South Bend Cubs

2017 Cards of the Year Have Several Classics

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By Todd Johnson

There was a lot of stiff competition to make this year’s Top 10 baseball card list. Two cards of the month didn’t make it. Some cards aged well over time. Others did not. I still think I could have argued for five cards to be the top card of the year. In fact, I changed the number one card five times over the past two days for a variety of reasons. As soon as I click publish, I will probably wish I could have changed it.

Honorable Mention

I just like this picture. I took this picture of Joe in Beloit. It was taken just before he eliminated his giant leg kick. Shortly thereafter, he began to hit much better in August.   

10-8

  

At number 10 for the year, Larry Kave took this excellent shot of Justin Steele. In addition to the colors and the action, I really like the sunlight illuminating the top half of the card. Rikk Carlson captured a series of lines and angles in a great picture of DJ Wilson at number 9. The Eugene Emeralds nailed this action shot of pitcher Ben Hecht in a great picture as he warmed up between innings.

7-5

 

Taken off his Instagram account, I just love the colors of Eddy Martinez as he jogs to wherever he is going. Number six is by the Eugene Register Guard and has infielder Jhonny Bethencourt leaping up in the air to grab a throw down to second base from the catcher. Needless to say, the runner was safe. September’s number one picture comes in at number five for the year. I love the color of the lettering on the Emeralds’ Friday night jerseys and the expression on Jose’s face as well as how everything meshes with the woodgrain texture..    

4-2 – Any of these could have been number one.

 

I think the Tennessee Smokies Charcer Burks’ card has aged very well over the year. What I like most about it is the smattering of blue throughout the card. In at number three, Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) nailed this photograph of DJ Wilson flying through the air with the greatest of ease. At number two, this card of Duane Underwood is another card that has aged well and I thought for a while it might be the best picture of the year as I just love the twilight experience in the card as well as how the red of Underwood’s hat matches the piping on the bottom of the card along with the trim on his uniform.    

#1

I hemmed and hawed in my own mind about the qualities of this card and the Underwood card above. I was actually smitten with this Albertos card caught by the Eugene Register Guard for several reasons. First, the action taking place in the cartoon is top notch. Second, the photograph encapsulates both objects in focus and out of focus which I think it adds to its enjoyment. Finally, the fact that this is a picture of Jose Alberto’s wearing Eugene’s throwback uniforms tops it off in my book. To be honest, I think it matters that it’s in a 1986 frame as that allows for the picture to be more of the star of the card then hiding behind the outline features of the card.

Over the next six months, there will be more cards made. Between now and the beginning of the spring training, I always tend to find just as many pictures in the off-season as I do in the regular season from the local newspapers of the prospects as they do write-ups and profiles. I won’t be having any special post for the winter cards, but I will add them to the Facebook account with its own photo album if you would like to see some of them. I will get started on them next weekend as I have about 10-15 pics waiting to be turned into cards.

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The Weekly – Tyler Alamo, Baseball America Lists, and a Busy Week Ahead

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Sometimes, the games don’t seem so important.

Cubs Prospect Tyler Alamo was one of those in attendance last week at the shooting in Las Vegas. Tim Huwe (@tim815) first reported on this a couple of days ago. Included in Tim’s article was a link to an interview where Alamo recounts the harrowing events of that night including the loss of his friends.

MiLB News
Felix Pena was DFA’d this week to make room for pitcher Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell and brother of South Bend Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell. Farrell appeared in nine games for the Reds last summer and had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP, all in relief.

At fall instructs, the Cubs prospects are playing sim games but with pitching machines. Although, Koji Uehara, on a rehab assignment, did face a few batters.

The Arizona Fall League begins play on Tuesday. The Mesa Solar Sox have 7 Cubs on the roster: Relievers Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett, starter Alec Mills, catcher Ian Rice, infielders David Bote and Jason Vosler, and outfielder Charcer Burks. Their schedule goes through mid-November. I will try and keep up with their performances every Sunday.

Baseball America Offseason Prospect Lists

Baseball America has been publishing their top 20 prospects in each minor league the past couple of weeks. In the first week, Victor Caratini made it in the Pacific Coast League. And last week, Adbert Alzolay made it for the Carolina League. This week saw a large number of prospects make it for the Midwest League and the Northwest League. The problem was not all the prospects are still with the franchise. In the Midwest League, Isaac Paredes came in at number nine and Dylan Cease at number 11. No current South Bend Cub made the list.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravich
For the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs hit the motherlode. Jose Albertos was ranked number four, Aramis Ademan came in at number eight, and Miguel Amaya was number 16. None of those three selections were surprising. However, at number nine, pitcher Javier Assad was a stunning selection as BA’s Michael Lananna praised Assad’s improving arsenal.

