Position Breakdown Series: Relievers Close It Out

By Todd Johnson

 

Out of all the positions in the breakdown series, relief pitcher is the most unpredictable. I don’t think anyone foresaw the phoenix-like ascendance of Dillon Maples last year to go from class A all the way to Chicago. One pitch can sometimes be the difference.

I went back-and-forth on how to organize this breakdown. First I was going to rank what I thought were the top 5 arms and then list of some potential breakouts. Then, I thought I had a great idea of putting them in categories until I thought about it some more. Then I went back to rankings. But after sifting through each affiliate, I began to wonder out loud how much more time the Cubs are going to give some of these relievers a chance to be a Cub. As a result, I wound up with four categories.

Kind of a Big Deal
1. Dillon Maples – Armed with upper 90s stuff and a devastating slider, he is technically not going to be a prospect very much longer. 2017 saw him harness his physical and mental skills to perfection at Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, Iowa, and Chicago. He does have closer type stuff but will probably be treated with kid gloves his first full year in Chicago.

2. Dakota Mekkes – The 6’7″ reliever from Michigan State dominated two leagues in 2017. For 2017, he put up an ERA under one and struck out 92 hitters in 73.1 innings. His deceptive delivery makes a 91 to 93 mile an hour fastball seem more like 96 to 98. The ball just sneaks up and creates a rushed decision. It should be exciting to watch him go at it in AA Tennessee this year. If he can cut down on his walks, the big league club could be calling very soon.

3. Jake Stinnett – After missing four months at AA Tennessee, Stinnett returned late in the season in a relief role and appeared to be reborn as a pitcher. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and did very well against elite competition. He always struggled as a starter in his previous three seasons as a prospect. Coming out of the bullpen, I think his stuff plays up a little bit better as most of his pitches have some sort of wiffle ball type movement to them. Along with Mekkes, he is going to be an interesting prospect and test case to see how the Cubs deal with just what his role is going to be.

4. Corey Black – Something Jaron Madison said at the Cubs convention has stayed with me for the past two weeks. In talking about Corey, Madison mentioned an “emotional maturity” that seems to bode well for Corey’s future. Now at 26 years of age, Black should be on the precipice of making it to the majors as Madison spoke very highly of Black’s potential and Madison was high on Corey’s 4+ MLB type pitches. If that’s the case, Black could be a guy. Sometimes an injury can turn your career around for the better.

Who the Hell Is This Guy?
Jhon Romero flew under the radar in the second half of 2017. He began his season in June at Eugene and ended up in South Bend. After Maples and Mekkes, Romero was this relief pitcher I enjoyed watching the most in August. He can throw 93 to 95 and has a beautiful tight breaking ball that just devastated hitters. He struck out 53 hitters in 41 innings and opponents only hit .109 against him. He should be at Myrtle Beach to begin the year.

How much longer?
James Pugliese, Daury Torrez, Ryan McNeil, Tommy Nance, Jordan Minch, Tommy Thorpe, Kyle Miller, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and David Garner
What we have here are several relievers who have been in the organization for at least three years, some of them going on six years. Out of this bunch, Tommy Nance has the best stuff. He throws a hard ball in the mid 90s and breaks a lot of bats. Hopefully, he can return healthy in 2018. Two players who came on strong at some point last year were Scott Effross and David Garner. Effross will be at AA and Garner will be in AAA, along with a spring training invite.

Breakout Relievers for 2018
Jake Steffens, Ricky Tyler Thomas, and Ben Hecht all were outstanding for Eugene last summer coming out of the pen. All three were also draft picks from last year. Steffens is pretty good sized guy with a natural sinking fastball while Hecht was a strikeout machine for the Emeralds. To me, Thomas has the potential and pitches (plus changeup) to be a starter, just unsure about his frame. He might get a shot to stretch it out this year. For these three arms, pitching in the Northwest League is a different animal than the Midwest League. It is usually a pretty good barometer or a pitcher’s acumen.

If I was to pick one more arm, I would go with Ivan Medina who was Mesa’s closer. I am sure there will be an arm that does really well that I did not foresee. There always is.

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Position Breakdown Series – Lefty Starters Gaining Ground

By Todd Johnson

The left-handed starter might be the most coveted of the Cubs’ prospects. The problem is they only have around 10. Ranking them is not that difficult. But then again, you never know what is going to happen to them from year to year.

