Cubs Minor League Player of the Month Awards
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.
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young
By Todd Johnson
On Sunday morning, the Cubs announced that Jen-Ho Tseng and D.J. Wilson were named the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher and Player of the Month for July. Tseng had a 1.42 ERA at AAA Iowa to go along with 23 Ks in 25.1 IP. Wilson hit .284 with 7 HRs and 21 RBI in between Mesa (rehab stint) and South Bend. With officially four weeks left in the MiLB season, it got me thinking: Who will be the Cubs MiLB Pitcher and Hitter of the Year?
When it comes to hitting, the winner is clear cut – Victor Caratini. No one else is even in the discussion in my mind. He’s batting .350 with a .959 OPS. He’s hit 10 HRs and driven in 58. While his OBP is a bit less than Mark Zagunis’, whose isn’t. I do not see how Caratini could lose this award. Since his return to Iowa from Chicago, he’s hitting .600.
On the other hand, selecting the Pitcher of the Year is going to be a tough choice that will play out over the next month. I currently have six pitchers in the running with five having a pretty good shot of staking a claim to it.
The Front Runners
Michael Rucker has done it all this year in 84 innings. He’s been a reliever and a starter. He’s been a closer, a setup man, and an ace. His 1.93 ERA is the lowest of the starters up for the award. His 95 Ks gives him a 9.21 K/9 rate. I love to watch him pitch as he just throws strikes. He’s only walked 16 all year.
Jen-Ho Tseng has had a resurgent year relying on good command of his pitches which includes a low 90s fastball and a plus curve and change. His 2.77 combined ERA between Iowa and Tennessee is impressive and he has 110 Ks in 120 IP.
Adbert Alzolay was my breakout player of the first half. Now at AA Tennessee, he has a combined 2.84 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee with 101 Ks in 107 IP. I like his energy, his pacing, and his 96-97 mph heater. He still needs to refine his secondaries going forward.
The Long Shots
Duncan Robinson is a bit like Rucker in that he began the year as a reliever and morphed into a starter. He was a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted in July to Myrtle Beach from South Bend. On the year, he has a 2.13 ERA over 91 innings. His 77 Ks take him out the discussion a bit when compared with other front runners.
It has been a most impressive season for Justin Steele. He’s been very steady all year. His 2.92 ERA is a testament to his approach and hard work after a rough season at South Bend in 2016. He has 82 Ks in 98.2 IP.
If you were to pick this award on sheer domination, reliever Dakota Mekkes would win hands down. He dominated at South Bend and then again at Myrtle Beach. He did allow an earned run for almost three months. Heading into today, his ERA is a miniscule 0.76 ERA to go along with 79 Ks in 59 IP. Opponents are only hitting .152 against him. If not for 27 walks, I think he would be in Tennessee.
I think Michael Rucker is currently in the lead. However, I truly think the award should go to Mekkes. For the past few years, the Cubs have rewarded starters including Tseng, Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood. But Mekkes’ season has been one of pure domination across the board and two levels. However, I don’t think the Cubs will give that award to a reliever. I wish they would, though. I really wish they would.
By Todd Johnson
When I last talked in early June about Michael Rucker, he had just made his first start as a pitcher as a Cubs prospect. Since then, he made 8 more starts and was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week twice…in back-to-back weeks. Altogether, Rucker’s performance are raising a lot of eyebrows and questions about whether the Cubs may have an unearthed a gem in the 11th round of last year’s draft. Here are “Ten Things I Think” about the 23 year old starter.
1. I think the Cubs knew what they were getting in Rucker. He was the Friday night starter for BYU his junior year. He had gone 11-1 with a 2.73 ERA. The reason Rucker fell to the 11th round was signability. He still had one year of eligibility left.
2. The Yankees were also reportedly in on him along with a few other teams. While BYU may not seem like a baseball powerhouse, it did also produce fellow Cub Jake Hannemann.
4. He was upset about starting at first. According to Pelicans’ announcer Scott Kornberg, Rucker was upset because of his concern for teammate Oscar de la Cruz’s shoulder strain.
5. As a starter in June, he went 25.2 IP with a 2.10 ERA. He made my June All-Star Team after making the May one as a reliever.
6. In July, he has a 1.83 ERA in 9 starts with just 4 BBs and 49 Ks in just 24 innings. Those are some impressive statistics to put up in back-to-back months.
7. I like him a lot because he throws strikes. It’s not that he attacks hitters (he’s only hit one). Rather, he just puts the ball in the zone with some nice armside run on his fastball.
8. His velocity has been pretty consistent all year. Usually, if a guy becomes a starter after being a reliever, there’s usually a downturn in velocity. Not for Rucker. He’s been able to maintain his velocity between 93-96 all year with a couple reports of him touching 97. And he’s been able to sustain that velocity deep into games.
