Cubs Look to Be Going with Quality over Quantity Again in the New IFA Market


Since the new collective bargaining agreement changed how bonus pools could be spent in international free agency, the Cubs have shifted their strategy in signing international players.
In the early years of the Theo era, they would sign some elite 16-year-olds and go way over the cap, and then buy in bulk in the penalty years. They did that for five years from 2013-2017. But those days are now gone. Instead, there’s a hard cap that cannot be breached.

Image2018 was the first year of the new way of doing business in International Free Agency. To date, the Cubs have only signed 19 players since last July 2. The Cubs also acquired some $350,000 in additional money that they have to use before June 15 when this year’s signing period ends. 

The 2018-2019 class saw the Cubs sign 3 of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 IFAs. There was no longer the 40+ signees of 2016 or the 35+ of 2017. The Cubs went for bigger but fewer signings in using their pool.

Yesterday, MLB Pipeline listed their new top 30 IFAs for this coming signing period and the Cubs are again linked to three of the top 30 prospects including two in the top 11.

Both Quintero and Made have been linked to the Cubs for several months by Baseball America.

These three will not be the only signees the Cubs ink. And like 2018-2019, the 2019-2020 signing period should see the Cubs sign players throughout the year. This past year, the Cubs only signed 12 of their free agents in 2018. And of those 12, 8 were signed in the first two months.

It is more than likely that the Cubs will continue to sign quality players early while still looking for more pool money in trades. As the past year’s signing period is ending, it is worth wondering if the Cubs will try to sign just 1 guy with the money they have left or will they buy in bulk like 2016-2017. Add in the fact that the Mexican market is now back open, anything is still on the table for this year. And who knows what might be floating around for next season. 

Advertisements

The Weekly – It Felt Like the First Week of the Season with Lots of Debuts


Ok, that was a quick month.

I’m finding it hard to believe that April only has a couple days left. On Wednesday, I go to Illinois History Day in Springfield for two days. Then, I return to school on Friday only to be followed that night by heading over to Clinton, Iowa to see South Bend play Clinton in a three-game set. I’ll be driving back-and-forth every day.

The big news in the minor leagues this week was that Iowa Cubs are currently in first place by a few games in the Pacific Coast League. In fact, the entire system is about .500. Although the minor leagues are about development, it’s always nice to win.

There were some big performances this week as Delvin Zinn of South Bend went 5/5 on Wednesday and both DJ Artis and Jared Young went 3/5 with 3 RBI one night apiece. On the pitching side of things, Duncan Robinson had a great 7 inning start last Sunday and Zach Hedges had a great five inning start Oscar de la Cruz also looked good in his second rehab start at Myrtle Beach. Faustino Carrera had his best start of the year as he went 6 IP with 6 Ks and he allowed just 1 run.

The biggest two performances of the week actually came in the RBI category. Jim Adduci of Iowa drove in seven, four of those courtesy of a grand slam. But the biggest run producer of the week was my guy Andy Weber of South Bend. He drove in 10 runs on the week and he also went 7-f-r 19 and saw his average jump almost 50 points. This is more in line with the Andy Weber that I know from Virginia and Eugene.

As a result of yesterday’s snowstorms, both Iowa and South Bend will play double dips today.

In the News
Baseball America released their latest draft list, a top 400, and slotted in at #27 was none other than Jack Leiter who I profiled a couple of weeks ago in the high school pitchers report.

Brennen Davis got a lot of praise in this article by Bill Mitchell from Baseball America.

Meanwhile, Down in Mesa…
Richard Gallardo made his extended spring training debut in an actual game this week. At 17-years-old, Gallardo is the Cubs #1 international free agent whom they signed last summer. Here is what Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter had to say:

17-year old RHP Richard Gallardo (2018-19 IFA – Venezuela – $1M signing bonus) made his professional game debut for the Cubs, getting the start and working 1.1 IP. He allowed two runs on two hits (both singles), issued no walks, and struck out two (one swinging and one looking). He also uncorked a WP. As was the case in his “live” BP session last week, Gallardo mixed a 91-93 MPH FB with a slow CV and had excellent command of both pitches (he threw 75% strikes).    

Other than the wild pitch, everything looks very positive especially throwing 75% strikes.

