By Todd Johnson
Two Cubs pitchers returned to action in Mesa last night. Alec Mills from Iowa went two innings with 2 Ks and Oscar de la Cruz from Myrtle Beach made his first appearance since May 25. Oscar threw 2 IP with 1 K. Those were good to read about! Based on Oscar’s rehab last year, I would expect them to work their way through the system before getting back to their respective affiliates.
Jake Stinnett seems to be flourishing as a reliever thanks in part to coach Ron Villone’s advice in Mesa. Stinnett has a 1.35 ERA in relief in his short time for the Smokies. Things are looking up for the 2014 second round pick.
The MiLB season is winding down with just two weeks to go for most of the affiliates. The DSL teams end next Saturday, the 26th. I started back to teaching this past week. However, it is always an adjustment transitioning from summer to school. I hope to write about three posts a week once I get settled at school a bit more.
There was a lot of good pitching this week. It was hard to pick a pitcher of the day every day this week. Duncan Robinson threw 5 scoreless and didn’t get pitcher of the day on the 17th. Jesus Tejada in the DSL struck out 10 on Friday while Erling Moreno Kd 8 in his lone start this week.
While I did not write much that was published the past week, I did some pre-writing activities. I began researching splits for the August All-Star Team and 2nd Half All-Star Team. I also narrowed down players for the second half breakout prospect awards.
For the breakout hitter, I am completely undecided. I have some thinking to do as no one in the states really stood out that hasn’t been on someone’s radar. As for starting pitching, Duncan Robinson and Michael Rucker are the finalists just for the second half. Dillon Maples, David Garner, and Craig Brooks are the relievers who earned serious props in the second half. Here are the first half breakout players.
I also began assembling some “Names to Know” for 2018. It is a collection of names from Mesa and Eugene with a few other players mixed in. Basically, these are the players who I can’t wait to see play. There are several names you already know. I will break that down into pitching and hitting storylines.
I don’t know when any of the posts listed above will be out, but I am leaning towards the early and middle parts of September. They would fit snugly alongside the year end affiliate reviews.
Tennessee – 2-4: Some hitters seem to have had a resurgence down in Tennessee after some poor second halfs. Jason Vosler, Charcer Burks, and David Bote seem to be turning it on to keep up with Yasiel Balaguert, who has been hot all second half.
Myrtle Beach – 7-1: They are getting hot just in time to defend the Mills Cup. Tyler Alamo is quietly putting together a great season.
South Bend – 5-2: If you take away June and the first two weeks of July, this would have been a playoff team. There’s a lot of talent here even if the record doesn’t show it.
Eugene – 2-5: Poor defense and a dormant offense are derailing their playoff chances. Miguel Amaya, on the other hand, seems to be finding his bat.
Mesa – 4-3: They are still very young and very raw. Catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni has been the team’s best hitter.
DSL 1 – 3-2: DSL 2 – 3-2
I will have a post out Tuesday summing up some possible prospects to keep an eye on at Fall Instructs from DSL 1 and DSL 2.
Duncan Robinson Part 1
There are just three weeks left in the MiLB season. With the Iowa Cubs out of the running, the Cubs will have some callups once September arrives and rosters expand. I would not expect too many players considering the Cubs are in the midst of a pennant race. Here are five players I think the Cubs will add for the final month. All but one are on the 40 man roster and a space will have to be made to add that one player.
Jack Leathersich – A lefty, he’s been lights out at Iowa but I doubt he would pitch in Chicago except in a blowout.
Eddie Butler – I like adding him as a long man or backup starter.
Rob Zastryzny – He was just up for a day and should be up all September now that he is healthy.
Dillon Maples – He is the only one who is not on the 40 man roster. Then again, he could be added long before September comes the way he is pitching.
Outside shot of being added – Catcher Taylor Davis – I don’t think Manager Joe Maddon wants to go into the playoffs with a couple of run down catchers. Hopefully Willson will be back in a month. In the meantime, Davis would provide a day off for both catchers or an inning or two of relief in blowouts down the stretch to keep them fresh as well.
