2019 Draft Grades – Still Waiting for the Second Wave of Prospects

It is hard to believe that this is the sixth year that I have been handing out draft grades. Every year things change as players come and go, especially earlier in the Theo era. While some of those first classes produced bats, no class since 2014 has a player currently on the 25 man roster. However, a year from now, that all could change.

2011 – Previous Grades – B, B+
Baez and Maples are all that is left. Last year there were 4 guys, but attrition happens quicker than you think in the minors. Still, this class is far from done. With the Vogelbach trade bringing Mike Montgomery, that adds a little more to the class. Javy amd Monty are going to be around for a at least 2 more seasons.
2019 Grade – A.

2012 Previous Grades – B+, A-, B, B-, B-
I used to think this class was going to be really special but it just did not pan out. Albert Almora still is the headliner, but David Bote really seems to be stealing the show. Duane Underwood is still hanging around the minors, but I don’t know for how long.
2019 Grade – B.

2013 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A, A, A+, A+, A+
This draft class brought a MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a World Series title. And that’s just Kris Bryant. Down in the minors, Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door while Jake Hannemann and Charcer Burks are still plugging away at AAA and AA respectively.
2019 Grade – A+

2014 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A-, A, A, B
There are still nine guys in the system left from this draft. That’s quite a bit for 5 years, but just two are currently on the 25 man roster. Both Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis play in the OF in Chicago, but most of the others are still hanging on at AA and AAA hoping for a chance.
2019 Grade – B-.

2015 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B, B, C
12 guys remaining from this class are still in the game for the Cubs. However, the impact at the MLB level is nil this year. While Ian Happ struggled in April, May has seen some improvement by him. Meanwhile, PJ Higgins and Craig Brooks are off to great starts this year. While there is still hope for this class, they are stuck in the logjam that is the Cubs’ system now.
2019 Grade – C-

2016 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B-, B+
16 guys still remain with many of them having a legitimate shot at Chicago in the next two years. Tyson Miller looks to be at the head of the line as a pitcher and could be the first Cubs’ draft pick in the Theo era to stick in the rotation in the next two years. Zack Short leads the hitting side, but he is probably slated more for a utility role in the future. Dakota Mekkes, Duncan Robinson, and Matt Swarmer are at AAA and the top pick, a third rounder at that, Thomas Hatch is at AA with Bailey Clark and a few others. Eventually, there could be 3-4 guys make it from this class which outpaces any class on this list.
2019 Grade – B+

2017 Draft Class  – Previous Grades – B-
In just two years, this class is all over the place. There were several cuts already, some surprises, some injuries, some trades, and some players who look close to being Chicago-ready just two years after signing. Cory Abbott, right now at least, has the makings of a rotation guy in the next two years. Some of the other big arms the Cubs took in this draft are not having their best year or a year at all in some cases. Jeremiah Estrada hopefully will be ready to go for Eugene in a few weeks and Nelson Velazquez is off to a great start at South Bend to begin this season. I am still waiting for Keegan Thompson and Erich Uelmen to start it back up this year.
2019 Grade – B-.

2018 Draft ClassThey will get their own post and grade next Tuesday. And it’s a good and very hopeful one that involves some hitting, for a change, and some surprising pitching.


Draft Prep Profile – Mitchell Parker Could Be a Gamble That Pays off on Day 3

In the 2018 MLB draft, the Cubs took a long shot in selecting high school pitcher Mitchell Parker from Manzano, New Mexico. At the time, Parker had a strong commitment to Tennessee. There were rumored negotiations taking place that Mitchell might sign with the Cubs if they met his dollar figure but that did not happen.

Now that 2019 is here, Parker did not end up in Tennessee. Instead, he is pitching for San Jacinto North Junior College in San Jacinto, Texas. He is eligible to be drafted again this year and he is having quite the season.

Basic Info
Height – 6‘4“
Weight – 200 pounds
Throws – Left
Age 19

There’s a lot to like about Parker. He’s tall, lanky, and he could add a few more pounds and still remain pretty flexible. He’s been clocked anywhere from 86 to 92, depending on the day. His secondary pitches still need some work. So, another year of junior college might not be a bad thing as he gains experience. But what I like most about him are his mechanics. Even in high school, the Cubs liked what he flashed in this video from Fangraphs.

While he still needs to fine-tune his release point, Mitchell does not seem to throw the ball with much effort. He’s playing catch in the upper 80s and low 90s and getting some pretty good run. His curve has some good shape to it, but I don’t think it’s a pitch that he can consistently locate just yet.

