For the second straight year, manager Marty Pevey had to assemble a starting rotation made out of spare parts until August. Injuries and promotions at both the major and minor league levels cut his starting rotation short. The I-Cubs did have a potent offense led by the Cubs minor league player of the year, Victor Caratini. Starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng put together the best half by a pitcher in AAA since Kyle Hendricks was there.
The Iowa Cubs are still producing prospects to help Chicago every year. This year we saw, in addition to Caratini and Jen-Ho, Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Dillon Maples, and several relief pitchers help out the big club in some capacity. I expect more prospects will help out again in 2018, likely they will be just in bench roles. I don’t see anyone with the everyday playing career path of Ian Happ in the upper parts of the pipeline. Caratini looks to make the 25 man roster in Chicago next spring but just as the backup catcher. I am curious as to what the plans for Mark Zagunis are as he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA.
Here are seven things to know about the 2017 Iowa Cubs.
1. Bijan Rademacher had the quietest best second half of any prospect in the system. I was a little surprised he wasn’t named the July player of the month as he hit almost .400. He can play all three outfield positions and I think he has one of the best outfield arms after Eddy Martinez. The issue is that he doesn’t project to be anything other than a fourth outfielder. Then again, he hasn’t really been given the chance to show that he can be something else. He has begun to hit for more power and I like what he can do at the plate. He can hit for average and he knows how to work an at bat.
2. I would not be surprised to see the big league club continue to clean house again at Iowa. The 2017 roster at Iowa only had a few position players that might project to make it to Chicago. Most of the roster were journeyman players looking for one more opportunity to get back to the big leagues. With Tennessee sending anywhere between 6 and 9 position players to Iowa next year, I don’t think there are going to be too many roster spots available for any player or prospect nearing 27 years of age. Already, Jake Hannemann, Pierce Johnson, and Felix Pena have new homes for 2018. I don’t know if John Andreoli will be back again either.
3. I still believe in Chesny Young despite his up-and-down year. I think that he has some adjusting to do at this level and I’m confident that he will do well in his second go around at AAA in 2018.
4. Unless Eddie Butler can add some sort of out pitch, I don’t know if he’s going to be anything more than a fill-in at the major-league level. He had his moments this year in Chicago, but he never went much beyond five innings. He needs to be more efficient to get outs quickly and go deeper into games.
5. I am still pulling for Ryan Williams to make it. I just like the kid. He has a bulldog mentality that I love. However, after basically missing two full seasons, I wonder if returning to the bullpen might be best for his long term health. In 2018, we will see.
6. Dillon Maples is going to be close to making the Chicago Cubs 25 man roster next spring. I like the fact that he’s going to get more instruction from big league coaches that will only enhance his chances.
7. For me, the highlights of the year were the second halves of Jen-Ho Tseng (1.80 ERA) and Taylor Davis (.297 avg with 62 RBI). I am glad Davis got the call to make it to Chicago. His story is a tale of perseverance and he is an outstanding teammate and hitter that I think can play somewhere in the majors. I don’t know if Tseng will be given a true opportunity to pitch in the big leagues next year but he should get a few starts with the club in spring training. A lot of his future is tied to what the Cubs do to add starting pitching this offseason.
What to Watch for in 2018
There are going to be at least six position players from Tennessee who should start in Iowa next year. I think many will benefit from playing in the Pacific Coast League but none more than catcher Ian Rice. If you dismiss his batting average and just look at his power numbers and on base percentage, you begin to see his value and how much greater he is than his fellow prospects (17 HRs, .353 OBP). I think he is really going to benefit from playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League more than any other prospect in 2018.
Jason Vosler will also benefit from playing in such environs. After a poor second half, Vosler should look to recapture what made his first half so fantastic in 2017. In the first half, he hit at a .274/.375/.521 clip with 13 HRs and 49 RBI. In addition, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Trey Martin, and Charcer Burks should be starting everyday in Des Moines next summer.
