes the picture, though. The earth toned crowd behind Little blends perfectly with the 2001 frame.

#8
By Dylan Heuer

Dylan has tweeted that he does not like the red alternate jerseys worn by the Iowa Cubs. In this pic, however, that red jersey just contrasts perfectly With the black flame frame of the 1971 card. Also, I just love the action in the card.

#7
By Briana Paciorka

This is a perfect picture of light and color matching perfectly with the frame in a day game from early in the year. It wasn’t long after this that Vosler found his way to AAA Iowa.

#6
By Jared Ravich

This was the card of the month for September and I just love how the light bounces off the different shades of green in the tie-dyed jersey. Taken right at sunset, it’s a magical shot!

#5
By Eugene Emeralds

Even though Luis Diaz didn’t last at Eugene all summer, the memory of this picture did. The sunlight coming in and illuminating half the hitter and the colors in the Monarcas jersey just seem to pop and it was one of my favorite cards of June.

#4
By Jared Ravich

Fernando Kelli has a lot of speed. This picture by Jared really captures Fernando‘s personality as he eyes third base early in the season. It really speaks to who Kelli is and what he can do in a baseball game to change the outcome.

#3
By John Conover

Taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan, John actually had a much wider view of the shot but when I zoomed in for the card, the angle just seemed to line up between Jared Young, the catcher, and the umpire. It really caught my eye and still does.

#2
By Tennessee Smokies

Just look at that smile! That sells the whole card.

#1
By Rikk Carlson

I just love everything about this card. From the 2008 Topps’ frame to the melting of red, white, and blue throughout the card, it has a really classic look. However, some might get lost in Miguel’s sunglasses as he looks like a viper about to strike. At the time this picture was taken, that’s exactly what Amaya was doing.

To see all 889 cards, head on over to the Facebook Photo Albums. I have also begun to make some cards this offseason. If you know of any recent shots of prospects floating around a hometown paper or website, let me know.

The Weekly: Bryce Rumors Begin, AFL Starts This Week, Miguel Amaya News, and a Review Preview

By Todd Johnson

It only took a few hours after the Cubs lost to the Rockies for the Bryce Harper rumors to begin anew. The sports betting company Bovada put the Cubs at even money to sign Harper when free agency begins after the World Series ends. While the Cubs do have a good shot at signing the soon-to-be free agent, it is definitely not a sure thing. Although, I sure do like the Cubs chances. You can figure out who’s going to play where later.

And in other MiLB news, the Cubs will be back at Tennessee in 2019. Considering the PDC is only for two years means that the two sides are going to be working some things out between now and 2020 or the Cubs will have a new AA home in 2021.

BA League Top 20s
Baseball America continues to release it’s top 20 prospect lists in each of the minor leagues. The Cubs did not have a top 20 prospect  in either the Pacific Coast League, the Southern League, or the Carolina League. This week, the Cubs got off the schneid as catcher Miguel Amaya was named the number 12 Prospect in the Midwest League. BA described his offensive talents well:

“Amaya took a big step forward this year with his power, as he hit nine home runs and slugged .500 in the first half of the season before wearing down in the second half. Amaya does chase out of the strike zone too often and needs to improve his ability to recognize breaking balls, but he has future average or even above-average power.”

AFL Preview
The Arizona Fall League is set to begin on Wednesday Tuesday, October 9. The Cubs have a total of nine players who will be on the roster for the Mesa Solar Sox. Most of the players played their 2018 season at Myrtle Beach.

2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner looks to be the prospect to watch every day. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against such advanced competition after only getting in 49 at bats as a pro this summer before an elbow injury forced him to miss the last six weeks of the season at South Bend.

I’m excited to see how well several other prospects do in this advanced setting. Reliever Bailey Clark is going to be one player I will watch with great anticipation. As well, I’m curious as to how outfielder DJ Wilson will do and hopefully he can stay healthy.

According MLB Pipeline, pitcher Justin Steele might be the Cubs’ sleeper prospect. They said, 

“Steele was just starting to come into his own when he blew out his elbow in August 2017, but he returned to the mound earlier than expected (11 months later) after Tommy John surgery. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph, also can dodge bats with his curveball and has made encouraging progress with his control and command.”

Other Cubs prospects playing in the league include pitchers Erick Leal and Manny Rondon, catchers Jhonny Pereda and PJ Higgins, and 2B Trent Giambrone.

Preview of Affiliate Reviews
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be releasing the 2018 season reviews for each of the Cubs’ stateside affiliates. I’m going to start with AAA Iowa and work my way down to South Bend this week. Next week, I will cover Eugene and the two Mesa clubs.

While the first half of each article is technically a review of the 2018 season, The second half looks at which prospects should be promoted to the next level and which prospects should be arriving from the level below. The hardest part of projecting next season squads came down to who is going to be in the rotation at each affiliate. A lot of that still has to be determined come spring training.

