Cubs Pitching

Alex Lange Thundered Away at Oregon State and Looked Amazing

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By Todd Johnson

Photo – Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

 

About a year ago, I sat down and watched recent Cubs draft pick Thomas Hatch of Oklahoma State throw in the College World Series. Today, I did the same with Alex Lange. The Cubs selected Lange with the 30th selection in the 2017 MLB Draft. The 6’3” 197 lb. right hander from Louisiana State University (LSU) faced off against Oregon State, the number one team in the nation. For LSU, it was win or go home. For Lange, he did not disappoint.

In 7.1 IP, Lange looked dominant at times, frustrated, and even vulnerable at one point. He struck out 8, allowed one run, but walked 4 (3 in one inning) while only giving up only 2 doubles on the day. He needed 115 pitches to get it done as his team came away with a 3-1 victory. I came away impressed, extremely impressed in fact, with Lange.

Strengths
Extra plus curve (MLB ready)
Fastball Command
Repeats delivery well
Hitters were 0-20 with the bases loaded against him

Areas of Concern
Effort in Delivery
Pitching from the stretch
Third pitch

From a technical standpoint, he does have some effort in his delivery. He has a medium leg kick that brings his knee and thigh perpendicular to his waist. He comes right over the top at about a 7/8 arm slot. The effort comes on his extension of his arm as it comes forward. He did pitch fairly quickly and did not waste time in between pitches. He just gets the ball, nods his head, and throws. He sat 91 most of the day, topping out at 93 a few times. On his 112th pitch, he reached back and got it up to 93 for his 8th K of the day.

For the first two innings, he looked extremely sharp. Using only 23 pitches, he moved the ball around the zone quite a bit. A pop up here, a ground out there, and 2 Ks later, the third inning awaited.

I think rough best describes Lange’s performance in the third inning. He threw a changeup for the first time. It was not pretty. Otherwise, he looked normal as he was sitting 93 to begin the inning. After a strikeout to start the inning, he gave up a double and three walks. Luckily, Lange was able to pitch around his walks, but he did so giving up one run.

The troubles started after a double and Lange was forced to go to the stretch. He did not look prepared to do so. He fell behind the first hitter 2-0. He was throwing high, then wide. It was almost as if his release point was way off. To me, he appeared to be flying open. His arm was not keeping up with the rest of his body in the delivery and the ball sailed. It took him 31 pitches to survive the inning.

Lange sat at 56 pitches after three innings. I don’t know who that pitcher was in the third, but he did not show up the rest of the day. The next four innings looked like it was a man against boys. From the windup, he shut down the vaunted #1 team in the nation.

Oregon State never did pull a ball for a hit all day. In fact, both hits were from the left and sliced down the left field line. If anybody did pull the ball, it was a ground out.

Two things impressed me a lot in Lange’s 4.1 inning run.
1. He began to paint the outside corner with fastball after fastball. It was pinpoint command and if a hitter tried to go get it, they could not do much with it.
2. His curved reminded me of Josh Beckett’s. It has that classic 12-6 roll of the table look. I don’t know how a hitter can get to it as the break is down and deep. All they could do is to pound it into the dirt as the angle of descent is steep.

And I was not the only one impressed on the day. Baseball America’s Michael Lananna echoed my sentiments on Lange’s performance.

After 7 innings, Lange had thrown 112 pitches. I was not surprised he came back out in the 8th, but I was cringing the whole time. He got the first batter to ground out and he was lifted. I was quite relieved.

Overall, I think once he signs, he will not pitch the rest of the year. He’s over 120 IP now. Lange will probably do the “Hatch” thing and travel around with the team as a non-playing member of the team to get acclimated to the MiLB lifestyle.

As for next year, I am sure the Cubs will make a few adjustments to his delivery and they could even include a slide step as he does have a bit of a leg kick even in the stretch. He won’t be much different. I don’t think it should take him long next year to move either. He’s likely to be a #3 or #4 type starter very quickly. His curve is a thing of beauty. The Cubs got a good one in Lange.

Cubs Breakout Prospects for the First Half Flash MLB Potential

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By Todd Johnson

Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.

