Draft Prep Profile: Ryan Kreidler Is Beginning to Flash His Potential

By Todd Johnson

Ryan Kreidler picked the perfect time to get hot.

In just one-third of a season, UCLA 3B Ryan Kreidler is having his best year as a Bruin. More than likely, Kreidler has improved his draft stock immensely for this year’s pick-a-thon, which is a little over 6 weeks away. The 6’4” cornerman has a slugging percentage of almost .600 and has already set career highs in triples and will soon match his HR high with one more dinger over the next 35 games. In addition, his average and OBP also show marked increases of over 67% from his freshman and sophomore years.

For Cub fans, the name might sound familiar. The Cubs drafted him in 2016 out of high school where he played mainly SS and was just 6’2” and 175 lbs. Now 6’4” and 208, Kreidler still has plenty of room to add 10-15 lbs and still remain a very fluid athlete. For the Cubs to re-draft Kreidler, they will need his permission.

Over this past winter, Kreidler made a swing adjustment that resulted in his name rising as a prospect. As well, UCLA’s ascension to the top of the D1 baseball rankings is also helping his profile.

As a freshman and sophomore, he hit .241/327/.351 and .222/.348/.33 respectively. Nothing there to write home about. Although, he did drive in 34 runs last year. Still, a summer in the Cape Cod playing SS showed that Kreidler needed to change something as he only hit .229. But it was in the Cape that Kreidler showed he could still play SS for Wareham, the league champions. That enhances his versatility.

In looking at this video from 20/80 Baseball, Kreidler’s swing has not changed that much since he was a freshman. But he has. Adding 20 lbs. of what looks to be muscle has made a huge difference in his ability to drive the ball with authority.

What impresses most about Kreidler is that he puts in the work to improve every year. Although the results were not there as a sophomore, things have all clicked in this year. He has always been praised for his potential. He’s always had good foundational tools like quick feet, good balance, and a plus arm. He also has that “baseball rat” persona, ala Nico Hoerner. as a guy who just lives and breathes baseball. His baseball IQ is said to be prodigious. Add in that he can play two high profile infield spots very well only intensifies his profile.

Photo by Scott Chandler/UCLA Athletics

As for his current success, Kreidler just needed to finish filling out. Now at 21, the youngster seems to be on the precipice of a major league career.

Currently, there’s 2/3 of a season left for him to continue to set career highs across the board. He should be a day two pick. However, things do change and he could sneak up to round 2 if he puts together a great run. More than likely, though, Kreidler should go in the top 3-5 rounds this summer.

Advertisements

Prospect Update – Bailey Clark Just Needs to Stay Healthy in 2019

By Todd Johnson

As many of you that follow this website know, I am a big fan of pitcher Bailey Clark. From the moment he touched down in Eugene in 2016, I was easily impressed by the quality of pitches in his arsenal. However, the first two summers have seen him struggle with minor injuries that limited his ability to train in the off-season.

After getting things straightened away after 2017, Clark had a dominant spring at South Bend in 2018. First he came out of the bullpen for the Cubs and then he morphed into a starter. It didn’t take long before he was on his way to Myrtle Beach where he kept starting. However come early June, Clark hit the shelf for a while. When he returned in August, he was coming out of the bullpen again and quite effectively.

Between the two class A affiliates, Clark had an ERA of 1.89 with 63 strikeouts in 57 innings. He threw 95-97 most nights with a devastating/slider that just baffled class A hitters at two levels. His 2018 story didn’t end there. Clark made his way to the Arizona Fall League and had an outstanding first half there and made the All-Star team.

Clark slipped a little bit in the second half in Arizona, but overall it was an outstanding experience to do well against that level of talent. Heading into spring training, Clark looks destined to head to AA Tennessee to begin 2019. I thought he might get in a few games with the major-league club this spring because they of his experience in the AFL, but that did not happen. Then again that doesn’t mean Bailey Clark is not on their radar.

Here are some things to think about for Bailey for 2019
1. Health – He has struggled with injuries the last three seasons whether it was at Duke or as a pro. For him to continue to move toward Chicago, health is of paramount importance. He’s got everything he needs. In fact, he has always had the talent to make it to Chicago. But it’s always been about putting in a full season on the mound.

2. Role – As a starter, he was throwing 95 miles an hour but it ticked up a little bit to 97 out of the pen. Combined with his slider, he can be a two pitch kind a guy who I could foresee coming out of the pen in the seventh or eighth inning fairly quickly.

