By Todd Johnson
Even though there are now eight minor league games a day, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. The draft is complete, the second half began, and all the rookie and short season leagues are in high gear. Yet, here I sit wondering what to write about for the next week. There are, however, good things happening throughout the Cubs system. Here are 14 of them.
1. Trent Giambrone is on fire. He’s hitting .361 with 4 HRs and 8 RBI over his last ten games.
2. Thomas Hatch has allowed one earned run all month. That calculates to a 0.33 ERA.
3. Isaac Paredes, all of 18-years-old, has figured it out at South Bend. He’s hitting .316 and slugging .526 as a shortstop this month.
4. Catcher Alberto Mineo looks to have mastered South Bend. He’s hitting at .323 clip this month.
5. I thought Vimael Machin was going to be a utility/organizational player this year. He has proved me wrong. He is hitting .311 in June and .289 on the year.
6. Justin Steele’s ERA for just May was 1.63. In June, it is 1.62.
7. Charcer Burks is the most unheralded Cub prospect going. He’s hitting .353 for the month and .309 on the year. And, he is a gold glove defender.
8. Victor Caratini’s monthly averages this year are .312, .366, and .333.
9. Bijan Radmacher is on a tear this month. He’s hitting .375 with a .455 OBP
10. Eugene’s Gustavo Polanco has everyone beat in his first 9 games. He’s crushing it at a .486 clip. His OPS is a staggering 1.311.
11. Joe Martarano might be better than I thought. After missing most of 2 years while focusing on football, he’s going at it. He has a .385 average and a .455 OBP. I really like his at-bats. Even when he makes an out, he works counts and lays off stuff out of the zone.
12. Yapson Gomez is the bomb out of the pen for Eugene. He threw 6.1 IP this week and struckout 8.
13. I watched Alex Lange pitch for LSU on Friday. He’s the real deal. He’s not a MLB #1 starter, but he and his curve will do just fine.
14. Carson Sands made his first start of the year in Mesa last night. He had elbow surgery in the off-season to remove elbow splints. He went three scoreless with 6 GB outs.
Draft Signings: 17 to date
The MLB Draft was moved back a bit this year. As a result, draft picks who had normally signed and started playing short season ball are just now getting their physicals. It looks like the Cubs could sign as many as 28-30 players this year.
Rounds 1-10: LHP Brendon Little, RHP Cory Abbott, RHP Keegan Thompson, RHP Erich Uelmen, LHP Ricky Tyler Thomas, 3B/1B/OF Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, and RHP Brian Glowicki
Rounds 11-20: RHP Casey Ryan, RHP Brendan King, RHP Peyton Remy,
Rounds 21-30: RHP Sean Barry, RHP Mitch Stophel, RHP Jake Steffens, RHP Braxton Light, and 2B Cam Balego
Rounds 31-40: IF Ramsey Romano
They should game begin action later this week, most likely in Mesa. The more advanced college players will go to Eugene. There are a few others rumored to be signed, but their physicals must be completed before the signing becomes official. The deadline day to sign is July 15 at 4 PM, CDST.
Daniel Spingola made his way to Tennessee this week. Conor Myers is back with Myrtle Beach after being with Eugene for the past week.
Around the Minors
Iowa: 3-3; 32-43 – This starting pitching thing will hopefully straighten itself out in the next couple of weeks. Zach Hedges was much better in his second start. He will adjust.
Tennessee: 0-3; 0-3 – The second half got off to a rough start with a tropical storm and then losing both ends of a double header. Trevor Clifton was roughed up in his worst start of the year.
Myrtle Beach: 1-2; 1-2 – Going into Friday’s start, all five starting pitchers had ERAs under 3.18 for the month. Then Ryan Kellogg was uncharacteristically shelled by Down East. Michael Rucker was dominant last night in 5 IP before a rain delay ended his start after only 56 pitches.
South Bend: 1-2; 1-2 – First game back and Zack Short hit a HR. Manny Rondon thn had his best start of the year Thursday and Jose Paulino moved to the bullpen this half. I will have to keep an eye on that rotation. Bryan Hudson was excellent last night. Dylan Cease should be coming up.
Eugene – 3-3; 5-5 – Gustavo Polanco es en fuego and Yapson Gomez has been money in the pen. And who is Jhon Romero (Yes, that’s how he spells it)? 2B Rafael Narea seems to have taken off since he was moved to the leadoff spot. He went 3 for 4 with 2 BBs last night. He’s batting .344 with a .488 OBP.
Mesa: 1-0; 1-0 – Opening day went very well except for that one part where they batted out of order. However, Delvin Zinn did well (2-5) as did Rafael Mejia (3-4, HR). Carson Sands had 1 K in his 3 innings.
DSL 1: 1-4; 5-13 – It was a rough week. Let’s leave it at that.