Remember the name Adbert Alzolay. Out of all the prospects at Tennessee, I think he might be the most ready for Chicago. Even though he is currently a starting pitcher, I can see him coming out of the bullpen in Chicago as early as the middle of next summer. With a fastball that sits 95-97, there’s a lot to like.
By Todd Johnson
The first half of the week was rather dull in the Cubs universe due to the MLB All-Star Game. Then, things exploded on Thursday with the Jose Quintana trade. The trade was soon followed with promotions from Eugene to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. I changed my Top 21 List and wondered who was left that the Cubs could trade for other needs for this year and beyond. I christened a new number one prospect in Jose Albertos (for now). Meanwhile, Dillon Maples and Jen-Ho Tseng made their way onto MLB.com’s Top 30 Prospect list in place of Eloy and Dylan Cease.
Then, on Friday night, Sonny Gray was reported to be scratched for his start, and then he went out and pitched a great game against the Indians raising his stock and the likely asking price. There are just 15 days left of the trade deadline left and I am pretty sure the Cubs are going to go out and get a few more players, but I don’t know if they will be big names.
On Saturday morning, Cubs V-P Jason McLeod was on 670 the Score’s “Hit and Run” for about 20 minutes. It was interesting listening to him talk about rebuilding the farm system after the trade. He said he was having a conversation with someone and said that the Cubs needed to go out next year and “sign some position players.” McLeod used the word “ludicrous” to describe how he thought about his own statement after years of dominating that market.
McLeod said that he and his staff are pretty excited about some young Latin players in the lower parts of the system. He also talked at length about the pitching the Cubs have in the minors. While he didn’t mention a lot of names, McLeod is very encouraged by their performances. On Thursday, I wrote about these same things.
As a result of the trade, there was a lot of movement in the minors.
To Myrtle Beach – Vimael Machin, Roberto Caro
To South Bend – Joe Martarano
Draft Pick Debuts This Week
Eugene – P Ricky Tyler Thomas, P Casey Ryan, P Jake Steffens, P Brian Glowicki, OF Brandon Hughes, and 2B Jared Young
Mesa – 3B Ramsey Romano, OF Chris Singleton, OF Chris Carrier, P Rollie Lacy, P Mitch Stophel, P Brendan King, P Ben Hecht, P Braxton Light, and P Jeffrey Passantino
Still Not Rostered – Pitchers Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Jeremiah Estrada, Peyton Remy, Sean Barry, Brady Miller, and OF Nelson Velazquez along with SS Luis Vazquez.
Coming Up on Cubs Central
My brain began to shift towards teaching this week. I usually start planning big idea stuff for the year shortly after July 4. As a result, my mind has been a little preoccupied. For a while, I did not have posts in the que for this next week. Thankfully, Jose Albertos made another start and I will be back with an article about that outing, hopefully tomorrow. On Monday, in the late afternoon, I will be doing a phone interview with Myrtle Beach pitcher Dakota Mekkes. I have some very exciting questions to ask him about his daily routine and the differences in levels.
I have also been busy making a lot of cards. It is going to be tough in a couple of weeks to just pick ten, and then one as the card of the month. You can find them on the Facebook page here.
Around the Minors This Week
I started assembling and culling statistics this week in preparation for the July All-Star team. It looks like there are going to be a lot of new faces this month. There are still 15 days left, but there are some interesting trends happening with Eddy Martinez, Luis Ayala, Zack Short, Vimael Machin, Isaac Paredes, and Yasiel Balaguert at the plate. On the mound, it is still a free-for-all as consistency from start to start seems to be an issue. Right now, Jose Paulino and Preston Morrison have been outstanding.