3. How Fast Could He Move – That’s the big question, isn’t it. He has amazing stuff that just needs a little bit more experience. Pitching in Tennessee is not gonna be that far off from pitching in the Arizona Fall League.The talent level in the Southern League is going to be pretty close to the same. I could see him coming out this spring and doing well but he’s going to have stay healthy in order to move.

There’s no one with his kind of talent out of the bullpen from AA on down. He’s on a level with Dillon Maples and James Norwood in terms of pure talent. They are essentially pitchers with major league pitches. And not just any pitches, pitches they can be successful in Chicago.

Let’s hope Bailey gets there sooner rather than later.

Prospect Update: Will the Real Thomas Hatch Please Stand Up?

By Todd Johnson

Over the past 2.5 summers, I’ve seen a lot of mixed views about Thomas Hatch. The Cubs selected Hatch in the third round the 2016 draft. Because he was the first player the Cubs took that year, some people treat him as if he was a first round pick.

That is a bit unfair, but Hatch came to the Cubs after being a star for Oklahoma State in the 2016 College World Series. He did not pitch as a Cub that year after throwing 131 innings at Oklahoma State after missing 2015 with an elbow injury.

His debut at Myrtle Beach in 2017 saw him add a 4 seamer. He made 26 starts with a 4.04 ERA in 124.2 IP. In 2018, at Tennessee, Hatch threw 20 more innings than at Myrtle Beach and saw his ERA dip to 3.82. His strikeout rate dropped a little bit but he had an amazing August with an ERA of 2.51 in 28.2 innings with 26 strikeouts. Hatch looked possessed on the mound. He looked to be in command of all of his pitches. He pitched with a purpose and ended the season on a good note.

Heading into 2019, there are several different views of Thomas Hatch. His prospect rankings over the past three summers are all over the place. He’s been ranked as high as #7 and then as low as #26. For some lists, he didn’t even make the cut. One publication went as far as saying “He doesn’t miss enough bats.” Well, that’s a bit odd as he averaged 9.10 Ks/9 at Myrtle Beach and 7.33 at Tennessee.

However, evaluations of Hatch changed greatly from 2016, when he was drafted, to this winter.

Fangraphs: They often contradict themselves from year-to-year. In 2016, they thought his changeup was not going to develop. In 2017, it did. They said,

“Primarily a fastball/slider guy in college, Hatch’s changeup is now consistently average, and some scouts think it will be his best secondary pitch at maturity. It complements his above-average fastball, which features varying amounts of sink and typically sits 90-94, touching 95-96 on occasion.”

Every year, they’ve had a different projection of him. One year, he’s a mid rotation starter. The next year, he’s a bullpen guy whose stuff could tick up in that role.

As for MLB Pipeline, he’s gone from 14 to 7 to 18 to 17 on their lists. Their initial look at him claimed, that Hatch,

“flashes a plus breaking ball in the low 80s and can spot it on both sides of the plate. He has aptitude for throwing a changeup and commands his entire repertoire, so he has everything he needs to develop into a mid-rotation starter.”

In 2017,  they added that, “The Cubs love his makeup and the way he attacks hitters.”

In 2018, MLB Pipeline dropped him from 7th to 18th. When that ranking came out in July, Hatch was not having one of his better months.

The great thing about covering prospects is that you never know what prospects are going to do until they do it. In 2019, Hatch will be in competition for a rotation spot at Iowa. It’s going to be hard because of the Cubs pitching depth at the upper levels. I would not be surprised to seem him earn a spot at Iowa because of the value the Cubs place on him, nor would I be surprised to see him start 2019 at Tennessee because of said depth.

It’s going to be a battle for him. I am looking forward to watching him have at it just based on how he ended last year.

2019 Draft Prep: Will the 2nd Mesa Team Affect Draft Strategy?

By Todd Johnson

In 2018, the Cubs signed 32/42 players they selected in the MLB Draft. That is a high in the Theo era. Come 2019, that high signing rate should continue. One reason is that the Cubs have a finite amount of money with a hard cap to spend in international free agency. The Cubs now look to be going for quality over quantity in that aspect of talent acquisition. The second reason is that the Cubs now have a second team in the Arizona Rookie League where those additional draft picks can begin their careers.

