For the second straight year, manager Marty Pevey had to assemble a starting rotation made out of spare parts until August. Injuries and promotions at both the major and minor league levels cut his starting rotation short. The I-Cubs did have a potent offense led by the Cubs minor league player of the year, Victor Caratini. Starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng put together the best half by a pitcher in AAA since Kyle Hendricks was there.
The Iowa Cubs are still producing prospects to help Chicago every year. This year we saw, in addition to Caratini and Jen-Ho, Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Dillon Maples, and several relief pitchers help out the big club in some capacity. I expect more prospects will help out again in 2018, likely they will be just in bench roles. I don’t see anyone with the everyday playing career path of Ian Happ in the upper parts of the pipeline. Caratini looks to make the 25 man roster in Chicago next spring but just as the backup catcher. I am curious as to what the plans for Mark Zagunis are as he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA.
Here are seven things to know about the 2017 Iowa Cubs.
1. Bijan Rademacher had the quietest best second half of any prospect in the system. I was a little surprised he wasn’t named the July player of the month as he hit almost .400. He can play all three outfield positions and I think he has one of the best outfield arms after Eddy Martinez. The issue is that he doesn’t project to be anything other than a fourth outfielder. Then again, he hasn’t really been given the chance to show that he can be something else. He has begun to hit for more power and I like what he can do at the plate. He can hit for average and he knows how to work an at bat.
2. I would not be surprised to see the big league club continue to clean house again at Iowa. The 2017 roster at Iowa only had a few position players that might project to make it to Chicago. Most of the roster were journeyman players looking for one more opportunity to get back to the big leagues. With Tennessee sending anywhere between 6 and 9 position players to Iowa next year, I don’t think there are going to be too many roster spots available for any player or prospect nearing 27 years of age. Already, Jake Hannemann, Pierce Johnson, and Felix Pena have new homes for 2018. I don’t know if John Andreoli will be back again either.
3. I still believe in Chesny Young despite his up-and-down year. I think that he has some adjusting to do at this level and I’m confident that he will do well in his second go around at AAA in 2018.
4. Unless Eddie Butler can add some sort of out pitch, I don’t know if he’s going to be anything more than a fill-in at the major-league level. He had his moments this year in Chicago, but he never went much beyond five innings. He needs to be more efficient to get outs quickly and go deeper into games.
5. I am still pulling for Ryan Williams to make it. I just like the kid. He has a bulldog mentality that I love. However, after basically missing two full seasons, I wonder if returning to the bullpen might be best for his long term health. In 2018, we will see.
6. Dillon Maples is going to be close to making the Chicago Cubs 25 man roster next spring. I like the fact that he’s going to get more instruction from big league coaches that will only enhance his chances.
7. For me, the highlights of the year were the second halves of Jen-Ho Tseng (1.80 ERA) and Taylor Davis (.297 avg with 62 RBI). I am glad Davis got the call to make it to Chicago. His story is a tale of perseverance and he is an outstanding teammate and hitter that I think can play somewhere in the majors. I don’t know if Tseng will be given a true opportunity to pitch in the big leagues next year but he should get a few starts with the club in spring training. A lot of his future is tied to what the Cubs do to add starting pitching this offseason.
What to Watch for in 2018
There are going to be at least six position players from Tennessee who should start in Iowa next year. I think many will benefit from playing in the Pacific Coast League but none more than catcher Ian Rice. If you dismiss his batting average and just look at his power numbers and on base percentage, you begin to see his value and how much greater he is than his fellow prospects (17 HRs, .353 OBP). I think he is really going to benefit from playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League more than any other prospect in 2018.
Jason Vosler will also benefit from playing in such environs. After a poor second half, Vosler should look to recapture what made his first half so fantastic in 2017. In the first half, he hit at a .274/.375/.521 clip with 13 HRs and 49 RBI. In addition, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Trey Martin, and Charcer Burks should be starting everyday in Des Moines next summer.
Remember the name Adbert Alzolay. Out of all the prospects at Tennessee, I think he might be the most ready for Chicago. Even though he is currently a starting pitcher, I can see him coming out of the bullpen in Chicago as early as the middle of next summer. With a fastball that sits 95-97, there’s a lot to like.
