Extended Spring Training

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

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The Weekly: A Sweet Two Days and It Is MiLB Playoff Crunch Time

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By Todd Johnson

There are 108 games left in the Cubs’ season. They are currently 1 game out of first place. That’s a lot of time to make up 1 game. Even if this was July 1 or August 1, I still would be OK with where they are at. Even being 1 GB on September 1st would still be fine. For me, the ultimate goal is to get back to October by October.

The past two days have been pretty sweet, though. With two victories against the Cardinals, the atmosphere is beginning to feel a lot like last year and 2015. The Cubs have a chance to sweep tonight and I like those chances with Kyle Hendricks on the mound.

More Mock Drafts
Yesterday, I read a two round mock draft from John Sickels who had a community of baseball executives select picks. The person representing the Cubs selected #27 Alex Lange – LSU Pitcher; #30 Logan Warmoth – SS North Carolina; and #67 high school pitcher Steven Jennings. I liked the pic of Lange a lot. He has a bit higher floor than other pitchers and I think with some professional coaching he could be a quick riser in the system. I would slide him in the top 10 prospects almost immediately. Like Hatch, Lange would not pitch until next year as he has already pitched a full season for LSU.

No heavy hitting Chad Spanberger of Arkansas was anywhere to be seen in the two rounds. I will have more information tomorrow about six players rising and falling.

Minor League Happenings
There are now exactly two weeks left in the first half of the minor league season. Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend are all in the hunt for a spot. It’s hard to believe that half the season is almost over. For Tennessee, they are the only team that holds their destiny in their own hands as the only 1st place Cubs affiliate.

Iowa: 2-4; 24-30
Seth Frankoff is starting to make a name for himself at Iowa. After two solid starts this week, his ERA has dropped all the way down to 2.79. Should there be a need for a spot starter, he would get the call. Also, Stephen Bruno and Taylor Davis are two of the hottest hitters in the Cubs’ system. While Davis did make last month’s All-Star team, I wonder how long he and Bruno will stay much past this year. Both are 26 and have not gotten a shot in Chicago.

Tennessee: 1-5; 30-25
Despite losing five of six this week, they are still in first place by ½ a game over Chattanooga and Montgomery. They ran into some bad luck this week and had some bad pitching themselves. To finish the first half, they have three five-game sets against Jackson, who are a game and a half out, Chattanooga who are one-half a games out, and Birmingham, who are not in contention in the other division. The only good news this week was Trevor Clifton’s six inning start. On the other hand Zack Hedges, Preston Morrison, and Duane Underwood all gave up more than seven runs apiece. I think they’re happy to forget about last week.

Myrtle Beach: 4-2;  31-25
Thomas Hatch looks like he has finally arrived. He had two starts in the past week. In the first one he went 5 and 2/3 innings pitched and struck out 13. Last night he went 6 and 1/3 while striking out 5. He has put together three really good starts in a row. Matt Rose hit two home runs this week, and Eloy finished the week strong after and 0-9 skump.

South Bend: 4-3; 32-21
Duncan Robinson head two seven-innings starts and struck out a combined 15 batters. Luis Ayala continues to terrorize baseballs had over a .400 to clip the past two weeks. Along with new South Bend Cub Roberto Caro, the two have made a formidable bottom of the order. The problem for the Cubs is getting some consistent starting pitching from Tyson Miller, Jose Paulino, and Manny Rondon. They are four games out of first place and one behind Dayton for the wild-card position. Last year the playoff race came down to the final game of the first half before the Cubs clinched a playoff spot. It’s déjà vu all over again.

DSL 1:

DSL 2: 0-1; 0-1

Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
Trey Martin’s rehab is going exceedingly well as he has been bashing the ball around a lot. Two names are emerging as possible breakout candidates, too. Shortstop Rafael Narea is putting himself into the SS competition with his daily hitting performance. His glove may not be as good as Aramis Ademan’s, but Narea’s hitting sure is. Rafael Mejia is another hitter who has been hitting well lately. The catcher/first baseman also has a bit of power.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Coming Up

I am pretty sure the next week will be consumed with two things: the draft and pitching prospects. While the draft is eight days away, there is a lot of volatility as players move up and down the list, some based on performance, some based on projections, and some based on signability. I am sure there will be a profile of a prospect and maybe an update on a pitcher or two.

