Mesa Cubs

How is the 2 Teams in Mesa Thing Working Out for the Cubs?

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By Todd Johnson

The big change in the Cubs’ minor league system this year is the addition of a new rookie league team in Mesa. The impetus behind the new affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League was to provide more playing time for the team that uses that plays and trains at the Cubs’ Sloan Park. In the past, players that have injuries of a more serious nature get their work in at the Cub’s training facilities and begin playing games there. The problem with that is that a rehabbing player would take away at-bats and innings from young Cub prospects, sometimes for a week or two at a time. A second affiliate at this level was supposed to open up opportunities for those prospects while still allowing other players to rehab.

So How’s That Working Out?

So far, it seems to be working out on the surface. Each rookie league affiliate is assigned 35 roster spots. On the AZL Cubs 1 team, only pitchers Ryan Webb, Corey Black, and Justin Stelle are rehabbing. Before, OF Chris Coghlan spent some time with the club before heading back to Iowa. On Cubs 2, 1B Tyler Alamo from Myrtle Beach is getting some work in. He’s played in 7 games to date and I would expect him to not be there much longer. At some point, Drew Smyly ought to be working some things out soon.

Last summer, the Cubs signed over 40 international free agents after signing 35 the year before. Add in 32 new draft picks and 3 non-drafted free agents, the Cubs have a lot of spots to fill. About 1/3 of each roster is filled with recent draft picks and the other 2/3 is made up of international free agents, mostly from the past 3 years.

As for the Product on the Fields…

By having two teams, there was the thought that the Cubs would have watered down a team, but that is not the case at all. Heading into Tuesday night, Cubs 1 was in first place in their division at 11-6 and Cubs 2 is 7-11 and just a few games back in a different division. At some point, the two will play each other a few times.

However, some panic did set in the first two weeks of the season as the Cubs thought they would have enough pitchers signed from the draft to fill out the roster. Those picks did not sign fast enough. So, the Cubs had to muster up some arms in a rush from Cubs 1 and the DSL, a couple of whom have stuck with the team.

In addition, draft picks DJ Artis and Brennon Davis were injured in their first couple of games and haven’t seen action since.

On the other hand, 31st round pick 2B Clayton Daniel has been outstanding hitting .370. Other players off to good starts include Fidel Mejia, Grant Fennell, Yonathan Perlaza, and Luke Reynolds. Meanwhile, Pitchers Jesus Tejada, Didier Vargas, and 2017 round draft Peyton Remy look like they might have something.

And most recently, this happened:

It’s been a weird three weeks so far, but adding the second affiliate in the AZL seems to be working out and doing everything it is supposed to – giving prospects a spot to play and helping rehabbing players get back in shape.

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Who Is the Affiliate to Watch in the Second Half?

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By Todd Johnson

Back in the spring, I wrote an article for BP Wrigleyville about which affiliate would be the team to watch in the first half. I wound up picking South Bend mainly because of their pitching. And that turned out to be a good pick as they also had exciting players to watch. Now that the second half is here, who is the affiliate to keep an eye on for the next two months.?

Iowa’s Case

Considering that Iowa has really produced a lot of help for the big league club the spring with David Bodie, Anthony Bass, Victor Caratini, and other assorted relievers, one could make an argument that Iowa should be the team to watch in case the Cubs need more starting pitching. Casey Coleman, Duane Underwood, and Trevor Clifton are three to watch. Meanwhile, Dakota Mekkes and Kyle Ryan are two relievers to examine. At the plate, Mark Zagunis could fill a hole if needed and Chesney Young appears to fully have his groove back again in July. Finally, Taylor Davis could provide a backup catcher if needed.