By Todd Johnson
Strange things quietly happen in the MiLB offseason. Players are added, dropped, signed, retired, and cut without much fanfare or precession. Probably the quietest thing to happen is the rehabilitation of an injured player. The Cubs’ minor leagues have always had their fair share of injuries. Whether it’s Tommy John surgeries, knees, shoulders, or ankles, the injuries go to show the physical demands of the sport that requires you to grind for 140 games in the minors.
Here are some Cub prospects who should be returning to action next year.
Corey Black – He seemed to be just starting to find his groove as a reliever with a 2.70 ERA in his last 12 games of 2016. Now coming off TJS, he is bound and determined to be ready when 2018 begins. He will be 26 when next season opens and will likely be unprotected in the Rule V Draft this winter.
Furthest distance I’ll get to during my rehab starts today! 120 feet and some flat grounds coming soon. Almost time for home
— Corey Black (@CblackCHC) September 20, 2017
Ryan Williams – He has now missed two seasons with shoulder issues. I love his mentality and approach on the mound and I would be OK if he went from being a starter to relief next year. He was a closer in college and always pitched well with that type of attitude. He will be 26 when the 2018 season starts.
Erick Leal – He has gotten better every year as a Cubs pitcher. I was really sad to see him miss all of this season and hope the 6’3” righty can come back next season and start. He should be at AA Tennessee.
Gioskar Amaya – A knee injury ended his season early. The former infielder now turned catcher will be 25 when next season begins. He should be at AA Tennessee. The problem is things are starting to get a little crowded at catcher in the system. I could see him sliding to second to take some pressure off the knee from time to time.
MT Minacci – The young righty reliever made huge strides in 2016 as a reliever at Eugene. Things did not work out for him this spring, but he was assigned to South Bend before he went on the DL for the whole season.
Luis Hernandez (shoulder) – The 6’5” right hander has now missed two seasons due to shoulder issues. I usually cringe when I read that injury. He was so promising in relief in the AZL in 2015 and he even had some nice moments at Eugene that summer.
Chi-Feng Lee (elbow) – The soon to be 20-year-old RHP was signed as an international free agent and has yet to throw a pitch in a meaningful game. There are way more questions than answers here.
Carlos Ocampo (elbow) – The 6’2” lefty was pretty good in June and July in 2016 (3.21 ERA in 7 Starts) before breaking down in August. Just 19, the youngster from Cartagena, Colombia could be an interesting arm even in relief next year.
Pablo Ochoa – Another young lefty, the 6’ 19-year-old had about an inconsistent season as one could have in 2016 in the AZL. He showed some promise in 2015 in the DSL with a 2.58 ERA in 14 games, 7 of which he started. I expect he will delegated to just relief next year.
Alec Mills – He did return at the end of this year to pitch a couple games in Mesa and a couple games for Myrtle Beach. He’s now been assigned to the Arizona Fall League after missing four months of the season due to an ankle injury. Acquired in a trade last winter for Donnie Dewees, Mills holds promise as a starter and might be a possible rotation possibility, or at least a backup, next spring.
When Spring Training rolls around in February 2018, it will be interesting to see how their recoveries are going and whether they can contribute right away or if they need to extend the rehab a little bit. For some of the pitchers, it could be a long road back.
By Todd Johnson
Like July, I made a lot of cards and very quickly in early August. Then, when I started getting ready to teach, the pace of cards slowed way down. I think it gets more challenging every month to pick just 10 cards because each month I keep adding more and more sources to make those cards.
Next year, I’m going to continue putting the cards in monthly albums on Facebook. It worked out better than I thought it could. It didn’t start out like that but once July got here, a lot of the loading issues were resolved by the monthly selections.
The top cards for this month don’t really have a theme. As I started to narrow them down, I began to also think where they would fit among the top 10 cards of the year. I think we may see two or three of them at the end of September when I do the cards of the year post.
10 to 8
Much of a good baseball card comes down to to action, light, and color. At Number 10, Dylan Heuer’s capture of Dillon Maples is accentuated by the sunlight that when combined with shadows really brings out the action. At number 9, Rikk Carlson encapsulates all the athleticism of DJ Wilson in one shot. Yasiel Balaguert is captured by the Tennessee Smokies with the red stripes on the jersey and on his compression stocking making the picture and the card.
7 to 5
There’s just something about the blue of the Tennessee Smokies uni that gets my attention. I might be crazy, but I just love that shade. Steve Perakslis’ jersey and hat show it off in the small shadows. I normally don’t have large pictures turned sideways for cards. I couldn’t resist with Emerald Media’s shot of Rafael Narea and a shot of Duane Underwood by the Smokies.
