Eugene Emeralds

The Weekly: Good News Around the System and Draft Signings

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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.

Promotion Commotion
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

The Weekly – The Pelicans Win Big, Dillon Maples, and Eugene Debuts

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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.

PROMOTION NEWS
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.

UPCOMING ARTICLES

  • 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

My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Cubs Insider
Draft Preview
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Pelicans Win

BP Wrigleyville
Adbert Alzolay
Draft Recap

New Top 21 Prospect List Is Aggressive and Infused with Draft Picks and a Latin Feel

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By Todd Johnson

Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.

I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.

I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.

I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.

Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.

10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
Image may contain: 1 person, sunglasses, baseball and text
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.

9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
Age: 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.

8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.

7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
Age: 18
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!

6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
Image may contain: 1 person, baseball
Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.

5. Trevor Clifton – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball4. Tom Hatch – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.

3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
Age 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.

2. Dylan Cease – SP
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.

1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, baseball and text
Age: 20
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.

It Is Opening Day in Eugene – Let the Title Defense Begin

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By Todd Johnson

The Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs’ short season Class A team, opens up at home tonight to begin defense of its Northwest League title. The roster was released on Tuesday to oohs and ahs throughout the Internet (Well, actually, it was just me and another guy in Louisiana). Still, I find it very exciting as they usually play at 9 Central when most Cub affiliates have just ended their games. They have my sole attention every summer.

This year’s team, for now,  is a mixture of international players and some of last year’s draft picks. Most of the players played in Mesa in Rookie League last year where they made it the AZL playoffs. There are a few players who played in the Dominican Summer League and skipped Mesa this year. There is a lot of talent on this roster. The Emeralds begin their title defense with the following players.

Pitchers: Luis Aquino, Javier Assad, Jesus Camargo, Holden Cammack, Bailey Clark, Enrique de los Rios, Andin Diaz. Elvis Diaz, Hector Alonso Garcia, Yapson Gomez, John Michael Knighton, Mark Malave, Junior Marte, Manuel Rodriguez, Jhon Romero, Andry Rondon, Matt Swarmer

Catchers: Miguel Amaya and Gustavo Polanco

Infield: Aramis Ademan, Jhonny Bethencourt, Joe Martarano, Rafael Narea, Edgar Rondon

Outfield: Zach Davis, Jose A. Gonzalez, Kwang-Min Kwon, and Connor Myers

It is worth noting that short season rosters can contain up to 35 players with 25 active per night. Most of those inactive for a game are pitchers.

Here are a few key players to keep an eye on over the the next 70 games.
1. Bailey Clark – I don’t know how long he will be at this level. He missed spring training finishing up his degree at Duke. He showed up in EXST in May and has been getting ready for the season. To be honest, his upper 90s fastball should be too dominant for this league. I wrote about him last year and I expect to see him in South Bend quickly.

2. Javier Assad – He was the ace of the 2016 Cubs rookie league team that made the playoffs. He struck out 42 in 37.1 IP last year with a 2.87 ERA. John Arguello said that he is more physically mature this year. His unofficial stats from EXST (courtesy of the Cub Reporter) were impressive. He had a 2.55 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 24.2 IP. He struck out 26 and batters hit only .229 versus him. At the tender age of 19, expect him to be an Em all season.

3. Miguel Amaya – He’s just 18 and he drew rave reviews this spring for his catching abilities and his developing power. Amaya was signed by the Cubs in 2015 as a 16-year-old and he also is still growing. In EXST this year, he unofficially hit .350 with 4 HRs and was on fire as camp ended hitting .531 with a .600 OBP over his last ten games. I am extremely excited to see him play!

4. Aramis Ademan – Aramis is also a member of the 2015 IFA class and he is already considered the top defensive SS in the Cubs system. He will be skipping rookie ball and going right to Eugene. This spring, he proved he his bat is more advanced than previously thought. He hit .270 over 28 games with 1 HR. He’s not going to be a power guy. It is all about defense for him.

5. Joe Martarano – The former Boise State linebacker is now 100% committed to baseball. I like that. I like that he is 6’3” and 235-240 lbs. I like that he can hit for average as well as power. He did play some for the Cubs in the summer after being drafted in 2013. He did not play at all in 2016. He showed no signs of rust in EXST hitting .324 with a .448 OBP. I find that plate discipline to be amazing with how little he’s played after focusing on football for so long. The kid can hit.

