Cubs Pitching

The Cubs Get Their Man in Yu

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By Todd Johnson

It only took three months, but the Cubs finally get their man in Yu Darvish. The big right-handed ace comes at a steep price and I think Yu now becomes the anchor of the rotation for the next 4-5 years. At 31 years of age, I kind a like where this is going.

Positives to the Signing
+ Darvish has five pitches with you which he can throw for strikes and they all come from the same arm slot. He is a top of the rotation starter and someone you could pencil in for 30+ starts a year for the foreseeable future.

+ While it’s not an exorbitant price, I think the signing does give the Cubs a little relief after 2020. Considering most of their current rotation is signed through that year, Darvish’s contract goes a little bit beyond and provides a little cushion to develop some arms in the minors.

+ I like that he throws near 200 innings a year. He did miss a year and a half but came back fine.

+ With the Astros outing the fact that Yu was tipping his pitches in the World Series, they may have done the Cubs a favor. As a result, future hitters should never know what’s coming.

+ Most pitchers that come over from the American League tend to do well in the National League. There’s a small period of adjustment and Darvish got a head start on that period last summer as a Dodger.

+ With the Cubs defense behind him, his ERA might actually improve.

+ He misses a lot of bats averaging almost 11 every 9 innings as a Dodger last year.

+ I really like his sense of humor as seen on his Twitter account and I think he’s going to fit in just fine in this clubhouse.

Concerns
– When the contract has one or two years left, you can ask me then. But for the next 3 to 4 years, all systems are go.

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The Weekly: MiLB Free Agent Chances, Mesa, New Cards, and an Invasion Is Coming

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By Todd Johnson

The off-season continues to move at a snail’s pace. Nothing much happened at the major-league level again this week, but the Cubs did add some more depth by signing two players to minor league contracts. Outfielder Peter Bourjos is a veteran who has played with Tampa, St. Louis, and Anaheim. First baseman Efren Navarro last played with the Tigers. Both will be non roster invitees to spring training. I don’t look for either to make the club. And if they don’t, I’d expect them to choose free agency rather than go to AAA Iowa.

Right now, I just don’t have a good feel for who is going to be where. A lot of that stems from who will be at Iowa and Tennessee. The Cubs have signed several starting and bullpen arms this offseason to minor league contracts. As a result, I am holding off on doing any affiliate previews until either the last week of March or the first week in April. It is going to kill me to not write about South Bend’s starting rotation until then.

As for some some of the minor league free agents the Cubs signed this winter, Daniel Camarena is extremely intriguing to me. The young lefty comes from a stacked Yankees system that saw him make 7 decent starts at AAA with a 3.28 ERA last year. He is only 25. Like the Cubs, the Yankees cannot hang onto every prospect in perpetuity. After 5 years in the minors, the prospects can elect free agency and that is what Camarena did. The Cubs will hopefully benefit from that.

Sometimes, I can be quite blunt. Right now is one of those instances. A lot of the pitchers the Cubs signed this winter don’t have much of a chance to make the 25 man roster in Chicago or even be stashed at AAA Iowa. The Cubs are taking a gamble that some magic can happen with either Jim Hickey or Jim Benedict (the pitching whisperer) during spring training. Don’t be counting on Dario Alvarez or Alberto Baldonado to be trotting out of the bullpen this summer, let alone dancing on camera. The odds are just not in their favor. 

However, I could see lefty Randy Rosario ending up in Iowa for some bullpen depth. And Kyle Ryan, who was decent for Detroit out of the bullpen in 2015 and 2016, could also work out his issues in Des Moines and return to the show. Both are nice lefty bullpen options that could be worth keeping.

Baseball Cards

It was a banner week for making baseball cards as I had time to scour the Internet for more pictures. It turned out to be a bonanza of new pics and a nice crop of new cards. Before spring training begins, I will do a best of list for the second half of the offseason. There are a few cards I think that turned out to be classics. Go to the Facebook account to check out the album.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

More Thoughts on Mesa

This week, I kept thinking about how the second Mesa team in the Arizona Rookie League could create a whole juggernaut of players coming stateside that I did not foresee. I started to make a post about possible players who could be heading north. I had to stop myself when I got to two pages and still had 5 or 6 guys to go. I may turn that into 2 posts (hitters and pitchers) later this spring.

