Dominican Summer League

South of the Border: Some Names to Track in the DSL

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By Todd Johnson

The hardest thing about covering the minor leagues is reporting on what’s going on in the Dominican Summer Leagues. Currently the Cubs have an academy with two teams in a league where players learn the fundamentals of the game as well as finishing their education. But when it comes to the play on the field, there is no blog reporter there to dish on the happenings. There’s no photographs or videos coming out, and everything takes place early in the morning. If one is to report on the Dominican Summer League, you’re basically left to scout the stat line. And that is not always a good thing.

Stats in the DSL don’t always hold up. The majority of the league is made up of 17 to 19-year-old kids trying to get a crack to come to the states. The pitching can be wild, the fielding dicey, and the bats aren’t always patient. Some stats can be quite deceptive.

Usually, the first time we usually get a really good look at anybody is in fall instructs for players lucky enough to get to the states. Other times, either spring training or extended spring training will see a group of advanced players get a crack to stay in Mesa for the summer.

The DSL season starts in early June. Most of the rosters are filled with international players that were signed the last two summers as international free agents. Now, with three weeks of box scores this month, here are a few things we do know about this year’s crop of players in the DSL.

Hitting
While some may focus on batting average in the DSL, I like to look at a combination of stats. And still, that may not give a whole picture of the player. The two stats I like are on-base percentage and their strikeout to walk ratio. Combined the two stats give me a partial understanding of their approach at the plate.

On DSL 1, SS Fabian Pertuz leads the team in OBP at .509 despite missing almost two weeks. His teammate, 1B Ervis Marchan has only struck out 4 times in 79 at-bats (5%). For DSL 2, OF Alexander Ovalles leads DSL Cubs 2 with a .433 OBP while SS Pedro Martinez (Yes, that’s his real name) has only whiffed 9 times in 71 at-bats (12.76%).

Three weeks is a decent amount of times to gather some data, but it is not a lot.

Pitching
ERA might be the most common stat to look at for pitchers for effectiveness. However, when it comes to the DSL I like to look at how many they walk per nine innings, how many they strikeout per nine innings, their WHIP, and their ERA.

For DSL 2, 19-year-old lefty Johan Lopez looks to be dazzling in his four starts. Not only does he have a 2.03 ERA, he has a 2.23 K/BB ratio. At 6’6”, Lopez is one to keep an eye on as it is his first year of professional baseball. For DSL 1, right Jorge Remon, Saul Vazquez, and Luis Ramos are three young starters who are doing well when it comes to ERA. Ramos, though has walked 14 and K’d 14, but his ERA is 1.15. Vazquez has 3-1 K/BB ratio also has a 1.30 WHIP. Meanwhile, Remon has 2-1 K/BB ratio also has a WHIP of 0.97 and opponents are only hitting .163 against him.

Last summer, everyone was abuzz about Fernando Kelli, his average, his on base percentage, and his steals in the DSL. This year, he skipped rookie ball in Mesa and is now at Eugene at 19. Some of those stats have translated to equal performance here in the states and some have not. It will be interesting to track the players listed above. Some of them might even make it to Mesa this season.

There’s a totality to combining the stats. However, don’t judge the players based just on these stats. A lot of their game can change over the next few months with instruction and development. In addition, several of these players with change physically as many are not done growing.

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Prospect Profile: Fernando Kelli Excitement Is for Real

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By Todd Johnson

One thing that the Cubs have lacked in recent years in the system has been speed. Last summer, a then 18-year-old Fernando Kelli stole 58 bases in the Dominican Summer League. In addition, he hit .320 with an on-base percentage of .437. He’s not big by any means at 6’ and 180 pounds, but prior to his breakout, he’d only been seen a little bit in spring training of 2017. No one knew that much about him before. That has all changed.

I had a lot of questions about him and was extremely interested to get a good look at him. During spring training, he actually got into a couple of games with the big league club and held his own. Being that he now plays late at night for Eugene, I am getting a pretty good look at what he can and cannot do. There are a lot of things to like and there are a lot of things that he needs to improve on. Then again, he’s just 19 playing one level above most of his peers.

