The Cards of Spring Training – Lots of Color to Start the Year

By Todd Johnson

I guess the title is a little misleading. Not all the cards come from spring training, but they all were made during that time frame. Culled from MiLB Pipeline, Stephanie Lynn, Rikk Carlson, the Eugene Emeralds, the Tennessee Smokies, the Pelicans, and Jordan Bastian, this collection really has a lot of color to it. Last year, I only had 44 cards from Spring Training. This year, a little over 80.

The theme for this collection turned out to be color. After a very cold and very wet winter in northern Illinois, I was ready for the bright colors of baseball in the spring.

Honorable Mention.
I love this card. The Kris Bryant card comes from Jordan Bastian of MLB.com who let Kris Bryant have his camera for a few moments to grab this candid shot.

#10 Oscar de la Cruz
At some point last year, I grabbed this shot of Oscar in his Smokies alternate jersey that almost comes alive against the black template of my favorite card of my youth, the 1971. The wide angle shot fits perfectly in a template I usually associate with a Thurman Munson All-Star rookie card.

#9 James Norwood
Relievers often get the shaft when it comes to pics. Usually, it the closer who gets all the glory. In this case, I finally found a pic from the South Bend Cubs of James Norwood 3+ years after he pitched for them. I really like how the blue and red come out in the 1964 card.

#8 Nico Hoerner
Published by MiLB Pipeline, there’s an intensity here that I really enjoy in the card. Nico looks bound and determined to do something, and he did all spring.

#7 Cam Sanders
I went back through Eugene’s Facebook account to see if there were anymore pics I could find that would make a good card. And here was this beauty of Sanders in full extension. I am excited to see what he can do as a starter this year. He has such a smooth delivery.

#6 Miguel Amaya
Red naturally stands out in a card, sometimes too much. However, this red jersey that Miguel wore in the Futures Game just comes alive in this shot from MLB Pipeline.

#5 Jonathan Sierra
This shot by the Eugene Emeralds is all about Sierra’s 4th of July jersey meshing perfectly with the 1982 frame. It doesn’t get much better than this color scheme match.

#4 Justin Steele
Gold on gold. The 2001 template is a perfect complement to the yellow hues of Steele in a Pelicans’ jersey. The picture was published by the Pelicans.

#3 Matt Swarmer
The big righty looks to be pretty sneaky in this Pelicans’ picture capturing Swarmer in mid-delivery as he gets set to complete the pitch.

#2 Bailey Clark
Sometimes the jersey makes the card. Sometimes, it’s how the subject blends with the background. In this shot of Bailey Clark from spring training, Stephanie Lynn of Cubs Den gets some green, some gold, and some blue that really make Bailey Clark stand out, even with his face somewhat in shadows.

#1 Card of Spring
As for Yu Darvish, Rikk Carlson grabbed this excellent dugout shot of Yu in his spring training debut. Normally, I don’t include MLB cards in the top 10. But Rikk’s shot of Yu is almost perfect in color, background, and action! Put in a 1986 template just made the picture stand out even more. I really dig the mix of sunlight and shadows throughout Yu’s jersey! It’s a brilliant meld!

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Roster Pandemonium Is Coming to an End…Hopefully

By Todd Johnson

As I get ready to head out to DeKalb and Rochelle to run some errands, all I can think of is that something will happen while I am out. There will either be a cut, a trade, or a demotion…or all three. As I drive, my mind will be on the rosters for both the major league club and the minor league rosters.

Sunday was just another day in a strange weekend when it came to rosters. The Cubs began the day by designating pitcher Brian Duensing for assignment while signing lefty Tim Collins and optioning Collins to AAA Iowa. Duensing’s DFA was not a surprise and yet it was. After Saturday’s cuts, the moves all but assured Mark Zagunis and Allen Webster spots on the roster. At the same time, it left a gaping hole in the bullpen for another lefty to go along with Mike Montgomery. That means that Randy Rosario and Kyle Ryan should be up for that last spot. Ryan had the much better spring.

Collins originally began his career with the Royals and missed three years due to two TJSs. He completed his comeback last year with the Nationals. On Sunday, he got in a spring training game against the Padres. He had a 1-2-3 inning.

However, Sunday’s moves looks like they could be the end of the transactions in the majors. Here is what Theo had to say about the possible end of the moves.

Meanwhile, in the Minors…

The Cubs released nine players yesterday. Some were expected, some were not. Regardless, there will be more cuts coming as the Cub system currently has a glut of players.