Before MiLB Spring Training Begins…

You might want to revisit two posts I did last fall. One is about who I see as possible breakout hitters in the Cubs system for 2018. The second examines some possible breakout pitchers for 2018.

Upcoming Posts

This week, come Wednesday, catcher Miguel Amaya gets profiled in the “Leveling Up” series. I am really enjoyed writing about the young backstop prospect. I also have two spring training previews for the major league camp and the minor league camp in the works. I am not sure when those will be published but I am leaning towards the 9th and the 16th, respectively.

Baseball Card of the Week

2021: It Could Be a Transformative Year for the Organization

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By Todd Johnson

The 2021 baseball season is going to be significant for a number of reasons. The first is that the Cubs currently do not have a starting pitcher signed for that year. Second, the contracts of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber all expire. And finally, the contracts of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod come to an end that fall. While not a perfect storm, the year is something of which to be wary in the future.

1. The Pitching Expiration
It’s not that the Cubs will be out of pitching in 2021, they just don’t have any current starters in the rotation signed for that year. Lester and Hendricks both conclude their obligations at the end of 2020 along with Tyler Chatwood and Quintana. Right now, Eddie Butler is under contract, but he is not a current starter, and the same holds true for Mike Montgomery. The Cubs will have plenty of minor league pitchers who could hopefully be ready by then. Adbert Alzolay, Thomas Hatch, Alex Lange, and Jose Albertos are four that come to mind along with the old standards of Duane Underwood, Trevor Clifton, and Oscar de la Cruz.

I am sure the Cubs will have at least one veteran pitcher signed through 2022 by the end of the season in 2018. Whether that is Darvish or Arrieta, or even someone they acquire midseason, that option is still up in the air. It helps to explain why the Cubs have been reticent to commit themselves to an agreement of that tenure.

2. So Much for That Core
The only position players currently under contract for 2022 are Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Willson Contreras. It’s pretty scary to think of the Cubs’ All-Star infield just vanishing in one offseason. I could see all four players testing free agency with Baez and Rizzo possibly being the only ones who would sign an extension beforehand. It’s pretty evident that Bryant and Russell will try to make the most money as this will be their biggest contract of their career, especially with Scott Boras as their agent. And, really, who can blame them. The Cubs cannot sign them all.

There still are a lot of unknown factors that can happen between now and 2021-22 regarding the position players. For example, Jason Heyward’s no trade clause ends for a two-year period after this season. However, no team is going to absorb his contract unless there’s a marked improvement in his performance or the Cubs eat a large sum of that deal or throw in another prospect with him.

Add in the fact that the Cubs are definitely going to go after either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado next off-season. The Cubs have a unique opportunity to get a player in the prime of their career at just 26-years-old. Harper coming to the Cubs is not a given, although I do like their chances to get him. The question is, how long of a contract would Theo be willing to go in order to land either Harper or Machado? Whomever the Cubs sign could be the face of the franchise beyond 2021.

The Cubs’ current weakness in their minor-league system is the lack of elite level hitting talent. Over the past two summers, they traded away their most regarded prospects in Eloy Jimenez Gleyber Torres, Isaac Paredes, and Jeimer Candelario. 19-year-old outfielder Nelson Velasquez could develop into an elite player. Then again, he only has one season of rookie ball under his belt. There’s a lot of swing and miss in his hitting profile right now. On the other hand, that can be remedied with experience.

In between now and 2021, the Cubs have a chance to add a lot of talent through the draft and international free agency. In addition, those players will have plenty of time to develop before they are needed or are ready to play in the majors. This summer, for example, the Cubs will have 4 picks in the top 75 of the draft and some money to go after a top international free agent, something they haven’t been able to do since 2015.

3. The Braintrust

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The thought of Theo leaving is a bit disconcerting. Still, over the next four summers he is going to build a major-league team that is going to contend for a World Series championship year-in and year-out. While Theo, Jed, and Jason McLeod rebuilt the farm system once, they are in the process of doing it again.

In some ways, 2021 seems like an eternity away. But in baseball years, it’s not that far. Think back to four years ago when the Cubs just hired Rick Renteria to replace Dale Sveum as manager. In between a lot has happened and it went by very quickly. By 2021, a lot more could happen.