This year at San Jacinto, Parker is averaging over 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. To go along with that stat, he’s averaging over 6 walks per nine innings. He’s not giving up a lot of hits, it’s just a matter of command. And that command should come through timing and repetition. He seems like a decent enough athlete that Parker will respond to pro coaching to fine-tune his delivery. And it’s also going to come with experience. He probably comes across more of a project than a prodigy. There’s definitely a lot to work with and that’s the key.

For the Cubs to take him, they’re going to have to have his permission. While his teammate 6’8” righty Jackson Rutledge is likely a first round pick, Mitchell would be a day three pick. The Cubs would have to decide whether Parker would benefit from another year of seasoning in college or developing through professional instruction.

Prospect Interview: Andy Weber Is Doing Some Adjusting at South Bend

The weird thing about the minor leagues is that success at one level is not a prerequisite for success at a higher level. And success, or failure, one month is not indicative of the next month. In 2018, 5th round pick Andy Weber out of Virginia caught my eye while playing for Eugene. In addition to playing all four infield spots for the Emeralds/Monarcas, Weber showed an adept bat and a quiet approach at the plate. His pitch recognition skills were off the charts. What really garnered my attention, though, was just his calmness at the plate, regardless of the situation.

To begin this year at South Bend, Weber struggled a bit in April. Part of that might have been the weather, part of it might have been advanced pitching, and part of it might have been just developmental. However, for the last week of April, he went 9/21 with 10 RBI. In that short span, his average shot up to .255 from .158. I talked to him about how he was adapting during that streak.

Later, I talked with Andy about some other things going on this year including playing mainly shortstop.

What have been some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to deal with since coming to South Bend?
I think, first and foremost, weather is something you’ve got to deal with coming from sunny and 75 in Arizona to 30 degree South Bend and I think just adjusting a new routine in a new ballpark with new coaches every day. But overall, I think the adjustments have gone pretty smoothly.

You’ve been playing shortstop most of the year. How did that move come to be an almost a permanent position for you?
I am not really sure how that plays out. I’ve been getting a lot of reps at shortstop, more probably than I have in my career. Primarily being a second baseman in college, and a little bit of third base, it’s new and it’s been a challenge, but I love it and I love shortstop. I think the other thing, too, is that the guys around me like Levi, Morel, Narrea, and Zinn, and just talking fielding with them has also been a big help for me and all of us as a whole.

Who did you model your game after when you were growing up?
My favorite player was Robinson Cano. Growing up watching him, he’s always been smooth with the bat and in the field. He was probably my favorite guy to watch.

Were you a Yankees’ fan?
I am a die hard Indians fan and still am.

What’s it like playing for Buddy Bailey? Is there anything he’s trying to pass on to you this year?
Buddy’s been really helpful for all of us. We learn a lot in games and in practices and in our workouts before games. Overall, I think it’s learning about yourself as a whole player.

I am hoping that once the weather heats up Weber will too. In addition, Weber has moved down in the order from hitting third to hitting later in the lineup. Hopefully that takes some of the stress/pressure off of him. Last night, he went 3/4 while batting sixth. When he gets going, he’s a fun hitter to watch when he’s in a groove. 

Cubs MiLB Pitching Thoughts – Why Haven’t the Cubs Opened the Door to Chicago?

Clifton 15 2017 Tenn
On Saturday night, I was watching AAA Iowa’s game against Oklahoma City. At the same time, I was also messaging back-and-forth with my friend John. Most of the conversation pivoted around why the Cubs don’t seem to trust their own pitching at the major league level. There are several arms who are close to being ready and are not being given the chance. John and I began brainstorming several possible reasons why the Cubs have not been able to produce long-term success at that position.

To say the Cubs have not been able to produce success at the pitching position is a bit misleading. Carl Edwards has definitely had success at the major-league level and he started out at Daytona and pitched at three levels in the Cubs’ system. Kyle Hendricks did well in Tennessee and Iowa before joining the Cubs’ starting staff. And Paul Blackburn and Zak Godley have had success elsewhere. Even James Norwood was successful along with Alec Mills last late last summer in Chicago. Still, they were not given much of a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen this spring.

Here are some of the things we thought of as possible reasons.

Drafting – The Cubs have drafted plenty of guys who can throw hard and pitch. But to break this down, I think you have to look at how they drafted arms from 2012 to 2015 and then 2016 to the present. Up to 2015, those pitchers seemed to fit into a box as to the type a pitcher they were. The Cubs did not go for the Kellogg’s variety pack of arms in getting different types of pitchers. They also tended to shy away from big-name arms, especially in the first couple of rounds.