The Expected – About half of the 17 MiLB Free Agents the Cubs signed this winter will be cut, especially the pitchers. On Sunday, Mike Zagurski, Carlos Ramirez, Ryan Court, and Evan Marzilli were all released. In addition, the often injured reliever Jose Rosario was cut. Rosario flashed a bit as a pitcher in 2012-2014 before TJS and he has struggled to stay healthy since, especially since transitioning to a reliever. Also, Chesny Young, who hit well at every level but AAA, was let go. This would have been his third year at Iowa.

The Unexpected – I was quite surprised yesterday when the Cubs let go of Chris Singleton, Jake Steffens, and Austin Filiere. Chris Singleton had a rough spring. I thought he ended the season well at South Bend last year hitting over .300 in August. I thought that could possibly carry over to this spring. It did not.

I really like Jake Steffens. He’s a very nice young man who works hard. He was outstanding in a relief role at Eugene with an ERA in the ones both in 2017 and 2018. When he was promoted to South Bend last July, he saw action in just 12 games with a 3.65 ERA in relief. He struck out 31 in 41 total innings last year while only walking 10. I thought he would at least be back at South Bend this year at worst, at best at Myrtle Beach.

As for Mr. Filiere, the 2017 8th round pick out of MIT had an up and down first full year season as a pro at South Bend. He hit 8 home runs but had a swing change in June that took a whole month for him to adjust. I was looking forward to seeing if that adjustment paid off over the winter.

The trend taking place in the system this spring is that the Cubs are taking more stock in 2018 draft picks. International picks are being given some time to grow. However, that patience does not look like it applies to late round picks from the past three drafts.

There will be plenty more of cuts to come in the minors in the next week. Some could be tough, especially at the AA and AAA levels as the Cubs system gets ready to begin the season. Some familiar names who have been around awhile may be let go.

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

Happ Send Down Sends Out Some Serious Shock Waves

By Todd Johnson


Some years, you just never know about anything. 2019 could be one of those years for the Cubs’ system, especially when it comes to roster construction..

I sat down about 6 p.m. tonight to eat my fish sticks and tots. I about spit one of each out when I saw Sahadev Sharma’s simple tweet that Ian Happ will begin the year at Iowa instead of with the big league club. Before tonight’s game, Happ was hitting .135.

I understand he’s having a bad spring, but sometimes that happens. When the season begins, professionals have been known to turn it on. I thought he would make the roster and be given a chance to figure things out at the MLB level.

Well apparently not.

Joe Maddon said that Happ did not take it well. I don’t blame him.

At the end of last year, Theo said 2019 would be all about performance. I did not think he meant in spring training. Happ’s send down looks to be the first shot across the bow by management. 2 summers ago, Kyle Schwarber revisited Iowa after a horrible start.

Happ will be playing mostly in the outfield in Iowa and that demotion looks to open a door for Mark Zagunis to earn a job as the 4th outfielder and also allow Albert Almore more of an everyday role in CF along with Kyle Schwarber in left.

Some other moves were alluded to be happening. Reliever Junichi Tazawa was rumored to be released but no official word was announced until I posted this. Yesterday, pitcher Alec Mills was sent down to AAA Iowa. I expect some more announcements later tonight or on Sunday as the Cubs need to get down to their 25 man roster. Of most interest will be whether David Bote or Cristhian Adames (or both) make the squad as bench guys with Zagunis and Caratini.

The bullpen should be the last decisions made as the Cubs are likely waiting to see who is going to actually be healthy come opening day in 5 days. Right now, Dillon Maples, Allen Webster, Kyle Ryan, and Jordan Minch are still on the roster. Webster looks to be as close to a spot as anyone.

There are approximately 12 more days until the MiLB season begins on April 4. And yet, here I am, with a somewhat cursory look at the possible rosters. All winter I have said that trying to figure out the rosters for this year would be a hot mess. Even with less than two weeks, that sentiment still holds true.

When it comes to MiLB Rosters, three things are making the rosters a mess right now:
1. Injuries, and the prevention thereof, in the pitching department are turning things on their heads a bit. The following arms have either been shut down or are seeing limited action: Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Erich Uelmen, Brendon Little, Erling Moreno, Paul Richan, and Brailyn Marquez. They have been pulled from the mound because of concerns/injuries.
2. Outfield Spots – While the infield and catcher spots look to be pretty much sewn up, who is going to be playing in the grass is a giant question mark. From Iowa to South Bend, there’s a lot of uncertainty and it begins in Iowa and flows downhill.
3. Relievers – On overage, most affiliates carry 12-13 pitchers. Of those 7 or 8 are relievers. In their current construct, there about 10-12 relievers on each roster. That means 4-5 guys are not going to be playing comes that matter in April. That’s a lot. And like the outfielders, Iowa will set the trend and it goes from there.

