July Cards of the Month – Going Off the Deep End

By Todd Johnson

I went a little bit card crazy in July. I cranked out over 150 cards (that’s a bit much). With the Eugene Emeralds now playing, they produced a large amount of pics along with photographer Jared Ravich, who goes all over the Northwest League. 9 of the the top 15 are Eugene related. I took several of my own pics for cards but that didn’t cause the big spike in production. The draft picks did…OK, you got me. It was Nico.

As a result, I went with a top 15 again along with a set of 5 honorable mentions. While I didn’t include cards made from my own pics in the top 15, I did pick 6 I thought were decent.

Next month, things should really slow down in card production as I start back teaching…key word is “should.”

Enjoy this fine digital performance of the best cards from July.

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The Weekly: Spending a Week with South Bend and Some Random Notes

by Todd Johnson

This has been a fun week! I have been following the South Bend Cubs around the Midwest League. It started last Sunday in South Bend, continued over to the Quad Cities, and it will conclude today and tomorrow as South Bend plays at Kane County in nearby Geneva.

I took a lot of pictures and some video that I put on the Facebook account, and I have done a couple of formal interviews, one of which was published earlier in the week. However, my favorite part has just been watching the players interact with each other during warmups and the games. For the most part, I have been situated in the camera wells and the end of each dugout. Being so close, I really appreciate the day in-day out grind and work that they put in to try and accomplish their dream.

What made it more interesting is that over the course of time was that the Cubs took over the lead for a playoff spot in the Eastern Division. South Bend has plenty of good pitching, a lot of team speed, but they are only going to go as far as their hitting and their defense take them. I also got to see new players Clayton Daniel and Jake Steffens arrive about an hour before Wednesday’s game. 

Tomorrow, I will publish a prospect interview with pitcher Brendan King, who might start on the mound tomorrow night. He would be replacing Tyler Thomas in the rotation at South Bend. Later in the week I might have another interview and an article about how Cubs’ prospects are using technology to improve their performance.

As for the rest of the system…

Come Monday, short season leagues end their first half. The Mesa 1 team is going to come down to the last game tomorrow to see if they make the playoffs. They currently have a 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Mesa 2 team has crawled back close to .500 but is showing signs of life, which portends well for the second half.

In Eugene, things changed greatly last week as most of the college draft picks made their way on the Ems’ roster. There are still a few draft picks in Mesa, but a lot of the 18 to 19-year-old kids that were playing for Eugene a month ago were shuffled back to Mesa. However, Luis Vazquez, Nelson Velasquez, Jonathan Sierra, Luis Diaz, Brailyn Marquez, and Fernando Kelli are still with the Emeralds. It’ll be interesting to see how the college dominated roster will do for Eugene in the second half which starts Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the Smokies fell out of first place and are now two games back after going through some bullpen issues. In Myrtle Beach, they’ve been playing in between the raindrops only getting a few games in. Jared Young seems to be settling in and is looking more and more like a guy who could be a guy. He hit another home run this week and is now at 12 for the year. I hope that he can add about 10 pounds each of the next two years (that would put him at 200) to increase his power potential.

While Iowa has been out of the playoff hunt for a long time, it looks like Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door to Chicago very loudly. He’s been at Iowa since the first week of June. In that span, he’s put up a 3.29 ERA, and just in July, it is a minuscule 2.11. It is getting harder and harder for anyone to not see what Trevor is up to in Des Moines.

Trades

The Cubs traded South Bend pitcher Tyler Thomas this week to Texas in the Jesse Chavez deal. Thomas displayed a plus changeup and an ERA under 3.00 ERA at South Bend. While probably a reliever long term, Thomas should still get a chance to start in the Rangers’ system

Back in Action

2018 second round draft pick Brennen Davis returned to action in Arizona for Mesa 2 after missing a few weeks and was playing right alongside fellow pick Cole Roederer. Roederer is pushing the limits at Mesa and giving the Cubs a hard decision about whether to promote him to Eugene as he hitting almost .400 with an OBP over .500 and 3 dingers in 12 games.

The sad news of the week was that number one draft pick Nico Hoerner is going on the shelf for 4-6 weeks with an elbow injury that occurred last Sunday diving to make a play in South Bend. This pretty much means Hoerner is going to be out for the season. He did make a pit stop in Chicago to visit Wrigley before heading out to Mesa to begin his rehab. More than likely, Hoerner will conclude his maiden season at fall instructs in October. He should begin next year at high A Myrtle Beach.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

The Weekly – Notes on Debuts, Signings, Awards, Nico, Justin Steele, Cards, and Grant Fennell

By Todd Johnson

*Friday was the final day underclassmen and high school players drafted by the Cubs’ this year could sign a pro contract. The Cubs had around $85,000 in extra bonus pool money and they stunned everyone by getting 35th round pick OF Edmond Americaan from Chipola JC in Florida for just over $200,000. The Cubs also signed 27th round pick Niels Stone from Indian River State College, a junior college. He is right-handed pitcher. Even though the deadline has passed, the Cubs still can sign Catcher Hunter Taylor from South Carolina, who was a senior. They own Taylor’s rights until next June.