DSL 2: 2-3; 8-10 – This team has some serious starting pitching but can’t score a lot of runs.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
My Other Cubs Articles on the Web from this Week
BP Wrigleyville: Thomas Hatch
Cubs Insider: Alex Lange
By Todd Johnson
The Cubs’ rookie league team in Mesa begins play today. It’s roster is a mix of young players, most of whom are 18 or 19 years old and are in need game experience. This year’s team has a decidedly Latin flavor. That will change once the draft picks have been signed and passed their physicals.
Last year, the Mesa Cubs made the playoffs in the Arizona Rookie League before falling to the Mariners in the opening series. The strength of this year’s team should be their pitching. There are a few draft picks, but most of the starting staff are standouts from last year’s DSL teams.
Here is the opening day roster. In rookie league, each team can have 35 players on the roster with only 25 activated for each game.
Pitchers: Jose Albertos, Faustino Carrera, Jed Carter, Alfredo Colorado, Fauris Guerrero, Luis Hernandez, Chi-Feng Lee, Jose Leidenz, Jose MacDonna, Brailyn Marquez, Carlos Ocampo, Pablo Ochoa, Eugenio Palma, Yunior Perez, Eury Ramos, Stephen Ridings, Nathan Sweeney
Catchers: Carlos Diaz, Richard Nunez, and Kevin Zamudio
Infield: Fidel Mejia, Rafael Mejia, Yonathan Perlaza, and Delvin Zinn
Outfield: Yovanny Cuevas, Jose Gutierrez, Ruben Reyes, and Jonathan Sierra
Here are some names that will probably be the key players over the next two months.
Jose Albertos – The 18-year-old top prospect stayed behind to work on the grip on his curve. Once he has that down, he will be off to bigger and better things.
Faustino Carrera – He put up very good numbers in the Dominican last year. He had a 1.06 ERA in 13 starts for the summer. He is not that big but has good control of his pitches. He likely will be a reliever.
Brailyn Marquez – I think this kid could be a breakout pitcher in the next couple of years. In EXST this spring, he struggled in 11.1 IP. He has excellent size and I look forward to watching him develop. He had a 1.48 ERA in 12 starts last summer in the DSL.
Stephen Ridings – The 2016 8th round pick is a wildcard at 6’8”. He can throw in the upper 90s but has trouble repeating his delivery and, as a result, trouble controlling his pitches. He did not pitch last year after being drafted.
Nathan Sweeney – I did not think he would sign last year after being drafted out of high school, but he said college was not for him. So, he is now a Cub and I wonder if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever. He’s just 19, so they have some time.
Kevin Zamudio – He should do well in his second go around in Mesa. He hit .237 last year and he plays a little at first, a little catcher, and a little DH. He is only 19 and is part of the Cubs new Mexican free agency foray from 2015.
Delvin Zinn – He might be my favorite pick from last year’s draft. He is an exceptional athlete who I think is going to be a breakout player before too long. He had some trouble with injuries this spring and that’s why he is in Mesa rather than in Eugene. He might not be in Mesa very long.
Jonathan Sierra – Everytime I mention him, I talk about how he is physically a Darryl Strawberry clone. At just 18, he will be in the outfield every day this summer garnering game experience. He showed some improvement this spring after hitting .264 last summer in the DSL.
Yovanny Cuevas – He was one of the delights of EXST. This spring, he improved dramatically and earned a trip stateside for the year.
Draft Picks Who Should Be in Mesa All Season
Nelson Velazquez – I hope the Cubs can sign this kid is he seems to be a physical specimen and could be a five tool player within a couple of years. I think the Cubs may have gotten a steal in the fifth round.
Luis Vazquez – If the Cubs can get this toolsy SS signed, he would be stationed here. It will be interesting to see how he does in such an atmosphere. He looks long and lean for a SS with the potential for power as he fills out.
By Todd Johnson
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.
Extra plus curve (MLB ready)
Repeats delivery well
Hitters were 0-20 with the bases loaded against him
Areas of Concern
Effort in Delivery
Pitching from the stretch
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.
Alex Lange is looking really locked out there right now. Putting the ball where he wants it, some life on his fastball, working quickly.
— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) June 23, 2017
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.
By Todd Johnson
It’s been two weeks now that the Dominican Summer League (DSL) began action. It’s a place and a league that does not get reported on much. Sometimes the stats can be misleading as it is a league filled with mainly 16 to 21-year-old kids. However, it is still very important to those players. For some, this is a chance to get off the island of Hispaniola. For others, they come from Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and other parts of the Caribbean Rim for a chance to play professional baseball in the United States.
The Cubs currently field two teams in the Dominican Summer League. Prior to 2016, the Cubs had one team in the Dominican and another team in a league in Venezuela. However, due to political turmoil in Venezuela, the Cubs, and every other team in the league, withdrew to the DSL.
