By Todd Johnson
There was a lot of stiff competition to make this year’s Top 10 baseball card list. Two cards of the month didn’t make it. Some cards aged well over time. Others did not. I still think I could have argued for five cards to be the top card of the year. In fact, I changed the number one card five times over the past two days for a variety of reasons. As soon as I click publish, I will probably wish I could have changed it.
I just like this picture. I took this picture of Joe in Beloit. It was taken just before he eliminated his giant leg kick. Shortly thereafter, he began to hit much better in August.
At number 10 for the year, Larry Kave took this excellent shot of Justin Steele. In addition to the colors and the action, I really like the sunlight illuminating the top half of the card. Rikk Carlson captured a series of lines and angles in a great picture of DJ Wilson at number 9. The Eugene Emeralds nailed this action shot of pitcher Ben Hecht in a great picture as he warmed up between innings.
Taken off his Instagram account, I just love the colors of Eddy Martinez as he jogs to wherever he is going. Number six is by the Eugene Register Guard and has infielder Jhonny Bethencourt leaping up in the air to grab a throw down to second base from the catcher. Needless to say, the runner was safe. September’s number one picture comes in at number five for the year. I love the color of the lettering on the Emeralds’ Friday night jerseys and the expression on Jose’s face as well as how everything meshes with the woodgrain texture..
4-2 – Any of these could have been number one.
I think the Tennessee Smokies Charcer Burks’ card has aged very well over the year. What I like most about it is the smattering of blue throughout the card. In at number three, Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) nailed this photograph of DJ Wilson flying through the air with the greatest of ease. At number two, this card of Duane Underwood is another card that has aged well and I thought for a while it might be the best picture of the year as I just love the twilight experience in the card as well as how the red of Underwood’s hat matches the piping on the bottom of the card along with the trim on his uniform.
I hemmed and hawed in my own mind about the qualities of this card and the Underwood card above. I was actually smitten with this Albertos card caught by the Eugene Register Guard for several reasons. First, the action taking place in the cartoon is top notch. Second, the photograph encapsulates both objects in focus and out of focus which I think it adds to its enjoyment. Finally, the fact that this is a picture of Jose Alberto’s wearing Eugene’s throwback uniforms tops it off in my book. To be honest, I think it matters that it’s in a 1986 frame as that allows for the picture to be more of the star of the card then hiding behind the outline features of the card.
Over the next six months, there will be more cards made. Between now and the beginning of the spring training, I always tend to find just as many pictures in the off-season as I do in the regular season from the local newspapers of the prospects as they do write-ups and profiles. I won’t be having any special post for the winter cards, but I will add them to the Facebook account with its own photo album if you would like to see some of them. I will get started on them next weekend as I have about 10-15 pics waiting to be turned into cards.
Sometimes, the games don’t seem so important.
Cubs Prospect Tyler Alamo was one of those in attendance last week at the shooting in Las Vegas. Tim Huwe (@tim815) first reported on this a couple of days ago. Included in Tim’s article was a link to an interview where Alamo recounts the harrowing events of that night including the loss of his friends.
Felix Pena was DFA’d this week to make room for pitcher Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell and brother of South Bend Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell. Farrell appeared in nine games for the Reds last summer and had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP, all in relief.
At fall instructs, the Cubs prospects are playing sim games but with pitching machines. Although, Koji Uehara, on a rehab assignment, did face a few batters.
The Arizona Fall League begins play on Tuesday. The Mesa Solar Sox have 7 Cubs on the roster: Relievers Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett, starter Alec Mills, catcher Ian Rice, infielders David Bote and Jason Vosler, and outfielder Charcer Burks. Their schedule goes through mid-November. I will try and keep up with their performances every Sunday.
Baseball America Offseason Prospect Lists
Baseball America has been publishing their top 20 prospects in each minor league the past couple of weeks. In the first week, Victor Caratini made it in the Pacific Coast League. And last week, Adbert Alzolay made it for the Carolina League. This week saw a large number of prospects make it for the Midwest League and the Northwest League. The problem was not all the prospects are still with the franchise. In the Midwest League, Isaac Paredes came in at number nine and Dylan Cease at number 11. No current South Bend Cub made the list.
