Cubs Draft 2017

State of the Cubs MiLB System: Part 1 – Big Picture Themes

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By Todd Johnson

At some point, shortly after the season ends, Theo Epstein will address the media to talk about the state of the Cubs system, both the major and minor league systems. He’ll mention a few prospects he likes and he’ll talk about how excited or disappointed he was. For the most part, it will be a mostly transparent procedure. It will be an insider’s’ analysis of a system with which he is very familiar.

If I was to do said analysis about the MiLB system, I would not be privy to a lot of information that Theo gets from Jason McLeod and Jaron Madison. Still, there are obvious things that you can see taking place throughout the system. I think the analysis begins with more big picture themes…like these:

Big Picture Themes
1. Ability to Develop Talent

I think the Cubs do well at this. I think they can take a player and suddenly make them all seem worthwhile. They have shown the ability to take talent in the draft, international free agency, or in a trade, and polish them up to get them ready for the majors. On some days, you can find six position players the Cubs drafted in the lineup. In 2012, catching was a definite weakness of the system and now the Cubs have developed that weakness into a strength.

2. Elite Talent
With the trades of this past summer, the Cubs really are devoid of elite talent right now. There is only one player that I can foresee making a top 100 list this winter and that is Jose Albertos. I think what the past five years showed us is that the Cubs can find and sign some of the top players in the game. I just don’t see anybody that is currently at AA or AAA that fits that bill. Sure, there are a lot of nice players who could be bench players or bullpen pieces at the major-league level, but there’s not a top of the rotation starter or anyone who could become an everyday position player over the next year. There may be a backup catcher and several fifth outfielders, but that’s it. However, at the lower levels, there are several prospects, both pitching and hitting, who could fill some roles in 2-3 years.

3. Risk and Reward
This is the biggest theme in the system and trend of the past two years. Since the Cubs are not going to be drafting near the top of the first round, they have to be a little bit riskier and select players who they think have high ceilings but are not safe bets. For most of the past five years, the Cubs have signed mainly college players from the draft. A few times, they selected and signed high school players, most notably the collection of Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Dylan Cease, and Austyn Willis. Only two of them are still Cubs. Sands did not have a good 2017 season coming off bone spur removal and Steele had Tommy John surgery in late August. Selecting four pitchers in one draft from high school carried with it a lot of risk and explains why the Cubs tend to focus on college arms.

However this past year, the Cubs selected several high school picks and signed them. Nelson Velasquez is a physically maxed out outfielder with immense power. He was named the August Minor League Player of the Month after cranking out six home runs for Mesa that month. Shortstop Luis Vasquez had an up and down season for Mesa but he’s physically gifted and went five for seven in two playoff games. Pitcher Jeremiah Estrada (6th round 2017) was the highest ranked high school pitcher the Cubs selected since Bryan Hudson in 2015 in the third round.

4. International Free Agent Strategies


The Cubs invested heavily in the Mexican market the past three summers I don’t know how much that will change next summer under new CBA rules where there is a strict cap. In 2013 and 2015, the Cubs went over their spending limit but also acquired a lot of talent in doing so. Most of them are just now reaching stateside, some all the way up at Myrtle Beach. That type of binging cannot be done anymore.

I will be back next week with part 2 as I look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Cubs MiLB system.

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Prospect Profile: Jared Young Improving by Leaps and Bounds

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By Todd Johnson

Going 14 for 18 over a four game span will get you noticed. That is what Eugene Emeralds’ second baseman Jared Young did last week. Add in one home run and eight RBI and you can see why he will probably be named the Northwest League Player of the Week today.

The Cubs drafted Young in the 15th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Old Dominion. At 6’2″ tall, Young is pretty good sized for a second baseman. He shows a good approach at the plate and at 21-years-old has shown an excellent ability to adjust in a short period of time.   

Basic Info
6’2”, 185 pounds
Bats left, throws right

Strengths
Approach
Size
Potential for power
Smooth swing

Originally from British Columbia, Young played at three schools in his three years of college. His first year saw him at D2 Minot State in North Dakota where hit .398 with 5 HRs and 35 RBI as a pitcher/infielder. As a sophomore, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 54 for Connors State Junior College in Oklahoma. This spring, he was at Old Dominion where he hit 7 home runs and drove in 34. But at each stop, he displayed a mix of power, average, and a 2 to 1 walk to strikeout ratio.

When he arrived at Eugene this summer, you could see the smooth swing and you could see him watching the ball into the mitt. But something was off. My friend John commented how much he really liked Young’s approach and stroke. But the results were not there as he just .135 in his first 16 games. When digging deeper into Fangraphs, John noticed that his batting average of balls in play (BABIP) was in the low 200s. So, in other words, Young was extremely unlucky.