6. Rafael Narea – Another IFA, he came on strong this spring. The 19 year-old-shortstop hit .290 and showed a deft bat and plate discipline as he only struck out a 4% rate.

The roster is also notable for the one player not on it. Pitcher, and top young prospect, Jose Albertos is staying behind in Mesa to work on his grip on his curve, which he keeps spiking in the dirt. Eventually, he will make his way to the great northwest.

Last year, over 50+ players flowed through Eugene. Once the draft picks sign, many more players will be coming. Expect to see the college position players arrive in late June. I doubt you will see first rounder Alex Lange as he is in the CWS for the next two weeks. However, top pick Brendon Little should be in the bullpen or making short starts of two innings. It will be exciting to see who all shows up!

Draft Picks Who Should Be in Eugene by July

The list could include OF Chris Carrier, 3B Austin Filiere, P Cory Abbott, P Erich Uelmen, P Ricky Tyler thomas, IF Austin Upshaw, OF Brandon Hughes, 2B Jared Young, P Brandon King, and closer Brian Glowicki. There might even be a few more.

 

The Weekly: Tight Playoff Races and the Draft Schedule

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By Todd Johnson

It is all about the draft over the next three days. Here is my plan.

Monday – Rounds 1-2
On Monday night I will be blogging live. The keyword for you will be “refresh.” That way, you can follow along as I make changes and other teams make their selections. Once the Cubs make their first pick, I will begin frantically putting together a new post for pick #27 while awaiting pick #30. Once a second round pick is made at #67, I will do my due diligence on that new prospect as well. So, there will be four posts altogether and three draft cards. I will be on Twitter most of the evening and begin blogging somewhere around 7:30 pm Central.

Tuesday – Rounds 3-10 begins at noon
I tend to like covering day number two a lot. With just 8 picks, there’s a lot less stress in between picks. That leaves me plenty of time to find information, write a brief profile, and make a card. Coverage begins at noon Central. This will be one post for the entire day. Just hit refresh to get caught up on each selection and profile, plus seeing their draft card is always a kick.

Wednesday – Rounds 11-40 begins at 11 AM
This day is a lot of fun just for the research and the cards. I tend not to do too big a blurb about each prospect. It usually starts out bigger at number 11 and by the time I get into the 30s there’s only a sentence or two about the player. For me, this is the most challenging and sometimes fun part of the draft as there’s just not a lot out there on some guys. Think about it, there are 1200 players going to be drafted over three days. My knowledge only goes to about 200-250 tops.

Top 21 List Redux
After the draft is complete, I will have a new top 21 list by the end of the week I don’t know how many draft picks will make it onto the list, but right now I’m guessing three. The Cubs pick at number 27, 30, 67, and 105 in the first three rounds. I am pretty sure the top three picks will make the cut. I think the third round pick has a chance to be in the top 21. As for the fourth round pick, I am not so sure. I think that player will definitely be in the Ala Carte portion of the list.

The Playoff Chase in the Minors
Exactly one week from today is the end of the first half of the minor league season. I cannot believe how fast it went. Three of the affiliates are still in position to earn a playoff spot.

Iowa: 2-6;  26-36
I feel bad for this team right now. They are basically down to three startIng pitchers and two relievers making spot starts. I am pretty positive this will be remedied once the first half ends for Tennessee.

Tennessee: 5-2; 35-26
The pitching is there to finish off the first half championship. They just need the bats to keep it up for one more week. Trey Martin is back patrolling centerfield and Dillon Maples will be joining the team from Myrtle Beach. Yasiel Balaguert seems to be turning it on and Charcer Burks is a model of consistency this year.

Myrtle Beach: 6-1; 36-26
Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseballWinning seven and a row has them in the first place. It’s going to come down to their offense. Their starting pitching has been outstanding and the bullpen can shut it down. Thomas Hatch and Ryan Kellogg seem to be peaking at the right time. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to the last day, but I think it might.