Myrtle Beach’s Case


Right now, the Pelicans’ hitting is not doing very well. Outside of Andruw Monasterio, PJ Higgins, and Jhonny Pereda, most of  prospects are hitting in the .220s or below. But when it comes to pitching, especially the starting variety, Myrtle Beach has several arms to watch. Erich Uelmen didn’t miss a beat when he was promoted to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. 2017 First Round pick Alex Lange is definitely an arm to watch. His changeup seems to be rounding into form as it fades away from right-handed hitters. If he can maintain the current arm slot as his fastball, he becomes deadly. In addition, pitcher Tyson Miller looks to be strong at this point in the season and is getting better every month as his season ERA continues to drop near 3.00. I also look forward to the return of Bailey Clark who missed most of June. Reliever Jhon Romero might be headed for Tennessee very soon at the rate he is striking out batters.

Eugene’s Case

When I first thought of doing this article 2 months ago, I would’ve said that Eugene would be the team to watch with all the young players. It’s still is, but some of those players are going through a lot of growing pains. Right now, the star attraction is number one draft pick shortstop Nico Hoerner. Then again, he’s missed the last five days after injuring his pinky finger sliding into third base. Hopefully he will return soon, and stay there a while before he gets shipped off to South Bend. Otherwise, Fernando Kelli is never dull on the basepaths as he leads the Northwest League in stolen bases. Fireballin’ Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is must see TV. And in good news, Nelson Velasquez and Luis Vazquez seem to be finding in their strokes after a rough first two weeks. Both are hitting well over .300 this month. Luis Diaz has been a nice surprise. Jonathan Sierra has a great eye at the plate but has yet to get the bat going, although he went 4-for-4 last night . The 2018 draft picks have been a little slow to head to Eugene and they seem to be dispersed throughout the system rather than Eugene.

South Bend’s Case

They could easily make a strong case to be the team to watch this half, too. Pitchers Rollie Lacy, Tyler Thomas, and Jesus Camargo are something else. Every time they go out, they seem to just give up zero or one run in 5 to 7 innings with 8 to 10 Ks. First baseman Jared Young is destroying the ball and was just named the Cubs’ minor league player of the month for June. Miguel Amaya slipped a little bit last month but he is still a very exciting young prospect and was just named to the World roster at the Future’s Game. Brandon Hughes looks to be in a groove since adjusting his stance. Michael Cruz also adjusted his approach and hit over .300 in June. This gives South Bend Cubs, arguably, the top 1-9 batting order in the system.

Tennessee’s Case

Over the first two-plus weeks of the second half, the Smokies have been the hottest team in the system. They are currently in first place as their hitters seemed to have woken up from a two month slumber. Leading the charge are shortstop Zack Short, second baseman Trent Giambrone, and outfielder Charcer Burks. As soon as the All-Star break ended, those three begin to take off and haven’t stop hitting for the past two weeks. In addition, new pitchers Matt Swarmer and Keegan Thompson are beginning to adjust to AA as the Smokies have gone to a six-man rotation. Thomas Hatch is always a fun watch. I love to see Duncan Robinson pitch whenever he starts and the same is true of Michael Rucker. The two 2016 draft picks just throw strikes. With Jake Stinnett now entrenched as the closer, this team has a lot going on as they sit firmly in first place. 

As for the four rookie league teams, none of them are televised, although the Arizona Rookie League teams do get some press coverage with Arizona Phil. They also have 2/3 of this year’s class spread across the two teams.

Considering all of these things, it’s pretty close between Tennessee and South Bend. The deciding factor for my choice comes down to this: Which prospects are going to be at South Bend or Tennessee the whole two months. I can firmly say that most of Tennessee’s roster is going to stay in Kodak. I can’t say the same for South Bend. I could see Jared Young getting the call today as well as Lacy and Thomas. As a result, the first place Tennessee Smokies are going to get a lot more attention the rest of the way in. It should be fun.

 

2018 Draft Update: As the Signing Deadline Nears, Where Are The Picks?

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By Todd Johnson

A month ago today, the Cubs finished up the 2018 MLB draft by selecting 42 players. Today is the final day for almost all of those players to sign. Currently, The Cubs have signed 30. That’s the largest draft class in the Theo era. But they are not done yet. By the end of today, the Cubs could add more players, and one of them doesn’t have to sign today.