For the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs hit the motherlode. Jose Albertos was ranked number four, Aramis Ademan came in at number eight, and Miguel Amaya was number 16. None of those three selections were surprising. However, at number nine, pitcher Javier Assad was a stunning selection as BA’s Michael Lananna praised Assad’s improving arsenal.
On Thursday, the Arizona League post was published. It’s not surprising that Nelson Velasquez was on the list. However, he was ranked at number 20. He is still a bit raw, but he still does have a lot of upside and room for improvement in his game.
The DSL list should be published this next week. It will be interesting to see if any young Cubs make it.
I think what the six lists do show is that the Cubs are not devoid of talent. There may not be a lot of prospects at the top of each league, but the Cubs do have several players who could be on their way up the lists.
Top 20 Chat Post
There was an interesting question in the Northwest League chat that accompanied the post. A Cub fan from Pasadena California asked about whether the Cubs should be concerned about Brendon Little’s performance in the Northwest League. Here is the response to that question:
Michael Lananna: Mildly concerned, but don’t press the panic button yet. He’s the same guy. His control was erratic throughout his college career, and that’s still going to remain his biggest hurdle to the next level. This summer was just a small snapshot of that, and I’m sure the Cubs will work with him on his strike throwing going forward. He’s still an exciting left handed arm with power stuff.
Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
I have three posts scheduled to be published in between playoff recaps over the next five days. The Cards of the Year post should be out Monday. Later in the week, Shohei Otani and his impending free agency gets previewed. Part 2 of the State of the Cubs MiLB System will hit the Internet as well at some point in the next five days.
A Mock Draft Already?
Baseball America also posted their first mock draft for 2018. I was surprised to see that they had the Cubs selecting wiry high school pitcher Cole Wilcox at 24 considering that OF Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama was taken at number 25, I would’ve preferred the Cubs have gone with the college outfielder rather than the high school pitcher. Then again, it was only a mock draft but it is interesting to see where players are falling now and then compare that to a few months from now.
By Todd Johnson
One of the cool things about the Cubs’ system is that you can watch players develop in increments. There’s so much press, coverage, and statistical information, it’s hard for a prospect go unnoticed at any stage. Last year (2016) at Mesa, an 18 and then a 19-year-old Javier Assad sort of became the de facto ace of the young rookie league squad. His fastball, at that time, sat around 88 to 91 according to John Arguello.
In 2017, Assad continued his development at short season Eugene. Now 19/20, his fastball crept up a little bit more as the year wore on. It was not uncommon for him to top out at 94/95 in a game. Still, he sat most of the time in the low 90s often working easily up to 93..
What I took away from watching him in 2017 was that he’s got a little “dog in the fight.” He’s competitive and he attacks the zone. As the year progressed, he tended to quicken his pace, à la Adbert Alzolay, as he didn’t waste a lot of time between pitches. I think in 2018, we are going to start to see a much more fully developed pitcher.
Statistics can sometimes be irrelevant for a lot of minor-league players. There are instances where certain statistics can point out a weakness or a strength. I think a lot of time, people get hung up on just looking at one or two stats for the Cubs’ minor league pitchers, I tend not to get too hung up on either the velocity readings or ERA. Those are nice, but I think other statistics hint to where a prospect is at a certain point in their development. I like to look at statistics and how they compare in smaller splits as adjustments are continually made.
For example, Assad’s monthly ERAs in 2017 went from 2.45 in 3 June starts to 5.00 in 5 July starts and back down to 3.72 in 4 August starts. However, when you start digging deeper, his batting average against went down each month despite a roller coaster ERA. All the while, his K and BB rates remained consistent.