Things He’s Doing Well

The first thing you notice about Kelli is his speed. In his first ten games, he had the opponent’s attention within seconds. It affected how fielders fielded and threw. It affected a pitcher’s attention span. Kelli’s speed totally disrupts the flow of the defense. So far, in just 11 games, he has 8 SBs which puts him on pace to steal 50. He has been caught stealing twice and picked off once as he continues to adjust.

He’s a pretty decent defender. He also uses his speed in the field to go get some balls. He already has one outfield assist as he gunned down a runner heading back to first. Kelli is not just a one-trick pony. He’s an all-around baseball player.

I like his hitting profile, too. He can hit the ball with authority to right field and has 1 HR to date. He doesn’t necessarily spray the ball as only 12% of his batted balls go to center. Most of his contact goes to left (41%) and right (45%). He also gets the ball in the air as a hitter. He barrels up the ball regularly with 50% of his contact being line drives and fly balls. After last night’s game, he’s hitting  on the young season with an OBP of .348.

Surprisingly, Kelli is not a big bunter. The defense comes in on him at the corners to guard against him bunting and he takes advantage of that by lining balls in those gaps in the infield.

I really like watching him play. There is no one quite like him in the Cubs’ minor league system and you never know what will happen on each play.

Things to Work On

It didn’t take teams long to catch on that Kelli has some major league wheels. He got thrown out at second twice in one game and is now learning how far he can lead off and how to pick his spots to steal a base.

In his first eight at bats, he struck out four times. Now that he’s got an a little bit more larger data set, his K rate is still high at 38% while his walk rate is at 7.7%. Those numbers are going to have to change. As a leadoff hitter, 38% is not sustainable, but it is getting lower.

Game experience – He can make a really good play in the outfield tracking down a fly ball and then there have been a couple of moments where he completely loses the ball or takes a poor route to get to a ball. The Eugene outfield is not the easiest place to play because the outfielders are staring directly into a setting sun. Still, he is going to have to improve.

Approach – Right now, he’s struggling with a breaking ball or offspeed pitch down and away. It’s also odd because he takes a fastball to right field with ease. He needs to learn to do the same with pitches that don’t start with a F.

Seeing a curve In the US is a lot different than say the DSL. In the DSL, most of the pitchers are 17 to 19-year old kids while in the Northwest League, a lot of the arms have some level of college experience. And the pitchers that came out of high school have much more game experience versus kids from the DSL.

It’s an interesting adjustment that sometimes takes 2 to 3 years to catch up. Kelli will play at Eugene this year, go to fall instructs, and then play winter ball where he will continue to improve over time as he gains experience. Who knows, he might catch on this season.

He could be a different hitter next spring in South Bend or even as early as mid-July as he improves his pitch recognition skills. It just depends on how fast he can adjust. For now, though, he’s very exciting. It is hard to imagine that he could be more exciting, but he most certainly can.

Which Prospects Could Breakout for the Cubs in the 2nd Half?

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By Todd Johnson

Yesterday, I wrote about who  broke out in the first half for Cubs Insider. But trying to predict breakouts prospects for the second half of the minor league season is a bit tougher. Most of the players one would expect to breakout will be playing for Mesa, Eugene, or South Bend. Some of them are 18 to 20-year-old kids while others are recent draft picks.

If I was to pick one hitter, one pitcher, and one reliever to break out in the second half, I would more than likely be wrong come the end of August. So, to hedge my bets, what I’m going to do is to pick three hitters, four starting pitchers, and three relievers who might make some waves in the Cubs’ system the next two months. Hopefully, one or more in each category will make it.  

On with the prospects.

Hitters

Everyone is going to be watching Nico Hoerner once he signs. The fans will watch his bat, his glove, his arm, and his speed, grit, and hustle. That kind of takes the pressure off of everyone else.

The batter that will impress everyone is Luke Reynolds, the Cubs tenth round pick out of Southern Mississippi. I would expect him to be a fast mover. He, like Hoerner, will probably start at Eugene, but neither will be there long as their approaches and skills will be too dominant.