South Bend: 3-3; 37-24
Last year it came down to the last day and I think the same thing is going to happen this year. I don’t think they have a shot at winning the division, but they are now tied for a wild-card spot. For that to happen their offense needs to get clicking. And with Dakota Mekkes now in Myrtle Beach, someone in the pen needs to step up as well. Isaac Paredes is hitting over .300 this month.

DSL 1: 3-3: 3-4
DSL 2: 2-4; 2-5
After another two weeks of play I will begin to take a look at some of the players who are standing out. It’s hard to get a grasp on what is happening in the DSL, but usually time wins out when looking at their statistics.  

Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
It’s almost over! The players had to Mesa in Eugene and begin their seasons on Thursday. I’ll see if I can have the profile of each team on Thursday. I am not promising anything with the draft. It might be an afternoon post or Saturday at the latest.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Posts on Other Sites This Week

Cubs Insider
Tennessee Update
Eloy
Iowa Cubs Update
Michael Rucker

BP Wrigleyville
Adbert Alzolay

Promotion Commotion: Part 1 – Getting Ready for a Big Wave of Them in 11 Days

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By Todd Johnson

When news broke on Friday afternoon that Dillon Maples was promoted to AA Tennessee, I was pretty pleased for the young man. He has been excellent in relief for the Pelicans all year with his fastball/curve combo. He has struck out 44 in 33.1 IP with a 2.01 ERA and opponents have only managed to hit .188 against him. I was surprised as the number of Cub prospects promoted this year is pretty slim.

The main reason for the lack of promotions is that three of the four affiliates are in playoff races. So far, most of the promotions have been contained to the bullpens. Michael Rucker and Mark Huberman were moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. Craig Brooks finally moved to Tennessee from Myrtle Beach. Dave Berg was moved to Iowa and then back to Tennessee. And, Andury Acevedo went from Tennessee to Iowa. As for the big league club, only a few relievers have gone up and down until two days ago when starting pitcher Seth Frankoff was promoted from Iowa to Chicago.

The biggest, and most shocking, surprise of the year was the promotion of Jake Hannemann from Tennessee to Iowa to make room for Trey Martin, who just came off the disabled list. The reason I say it was shocking was Hanneman was hitting in the .190s at Tennessee. At Iowa, he’s hitting .500 in his first four games including a homerun. At 26-years-old, and on the 40 man roster, Hannemann has to prove his worth.

As of today, Myrtle Beach is in the lead in its division, as is Tennessee. South Bend is one game behind for a wild card spot. The first half ends on the 18th and once the All-Star games are played on June 20th, a lot of movement should take place. Here are some moves that I think are going to happen.

From Tennessee to Iowa

Considering the lack of starting pitching at Iowa, and the depth of position players at Iowa, I think that Jen-Ho Tseng and Zach Hedges will move up to AAA. This will bolster the rotation of the Iowa Cubs who have big hole to fill in their staff. Outfielder Charcer Burks is a possibility to move from Tennessee to Iowa. I would not be surprised to see it happen. He has just been outstanding in the first half. Relievers Daury Torrez and James Pugliese are just waiting their turn after excellent first halfs out of the bullpen.

From Myrtle Beach to Tennessee

It all begins with Eloy. Now that he is starting to get in a rhythm, Eloy’s become a dangerous man in the Carolina League. If pitchers pitch to him, they pay dearly. Some starting pitchers could move up with Eloy. I don’t think Justin Steele or Adbert Alzolay are quite ready yet, but Ryan Kellogg and Thomas Hatch might be by the end of June. They have been near dominant this month. If Oscar de la Cruz was healthy, he’d be in that discussion as well. Newcomer Michael Rucker is doing extremely well and I would not be surprised to see him get a shot at AA later this summer.

From South Bend to Myrtle Beach

Most of the position players are going to stay in South Bend. This is a very young team that has shown the potential to score a lot of runs by playing station to station baseball. Names who could move up include 2B Zack Short, utility player Vimael Machin, and C/1B Albert Mineo. When it comes to the pitching, there are three arms who I think are either ready or close to ready. Duncan Robinson has just been exceptional along with reliever Dakota Mekkes. If Dylan Cease is healthy, I think he could go to Myrtle Beach later this summer. The Cubs do like their top prospects to go through the playoff experience. One way or another, Cease will have that opportunity.