A month ago, I published an article about the Arizona Fall League and 40 man roster implications. At first, I thought about revisiting that post in the wake of the trades, but Eloy Jimenez was the only player affected from the post. Instead, the only possible outcome would be that there might be one more 40 man roster spot available. In the article, I predicted who the Cubs might protect from the Rule V Draft by adding them to the 40 man roster. I also suggested some possible prospects who could play in the AFL. The Cubs may want to save a spot for Willson Contreras to rehab considering how well that worked for someone else last year to come back for the World Series.
In other news this week, Baseball America produced a new top 100 prospect list that includes this year’s draft picks. There are still no Cubs. I don’t think there will be until the middle of next year.
Coming up at Cubs Central.
School starts for me this week. After two days of institute on Wednesday and Thursday, the students arrive on Friday. I have a couple of posts already in the queue ready to go. One is an interview with Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Duncan Robinson. The other is a post about investing in Cubs prospects. I will also examine possible names of some DSL players who should be headed north for Fall Instructs. That could be the week after. You never know how news flows.
Yesterday morning, my wife and I had to put down one of our dogs. Phoebe was a terrier mix who was almost 13. She lived a good life of walks, treats, and belly rubs. In the past year, she had lost her sight and most of her hearing. We miss her already.
Around the Minors:
Iowa – 4-3: Jen-Ho Tseng continues to roll and reliever David Garner was promoted to AAA.
Tennessee – 3-3: 3.5 GB of a playoff spot – Yasiel Balaguert was named Southern League Hitter of the Week while Duane Underwood might be named Pitcher of the Week tomorrow.
Myrtle Beach – 1-5: It is rough all around in South Carolina. Reliever Pedro Araujo was promoted to AA Tennessee. I hope to see some infusion of talent from South Bend to give the Pelicans a shot at winning back-to-back-to-back titles.
South Bend – 4-2: I am seeing some growth and development from DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, and Bryan Hudson that is extremely promising. In addition, pitcher Tyler Peyton is on a great streak of pitching well the past three weeks. He has put himself into contention to make the monthly all-star team. Tomorrow’s post will be about how South Bend can help Myrtle Beach win the Mills Cup.
Eugene – 2-5: 1 Defensive woes derailed their week but they are still just one game away from a playoff spot. Brandon Hughes is starting to warm up again.
Mesa – 2-3: The kids are getting experience even if it doesn’t show up in wins. Delvin Zinn seems to be back in a groove hitting over .300 this month.
DSL 1 – 3-4 – OF Luis Hidalgo got the call to Mesa this week.
DSL 2 – 2-4
Baseball Card of the Week
Players of the Week
By Todd Johnson
It is easy to get a sneak peek at pitchers that have recently been drafted. However, their roles are not really going to be laid out for another year or two. Adjustments will be made at instructs this fall and again in spring training. The pitchers they are now will not resemble the pitchers they are next year or the year after
The thing I like to remember is that they have already pitched a full season of baseball. Some, like Alex Lange, have already thrown over 120 innings. Then again, there are relievers who fit right in when it comes to workloads this season. Of the 19 pitchers signed via the 2017 draft, only four have been given an opportunity to start in some capacity. In addition, two of the arms selected and signed have not thrown a pitch in game action.
Here is an update on how the young pitchers are doing.
Alex Lange – The first round pick dominated in his two inning debut. While it was at Eugene, I felt that he should not be there much longer in that it really wasn’t a challenge for him. Hopefully, he can go up to South Bend and make it a start of two innings and the Cubs can reevaluate from there. I tend to think he’ll begin next year at Myrtle Beach with an outside shot of Tennessee. However, Tennessee might be too aggressive.
Rollie Lacy – He is pitching only in relief in Mesa and he hasn’t allowed a lot of baserunners with a WHIP of 0.66. As a 22-year-old, he should dominate rookie ball and he is. I think there is a pretty good chance he’s in northern Indiana to begin the year.
Ben Hecht – He has been a most impressive reliever as he has swing and miss stuff. At Eugene, he has pitched 6.1 innings and struck out an amazing 15 batters. With that kind of firepower, I think long term that he is a reliever with closer or setup potential.
Jake Steffens – To date he’s pitched up 10.2 innings and is look good doing so. He had one bad outing in his eight appearances and opponents are only hitting .108 against him. It’s pretty good for a 29th round pick.