Also, Erich Uelmen made his EXST debut after missing the first month of the season. He threw three innings and allowed just 1 hit. When he is stretched out a bit, he will head to Myrtle Beach.

The Cubs also have 6 weeks left before the 2018-2019 International Free Agent signing deadline ends. With almost $350,000 left in their pool, they Cubs could add a decent player, most likely from Cuba. To date, the Cubs have signed 8 pitchers, 4 infielders, and 7 outfielders.

Affiliate Updates
Iowa – (3-2; 13-8) – I am not used to them winning but they are doing well and in first place in their division. I am also glad to see Dillon Maples is back in the show.

Tennessee – (2-4; 10-11) – Everyone kind of freaked out when Nico Hoerner took a pitch of his wrist/forearm but tests showed just a bone bruise. Everyone can breathe now.

Myrtle Beach – (1-5; 7-15) – Cam Belago took over the team RBI lead in just 10 days of work and he doesn’t seem to to be relinquishing it.

South Bend – (3-2; 11-10) – Lefty Jack Patterson made his South Bend debut this week and looked good in relief. He was a 32nd round pick last year out of Bryant University.

Players of the Week

Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central

Prospect Update – Cory Abbott gets some love on Monday, and lots of it!
College Pitchers – The “Examining #27” series concludes Tuesday as there could be a few lottery tickets left with college pitchers.
April MiLB All-Star Team – There were a lot of late changes as players heated up or cooled off. This drops on Wednesday.
Cards of the Month for April – Sunlight seems to be the theme of the month for 15 out of 181 cards. The cards of the month sees the light of day on Thursday.
Promotion Commotion – Now that May is here, expect a few guys to move up a level. On Friday, I take a look at six of them.
Affiliate Update – I will examine how the Iowa Cubs became the hottest squad in the system.

Card of the Week
By Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs
It’s all about light…and the tongue.

Prospect Profile: Chris Morel Is Another Toolsy Kid to Watch


When I first saw Christopher Morel at Eugene in the summer of 2018, I thought if he turned sideways he was going to disappear. The then 18-year-old third baseman began the season with the Emeralds/Monarcas and really struggled to hit balls that begin with a C. He struck out 29 times in 25 games. Once the college kids signed from the draft, Morel went down to Mesa to work on his game. And he did fine in Mesa for a kid his age hitting .257 with a .331 OBP.

Here is what MLB Pipeline said about Morel heading into this season:

Morel has some of the best bat speed in the system but will need to add more muscle to his skinny frame before he can translate it into power. He has a nice right-handed swing and bat-to-ball skills, but his NWL experience showed he’ll need to refine his approach at the plate. An average runner out of the batter’s box, he’s a step quicker once he gets going.

Morel’s athleticism and solid arm strength give him a number of defensive options. He broke into pro ball as a shortstop and may have enough quickness to stay there. He spent the majority of his time in 2018 at third base and the Cubs believe he may be able to handle center field in the future.

Basic info
Height – 6’
Weight – 175 (a guesstimate)
Bats – Right
Throws – Right
Strengths – Potential Power, Arm
Acquired – International Free Agent from the Dominican Republic in 2016
ETA – 2023

Fast forward to 2019.
When South Bend third baseman Fidel Mejia went down with a hand/wrist injury after 6 games, Morel was bumped up to South Bend. Now 19 years old, Morel seems to be flashing quite a few tools on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

When Morel showed up in South Bend in 2019, my first thought was that this could be interesting. Here’s a 19-year-old kid playing in the cold environs of the Great Lakes region after spending two months in warm Arizona. In the first few games, Morel showed that he was much improved from 2018. He looked more patient at the plate, he did not seem to be trying to cream every baseball.

It’s on the offensive side of the ball that Morel is showing the most improvement. In just 8 games, he is putting up an average of .241 with an OBP of .267 and a wRC+ of 103. It’s a pretty small sample size so his numbers will fluctuate wildly for a while. But for now, he’s hit one home run.

He’s about 3-4 years below league average and seems to be holding his own with some newfound pitch recognition skills.He’s watching the ball into the catcher’s glove. I like it when kids can track the ball the entire way. It helps to develop pitch recognition and teaches them to pick up the spin on the baseball. Morel also is showing off his rifle of an arm at both third and shortstop.

