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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

By Tennessee Smokies

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

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.

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…

The Weekly: Playoffs, the AFL, a New Top 21 Is Close, and Awards Galore

By Todd Johnson

It has been a pretty exciting week in the minors between Cubs 1’s hunt for a second consecutive Arizona League title and Eugene’s neck and neck playoff race with Salem-Keizer for a spot in the Northwest League postseason.

Even though Cubs 1 had the best regular season record in the Arizona League, they lost the championship 2 games to 1 to the Dodgers by giving up 5 unearned runs in the finale. Lots of good pitching will be heading up the ladder next year from the team including Peyton Remy, Didier Vargas, Jesus Tejada, and Jack Patterson.

As for Eugene, they took one on the chin last night losing 6-4 to Boise. The Ems lead 3-0 early but could not hold it through the middle innings. Things are still hopeful for the Emeralds, though. They are tied with Salem-Keizer who beat Hillsboro last night. As a result, Eugene’s magic number is 2.

If the Ems get in, they play a best 2 out of 3 against Hillsboro starting on Wednesday. The Emeralds have pretty much  been owned by the Hops this going just 4-8.

Big News Last Night
Tennessee catcher P. J. Higgins hit for the cycle last night against Pensacola in a 10-6 loss. That’s a pretty cool achievement for Higgins who has some other cool news coming later in the column.

As for the Rest of the MiLB System…
The Dominican Summer League ended on the 25th, Cubs 2 in Mesa ended the 27th, while Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend wrap up their seasons tomorrow afternoon.

In Other News This Week…
Drew Smyly showed up in South Bend and got in an inning in his rehab. He struck out all three batters he faced. Smyly might have to go to Eugene to get work in next week or two, depending on how Eugene does. Otherwise, he’d have just do a series of sim games in Chicago or Arizona as the Cubs won’t have any teams playing.

The Cubs also announced ½ of their slots for the Arizona Fall League. Catcher PJ Higgins, SS Nico Hoerner, 2B Trent Giambrone, and OF DJ Wilson will all get to extend their seasons and, hopefully, get a jump in their development. Hoerner is the surprise pick to attend and play. His inclusion is a sign from the organization of their beliefs in his talents. The Cubs have yet to name any pitchers to throw in the league but the Cubs reserved three spots on the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox. Those names should be announced shortly. The Cubs, more than likely, want to see how some of their rehabbing pitchers are doing when the season ends. Two of the most obvious choices to attend are Justin Steele and Bailey Clark.

A New Top 21 List Is on the Horizon
The newest Top 21 List is currently in flux. All the profiles of the players are written. It is just waiting on what number to attach to the prospects. It will have an ala carte menu like in the past. Part of me wants to wait to see how Nico Hoerner does in the AFL before I publish it. I have a feeling I will have to redo it once the AFL ends. Then again, it would just be moving a couple of prospects either up or down. More than likely, it will be out sometime the week of September 11.

All-Star Nods and Awards

Congratulations go out to Zack Short who was named a Southern League All-Star this week. He was also named by Baseball America as the best defensive shortstop in the Southern League. Jared Young of Myrtle Beach received the same defensive honor honor for playing 1B in the Carolina League. Starter Duncan Robinson was named as having the best control in the Southern League. And Miguel Amaya was named by Baseball America as the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League. As well, pitcher Brailyn Marquez, formerly of Eugene, was named a Northwest League All-Star shortly after his promotion to South Bend. There should be more awards coming.

September Plans…
I love writing in the offseason. There are no deadlines. There’s not a rush to get things done. I can go into depth, be brief, or do whatever I want. September is going to have a few things happening. I will still be covering Eugene and doing game recaps as long as they are playing. After the Ems’ season ends, I have a couple of short series planned. The first series is on breaking players of the second half and the second series is a two part look at players who could be making comeback in 2019 via an injury or just a poor performance in 2018.

In addition, the Cards of August comes out tomorrow and the second half All-Star team drops on Wednesday. I will discuss some trends and stories in the system I didn’t cover as much as I wanted to this summer. And, over at BP Wrigleyville, I have an article coming Tuesday on Nico Hoerner’s AFL assignment. Lots of good stuff is happening.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

The Weekly: Cory Abbott Is On Fire, Playoff Hunts, and Some Guys Who Could Be Guys

By Todd Johnson

Playoff Hunt
It is not looking good for the four major affiliates. Iowa has been eliminated while Myrtle Beach is almost kaput at well. Tennessee and South Bend are technically still in the hunt, but they both have 6+ games to make up. There is much hope in Eugene. Despite a slightly sub-500 record at 11-12 in the second half, the Ems are tied with Salem-Keizer but own the tie-breaker for a post-season appearance (it would be their third straight). Cubs 1 in Mesa was a first half champ and has the best overall record in the league at 32-16. For Cubs 2, they have just a week left to make up three games against the hottest team in the league, the White Sox.

Cory Abbott’s Surging…
On Friday, I wrote for BP Wrigleyville about who could the pitcher of the year in the Cubs’ system. When I wrote the article earlier in the week, it looked like there could be four names in the running. In the course of the week, one pitcher looks like he is beginning to separate himself from the pack a bit. Cory Abbott from Myrtle Beach threw six scoreless innings with 9 Ks on Friday night. The 22-year-old right-hander has been improving month-by-month since he was promoted to Myrtle Beach. After a rough June with a 4.74 ERA, Abbott responded with a much better July at 2.91. Now, in August, he’s made just three starts with possible 2-3 more starts left. He has 1.06 ERA in his three August starts with a 0.82 WHIP. For the year, Abbot has 105 innings completed with a 2.74 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, and 120 Ks to only 33 walks. That’s an impressive first full year as a pro.

Guys Who Could Guys in the Next Year…
I have been thinking a lot about several of the prospects at Tennessee lately. In the next year, a few them could help out the big league club if necessary. AA success is a pretty good barometer of AAA success and advancement to the MLB level. In fact, many of the current MLB Cubs had dominant seasons at AA and spent little time at AAA Iowa. There are exceptions like Albert Almora and Javy Baez, but the rest of the position player corps were in and out of Iowa in a hurry.

This year, Zack Short and Michael Rucker are two flashing neon prospects who might be seen playing in the friendly confines very soon. I can see Zack plying his hitting skills next summer. His ability to hit for power, get on base at a high clip, and play good defense endears him to many in the Cubs’ system.

The great thing about Michael Rucker is that he has had success as a reliever and a starter. His stuff ticks up a bit out of the bullpen to 95/96. Rucker’s greatest asset, though, is that he is a strike throwing machine at almost 70%.

In addition, I am looking forward to seeing which players on the Smokies’ roster get a call to participate in the Arizona Fall League. PJ Higgins is one player I have already mentioned, along with Zack Short and Trent Giambrone. Matt Swarmer might be worth getting more looks against the elite competition of the league. Swarmer has had a very good year at two levels and he could get a head start on 2019 with the Mesa Solar Sox.

A New Look
As you can see, Cubs Central has a little bit cleaner look as I went with a new theme. While it looks good on a computer, I think it looks even better on a phone. I hope you like it, too.

Coming Up
The kids showed up to school last week and instruction in Ancient Civilizations and US History began. As a result, I am beginning to slow down a little bit when it comes to writing. I do have two articles planned for the next week. I will hopefully be publishing profiles about Delvin Zinn from South Bend and Paul Richan from Eugene. They might be shorter than your average prospect profiles. We will see.

However, my production of baseball cards seems to be at peak levels. With close to 120 cards in August, the flow of cards will soon start to slow down as the season ends the 3rd of September.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week