I think there are a lot of misleading stereotypes when it comes to ball in the Dominican. Today’s SIX PACK looks at a couple of stereotypes and how the two teams are doing this summer.
1. One stereotype is that you have to hit your way off the island. I don’t subscribe to that notion and I don’t think the Cubs do, either. Approach and talent have more to do with getting to Mesa than batting average. Racking up some stats against 16 to 17-year-old pitchers only goes so far. Those types of things need to be taken into consideration when evaluating what goes on every summer. Just because the kid hits .327 in the DSL, it is not indicative of future MLB success. You always have to think a little deeper.
2. Baseball is not that different in the DSL. While the island has the rep as fastball dominant, there are all kinds of pitchers throwing different kind of pitches. The Cubs have two prospects, who will be in Mesa this year, in Faustino Carrera and Brailyn Marquez who rely on the change and curve to get ahead of hitters.
3 – The Cubs are sneaky. Over the last three International Free Agent signing periods, the Cubs have gone out and signed over 100 prospects despite financial limitations placed on it my MLB in two of those three years. Several of the top prospects from the 2015 class are just now getting to the US at 18 years of age. It takes a while.
4. DSL 1 is supposed to be the more experienced team. As of today, they do not have the best record of the two teams at 4-12. Yet, there are some prospects off to good starts. 18-year-old CF Fernando Kelli usually leads off and is hitting .323 with a .371 OBP. Another young outfielder who has been streaky is Carlos Pacheco. He really bears watching. The average is pedestrian at .275 but his OBP is amazing at .424. He has cranked out 2 HRs as a young 18- year-old from Mexico. Luis Hidalgo is in his last year (They do have an age limit in the DSL) and is hitting .278. There have been two surprises on the team. SS Christopher Morel, who has come North for instructs and spring training, is only hitting .152. He is part of the vaunted 2015 IFA class. The big surprise is 17-year-old Jeinser Brete (Jeimer Candelario’s cousin) is hitting .286 with a .444 OBP. The 3B is from SS central, San Pedro de Macoris. He started this year in the DSL just like catcher Franklin Tineo who is hitting .317 with a .440 OBP.
When it comes to pitching, this team struggles. Yovanny Cruz, all of 17, is the only starter with an ERA of under 3. He’s struck out 17 in 16 IP and has a nice WHIP of 0.91 and has only walked 2 in his 4 starts.
5. The DSL 2 is currently doing well and are almost at .500. Offensively, they have struggled. SS Orian Nunez is hitting .322 but his OBP is only slightly higher at .375. Catcher Jonathan Soto is hitting .286. The rest of the team is under .250.
This team has gotten it done with starting pitching. They have four SP with ERAs under 2.77. Emilio Ferrebus is in his 3rd year in the Cubs system. At 6’2” and 165, there could be something there as he physically matures. The hope, as it is with most players, is their performance this summer gets them an invite to fall instructs in Mesa. RHP Jesus Tejada is having success as a full time starter this year. He began making the transition last year.
Didier Vargas from Panama just turned 18 and he’s been excellent with a 0.70 WHIP and 12 Ks in his 3 starts. Ben Badler of Baseball America stated he has a good feel for his curve and changeup already. Vargas’ ERA is 0.63 and this is his first year as a Cub. Danis Correa is from Colombia. Although slight of build at 5’11” and 165, is peripherals for his 1.62 ERA show batters hitting .234 against him. Just 17, he seems to be able to pitch around trouble. Thankfully, he’s only walked four all year. Baseball America likes his fastball which sits between 91-96.
6. When They Get to America – Sometimes it takes two to four years to make it north. Not every prospect gets a year to prove their worth. There is development just like the US. Not every prospect signs at 16 fully ready to go north like Eloy and Gleyber. It takes time. Chances are, some of the players listed above could head north when the season ends.
By Todd Johnson
Jesse Hodges has a mythos about him. Born and raised in Canada, at first glance he and his beard look like they could catch fish with their bare hands and wrestle a grizzly bear for kicks. His upbringing was nothing like that. Today, the bearded wonder is one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs minor-league system over the last 10 games. He is hitting .324 with a .378 OBP along with 2 HRs and 7 RBI.
Hodges was a key cog in the Pelicans’ first half title run. He played mostly third base and was one of the best hitters on the team. Announcer Scott Kornberg said, “Hodges plays with his heart and emotions on his sleeve and is one of the hardest working players on the team.”
For Hodges, his road to Myrtle Beach has not been easy. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after he had a game-winning home run for team Canada in the 18U World Tournament in Seoul. I first became aware of the Hodges when he was at Boise in 2015.
In those early days, Hodges admits that he was swinging for the fences or “to hit the ball as hard as I could every time up.” He has since changed his approach.