In March, I thought for sure that he would begin the year at Eugene and that he could do well there. But it looks like things are going well at South Bend. If it continues, he could stay with the young Cubs if and when Mejia returns. Here is some video by Prospects Live from spring training.

As for his future, he has a very high ceiling and a lot of things going to have to go right for him to reach that ceiling. When he signed he was only 140 pounds. Now he looks to be carrying around 175 pounds with plenty of room for more. Already, he has a plus arm and  adding more weight will only add to his power profile. It’s little uncertain where he’s going to play in the future. But for right now, playing shortstop and third without favoring one over the other is fine.

Get used to the name Morel as the Cubs signed his little brother Rafael last summer.

The Weekly: Weather, Pitching, and Injuries Dominate MiLB News


A Brief Big League Club Update
The pitching woes of the first week looked to have disappeared as the Cubs won three out of four this week before yesterday. The winning coincided with the return to Wrigley after a 2-7 road trip to begin the year. My guy, Cole Hamels, was magnificent this week and the bullpen did not give up a run until the pitching struggles of Saturday. I’ve heard it a million times…”a walk is a run.”

Down in the Minors
Jen-Ho Tseng was released from the 40 man roster to make room for Alan Webster on the 25 man roster. The Cubs could technically re-sign Tseng as of yesterday. He could not be on the 40 man roster for 30 days if he does re-sign  according to Arizona Phil.

The Cubs’ system also saw a plethora of injuries that required a little roster tweaking throughout the week. Zack Short looks to have a broken finger but we haven’t heard how severe it is or how much time he will miss. As a result, Vimael Machin moved from Tennessee to Iowa and Clayton Daniel took his spot for the Smokies and went three for four in his AA debut. Alberto Baldonado also debuted this week for Iowa and Zach Hedges is back on the Smokies roster replacing Keegan Thompson who went on the IL on Thursday. Both Brad Markey and Ryan Williams came up and pitched for Iowa. Markey was then shipped to Tennessee and Williams was put back on the 7 day IL for Iowa. At South Bend, third baseman Fidel Mejia injured his wrist/hand sliding into second base. SS/3B Christopher Morel came up from extended spring training on Friday and tripled in his debut game.

Usually, I get emails alerts from the team when roster changes happen, but I am still in “school mode” for 6 more weeks. I just need to check my email more often throughout the day. I am very much looking forward to being in “summer mode” to keep on top of the daily minutiae as they transpire.

Team News
Iowa (6-3) Weather hampered the Cubs from playing much this week. Cold and rain shut them down for two days at home. Carl Edwards has been lights out in his return. I don’t expect him to be down much longer. Ian Happ could take a while to get straightened out. Happ’s OBP heading into Saturday night was just .273.
Tennessee (5-3) After a scheduled day off and a rainout the Smokies got back at it this week. Yesterday, I wrote about how the Smokies look to be the team to watch this year.
Myrtle Beach (2-8) The Birds won their second game of the year on Friday as they were able to coax 11 walks. Paul Richan also continues to do well on the mound. He’s given up 1 run in 2 starts. Hopefully, he can improve on his efficiency and get to the sixth inning soon.
South Bend (5-5) The bats look like they might be starting to warm up after a frigid first few games in South Bend and Grand Rapids. The bullpen has blown a couple leads this year, but it is early. Part of the issue is that not everybody is fully stretched out and the piggyback starters are having to go a little longer than usual. It will work itself out here soon.

Leaders in wRC+  for each team – I love this stat as it measures offensive production against the norm. An average player would be given a score of 100 and 115 would be above average Above 140 is labeled great while 160 is considered excellent. Heading into Saturday, utility infielder Levi Jordan had a 180 for South Bend while 2B Carlos Sepulveda lead Myrtle Beach with a 90. PJ Higgins lead all active Smokies position players with a 210 and SS Dixon Machado of Iowa lead the whole system at 275. Most of those numbers are not sustainable except for Sepulveda’s, which is on the rise as he warms up.