Last year, I had Rob Zastryzny at number one and I thought for sure he was going to be in the bullpen in Chicago all year long and that didn’t happen. At number two, Ryan Kellogg struggled most of the year at Myrtle Beach after a dominating second half at South Bend in 2016. Jose Paulino came in at number three and fellow South Bend teammate Manny Rondon was at number four. Both struggled at low class A with Paulino rebounding some in the second half.
I had Bryan Hudson at number five last year despite struggling in 2016 at Eugene. I put Justin Steele at No. 6 despite his struggles the year before at South Bend.

Both pitchers changed quite a bit in 2017. I really liked the maturation I saw from Hudson in 2017. He turned into a ground ball machine. He’s not perfect yet, but he was vastly improved from 2016. He is still just 20 years old. As for Steele, He probably had the best year of anything Cubs’ lefty starting pitcher. However, he had TJS in late August.

What I thought would be an easy list this year is actually turning into something quite hard. You would think out of 10 arms that I can find five or six that I really like. After thinking about it, I wanted to get a Time Machine go to the middle of August, see how they did, then come back and pick them that way. That’s not gonna happen…

7. Didier Vargas is a Dominican summer league player who had some success last year. He doesn’t throw as hard as fellow teenager Danis Correa, but Vargas should do well in Mesa after posting a 0.99 ERA in 63.2 IP in the DSL in 2017.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

6. Brailyn Marquez – If this list was just on pure talent, he would be number one. If it was on command, he wouldn’t even be on the list. Part of Mesa’s championship team, Marquez can throw in the mid 90s with a killer curve. The problem Marquez has is that he has not got his control and command down yet. He can look like the greatest thing for two or three innings and then turn into a BP machine. In 44 IP, he whiffed 52 but gave up 50 hits.

5. Jose Paulino – He went from 75 IP to 123.2 IP between 2016 and 2017. In May and June, his ERAs for both of those months were over 6. He was put on leave for a week and moved to the bullpen to begin the second half. He got a second chance at starting in July where he put together a nice string of outings with a 2.28 ERA for the month, reminiscent of his outstanding 2016 at Eugene. In August, he made 6 starts with a 3.34 ERA. What I liked most about his year was that he went 6 or more innings 11 times in 22 starts, and 7 of those came in 11 starts in the second half. That bodes really well for 2018 and Myrtle Beach.

4. I don’t know what the plan is for Rob Zastryzny. He could be a starter, or he could be a reliever. Or, do the Cubs just want to maintain that flexibility with him? That has to be a difficult and challenging thing to deal with when you don’t know how they want you to be used. My guess is the Cubs will keep him stretched out in case of an emergency this year at Iowa.

3. Justin Steele – He’s not gonna play in 2018 but when he comes back in 2019, he will hopefully carry the approach he began at Myrtle Beach with him to AA Tennessee. He credits daily mental routines for his 2017 success and his aggressiveness on the mound was also a key factor. In 20 starts, he had a 2.82 ERA with 82 Ks in 98.2 IP. The other day, Steele tweeted that he has already begun throwing in his rehab. Now, I am beginning to wonder if he throws some in relief the second half of the year.

2. Bryan Hudson – I probably should’ve just given him a 1B distinction because his future looks mighty bright. Do not get hung up on what his ERA was last year (3.91) but I liked what I saw in his ability to get hitters out. He figured out he could get guys to beat the ball into the ground with his fastball just as well as he could with his killer curve/slider. I think performance wise he’s going to have the best year of these five in 2018. If you’re thinking down the road a few years, I think there’s a lot to look forward to there as well.