Brendan King – He is just getting going and he is making short starts. Right now, his ERA is 1.59 and he’s struck out 13 and 11.1 innings while only giving up two earned runs. Depending on how he does this fall and next spring, I think he has an outside shot at making it to Indiana for the summer.
Erich Uelmen – He has only made three appearances. His first outing was a bit rough, but his second saw him strikeout five in two innings. He is currently at Eugene and I expect him to be in South Bend starting in 2018.
Mitch Stophel – Currently, he is in rookie ball in Mesa. He has pitched nine innings in a relief it is struck out 13. He walked five, but for a 25 round pick, I’m not gonna complain. He could be in South Bend next year.
Cory Abbott – He debuted Monday night. He flashed a four pitch mix and struck out three in two innings but did give up a homer, his only hit. His fastball sat in the low 90s topping out at 93.
Depends on the Day
Kegan Thompson – After missing all of 2016, I was surprised the Cubs let him pitch after he threw 98 innings for Auburn this spring. He’s being used in relief and he has only made two appearances so far. I see him starting next summer in the rotation for South Bend.
Brian Glowicki – The closer from the University of Minnesota has had some ups and downs in that role for the Emeralds. He has shown the ability to miss bats and I think he will get better as the season goes on.
Casey Ryan – Take away one outing where he gave up four runs in 1/3 of an inning, and he’s been really good. He is a reliever in a starter’s body.
Jeffrey Passantino – I am not sure what his role is going to be. In Mesa, he hass been relieving. I don’t know if they’re going to try and turn him into a starter as a pro or leave him in the bullpen with his bulldog mentality. I guess we’ll find out next year.
Brendon Little – He has been lit up in his two outings. After only pitching four innings in college plus the cape cod league in 2016, he threw 80+ innings this year. I thought we might see him out of the pen to begin with, but he is taking the bump to begin the game twice. I would not be too alarmed that his performance so far. You still have to remember he’s only 20 years old and has been basically shut down for two months.
Sean Barry – He’s only made three appearances so far in Mesa. All were in relief. I don’t have a good read on him yet.
Peyton Remy – He made his first appearance on Sunday night when he threw a scoreless one third of an inning.
Crickets…They have not pitched yet and might not.
Jeremy Estrada – He has not been rostered yet. I think Estrada will more than likely be in Mesa at worst and Eugene at best.
Brady Miller – No roster has been assigned for Miller yet, either.
Braxton Light – He has been assigned to Arizona but has yet to see any action.
19 arms is a lot about pitching to accommodate in an organization at one time. We will know more next year at this time than we do now about these arms. I think this summer’s performances have kind of given us a sneak peek and there’s a lot to be encouraged by past month, and even the last week. And I think once the starters are stretched out next year, it will be even more impressive. With a lot of the young arms at Eugene and South Bend, this collection of arms will create quite the competition for spots next spring. So far, I find their performances encouraging for the organization.
By Todd Johnson
I think it’s tough for draft picks to come in to an organization in the middle of the year and play well. I also think that you really shouldn’t evaluate the draft pick based on two months after they’ve already played a full season. Many of them have basically been playing since January. At some point they have to get tired regardless of how good they are.
In looking at this year’s draft class, I think there a couple key things to take notice of for next year. One, there is some serious athleticism in the group as a whole. Two, there are some guys who I think can really hit and will prove so next year.
Several draft picks came out of the gate pretty hot. Some have cooled off while others have been able to maintain some semblance of success.
Austin Upshaw – He came out of the gate very hot and now has cooled. He is still showing a solid approach but his hits have not been at falling in August like they did in July. He will be fine next year. He should begin the year at Myrtle Beach. They are going to love him there.
Luis Vazquez – Heading into Sunday, he was hitting .316. That is very good for a high school product to do that in rookie league just jumping right in. I still remember thinking how athletic he was in his prospect a video back on draft day. I cannot wait to get Arizona Phil’s take during instructs. He should be at Eugene next year as an 18-year-old kid.
Brandon Hughes – Like Upshaw, Hughes came out of the gate hard and has since slowed down. He bats third or fourth for Eugene and he’s been in the lineup most every day. The first thing you notice about him is his advanced athleticism and build. I see him being at South Bend to begin 2018.