In the end, though, 2021 is just something to keep an eye on in the distance. There is no need to panic about the situation. No one is going anywhere for now. I, for one, am going to sit back and stay hopeful that 2018 is more like 2016.

One deal can change the franchise’s future. Maybe it comes in the next week, maybe this summer, or even this fall. Who knows what will happen? And that’s part of the fun.

Leveling Up Series: Alex Lange Has a Killer Curve and a Lot of Questions to Answer

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By Todd Johnson

With the 30th pick in the 2017 MLB draft, the Cubs selected pitcher Alex Lange from Louisiana State University. The number one starter for the Tigers, Lange came to the Cubs with what was considered to be the best curveball in the draft. He only got nine innings of work in last summer after pitching 130 innings for LSU. As a result, the Cubs just gave him a small taste of the minor-league life.

Heading into 2018, there are a lot of questions about Lange and just exactly who he is, what he will be doing, where he will be doing it, and how fast he can get to the next level?

After watching him pitch last year at LSU, and once on MiLB TV, I fell in love with his curve. That being said, Lange is not a fully formed prospect. He still needs to work on developing a third pitch that he can throw consistently for strikes. And, he has to put to rest any health issues as the Cubs discovered something wrong in his physical that resulted in a lower signing bonus. Still, it’s hard to deny the potential that he has.

Basic Info
6’3” 197 lbs.
Throws Right
22-years-old
1st Round 2017 Draft

Leveling Up
At the convention, I asked Jaron Madison, the Cubs farm system director, just exactly where the Cubs were planning on putting Lange to start the 2018 season. Madison did not hesitate in answering that question as he quickly quipped South Bend. I wonder if the experience and struggles of Thomas Hatch had at Myrtle Beach last year had anything to do with Madison’s quick response. Part of me thinks it did, while another part of me thinks that Lange has some things he needs to work on before he goes up to high class A Myrtle Beach.

Fangraphs speaks to Lange’s future here:

[…] evaluators had some concerns about Lange’s ability to pitch in a big-league rotation, requiring better fastball command and a yet-to-develop third pitch to project him as a starter. Lange used his curveball as a crutch at LSU and never developed feel for his changeup, though a source who saw him in the Northwest League, where Lange used his change more often, thought it had promising movement.

Aside from his curve, I really love Lange’s competitive nature on the mound. He is literally intensely into the game on every pitch. However, that intensity carries over into a violent delivery the Cubs could try and smooth out a bit. He is going to be very exciting to watch this year.

Another question that I have about Lange going forward is just exactly what his role is going to be. I’m pretty sure the Cubs are going to have him start on the mound at South Bend. That is the best way for him to work on developing a third pitch and for improving his fastball command. On the other hand, Lange could easily be a power reliever and his stuff that might tick up a bit coming out of the pen 2 to 3 times a week. I shudder to think of a minor-league hitter trying to get any solid contact against his curve. It could get ugly.

As a result, Lange’s future role is not written in stone. I  tend to think of his duality as a win-win for the Cubs. Right now, though, there’s no rush to get him to the majors as a fast track. It would be nice if he could advance through two levels a year, but I think expectations might need to be dampened until his changeup gets to where it needs to be first.

Position Breakdown Series – Lefty Starters Gaining Ground

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By Todd Johnson

The left-handed starter might be the most coveted of the Cubs’ prospects. The problem is they only have around 10. Ranking them is not that difficult. But then again, you never know what is going to happen to them from year to year.

Last year, I had Rob Zastryzny at number one and I thought for sure he was going to be in the bullpen in Chicago all year long and that didn’t happen. At number two, Ryan Kellogg struggled most of the year at Myrtle Beach after a dominating second half at South Bend in 2016. Jose Paulino came in at number three and fellow South Bend teammate Manny Rondon was at number four. Both struggled at low class A with Paulino rebounding some in the second half.
I had Bryan Hudson at number five last year despite struggling in 2016 at Eugene. I put Justin Steele at No. 6 despite his struggles the year before at South Bend.