My Posts on Other Sites This Week

Cubs Insider
Draft Review
Myrtle Beach Update
South Bend Update
Thomas Hatch
Preston Morrison

BP Wrigleyville
Oscar de la Cruz

The Weekly: A Few Thoughts on Pitching as June Inches Closer

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By Todd Johnson

Over the past five years, Theo and Jed have always struck early in the trade market. I don’t know if I see that happening this year. I think the Cubs will wait to see how much things cost before they go all in the water. A new and improved fourth starter could lengthen the rotation quite a bit and make them more formidable in the postseason. Eddie Butler did well this week in his bid to stay in Chicago. I don’t know if the Cubs are going to  rely on Butler to be that player. I wouldn’t think so. However, it’s a long wait between now and the end of July when the trade deadline ends.

Down in Des Moines, the Cubs DFA’d Jake Buchanan. He was promptly picked up on the waiver wire by the Reds. The I-Cubs have been hit by pitching injuries again this year. Juan Paniagua made two short starts in the past week. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to continue doing that with relievers as Steve Perakslis also made a start. With Tennessee in first place, I don’t think anybody’s going to be coming up soon from AA.

670 the Score’s Bruce Levine got everybody talking this weekend about the possibility of bringing back Jeff Samardzija as a fifth starter. Jeff is owed $66 million over the next three years and his ERA has been near five since he left the Cubs in the trade for Addison Russell. Although Samardzija did do his best work with pitching coach Chris Bosio, I don’t think he is the best pitcher the Cubs could get on the market this summer. I like that Jeff wants to win, I just don’t think his stuff is good enough to do so. You don’t get a 5+ ERA by accident.

While I trust Theo to go out and make the best deal, I think the deal to get a new pitcher is going to be balanced between winning in the present and not giving up too much for the future.

Coming up at Cubs Central
I think June is my favorite month to write and to cover the Cubs’ system. There is the covering of the major league draft over three days. Three of the four affiliates finish the first half on June 18 and have their All-Star game on the 20th. I publish the first half All-Star team and break out players of the first half and do predictions of both for the second half. Four New affiliates start playing in Mesa, Eugene, and the Dominican Republic. And, as always, there is player development.

Around the System This Week
Iowa: 3-4; 22-26 – They seem to be running out of starters. Then again, Jeimer came back and began hitting as soon as he touched down in Iowa.

Tennessee: 5-1; 29-19 – Zoomed into first place behind excellent starting pitching and Jeffrey Baez who has been on a tear this month. Both Trevor Clifton and Preston Morrison have ERAs under two for the month of May.

Myrtle Beach: 5-2;  27-23 – Daniel Spingola and Justin Steele are playing great! This Eloy guy is doing OK when he is healthy. Oscar de la Cruz struck out ten on Thursday night and Adbert Alzolay keeps rolling along.

South Bend: 4-3; 28 -18  – They need some consistent starting pitchers. Jose Paulino and Manny Rondon struggled most of May. Duncan Robinson is ray of hope and it looks like Dylan Cease will be back very shortly. Tyler Peyton got his first start of the year last night and gave up 2 in 4 IP. 

Extended Spring Training – Joe Martarano got on base five times on Friday. He seems to be picking up the hitting thing after missing all of 2016. There are only three weeks until spring training ends and the players get divided up between Mesa and Eugene.Remember the name Miguel Amaya. He will be a fast riser on the Prospect Lists this summer. He’s an 18 year catcher who can do it defensively and offensively. Javier Assad is a pitcher who has been near dominant in the box scores this spring as well.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Cubs Insider
Duncan Robinson
Bryan Hudson
Alex Scherff

BP Wrigleyville
Grading the 2016 Draft

The Weekly: Debuts Galore and Some Underrated Prospects

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By Todd Johnson

What I thought would be the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night debut of Eddie Butler for Chicago. He went six innings, gave up two hits and three walks, but struck out five and did not allow a run as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3 to 2. Butler displayed a nice collection of pitches that included a fastball with some nice arm side run. He should get one more start before the Cubs decide on whether to keep him as the fifth starter.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ made his MLB debut against the Cardinals. His first at-bat was not very auspicious as he struck out on four pitches. He later homered in the game – Not a bad first game. On the other hand, he will likely be back in Iowa in ten days.