International Free Agency
This week, major-league baseball announced the international free agent bonus pools for each team. The Cubs came in with $5,398,300 which is close to their draft pool of $5.8 million. In addition, Baseball America wrote a nice article on some sleeper prospects from last year‘s international draft class. Cubs’ prospect outfielder Yohendrick Pinango was given a nice write up. More than likely, he’ll be in the Dominican this summer. Don’t forget the Cubs still have some international bonus pool money left over that they got in the Pedro Araujo deal that they have to spend by mid June.

Coming Up This Week
Tomorrow, Myrtle Beach’s Carlos Sepulveda gets an update. On Tuesday, I will take a look at high school pitchers in anticipation of this year’s draft, which is seven weeks from tomorrow. The Midweek Report on Wednesday will produce the “Hot Start Team” while later in the week I will have a draft profile on either Parker Mitchell or Dante Biasi. I am also thinking of doing a weekly Saturday post that looks at just one affiliate.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
Made from a pic by Rikk Carlson
I love the light and shadows set against the outfield wall in the background in this 1971 frame.

The Weekly: The MiLB Season Kicks Off and in HD


After 4 games, the Chicago Cubs looked to be a hot mess at 1-3,. My only thought was that it could not get much worse. Yup, I got that one wrong and it looks like there is no end in sight as the bullpen continues to implode night after night. This playing like it’s October in March and April is not working out so well. However, last night’s win was a step in the right direction. The bullpen still needs a lot of work.

Meanwhile…The MiLB Roundup
The first week of the minor-league season is always exciting as you get to see a lot of players in new uniforms for the very first time. I’m sure after a week, the novelty will wear off for me and their skills will come to the forefront. 

The most notable change about the MiLB experience is a massive  visual change. All the Cub affiliates went HD. It has made a huge difference in watching the games. I can now tune into Tennessee and actually see the ball off the bat as it flies through the air. 

While it’s only been three games, Miguel Amaya looks to be refreshed and rejuvenated after wearing down a bit in the second half last year. Every time he hits the ball, he is hitting it very hard with authority all over the field. The young 20-year-old catcher looks to be making mincemeat out of the Carolina League as he’s put up an OPS of 1.429 and wRC+ of 241.

Thomas Hatch was very impressive on Thursday night. He showed a smooth delivery and against a team of elite prospects in Mississippi from the Atlanta Braves’ system. He went five scoreless innings and struck out seven. South Bend’s Cam Sanders threw his first two innings with some effort and location issues as his effortless delivery got a little extra run the first couple innings. He eventually settled down. In the fourth and the fifth, he looked to be in sync with his fastball and a developing curve which my friend John really liked. He did not give up a run in 5 innings of work. Tennessee’s Cory Abbott also looked very good on Friday as he gave up one run over five innings with two Ks.

On Saturday, Keegan Thompson of Tennessee pitched the gem of the week. He threw 5 innings and did not allow a hit or run while striking out 8. His curve was top notch as he was putting every pitch where he wanted.

In the bullpen, I don’t know how he does it, but Jeffrey Passantino got some of the ugliest swings I’ve seen in awhile in three innings on Friday night. He struck out six and used a sharp 12 to 6 curve just baffled the West Michigan hitters. Also in relief that night, fellow South Bend Cub Riley McCauley looked vicious in a 1-2-3 inning. On Saturday, Ryan Kellogg and Ryan Lawlor pitched well, too. Both went 3.1 scoreless IP with 4 Ks.

As for the opening weekend of games, the Minor League System…
Iowa – (2-1) : It’s good to see Donnie Dewees back in action.  Zack Short looks good at the plate (.364). He’s hitting and getting on base. The pitching for the I-Cubs is also off to a rocky start this season. As for Mr. Happ, I will be back with a post on him tomorrow. but for now, he leads the system in RBI after three games with 6.

Tennessee – (2-1): They held their own against a team of elite prospects in Mississippi. Nico looks to be walking a bit more already this year than he did all of last year. Charcer Burks has been playing really well in the field, on the bases, and at the plate working deep counts, drawing walks, and getting in pitcher’s heads. I also love to watch Ian Rice give professional ABs every time. But Jared Youngs 2 HRs in 3 days have been awesome. Still, Young has plenty of work to do as he’s only has 3 hits in 3 games.