Iowa: 1-0; 42-48 – It was their All-Star Break this week and was soon followed by rain and more rain. For the second half, keep an eye on Matt Carasiti. The Cubs picked up the reliever in exchange for Zac Rosscup. He got the save in the AAA All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
Tennessee: 5-2; 14-9 – All of a sudden, the Smokies are in the lead for a playoff spot even though they aren’t in first. Since Chattanooga, who won the first half, is again in the lead, the Smokies have a 1.5 game lead for the second spot by virtue of having the second best record for the year.
Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 8-13 – They have gone from first to worst this half. Losing Alzolay to Tennessee will hurt, but so will losing Bryant Flete, Matt Rose, and Eloy. Still, they already have a spot wrapped up in the playoffs after winning the first half. Zack Short has responded well at this level, especially after being moved to the leadoff spot.
South Bend: 3-2; 10-12 – They can go only as far as the pitching will take them. Their hitting has been, for lack of a better phrase, “hit or miss” this half. They can score ten runs just as easily as two. They are extremely young and have a lot of potential on the roster. It is good to see Jose Paulino returning to starting and doing well.
Eugene: 4-2; 17-13 – They were on the road this week and getting some timely hits along with some help from what has turned into a college bullpen. Their first half ends next Sunday, the 23rd. Currently, they are in first place one game ahead of Hillsboro and Boise.
Mesa: 0-5, 5-12 – The bullpen on this team has been outstanding. The starting pitching has not which explains the rough week. Rob Zastryzny and Jake Stinnett made appearances last night as part of their rehab.
The DSL had their All-Star Game on Saturday. Three Cubs represented the organization. Pitchers Yovanny Cruz and Didier Vargas along with OF Fernando Kelli were in uniform yesterday for the National League.
DSL 1: 4-1; 19-17 – They are now getting some starting pitching to go with their heavy hitting lineup and are now just 4 games back in their division.
DSL 2: 3-2; 19-17 – Alonso Gaitan and Orian Nunez might be the best 1-2 punch in the system but they are not getting a lot of help hitting. This is still a team built with excellent starting pitching. Several of the starters should be in fall instructs and a couple might make it to Mesa before the end of August. Remember the names – Jesus Tejada, Didier Vargas, and Emilio Ferrebus.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
You wouldn’t think that trading two of your top prospects would gut your farm system. But for the Cubs today, it did rip a pretty good gash in the system. Eloy Jimenez was the top ranked hitter and Dylan Cease was the top ranked pitcher. Combined, they were the only two prospects the Cubs had in Baseball America’s Top 100. Jeimer Candelario is the only Cub that remains on MLB.com’s Pipeline Top 100. That’s a drastic change from 2013-2014 when the Cubs had as many as 6 prospects in the list.
However, the Cubs farm system will be fine in the long run.
The organization can be rebuilt quickly. Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod did it once, they can do it again. Next year, they have the regular draft, likely 1-2 comp picks, and international free agency restrictions will be lifted. You can be assured the Cubs will attack acquiring talent in several means. In fact, the system is just beginning a quiet rebuild with the 2015 international free agent class hitting these shores, many of them at just 18 years-old.
Some of them are just blossoming in the states. Names like Jose Albertos, Miguel Amaya, Isaac Paredes, Johnathan Sierra, Aramis Ademan, and Brailyn Marquez could become household names in the next two years as they mature. John Arguello of 2080 Baseball wrote an excellent piece on the depth of the Cubs’ cull that year. I think that the group will be the foundation of the system the next three years.
But when it comes to now, just who exactly moves up the prospect lists in the void left the trade of Jimenez and Cease? MLB.com listed Jeimer Candelario as the new top prospect. I don’t think that he is. Sure, he’s a good player with value, but I think there others who project much higher.
Here are the top 5 names after Jeimer that could assume the mantle of the Cubs’ Top Prospect in the next two summers.
Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 18
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He skipped rookie ball and is playing in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system. The bat is slowly coming around and has more pop than first thought. In July, he’s hitting over .300 and improving rapidly on offense.