We were not done yet.

Eloy Jimenez finally was scheduled to play in a game that mattered on Saturday night for Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the game was called because of rain. So, Myrtle Beach will play two today. I doubt if Eloy does.

Finally, Wladimir Galindo returned from the DL for South Bend. In his first at-bat, he drove in two. For the night, he went 1-4 with 3 Ks. His average is now .321.

Nice Seasons
While some prospects have made a lot of noise with their bats and arms this season, there are several other prospects who are quietly going about their business and putting together some very nice seasons.

  • Duncan Robinson has gone back and forth between starting and piggybacking. He now looks like a starter after a 7 IP, 5 K performance where he lowered his ERA down to 1.52.
  • Michael Rucker has been very hard to score on out of the bullpen for South Bend. Currently, his ERA is 1.42.
  • Bryant Flete has been a go to guy for the pelicans. He is one of the team leaders in RBIs while playing a very good shortstop.
  • Both David Bote and Charcer Burks go about their business quietly and have been essential cogs at the top of the lineup for Tennessee.
  • Matt Rose missed two weeks but it has not stopped him from being one of the team leaders in homers and RBIs for Myrtle Beach. Since returning from his injury, his average is slowly creeping up towards .250. I think he could go on a tear once the weather warms up a little bit more. Last August, he hit seven dinners in August at South Bend.

Here at Cubs Central
The Facebook page is beginning to take off with the Players of the Day segment. Every day we select the best hitter, starting pitcher, and reliever in the minors and give them some props and put their baseball card on the Internet. There is also a page on this site that keeps a record of who we selected. AND another new page on this site keeps track of each monthly All-Star team. If you are on your phone, you can click the drop-down menu in the header. If you have a computer, there should be a tab at the top of the page to select.

Around the System This Week
Iowa: 1-6; 14-20 – 8.5 GB
The Cubs can score 11 runs in a game, but then they give up 12. With Butler now in Chicago, I think there will be a mostly new rotation the second half. Alec Mills could be the only remaining starter come July.

Tennessee: 5-3; 22-14- First Place
The Smokies moved into first place in the Southern League’s Northern Division. Using a combination of excellent starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen, and some ascending hitters, the Smokies are a team to watch this year. Hopefully, they can clinch a playoff spot for the first half next month.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports and baseballMyrtle Beach: 2-3; 19-16 – 2.5 GB
They have not really gone on a winning streak this year. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be in a groove just yet. Right now, they seem to be susceptible to the big inning. Adbert Alzolay looks like he could be the real deal this year.

South Bend: 5-2; 23-12 – 1.5 GB
This team does not have a lot of power at the plate. Nevertheless, they can put up some crooked numbers in a hurry. From 1 to 9, they might have the best lineup in the system. Pitcher of Bryan Hudson also had an encouraging start this week. If Manny Rondon can get straightened out like he was last night (6IP, 0 Runs), this team could be unstoppable with some consistent starting pitching.

Extended Spring Training
There is less than a month left and some of the pitchers are starting to get stretched out a bit. Jose Albertos had a very good scoreless three inning start this week and I expect to see him hit four innings this next week.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Upcoming Posts
POWER! in the System
Friday Six Pack
Saturday Prospect Profile
The Weekly
Grading the Drafts

My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Cubs Insider
Ian Rice

BP Wrigleyville
Kevonte Mitchell
Joe Martarano

The Weekly – Lots of Rain, Some International News, and Cubs Shake Up the Bullpen

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By Todd Johnson

The big league team seems to be having some issues this week. They are 16-14 and still in first place, but the starting pitching looks pretty shaky in the first couple of innings of each game. Brett Anderson looks like his time is close to being done. Mike Montgomery will likely take Anderson’s turn in the rotation.