1. Brendon Little – If you’re talking about performance, 2017 is not going to rank too high in his professional career. He had some command issues in his debut at Eugene but he also showed a devastating curveball at times. The differentiation between his reported fastball in college and what he showed in Eugene was substantial. He threw 91-94 in college, topping out at 97. At Eugene, he was in the upper 80s and low 90s. What I like is that he could be is a power arm that I think the Cubs can work with and develop. He just turned 21. He came from a junior college program. He doesn’t have all the spit and polish of someone like Lange who spent three years in a major college program and pitched in the College World Series. Little is going to be a work in progress. But the end result in three or four years could be substantial. That’s what you have to focus on. As a fan, you cannot judge him and his future on six weeks in Eugene. You just can’t. He might be one of those guys the Cubs keep in extended spring training in April and May to work on some things before he goes to South Bend. I don’t see the Cubs rushing him through the system. The Cubs poured a lot of money into him and they’re going to do it right.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On
I’m not ready to give up on Manny Rondon. And like Hudson, Rondon may benefit from the environs of the Carolina League and be a bounce-back prospect just like Steele was in 2017. As for Ryan Kellogg, I’m pretty sure he’ll be at Tennessee in 2018 but I’m not so sure what role he is going to have.

Andres Bonalde missed all of 2017. The 6’6” lefty put together a great second half in the DSL in 2016. He had a 2.31 ERA in 7 second half starts including a 1.29 ERA in 4 August starts. I was saddened to see him miss last year. Now, I look forward to him coming back at Mesa in 2018. He is still just a 20-year-old.

The big question mark is Carson Sands. He underwent surgery last winter for elbow splints and returned in late July. He did some rehab starts in Mesa before joining South Bend where he struggled to find the plate, one of which I saw live at Beloit. After two terrible starts for South Bend, he was sent to Eugene. He only made one more start in the Northwest League before he was shut down for the year. You have to feel for the kid. At this point, I hope the problem is physical and can be remedied with rest and rehab. At this point, I do not have a destination for him in 2018.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part Two: The Top of the Heap

By Todd Johnson


Last week, in part one, I talked about the depth of right-handed starting pitching in the system. That depth also could make my job harder to pick just six arms each month for all-star teams. If I was to rank all 34 right-handed starters, there would not be much of a difference between number 30 and 13.  However, in this article, the top six arms in the system set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.

6. Jen-Ho Tseng – For the second time in four years, he was named the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year. There probably won’t be a third. He’s pretty much ready. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. It will be interesting to see what role he gets in spring training. If he doesn’t make the 25 man in the pen, he will begin 2018 at Iowa as a starter.

5. Oscar De la Cruz – He did not pitch 50 innings last year. That’s a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched a 100 innings combined over the last two years. That is a huge concern. As a result, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has starter stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year, it was a shoulder strain, the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 and the Cubs yanked him from there. For 2018, there are a lot of questions that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.

4. Thomas Hatch – Year two should go much better. Maybe he was thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he did dominate as much as he struggled. At AA, his four pitch mix should play well if he can find the zone. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, he stayed healthy for the entire year, pitched 124 innings, and struck out 126. An interesting tidbit is that he only pitched beyond five innings just five times. AA will be a huge test to improve that efficiency.

3. Alex Lange – I love to watch him pitch. He has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. The problem is he needs a third pitch if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got in 9 innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors. As for where he will begin 2017, part of me hopes it is South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring. The other part of me hopes for Myrtle Beach to challenge him. Right now, I am leaning toward the former. This is one thing I would like to find out this weekend at the Convention.

2. Adbert Alzolay – He needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and if he ever gets a changeup figured out, he could be in Chicago quickly. He should make several starts with the big league club in Chicago during spring training. That should be fun.

1. Jose Albertos – I love everything about this kid. Ever since Eloy left, I labeled him as the Cubs top prospect. His 18-year-old-floor contains a 91-96 mph fastball, a wicked plus changeup, and a curve that still has some grip issues. If he gets the curve figured out, the sky’s the limit for his ceiling. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength. In 2016, he only got 4 in. Last year, he put in 60+ if you include extended spring training. This year, 100 should be the goal and 120-130 in 2019 making him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.

More names to watch
Jesus Camargo – I love his changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year. Plus changeup.
Alec Mills – I need to see more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada – He’s young, moldable, and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the 6th round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark – 2018 should be a good year for him as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid 90s. In August, he destroyed the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal – After missing all of 2017, he should be back at Tennessee and the long, lanky righty will get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno – If he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When he and his plus curve are on, he’s very good. When he’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson – Last year was a comeback year for the 2017 draft pick from Auburn and now he should be set free from day one with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen – He didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low to mid 90s in somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada – He was the hottest Cub pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year. I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King – He was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend to start 2018. He struck out 28 in 22 innings and made 4 starts for the Rookie League champs.