Extended Spring to South Bend:

The big-name that will probably advance to South Bend will be starting pitcher Bailey Clark. He finished up his degree at Duke this spring and has been getting ready in Mesa for the past three weeks. Once you see him, you’re going to fall in love with that arm of his. He throws in the upper 90s and, if he can control it, he’s almost unhittable. If he can’t, then you’ll see a lot of walks.

I think there are two position players whose bats and defense might make it to South Bend depending on how they begin at Eugene. Catcher Miguel Amaya is just killing it at the plate and behind the plate in Arizona Phil’s recaps of EXST. He has shown power this spring that he did not have before. Also, Joe Martarano has been crunching balls all day.

When the draft picks sign, there is usually a lot of movement beginning in early July. Most of that is between Arizona, Eugene, South Bend, and Myrtle Beach. Very little flows far uphill to Tennessee and Iowa.

Prospect Profile: Michael Rucker Is Blazing Through the Cubs Lower Part of the System

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By Todd Johnson

Michael Rucker – Photo by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

When I woke up Monday morning, I was a little stunned to see the probable MiLB pitching matchups. I looked at Myrtle Beach and saw that Michael Rucker was scheduled to start last night. I didn’t think it was a bad thing, far from it. I was just surprised that he was given this opportunity.

Rucker has been one of the best relief pitchers in the Cubs’ system in 2017. His strikeout rates have been amazing at almost 1.5 per inning. He was originally drafted by the Cubs in 2016 in the 11th round out of BYU. This is his first full season as a Cubs prospect. Because of his size, I initially thought he was going to be reliever.

Image may contain: 1 personBasic Info
Bats/Throws: L/R
Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 185
Draft: Round 11 (2016)
School: BYU

Strengths
Fastball command 92-96
Strikeout potential
Competitiveness
Throws strikes
Clean mechanics

Areas of Concern
Secondaries are developing
Size

What Others Say
The Draft Report said this of Michael’s talents after last year’s draft:

Michael Rucker checks two of our three boxes pretty easily: he’s 88-94 (96 peak) with his fastball while commanding three offspeed pitches (low-80s SL, low- to mid-80s CU, mid-70s CB) with a veteran’s mindset on the mound. He’s not particularly big (6-1, 185) nor does he have that plus offspeed pitch (slider comes closest), but it’s still a potential big league starter

Heading into 2017
I thought for sure he would begin out of the bullpen at South Bend and he did. He was one of the last players to sign in 2016. He only pitched 12.2 innings between Mesa and Eugene last year. He struck out 18 and did not allow run. He did so quietly coming in later in the summer. It is not as though those stats escaped me, but it’s not uncommon for a college starter to come in and dominate in relief at Eugene.

The Breakout
Apart from one outing at Myrtle Beach, Rucker has been amazing. In 23 innings between Myrtle Beach and South Bend, he’s struck out 38 batters with an ERA of 1.96. He does not walk many as he had only allowed two free passes all year. His WHIP at South Bend was 0.55. In his last two appearances for the Pelicans he threw 3.1 innings apiece. As a result, I expected him to go at least four innings.

The First Start
To keep it short, Michael’s first start as a pro was just outstanding. He threw 50 pitches over five innings, struck out six, walked one, gave up one hit, and did not allow any runs. Only three batters saw more than five pitches which I find to be an amazing statistic. He pounded the zone all night long as he threw 38 strikes. Aside from the Ks, he got three outs by ground ball and the other five by flyball.

I don’t think you can ask for much more from a young pitcher. The Pelicans went on to win the game as Kyle Miller came in and pitched four shutout innings in relief. As a result, the Pelicans took over first place from the Astros in the Carolina League’s Southern Division.

Going Forward
There is an old saying that goes, “It is hard to put junior back on the farm once he’s seen the city.” To be honest, I don’t think a decision has to be made right now whether he starts or relieves. I am one who believes in innings. At this level it’s more about building arm strength through the process of pitching. It doesn’t really matter whether it is as a starter or in long relief. Experience is the key.

I think his future this season is still up in the air. He could be in Tennessee in July or still in Myrtle Beach. He’s been pretty dominating as a reliever and his start on Monday probably does not really change how the Cubs look at his development.