Trevor Clifton – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018/2019
He was pretty consistent in April and May and hit a bit of a bump after the All-Star break. 2017 was easily his best start in his career. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently. He is pitching tonight for Tennessee.
Tom Hatch – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
Adbert Alzolay – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2018
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc. In his AA Tennessee debut, he announced his presence with authority by striking out 10. I could see him as a back-end starter, but he would be dynamite as a reliever topping out near 100.
Jose Albertos – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – 97 mph fastball, command
ETA – 2020
The young 18-year-old out of Mexico throws between 95-97. He has elite command of his fastball and employs a plus changeup. The curve, when developed, will give him three plus pitches.The ball just flies out of his hand. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him pitch (last Sunday). He is just deadly with the fastball. He is extremely advanced for his age.
While this list is pitching heavy, expect that to be the trend. The Cubs have a lot of good arms who should be arriving in Chicago in 2018 and 2019. It’s not about the hitters anymore.
To see my updated Top 21 List, click here.
By Todd Johnson
The first half of the major league season concludes today. With an underwhelming record of 43-44, the Cubs are not in a free fall, but Theo Epstein was everywhere this week commenting on the state of the Cubs. While not necessarily damage control, it sure came across as such. Whether it was a press junk Thursday or appearing on Speigel and Parkins on the Score on Friday, Theo put forth the company line.
Here are a few excerpts from the two days.
- To pull ourselves out of it, we just need to play better.
- Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will, but our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that’s largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years.
- There’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.
- Guys need to continue the growth they’ve shown in previous years and get ourselves out of some of the disappointing performances that we’ve had so far. It’s as simple as that. The answer is not going to be with some crazy trades.
What does bode well for the Cubs in the second half is the Strength of Schedule. The Cubs have 74 games left to play after today. It is not a very strong schedule. Iin fact, in the second half, the Cubs only play teams with a +.500 record 21 times. 6 vs D’Backs, 10 vs Brewers, 3 vs the Nats, and 2 against the Rays. That’s just 3 games in July, 9 in August, and 9 in September. That is hopeful that the Cubs can make a run at both the Brewers and the Rockies.
July Series: Orioles, Braves, Cardinals, White Sox, Brewers
August Series: D’Backs, Nationals, Giants, D’Backs, Reds, Blue Jays, Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Braves
September: Braves, Pirates, Brewers, Mets, Cardinals, Rays, Brewers, Cardinals, Reds
Promotions and Movement
There were several minor league roster changes this week and I expect there to be even more next week as draft picks are assigned to a club. By rule, after the ink has dried, the Cubs have only 15 days to put the new Cub with a team.
To Iowa – P Jen-Ho Tseng, reliever Justin Hancock
To Tennessee – P Adbert Alzolay, P Zach Hedges
To Myrtle Beach – P Duncan Robinson, 3B Adonis Paula
To South Bend – 3B/1B/OF Joe Martarano for a few days, IF Austin Upshaw, C Tyler Payne, DJ Wilson
To Eugene – RP Casey Ryan. RP Brian Glowicki, RP Jacob Steffens, OF Brandon Hughes, 3B Austin Filiere, C Michael Cruz, 2B Jared Young, and IF Joe Martarano is back after a few days
More happenings will be coming this week as draft picks finish mini-camp.
The Draft Signing Period Ends
The Cubs officially signed a staggering 29 picks, the most in the Theo Era. The Cubs were able to ink first rounder Alex Lange, 6th round pitcher Jeremiah Estrada, and young Puerto Rican OF Nelson Velazquez on the last day. Here is the official list and who they signed are in bold. Later this week, I will be back with a post about who is where and how they are doing.
Other Posts Coming up this week on Cubs Central
Jose Albertos Debut in Eugene
Draft Pick Assignments
State of the Cubs Post: Dissecting Theo’s Remarks
Dylan Cease Review
A Top 21 List without Caratini
Around the Minors This Week
The Cubs named Thomas Hatch and Victor Caratini as the June Pitcher and Player of the Month. As a result, my streak of correctly matching with the Cubs ends. I had Bijan Rademacher as my hitter.