Chris Singleton – A later round pick, the athletic outfielder began at Mesa and has been promoted to Eugene where he slid right into the leadoff spot. I really like what I have heard from the Eugene radio broadcasters, but I have not seen him play on TV yet. I am thinking he will be at South Bend to begin 2018.
Cam Balego – The young infielder has been playing all over the diamond for the rookie league Cubs and has hit almost .400 last month. I have not read much about him and I think I might not until fall instructs.
Ramsey Romano – He just got promoted to Eugene where he went two for five in his second game with two RBI. He can play all over the infield and I think this utility player will probably be at South Bend to begin 2018.
Austin Filiere – His average has been up-and-down but he has definitely shown some power in his bat. In the field, he gets by as a third baseman. His arm is average but that can be improved on. He will be at South Bend to start 2018.
Have some work to do…
Nelson Velazquez – He has flashed some serious athleticism and power in Mesa. However, he has not shown the ability to hit for average so far in rookie league and he strikes out a lot. Then again, he is still very young. He is one player who is going to improve dramatically with instruction this fall and in spring training. I think once he gets in the routine of doing things every day, we might see his power be a daily thing.
Chris Carrier – He has not had a good start to his career at both Mesa and Eugene where he is striking out about 75% of the time. More than likely, if he has a good spring training next year, he should be in South Bend.
Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate and announcer Pat Zajak concurs. In other words, the BABIP Gods have not been kind to him in Eugene. I see him beginning the year in South Bend in 2018. He’s a pretty good sized second baseman.
I don’t know if any of these position players will show up on any prospect list in the next year, but that is not going to stop them from succeeding. I would not be surprised to see Velazquez and Vazquez make a list in 2019. It is rare for the Cubs to select a HS position player in the Theo era. I can only think of a few the Cubs have signed – Kevonte Mitchell and DJ Wilson who are both in low A this year, Tyler Alamo at Myrtle Beach, and Charcer Burks at Tennessee. It takes a few years to get going.
By Todd Johnson
The Cubs got a big win yesterday to stop a three game skid. There are still 53 games left to play and most of them are against teams with losing records. After next Sunday, the Cubs do not play a team with a winning record for the rest of the month. I feel pretty good about that.
The Eugene Trio: It’s been a beautiful week for the starting pitching of Eugene. When their All-Star break ended and play resumed on Thursday night, Jose Albertos pitched five innings of one hit ball. On Friday night, first-round draft pick Alex Lange made his professional debut with two innings of hitless ball. And on Saturday night, the Cubs other first round pick, Brendon Little, made his second start (but not a good one) as a Cubs prospect. That’s a promising peak into the future, provided they all stay healthy.
Cubs MiLB Awards: I expected that the Cubs would announce their awards on Saturday for minor league hitter and pitcher of the month for July but not a peep.
MiLB Farm System Rankings: Both Baseball America and MLB.com released their midseason farm system rankings this week. Not surprisingly, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 28th out of 30 teams. Considering who they traded this summer, no big news there. MLB.com only ranked the top 10, but they put the White Sox as number one.
John Sickels : He takes a while to release his midseason rankings. By the time he’s done, the season is usually over. After seeing MLB.com’s rankings last week , I was interested to see John’s take on the Cubs’ system and just who he thinks the top Cubs prospects are. It should be out today or tomorrow. I might even do a post about it, depending on how he ranks them.
Around the Minors: September 4 is coming quick. That is when the MILB season ends. Right now, only Myrtle Beach has punched a ticket to the postseason. Iowa and South Bend are pretty much out of the running along with the two Dominican summer league teams.Tennessee, on the other hand, is only three games back of Montgomery for a wildcard berth. Eugene has a slim one game lead as the second half division leader. In Mesa, despite being with the second worst team in the league the first half, is only one game back in the second.
Iowa – 4-2: Rob Zastryzny made it back from rehab and made it back from rehab and made his way to Chicago very quickly. Victor Caratini returned and promptly hit home runs both Friday and Saturday nights.