For Duane Underwood’s second card by MLB Pipeline, you might think it’s the blue that make it but I think it’s the red in the background that really sets up the blue. The Eugene Emeralds’ capture of Jesus Camargo’s face really makes his picture. At number three, Rikk Carlson is back and gets to number two (which seems to be a theme the past few months) on Ademan’s second night at South Bend.
#1. Minor-league baseball (@MiLB) captured the number one spot this month with their publication of a picture of DJ Wilson laying out in a road game. Right now, that picture is in the top two or three for the year.
I will be back in late September with a monthly post. There are still a lot of baseball pics to come in this weekend and in the playoffs. In October, I will have the top 10 cards of the year on in it. I will be back with “The Weekly” tomorrow where hopefully three teams will have clinched playoff spots and a fourth affiliate will still be alive for one.
By Todd Johnson
What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.
Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.
While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.
As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young
By Todd Johnson
The Arizona Fall League released rosters today and 8 Cub prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. The Cubs are sending three pitchers who were injured most of the year and will be taking a good look at a fourth reliever. In addition, 4 Tennessee Smokies position players will also get a deeper look this fall in Arizona.
Here are this year’s fall players.
Alec Mills – He only made two starts for AAA Iowa this spring before going on the disabled list. Acquired in a trade for Donnie Dewees, Mills returned two weeks ago and has been pitching short starts for the Cubs rookie league team with great success. He was promoted today to Myrtle Beach as part of his rehab.
Oscar de la Cruz – After having missed most of the summer, again, one of the Cubs top pitching prospects will get some extended innings in Mesa. He did have a delayed beginning to the year at Myrtle Beach this year and then went on the DL in late May. He returned to pitch two weeks ago where he made one start for Mesa and one for Myrtle Beach so far. He is at 52.1 IP heading into Tuesday the 29th.
Pedro Araujo – The reliever has been up quite a bit this year with a 1.84 ERA and 83 Ks in 63.2 IP. He’s been outstanding as the closer for Myrtle Beach and he did make a short stint at AA Tennessee. I expect the Cubs want to take a look to see how his stuff matches up against elite competition in a relief role. At 24 years-old, he could be taken in the Rule V draft this fall.
Jake Stinnett – He didn’t get much work in this year because of injury and just recently return to action. He has been outstanding in August with a 0.77 ERA in relief at AA Tennessee. At 25 years of age, time is beginning to run short for him. He turns 26 at the start of next season. I think this is the perfect opportunity to see if the Cubs want to continue with him in a relief capacity.
Ian Rice – Rice displayed excellent power and on-base percentage skills the last two years at South Bend, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee. This year, he caught much more (46 games) than he did playing first base (10 games) and I think he is in the Arizona Fall League to work on his defensive skills behind the plate.
David Bote – I was glad to see his name on today’s list. He had a great second half of 2016 and first half of 2017. He seems to have an even-odd thing going as in April, June, and August, he has been near .300 and in May and July, he hovers around .250 . I am looking forward to seeing how he does in Arizona and just exactly where he is going to play. Between Kane County, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee, I’ve seen him play all over the field.
Jason Vosler – He leads the Cubs system in homeruns this year with 21. He was outstanding in April and May, but has not been since. Even though he hit six homeruns in August, his average has not creeped above 200 but his OBP is above .300 for the month. I am pretty sure the Cubs will be checking out his power stroke.as he never hit more than HRs in a season before 2017.
Charcer Burks – His 2017 season is pretty similar to David Bote’s. He got off to a great start (301 on July 1) and then slumped in July (.158) followed by a great finish. Throw in the fact that he played a lot with the big league club in spring training and it’s pretty easy to understand why the Cubs put him in the Fall League. With double digit homers and speed, his athleticism is something the Cubs lack at the major league level.
Earlier, I thought the Cubs might leave one spot open for Willson Contreras to rehab if he came back in the playoffs. Instead, that door was shut today. Still, I like who they are sending. It gives a good glimpse into they value at the upper levels and who will probably make it to Iowa next year at the beginning of the season. Hopefully, some of the players can use this as a springboard to success at Iowa. With the Rule V Draft looming a few weeks after the Fall League ends, some could us this experience to earn a spot on the 40 man roster.