Next week’s breakdown post returns on Friday as I examine left-handed starters.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part 1: It’s A Crowded Field Filled with Promise

By Todd Johnson

If you look at any Cubs prospect list of the past two months, most of the top 10 prospects are right-handed starting pitchers. It is the deepest part of the Cubs system and should begin producing arms for the majors in the next year or two. In both the 2016 and 2017 MLB Drafts, the Cubs targeted starting pitching, more specifically, starting college pitching. In addition, the Cubs mined the Mexican international free agent market which is producing quality arms who could be just a couple years away. Considering that most of the Cubs’ actual major league starting pitchers are signed through 2020, the Cubs still have time to get these prospects developed. They don’t have to be rushed.

There are 46 starting pitching slots in the Cubs minor league system. 34 of those 46 are right-handed. That is an overwhelming number. Here are last year’s top ranked right-handed starters.
11. Jake Stinnett
10. Preston Morrison
9. Erling Moreno
8. Bailey Clark
7. Ryan Williams
6. Zach Hedges
5. Jose Albertos
4. Thomas Hatch
3. Trevor Clifton
2. Oscar de la Cruz
1. Dylan Cease

What a difference a year made. Injuries, sub-par performances, late starts, trades, moving to reliever, rising prospects, and a host of other reasons derailed most of this list in 2017. Only Jose Albertos had a good year. Then again, Adbert Alzolay shot past almost everyone of them. Now, add in all the arms the Cubs took in the past two drafts and it is a quandry to pick only 12 for this list.

I have a feeling that if I ranked these arms every month of 2018, a dramatic fluctuation would occur monthly. Names like Jeremiah Estrada, Erich Uelmen, Keegan Thompson, Kyle Miller, Erling Moreno, Bailey Clark, Zach Hedges, and Erick Leal could make the decision process very difficult for me. I can hardly imagine how hard it is going to be just to pick 6 for the monthly all-star teams this year. Right now, there’s not a lot of differentiation of talent between them. It will have to be about performance this year for a pitcher to separate themselves from the pack..

Numbers 12-7
12. Michael Rucker – He began 2017 as a reliever at South Bend and was dominating. He got promoted to Myrtle Beach and did the same. An injury to Oscar de la Cruz opened the door for Rucker to start and Michael never looked back. His ability to throw 2/3 of his pitches for strikes helps. I don’t know if he will stay a starter this year, but he looks to have a future regardless. AA will be a tough test for him.

11. Duncan Robinson – I really like this guy. He was in the bullpen in April for South Bend and staring in May. He finished the year at Myrtle Beach showing an impressive ability to adapt as he put up a 1.80 ERA in 4 August starts. At 6’6”, he has the frame to withstand the innings needed and intellectual intangibles needed to make it to Chicago. AA is going to tell just how good his curve, cutter, change, and fastball are. I would not be surprised to see him add a fifth pitch this offseason.

10. Javier Assad – After Adbert Alzolay, no pitcher improved as much as Assad did last year. He began the year a bit wild but was throwing mid 90s with control by the end of the year. His fastball quit tailing up and in and he was putting hitters away as he struck out 72 in 66 innings. He will be at South Bend in 2018. He needs to continue improving at each step. Outside of Albertos, he is the pitcher I look forward to the most at South Bend.

9. Cory Abbott – I love his makeup but I also was surprised at how big he is on the mound. He made 3-inning starts for Eugene last year and I was impressed with his work over just 14 innings. He whiffed 18 and his slider looks good. When he gets unleashed in 2018, he could be a breakout arm just a year after being drafted.

8. Trevor Clifton – 2017 was a tale of two halves. First half – All-Star. Second half, not so much. I thought for sure he was headed to Iowa in June after putting up a 2.84 ERA in 66 innings at Tennessee. If there is one thing I like about this kid it is that he will out work anyone. He will be back in 2018 and he will make adjustments. Not every path to the majors is a straight line. Sometimes, there’s a bump in the road. I remember a young arms several years ago who fans thought was washed up as a prospect after posting a 4+ ERA at AA. Sonny Gray turned out OK.