Both pitchers changed quite a bit in 2017. I really liked the maturation I saw from Hudson in 2017. He turned into a ground ball machine. He’s not perfect yet, but he was vastly improved from 2016. He is still just 20 years old. As for Steele, He probably had the best year of anything Cubs’ lefty starting pitcher. However, he had TJS in late August.

What I thought would be an easy list this year is actually turning into something quite hard. You would think out of 10 arms that I can find five or six that I really like. After thinking about it, I wanted to get a Time Machine go to the middle of August, see how they did, then come back and pick them that way. That’s not gonna happen…

7. Didier Vargas is a Dominican summer league player who had some success last year. He doesn’t throw as hard as fellow teenager Danis Correa, but Vargas should do well in Mesa after posting a 0.99 ERA in 63.2 IP in the DSL in 2017.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

6. Brailyn Marquez – If this list was just on pure talent, he would be number one. If it was on command, he wouldn’t even be on the list. Part of Mesa’s championship team, Marquez can throw in the mid 90s with a killer curve. The problem Marquez has is that he has not got his control and command down yet. He can look like the greatest thing for two or three innings and then turn into a BP machine. In 44 IP, he whiffed 52 but gave up 50 hits.

5. Jose Paulino – He went from 75 IP to 123.2 IP between 2016 and 2017. In May and June, his ERAs for both of those months were over 6. He was put on leave for a week and moved to the bullpen to begin the second half. He got a second chance at starting in July where he put together a nice string of outings with a 2.28 ERA for the month, reminiscent of his outstanding 2016 at Eugene. In August, he made 6 starts with a 3.34 ERA. What I liked most about his year was that he went 6 or more innings 11 times in 22 starts, and 7 of those came in 11 starts in the second half. That bodes really well for 2018 and Myrtle Beach.

4. I don’t know what the plan is for Rob Zastryzny. He could be a starter, or he could be a reliever. Or, do the Cubs just want to maintain that flexibility with him? That has to be a difficult and challenging thing to deal with when you don’t know how they want you to be used. My guess is the Cubs will keep him stretched out in case of an emergency this year at Iowa.

3. Justin Steele – He’s not gonna play in 2018 but when he comes back in 2019, he will hopefully carry the approach he began at Myrtle Beach with him to AA Tennessee. He credits daily mental routines for his 2017 success and his aggressiveness on the mound was also a key factor. In 20 starts, he had a 2.82 ERA with 82 Ks in 98.2 IP. The other day, Steele tweeted that he has already begun throwing in his rehab. Now, I am beginning to wonder if he throws some in relief the second half of the year.

2. Bryan Hudson – I probably should’ve just given him a 1B distinction because his future looks mighty bright. Do not get hung up on what his ERA was last year (3.91) but I liked what I saw in his ability to get hitters out. He figured out he could get guys to beat the ball into the ground with his fastball just as well as he could with his killer curve/slider. I think performance wise he’s going to have the best year of these five in 2018. If you’re thinking down the road a few years, I think there’s a lot to look forward to there as well.

1. Brendon Little – If you’re talking about performance, 2017 is not going to rank too high in his professional career. He had some command issues in his debut at Eugene but he also showed a devastating curveball at times. The differentiation between his reported fastball in college and what he showed in Eugene was substantial. He threw 91-94 in college, topping out at 97. At Eugene, he was in the upper 80s and low 90s. What I like is that he could be is a power arm that I think the Cubs can work with and develop. He just turned 21. He came from a junior college program. He doesn’t have all the spit and polish of someone like Lange who spent three years in a major college program and pitched in the College World Series. Little is going to be a work in progress. But the end result in three or four years could be substantial. That’s what you have to focus on. As a fan, you cannot judge him and his future on six weeks in Eugene. You just can’t. He might be one of those guys the Cubs keep in extended spring training in April and May to work on some things before he goes to South Bend. I don’t see the Cubs rushing him through the system. The Cubs poured a lot of money into him and they’re going to do it right.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On
I’m not ready to give up on Manny Rondon. And like Hudson, Rondon may benefit from the environs of the Carolina League and be a bounce-back prospect just like Steele was in 2017. As for Ryan Kellogg, I’m pretty sure he’ll be at Tennessee in 2018 but I’m not so sure what role he is going to have.