On Thursday, the Arizona League post was published. It’s not surprising that Nelson Velasquez was on the list. However, he was ranked at number 20. He is still a bit raw, but he still does have a lot of upside and room for improvement in his game.

The DSL list should be published this next week. It will be interesting to see if any young Cubs make it.

I think what the six lists do show is that the Cubs are not devoid of talent. There may not be a lot of prospects at the top of each league, but the Cubs do have several players who could be on their way up the lists.

Top 20 Chat Post

There was an interesting question in the Northwest League chat that accompanied the post. A Cub fan from Pasadena California asked about whether the Cubs should be concerned about Brendon Little’s performance in the Northwest League. Here is the response to that question:

Michael Lananna: Mildly concerned, but  don’t press the panic button yet. He’s the same guy. His control was erratic throughout his college career, and that’s still going to remain his biggest hurdle to the next level. This summer was just a small snapshot of that, and I’m sure the Cubs will work with him on his strike throwing going forward. He’s still an exciting left handed arm with power stuff.

Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central

I have three posts scheduled to be published in between playoff recaps over the next five days. The Cards of the Year post should be out Monday. Later in the week, Shohei Otani and his impending free agency gets previewed. Part 2 of the State of the Cubs MiLB System will hit the Internet as well at some point in the next five days.

A Mock Draft Already?
Baseball America also posted their first mock draft for 2018. I was surprised to see that they had the Cubs selecting wiry high school pitcher Cole Wilcox at 24 considering that OF Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama was taken at number 25, I would’ve preferred the Cubs have gone with the college outfielder rather than the high school pitcher. Then again, it was only a mock draft but it is interesting to see where players are falling now and then compare that to a few months from now.

 

Prospect Profile: Javier Assad Improving in Increments

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By Todd Johnson

One of the cool things about the Cubs’ system is that you can watch players develop in increments. There’s so much press, coverage, and statistical information, it’s hard for a prospect go unnoticed at any stage. Last year (2016) at Mesa, an 18 and then a 19-year-old Javier Assad sort of became the de facto ace of the young rookie league squad. His fastball, at that time, sat around 88 to 91 according to John Arguello.

In 2017, Assad continued his development at short season Eugene. Now 19/20, his fastball crept up a little bit more as the year wore on. It was not uncommon for him to top out at 94/95 in a game. Still, he sat most of the time in the low 90s often working easily up to 93..

What I took away from watching him in 2017 was that he’s got a little “dog in the fight.” He’s competitive and he attacks the zone. As the year progressed, he tended to quicken his pace, à la Adbert Alzolay, as he didn’t waste a lot of time between pitches. I think in 2018, we are going to start to see a much more fully developed pitcher.

Basic Info
6’1”, 200 lbs.
Throws Right
Signed as an International Free Agent in 2015
From Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

Statistics can sometimes be irrelevant for a lot of minor-league players. There are instances where certain statistics can point out a weakness or a strength. I think a lot of time, people get hung up on just looking at one or two stats for the Cubs’ minor league pitchers, I tend not to get too hung up on either the velocity readings or ERA. Those are nice, but I think other statistics hint to where a prospect is at a certain point in their development. I like to look at statistics and how they compare in smaller splits as adjustments are continually made.

For example, Assad’s monthly ERAs in 2017 went from 2.45 in 3 June starts to 5.00 in 5 July starts and back down to 3.72 in 4 August starts. However, when you start digging deeper, his batting average against went down each month despite a roller coaster ERA. All the while, his K and BB rates remained consistent.

Pitching in Eugene was a bit treacherous this year and even more so when Aramis Ademan left to go to South Bend. It was not the best defensive unit on the face of the Earth. As a result, I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate Assad’s 2017 solely on his ERA or WHIPs which did go down each month. Instead, I think FIP and xFIP are likely more representative of his current development. They stood at 3.03 and 3.27 respectively. Both of those are very respectable.

When I saw Assad pitch several times in August, I was impressed by how much he had changed. Aside from quickening his pace, his curve had taken on a sharper bite. His fastball was not as wild and tailing up and away as it had earlier in the year. Even though he is 6’1” and 200 pounds, he is far from physically sculpted. I think as time goes on, his musculature could tighten up and he could gain a couple more ticks on his fastball.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravich

As I start thinking about his future, I also noticed a set of stats that show some promise for the future. In 2016, 39.3% batted balls were pulled. In 2017, that percentage of balls was close at 39.1%. The biggest change occurred in opposite field hits increased by 5%. That tells me that hitters are not getting around him as much. It’s a stat and trend to watch for 2018 along with his BB rate.