Card of the Week

September Cards of the Month: Eugene Takes Over the Month

By Todd Johnson

My baseball cards this month have a definite Eugene feel. While I did have a few picture holdovers from the end of August, most of this month’s 100+ cards were of the Emeralds in the playoffs. Many of those cards were finished about 10 days ago, which is usually when pictures start to dry up.

There’s a lot of optimism in this month’s collection. Also, a lot of this year‘s draft picks and non-drafted free agents are captured and it gives me a little preview of who I’m going to be making cards of in 2019 at South Bend.

Here is this month’s top cards video.

I will be back in a couple of weeks with the cards of the year!

The Weekly: Eugene Wins, Cubs’ MiLB Players of the Year, and Nothing on Tennessee

By Todd Johnson

Reliving Eugene’s Improbable Championship
I am still finding it hard to believe that Eugene won the Northwest League title. I know they did it because I watched them do it. This was a team that had to overcome the roughest of starts to a season I’ve seen in a while. The first three weeks of the season were not good. They were last in the league in hitting. However, they improved greatly in July. This year‘s draft class and two non-drafted free agents solidified the defense in the infield and behind the plate and lengthened the lineup. They also added some depth to the starting pitching from the draft and later the Emeralds got some relief help from Mesa. I will have more on the Ems remarkable season in a couple of weeks when I do the affiliate reviews of the 2018 season. 

This year’s “Cubs Central’s Player of the Year” awards are pretty straightforward.  

Infielder Jared Young won his award for “Hitter of the Year” through a combination of an excellent approach and his bat to ball skills. He did so at South Bend where he dominated with a wRC+ of 150 and again at Myrtle Beach where he secured himself a spot on Tennessee’s roster for next year. For the season he hit .300 with 16 home runs, 76 RBI.

While “Pitcher of the Year” Cory Abbott can get his fastball up into the mid 90s on occasion, he has an excellent slider and he misses a lot of bats. I think what gets under sold on him is his makeup. He is fierce on the mound and he might be the most competitive arm in the system. He had a 2.50 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 115 innings as well only walking 39 on the season between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. He should begin 2019 at Tennessee at the age of 23.

By the beginning of next summer, “Reliever of the Year” Dakota Mekkes should be pitching out of the bullpen in Chicago 3 days a week. The 6‘7“ deceptive right-hander began the year just dominating AA with a 0.81 ERA in 22.1 innings. When he began June at AAA Iowa, he had some adjusting to do, but he started to figure things out in short order. Between the two affiliates, he had a 1.17 ERA and 71 Ks in 53.2 innings. His walk rate improved from 5.24/9 in Tennessee to 4.60/9 in Iowa which is probably the only thing holding him back from getting the September call up. 

Other Post Season Awards
Only 2 Cubs prospects made Baseball America’s post-season all-star teams by levels (not leagues). In the Dominican, Pitcher Luis Rodriguez made it with a 0.73 ERA and South Bend closer Brian Glowicki made it at low A. Congrats!

Crickets from Tennessee
No news is coming out of Tennessee about the Cubs and the Smokies extending their professional development contract beyond this season. It’s starting to get late in terms of announcing a deal. Hopefully one will come this week.

Darvish
Yu Darvish had a procedure called a debridement done in Texas this week. It basically cleaned up his elbow without doing Tommy John Surgery. As a result, Darvish could return in 2019 at the beginning of the season.

This Week on Cubs Central
Starting tomorrow, the off season posts begin with the “Breakouts of the Second Half” series. There will be three articles this week on some guys who stepped up their game in the second half of the minor league season. Hitters kick it off on Monday, followed by starting pitchers and relievers later in the week.

Also, the baseball cards just keep coming this month. I will have more this week of Eugene players from the NWL championship. Here is this month’s album of cards. For the year, since spring training, there are over 800 cards made this year…my most ever! I need to get out some more.

Card of the Week

August Cards of the Months: A Sea of Red and Lots of Light

By Todd Johnson

Somebody made a few too many cards last month. I’m not going to name any names, but it was me. If you really wanted someone to blame, you can go blame my ever burgeoning list of photographers throughout Arizona, the Northwest, and South Bend.

In total, I made over 160 cards and I enjoyed making every single one, but I am not sure why I made so many. That averages out to about six card a day. As a result, I do have a few pictures backlogged already for next month.

While there is a lot of the color red in this month’s collection, there are several faces in new places. In addition, the sun seemed to have an impact on most of the top ten cards. I still am going through some of my photographs I took in South Bend, the Quad Cities, and Kane County. I found about 8 more that turned out well. In addition, there were some big happenings in Chicago that made some excellent cards.

Let’s get right to the video…