However, in August, his BABIP exploded up over .300 and his average did, too. For the month, Young hit .323 and continued his good fortune into September going 14 for his last 18 with one home run and 8 RBI just last week. In August, his average went from .131 to .230 and just in September, it’s risen to .257.

Despite his early struggles, Manager Jesus Feliciano stuck with Young batting him second most of the past six weeks after originally betting him sixth or seventh. In the two spot, he’s hit .333 with a .397 OBP while only striking out ten times versus 7 BBs. He is currently averaging 3.96 pitches per plate appearance. I think that will improve more as he settles in as a pro.

Photo from @MiLB

Going forward

I really like watching him play. I can see several comps to him from Chase Utley to DJ LeMahieu but I think he’s his own kind of player. And based upon his track record, I think he’s only going to get better with pro instruction. I’m excited to see him in the playoffs this week and at South Bend every day next year.

As for his future, I don’t think it’s determined the type of player he’s going to be. With his frame, you would think that there’s a lot of potential for power there and he has shown in the past to be able to hit the ball over the fence. But how much he’s going to do that, I don’t know yet. I am sure fall instructs and spring training will advance his development in the next seven months.

Cubs’ August MiLB All-Star Team Has 16 New Faces

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By Todd Johnson

What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.

Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.

While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.

As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.

Team Breakdown
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.

Upcoming posts
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young

Prospect Profile: Austin Filiere Has the Approach and Power to Succeed

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By Todd Johnson

As time goes by, I am becoming more and more impressed with recent draft Austin Filiere (pronounced Fill-air). The 8th Round pick out of MIT has mostly been playing third base at short season Eugene since signing his contract. He did get in a few games for Mesa before arriving in the Northwest League. He has shown two strengths in his 45 games, the ability to hit for power and the ability to work an at-bat.

Basic Info
Age – 21
Bats/Throws: R/R
6′ 1″ and 190 lbs.

Strengths
Approach at the plate
Home Run Power
Hitting with 2 outs and men on base

Areas of Concern
Defense
Arm Strength
Strikeout rate
A little pull happy

When Filiere was drafted, more was made of his college affiliation than his abilities. The esteemed Peter Gammons called him a third baseman who could one day be a GM. Still, putting his educational pedigree aside, it became clear that there was something there and it all revolved around Filiere’s ability to hit the long ball.

The model of consistency, Filiere hit 13 HRs each year at MIT. However, it was the summer of 2016 in the Cape Cod League where Filiere impressed the most. In the wooden bat league, Filiere hit 7 HRs in 117 at-bats for Harwich while hitting .248 with a .338 OBP.

Those type of numbers have continued at Eugene. Currently, he is hitting .247 with an outstanding .375 OBP. He has cranked out 5 HRs in 42 games. Eugene is not exactly the most homer friendly place. He’s also driven in 24 runs in 45 games, which isn’t bad at this level,

He has struck out 28.8% of the time, but when you look at that .802 OPS, you tend to lose all thoughts of anything else. 64% of his batted balls are either line drives or fly balls with only 35% being hit on the ground. You have to like that he gets lift on the ball and squares it up as his BABIP is .340. With a wRC+ of 129, he is putting up some good offensive numbers.

One concern I have about his stats this year is that he does not use the whole field. 54% of balls in play go to left, 17% to center and only 28% to right. That can be easily fixed but I don’t know if it needs to at this stage in his career.

Going Forward

So far, there’s a lot to like about Filiere. The power and approach all point in the right direction. While it is still early, I have come away impressed a lot by his approach. In 152 at-bats, he has seen 708 pitches or 4.65 pitches per at-bat. That’s good by major league standards. Another cool set of stats is that he hits better with men on base and has an OBP over .500 in doing so. With bases empty, he’s hitting just .218. He is also hitting .298 with two outs. He is a much different hitter depending on the situation.

For the better part of the summer, he’s been hitting cleanup for the Emeralds with a few chances hitting fifth and sixth, but that’s it. Manager Jesus Feliciano keeps him in the four spot because Filiere has succeeded best there with a .287 average and a .412 OBP in the heart of the lineup.  

He will be at South Bend to begin 2018. The Midwest League will be more conducive to his power stroke once May arrives as April is not exactly the warmest of months in northern Indiana. Next year, I would like to see his K rate go down closer to his amazing 14.9% walk rate.

He is going to be fun to watch.