Hitters
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.

Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.

Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.

Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).

Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.

Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.

Pitchers

Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.

Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.

Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.

Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.

Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.

Breakout Player of the First Half


Adbert Alzolay
– He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.

Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.

On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.

With 100 Games to Go, There Is Still Hope

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By Todd Johnson

Hope is a powerful thing.

Right now there is not a lot of it at the major-league level for the Cubs. With 100 games to go, they are mired in mediocrity. Throughout the rest of the organization, hope is everywhere. The MLB draft this week will see the Cubs select 40 new players including two in the first round. Three of the Cubs affiliates are in the hunt for playoff spots this week as their seasons wrap up on Sunday the 18th. And, you can also add in that short season Eugene and rookie league Mesa begin play this week.

But in Chicago…

As I wrote in my recap of the Cubs win today vs. Colorado at BP Wrigleyville, there’s not one place you can point the finger at as to why the Cubs are not achieving. You can’t. Every aspect of the team has been lacking.  Luckily, they have the rest of the summer to fix their offense, defense, and pitching.

Playing into November brought the Cubs a World Series championship. However, there have been several side effects of that run. It has taken its toll on the starting pitching. The starting pitching ERA is two runs higher than it was a year ago. That’s hard to overcome. In the next two months I expect the Cubs to make a deal for at least one starting pitcher to finish this year, and I see them picking up an additional arm in a prospect for prospect deal.    

Coming into the year, I thought the bullpen would be the weakness of this team. Instead, Wade Davis has been unbelievable as the closer. Carl Edwards, Jr. is a breath of fresh air as has been the Koji Uehara. Sure there have been problems with Grimm, but I think those have been straightened out. I think there is still some (but not much) tinkering left to do as the trade deadline draws near.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, baseball and textAs for the offense, not much has gone right. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jason Heyward seem to be pretty stable. The rest of the team is been a straight up dumpster fire most days. At this point, I don’t even want to look at or even type any of their offensive statistics despite four timely home runs today.

The season is far from over and I still have hope. But it’s not going to change overnight. It could take a while to right the ship.

To be quite frank, I don’t think this gets fixed until after the All-Star break. That means another 3 to 4 weeks of ups and downs. I think those four days off in July should be the difference in the season.

In retrospect, this season is isn’t that much different from the 2015 season where the Cubs just poured it on in the second half to get to 97 wins. I don’t think they can get to 97 this year, but they can win the division.    

The schedule in the second half suits the Cubs much better and should provide for a run. That’s what I am hoping for. And, I think it will happen. Right now, it may be ugly to watch, but I think they will come out the other side.

A Saturday Six Pack – Things to Look Forward to in June

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By Todd Johnson

The six pack moved to Saturday this week to make room for some end of the month stuff. Now that May is done, it is time to look forward to June. The first half of the minor league season ends in two weeks while the major league season just begins to crank into gear.

Here are 6 things I am going to look forward to in June.

1. Starting Pitching
When I think of the troubles of the Cubs first third of the season, starting pitching stands out to me. Yes, it’s true, the hitting needs to improve, but when you’re giving up 5-6 runs a game, that is hard to overcome. I think handling this issue has to be done in a very deft manner. I say that because you have to balance winning this season and winning beyond this season. I am OK with Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks. I am not a fan of John Lackey. While Eddie Butler has caught my eye, he is more an answer to the second question than the first. Where does that leave the Cubs? Do they need to go out and get two starters for this season? Do they need to get just one for this season and the postseason? Or, do they just think about acquiring long term starters who they hope will work out for just this year? Hopefully, we will have the answer in less than four weeks.

2. Trades
I have never been one to be big on speculating trades. While I am sure one is coming for a pitcher, I am pretty sure that the Cubs are going to be rely on their own prospects to fill position player roles. But here’s the thing – if Theo and Jed see a player they think can help them win the championship, they are going to go out and get that player regardless of whether he is a pitcher or a position player. Keep that in the back of your mind.