So, in total, the Cubs signed 32 drafted players (the most in the Theo era) and 3 non-drafted players. That will be a lot of new Cubs to keep track of the next two months.

*Nico Hoerner, the Cubs’ first round pick last month, just continues to get on base at an unreal clip in Eugene. After missing four games from jamming his pinky finger sliding into third base, Hoerner came back on Friday and did not skip a beat going 2/4 with a BB, a run, and 2 SBs. Then, last night, he cranked his first HR as a Cub.

*In a bit of perplexing and sad/bad news, the oft-injured pitcher Oscar de la Cruz received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Furosemide, a masking agent. Although he was struggling a bit at AA Tennessee, this was also the first year he had stayed healthy since his breakthrough at Eugene. It will be interesting to see how the Smokies replace Oscar in the rotation and how the Cubs deal with Oscar on a personal level in the future.He will not be eligible to play until mid-May of 2018.

*In good news, South Bend 1B/OF Jared Young (who was promoted to Myrtle Beach yesterday) and Tennessee pitcher Duncan Robinson were named the Cubs’ minor league player and pitcher of the month, respectively. In what is becoming an annoying trend this year, I am picking the hitter correctly in my monthly All-Star teams. My pitchers are not usually close. For June, I had South Bend’s Rollie Lacy while in April I had Javier Assad to the Cubs’ Matt Swarmer. I will get it right someday (as I did in May with Cory Abbott).

*I also went a little bit nuts on making my baseball cards the past two weeks. I finished my June cards of the month post a few days early. As a result, I had a weekend’s worth of cards to add into July’s album. With addition of Eugene now playing along with  3 new photographers contributing pics, I had plenty to do. Right now, I have an amazing 76 cards just one week into the month. Here’s an amazing tidbit to that number…I still have an album of Eugene pics from their last homestand to sort through and turn into cards. You can see all of July’s cards here.

*I am beginning to have some thoughts about who the Cubs might protect on the 40 man roster to avoid losing in the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Cubs have until November to make their declarations. Usually at the end of July/early August, Cub fans get a sneak peak when 7 players are usually selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League. Justin Steele is no-brainer selection for Arizona. The young lefty missed most of this season after TJS last August. He came back this week and pitched three scoreless in Mesa. I am excited for him as he worked hard to get back. As for who else might be on the list, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played before that is figured out.

*Because of Trent Giambrone’s massive 3 HR and 9 RBI outburst, he is going to get the hitter of the week award, and deservedly so. Coming in second was Grant Fennell of Mesa 2. The IF/OF from Nevada was signed as an non-drafted free agent and is doing very well in the AZL. He hit over .500 this week and drove in 5. He’s going to be a bat worth watching the rest of the summer. I am thinking of doing a profile on him later this week. We’ll see.

*In addition, several young Cubs made their debuts this week including Cole Roederer, Zach Mort, Paul Richan, Ethan Roberts, and Jimmy Herron. To see how all the draft picks are doing this year, click here.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

June Cards of the Month: Newness Is the Word

By Todd Johnson

June is always a strange month for baseball cards. There is a lot of player movement taking place. In addition, teams sometimes wear different uniforms for holidays and ballpark promotions. Add in the recent draft picks beginning to play professional baseball and the start up of short season leagues at Eugene in Mesa, and you have a wide variety of pictures to sort through and match to frames and templates.

For June, I made exactly 100 cards plus cards for all 42 draft picks and three NDFAs. For some reason, I’m beginning to like certain affiliates with certain years of cards. One adjustment I made this month was to change the color of the 1965 card for pictures of the Eugene players in their Monarcas jerseys.

In addition, I’m beginning to like the red alternate jerseys that the Iowa Cubs wear as the red really pops in the photograph.

For this month’s awards, I went to a top 15 because the cards were so good. As well, I added a section with what I think were the top five draft cards but I will let you decide which one is the best.

It was a fun time to sort through so many excellent photographs and make a variety of cards.