Myrtle Beach – (1-2): This team has some serious defensive issues that they’re going to need to get rectified soon. As for the hitting, DJ Wilson is off to a good start as is Johnny Betancourt. Bryan Hudson had a rough first couple of innings but would clean it up up going five strong with 6 Ks and 2 ERs. Hopefully, he can get some consistency this year from start to start.

South Bend – (2-1): What I’ve always liked about following South Bend is you get a really long look at some of the guys they took in the previous draft. You also get your first look at the pitchers they took without any inning restrictions on them like they have in playing for Eugene. Jonathan Sierra, Andy Weber, Fidel Mejia, and Nelson Velazquez all look good so far, but Tyler Durna looks much more impressive than anyone on the team – great ABs, approach, and patience.


It looks as though that career of Will Remillard has shifted to the front office. He is officially going to be doing “research and development” for the Tennessee Smokies. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for him as a player as he was one of my favorite players in 2014 for the Kane County Cougars.

International Free Agency News
The Orioles returned pitcher Pedro Araujo to the Cubs as they were not going to keep him on the 25 man roster. The Cubs then optioned him to Iowa and quickly traded him back to the Orioles for $750,000 worth of international bonus pool money. This could be a big game changer for the Cubs.

The Cubs have to spend that money before June 15. The Cubs could go one of three ways. According to Arizona Phil, they could use it all to land a big fish like Cuban shortstop Yolbert Sanchez. He also said they might be interested in going piecemeal for recently certified free agents from Mexico like P Jaime Melendez, P Jose Angel Valenzuela, and/or C Fernando Villalobos. The Cubs could also  just go buy in bulk down in the Dominican.

Draft News
My four part 2019 draft series drops on Tuesday this week. I’ll be taking a look at a few college hitters. It’s called “Examining #27.”

In addition, MLB announced the final draft order and bonus pools this week. The Cubs get $5,826,900 total with $2,570,000 of that for the first round pick, $1,050,000 for the second at #64, and then it drops off to $565.600 at #104. Then the Cubs pick at 132, 162, etc.all the way up to 1212.

Upcoming
Be sure to check out the MiLB Players of the Day Awards page daily by using the menu at the top of the page.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
The baseball cards have been flowing in this week. There are lots of good ones to check out over on the Facebook Page.
Pic by Rikk Carlson

Spring Training News and Notes #7 – More Roster News and A Look Ahead

By Todd Johnson


The roster for the Chicago Cubs is still in flux. Late last night, the Cubs officially released the above ditty, some of which I wrote about earlier in the evening, specifically Ian Happ.  

The Cubs could be looking to add a third catcher in the coming days. I have a series of questions about the consequences of the Cubs picking up another catcher: “What happens to Victor Caratini? Does he head back to Iowa? Does he get traded for bullpen help? Does he even stay on the roster?” There are just 4 days left to find out.

Finalizing the bullpen would appear to be the main focus of the next two days. While the Cubs have had all winter to get this done, Theo and Jed have waited until the last possible second to do so.  The whole thing could turnover in just a few days. The only thing I know for sure is Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards will be on the opening day roster. Tyler Chatwood earned a spot as has Montgomery. It also appears Allen Webster has a place on the 25 man. And that’s about it. Injuries and poor performances have taken their toll on the squad. The final three spots will depend on who is healthy enough to go on Thursday and that could change again in a week. 

Part of me is just waiting on a trade. I doubt it happens but it could.

Then again, I did not think that this team/organization could ever be seen as dysfunctional under Theo Epstein. Yet, he we are.

MiLB Roster Signing

The Cubs signed free agent Danny Zardon. The 24-year-old former 3B and OF will be transitioning to catcher. In college, he was all-world as a freshman at LSU as an OF and played his junior year at Nova Southeastern before being drafted by the Phillies in 2016 in the 17th round. He was released in 2017 after 18 games at low class A Lakeland. Then he played for the Joliet Slammers in the Frontier League the rest of that year and all of 2018. He will likely bide his time this spring learning catching in EXST before he likely ends up in Eugene or Mesa.