3. Trey Martin/Dylan Cease
I really like Trey Martin. I think he is an underrated prospect, maybe the most underrated in the Cubs system. He is an outstanding defender who covers as much ground as anyone in all of baseball in the outfield. As a hitter, while his growth has been slow, he has improved at every level. He got off to a sizzling start at Tennessee in April before a hamstring injury sidelined him after 8 games. He should be back this week and be a key cog in helping Tennessee get to the first half title. I hope to see Dylan Cease very soon, too. It’s been about 10 days since his ankle injury and I am ready for him to come back and anchor the staff at South Bend as they try to capture a spot in the postseason.

4. Eugene and Mesa
While the Dominican Summer League begins today, Eugene and Mesa are less than two weeks away. I love the late-night action that Eugene provides as usually they’re the only game going past 9 o’clock central. I am also looking forward to watching the Mexican connection of Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, and Jesus Camargo pitching for the Emeralds. In addition, I am excited about seeing Joe Martarano debut as a full-time Cub. And, throw in one of my favorite prospects, Delvin Zinn, who should be ready to go after an injury in extended spring training. Then there’s Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan, two 2015 international free agents, who will be making their stateside debuts. It should be an exciting beginning as Eugene tries to capture back-to-back championships.

5. The Draft
There are nine days to go. On Monday I’ll have a post about some risers and fallers. There will be six more names for you to know. I will have wall-to-wall coverage for you each day of the draft. After the draft is complete, I will, with the help of @WesSaver, have when each draftee signs.

6. Cubs Still in Play for IFA Despite Penalties
Ben Badler of Baseball America published an article this week that talked about how the Cubs are in on another top young player from Mexico, pitcher Florencio Serrano. The Cubs can only spend $300,000 max for a signing bonus this year. But because a portion of a bonus for a Mexican player goes to the team, the Cubs can technically spend a little bit more than their limit. A few weeks ago the Cubs were also said to be in the running Luis Verdugo, a young Mexican shortstop.

Check back tomorrow morning for “The Weekly.” I’ll have a recap of  2/3 of the Cubs/Cards series, some news on the DSL, and our players of the week!

The May All-Star Team Breaks Precedence with 8 Starting Pitchers

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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…

Team Breakdown
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.

The Weekly: A Few Thoughts on Pitching as June Inches Closer

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By Todd Johnson

Over the past five years, Theo and Jed have always struck early in the trade market. I don’t know if I see that happening this year. I think the Cubs will wait to see how much things cost before they go all in the water. A new and improved fourth starter could lengthen the rotation quite a bit and make them more formidable in the postseason. Eddie Butler did well this week in his bid to stay in Chicago. I don’t know if the Cubs are going to  rely on Butler to be that player. I wouldn’t think so. However, it’s a long wait between now and the end of July when the trade deadline ends.

Down in Des Moines, the Cubs DFA’d Jake Buchanan. He was promptly picked up on the waiver wire by the Reds. The I-Cubs have been hit by pitching injuries again this year. Juan Paniagua made two short starts in the past week. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to continue doing that with relievers as Steve Perakslis also made a start. With Tennessee in first place, I don’t think anybody’s going to be coming up soon from AA.

670 the Score’s Bruce Levine got everybody talking this weekend about the possibility of bringing back Jeff Samardzija as a fifth starter. Jeff is owed $66 million over the next three years and his ERA has been near five since he left the Cubs in the trade for Addison Russell. Although Samardzija did do his best work with pitching coach Chris Bosio, I don’t think he is the best pitcher the Cubs could get on the market this summer. I like that Jeff wants to win, I just don’t think his stuff is good enough to do so. You don’t get a 5+ ERA by accident.

While I trust Theo to go out and make the best deal, I think the deal to get a new pitcher is going to be balanced between winning in the present and not giving up too much for the future.

Coming up at Cubs Central
I think June is my favorite month to write and to cover the Cubs’ system. There is the covering of the major league draft over three days. Three of the four affiliates finish the first half on June 18 and have their All-Star game on the 20th. I publish the first half All-Star team and break out players of the first half and do predictions of both for the second half. Four New affiliates start playing in Mesa, Eugene, and the Dominican Republic. And, as always, there is player development.