Iowa: 3-4; 38-48 – The bats went a bit silent this week. I did see the new guy, Carasiti, close. He looks like he could help as he throws in the mid-90s.
Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 6-10 – Eddy Martinez and Matt Rose are having great months and Dakota Mekkes still has not allowed an earned run at high A. The starting pitching that was so dominant in June has fallen off this month.
South Bend: 5-2; 7-10 – They look to be turning it around. The bats are waking up and Tyson Miller had his best outing of the year in a spot start against Dayton when he K’d 7. Draft pick Austin Usphaw looks like the real deal. If they can improve their defense and get somee stability in the bullpen, they could go on a run.
Eugene: 2-5 ; 13-11 – Tied for First
Lots of new bodies in town and it could change things as players now compete for playing time. Jhonny Bethencourt is having a nice run now in the leadoff spot and Jared Young is much bigger and better that I thought. He has a nice smooth stroke. I got to see Jake Steffens make his debut on Saturday in relief. He throws downhill quite a bit. He will be tough to square up. Manuel Rodriguez came in throwing 96 last night in relief. He struck out 9 guys in two games in relief this week. A
Mesa: 2-3; 5-7 – Not a good week for the bats to quiet down. The starting pitching is still a work in progress. Carson Sands had another good start in his rehab.
DSL 1: 5-2; 15-16 – They are finally getting some good starting pitching and had a good week.
DSL 2: 4-2; 16-15 – Alonso Gaitan continues to rake as this squad is now putting up some crooked numbers every day.
Players of the Week
You knew it was coming. You just knew it. Well, today the Cubs made a series of promotions along with another move.
Going to Iowa
Reliever Justin Hancock
Going to Tennessee
Pitcher Adbert Alzolay
He’s put up a 2.98 ERA in 81.2 innings with 78 Ks and 22 walks. His fastball sits at 96 deep into games.
Going to Myrtle Beach
Pitcher Duncan Robinson
He has a 2.11 ERA in 75.2 IP. he began the year as a reliever and has now made 10 starts. He has 59 K and has only walked 13. He has a plus curve and likes to pitch inside.
Catcher Tyler Payne
Payne was hitting .243 with 1 HR and 5 RBI in 20 games for Eugene.
Going to Eugene
Catcher Michael Cruz
Relievers Conor Mullee and Andury Acevedo
I am still waiting for a few other moves to take place later this month including the possibility of Eloy Jimenez moving to AA Tennessee.
By Todd Johnson
Earlier this week, I thought I had run out of ideas for next week. I just finished assembling the All-Star team video and concluded the cards of the month post, which will be out tomorrow. It had been a pretty hectic two weeks of writing from the draft, the end of the first half, and now the end of the month. Sometimes, it is a struggle to write something every day in the summer and then, out of the blue, things happen.
Dylan Cease had another magical start on Friday night. The Cubs top pitching prospect flashed his changeup more often than usual including getting Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on the pitch. Cease went five innings on 68 pitches and struck out six in arguably his most efficient start of the year.
As soon as he finished pitching, I opened up the schedule and started marking off his scheduled starts for the month. He throws on Wednesday this next week for which I will report back on Thursday.
That got me thinking about if he was going to start when I go see South Bend for three days in nearby Beloit in three weeks. As of now, he is scheduled to start on that Saturday night. I’m pretty excited about that possibility.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to interview Trent Giambrone of Myrtle Beach. It was supposed to be just a short five minute interview. Instead, it turned into a 10 minute discussion on hitting. You can read some of that interview today over on Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville. I will be coming out with another portion of it this week here and on Cubs insider. Trent was so forthcoming that I think there’s even room for a third post at a later date.