Another hitter that could break out this summer is Fernando Kelli. While we know some about Kelli after his 58 stolen bases last season in the DSL, it is different playing in the US, especially skipping Mesa. The hardest adjustments for an 18-19 year old prospect from the DSL to make are just playing against quality competition. Kelli will need to adapt to quality changeups and curves; and guys trying to get him out in the batter’s box and also on the basepaths. In just 5 games, he has caused some havoc between the bases. His defense, on the other hand, might be better than we thought.

My third selection is Jonathan Sierra. Originally, he looked like Daryl Strawberry clone when the Cubs signed him in 2015 at 16 years-old. Now, he is getting his physique into something resembling Jorge Soler. What I really like about him so far is his approach. He shows to have a pretty good knowledge of the zone at 19 and he is not afraid to walk to this early in his career. The issue he has now is that his swing is a bit long. He needs to shorten that up or he will be eaten alive as he moves up the ladder. For now, though, game experience and seeing as many pitches as possible will be the goals for 2018.

Bonus Hitters – Kevin Moreno from Cuba (who is only 17) and Reivaj Garcia are two young hitters who have been tearing up EXST. They will both be in Mesa to begin the year. I love Luis Vazquez’s defense already. The fact that he got experience at SS in a major league spring training game says how highly the Cubs already think of him. He is in Eugene to start 2018. Focus on his defense, not the bat.

Starting Pitchers

One of the more interesting stories in August last year was the maturation of Jesus Tejada in the DSL. He was a stud with an ERA just under 2 for that month and he also threw a no-hitter. Now, the 19 year old will be stateside. This spring, one of the more interesting reports over time from Arizona Phil has been the growth in each performance of lefty Brailyn Marquez, who is really dialing it up as the spring goes along. Now that summer is here, the young 19-year-old pitcher is in Eugene as the ace of the staff. He can dial it up in the mid-90s. The issue has always been his command.

I liked the Cubs taking Derek Casey of Virginia in the ninth round of the 2018 draft a lot. He’s experienced, a senior, and he should be a valuable arm next year. This year, he will more than likely just pitch 2 or 3 innings a game in Eugene or South Bend. He should do well in those spots.

Faustino Carrera is not going to blow you away with his fastball, but he can make you swing wildly at his changeup. The 19-year-old lefty (I am noticing a theme here) has good command and can get hitters to do what he wants when he can control his upper 80s to low 90s heater. He also has a curve that comes in around 82 and he seems to hide the ball well to make it appear to have more zip than it does.

Bonus – In what is his third season as a Cub, Nathan Sweeney is back in the Arizona Rookie League. But here’s the thing, he’s still just 20 and, if he had gone to college, he would just be finishing his sophomore year. After two years of instruction from the college of pitching coaches in Mesa, he should start to put it together this year. His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s consistently.

Relievers

All three of my breakout reliever choices were taken in the draft this year. Ethan Roberts, Riley Thompson, and Layne Looney all had excellent careers in college in the bullpen. I would not be surprised to see any or all 3 get a chance at starting next year. But this year, they are just going to relieve. Thompson, who can bring it at 95, will need the most time to develop. Roberts might need to rest a bit after Tennessee Tech almost made it to Omaha for the College World Series. And Looney should be good to go as he was already playing summer ball. Expect to see Thompson to get in a game first and it should be at Mesa.

Here are a few other names who could break out as legitimate prospects this summer.

DSL
Alexander Ovalles – OF; Carlos Morfa – OF; Fabian Pertuz – SS; Carlos Paula – SP

Mesa
Luis Verdugo – SS; Carlos Pacheco – OF (who is injured to start the year); Raidel Orta – SP; Eduarniel Nunez – SP; and Luis Hidalgo 1B/OF

Eugene
Luis Diaz – 2B and Jonathan Soto – C

The Midweek: Day 3 of the Draft Coming Up, Promotions, Machin is Cranking, and Morfa Emerging

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By Todd Johnson

Today’s going to be a hectic day. Starting around 11 Central, Day 3 of the MLB draft begins. If you go online to MLB.com, it’s like listening to a giant conference call because that’s exactly what it is. There is no time between picks and it is sometimes hard to keep up. I will be live blogging starting around 11 and, at some point, I will need to take a break as the day wears on. I hope to see a surprise or two today in the draft.