Jason McLeod, the Cubs Director of Scouting, admitted their mistakes openly at the Cubs Convention (per Mark Gonzalez of the Trib) this past January.

“We put so many checks on guys that I feel we probably walked by some guys that didn’t meet certain criteria at the time (referring to mechanics, health and strike-throwing efficiency). That probably hamstrung us a bit.”

The thing about that quote is that can be taken in two ways. One, obviously, is looking past guys. The other way to analyze it is how they evaluate their own pitchers. There have been many times I wondered why certain guys got promoted over others. I thought Trevor Clifton should have been at Iowa after dominating the Southern League in the first half of 2017.

Since 2016, the Cubs have tended to take more risks in drafting pitchers. When you draft 27 pitchers in 2016 that’s a huge risk to the strength of your organization. And then you repeat it again in 2017. Most of those guys are now at AA and AAA.

Even the 2018 class is quite different as the Cubs look like they went for some electric arms like Riley Thompson and Cam Sanders along with guys with excellent plus pitches like Paul Richan and Ethan Roberts. It was really an eclectic mix and there are still a few guys who I haven’t seen yet like Kohl Franklin, Chris Allen, Jake Reindl, and Josh Sawyer.

Development – I distinctly remember in 2016 when Buddy Bailey started managing at Myrtle Beach that he told his pitchers that they were going to throw inside and own the inner half of the plate. Needless to say, several Pelican starters had their best year that year. Trevor Clifton was the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Year and the Pelicans won the Carolina League for the second year in a row.

The thing is this – you don’t hear enough stories like that about the system. Occasionally, you will hear stories about minor adjustments like speeding up the time between pitches, adding a cutter, a four seamer, or changing arm slots. There is no organizational philosophy on pitching. Add in the fact that the Cubs, at one point, had 4 different minor league pitching coordinators in 4 years. That should raise a red flag.

Adbert 07 2018 IowaTrust – When it comes right down to it, the Cubs success at the major league level doomed developing pitching at the major league level. If a pitcher is deemed ready to come up and pitch in Chicago, the Cubs major league squad does not have the luxury of time, or patience, to develop him. That arm has to earn the Cubs’ trust on day one. This is about winning and winning now. And it’s been that way since 2015-2016.

Now just who isn’t trusting these guys to come up and stay is another story. It could be the MiLB staff or Theo and Jed thinking they are not ready. It could be Joe Maddon who might be hesitant to do more than pencil them in for a spot start and to do mop up duty in a blowout.

It’s a little of both.

But here’s my take – The Cubs want arms who can get major leaguers out. Those pitchers are not going to be able to do that in AAA Iowa. They have to learn how to do it in Chicago. There’s nowhere else to do it. And, more than likely, the Cubs have shown time and time again that they don’t have the time to develop arms at the MLB level because they have to win now.

clark 99 2018 mbThe Cubs have at least 5 guys who could be in Chicago (Maybe not all at once, but you get my drift). Dakota Mekkes, Dillon Maples, James Norwood, Trevor Clifton, and Adbert Alzolay (when healthy) all are just sitting there waiting to develop in the majors. Duncan Robinson had 7 IP of 1 run ball the other night and he could be a guy as well.

Chicago is the final step in development and it seems the Cubs are not willing to take the time to finish that final step just yet. And that’s just for guys at Iowa. Tennessee has Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, and Bailey Clark just tearing it up to begin 2019. They will be knocking on the door soon. The question for the future is, when will the Cubs open the door to let them develop in Chicago?


The Midweek Report – What’s Happening with Nico?

So, what is Nico Hoerner up to in Tennessee?

Well, last night, he was he was hit by a pitch in the hand and removed from the game. Hopefully we hear something soon and that he was taken out as a precaution.

Back to the title question, one could look at it in two ways. There is the context of looking at his performance statistically. The other is to identify things Nico is supposed to be working on to get to the next level in the system.

Statistically Speaking…
Things to like – (as of 4/24)
10.4% BB rate
11.9% K rate
.388 OBP
.871 OPS
157 wRC+
.405 wOBA
70 RBI pace

He looks to be on track at the plate. His cumulative marks so far are actually trending up. On April 12, his average sank to .200 and has been on the rise ever since. What the Cubs are likely looking for is domination. The day Tennessee is no longer a challenge for him, he should be gone. To where, that is to be determined later in the article.