One player who could sign is pitcher Layne Looney, a reliever from the University of Richmond, is one player who I thought would have signed a long time ago. Drafted in the 19th Round, his signing was a no-brainer, but for some reason it has not happened. Catcher Hunter Taylor had a deep run in the College World Series for South Carolina. A senior in college, Hunter technically does not have to sign today. The Cubs could sign him all the way up until almost next year’s draft because he is a senior.

Another possible sign is pitcher Niels Stone from Indian River Junior College. A lefty, taken in the 27th round, the Cubs could sign him to a deal fairly quickly. The Cubs were thought to be using some of their overage to sign 28th round pick high school pitcher Mitchell Parker from the Albuquerque area to an oversight deal. That deal fell through on July 4th when Parker announced he would be going to college instead.

The players listed above are from rounds 11-40, Those who sign today can sign for bonuses up to $125,00 and not have it count against the Cubs’ bonus pool. However, there is just $83,955 of overage left for the Cubs to help sway someone’s mind.

As for the rest of the draft class, of the 30 that signed, most of them were assigned a club except for a few stragglers who just signed this week. The stragglers, like fifth round pick 2B Andy Weber from Virginia, will have to go through an orientation for about a week before they are assigned an affiliate.

To see how all the draft picks are doing in game action, MLB.com has a site for each team that you can track them all on one page. It’s pretty cool not to have to go from team site to team site to see how they are doing.

Here are the actual assignments so far of who has “officially” been put on a roster. FYI – Most of the pitchers have been given a limit of only 30 innings the next two months before they get shut down after already having pitched this spring.

Made from a photo by Jared Ravich

Eugene
Nico Hoerner, Riley McCauley, Zach Mort, Paul Richan, Ethan Roberts, Cam Sanders, Carlos Vega, Tyler Durna, and Jake Slaughter.

Mesa 1
Clayton Daniel, Jack Patterson, Luke Reynolds, Jamie Galazin, and Dalton Hurd.

Mesa 2
Blake Whitney, Levi Jordan, Miguel Pabon, Ezequiel Pagan, Drew Wharton, Brennen Davis, and DJ Artis.

No “Official” Assignments for: Jimmy Herron, Kohl Franklin, Cole Roederer, Derek Casey, Andy Weber, Riley Thompson, Josh Sawyer, Jake Reindl, and Chris Allen.

Non-Drafted Free Agents – Grant Fennel is playing for Mesa 2 and Brennon Kaleiweaha is playing for Eugene. Caleb Knight has not been “officially” assigned an affiliate.

Debut Night in Eugene: Getting a First Look at Nico Hoerner and More

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By Todd Johnson

When a prospect debuts in Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League, there is not a lot of press there to cover it. Usually, there are not even 10 people in attendance. For three games in anonymity, Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner hit .250 with a .400 on base percentage with two stolen bases. It was a pretty unassuming start to his pro career.

Yesterday afternoon, I broke the word that Hoerner had been placed on Eugene’s roster. And lo and behold, there he was in all his tie-dye glory at 9 PM central playing shortstop for the Cubs’ short season Class A affiliate. In addition, Nico was joined by fellow 2018 draft picks Tyler Durna and Jake Slaughter.

As for Nico…

Hoerner went one-for-four on the night. His lone hit was a single to right. He was also hit by a pitch. One would think that playing shortstop that Hoerner would have more than two chances in the field, but that’s all he got. Showing good range, he made a nice play going to his left and the other assist was on a routine grounder.

What surprised me most about Hoerner was that he is a little bit bigger than I first thought. He’s not some Dustin Pedroia or Ryan Theriot clone. He’s much bigger than them.

At 6’1″, he stands pretty straight up in the batter’s box. He’s pretty trim and muscular and carries his weight well. He has a nice smooth stroke to the ball. Although, in his Eugene debut, he didn’t really square one up. He struck out twice and grounded out to third.

Mstt Dompe, the Emeralds TV/radio announcer, explained that Hoerner, Durna, and Slaughter all got off a plane just a couple hours before gametime. There is no game for Eugene tonight due to a Grateful Dead concert, hence the jerseys. Hoerner and the Ems will play two on Sunday against the Everett Aqua Sox. That will give us an extended, and probably better, look at the Cubs’ first pick.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in one game, but it was fun to watch him and to get some first looks at how he swings, plays D, and his overall demeanor.