Cubs 2017 Draft Update: 19 Pitchers Taking Over the Lower Part of the System

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By Todd Johnson

It is easy to get a sneak peek at pitchers that have recently been drafted. However, their roles are not really going to be laid out for another year or two. Adjustments will be made at instructs this fall and again in spring training. The pitchers they are now will not resemble the pitchers they are next year or the year after

The thing I like to remember is that they have already pitched a full season of baseball. Some, like Alex Lange, have already thrown over 120 innings. Then again, there are relievers who fit right in when it comes to workloads this season. Of the 19 pitchers signed via the 2017 draft, only four have been given an opportunity to start in some capacity. In addition, two of the arms selected and signed have not thrown a pitch in game action.

Here is an update on how the young pitchers are doing.

Impressive

Alex Lange – The first round pick dominated in his two inning debut. While it was at Eugene, I felt that he should not be there much longer in that it really wasn’t a challenge for him. Hopefully, he can go up to South Bend and make it a start of two innings  and the Cubs can reevaluate from there. I tend to think he’ll begin next year at Myrtle Beach with an outside shot of Tennessee. However, Tennessee might be too aggressive.

Ricky Tyler Thomas – I love, love, love, love, love his changeup. Going forward, I tend to see him as a reliever. But don’t be surprised to see him get a shot at starting next year at South Bend.

Rollie Lacy – He is pitching only in relief in Mesa and he hasn’t allowed a lot of baserunners with a WHIP of 0.66. As a 22-year-old, he should dominate rookie ball and he is. I think there is a pretty good chance he’s in northern Indiana to begin the year.

Ben Hecht – He has been a most impressive reliever as he has swing and miss stuff. At Eugene, he has pitched 6.1 innings and struck out an amazing 15 batters. With that kind of firepower, I think long term that he is a reliever with closer or setup potential.

Jake Steffens – To date he’s pitched up 10.2 innings and is look good doing so. He had one bad outing in his eight appearances and opponents are only hitting .108 against him. It’s pretty good for a 29th round pick.

Brendan King – He is just getting going and he is making short starts. Right now, his ERA is 1.59 and he’s struck out 13 and 11.1 innings while only giving up two earned runs. Depending on how he does this fall and next spring, I think he has an outside shot at making it to Indiana for the summer.

Pretty Good

Erich Uelmen – He has only made three appearances. His first outing was a bit rough, but his second  saw him strikeout five in two innings. He is currently at Eugene and I expect him to be in South Bend starting in 2018.

Mitch Stophel – Currently, he is in rookie ball in Mesa. He has pitched nine innings in a relief it is struck out 13. He walked five, but for a 25 round pick, I’m not gonna complain. He could be in South Bend next year.

Cory Abbott – He debuted Monday night. He flashed a four pitch mix and struck out three in two innings but did give up a homer, his only hit. His fastball sat in the low 90s topping out at 93.

Depends on the Day

Kegan Thompson – After missing all of 2016, I was surprised the Cubs let him pitch after he threw 98 innings for Auburn this spring. He’s being used in relief and he has only made two appearances so far. I see him starting next summer in the rotation for South Bend.

Brian Glowicki – The closer from the University of Minnesota has had some ups and downs in that role for the Emeralds. He has shown the ability to miss bats and I think he will get better as the season goes on.

Casey Ryan – Take away one outing where he gave up four runs in 1/3 of an inning, and he’s been really good. He is a reliever in a starter’s body.

Jeffrey Passantino – I am not sure what his role is going to be. In Mesa, he hass been relieving. I don’t know if they’re going to try and turn him into a starter as a pro or leave him in the bullpen with his bulldog mentality. I guess we’ll find out next year.

It’s Early

Brendon Little – He has been lit up in his two outings. After only pitching four innings in college plus the cape cod league in 2016, he threw 80+ innings this year. I thought we might see him out of the pen to begin with, but he is taking the bump to begin the game twice. I would not be too alarmed that his performance so far. You still have to remember he’s only 20 years old and has been basically shut down for two months.

Sean Barry – He’s only made three appearances so far in Mesa. All were in relief. I don’t have a good read on him yet.

Peyton Remy – He made his first appearance on Sunday night when he threw a scoreless one third of an inning.

Crickets…They have not pitched yet and might not.

Jeremy Estrada – He has not been rostered yet. I think Estrada will more than likely be in Mesa at worst and Eugene at best.

Brady Miller – No roster has been assigned for Miller yet, either.

Braxton Light – He has been assigned to Arizona but has yet to see any action.