I don’t think the Cubs are at the point where they feel this is a disaster or need to make a trade. The point I do think they are at is it’s starting to become a concern. The Cubs have the prospects to go out and get another starting pitcher, if needed. However, it is way too early in the year. The logical choice is the Cubs will try and find one within for now.

In addition, the Cubs designated outfielder Matt Szczur for assignment. You would hope that the Cubs could get something for him, but he is most likely going to clear waivers and then he could pick where he lands in 10 days. At best, the Cubs could get a class A or Rookie League pitcher for him. Then again, that’s not very likely.

To beef up the bullpen, The Cubs recalled Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny from Iowa and sent down Justin Grimm. David Rollins, Zac Rosscup, and Pierce Johnson also remain ready if needed.

International Free Agency

According to MLB Pipeline, the Cubs are rumored to be the top team in the pursuit of shortstop Luis Verdugo. The Cubs are limited The Cubs are limited again as to how much they can spend on a player in the next international free-agent signing period. That sum caps out at $300,000. Verdugo is a 5’11” 168 lb. shortstop from Mexico who is a switch hitter and throws right. He is best known for his defense and his hitting is said to be a work in progress. Here is what MLB Pipeline had to say about the #30 ranked international free agent:

The top position prospect from Mexico, Verdugo is best known for his strong arm and defensive prowess in the middle of the diamond.

He’s athletic with good instincts on both sides of the ball, but he is a below average runner right now. Verdugo is a contact hitter, shows a good bat path through the strike zone and puts the ball in play. However, the belief is that he could still improve on his overall hit tool and that he will once he enters a team’s academy.

Verdugo has been praised for his solid defensive actions and footwork. He has quick hands and makes all of the plays. Scouts also like his makeup and maturity level.

Based on the inroads the Cubs have made the past two summers in Mexico, this prediction looks to be on the money. For those of you who read Spanish, here is a nice history of him and it also where I got the picture of him.

Around the System  

Iowa: 3-3; 13-15 overall – 2nd place

The pitching rotation appears to be getting better as Aaron Brooks threw a sixth inning start and only gave up one run. Chesny Young appears to be getting back on track. His average creeped across the .270 mark this week. And, Eddie Butler got back on the mound last night and did very well. He went six scoreless with six Ks.

Tennessee: 4-1; 17-11 overall – 2nd place

This team is been looking good the last three weeks. Jacob Hannemann and Ian Rice have both been doing very well. I still think it’s the bullpen that is exceptional on this team. This team looks really strong at the plate the past two weeks thanks to Jason Vosler’s power stroke.

Myrtle Beach: 4-3; 17-13 overall – 2nd place

They’ve taken two in a row from 1st place Buies Creek to close within two games. If the starting pitching can hold up, I don’t think there’s any limit to what this team can do. Still no word on when Eloy could or will return.

South Bend: 4-1: 18-10 overall 2nd place

The schedule says they only played five games this week, but a 19 inning affair sapped the bullpen on Friday night. Then on Saturday, Matt Swarmer came in and saved Dylan Cease’s first win with a four inning save. I am really impressed with Swarmer’s curveball. It’s got a lot of movement down and away from righties.

Extended Spring Training

Jose Albertos made his debut this week. It was just 46 pitches. It may not seem much to write about, but it was good he got back out on the mound in a game. Also, Joe Martarano might be the player to watch once short season ball begins. He is showing power and the capability to hit for average in his full-time return to baseball.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Upcoming posts
Power in Unusual Places
Friday Six Pack
Prospect Profile
The Weekly

My Posts on other sites
Cubs Insider
Iowa Update
Tennessee Update
South Bend Update
Zack Short

BP Wrigleyville
The Reincarnation of Justin Steele

The Weekly – The End of the First Month Is a Bit Crazy

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By Todd Johnson

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is May 1 and that a whole month of the 2017 season will be completed today. The major-league team is in first place while Myrtle Beach and Tennessee have climbed into second. And low A South Bend is now tied for first in the Midwest League. That’s a pretty good week for an organization.