Hodges advanced from Boise to South Bend and hit .238 in 2015 with only 6 HRs in 90 games. He returned to South Bend much improved in 2016. The biggest change was in his average as hit .287 with a .349 OBP. That earned him a midseason promotion to Myrtle Beach last summer. He got 100 at bats in and was part of the Mills Cup Championship team. However, he only hit .186 for the Pelicans.
Areas of Concern
K rate (21.8%)
Rolling over the ball
Heading into 2017
In talking with Hodges, his routine has changed quite a bit since it was early days at Boise. Now, he says, “Batting practice involves working on my bat path and trying to hit the ball up the middle. If I am a little early I pull it if I am a little late it goes through right field.” Hodges also told me that while others focus on the meditative aspects of the mental skills program, he chooses to incorporate breathing techniques into his approach at the plate to help calm his nerves. Hodges also revealed that he does talk to his teammates about hitting, but he relies mainly on the coaching staff to make adjustments.
Hodges has been improving every month this year. April was a little rough but May saw him hit .293 with a .386 OBP. When he gets ahead in the count, he is hitting .383 with and amazing .574 OBP. That is a testament to his approach at the plate.
June has seen him on an excellent 10 day streak that I think is apart of his process to stay up the middle and the focus on his bat path. In 2016, he hit all of 1 HR. This year, he has 6 in the first half. This approach is paying off.
I enjoy watching him play, especially late in games. He seems to have a knack for timely hits, putting a good barrel on the ball, and he is very solid defensively. I think he is really developing at the plate as he progresses and matures through the system.
It’s hard to see where Hodges is going to be in the future. He plays at a position that is one of the most redundant in the Cubs’ system. But all he focus on is what he can do each day – to stick with that approach. I think next year will be the telling year for him, as it is for many prospects, when they hit AA. But what Hodges is doing now is getting the process down every day, focusing on his path in BP, and driving the ball up the middle.
If you did not get to see this in real time tonight, it pays homage to how the Cubs go out and find the players they draft. It is extremely well done. Give it a look.
By Todd Johnson
There is a lot of big news to get to this week…
First, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half Southern Division title in the Carolina League, The Pelicans will now have an opportunity to win their third Mills Cup Championship in a row! Sadly, Tennessee and South Bend fell short in their aspirations to make it to the playoffs when both were eliminated on Friday night.
The MLB Draft took place this week and the Cubs selected 41 players including two pitchers in the first round in lefty Brendon Little and Alex Lange. The key now will be to sign between 25-30 of those picks. The deadline looks to be July 15.
EUGENE EMERALDS DEBUT
The Eugene Emeralds opened up their season on Thursday night. They have a couple of elite prospects in catcher Miguel Amaya, who threw out three runners in his first game, and Aramis Ademan, a shortstop who is a defensive stalwart. In addition, 2016 5th round pick Bailey Clark is also on board to anchor the rotation. He had a rough first inning last night before settling in. He should be in South Bend before too long.
This is an extremely young team that needs game experience. I watched most of the first half of each game this week and it is clear that Miguel Amaya is going to be a star. The kid has it all ready to go on defense. On offense, he has a nice inside-out swing that reminds me of Gleyber Torres. In the next two weeks, this roster will change quite a bit as the draft picks come in. Look to see 2B Jared Young, 3B Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, 1B Austin Young, and OFs Brandon Hughes and Chris Singleton, to name a few. There will be several pitchers who arrive in early July.
DILLON MAPLES AND HIS CURVE
I saw one of the best performances all season on Thursday night. Reliever Dillon Maples came into the game for the Smokies in the top of the ninth to close the game. From pitch one, it was evident he did not have command of his fastball. He hit the first batter. The, on cue, Maples began relying almost exclusively on his curve. It is a deadly MLB ready pitch for him. He struck out the next two batters in humiliating fashion, went back to the fastball again and walked a batter. Up came Nick Gordon, one of the top prospects in the game. Maples struck him and made Gordon like silly trying to hit the curve. It was a breathtaking display that showed me that Maples could make it to the majors sooner than we think.
After the All-Star games on Tuesday, get ready for several promotions. Zach Hedges was sent from AA to AAA this week. His debut was a bit rough as he gave up 6 runs in 2 innings before settling down. Expect to see a few names move up in the next ten days. It won’t be a lot, just a few.
- I finally decided to keep the baseball cards housed on Facebook. It is just easier and faster to load over there. On the Cards page above, I will be putting just the Cards of the Month.
- Tomorrow, the first half All-Star Team will be published
- Over at BP Wrigleyville, I have an update on Thomas Hatch’s amazing June
- On Tuesday, I have some breakout prospects to watch for in the second half
- Then, on Wednesday, I will be publishing a profile on Jesse Hodges.
- I will have a second half preview of the major affiliates on Thursday
- Friday’s post examines the DSL teams
- On Saturday, I have a preview of the Mesa team
Players of the Week
Card of the Week