19 arms is a lot about pitching to accommodate in an organization at one time. We will know more next year at this time than we do now about these arms. I think this summer’s performances have kind of given us a sneak peek and there’s a lot to be encouraged by past month, and even the last week. And I think once the starters are stretched out next year, it will be even more impressive. With a lot of the young arms at Eugene and South Bend, this collection of arms will create quite the competition for spots next spring. So far, I find their performances encouraging for the organization.

 

Cubs 2017 Draft Update: Position Players Proving to Be Very Athletic

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By Todd Johnson

I think it’s tough for draft picks to come in to an organization in the middle of the year and play well. I also think that you really shouldn’t evaluate the draft pick based on two months after they’ve already played a full season. Many of them have basically been playing since January. At some point they have to get tired regardless of how good they are.

In looking at this year’s draft class, I think there a couple key things to take notice of for next year. One, there is some serious athleticism in the group as a whole. Two, there are some guys who I think can really hit and will prove so next year.

Impressive Starts
Several draft picks came out of the gate pretty hot. Some have cooled off while others have been able to maintain some semblance of success.

Austin Upshaw – He came out of the gate very hot and now has cooled. He is still showing a solid approach but his hits have not been at falling in August like they did in July. He will be fine next year. He should begin the year at Myrtle Beach. They are going to love him there.

Luis Vazquez – Heading into Sunday, he was hitting .316. That is very good for a high school product to do that in rookie league just jumping right in. I still remember thinking how athletic he was in his prospect a video back on draft day. I cannot wait to get Arizona Phil’s take during instructs. He should be at Eugene next year as an 18-year-old kid.

Brandon Hughes – Like Upshaw, Hughes came out of the gate hard and has since slowed down. He bats third or fourth for Eugene and he’s been in the lineup most every day. The first thing you notice about him is his advanced athleticism and build. I see him being at South Bend to begin 2018.

Chris Singleton – A later round pick, the athletic outfielder began at Mesa and has been promoted to Eugene where he slid right into the leadoff spot. I really like what I have heard from the Eugene radio broadcasters, but I have not seen him play on TV yet. I am thinking he will be at South Bend to begin 2018.

Cam Balego – The young infielder has been playing all over the diamond for the rookie league Cubs and has hit almost .400 last month. I have not read much about him and I think I might not until fall instructs.

Ramsey Romano – He just got promoted to Eugene where he went two for five in his second game with two RBI. He can play all over the infield and I think this utility player will probably be at South Bend to begin 2018.

Austin Filiere – His average has been up-and-down but he has definitely shown some power in his bat. In the field, he gets by as a third baseman. His arm is average but that can be improved on. He will be at South Bend to start 2018.

Have some work to do…

Nelson Velazquez – He has flashed some serious athleticism and power in Mesa. However, he has not shown the ability to hit for average so far in rookie league and he strikes out a lot. Then again, he is still very young. He is one player who is going to improve dramatically with instruction this fall and in spring training. I think once he gets in the routine of doing things every day, we might see his power be a daily thing.

Chris Carrier – He has not had a good start to his career at both Mesa and Eugene where he is striking out about 75% of the time. More than likely, if he has a good spring training next year, he should be in South Bend.

Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate and announcer Pat Zajak concurs. In other words, the BABIP Gods have not been kind to him in Eugene. I see him beginning the year in South Bend in 2018. He’s a pretty good sized second baseman.

I don’t know if any of these position players will show up on any prospect list in the next year, but that is not going to stop them from succeeding. I would not be surprised to see Velazquez and Vazquez make a list in 2019. It is rare for the Cubs to select a HS position player in the Theo era. I can only think of a few the Cubs have signed – Kevonte Mitchell and DJ Wilson who are both in low A this year, Tyler Alamo at Myrtle Beach, and Charcer Burks at Tennessee. It takes a few years to get going.

The Weekly: Lots of Debuts, Rankings, and a Trio of High End Arms

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By Todd Johnson

The Cubs got a big win yesterday to stop a three game skid. There are still 53 games left to play and most of them are against teams with losing records. After next Sunday, the Cubs do not play a team with a winning record for the rest of the month. I feel pretty good about that.

The Eugene Trio: It’s been a beautiful week for the starting pitching of Eugene. When their All-Star break ended and play resumed on Thursday night, Jose Albertos pitched five innings of one hit ball. On Friday night, first-round draft pick Alex Lange made his professional debut with two innings of hitless ball. And on Saturday night, the Cubs other first round pick, Brendon Little, made his second start (but not a good one) as a Cubs prospect. That’s a promising peak into the future, provided they all stay healthy.