Around the System This Week
Iowa: 3-4; 22-26 – They seem to be running out of starters. Then again, Jeimer came back and began hitting as soon as he touched down in Iowa.

Tennessee: 5-1; 29-19 – Zoomed into first place behind excellent starting pitching and Jeffrey Baez who has been on a tear this month. Both Trevor Clifton and Preston Morrison have ERAs under two for the month of May.

Myrtle Beach: 5-2;  27-23 – Daniel Spingola and Justin Steele are playing great! This Eloy guy is doing OK when he is healthy. Oscar de la Cruz struck out ten on Thursday night and Adbert Alzolay keeps rolling along.

South Bend: 4-3; 28 -18  – They need some consistent starting pitchers. Jose Paulino and Manny Rondon struggled most of May. Duncan Robinson is ray of hope and it looks like Dylan Cease will be back very shortly. Tyler Peyton got his first start of the year last night and gave up 2 in 4 IP. 

Extended Spring Training – Joe Martarano got on base five times on Friday. He seems to be picking up the hitting thing after missing all of 2016. There are only three weeks until spring training ends and the players get divided up between Mesa and Eugene.Remember the name Miguel Amaya. He will be a fast riser on the Prospect Lists this summer. He’s an 18 year catcher who can do it defensively and offensively. Javier Assad is a pitcher who has been near dominant in the box scores this spring as well.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Cubs Insider
Duncan Robinson
Bryan Hudson
Alex Scherff

BP Wrigleyville
Grading the 2016 Draft

Profile Update: Preston Morrison Starting to Turn It Back On

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By Todd Johnson

One should never judge Preston Morrison by his performances in April. Last year at South Bend, his April ERA was 6.11. He turned it around in May with a 2.66 ERA and followed that up in June at 0.83. This year, his April ERA was 5.59 and his May ERA is all the way down to 2.50.

In between Aprils, Morrison was one of the best pitchers in the Cubs’ System in 2016. He was promoted mid season to Myrtle Beach again. Morrison had a 1.77 ERA in six starts as a Pelican.

Basic Info
Bats/Throws: R/R
Ht: 6′ 2″ Wt: 185
Draft: Round 8
School: Texas Christian

Strengths
4 pitches
Control
Strategy
Movement

Concerns
Lack of Velocity
Command early in the year

Heading into 2017
I don’t know if concern is the right word, but I was pretty interested in seeing how Morrison’s repertoire faced against AA pitching. He has four pitches he can throw for strikes out of the same arm slot

When facing Morrison, most hitters see what looks to be the same type of pitch from an almost ½ arm slot that can go four different ways. His fastball sits 88-90 and has a nice side arm run into a right-handed hitter. His curve comes in a little slower with 12 to 6 action. The slider has more of a 2 to 9 movement that frustrates left-handed hitters.

Because of the lack of velocity, I often wondered how AA hitters would react against his “whiffle ball” arsenal. Just like last year, Morrison adapted very well at each level. I expect him to continue adapting the next couple months.

He is only 23 and I think the Cubs would like him to pitch between 120 to 133 innings at Tennessee unless he is completely dominating by the middle of July.

He is never going to be considered to be an elite prospect. But I still think he can be a very good pitcher and pro if he continues to adapt as he goes through the system. It is fun to watch him pitch.as he has such great movement on his pitches.

Even though he has struggled a bit earlier this year, opponents are only betting .221 against him. His home rate is quite high compared to other years, but at 1.21/9 innings, it is slowly coming down from April. If his command is off just a little bit, he gets lit up.

Going Forward
His walk rate is the most glaring statistic compared to other years. Last year he walked 33 all season; this year he is already at 14 after just 37.1 innings. That ratio has to shrink from 3+ per every nine innings fairly quickly. I think that is how we are going to measure his success in 2017.

I don’t think he has to have perfect command to succeed, but with four pitches between 78 to 90 mph, he has to have close to excellent. Anything up in the zone becomes BP in AA, but when he is in control, most hitters get extremely frustrated as the ball moves and darts at his will.