9. He stands a pretty good shot of being named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month late next week. Right now, I would say it is down to Rucker, Jen-Ho Tseng of Iowa, and Jesus Camargo of Eugene. All have 1 start left in the month.
10. What I am most interested in seeing in the next month are two lists. One came out Monday night and that was MLB.com’s Top 30 organizational prospect list. He did not make the list. The other list coming out in a couple of weeks is from Minor League Ball by John Sickels. Inclusion would be a sign of his standing as a prospect.
It doesn’t seem like 50+ innings as a starter by the end of this month would anoint Michael Rucker as an elite prospect, but it could. Oscar de la Cruz’s 73 inning performance in 2015 did it for him. But making a prospect list isn’t just about performance. It also involves skills, projection, and the quality of his pitches. For me, he’s a “prospect of interest.” I would imagine, that right now, he is what he is. I don’t know how much more his skills will improve. If there is room for improvement, which I think there is, that changes his outlook.
But he’s looking good. He should be in the discussion as a possible arm for the future.
Next year, he will be at AA. That puts him pretty close to Chicago. I’d say he’s a guy to watch. One can rise quickly in the system and that is just what he is doing.
By Todd Johnson
I think the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching this month’s presentation is the amount of new names who made the All-Star team in June. In fact, there are only ten holdovers from last month. That means there are 10 new names and one returning name from April. That’s a lot.
June was a rough month in the Cubs’ system. Going into Thursday and Friday, I only had five starting pitchers on my list and only four of them met the usual requirement of an ERA below 3.00 for a month. I do like the fact that there are a lot of new names as it shows the depth of the system, and it also shows that they are all performing at a high-level.
July is usually when we see a lot of new names make the list. Arizona and Eugene players will make their names heard. For me, this is when I really I get to know a prospect. I begin to keep track of their stats almost on a daily basis. I am always excited to see new prospects do well, whether it’s the ones I think will or the ones who surprise me. To be honest, I always enjoy being surprised more.
By Todd Johnson
April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.
Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.
I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.
Let’s get right to this month’s list…
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)
For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.
The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.
Just like July, there are a few new players who are making their first appearance on a Cubs Central monthly All-Star team. There are the usual faces along with some players who have returned to the All-Star team after missing a few months.
Another difference for this month’s team is that I don’t have the normal number of positions. For example, I usually have three outfielders and a DH. Because of poor hitting by most of the minor league outfielders in August, I only had one OF but went with two DHs to make up for the deficiency. I will be back in 10 days with the second half All-Star team, just like this one, in video form.
For July, there are lots of new faces on the All-Star team. In fact, 16 players who have not appeared made the list. A lot of players under 21 made the list. What prompted this change? Performance combined with opportunity opened a lot of doors for most of these players. Some just took a while to warm up, but with Eugene and Arizona playing their first full month of baseball, that accounted for 9 players on the list.
There were a lot of great months, but not everyone made the list. Both Trey Martin and Robert Garcia had excellent months, but the outfielders in the Cubs system are quite fantastic right now. Not one position player from Iowa made it on the team and only one made it from Tennessee. Arizona and Myrtle Beach each put two on the list, while South Bend and Eugene dominated the rest.
I struggled to find 6 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3. It was a not a good month in the organization for starting pitching. I was all set to put Jesus Castillo on the list, but then he got shelled in his last start. As a result, I dipped down to pick out someone who has been amazing in the Dominican Summer League all year with an ERA under 1.00.
Press play and use the arrow to guide or you can just watch
Next month, a couple of Dominican position players could sneak onto the list. Infielder Yonathan Perlaza and Outfielder Jonathan Sierra are two of the hottest players in the system the last 10 days. Then again I don’t know how Sierra could squeeze in between the outfielders in this list.
Other Players to watch for August
Albert Almora – now that he is back in Iowa, he makes the outfield much more interesting.
Trevor Clifton – he did OK this month, but I think in August he puts it back together again
Oscar de la Cruz – he debuted at South Bend with 7K’s in 4 2/3 innings
DJ Wilson – his average has risen 80 points in the last 10 days. He seems a little more patient and not trying to kill every pitch he sees. He’s actually quite good in the field and has been taking his walks all year.
Recent Draftees Michael Cruz, Duncan Robinson, and Zach Short are starting to figure it out as well.
Coming up with next month’s list should be equally challenging.
PHOTO CREDITS for Cards in the Film
Rikk Carlson, Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs, Larry Kave, Mr. John Arguello, MiLB, Janet Blackmon Morgan, Michael Caterina, Dustin Smith , Ryan Kang, Eugene Emeralds, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Tennessee Smokies, and myself.