Cubs MiLB Awards: I expected that the Cubs would announce their awards on Saturday for minor league hitter and pitcher of the month for July but not a peep.

MiLB Farm System Rankings: Both Baseball America and MLB.com released their midseason farm system rankings this week. Not surprisingly, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 28th out of 30 teams. Considering who they traded this summer, no big news there. MLB.com only ranked the top 10, but they put the White Sox as number one.

John Sickels : He takes a while to release his midseason rankings. By the time he’s done, the season is usually over. After seeing MLB.com’s rankings last week , I was interested to see John’s take on the Cubs’ system and just who he thinks the top Cubs prospects are. It should be out today or tomorrow. I might even do a post about it, depending on how he ranks them.

Around the Minors: September 4 is coming quick. That is when the MILB season ends. Right now, only Myrtle Beach has punched a ticket to the postseason. Iowa and South Bend are pretty much out of the running along with the two Dominican summer league teams.Tennessee, on the other hand, is only three games back of Montgomery for a wildcard berth. Eugene has a slim one game lead as the second half division leader. In Mesa, despite being with the second worst team in the league the first half, is only one game back in the second.

Iowa – 4-2: Rob Zastryzny made it back from rehab and made it back from rehab and made his way to Chicago very quickly. Victor Caratini returned and promptly hit home runs both Friday and Saturday nights.

Tennessee – 5-2: Craig Brooks was named the Southern League’s Reliever of the Month after not giving up an earned run throughout July. Trevor Clifton missed a start this week but will be ready to go today. Hopefully, he can just relax and let his pitches do the work. Duane Underwood has now made two excellent starts in a row including a seven inning affair on Friday night where he struck out seven.

Myrtle Beach – 3-5: This team is having some issues as they have the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half after having the best the first. It is not the fault of Zack Short who seems to be making an excellent adjustment to high A ball. Over his last 10 games, the young shortstop is hitting .351 with a .405 OBP from the leadoff spot. In addition, pitcher Michael Rucker continues to do well. This week, he scattered 11 hits but only allowed one run in his start.

South Bend – 3-4: Erling Moreno returned to action on Friday night and pitched three innings while giving up just a run. Bryan Hudson also had an excellent start this week where he did not allow run in five innings. As well, Tyler Peyton had his best start as he gave up just one run in five innings. At the plate, Andruw Monasterio and Aramis Ademan make a formidable duo at the top of the lineup. I see this team maturing in small bits the past month. That bodes well for next year.

Eugene – 3-1: Several new players arrived this week including outfielder Chris Singleton and infielder Ramsey Romano. Singleton is off to a pretty good start and Romano struggled in his first two games after hitting almost 400 at Mesa. Pitcher Cory Abbott was also added to the team but has not thrown yet. Every time Ricky Tyler Thomas pitches, I come away extremely impressed with his performance, even if it is as a reliever.

Mesa – 2-4: It looks like their starting pitching might be starting to stabilize. Faustino Carrera had his best start of the year this week and Brailyn Marquez has looked amazing at times and terrible at others. Either way, he is striking out a lot of hitters (32 in 25.1 IP). Stephen Ridings had his best outing of year on Friday night and it looks like Brendan King might be a sleeper based on his short outings (1.59 ERA).

DSL 1 – 2-3: After a good week last week, the pitching hit the skids this week. Fernando Kelli has stolen almost 50 SBs. I am starting to get questions about the young switch hitting 18-year-old outfielder.

DSL 2 – 3-3: I still like some of the pitchers they have left. Danis Correa was promoted to Mesa and he might be followed by Emilio Ferrebus and Jesus Tejada. At the very least, expect Ferrebus and Tejada to be at instructs.

Coming up at Cubs Central.
1. Draft Player Update – In two separate posts, I will be giving an update on how this year’s draft class is performing as Cubs.
2. The other post I might write this week could be on some players I think who are ascending the past two months and might break out at the beginning of next year, if they have not already this year. Then again, I may wait until September to do this post.

3. I will continue to do updates on several of the Cubs top pitching prospects. That seems to be my focus of late.

4. I will also be interviewing pitcher Duncan Robinson in the early part of this week. Look for information from that discussion to be on all three platforms.

Card of the Week
Don’t ask me how, but I made 150 last month. This week, I already made over 30. Good thing school starts in a week: 2017 Cards: August .

Players of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week
BP Wrigleyville
Michael Rucker
Alex Lange Debut

Cubs Insider:
Kevonte Mitchell: New Breed of Cubs Prospect
Which Cubs Prospects Have Next?
Alex Lange Debut