Around the System
Unfortunately, the minor league system does not shut down while the draft takes place. Tennessee and Myrtle Beach are playing well right now and both are closing in on playoff spots with 12 games to go. Tennessee is three games back of arch-rival Chattanooga while Myrtle Beach is 4.5 games back of Winston-Salem. South Bend has won three in a row and it’s two games below .500, also with 12 games left. But they are 9 games back.

The big story this week has been the parade of pitching prospects moving up and down the system. Southern League All-Stars Trevor Clifton and Dakota Mekkes are now at AAA Iowa. That is pretty exciting. It is pretty cool that both of them are one step away from realizing their dreams. I will hopefully be traveling out to Iowa some point in the next two weeks. Most likely, Monday or Tuesday next week.

In addition, Matt Swarmer heads from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee along with reliever Jordan Minch who now gives Tennessee their first left-handed on the roster this season. Pitcher Cory Abbott takes off his South Bend uniform and will put on Myrtle Beach Pelicans jersey for a while. I cannot wait to see how he does in a pitcher’s park.

Even though he was promoted a few weeks ago to AA Tennessee, infielder Vimael Machin has been on fire since arriving in Kodak. In 16 games as a Smokie, he’s hitting at .432 clip. I will have a profile of him in the next few days. I also have one ready to go on Trevor Clifton.

Down in the Dominican, the two teams have played 3 games. Outfielder Carlos Morfa is stealing all the thunder hitting 3 HRs, 2 of them yesterday, while hitting close to .600. His OPS is 2.199!!! Be wary of DSL stats, but this is an interesting story to follow as Morfa needs to builds up a larger sample size of data. This is about the only thing I can find about Morfa and it is his prospect video from the DPL. First thing you notice in the video. He’s just 17.

Meanwhile, on Cubs Central, the draft is hogging the website for just one more day. After today, I will have a new top 21 list tomorrow and then I think I might take a day off from writing as it feels like it’s becoming a full-time job the past three days.

Right now, I’m going to go for a walk. It’s a little brisk here in northern Illinois as it got down into the 40s last night. The cool air ought to wake me up and get me ready for 30 new Cubs to be selected starting in less than 3 hours.

The Weekly: Here Comes the Draft, Pitching Dominating, and the DSL Kicks Off

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By Todd Johnson

The Draft Is Finally Here!

I will be live blogging each day of the draft. Just keep clicking the refresh button on your device to get the latest news, cards, and analysis. I did an exclusive draft mailbag article for Cubs Insider that was published yesterday. Make sure to check that out as well.

Here is the schedule for the next three days.

Tomorrow Morning – I will begin the day with my top pick for the Cubs at #24 and I have two names skyrocketing into the first round who could have an effect on the Cubs selection.

Monday Night – I will be live blogging from 6pm until the Cubs 4th pick of the night at #78.  I will have a summation and analysis of each pick on the night by the following morning.

On Tuesday, I will start live blogging at 11am. You just need to keep refreshing the page. The Cubs will make 8 picks on the day. There are a lot of good players to be had Tuesday.

When Wednesday gets here, it is a race to keep up, find info on players, write, eat, go to the bathroom, let the dogs out occasionally, and then collapse later in the day. The Cubs make a pick about every 15 minutes.

I also made the card templates for the draft. I am going with a 1975 template. It should be fun making 42 of them this week. Making each card takes just two minutes.  I will have an album over on the Facebook page with all the draft cards. It’s a pretty intense day, though.

When the draft is all done, I will sit down and redo my top 21 list…for at least a month until International Free Agency kicks off. There are going to be a lot of changes coming.

The DSL Begins

Yesterday, the Cubs’ two Dominican Summer League teams began play. It will be interesting see how most of the 42 new international free agents the Cubs signed the last year will do. There are mostly 17-18 year old youngsters on the two squads. For DSL 2 on opening day, Outfielder Carlos Morfa went 3/5 with 3 doubles for DSL 2. On DSL 1, four young Cubs combined to throw a 1 hitter.