Today, the 2017-18 International Free Agency signing begins. The Cubs have $4.75 million to spend, but they cannot sign and he one player for more than $300,000. However there is one caveat to that penalty the Cubs received after the 2015-16 spending spree. In Mexico the Cubs can sign a player for up to $1.2 million as 75% of that bonus goes to the club. As a result, the Cubs can stay under $300,000 cap.
The Cubs inked four players this morning, two of which we have previously discussed on here. One is Florencio Serrano – a 6’1” pitcher who is 17 years old and originally from Texas. He was ranked #29 by Baseball America. The other young player is shortstop Luis Verdugo (Ranked 47 by Baseball America and 29 by MLB.com). The two new players are Fabian Pertuz is a young SS from Colombia and Alexander Ovalles is an OF from the Dominican Republic.
The following tidbits were also announced this week
*Zack Short was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach and went three for three in his first game.
*Joe Martarano was promoted Saturday from Eugene to South Bend along with relievers John Michael Knighton and Mark Malave. Martarano got into last night’s game and played a little third base.
*More draft picks arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Cam Balego, and Austin Filiere arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Can Belago, and Austin Filiere.
*I do find it a little strange that only three players of the almost 25 who have signed are playing.
*The Cubs also released pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua this week.
*Former Cubs farmhand and pitcher Paul Blackburn got called up by the Oakland A’s. Congratulations to Paul! He went six innings and gave up 1 unearned run in his debut.
Around the Minors
Iowa: 4-1 ; 36-44 – Mr. Schwarber showed up and put a little excitement into Des Moines. However, some stable starting pitching helped lead them to a nice week.
Tennessee: 5-0; 5-3 – The bats are back leading to an excellent week. It is nice to see Trey Martin do well along with Yasiel Balaguert, who hit three home runs this week.
Myrtle Beach: 2-4; 3-5 – It looks like they hit the doldrums to start the second half. The offense, defense, and pitching hit the skids all at once.
South Bend: 1-6; 2-7 – The pitching staff continues to struggle, especially the bullpen which seems to implode every other night. However, Isaac Paredes is showing why he skipped short season Eugene. He hit .289 for the month with an OBP over .400 and an .898 OPS for an 18-year-old shortstop in Class A!
Eugene: 5-1 ; 10-6 – First Place – The starting pitching is coming around as Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Enrique de los Rios, Jesus Camargo, and Alonso Garcia all had excellent starts this past week.
Mesa: 2-3; 3-3 – Carson Sands is making progress in 2 rehab starts of three innings apiece. He has allowed 1 run so far. Sands had some splints removed from his elbow this past offseason.
DSL 1: 5-1; 10-14 – The pitching improved this week to go along with the already potent offense. SS Christopher Morel is coming around. He’s hitting over .300 in his last ten games. He got off to a rough start after barely missing the Mesa roster.
DSL 2: 4-2; 12-13 – OF Alonso Gaitan joined the team and he put some pop in the top of the order. Jeinser Brete (Jeimer’s 17-year-old cousin) continues to rake.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
My Other Stuff on the Web
Trent Giambrone: Part One
In a quick turn of events, catcher Miguel Montero was designated for assignment this afternoon after a poor season trying to throw out base runners. Last night, the Washington Nationals stole 7 bases against Montero and pitcher Jake Arrieta. When asked about it after the game, Montero threw blame onto Arrieta, as well as himself. It was not the most professional way to answer the question. The Cubs still owe him $7 million for the remainder of this season.
As for Mr. Caratini, he was the Cubs Minor League Hitter of the Month in May. For the season, the 23 year old switch hitting Caratini hit .343 in AAA Iowa with 8 HRs and 54 RBI. Offensively, there was nothing left for him to prove in the minors. Instead, Caratini was working hard on improving his defense. For the season, he’d thrown out 12 out of 43 base runners.
Caratini was acquired in a trade from the Braves three years ago.