Meanwhile, over here at Cubs Central, the Players of the Day Facebook feature has been going very well. At times, it’s been hard to pick only just one player for either a hitter, pitcher, or reliever of the day. We also put up a page on this site that just lists who won the award for that day.

Since today is the end of the month, that means tomorrow Cubs Central will release it’s April minor league All-Star team of Cubs prospects. To begin, the post will contain a video made with Google Slides. I think it might be better viewed on a computer or a tablet rather than a phone, unless you have a large phone. On Tuesday, we will publish the top 10 baseball cards I made from April.

Draft News
The MLB Draft takes place in less than six weeks. It will be here sooner than we think. The Cubs first four picks are at #27, #30, #67, and #105.  Some of the top draft evaluators began to publish their top 100 prospect lists. So far, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America both released their top 100. Which prospect could be sitting there waiting for the Cubs to select them?

MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis have the following players ranked where the Cubs are set to draft,

  1. Will Crowe – SP – South Carolina
  2. Evan White – 1B – Kentucky
  3. Greg Deichmann – OF – LSU

Similarly, Baseball America has:

  1. Nick Allen – High School SS
  2. Brian Miller – OF – North Carolina
  3. Taylor Walls – SS Florida State

I like Will Crowe being at number 27 and Deichman being at number 67 on MLB’s list. I don’t think the Cubs will select a first baseman, something that they haven’t done since 2012 in Jacob Rodgers. As for Baseball America’s list, they could be dead on with the Cubs taking shortstop Nick Allen, but I don’t think the Cubs would take either Miller or Walls.

Some of the names we profiled this offseason that made Pipeline’s top 100 include.

  1. Colton Hock; 91. Michael Gigliotti; 85. Tyler Johnson; 62. Mark Vientos; 53. Garrett Mitchell; 51. Alex Scherff; 48. Clarke Schmidt; 37. Hagan Danner; 35. Brendon Little; 31. David Peterson; 29. Nick Allen; 16. Jake Burger; and 10. Nick Pratto

On Friday night, David Peterson of Oregon struck out 20. I don’t think he’s going to stay at 31 and it is more than likely that the Cubs will not have a chance to select him.

Roster moves
Kyle Miller was promoted from South Bend up to Myrtle Beach on Friday. Ryan Kellogg also was activated after spending spring training playing for Canada in the WBC. To make room, Myrtle Beach released reliever John Williamson and Jeremy Null. Cubs Central wishes them both the best.

Around the System
Iowa: 1-4:; 10-12 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ keeps on hitting home runs. Outside of Eddie Butler, the starting pitching rotation is not doing very well at all. If it doesn’t improve soon, look for some changes to be made including the promotion of a couple of pitchers from Tennessee

Tennessee: 5-3; 13-10 overall – Second place
This team is starting to hit and now has Jacob Hannemann  back with the club. Clifton, Hedges, and Tseng have been outstanding in the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape as well.

Myrtle Beach: 5-1; 13-10 overall – Second place
Everything is clicking for the Pelicans. They are getting timely hitting to go along with an excellent bullpen and a solid starting rotation. Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Pedro Araujo, and James Norwood have been dynamite out of the pen

South Bend: 5-2: 14-9 Tied for first place
This team has been playing great at the plate for the past two weeks. One key in the last 10 games has been the resurgence of Kevonte Mitchell. He seems to be putting it all together hitting over .300 in his last 10 games and raising his average to .261 entering today’s game against Fort Wayne.