7. Duane Underwood – There were times last year that Duane Underwood of 2017 looked like Duane Underwood of 2014-2015. The velocity was there. From the middle of July to the end of August, he looked studly as he finished a season of 130+ innings healthy. As the year went on, his innings increased and his walks decreased. In fact, his was walk rate was cut in half from .475/inning in May to .27/inning in August. I am really looking forward to seeing him get back at it in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see any of these arms become one of the top six quickly. I really like Assad and I like Bailey Clark, who did not make this list. Regardless of what their name is, the Cubs have a plethora of arms who are going to have to dominate to get themselves noticed in a crowded field.

I will be back next week with the top 6 (It will be on Thursday due to the Convention) and a list of arms to keep an eye on next summer.

Position Breakdown Series: Outfielders Need Some Big Impact Bats

By Todd Johnson

This is easily the hardest position to rank. Eloy Jimenez anchored the rankings for two years and I am just not quite sure how to arrange this year’s crop. Do I put them in tiers, number them, or do I arrange them into categories? I decided to be old fashioned up to 7.

A year ago, Eloy was at the top of the Cub outfielders followed by Mark Zagunis, Eddy Martinez, Donnie Dewees, and DJ Wilson. Two of those five prospects are gone. Although Zagunis did have a pretty good season in 2018, Burks and Wilson didn’t exactly light the minor leagues on fire for a whole year.

This is a position that has a lot of names of players who COULD be elite talents someday. However, their tools have not clicked for some reason. In fact, that pretty much sums up the Cubs system in general. There’s a lot of depth, just not elite talent. However, in two years, that could all change greatly.

In spite of that, here are the current top seven outfielders the Cubs have in their system heading into the 2018 season.

7. Jonathan Sierra – I am just waiting for him to get it going. Hopefully, this year will be the year the homers start to flow. In reality, though, it is more likely to happen at South Bend for him. He might be at the bottom of this list again next year or he could be #1. He as all the tools and the right approach at the plate, it is just a matter of game experience and tapping into his 6’3” frame and beautiful swing.

6. Kevonte Mitchell – A physical specimen, he could be a beast. At times in 2017, he showed that he could carry a club for a week or two at a time. In 2018, he should be at Myrtle Beach and he could begin to fulfill his power potential. Watching him work hard in pre-game activities bodes well for him grinding it out at some point.

5. I could’ve easily written Eddy Martinez in at number two as well as number five. That’s what is hardest about this group – there’s depth but not much differentiation of talent. For Martinez, he was pretty good in the second half of last year hitting .276 with 7 home runs. Already a defensive stalwart, he just needs to walk more and strike out less. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It is another thing for it to happen.

4. DJ Wilson – He is an amazing athlete who I think should break out a little bit this year at Myrtle Beach. Now at 21 years of age, and in his fourth season as a Cub, the time has come for him to begin to put it together. The lack of a any kind of a sustained performance could be a concern very soon. He has all the skills he needs, it is just a matter of putting it together on a daily basis.

3. Charcer Burks had a great first half at AA Tennessee and I thought for sure he was going to get a promotion in late June to AAA. He got off to a great start in spring training with the big league club and never let up until the middle of June when he seemed to take a step back. He did alright in the Arizona Fall League but he didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off. It was a long year but it was also a huge step in the right direction that truly began the second half of 2016 at Myrtle Beach when Rashad Crawford was dealt. He should be fine at AAA. And to be honest, his power game might improve at AAA. Last year, he hit 10 at AA. I would not be surprised if he hit 15 this year in the PCL.

2. Mark Zagunis – Like Victor Caratini, I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at AAA. His power improved last year, his batting average improved, while his on base percentage is always spectacular. All he needs is a place to play every day. The problem it is not in Chicago. I was hoping that he might get a chance with another club to break through. That hasn’t happened yet this offseason.

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

1. Nelson Velasquez – His power potential is off the charts. In just a short six week span, He cranked out 11 home runs in Mesa between rookie league and the playoffs. He still has some swing and miss to his game (30% K rate in the Arizona Rookie League). As a result, I think the Cubs are going to be pretty patient with him and it will be interesting to see how he does in Eugene, which is not a place where home runs have been known to happen frequently. Still, there’s just too much talent to not rank him number 1 just based on potential.