International News
MLB Pipeline released their top 30 international free agents. The Cubs clocked in as being the favorites to sign three of the top 30. At number 5 is pitcher Richard Gallardo, the top pitcher in this year’s class. #17 is outfielder Luis Lopez and #28 is pitcher Joel Machado. Also, Ben Badler of Baseball America praised one of the Cubs’ recent international signings from last year in lefty pitcher Misael Garcia who has shot up two inches and put on 25 pounds. His size increase also gave him an extra bump in velocity.


Around the System
Pitching is still dominating the headlines each day. From Iowa to South Bend, the starters are taking over. Usually, hitters tend to get going once the weather warms up. What I am really enjoying about this pitching renaissance are all the arms from the 2016 and 2017 draft classes moving so quickly in the system. That bodes well for the future. Hatch, Robinson, Rucker, and Mekkes from 2016 are already at Tennessee. Thompson and Lange from 2017 are at Myrtle Beach while their fellow draft classmates of Abbott, Lacy, Uelmen, and Tyler Thomas are doing very well in South Bend. It should be interesting to see who gets promoted at the All-Star Break in mid June.

This Week’s Records
Iowa
– 3-2 (21-32)
Tennessee – 3-3 (28-26)
Myrtle Beach – 5-1 (26-29)
South Bend – 4-3 (25-29)
DSL 1 – 1-0 (1-0)
DSL 2 – 1-0 (1-0)

Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere This Week
@BP Wrigleyville
Draft Preview

@Cubs Insider
2017 Draft Class Grade

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Leveling Up Series: Fernando Kelli Should Be One to Watch

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By Todd Johnson

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

When spring training begins, I’m sure there’s going to be a buzz around the back fields about just what Fernando Kelli can do. The young 19-year-old outfielder had one of the best offensive seasons by any Cubs hitting prospect in 2017. He hit .320 with an on-base percentage of .437 while stealing 58 bases. Granted, it was the Dominican Summer League, but 58 bases is 58 bases.

The problem with profiling Kelli is there is not that much written on him. I could sit here and scout the stat line for you but that’s not gonna tell us who he is. The only person to catch a glimpse of Kelli in the US was the late John Arguello for 2080 Baseball. John wrote:

“…Another switch-hitting, speedy center fielder the Cubs signed in this 2015 IFA class. He shows good range in the outfield, and his slight build (6-feet tall and 180 pounds) indicates his game will built around getting on base and taking advantage of his plus speed. He needs to add some strength, and his bat isn’t as far along as his base running and defense at present”.

That is it.

Fangraphs has very little other than stats, the same for Baseball Reference, and MLB.com.

Basic Info
19-years-old
Bats – Switch
Throws – Right
Signed in 2015 as an international free agent out of Venezuela

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

Leveling Up

58 Stolen bases in one season of rookie ball has really grabbed a lot of people’s attention along with his outstanding batting average and on-base percentage. At just 19 years of age, I don’t think there’s a lot of hype surrounding him, but it’s more like, “What can this kid do?” versus any kind of expectation about performance.

Unless his hit tool is extraordinary, he should probably begin this year in extended spring training (EXST). Then, depending on how he does in EXST, it could determine whether the 19-year-old outfielder goes all the way up to South Bend in mid-to-late May, or if he has to wait for Eugene or Mesa in the middle of June. I am speculating Eugene but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in South Bend.

In a system somewhat devoid of any high-end hitting prospects, Kelli’s 2017 season is more about promise than it is about future performance. It’s hard in this day and age, with all the technology and information on the Internet, for a player to just sneak up on a fanbase. Heading in the spring training, I am very curious as to what he can do as a hitter and defender. I’m pretty sure that once he gets on base, he can run. 58 stolen bases tell us that.

It’s pretty cool that he is a bit of a mystery and I’m looking forward to seeing how he answers a lot of questions this spring.

 

Cubs’ August MiLB All-Star Team Has 16 New Faces

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By Todd Johnson

What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.

Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.

While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.

As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.

Team Breakdown
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.

Upcoming posts
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young