As for Durna and Slaughter…

Tyler Durna debuts for the Ems

I came away impressed with Durna, a 15th round pick, as he has a nice short stroke to the ball. He went two-for-four with a triple. The night before he drove in six runs for Mesa. For a 1B, he’s only 6′ tall, but he made every play at first just fine. However, like most 1B, his bat will need to be his calling card.

3B Jake Slaughter was originally drafted by the Cubs in 2016 but instead he chose to go to LSU. The Cubs redrafted him this year after his sophomore year. He is a lot bigger than I thought. At 6’3” and only 200 pounds, the 21-year-old third baseman has some room to add on to his big frame. He had a decent night going one-for-three with a walk and a strikeout.

Jake Slaughter’s Debut AB for Eugene

Going Forward

In the future, I am excited to see more of what Hoerner can do. I’m excited to see him square one up, sprint to second, make more plays to his right. I’m excited to see Nico sprint down the line after a pop up,  come in on a slow roller, fire a laser to first, and to see him take charge in crucial situations. It’s hard to get all that in just one game. Last night was just his debut. He got his feet wet. It’s just gonna take time to see what all he can do, along with his teammates.

Several Draft Picks Start Their Careers in Mesa This Week

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By Todd Johnson

It all happens so quietly.

There is no fanfare, no tweet, no Facebook post, no press release, nor a press conference. Their name just appears on the roster or in the lineup and their careers begin.

With 42 draft picks this year and almost $5 million to spend, the Cubs front office could sign a lot of its picks. It looks like that number could reach 30+ by the deadline on July 6. Most of the position players that have signed have seen action this past week. In addition, the Cubs signed 3 non-drafted free agents (NDFA), 2 of which are catchers.

On Tuesday night, first round pick Nico Hoerner’s name appeared in the lineup for the Cubs’ AZL 1 rookie league team. For the night, he went 2 for 3 with a triple, a RBI, a HBP, and a walk. That amounted to an .800 OBP for the night. He also cleanly fielded his five chances at shortstop. That’s an all-around decent debut. For his second night, it did not start out well as he hit into double plays in two of his first three at-bats. However, his sole hit in five at-bats came in the ninth and moved fellow draft pick Clayton Daniel to third. Daniel would later score the winning run on a single.

Second round pick Brennen Davis, an OF, saw his first action Tuesday as well. He batted leadoff and played in center for the AZL 2 team. Davis went 2 for 3 with a stolen base.  In his second game, Davis went 0-1 and was replaced in the top of the third. There was no word to the reason why.

Lefty Jack Patterson, a 32nd round pick from Bryant, became the first pitcher from this year’s class to debut. He pitched a scoreless 0.2 of an inning in relief on Tuesday, Carlos Vega got in some work on Wednesday as he walked two and struck out two in one inning of work.

Other players to debut include OF Jamie Galazin, 2B Clayton Daniel, 1B Tyler Durna, OF Drew Wharton, OF DJ Artis, 3B Jake Slaughter, and NDFA Grant Fennell. C Brennon Kaleiwahea, a NDFA, has been assigned to Eugene’s roster but has not played.  

Right now, the Cubs, according to MLB, have “officially” signed 24 of their 42 selections. I could see them signing 6-8 more including Andy Weber, Josh Sawyer, Jake Reindl, Layne Looney, Hunter Taylor, and Neils Stone. Yesterday, @Savermetrics reported that the Cubs did ink Levi Jordan and Dalton Hurd (they were listed as not signed in the MLB link).

One player who could also sign might be Mitchell Parker from Manzano HS in New Mexico. The only question is whether there will be enough money left over to dissuade him from going to college.