Some Names to Watch for 2018
Out of all the position lists from this winter, the outfield list could change drastically in one year’s time. In fact, the Cubs could pick up another college outfielder or two in the top three to four rounds of the draft next summer that could totally reshape these rankings. Add in some amazing athletes who will be patrolling the green grass in Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend in 2018 who are young, unproven for a full season, and extremely athletic and the system becomes much more dynamic.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

Fernando Kelli leads the list and should be making his stateside debut along with Carlos Pacheco. Both played in the Dominican last year and they could be playing anywhere from Mesa to South Bend. Meanwhile, Brandon Hughes begins his first full season after being drafted last summer. A switch-hitter, Hughes is an amazing athlete with the build to hit for power but has never been asked to do so. Chris Carrier, another 2017 draft pick, struggled at Eugene, but is a physical specimen.

Finally, Jose Gutierrez is another young and athletic outfielder who was the leadoff man on Mesa’s championship team. Down the stretch, he hit .354 in August helping to set the table for the rookie league Cubs.

One thing about this class of outfielders from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend is that they are not going to be dull.

Position Breakdown Series: Shortstops Get Their Turn…

By Todd Johnson

A few years ago, it seemed as if the Cubs had all the shortstops. Now, I struggled just to put this list together. While, yes, the Cubs do have a shortstop on every affiliate, it is also worth noting that some of them might not be worthy of making it onto this list as potential major leaguers. Then again, the bottom end of the system might be worth talking about in a year after the Cubs targeted the position in international free agency.

Last year, the depth began to show, or should I say lack of depth, especially after the trade of Isaac Paredes. The rankings changed just a little bit this year. Ademan was number one, but number two Paredes is gone. Zack Short was at number 3 a year ago while Delvin Zinn was at number 4 and Andruw Monasterio was at number 5.

This year’s rankings are very similar.

1. Aramis Ademan – For just being 18 years old, he held his own and succeeded at Eugene and struggled just a bit at South Bend. Originally, he got off to a horrible start at Eugene as the leadoff man. Once he was moved down in the order, his bat began to flourish. I expect him to begin 2018 at Myrtle Beach. Even though he didn’t tear it up at South Bend, I don’t think you want to hold him back at this point. Let him play a full season in the Carolina League. Even though it is known as a pitcher’s league, he should be just fine and it should challenge him to improve. I don’t see any rush in trying to get him to Tennessee this year unless he just destroys the ball for Myrtle Beach.

2. Zack Short – I think everyone saw the glimpse of power in 2016 when he was at Eugene. What I don’t think anyone recognized was just exactly how good of an approach he had at the plate. He led the Midwest League in walks before his promotion to Myrtle Beach; where he did extremely well, too. 2018 is going to be the ultimate test for him. His plate approach, his fielding skills, and the ability to hit for power will be put to the test. I hope that he is up for it. I also hope to see him play some more second base and third base to make him more versatile as a utility man.

3. Luis Vazquez – The 2017 13th round pick had an up-and-down rookie season for Mesa last year. He came on like gangbusters in July, struggled in August, and rebounded in the playoffs. He has a lot of work to do at the plate that includes recognizing pitches and laying off of them. However, his fielding skills are already at an elite level. I was watching the video below on one of the pitchers the Cubs took in last year’s draft and Vazquez comes out of nowhere at 1:29 to make the play behind him. Baseball America already touted him is having the best infield arm and being the best defender in the infield in the Cubs system.

4. Delvin Zinn – if these rankings were based purely on athleticism, then he would be number one. In addition to shortstop, I could see him playing second, which he did quite often in 2017, and the outfield. Like many in rookie league, Zinn had an up and down year. However, what I like to take away is that he started strong and finished stronger by making adjustments in the middle of the season. He should be at Eugene to begin the year.

6. Andruw Monasterio – He played all over the infield last year for South Bend and Myrtle Beach. I like his hit tool and aggressiveness at the plate. He hit .281 at South Bend in the second half with an outstanding .351 OBP. His weakness right now would have to be his fielding even though he played three positions in the infield last year. I hope he goes to Myrtle Beach, but Ademan’s assignment will take precedence over his.

Ones to Watch

Christopher Morel – His name has been bandied about for several years now thanks to John Arguello. He’s 18 and he had a pretty decent year in the Dominican. He’s got a big frame that has yet to fill in but he did hit 8 HRs with 40 RBI last year but only hit .220. However, he also walked 35 times in 61 games for an OBP of .332.