What Is It He Is Working on at Tennessee?
At some point this week, Nico will surpass his AB totals from last year this year. Theo said that he expected Nico to be in AA most of the year. Based on Theo’s initial response, he was just being conservative and trying to temper expectations and hype. But based on Nico’s approach and performance, Nico could shred those expectations by the end of May. It is going to be a tough call on when the Cubs make that decision.

As for his development, Nico should be getting his work in about how to adapt to seeing pitchers and teams for a second and third time. In many instances in the Southern League, they play five game series rather than three. That can be a steep learning curve.

As well, Nico needs to get some more work in at second base. So far, he’s not been given any starts there by manager Jimmy Gonzalez. I wonder, as that time draws nigh, if we will we see him start at second base more and more.

As for his hitting, there is still the question of Nico being able to use his lower half to full effect. He still drags his back leg from time to time, but he’s been keeping it planted for the most part. There are no questions or concerns so far about his baseball acumen, aptitude, or speed.

Every time I watch and hear Nico hit, I am amazed at the sound of his bat making very loud contact, even on a single. Even though he just hit the inside the parker above, those other HRs will come. What I look forward to most in the coming weeks is seeing him at peak confidence spraying the ball all over. He is pretty close to there now.

Watching Nico play, I am constantly reminded of Dustin Pedroia. There’s a grittiness and toughness to their games. However, that’s where the comp ends. Nico is much bigger physically and a better athlete with the potential for power combined with speed. Standing near him at the Quad Cities last summer, he is a decent size kid. Add in that he’s a bit ripped in the upper half and he stands at 6’1″, he could withstand the 162 game grind.

To Be Quite Frank
Nico was practically ready in spring training. Once Nico reaches and sustains a certain level of performance at Tennessee, he should go to Chicago. Screw going to Iowa. Why waste his time and the Cubs’ time. When he’s ready, he’s ready. It is in the big leagues where he should finish his development.

Affiliate Update: South Bend’s Got Some Compelling Young Hitters

Last week, I started a new type of post called an affiliate update as I examined
Tennessee’s watchability. I enjoyed writing it a lot as it was different. So, I thought I would try it again this week by looking at the South Bend Cubs. The issue I had in writing about South Bend was figuring out a focus for the article.

My first choice was to hone in on their young hitters. Then, for choice B, I thought about examining three young arms that are doing well in the starting rotation. A part of me also wanted to go over some bullpen arms that have been surprising. In trying to decide. I just knew it was not going to be all three. I went with choice A.

First Impressions of the Roster
Although South Bend is filled with a lot of young players who are 20-years-old and below, some of the older players who were taken last year in the draft out of college have been the bright spots. At the plate, Tyler Durna, who I profiled on Thursday, has been outstanding in the five hole while DJ Artis, who I profiled for Cubs Insider, sets the table every night in the leadoff spot.

What I like about these two is that they are leading by example and in different ways. DJ Artis is an on base machine who uses a great awareness of the strike zone and his speed to score runs. As for Durna, he looks to be a guy who can put the ball in play in several ways in different counts.

As for the youth movement on the team, players are still learning their way but Jonathan Sierra (hitting .342) and Nelson Velasquez (hitting .368) look outstanding at the plate so far. While both have immense power skills, Sierra is the only one with a home run to date. That will change once it warms up. What has impressed me most about these two is that they’ve hit for high averages and shown good pitch recognition recognition skills and are not giving in to pitchers this early in their career.

The one thing that I really noticed about this year’s South Bend squad is that these young kids are very toolsy. You can see it every time Cole Roederer swings and everytime he flies to the baseball in the outfield. There’s some serious athleticism in South Bend that we haven’t seen for a few years at this level.

I really like what Roederer can do at the plate. It could take him some time to acclimate, but his tools will help him do so. Roederer was hitting .209 after Thursday night’s game against Lake County. Then again, that’s over a 10 game span for a 19-year-old from California playing in cold weather for most of those games. Fans should step back, let him learn, and be patient about his progress. When it gets hotter, Cole should, too.

Fidel Mejia, who is now on the DL, was very impressive before sliding into second base and injuring his hand/wrist. A 20-year-old switch hitter, Mejia also flashed a lot of hitting tools in his brief stay. He hit .333 with a .364 OBP in just 6 games.

Mejia’s replacement, Christopher Morel, is only 19 and will get the full profile treatment next week on Cubs Central. I saw him some last year at Eugene before the college kids  signed. To understand Morel, you really have to picture him as a tall, skinny kid who has a lot of potential; He is far from a finished product. However, in the short span of a week, he’s put up some pretty impressive numbers in 6 games. A 153 wRC+ is outstanding and he also is hitting over .300. I look forward to more of what he can in an extended look.