The Weekly – The Second Half Begins with Pitching, Debuts, and a RBI/wRC+ Race

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By Todd Johnson

I always find that the three days of the All-Star break is always quite strange. First, you have two teams in the Dominican that play very early in the morning, and then you have four teams playing at night, three of them who just began their season. It’s a bit hard to go from 6 PM to 9 PM without either checking in on a game, watching Gameday, or MiLB.TV. When play resumes on Thursday, then it’s like a massive rush as there are games going anywhere from 9:30 in the morning to 11:30/12 at night. That’s a whole lot of baseball.

All the minor league affiliates began playing at once for the first time on Thursday, pitching was still stealing the show. Tyler Thomas truck at 11 for South Bend, Alex Lange of Myrtle Beach went six strong and struck out seven, and Erling Moreno, who was on a rehab start in Mesa, threw 4.2 no hit innings. And last night, Didier Vargas, all of 19 years old, struck out 11 in 7 for Mesa 1.

In addition to action returning, there was also some player movement. Cam BeLago and early Marino were assigned to South Bend on Friday. On Thursday, Eric Hillman was promoted to Myrtle Beach and Keegan Thompson was promoted to AA Tennessee, and infielder Christian Donahue is going to be filling in at Iowa for a week or two for Stephen Bruno.

Debuts for Draft Picks and Undrafted Free Agents
On Friday night, the first 2018 draft picks debuted down in Mesa. By the end of next week and several of them should be in Eugene. For Mesa 1, second baseman Clayton Daniel and outfielder Jamie Galazin both went two for three in their debut. Over at Mesa 2, outfielders Grant Frennel, Drew Wharton, and DJ Artis all went hitless. There will be a lot more debuts this coming week that will hopefully include some pitchers getting on the mound for the first time.

Card made from a photo by John Conover

RBI/wRC+ Lead
One interesting thing that’s been happening since about the middle of May is the statistic of who is leading the Cubs system in runs created and batted in. For a long while, Jason Vossler had sole possession. Then, starting in early June Jared Young started creating runs in bunches. At the All-Star break, they were tied with 42 RBI while Young had a wRC+ of 141 compared to Vosler’s 129. On Friday night Vosler drove in three runs to retake the RBI as Young only drove in one. It may not mean much in the big scheme of things, but it’s a fun stat to track. I don’t see Young giving up the wRC+ stat anytime soon with his .300 average helping to keep his numbers high.

Draft Signings
Draft picks only have about a week and a half left for them to sign their pro contracts. Several picks signed their contracts this week including first round pick Nico Hoerner. I expect him to begin play very shortly at Eugene and by this time next week the Cubs should have 30-32 of their draft picks signed. Not that that would be a coup, but it would be pretty close to one.

End of June Schedule
As June wraps up, I’ve begun assembling statistics for this month’s all star team. The issue is that the month ends on Saturday. Usually in that instance, I move the Weekly ahead a day. However, I think I am going to put out two posts that day. The Weekly will roll out at it’s usual time. The June All-Star Team will come out in the late afternoon and the Cards of the Month will come out on Tuesday.

Getting My Trips in Order
With only staining the rails and new steps left to do on my deck, my yard work list will probably be done by the end of the week. After that, I can begin my road trips to watch some baseball and break in my new camera. Right now, I plan on heading to South Bend for a couple of days and then follow the team most of the week as they play Quad Cities and Kane County. That will be nice as my house is located in between them.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Which Prospects Could Breakout for the Cubs in the 2nd Half?

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By Todd Johnson

Yesterday, I wrote about who  broke out in the first half for Cubs Insider. But trying to predict breakouts prospects for the second half of the minor league season is a bit tougher. Most of the players one would expect to breakout will be playing for Mesa, Eugene, or South Bend. Some of them are 18 to 20-year-old kids while others are recent draft picks.

If I was to pick one hitter, one pitcher, and one reliever to break out in the second half, I would more than likely be wrong come the end of August. So, to hedge my bets, what I’m going to do is to pick three hitters, four starting pitchers, and three relievers who might make some waves in the Cubs’ system the next two months. Hopefully, one or more in each category will make it.  

On with the prospects.

Hitters

Everyone is going to be watching Nico Hoerner once he signs. The fans will watch his bat, his glove, his arm, and his speed, grit, and hustle. That kind of takes the pressure off of everyone else.