On the International Front…
The Cubs signed two more international free agents this week in Cristian More, a 17-year-old OF, and Jonathan Alvarez, a 19-year-old pitcher. Over at Baseball America, Ben Badler did not get to his Cubs 2018-2019 Review just yet but it is coming. In the meantime, you can go check out these two videos from his instagram account about two young international players the Cubs have been linked to for this July 2.
Shortstop Kevin Made
Catcher Ronnier Quintero

Baseball America MLB Draft Top 300
They expanded their top 200 into a top 300 this week. Three players I profiled so far made the list. Glenallen Hill came in at 115 (end of the third round), Ryan Kreidler at 148 (4th or 5th round pick), and Grae Kessinger was slotted at 234 (7th or 8th round pick). Those will change some depending on their springs. 

Bits of the Week at Cubs Central and Cubs Insider
Copa de la Diversion Announcements
Bailey Clark
Jordan Minch
Ryan Kreidler
Grae Kessinger
Prospect Stock Watch

I do have a draft profile coming out at some point over at Cubs Insider on Campbell University pitcher Seth Johnson. I will also be doing previews of Iowa and South Bend there as well, though the previews will probably come out the first week in April. They will be a little bit different than mine here.

Upcoming Stuff at Cubs Central…
Spring Break is coming at the perfect time for me. After a hectic seven weeks of history fairs, academic team matches, and taking my wife to doctor appointments, I am really ready for baseball season to begin. Come Thursday, I will be sitting at home in my chair checking out the big league action. A couple days before that on Tuesday the 26th, it is going to get really busy at Cubs Central.

Here is the plan…which is subject to change.
– Tuesday March 26 – The Cards of Spring Training – I am excited to share my top ten cards out of almost 80 I made over the last 3 months.
– Wednesday March 27Cubs Preview – Cautiously Optimistic – This will be a look at the upcoming season for the big league club. Considering the events of the past 20 hours, my optimism is at 2014 levels.
Friday March 29MiLB Preseason All-Star Team – Hitters – I really like the potential for this first half group.
– Saturday March 30MiLB Preseason All-Star Team Pitchers – This was one of the most frustrating posts to write considering the Cubs starting pitching depth in the minors.
– Sunday March 31 – The Final Spring Training News and Notes – This will basically be a preview of the affiliate previews.
– Monday April 1Iowa Preview – The focus of this post will be prospects who are just a phone call away.
– Tuesday April 2 – Tennessee Preview – The Smokies pitching staff will get most of the highlights except for some kid named *checks notes* Nico.
– Wednesday April 3 – Myrtle Beach – The Pelicans look to be the beneficiary of the youth movement and the 2017 and 2018 Drafts.
– Thursday April 4 – South Bend – The young Cubs will field a challenging roster of kids trying to break out in the system with several top 30 prospects.
Friday April 5 – MiLB Opening Day Recap – Luckily, there will be no late night games, but I am curious to see who the stars of the first night will be.
– Saturday April 6Preview of a Preview for Eugene – This is my favorite post to write as I look at players at EXST who have a good shot at making the short season club.
– Sunday April 7 – The Weekly – This post will contain the first players of the week for the year.

I also got the templates for the Players of the Week awards made a couple of days ago and I also got one made for Players of the Day, which is a new web site feature that will debut the morning of April 5.

Video of the Week

Spring Training News and Notes #6 – Maples, Webster, and Zagunis Could Make the 25 Man

By Todd Johnson

Another strange week of action took place out in Mesa this past week. The biggest news happened to be on the injury front as Mark Descalso (shoulder) along with Pedro Strop (hamstring) and a few other relievers look to be headed to the new injury list (IL) to start the season, which is less than two weeks away. The Cubs have two options; they can go acquire more bullpen arms or they could take a chance and promote from within. Right now, promoting from within looks to be the current course of action.

Three guys who could crack the opening day roster include Dillon Maples, Kyle Ryan, and Allen Webster. Webster has been outstanding this spring  with a .107 batting average against. Considering the injuries and the fact that Webster has been sitting in the mid-90s, he looks like he has a shot. As for Ryan, he’s seems a longshot with his 3.38 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. But, Ryan’s saving grace is he is left-handed, something the Cubs don’t have a lot of in the system. And with Randy Rosario’s rocky spring (11.12 ERA), Ryan could be an insurance policy.