Tennessee – 5-2: Craig Brooks was named the Southern League’s Reliever of the Month after not giving up an earned run throughout July. Trevor Clifton missed a start this week but will be ready to go today. Hopefully, he can just relax and let his pitches do the work. Duane Underwood has now made two excellent starts in a row including a seven inning affair on Friday night where he struck out seven.
Myrtle Beach – 3-5: This team is having some issues as they have the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half after having the best the first. It is not the fault of Zack Short who seems to be making an excellent adjustment to high A ball. Over his last 10 games, the young shortstop is hitting .351 with a .405 OBP from the leadoff spot. In addition, pitcher Michael Rucker continues to do well. This week, he scattered 11 hits but only allowed one run in his start.
South Bend – 3-4: Erling Moreno returned to action on Friday night and pitched three innings while giving up just a run. Bryan Hudson also had an excellent start this week where he did not allow run in five innings. As well, Tyler Peyton had his best start as he gave up just one run in five innings. At the plate, Andruw Monasterio and Aramis Ademan make a formidable duo at the top of the lineup. I see this team maturing in small bits the past month. That bodes well for next year.
Eugene – 3-1: Several new players arrived this week including outfielder Chris Singleton and infielder Ramsey Romano. Singleton is off to a pretty good start and Romano struggled in his first two games after hitting almost 400 at Mesa. Pitcher Cory Abbott was also added to the team but has not thrown yet. Every time Ricky Tyler Thomas pitches, I come away extremely impressed with his performance, even if it is as a reliever.
Mesa – 2-4: It looks like their starting pitching might be starting to stabilize. Faustino Carrera had his best start of the year this week and Brailyn Marquez has looked amazing at times and terrible at others. Either way, he is striking out a lot of hitters (32 in 25.1 IP). Stephen Ridings had his best outing of year on Friday night and it looks like Brendan King might be a sleeper based on his short outings (1.59 ERA).
DSL 1 – 2-3: After a good week last week, the pitching hit the skids this week. Fernando Kelli has stolen almost 50 SBs. I am starting to get questions about the young switch hitting 18-year-old outfielder.
DSL 2 – 3-3: I still like some of the pitchers they have left. Danis Correa was promoted to Mesa and he might be followed by Emilio Ferrebus and Jesus Tejada. At the very least, expect Ferrebus and Tejada to be at instructs.
Coming up at Cubs Central.
1. Draft Player Update – In two separate posts, I will be giving an update on how this year’s draft class is performing as Cubs.
2. The other post I might write this week could be on some players I think who are ascending the past two months and might break out at the beginning of next year, if they have not already this year. Then again, I may wait until September to do this post.
3. I will continue to do updates on several of the Cubs top pitching prospects. That seems to be my focus of late.
4. I will also be interviewing pitcher Duncan Robinson in the early part of this week. Look for information from that discussion to be on all three platforms.
Card of the Week
Don’t ask me how, but I made 150 last month. This week, I already made over 30. Good thing school starts in a week: 2017 Cards: August .
By Todd Johnson
With the promotion of Aramis Ademan to South Bend, the Eugene Emeralds’ lineup takes on a whole different mix now. Ademan was one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs organization in July. Then again, his first two weeks at Eugene were a disaster when he hit leadoff. Ademan did not start hitting until he went into the number two spot thanks in part to the guy who took over the leadoff spot and that is Jhonny Bethencourt.
Bethencourt had been hitting .400 down in the six spot behind Joe Martarano and Gustavo Polanco. Once Bethencourt moved into the leadoff spot, the Eugene offense started to coalesce. They missed the first half division title by just one game. With a .375 on base percentage, Bethancourt has shown a sharp eye at the plate and is a hitter to keep an eye on despite a mini slump in July that saw his average drop from .317.
Birthplace: Pampatar, Venezuela
Ht: 5′ 11″ Wt: 160
Hands, walks consistently, ability to hit to all fields, defense at 2B
Areas of Concern
Defense at 3B, lack of power, physical projection, consistency hitting
Signed by the Cubs as an international free agent in 2014, he’s had a somewhat steady rise through the system. It hasn’t been meteoric nor has he knocked anybody socks off, but he has put together a couple good seasons, including this year.