Here are the current roster totals and predictions to be on the roster (so far) for each affiliate per Arizona Phil. A lot can still change between now and the start of the MiLB season on April 4..

By next weekend, hopefully the rosters will be more fully formed.

Prospect Update – Bailey Clark Just Needs to Stay Healthy in 2019

By Todd Johnson

As many of you that follow this website know, I am a big fan of pitcher Bailey Clark. From the moment he touched down in Eugene in 2016, I was easily impressed by the quality of pitches in his arsenal. However, the first two summers have seen him struggle with minor injuries that limited his ability to train in the off-season.

After getting things straightened away after 2017, Clark had a dominant spring at South Bend in 2018. First he came out of the bullpen for the Cubs and then he morphed into a starter. It didn’t take long before he was on his way to Myrtle Beach where he kept starting. However come early June, Clark hit the shelf for a while. When he returned in August, he was coming out of the bullpen again and quite effectively.

Between the two class A affiliates, Clark had an ERA of 1.89 with 63 strikeouts in 57 innings. He threw 95-97 most nights with a devastating/slider that just baffled class A hitters at two levels. His 2018 story didn’t end there. Clark made his way to the Arizona Fall League and had an outstanding first half there and made the All-Star team.

Clark slipped a little bit in the second half in Arizona, but overall it was an outstanding experience to do well against that level of talent. Heading into spring training, Clark looks destined to head to AA Tennessee to begin 2019. I thought he might get in a few games with the major-league club this spring because they of his experience in the AFL, but that did not happen. Then again that doesn’t mean Bailey Clark is not on their radar.

Here are some things to think about for Bailey for 2019
1. Health – He has struggled with injuries the last three seasons whether it was at Duke or as a pro. For him to continue to move toward Chicago, health is of paramount importance. He’s got everything he needs. In fact, he has always had the talent to make it to Chicago. But it’s always been about putting in a full season on the mound.

2. Role – As a starter, he was throwing 95 miles an hour but it ticked up a little bit to 97 out of the pen. Combined with his slider, he can be a two pitch kind a guy who I could foresee coming out of the pen in the seventh or eighth inning fairly quickly.

3. How Fast Could He Move – That’s the big question, isn’t it. He has amazing stuff that just needs a little bit more experience. Pitching in Tennessee is not gonna be that far off from pitching in the Arizona Fall League.The talent level in the Southern League is going to be pretty close to the same. I could see him coming out this spring and doing well but he’s going to have stay healthy in order to move.

There’s no one with his kind of talent out of the bullpen from AA on down. He’s on a level with Dillon Maples and James Norwood in terms of pure talent. They are essentially pitchers with major league pitches. And not just any pitches, pitches they can be successful in Chicago.

Let’s hope Bailey gets there sooner rather than later.

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

Roster Updates for Both MLB and MiLB

By Todd Johnson

I don’t think there’s anything Earth shattering in today’s roster news when it comes to who is being sent down. However, noticeably missing from the list are Kyle Ryan, Allen Webster, and Dillon Maples. I will have more on them tomorrow on their chances to stick with the big league club in the bullpen. Starting pitcher Alec Mills is still in camp as well.

I was sad to see Trent Giambrone and Zack Short sent down, but Mark Zagunis and Christian Adames were better over the length of training camp.

MiLB Roster Craziness
As of Friday at 3pm, here were the roster totals per Arizona Phil: Iowa – 44; Tennessee – 33; Myrtle Beach – 34; and South Bend – 79. 

Adding in those sent to Iowa today and there are some serious cuts to be made in the next 2.5 weeks before MiLB opening day on April 4. It will be intriguing  to see how the MiLB rosters trickle down and just which pitchers end up where. . 

That South Bend number is insane. Then again, the players that don’t make South Bend will then compete for spots to head to Eugene during extended spring training.

The most intriguing part of the construction of all the rosters is the staggering amount of pitching. Iowa alone has over 21, but most of them are relievers, many of whom could be released. As for South Bend’s insanity, they currently have 11 catchers and 17 starting pitchers.

When it comes to starting pitchers, though, the rotations look to be taking shape at Iowa, Tennessee, and Myrtle Beach. Here’s a preliminary look.
Iowa – Jen-Ho Tseng, Duncan Robinson, Tom Hatch, Matt Swarmer, Michael Rucker, Colin Rea, Christian Bergman, and Ian Clarkin.
Tennessee  – Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Alex Lange, Tyson Miller, and Cory Abbott Myrtle Beach – Erling Moreno, Bryan Hudson, Erich Uelmen, Brendan Little, Paul Richan, and Javier Assad.
There will be a few more rotation changes coming as Alec Mills will likely stay stretched out as a starter at Iowa when his time in camp ends unless he, too, stays in the bullpen.