The most positive ascension news this spring looks like Dillon Maples is in the mix. In an article on MLB.com, Jordan Bastian said that the Cubs coaching staff has made a few changes to Maples approach to the mound – both physically and mentally. Maples is now buying into visualization as part of the mental skills program. He has also tweaked his delivery. He’s now on the third base of the rubber to keep his left shoulder in and his stance is now more open. The results in a short time frame have been impressive.

Here is what teammate Brandon Morrow said of Maples’ stuff, “I mean, his stuff’s better than everybody. I think his breaking ball probably rates as possibly the best pitch in all of baseball based on spin rate, movement and velocity.” That is some pretty high praise.

As for the position player side of the roster, Mark Zagunis looks to be in the lead for a spot to replace Descalso on the roster to begin the season. With 3 HRs and an impressive daily approach, I am hoping this is where Zagunis gets his chance. SS and utility infielder Christian Adames has been just as impressive this spring and looks to be one of the better MiLB free agent pickups this winter. Adames may not make the 25 man but his performance does add some depth to the squad in Iowa in case of injury. However, with Zagunis already on the 40 man roster, things look to be a bit rosier for Mark to break camp with the Cubs.

The Best News of the Week
On Friday, Jose Albertos threw 1 inning in a game and needed only 10 pitches to get out of it. 8 of them were strikes. He got 2 ground balls and a flyball. That simple stat line just made me smile all Friday night. If he can continue to do well, he becomes a top 5 guy very quickly. I am ecstatic to see the results from his second outing!

Also this week, 1B/OF Jared Young got some love from Baseball America in an article about players who been impressing MLB scouts this spring A subscription is required to read the article.

Other MiLB News
Pitcher Florencio Serrano was signed at age 16 by the Cubs in 2017. He never pitched an inning due to corruption behind the scenes (not by the Cubs) and his contract was revoked by MLB. Earlier this week month, the ban against signing Mexican players from certain leagues was lifted and Serrano signed with the Texas Rangers.

The Cubs also “officially” announced the signing of 6’4″ 235 lb. outfielder Felix Stevens from Cuba. That brings the Cubs’ international haul to just 14 this year. They include pitchers Richard Gallardo, Darling Grullon, Manuel Heredia, Gabriel Jaramillo, Joel Machado, and Yander Montero. Infielders Edwin Castillo, Rafael Morel, Lizardo Ruiz, and Ronny Simon al inked earlier in the cycle. As well Outfielders Ezequiel Alvarez, Samuel Duarte, Orlando Guzman, Jose Lopez, and Yohendrick Pinango were mostly signed lasts summer. Gallardo, Lopez, Machado, Morel, and Pinango were all considered to be in the top 50 international free agents, depending on the list.

At South Bend, it looks as though relievers Riley McCauley and Cam Sanders could be rotation pieces this summer. Summers has an electric arm that the ball just comes out so smooth. They will both be two players to keep an eye on as the spring transpires.

Brennen Davis also seems to be getting more press. This week, it comes from Prospects Live who commented on his weight gain and swing changes.

On a Personal Note
My busy season at school came to an abrupt halt on Thursday with the conference academic bowl tournament. My team came home with a tournament championship as my little seven person squad swept through the bracket with three wins to bring home their second straight conference tournament trophy. The kids were also co-champs during the regular season at 8-1. The great thing about this victory is that I do not lose one player as there we no seniors on the team.

Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central

  • I have an article on Bailey Clark ready to go at some point this week.
  • The big news of the week will come at some point on Monday when Myrtle Beach and Iowa will announce their Copa Diversion nicknames for the coming year. I am a little pumped to see how these are handled. Eugene went in a totally different direction last year as Los Monarcas. I could see the Pelicans going with the Tiburons, which is Spanish for Shark. Grand Makos (mackerel shark) is another option. Iowa could go with Opatas, or Arctos, which is an extinct grizzly bear that was once found in Mexico. We shall see. I am ready to spend some money to get their gear, too. 
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America is releasing his recaps of international signings by each club. Hopefully, the Cubs will be targeted this week.

Bits of the Week at Cubs Central
Glenallen Hill, Jr.
Chris Allen
The Cubs’ YouTube Channel Debuts

Card of the Week

Photo by MLB Pipeline