The batter that will impress everyone is Luke Reynolds, the Cubs tenth round pick out of Southern Mississippi. I would expect him to be a fast mover. He, like Hoerner, will probably start at Eugene, but neither will be there long as their approaches and skills will be too dominant.

Another hitter that could break out this summer is Fernando Kelli. While we know some about Kelli after his 58 stolen bases last season in the DSL, it is different playing in the US, especially skipping Mesa. The hardest adjustments for an 18-19 year old prospect from the DSL to make are just playing against quality competition. Kelli will need to adapt to quality changeups and curves; and guys trying to get him out in the batter’s box and also on the basepaths. In just 5 games, he has caused some havoc between the bases. His defense, on the other hand, might be better than we thought.

My third selection is Jonathan Sierra. Originally, he looked like Daryl Strawberry clone when the Cubs signed him in 2015 at 16 years-old. Now, he is getting his physique into something resembling Jorge Soler. What I really like about him so far is his approach. He shows to have a pretty good knowledge of the zone at 19 and he is not afraid to walk to this early in his career. The issue he has now is that his swing is a bit long. He needs to shorten that up or he will be eaten alive as he moves up the ladder. For now, though, game experience and seeing as many pitches as possible will be the goals for 2018.

Bonus Hitters – Kevin Moreno from Cuba (who is only 17) and Reivaj Garcia are two young hitters who have been tearing up EXST. They will both be in Mesa to begin the year. I love Luis Vazquez’s defense already. The fact that he got experience at SS in a major league spring training game says how highly the Cubs already think of him. He is in Eugene to start 2018. Focus on his defense, not the bat.

Starting Pitchers

One of the more interesting stories in August last year was the maturation of Jesus Tejada in the DSL. He was a stud with an ERA just under 2 for that month and he also threw a no-hitter. Now, the 19 year old will be stateside. This spring, one of the more interesting reports over time from Arizona Phil has been the growth in each performance of lefty Brailyn Marquez, who is really dialing it up as the spring goes along. Now that summer is here, the young 19-year-old pitcher is in Eugene as the ace of the staff. He can dial it up in the mid-90s. The issue has always been his command.

I liked the Cubs taking Derek Casey of Virginia in the ninth round of the 2018 draft a lot. He’s experienced, a senior, and he should be a valuable arm next year. This year, he will more than likely just pitch 2 or 3 innings a game in Eugene or South Bend. He should do well in those spots.

Faustino Carrera is not going to blow you away with his fastball, but he can make you swing wildly at his changeup. The 19-year-old lefty (I am noticing a theme here) has good command and can get hitters to do what he wants when he can control his upper 80s to low 90s heater. He also has a curve that comes in around 82 and he seems to hide the ball well to make it appear to have more zip than it does.

Bonus – In what is his third season as a Cub, Nathan Sweeney is back in the Arizona Rookie League. But here’s the thing, he’s still just 20 and, if he had gone to college, he would just be finishing his sophomore year. After two years of instruction from the college of pitching coaches in Mesa, he should start to put it together this year. His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s consistently.

Relievers

All three of my breakout reliever choices were taken in the draft this year. Ethan Roberts, Riley Thompson, and Layne Looney all had excellent careers in college in the bullpen. I would not be surprised to see any or all 3 get a chance at starting next year. But this year, they are just going to relieve. Thompson, who can bring it at 95, will need the most time to develop. Roberts might need to rest a bit after Tennessee Tech almost made it to Omaha for the College World Series. And Looney should be good to go as he was already playing summer ball. Expect to see Thompson to get in a game first and it should be at Mesa.

Here are a few other names who could break out as legitimate prospects this summer.

DSL
Alexander Ovalles – OF; Carlos Morfa – OF; Fabian Pertuz – SS; Carlos Paula – SP

Mesa
Luis Verdugo – SS; Carlos Pacheco – OF (who is injured to start the year); Raidel Orta – SP; Eduarniel Nunez – SP; and Luis Hidalgo 1B/OF

Eugene
Luis Diaz – 2B and Jonathan Soto – C