In 2016, the Cubs had 38 picks and signed 24. At the time, the Cubs were bulking up on pitchers. And, most of those players came from the college ranks. Here is a breakdown of where those 24 came from:
4 Year College – 21
Jr. College – 2
HS – 1
In 2017, the Cubs selected 41 players. The Cubs signed 29 of them, mostly pitchers again.
4 Year Colleges – 23
Jr. College – 3 (Little, Light, Remy)
HS – 3 (Estrada, Velazquez, Vazquez).

Last year’s draft results were a bit different
4 Year College – 22
Jr. College – 3 (Allen, Stone, Americaan)
HS – 5 (Roederer, Davis, Franklin, Pablon, Pagan)
The Cubs also signed several independent league players and non-drafted free agents including Garrett Kelly, Ryan Lawlor, Grant Fennell, and Brandon Knight.

Going from 3 younger picks in 2016 to 8 in 2018 may not seem like a big jump, it is. And that trend should continue in 2019.

While Albert Almora remains the only high schooler taken in the first round during the Theo era, the Cubs went with college bats at the top of the draft until the last two years. In 2017, the Cubs took pitchers Brendon Little and Alex Lange in 2017’s first round and took high schoolers Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis in last year’s second round (technically) .

As McLeod discussed at the Convention and on WSCR 670 the Score, the Cubs are doing things differently in the minors are undergoing a bit of a change. While McLeod was mainly referring to pitching, having a second team in the Arizona Rookie League opens up a place for more prospects to get a chance to play. As a result, the type of players who play in the AZL are not your typical four-year college draft picks.

When the Cubs draft a player, negotiations take place and those that sign go to Mesa for their physical and to be indoctrinated in “The Cubs Way.” Some get in a couple of games in Arizona in Rookie League but almost all the college draft picks soon find their way to Eugene. The type of player that then makes up the two rookie league team in Mesa tends to be one of four players: a juco guy, a high school pick, an international veteran who is usually 19-20, or the young elite international signee who is just 17.

By creating that second team, the Cubs are now giving younger players from markets and draft ages they shunned in previous years. By needing to fill up that second squad, the Cubs are going to draft players that they can develop at Mesa, whether they are from a juco team or a high schooler. Some may need to play two years there, but that’s OK.

As a result of going into other markets, the Cubs may inadvertently change who they could now take at the top of the draft. I used to expect the Cubs to draft college bats at the top of the draft. I am not so sure anymore. The Cubs are showing a willingness to take players from Puerto Rican academies in back-to-back drafts along with the juco and high school prospects. One such player who is creeping up towards the Cubs’ position at #27 is Matthew Lugo, a still growing shortstop from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy.

Now with that second squad set in stone in Arizona, the Cubs might be changing how they do a lot of things this summer.

2019 Draft Prep – A Few Cub Re-Drafts to Watch for This Spring

By Todd Johnson

For some reason, on Friday night, I decided to go down a draft rabbit hole. What I thought would be like a 10 minute trip on the Internet turned into 2.5 hours. I did a lot of research about certain prospects who are eligible to be drafted this year. However, most of the time was spent finding out what some players the Cubs previously drafted but did not sign are doing now.

Until 2007, a baseball club could draft a guy and not sign them. The team then retained their rights for a year. It was called a “draft and follow.” The Cubs have done something similar the past few years. They have re-drafted several players after not signing them the first time they selected them. The Cubs have to have the player’s permission to re-draft them, but it’s an interesting strategy.

A club can take a guy in the late rounds and begin to build a relationship with the player over the course of their college career and re-draft them two or three years later. Delvin Zinn is one guy they took in 2015 and signed in 2016. Jake Slaughter is another pick the Cubs took in 2016 and were able to take him again in 2018 and signed him. 

This year, the Cubs can go as far back as 2015 to pick someone who they did not sign. There are a lot of interesting names and prospects the Cubs could re-draft this summer if those players have good springs. In the list below, I listed the prospects as a hyperlink to their college bio page or their Baseball Cube page.

Not everyone the Cubs took that they didn’t sign is listed here as some were actually drafted again by other teams. For example, DJ Peters was taken by the Dodgers and Daniel Poncedeleon was taken by the Cardinals. Those are just two of many picks taken by other clubs.

High Interest Re-draft
Mitchell Parker – The 6’4” lefty is playing juco ball at San Jacinto this year. The 2018 draftee almost signed last summer before picking college over the Cubs. He’s made one start so far. He went 4.2 IP and gave up 1 run for an ERA of 1.93. But most impressive were his 7 Ks.

Darius Vines – The Cubs took Vines in 2016. The former two sport and two-way all-star went to two juco schools and is now at CSU-Bakersfield. An exceptional athlete, Vines is focusing just on pitching now. The shortstop gig appears to be over.