The First Week in May
In 13 days, I will be getting my first look at South Bend in person. That’s a lot of time for a young player in the minors. Some things about them will change and some things may not. What I enjoy most about getting a sneak peak inside the team is watching them prepare for the game for two hours before they play. Whether that is taking infield, taking BP, or doing soft toss and tee work in the cage, it’s never dull seeing how hard the prospects work at developing and honing their skills.

And that’s the thing about low class A players; they are not complete players. In fact, most of them are just beginning their grind over a 140 game season for the first time in their careers.

While watching these kids play on TV is fine, seeing them develop in person is even more fun. Usually, when I am still teaching, I don’t get to too many games. The schedule happened to fall right for me this year for this May trip. I’m excited to see what all these kids can do.

A Preview of a Preview: Eugene Emeralds Look to Be Loaded with Top Talent

Photo by Todd Johnson

This is usually my favorite post of the year to write. While Eugene doesn’t start playing for two months, trying to predict who will be on the roster is usually a lot of fun. This year, that sentiment holds true again.

The Eugene roster is often a mix of a lot of different types of players. You have a few high school kids, a few young international players, and the most recent draft picks from four year colleges. This year, Eugene looks to have a variety of talented players. As many as five Top 30 prospects could be in Eugene at some point this summer.

There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to pitching in Eugene. The Emeralds/Monarcas will probably start off with Jeremiah Estrada who missed all of 2018. Estrada can throw in the low to mid 90s and has been a top 30 prospect the past two seasons. Another arm who could impress this year is 2018 draft pick Kohl Franklin. The son of a MLB agent and nephew of former Mariner Ryan Franklin, I’m excited to see what he can bring in his first full season. As well, another arm to watch is Chris Allen who the Cubs picked up last year out of junior college. Add in fireballing Danis Correa and lefty Didier Vargas and it projects to be a nice starting rotation for the first few weeks of the season.

One picture who could be in Eugene is Yovanny Cruz who has been skyrocketing up the prospect list in the last year. He made one start for the Emeralds/Monarcas last year. The problem is that he is good enough to be the first guy called up to South Bend, if needed.

My sleeper starting pitcher pick for this year is Yunior Perez who is had an outstanding spring training. He can throw in the mid 90s and is only 20. He has a decent frame at 6’4” and 190 lbs. I am excited to see more of him as he gains game experience.

The Infield
A lot of things can happen between now and the middle of June when Eugene begins play. Some players may catch fire during extended spring training and earn their way to South Bend. However, one player everyone probably should keep an eye on is 17-year-old Reivaj Garcia. He is a switch hitting second baseman who hit .302 last year in Mesa as a 16-year-old. He also made the Cubs top 30 prospects list this winter.

Shortstop is going to be a very competitive spot. Christopher Morel, who saw some time in Eugene last summer, could be returning as a top 30 Prospect as could fellow top 30 Prospect Luis Verdugo. This might be the most impressive battle this spring in extended spring training. One, or both, could play at another position to get more playing time and add to their versatility.

One bat that I liked last year was that of 1B Rafael Mejia. He only played about a week last year at Eugene before the college signees infiltrated the roster. Mejia took that opportunity to do very well in Arizona as he hit .315 with a .358 OBP with 8 home runs in 38 games.

The Outfield
This looks like to be the goldmine for prospects on the team. After battling some injuries last summer, 2018 second round pick Brennen Davis put up at 138 wRC+ in just 18 games in Mesa. He looks to have added about 15 to 20 pounds of muscle this winter and has adapted his swing a little bit. He’s an amazing athlete that starred in baseball and basketball in high school. I am looking forward to seeing how he does playing baseball full-time.

Edmond Americaan was taken in the 35th round last year out of Chipola Junior College in Florida. The Cubs somehow persuaded him to forgo his commitment to the University of Miami and now he will be playing in Eugene as a 21-year-old.

In addition, OF Dalton Hurd from the University of Washington could be a positive force on this club. He hustles all the time, works hard, sets a good example for his young teammates, and he can hit the ball – that’s always a plus. However, because of the aforementioned qualities, Hurd is likely to be player #1 called up to South Bend if an outfielder is needed.

Opening Day
It is set for June 15. It is going to be an exciting summer in the Northwest League with this amount of talent! If some of the college draft picks get signed early, hopefully a few will be ready when that first kid yells, “Play ball!”