Next month will be very exciting to sift through the cards as most of the draft picks will be assigned to their affiliates. I also will have several of my own photographs to put in the honorable mention section as I will be traveling to South Bend, Davenport, and Kane County to see South Bend play. Hopefully, they might have a few draft picks on the roster by then.

If you missed the June MiLB All-Star Team yesterday, please go back and check it out!

Cards of the First Half – A Strong Tilt to the Light Side

By Todd Johnson

There’s just something about natural light enhancing a photograph. Today’s collection culls cards from variety of photographers. Throughout most of the cards, sunlight is the overwhelming star as it brings about color and shade that both imbues the subject and the background. With over 250 cards to choose from this month, I really enjoyed picking a top 11 (an ode to Spinal Tap) and an honorable mention.

Check out the film.

The Weekly: Here Comes the Draft, Pitching Dominating, and the DSL Kicks Off

By Todd Johnson

The Draft Is Finally Here!

I will be live blogging each day of the draft. Just keep clicking the refresh button on your device to get the latest news, cards, and analysis. I did an exclusive draft mailbag article for Cubs Insider that was published yesterday. Make sure to check that out as well.

Here is the schedule for the next three days.

Tomorrow Morning – I will begin the day with my top pick for the Cubs at #24 and I have two names skyrocketing into the first round who could have an effect on the Cubs selection.

Monday Night – I will be live blogging from 6pm until the Cubs 4th pick of the night at #78.  I will have a summation and analysis of each pick on the night by the following morning.

On Tuesday, I will start live blogging at 11am. You just need to keep refreshing the page. The Cubs will make 8 picks on the day. There are a lot of good players to be had Tuesday.

When Wednesday gets here, it is a race to keep up, find info on players, write, eat, go to the bathroom, let the dogs out occasionally, and then collapse later in the day. The Cubs make a pick about every 15 minutes.

I also made the card templates for the draft. I am going with a 1975 template. It should be fun making 42 of them this week. Making each card takes just two minutes.  I will have an album over on the Facebook page with all the draft cards. It’s a pretty intense day, though.

When the draft is all done, I will sit down and redo my top 21 list…for at least a month until International Free Agency kicks off. There are going to be a lot of changes coming.

The DSL Begins

Yesterday, the Cubs’ two Dominican Summer League teams began play. It will be interesting see how most of the 42 new international free agents the Cubs signed the last year will do. There are mostly 17-18 year old youngsters on the two squads. For DSL 2 on opening day, Outfielder Carlos Morfa went 3/5 with 3 doubles for DSL 2. On DSL 1, four young Cubs combined to throw a 1 hitter.

International News
MLB Pipeline released their top 30 international free agents. The Cubs clocked in as being the favorites to sign three of the top 30. At number 5 is pitcher Richard Gallardo, the top pitcher in this year’s class. #17 is outfielder Luis Lopez and #28 is pitcher Joel Machado. Also, Ben Badler of Baseball America praised one of the Cubs’ recent international signings from last year in lefty pitcher Misael Garcia who has shot up two inches and put on 25 pounds. His size increase also gave him an extra bump in velocity.


Around the System
Pitching is still dominating the headlines each day. From Iowa to South Bend, the starters are taking over. Usually, hitters tend to get going once the weather warms up. What I am really enjoying about this pitching renaissance are all the arms from the 2016 and 2017 draft classes moving so quickly in the system. That bodes well for the future. Hatch, Robinson, Rucker, and Mekkes from 2016 are already at Tennessee. Thompson and Lange from 2017 are at Myrtle Beach while their fellow draft classmates of Abbott, Lacy, Uelmen, and Tyler Thomas are doing very well in South Bend. It should be interesting to see who gets promoted at the All-Star Break in mid June.

This Week’s Records
Iowa
– 3-2 (21-32)
Tennessee – 3-3 (28-26)
Myrtle Beach – 5-1 (26-29)
South Bend – 4-3 (25-29)
DSL 1 – 1-0 (1-0)
DSL 2 – 1-0 (1-0)

Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere This Week
@BP Wrigleyville
Draft Preview

@Cubs Insider
2017 Draft Class Grade

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

May Cards of the Month Show Off Some Shadow and Light

By Todd Johnson

In April, I made 135 baseball cards. For May, I cut back…a little. I only made 117. As the month wore on, I made fewer and fewer cards. In June, that will all change between the draft, promotions, Eugene starting up, and when the new draft picks find their 2018 affiliate.

Originally, there was no theme to this month’s cards. But after examining them, I noticed that most cards have a mixture of lights and shadows to them. Some of the backgrounds are a bit muted and that blends in with many of the frames, almost like a Monet. It was a very good month for cards.

Have are my top ten cards for May.