Brenden Heiss – The pitcher from Jacobs H.S. is now at Florida Gulf Coast after trying a four year school as a Freshman at Arkansas. As a sophomore, he did very well last year at John A. Logan in southern Illinois. Now at FGU, he debuts next month. If he gets his command down, he could be day 2 pick…easy. He had 80 Ks in 56 IP (12.78/9 IP ) last year with a 2.24 ERA. 

Dante BiasiWhen the Cubs took Biasi in 2016, he was getting ready to have TJS. The kid from Joe Maddon’s hometown of Hazelton is now a redshirt sophomore at Penn State. It will be interesting to see how does a full year after coming back from TJS. He still has two years of eligibility left, but he is draft eligible this year.

Layne Looney – The Cubs took Looney last year and he looked like a solid pick and sign for a day 3 closer. Instead, Looney returned to Richmond for his senior season as their closer. With his experience and track record, his re-drafting would be a no brainer.

Medium Interest for Re-Drafting
Rian Bassett – I distinctly remember finding only a basketball video on him on draft day in 2016. Now, Bassett, who turns 24 this summer, will be graduating from Lewis and Clark this spring. He has good size with a low mileage since he’s only been concentrating on baseball for just 2 full years.

Cody Hawken – He’s a pretty good sized boy at 6’5 and 2015 lbs that the Cubs took in 2016 who attended Portland instead. He has pretty good power. Now a senior, I will be watching to see how much that power plays out this spring. He had 10 HRs with .951 OPS as a junior.

Davis Daniel – He should be a full-on starter at Auburn this year. Now a junior, Davis will be pitching in college baseball’s best conference.

A.J. Block – He’s still developing, but he’s had his moments in college. He only started 5 games last year at Washington State. He should start plenty this year as a junior. He has a prototypical starter’s body at 6’5” and 220 lbs. and he slings from the left side of the rubber.

Jared PadgettThe Cubs took him in 2015 out of high school and he’s had a long and winding road. He went to Mississippi State for one year and had TJS and missed his sophomore season. He reappeared at Chipola JC in Florida and won a national championship last spring. Then he pitched against Japan last summer and was thought to be headed to Kansas as a redshirt junior. I checked and he’s not on that roster. He has all the potential in the world. Now, if I could only find him. His Twitter page doesn’t reveal much either.

Wait and Watch
Davis Moore – He is a junior pitcher at Fresno State.
Ryan Kreidler – He’s struggled at the plate over two years for the UCLA Bruins. Who knows, he could breakout in 2019.
D.J. Roberts – He pitched as freshman in 2017 for USF and then dropped off the face of the Earth last year.

The 5 Series: Matt Swarmer Questions Will Get Answered Quickly in 2019

By Todd Johnson

It is been a while since I’ve seen a pitcher transform himself both physically and in his performance quite like Matt Swarmer did in 2018. The Cubs minor-league pitcher of the year took off, first at Myrtle Beach in the spring, and then he did very well at AA Tennessee in July and August.

Swarmer gained 10 to 15 pounds last winter and added about 3 to 4 miles an hour on his fastball. Already armed with a plus curve and a potentially plus change that wowed the Cubs’ own scouts, Swarmer took off as one of the most dominant arms in the system. The new variation of speed was now too much for most hitters.

Heading into 2019, I have several questions about Swarmer that should be answered quickly.

1. The Fluke Factor – Considering the dominance with which he threw, Swarmer’s 2018 was not by chance. He wasn’t just getting guys out, his pitches had some “Wow!” factor to them. The only question I have to that issue is can he maintain that kind of dominance as he goes throughout this next season?

2. Based on the fact that his improvement came as a result of changes he made in the off-season, I wonder what changes Swarmer could possibly make this off-season? Will it be to continue to maintain his current physical size or will he add a few more pounds as he has plenty of room to add it?

3. Ever since the Cubs drafted him, Swarmer has stuck with the fastball/curve/changeup trio. What would he add if he were to add a fourth pitch? Would it be a cutter, a slider, or a second kind of changeup that has different action from the first? That could just be nasty.

4. Placement – I’ve spent most of this off-season thinking that Swarmer should begin 2019 back in AA for a little while. He did have 77 innings at AA Tennessee last year, but is that enough to get him to Iowa? I would not be surprised if he wound up competing for a spot at AAA Iowa just based on the quality of his stuff.