There are just three weeks left in the MiLB season. With the Iowa Cubs out of the running, the Cubs will have some callups once September arrives and rosters expand. I would not expect too many players considering the Cubs are in the midst of a pennant race. Here are five players I think the Cubs will add for the final month. All but one are on the 40 man roster and a space will have to be made to add that one player.
Jack Leathersich – A lefty, he’s been lights out at Iowa but I doubt he would pitch in Chicago except in a blowout.
Eddie Butler – I like adding him as a long man or backup starter.
Rob Zastryzny – He was just up for a day and should be up all September now that he is healthy.
Dillon Maples – He is the only one who is not on the 40 man roster. Then again, he could be added long before September comes the way he is pitching.
Outside shot of being added – Catcher Taylor Davis – I don’t think Manager Joe Maddon wants to go into the playoffs with a couple of run down catchers. Hopefully Willson will be back in a month. In the meantime, Davis would provide a day off for both catchers or an inning or two of relief in blowouts down the stretch to keep them fresh as well.
A month ago, I published an article about the Arizona Fall League and 40 man roster implications. At first, I thought about revisiting that post in the wake of the trades, but Eloy Jimenez was the only player affected from the post. Instead, the only possible outcome would be that there might be one more 40 man roster spot available. In the article, I predicted who the Cubs might protect from the Rule V Draft by adding them to the 40 man roster. I also suggested some possible prospects who could play in the AFL. The Cubs may want to save a spot for Willson Contreras to rehab considering how well that worked for someone else last year to come back for the World Series.
In other news this week, Baseball America produced a new top 100 prospect list that includes this year’s draft picks. There are still no Cubs. I don’t think there will be until the middle of next year.
Coming up at Cubs Central.
School starts for me this week. After two days of institute on Wednesday and Thursday, the students arrive on Friday. I have a couple of posts already in the queue ready to go. One is an interview with Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Duncan Robinson. The other is a post about investing in Cubs prospects. I will also examine possible names of some DSL players who should be headed north for Fall Instructs. That could be the week after. You never know how news flows.
Yesterday morning, my wife and I had to put down one of our dogs. Phoebe was a terrier mix who was almost 13. She lived a good life of walks, treats, and belly rubs. In the past year, she had lost her sight and most of her hearing. We miss her already.
Around the Minors:
Iowa – 4-3: Jen-Ho Tseng continues to roll and reliever David Garner was promoted to AAA.
Tennessee – 3-3: 3.5 GB of a playoff spot – Yasiel Balaguert was named Southern League Hitter of the Week while Duane Underwood might be named Pitcher of the Week tomorrow.
Myrtle Beach – 1-5: It is rough all around in South Carolina. Reliever Pedro Araujo was promoted to AA Tennessee. I hope to see some infusion of talent from South Bend to give the Pelicans a shot at winning back-to-back-to-back titles.
South Bend – 4-2: I am seeing some growth and development from DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, and Bryan Hudson that is extremely promising. In addition, pitcher Tyler Peyton is on a great streak of pitching well the past three weeks. He has put himself into contention to make the monthly all-star team. Tomorrow’s post will be about how South Bend can help Myrtle Beach win the Mills Cup.
Eugene – 2-5: 1 Defensive woes derailed their week but they are still just one game away from a playoff spot. Brandon Hughes is starting to warm up again.
Mesa – 2-3: The kids are getting experience even if it doesn’t show up in wins. Delvin Zinn seems to be back in a groove hitting over .300 this month.
DSL 1 – 3-4 – OF Luis Hidalgo got the call to Mesa this week.
DSL 2 – 2-4
Baseball Card of the Week
Players of the Week
By Todd Johnson
The Cubs got a big win yesterday to stop a three game skid. There are still 53 games left to play and most of them are against teams with losing records. After next Sunday, the Cubs do not play a team with a winning record for the rest of the month. I feel pretty good about that.
The Eugene Trio: It’s been a beautiful week for the starting pitching of Eugene. When their All-Star break ended and play resumed on Thursday night, Jose Albertos pitched five innings of one hit ball. On Friday night, first-round draft pick Alex Lange made his professional debut with two innings of hitless ball. And on Saturday night, the Cubs other first round pick, Brendon Little, made his second start (but not a good one) as a Cubs prospect. That’s a promising peak into the future, provided they all stay healthy.