Going Forward
The hardest thing for Assad to do in 2018 will be to earn a starting spot in South Bend. Alex Lange, Brendon Little, and Jose Albertos are most likely to be assigned there along with Bailey Clark and Jesus Camargo. Two 2017 draft picks, Keegan Thompson and Cory Abbott, will also be there to make the competition fierce in spring training. Assad is going to have his work cut out for him.

Prospect Profile: Jesus Camargo and His Changeup Were at the Head of the Class

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By Todd Johnson

One of my favorite things to watch this summer was Jesus Camargo’s changeup. Thrown anywhere from 79 to 82 miles an hour, it seemed to roll off a table and into the mitt of the catcher. Coming in at 10-13 miles an hour slower than his fastball, it was a thing of beauty that allowed him to dominate most Northwest League hitters.

Camargo missed all of 2016 after being the ace of the Mesa Cubs in 2015. The 21-year-old right-handed pitcher has to feel good about his success in 2017.  He should begin 2018 in South Bend.

Basic info
5’11” 170 pounds
Throws – Right.
International Free Agent from Mexico

Strengths
Changeup
Pitchability
Doesn’t get rattled

Signed in 2014, Camargo debuted in the Arizona Rookie League in 2015. In 11 games, he threw 46.1 innings with a 3.30 ERA. He was considered to be the number one starter on a team that didn’t have a lot of starters. He struck out 57 batters and only walked 12 all season. He made the Cubs Central All-Star Team for August.

As a result, I was pretty excited to see him in Eugene in 2016. But an injury in spring training ditched that and he missed all of the season.

Heading into 2017, I wasn’t sure what his role was going to be. Would he get the opportunity to start? Would he be a long man out of the pen or a piggyback starter? Or would he be a straight up reliever?

He was two out of those three things this year. Eugene was all the better for it.

He began the year starting and, when some of the Cubs’ top draft picks came to Eugene, he moved to a piggyback role. When they have reached their inning limits, he went back to starting where I thought he should have stayed. His stuff was too good.

In 60.1 innings, he struck out 73 and walked only 24. With a 2.29 ERA, he was a Northwest League All-Star and was probably the most unheralded arm in the system. Opponents only hit .182 off him this year and he did not allow a HR all year.

Going forward

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

Camargo has what I would call baseball maturity. Watching him on the mound it is very apparent that he knows how to set up and attack a hitter. He is not trying to do it with smoke and mirrors, but rather he is able to get the hitter out on his toes and control the pace of play through movement and location along with changing speeds.

When 2018 begins, Camargo will be a full year removed from his injury. I don’t think there will be any restrictions on him starting and trying to get over 100 innings in 2018. He still needs to work on his breaking ball more to accentuate the speed of his changeup. If he can do that for next year, he is going to dominate Midwest League hitters just like he did in the Northwest League.

The Weekly – Getting Hot, Schedules, Awards, and a Question

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By Todd Johnson

After today, there are just two weeks left to the major-league regular season. The Cubs’ bats could not have picked a better time to wake up from their hitting with runners in scoring position slumber. Hopefully, the bullpen can hold up along with the starting pitching the rest of the way. One thing I can tell you is the next two weeks are not going to be dull. The Cubs play the Brewers and Cardinals 8 more times.

2018 Schedules
I was finally able to get a peek at next year’s schedule for South Bend and the Chicago Cubs 2018 calendar. I am thinking of doing some traveling next year and it looks like the schedules are going to cooperate.

For South Bend, they venture west of Indiana for four series. Next year, the young Cubs are going to be in Cedar Rapids and Peoria on one trip and then Kane County and the Quad Cities on a separate jaunt. I will not be able to make the Cedar Rapids series as I will be in Springfield at the state history fair. For Peoria, it’s about an hour and a half away and is a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday series. So, it looks like I will only make one or two of those games. But for the Quad Cities and Kane County portion, those series are both in July and will be day trips for me as both are just an hour and fifteen minutes away or less. I haven’t been to the Quad Cities stadium in a few years and I look forward to going. I just hope some of the Cubs top prospects are still on the team.