5. – The Future – Swarmer is armed with 2+ pitches and one of them, the change up, is very close to being a plus-plus pitch. Do the Cubs value him more as a starter because of those pitches? Or do they want to try him out in the bullpen at some point because of those same pitches? These are interesting questions. It definitely does not have to be answered this year. Then again, Swarmer has shown the ability to adapt to improve his future.

Swarmer was such a surprise prospect last year to those outside of the organization. To his teammates, they’ve just been waiting for him to put it together as they are the ones who have had to face that changeup and curve in spring training the past two years. When he makes his first start in 2019, it will be interesting to see what changes he made this winter.

To be quite honest. I would not be surprised to see the 2016 19th round pick out of Kutztown get some innings in with the big league club this spring in Mesa just so the Cubs can see how he stacks up.

MiLB Mailbag – Episode III: Examining the Developmental State of the Cubs

By Todd Johnson

Today’s question is from Rikk Carlson.

“It’s been said , I believe by Theo, its not about winning league championships, it’s about developing a few good prospects that can help Cubs win another World Series. How can you do that by shoveling players through the system and only hope something good happens?”

I asked Rikk a couple follow up questions just to be sure what he was wanting to discuss. Luckily for me, it was the developmental process.

So, here I go…With some context.

The first four summers of the initial rebuild saw the Cubs’ farm system produce like never before. Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Wilson Contreras, and Javier Baez all played in important part in the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series. Then, in 2017, Ian Happ was the latest prospect to come up and contribute right away.

Now that the Cubs are drafting at the back of the first round, rather than the front they are not getting the elite talent they once did back in 2012 to 2015. In fact, in 2016, the Cubs did not draft until the third round. In addition the Cubs traded top prospect Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman that lead to a world championship.

And in 2017, the Cubs continued trading away a lot of their elite talent in hopes of bringing about another championship. Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Isaac Parades, and others were traded right out of the system to acquire players Theo thought could help get back-to-back titles. The Cubs’ MiLB system has not recovered yet.

After the trades of 2017, I thought it would take 3-4 years to rebuild the system with a heavy lean to the four.

Now to answer the question…

Rikk definitely has a valid concern about the developmental process. Based upon the quality of players the Cubs selected the first four years of the Theo regime, those first round picks all wound up in Chicago and rightfully so because they were elite talents. But when you start to look deeper, there was a glaring hole in that developmental process and it had to do with pitching and that hole later impacted hitting.

Part of that hole was by design because the market in 2012 was that hitters brought in more bang for their buck at the top of the draft. They were more projectable and the Cubs went with those type of players. But once 2016 came, the front office realized the pitching hole was glaring. To fix that hole, the Cubs went overboard in 2016 and 2017 in the MLB Draft to right the ship when it came to pitching. They selected over 50 pitchers in two years.

When the Cubs selected those 50+ arms, the hitting in the system struggled as a result, especially when seven of your first eight picks in 2016 were pitchers. Then a hitting deficit began to show up in 2018 as a result. The Cubs are going to get rectify that in the next couple years after getting back to drafting hitters high in the draft in 2018.

Add in the fact the Cubs’ international free agent budget was restricted for two years because of overspending in 2015 and you have a whole host of other issues. However, those elite 2015 international kids will soon be hitting full season ball en masse in 2019 and 2020.  

In addition, there have been three separate pitching coordinators the past three years. Derek Johnson left after 2016 to join the Brewers and Jim Brower did the same after one year to be on the Mariners’ staff. Now, the Cubs have Brendan Sagara. As for the hitting side, the Cubs have to hire a new hitting coordinator next year after Jacob Cruz just left after one year on the job as well.

The shoveling which Rikk mentions in his question has more to do with covering holes the Cubs created. The brass knew what they were doing in trading away Gleyber and Eloy to shore up pitching at the MLB level. They then attacked pitching in the draft because they weren’t developing pitching like they wanted.

The Cubs’ brass knew that if they built a productive system once, they could do it again.  The combination of pitching holes, trades, IFA penalties, and bulk drafting pitchers created issues in development. Hopefully, there will be some consistency in MiLB coordinators soon, too. The shoveling around and trying to fill holes should stop very soon.

Then again, things are going to get very competitive this spring. The extra rookie league team in Arizona should help developmentally strengthen the system. There will be a lot more prospects competing for spots in South Bend and Myrtle Beach. I like the fact that every player will now know that there are several prospects waiting right behind them and, if, as a prospect, you develop and produce, you move up. Those are important messages to be sending.