Bethencourt’s Cubs career began in Venezuela in 2015. In 61 games, he had .319 with a .410 on base percentage. He played second base and outfield but did not display any power. In 2016, he came stateside and played 38 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Even though he hit only .235, his approach at the plate stayed the same as he put up on base percentage of .353. He played second and third and spent a little bit of time in the outfield.
When it comes to fielding third base, ground balls sometimes eat him up. He has 7 errors in 14 games there. He seems a little more sure handed at second base with only 3 miscues in 17 games..
Even though he is just 20 years old, there’s just something I like about him. He’s not going to be a world beater as he’s not that big of a kid. But he’s going to be able to hit and he’s shown the proclivity to do so in two of his three seasons in addition to showing the ability to get on base every year.
In 2015, he struck out 11.2% of the time, in Mesa, 14.4% – both decent numbers. This year, his K rate is 23% which is a little alarming and bears watching.
Two stats that I like to keep an eye on at the lower levels are how a player sprays the ball around the field and the percentage of types of balls he hits. Combined, they give you an idea of how he is hitting the ball. Sometimes players can get a little too pull happy and sometimes ground balls overwhelm the types of batted balls. This year, Bethencourt is pulling 43% of his batted balls while his ground ball rate is up to 50%. He needs to hit more liners and use the whole field. Still, they are just a partial picture of him as a hitter. Here is a nice hit of his going to right field. Notice the smooth stroke he has.
That’s about as well as he is going to hit the ball.
Aaron Alter of the Daily Emerald wrote a wonderful article about how bethencourt is dealing with the turmoil back home in Venezuela. Also, in that same article, Bethencourt describes his daily approach.
“The preparation for the game, it’s the most important thing. My routine in the cages, the BP, I try to put my best there. If I can’t do that, then I can’t just go in the game and hit.” […] The routine itself starts out with a one-handed-swings with a short training bat, a tried and true way to improve control at the plate. He follows that with full bat swings, mainly focusing on hitting the ball down the middle, and then the routine is finished. “It’s more psychological,” he said. “It gets me in the zone.”
With just four weeks left in the season, Bethencourt should stay at Eugene as the Emeralds try to make a run for a playoff spot to defend their Northwest League Championship.
I will be interested to see how does in South Bend next year against more advanced pitching. With a 140 game season at that level, it is always more telling of a prospect’s skills and tools. I think Bethencourt should be someone to watch with intent in 2018.
By Todd Johnson
When the Cubs drafted Alex Lange, I thought the pick was an outstanding one. At the time, I thought it was a steal and I still do. Lange is 21-years-old and he has a lot of experience pitching on a big stage. Whether he starts or relieves when he gets to Chicago does not matter to me. To go along with his uber-competitive nature, he has a major league curveball already.
When I watched him pitch in the College World Series, I came away very impressed with his ability to locate his fastball and pitch is way out of trouble. I did not expect the Cubs to let him pitch this year. For LSU, he threw 120+ innings. I thought he would just hang out and get acclimated to the pro lifestyle and show up at fall instructs and throw some BP there – sort of like Thomas Hatch did in 2016. That didn’t happen.
Last night in Spokane, Lange made his professional debut with Eugene Emeralds. The Cubs predetermined that Lange will only pitch 10 innings the rest of this year. I thought that Lange might go 2 innings, tops, to stay within that mandate. But what a two innings!
Lange faced six batters. He struck out three, got two grounders, and forced a popup. He only used 22 pitches in his two inning outing. Clearly, Lange was the dominant primordial beast on the mound. You can see from the pitch chart, he moved the ball around both up and down and inside and out.
His fastball came in between 89 and 93. His curve, according to Eugene radio announcer Pat Zajak, was “as good as advertized” in getting two of his strikeouts.
In the first, Lange was a bit wild but calmed down in the second. He was efficient as 15 of 22 pitches were for strikes and he did not walk a batter.
I got the sense that Lange is beyond short season ball. With his background and big game experience, Eugene might just be a safe place for him to get his 10 innings in. I, for one, would like to see how he does against more advanced hitters. The average age of the six batters he faced last night was 19.67. That is not really going to challenge someone who has pitched 3 years of SEC baseball.
Who knows, maybe Lange’s next start will be in South Bend. Something tells me, he likely would not be long there either.