Looking at the big Cubs’ schedule, I got really excited to see that the Cubs will be going to Kansas City in early August. A little over 6 hours away for me, the city is also home to the Negro League Baseball Museum and a national Jazz Museum. Also, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is next door in Independence. Those are pretty much all my favorite type of things to do in life. Add in the vaunted BBQ and my wife and I are set. We are going to stay for a few days and probably catch two games. I cannot wait!

Awards
The Cubs also presented Jen-Ho Tseng and Victor Caratini with their MiLB Players of the Year Awards. This is the first time I can remember both players being in uniform  to receive them. Jen-Ho’s debut start was less than ideal and I don’t think he will get another start unless the Cubs clinch or there is an injury or rain out. He looked to be overwhelmed at the experience. I am sure he will make a few starts in spring training for the club, which will probably go much better.

Transactions
The Cubs also signed a non-drafted free agent from Oregon State named Christian Donahue. Donahue is a second baseman and outfielder who had an outstanding 2016 season but struggled in 2017 and was suspended from the team just prior to the College World Series. That would explain why he wasn’t drafted. But the Cubs may have gotten a steal as most reports of his abilities and skills have been very complementary. He’s not big at 5’7″, and he’s not going to hit for a lot of power, but he does have the ability to square up the ball and hit for a high average. As freshman, he hit .287 and as a sophomore, .339. He was named to the first team All-Pac 12 that year.

A Question Answered
I also got my question answered on MLB Pipeline this week. I asked which Cub is likely to make a top 100 list next year. Check out the response from Johnathan Mayo.

I like that Mayo thinks so highly of Albertos. He is ranked #1 on Cubs Central’s Top 21 list now and on the new one that comes out in a couple of weeks. I got a little giddy when I saw that he threw Lange in there, too.

Cubs Insider
For the first time, I did not publish the affiliate year-end posts this year. Instead, they were published over the last two weeks at Cubs Insider.

Iowa

Tennessee

Myrtle Beach

South Bend

Eugene

Mesa

I will be posting articles in a couple of weeks where I look at seven things about each affiliate from the past year and one thing to look for in 2018.

Card of the Week

Upcoming Posts This Week
2nd Half All-Star Team
The All-Injury Team
Jesus Camargo Profile

“The New Cubs Farmhand” will be published at BP Wrigleyville this Thursday.

Cubs Breakout Players of the Second Half Get It Done Down the Stretch

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By Todd Johnson

While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.

Breakout Hitter of the Second Half

This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.

But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.   

Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half

This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.

But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.

Breakout Reliever of the Second Half

I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball.  Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.

But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.


When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.

More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.

 

The Weekly: 3 Affiliates Reach the Postseason

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By Todd Johnson

With the minor league regular season ending tomorrow, that was the quickest five months I can ever remember. But the postseason begins Tuesday and the Cubs have three teams in the playoffs. Myrtle Beach clinched in June, Eugene clinched last night, and Mesa finalized their spot yesterday afternoon. South Bend, sadly, ended its run last night with a loss at Bowling Green. The playoffs begin Thursday for Myrtle Beach, Tuesday for Eugene, and Mesa laces them up at a time to be determined.

Promotions

Dillon Maples, Mike Freeman, and Victor Caratini were all promoted from Iowa to Chicago on Friday. In addition, Justin Grimm was activated from the DL and more promotions will probably come on Tuesday when Iowa is completely done with their season. I am expecting Taylor Davis, Mark Zagunis, Matt Carasiti, and Bijan Rademacher to get looks this September.

All-Stars

Four Cubs prospects were named All-Stars for their season by their respective leagues. Victor Caratini and Matt Carasiti are Pacific Coast League All-Stars while David Bote and Jason Vosler earned similar honors in the Southern League.

In Sad News

Justin Steele had Tommy John surgery supposedly on August 22 according to a tweet by Jon Roegele. Hopefully he can come back by the end of next season to get some pitches in. For the year, he made 20 starts with a 2.92 ERA and made the Carolina League All-Star Game as well as two monthly ones here at Cubs Central.

On Friday, the Cubs released 27-year-old reliever José Rosario. Hopefully he can latch on with another team to fulfill his dream.

Upcoming Articles.  

With the season ending tomorrow, I have several posts already in the can just waiting to be published. On Tuesday, I will post the year end report for the Iowa Cubs. The Tennessee Smokies will get their year end review next and I will work South Bend’s recapitulation in after that. However, when Wednesday gets here, I will have short posts about the playoff action for Myrtle Beach, Eugene, and Mesa.

Players of the Week

Baseball Card of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week

Cubs Insider:

Arizona Fall League

Austin Filiere Profile