Extended Spring Training
Michael Cruz should destroy short season pitching. He may not make it to Eugene in six weeks. He could be at South Bend by then. Eloy has not played in over a week. That is a little concerning. However, Aramis Ademan has been outstanding on offense and defense. I sometimes wonder if he is going to skip Mesa and go right to Eugene this year at 18 years old.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
Sometimes, I make cards just to go with a specific post. Such was the case on Saturday when I put out a 1985 Topps Reproduction with Adbert Alzolay.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports and baseball

Upcoming posts
April MILB All-Star team
Cards of the Month
The Weekly

My Posts on other sites this week
Cubs Insider
Myrtle Beach Update
Nick Allen Profile
Tyson Miller Profile

BP Wrigleyville
Game 18 Recap Reds 7, Cubs 5
The Reincarnation of Justin Steele

The Weekly: MiLB Pitching, EST Making News, and Some Draft Updates

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By Todd Johnson

In spite of all the turmoil, the blown saves, and the missed hitting opportunities, we wake up this morning with the Chicago Cubs in first place for the second day in a row. We also wake up today with Tommy La Stella optioned to AAA. That pretty much answers the Szczur/La Stella issue for now. As a result, I hope that people can just relax and let the games play out instead of fixating on every mistake or loss. There are still 140+ games to go.

Meanwhile in the minors…
Pitching was the name of the game this week. All across the system starting pitching dominated the headlines. Eddie Butler, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton, Jen-Ho Tseng, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, Dylan Cease, and Manny Rondon were the feature stories from Iowa on down to South Bend. All pitched at least five innings and only gave up two runs or less. Cease did not give up a hit in his six innings while Alzolay struck out 7.

Every night it is a hard decision on what game to watch on MILB TV. I usually like to watch South Bend, especially if Cease is pitching. I also like to watch Trevor Clifton if I can at Tennessee, and Oscar de la Cruz is another pitcher I really enjoy getting a look at. However, when they all pitch at the same time, it’s a bit nerve-racking trying to watch.

Extended Spring Training News per The Cub Reporter:
In extended spring training, Eloy began playing the outfield this week. He had not made a throw into the infield as of Friday. Jake Hanneman finally returned to Tennessee just after Trey Martin was injured. In addition, Jose Albertos began throwing batting practice. Former Boise State football player Joe Martarano has gone from smashing running backs to smashing baseballs pretty easily. He has also been seeing playing the outfield, although not too well. That will take time.

Draft News
The MLB draft is just six weeks away, which I find hard to believe. I am still fascinated with David Peterson from Oregon, high school player Mark Vientos, and pitcher Brendon Little. Baseball America came out with their first mock draft through the first round. They had the Cubs selecting Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck. That would’ve been a good selection a year ago, but Houck has had a lot of issues this year. I don’t think the Cubs are going to select a descending player unless they know something everyone else does not. For the 30th pick, Baseball America had the Cubs selecting a junior college picture and they also mentioned Little. I tend to think they’re going to go with one high school bat and one college pitcher.

Around the System

Iowa: 4-3; 9-8 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ continues to hit dingers (7) but his average has started to slip below .250. It’s just how he is. He’ll go up, he’ll go down, he’ll come back up. Felix Pena is putting together a nice little resume as a reliever. I expect him to be the first to get called up when that time happens.

Tennessee: 4-1; 8-7 overall – fourth place
I really hope that Jen-Ho Tseng has recaptured the essence of who he is as a pitcher. Through three starts he has been outstanding and looks like 2014 Jen-Ho.

Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 8-9 overall – third place
Justin Steele continues to look better with every start. He is attacking the zone and looks extremely confident on the mound and in throwing any of these three pitches for strikes. Matt Rose is also starting to come around with the bat. Hopefully, he can continue hitting home runs as well as increasing his average at the plate.

South Bend: 4-2; 9-7 second place
When the bats woke up so did this team. They are 9-4 in their last 13 games. Their bullpen is nearly unhittable. I cannot wait to see how they continue to improve over the next month. The only thing this team lacks is a power bat. However, I don’t think they need it. Jhonny Pereda has really turned it on after skipping Eugene. He’s hitting .313 on the season.

Extended Spring Training
Bryan Hudson continues to shine as a starter. This week he did not allow run in a start and has struck out 12 in 11 innings the past two weeks along with getting 15 ground ball outs. Odds are that he will not make it to Eugene. Instead, he will likely fill-in at South Bend at the first opportunity. Good for him!

Card of the Week

Players of the Week

Upcoming posts
April MILB All-Star team
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Cubs Insider: Dakota Mekkes
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