Pitching in Eugene was a bit treacherous this year and even more so when Aramis Ademan left to go to South Bend. It was not the best defensive unit on the face of the Earth. As a result, I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate Assad’s 2017 solely on his ERA or WHIPs which did go down each month. Instead, I think FIP and xFIP are likely more representative of his current development. They stood at 3.03 and 3.27 respectively. Both of those are very respectable.
When I saw Assad pitch several times in August, I was impressed by how much he had changed. Aside from quickening his pace, his curve had taken on a sharper bite. His fastball was not as wild and tailing up and away as it had earlier in the year. Even though he is 6’1” and 200 pounds, he is far from physically sculpted. I think as time goes on, his musculature could tighten up and he could gain a couple more ticks on his fastball.
As I start thinking about his future, I also noticed a set of stats that show some promise for the future. In 2016, 39.3% batted balls were pulled. In 2017, that percentage of balls was close at 39.1%. The biggest change occurred in opposite field hits increased by 5%. That tells me that hitters are not getting around him as much. It’s a stat and trend to watch for 2018 along with his BB rate.
The hardest thing for Assad to do in 2018 will be to earn a starting spot in South Bend. Alex Lange, Brendon Little, and Jose Albertos are most likely to be assigned there along with Bailey Clark and Jesus Camargo. Two 2017 draft picks, Keegan Thompson and Cory Abbott, will also be there to make the competition fierce in spring training. Assad is going to have his work cut out for him.
By Todd Johnson
One of my favorite things to watch this summer was Jesus Camargo’s changeup. Thrown anywhere from 79 to 82 miles an hour, it seemed to roll off a table and into the mitt of the catcher. Coming in at 10-13 miles an hour slower than his fastball, it was a thing of beauty that allowed him to dominate most Northwest League hitters.
Camargo missed all of 2016 after being the ace of the Mesa Cubs in 2015. The 21-year-old right-handed pitcher has to feel good about his success in 2017. He should begin 2018 in South Bend.
Doesn’t get rattled
Signed in 2014, Camargo debuted in the Arizona Rookie League in 2015. In 11 games, he threw 46.1 innings with a 3.30 ERA. He was considered to be the number one starter on a team that didn’t have a lot of starters. He struck out 57 batters and only walked 12 all season. He made the Cubs Central All-Star Team for August.
As a result, I was pretty excited to see him in Eugene in 2016. But an injury in spring training ditched that and he missed all of the season.
Heading into 2017, I wasn’t sure what his role was going to be. Would he get the opportunity to start? Would he be a long man out of the pen or a piggyback starter? Or would he be a straight up reliever?
He was two out of those three things this year. Eugene was all the better for it.
He began the year starting and, when some of the Cubs’ top draft picks came to Eugene, he moved to a piggyback role. When they have reached their inning limits, he went back to starting where I thought he should have stayed. His stuff was too good.
In 60.1 innings, he struck out 73 and walked only 24. With a 2.29 ERA, he was a Northwest League All-Star and was probably the most unheralded arm in the system. Opponents only hit .182 off him this year and he did not allow a HR all year.
Camargo has what I would call baseball maturity. Watching him on the mound it is very apparent that he knows how to set up and attack a hitter. He is not trying to do it with smoke and mirrors, but rather he is able to get the hitter out on his toes and control the pace of play through movement and location along with changing speeds.
When 2018 begins, Camargo will be a full year removed from his injury. I don’t think there will be any restrictions on him starting and trying to get over 100 innings in 2018. He still needs to work on his breaking ball more to accentuate the speed of his changeup. If he can do that for next year, he is going to dominate Midwest League hitters just like he did in the Northwest League.
By Todd Johnson
Heading into last night’s action, I was pretty excited to see that Jose Albertos was named the game four starter. And then I remembered I couldn’t watch it on TV. That’s the only thing that blows about the Northwest League is that there are only two teams with MiLB.TV. Anyway, my number one prospect in the Cubs system took the mound in a do or die game. If they won, they lived to fight another day. If they lost, the season would be officially over.