Luis Verdugo is a young 17-year-old shortstop the Cubs signed out of Mexico last summer as an international free agent. Here is what MLB Pipeline said of his skills:

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

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

He should be in rookie league with Mesa to begin his career.

 

The Weekly – Lots of Action and News Coming Up Next Week

By Todd Johnson

What a week!

Between the Cubs attempted signing of Shohei Ohtani, the possibility that Giancarlo Stanton briefly wanted to come to the Cubs, and the signing of Tyler Chatwood, I am worn out. It was nice to sleep in on Saturday morning, if only to get some rest. Starting tomorrow, the General Manager meetings will take place in Orlando, Florida. As a result, there will be no respite next week.

From trade rumors to free agents, the internet has been a buzz of activity and speculation now that Ohtani and Stanton have cleared the marketplace.

Later, on Thursday the 14th, the Rule Five Draft will take place. There will be two parts – a minor-league phase and a major-league phase. The Cubs have 48 players eligible to be selected in the major league phase. However, most teams are not gonna want to take a chance on the Cubs’ talent except for maybe a few players like reliever Pedro Araujo and utility man Chesny Young. Then again, Araujo has never pitched above Class A Myrtle Beach while Young had an up and down season at AAA. Jacob Hannemann, who got a cup of coffee last year with Seattle, could be selected as well.

The Cubs could take a chance and select a pitcher like Kohl Stewart from Minnesota who they could put in the bullpen and develop him into a starter. The former 2013 first round pick (#4) of the Twins is someone the Cubs could take a gamble on in hopes of future performance. If it doesn’t work out, the Cubs return him back to Minnesota at the end of spring training. Ideally, the Cubs would hope to find a left-handed strike thrower and hope they get lucky like they did with Hector Rondon in 2012.

When it comes to the minor-league phase of the draft on Thursday, the Cubs only have 24 players eligible to be selected by other minor league systems. Any of the Cubs eligible prospects could be selected. Most likely, other organizations could select one of the Cubs eligible catchers that include Ali Solis, Cael Brockmeyer, Erick Costello, Alberto Mineo, and Will Remillard. The Cubs might try to stockpile some AAA and AA bullpen arms.

On Tuesday this past week, many of the prospects that were released in the Braves international free agent scandal began signing with other teams. Going into the weekend, there were still six players left. The Cubs currently have $930,000 left in their 2017-18 international free agent bonus pool per Arizona Phil. It looks like the bidding has been pretty high as the first six prospects all signed for bonuses over $1 million. The Cubs could be shutout on getting one inked.

In addition to the meetings next week, Baseball Prospectus will be releasing their top 10 Cubs Prospect List at some point. It was originally scheduled for Monday the 11th, but it looks like it’s going to be backed up to later in the week. I will be analyzing that list for this site, Cubs Insider, and BP Wrigleyville.

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

I last redid the Top 21 Prospect list shortly after the end of the minor league season. While I see no reason to currently change it, events could take place this week that might necessitate said change. I don’t foresee a lot of movement up my list except for Nelson Velazquez and Alex Lange. However, there’s gonna be a lot of movement in the list next summer. I originally planned on redoing the list in late March, just prior to the regular season beginning. Let’s play it by ear this week. The earliest I could redo it would be Saturday.

It’s hard to believe that we are closer to the draft than we are away from it. MLB Pipeline released their top 50 draft prospects last week and it looks like there will be a lot of good bats for the Cubs to pick from at #24. Pipeline has Florida high school pitcher Carter Stewart ranked #24. What I am intrigued by is the plethora of bats coming right after Stewart that include Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm of Wichita State, thee Seth Beer, Luken Baker, and possible 5 tool sensation Tristan Pompey of Kentucky. A lot can happen between now and June. The player I am intrigued most with right now is Shortstop Xavier Edwards, a high school shortstop from Florida, who is ranked #38 by Pipeline.

Tomorrow, the Mailbag returns as I answer just one question on South Bend’s possible rotation for 2018. On Wednesday, the “Leveling Up” series is back and looks at pitcher Jose Albertos while the shortstops in the system get ranked on Friday in the position breakdown series.

Baseball Card of the Week

Cubs Insider

John Sickels’ Top Prospect List

BP Wrigleyville

Cubs Sign Tyler Chatwood