Andres Bonalde missed all of 2017. The 6’6” lefty put together a great second half in the DSL in 2016. He had a 2.31 ERA in 7 second half starts including a 1.29 ERA in 4 August starts. I was saddened to see him miss last year. Now, I look forward to him coming back at Mesa in 2018. He is still just a 20-year-old.

The big question mark is Carson Sands. He underwent surgery last winter for elbow splints and returned in late July. He did some rehab starts in Mesa before joining South Bend where he struggled to find the plate, one of which I saw live at Beloit. After two terrible starts for South Bend, he was sent to Eugene. He only made one more start in the Northwest League before he was shut down for the year. You have to feel for the kid. At this point, I hope the problem is physical and can be remedied with rest and rehab. At this point, I do not have a destination for him in 2018.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part Two: The Top of the Heap

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By Todd Johnson


Last week, in part one, I talked about the depth of right-handed starting pitching in the system. That depth also could make my job harder to pick just six arms each month for all-star teams. If I was to rank all 34 right-handed starters, there would not be much of a difference between number 30 and 13.  However, in this article, the top six arms in the system set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.

6. Jen-Ho Tseng – For the second time in four years, he was named the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year. There probably won’t be a third. He’s pretty much ready. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. It will be interesting to see what role he gets in spring training. If he doesn’t make the 25 man in the pen, he will begin 2018 at Iowa as a starter.

5. Oscar De la Cruz – He did not pitch 50 innings last year. That’s a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched a 100 innings combined over the last two years. That is a huge concern. As a result, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has starter stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year, it was a shoulder strain, the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 and the Cubs yanked him from there. For 2018, there are a lot of questions that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.

4. Thomas Hatch – Year two should go much better. Maybe he was thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he did dominate as much as he struggled. At AA, his four pitch mix should play well if he can find the zone. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, he stayed healthy for the entire year, pitched 124 innings, and struck out 126. An interesting tidbit is that he only pitched beyond five innings just five times. AA will be a huge test to improve that efficiency.

3. Alex Lange – I love to watch him pitch. He has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. The problem is he needs a third pitch if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got in 9 innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors. As for where he will begin 2017, part of me hopes it is South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring. The other part of me hopes for Myrtle Beach to challenge him. Right now, I am leaning toward the former. This is one thing I would like to find out this weekend at the Convention.

2. Adbert Alzolay – He needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and if he ever gets a changeup figured out, he could be in Chicago quickly. He should make several starts with the big league club in Chicago during spring training. That should be fun.

1. Jose Albertos – I love everything about this kid. Ever since Eloy left, I labeled him as the Cubs top prospect. His 18-year-old-floor contains a 91-96 mph fastball, a wicked plus changeup, and a curve that still has some grip issues. If he gets the curve figured out, the sky’s the limit for his ceiling. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength. In 2016, he only got 4 in. Last year, he put in 60+ if you include extended spring training. This year, 100 should be the goal and 120-130 in 2019 making him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.

More names to watch
Jesus Camargo – I love his changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year. Plus changeup.
Alec Mills – I need to see more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada – He’s young, moldable, and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the 6th round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark – 2018 should be a good year for him as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid 90s. In August, he destroyed the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal – After missing all of 2017, he should be back at Tennessee and the long, lanky righty will get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno – If he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When he and his plus curve are on, he’s very good. When he’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson – Last year was a comeback year for the 2017 draft pick from Auburn and now he should be set free from day one with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen – He didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low to mid 90s in somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada – He was the hottest Cub pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year. I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King – He was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend to start 2018. He struck out 28 in 22 innings and made 4 starts for the Rookie League champs.

Next week’s breakdown post returns on Friday as I examine left-handed starters.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part 1: It’s A Crowded Field Filled with Promise

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By Todd Johnson

If you look at any Cubs prospect list of the past two months, most of the top 10 prospects are right-handed starting pitchers. It is the deepest part of the Cubs system and should begin producing arms for the majors in the next year or two. In both the 2016 and 2017 MLB Drafts, the Cubs targeted starting pitching, more specifically, starting college pitching. In addition, the Cubs mined the Mexican international free agent market which is producing quality arms who could be just a couple years away. Considering that most of the Cubs’ actual major league starting pitchers are signed through 2020, the Cubs still have time to get these prospects developed. They don’t have to be rushed.