After the tough one run loss on Monday night, I thought they just need to get their bats going. If they could get some runs early, it would throw the Canadians off their game. Jose could then relax and just throw strikes and use his change. That didn’t happen. For the second night in a row, the Emeralds out hit the Canadians but lost 2-1. Five walks by Albertos gave the Canadians all the base runners they needed. Michael Cruz did homer for the Ems who only managed four hits on the night.
The series is now complete and the season is now over.
My Eugene Emeralds year-end review will be posted at Cubs Insider in the next couple of days. I will be back tomorrow with news about what’s in store for Cubs Central during the off season.
By Todd Johnson
It has to be tough to out hit your opponent and lose. But that’s what happened last night in Vancouver as the Canadians beat the Emeralds 2 to 1. Two costly errors in one inning lead to 2 unearned runs. The Canadians now lead the series 2 games to 1.
The Canadians’ Nate Pearson was a beast on the mound throwing 96-98 but the Ems still managed to score a first inning run thanks to Zach Davis who singled, stole second and third, and came home on a wild pitch. Eugene only managed three other hits the rest of the night.
Picture Cory Abbott was impressive in his short start. He went three innings and struck out three were only giving up one hit. Catcher Will Remillard threw out two base runners in one inning after Abbott walked each for the only threat up to that point. Ricky Taylor Thomas was excellent in relief striking out 3 in 2.1 IP.
Tonight’s game for begins at 9 central. Hopefully José Albertos will be on the mound to tie up the series.
By Todd Johnson
It has been a “heckuva” ride this week as Mesa won four out of five games including the best-of-three championship series against the Giants. I was quite surprised to see Mesa go on the run winning 13 out of 15 games. In the first half, it was brutal to check their daily box score. They were 9-19 in the first half. There was no indication that this team could go on such a run. There were some roster moves made in early August that I thought could stabilize the team as a couple of pitchers came up from the DSL along with hitter Luis Hidalgo. I didn’t think they would be that stabilizing.
Needless to say, covering the lower minors next year is going to be very exciting. Nelson Velazquez pounded the ball in the playoffs with 2 HRs along with fellow 18-year-olds Jonathan Sierra and Luis Vazquez. 2B Delvin Zinn hit .500 for the playoffs with a .632 OBP. Most of the players on the Mesa team will be at Eugene next summer with a few at South Bend. I’m excited to watch them every day next year on MiLB.TV.
As for the Eugene Emeralds, they played the Vancouver Canadians in game one of a best-of-five series last night. Keegan Thompson got the start for the Ems and he gave up two runs in three innings. In the bottom of the third, the Ems took a 4-2 lead thanks in part to two walks and a HBP. After that, the Ems had 3 errors and a wild pitch just in the fifth inning that they could not overcome. Vancouver scored four to take a 6-4 lead. Each team would tack on one more run as the Canadians won 7-5. Brendon Little pitches tonight for Eugene at 7 Central.
I’m pretty hopeful that Eugene can get their back-to-back championship trophies. They now have their work cut out for them. They have the pitching, hitting, and the speed to do it. The questions this year have been their defense, especially up the middle, and their lack of consistency both on the mound and at the plate. I have no doubts about their talent, whatsoever. Some nights, they just struggle because that’s baseball and they are very young.
And finally, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ season ended in a strange set of circumstances. Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the Mills Cup championship. Two teams would be declared co-champions based on the division series. The Pelicans were supposed to play a best of five series against Down East, the Rangers affiliate in the Carolina League. That was shortened to a best of three series. Myrtle Beach only pushed two runs across the plate, and, as a result, they lost two games to none.
When it comes to Cubs Central…
I began to plan out what the off-season is going to involve on this site. Over the winter, I’m going to have a weekly series beginning after Thanksgiving. It is going to be called “Leveling Up.” It is going to look at several high-profile prospects moving up the system and what they need to do at the next level. DJ Wilson is going to be the first prospect profiled and will be followed by Zack Short and Eddy Martinez.
My Other Writing This Week on the Web
I did some year-end affiliate reviews this week and they are up and posted at Cubs Insider. Click on the links below.
South Bend Review
Jared Young Profile