Cubs MiLB Awards: I expected that the Cubs would announce their awards on Saturday for minor league hitter and pitcher of the month for July but not a peep.
MiLB Farm System Rankings: Both Baseball America and MLB.com released their midseason farm system rankings this week. Not surprisingly, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 28th out of 30 teams. Considering who they traded this summer, no big news there. MLB.com only ranked the top 10, but they put the White Sox as number one.
John Sickels : He takes a while to release his midseason rankings. By the time he’s done, the season is usually over. After seeing MLB.com’s rankings last week , I was interested to see John’s take on the Cubs’ system and just who he thinks the top Cubs prospects are. It should be out today or tomorrow. I might even do a post about it, depending on how he ranks them.
Around the Minors: September 4 is coming quick. That is when the MILB season ends. Right now, only Myrtle Beach has punched a ticket to the postseason. Iowa and South Bend are pretty much out of the running along with the two Dominican summer league teams.Tennessee, on the other hand, is only three games back of Montgomery for a wildcard berth. Eugene has a slim one game lead as the second half division leader. In Mesa, despite being with the second worst team in the league the first half, is only one game back in the second.
Iowa – 4-2: Rob Zastryzny made it back from rehab and made it back from rehab and made his way to Chicago very quickly. Victor Caratini returned and promptly hit home runs both Friday and Saturday nights.
Tennessee – 5-2: Craig Brooks was named the Southern League’s Reliever of the Month after not giving up an earned run throughout July. Trevor Clifton missed a start this week but will be ready to go today. Hopefully, he can just relax and let his pitches do the work. Duane Underwood has now made two excellent starts in a row including a seven inning affair on Friday night where he struck out seven.
Myrtle Beach – 3-5: This team is having some issues as they have the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half after having the best the first. It is not the fault of Zack Short who seems to be making an excellent adjustment to high A ball. Over his last 10 games, the young shortstop is hitting .351 with a .405 OBP from the leadoff spot. In addition, pitcher Michael Rucker continues to do well. This week, he scattered 11 hits but only allowed one run in his start.
South Bend – 3-4: Erling Moreno returned to action on Friday night and pitched three innings while giving up just a run. Bryan Hudson also had an excellent start this week where he did not allow run in five innings. As well, Tyler Peyton had his best start as he gave up just one run in five innings. At the plate, Andruw Monasterio and Aramis Ademan make a formidable duo at the top of the lineup. I see this team maturing in small bits the past month. That bodes well for next year.
Eugene – 3-1: Several new players arrived this week including outfielder Chris Singleton and infielder Ramsey Romano. Singleton is off to a pretty good start and Romano struggled in his first two games after hitting almost 400 at Mesa. Pitcher Cory Abbott was also added to the team but has not thrown yet. Every time Ricky Tyler Thomas pitches, I come away extremely impressed with his performance, even if it is as a reliever.
Mesa – 2-4: It looks like their starting pitching might be starting to stabilize. Faustino Carrera had his best start of the year this week and Brailyn Marquez has looked amazing at times and terrible at others. Either way, he is striking out a lot of hitters (32 in 25.1 IP). Stephen Ridings had his best outing of year on Friday night and it looks like Brendan King might be a sleeper based on his short outings (1.59 ERA).
DSL 1 – 2-3: After a good week last week, the pitching hit the skids this week. Fernando Kelli has stolen almost 50 SBs. I am starting to get questions about the young switch hitting 18-year-old outfielder.
DSL 2 – 3-3: I still like some of the pitchers they have left. Danis Correa was promoted to Mesa and he might be followed by Emilio Ferrebus and Jesus Tejada. At the very least, expect Ferrebus and Tejada to be at instructs.
Coming up at Cubs Central.
1. Draft Player Update – In two separate posts, I will be giving an update on how this year’s draft class is performing as Cubs.
2. The other post I might write this week could be on some players I think who are ascending the past two months and might break out at the beginning of next year, if they have not already this year. Then again, I may wait until September to do this post.
3. I will continue to do updates on several of the Cubs top pitching prospects. That seems to be my focus of late.
4. I will also be interviewing pitcher Duncan Robinson in the early part of this week. Look for information from that discussion to be on all three platforms.
Card of the Week
Don’t ask me how, but I made 150 last month. This week, I already made over 30. Good thing school starts in a week: 2017 Cards: August .