There are 46 starting pitching slots in the Cubs minor league system. 34 of those 46 are right-handed. That is an overwhelming number. Here are last year’s top ranked right-handed starters.
11. Jake Stinnett
10. Preston Morrison
9. Erling Moreno
8. Bailey Clark
7. Ryan Williams
6. Zach Hedges
5. Jose Albertos
4. Thomas Hatch
3. Trevor Clifton
2. Oscar de la Cruz
1. Dylan Cease

What a difference a year made. Injuries, sub-par performances, late starts, trades, moving to reliever, rising prospects, and a host of other reasons derailed most of this list in 2017. Only Jose Albertos had a good year. Then again, Adbert Alzolay shot past almost everyone of them. Now, add in all the arms the Cubs took in the past two drafts and it is a quandry to pick only 12 for this list.

I have a feeling that if I ranked these arms every month of 2018, a dramatic fluctuation would occur monthly. Names like Jeremiah Estrada, Erich Uelmen, Keegan Thompson, Kyle Miller, Erling Moreno, Bailey Clark, Zach Hedges, and Erick Leal could make the decision process very difficult for me. I can hardly imagine how hard it is going to be just to pick 6 for the monthly all-star teams this year. Right now, there’s not a lot of differentiation of talent between them. It will have to be about performance this year for a pitcher to separate themselves from the pack..

Numbers 12-7
12. Michael Rucker – He began 2017 as a reliever at South Bend and was dominating. He got promoted to Myrtle Beach and did the same. An injury to Oscar de la Cruz opened the door for Rucker to start and Michael never looked back. His ability to throw 2/3 of his pitches for strikes helps. I don’t know if he will stay a starter this year, but he looks to have a future regardless. AA will be a tough test for him.

11. Duncan Robinson – I really like this guy. He was in the bullpen in April for South Bend and staring in May. He finished the year at Myrtle Beach showing an impressive ability to adapt as he put up a 1.80 ERA in 4 August starts. At 6’6”, he has the frame to withstand the innings needed and intellectual intangibles needed to make it to Chicago. AA is going to tell just how good his curve, cutter, change, and fastball are. I would not be surprised to see him add a fifth pitch this offseason.

10. Javier Assad – After Adbert Alzolay, no pitcher improved as much as Assad did last year. He began the year a bit wild but was throwing mid 90s with control by the end of the year. His fastball quit tailing up and in and he was putting hitters away as he struck out 72 in 66 innings. He will be at South Bend in 2018. He needs to continue improving at each step. Outside of Albertos, he is the pitcher I look forward to the most at South Bend.

9. Cory Abbott – I love his makeup but I also was surprised at how big he is on the mound. He made 3-inning starts for Eugene last year and I was impressed with his work over just 14 innings. He whiffed 18 and his slider looks good. When he gets unleashed in 2018, he could be a breakout arm just a year after being drafted.

8. Trevor Clifton – 2017 was a tale of two halves. First half – All-Star. Second half, not so much. I thought for sure he was headed to Iowa in June after putting up a 2.84 ERA in 66 innings at Tennessee. If there is one thing I like about this kid it is that he will out work anyone. He will be back in 2018 and he will make adjustments. Not every path to the majors is a straight line. Sometimes, there’s a bump in the road. I remember a young arms several years ago who fans thought was washed up as a prospect after posting a 4+ ERA at AA. Sonny Gray turned out OK.

7. Duane Underwood – There were times last year that Duane Underwood of 2017 looked like Duane Underwood of 2014-2015. The velocity was there. From the middle of July to the end of August, he looked studly as he finished a season of 130+ innings healthy. As the year went on, his innings increased and his walks decreased. In fact, his was walk rate was cut in half from .475/inning in May to .27/inning in August. I am really looking forward to seeing him get back at it in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see any of these arms become one of the top six quickly. I really like Assad and I like Bailey Clark, who did not make this list. Regardless of what their name is, the Cubs have a plethora of arms who are going to have to dominate to get themselves noticed in a crowded field.

I will be back next week with the top 6 (It will be on Thursday due to the Convention) and a list of arms to keep an eye on next summer.