Prospect Interview: Andy Weber Is Doing Some Adjusting at South Bend

The weird thing about the minor leagues is that success at one level is not a prerequisite for success at a higher level. And success, or failure, one month is not indicative of the next month. In 2018, 5th round pick Andy Weber out of Virginia caught my eye while playing for Eugene. In addition to playing all four infield spots for the Emeralds/Monarcas, Weber showed an adept bat and a quiet approach at the plate. His pitch recognition skills were off the charts. What really garnered my attention, though, was just his calmness at the plate, regardless of the situation.

To begin this year at South Bend, Weber struggled a bit in April. Part of that might have been the weather, part of it might have been advanced pitching, and part of it might have been just developmental. However, for the last week of April, he went 9/21 with 10 RBI. In that short span, his average shot up to .255 from .158. I talked to him about how he was adapting during that streak.

Later, I talked with Andy about some other things going on this year including playing mainly shortstop.

What have been some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to deal with since coming to South Bend?
I think, first and foremost, weather is something you’ve got to deal with coming from sunny and 75 in Arizona to 30 degree South Bend and I think just adjusting a new routine in a new ballpark with new coaches every day. But overall, I think the adjustments have gone pretty smoothly.

You’ve been playing shortstop most of the year. How did that move come to be an almost a permanent position for you?
I am not really sure how that plays out. I’ve been getting a lot of reps at shortstop, more probably than I have in my career. Primarily being a second baseman in college, and a little bit of third base, it’s new and it’s been a challenge, but I love it and I love shortstop. I think the other thing, too, is that the guys around me like Levi, Morel, Narrea, and Zinn, and just talking fielding with them has also been a big help for me and all of us as a whole.

Who did you model your game after when you were growing up?
My favorite player was Robinson Cano. Growing up watching him, he’s always been smooth with the bat and in the field. He was probably my favorite guy to watch.

Were you a Yankees’ fan?
I am a die hard Indians fan and still am.

What’s it like playing for Buddy Bailey? Is there anything he’s trying to pass on to you this year?
Buddy’s been really helpful for all of us. We learn a lot in games and in practices and in our workouts before games. Overall, I think it’s learning about yourself as a whole player.

I am hoping that once the weather heats up Weber will too. In addition, Weber has moved down in the order from hitting third to hitting later in the lineup. Hopefully that takes some of the stress/pressure off of him. Last night, he went 3/4 while batting sixth. When he gets going, he’s a fun hitter to watch when he’s in a groove. 


The Weekly: 10 Day Splits, a Trip to Clinton, and Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

Evaluating a prospect in April is never easy. There are a lot of factors that go into the prospect’s performance that first month. Some of them have to do with Weather, some of them have to do with playing in a new affiliate, and some of them are just about adapting to a new level. And sometimes it takes a player a couple weeks to get going in a season.

The great thing about covering prospects is that you can evaluate their performance over several different increments of time. You can do it over a year, a half a season, a month, or even a 10 game split. For me, I use all of them at some point during the year to look at how the player is doing. Over the past few days, I’ve been looking at 10 games splits for guys who might be starting to turn it on.

One of the best stories of the season has been the maturation of shortstop Aramis Ademan in Myrtle Beach. Not only did he become a father, he also has been on a run the last half of April. During this stretch, he killed the baseball but also drew a lot of walks. At one point, his on base percentage was .560 for the stretch and he drove in 5 runs in one game.

Another player who is getting warm at the right time is South Bend’s Andy Weber. The young infielder’s average was buried below .200 and he went 10/21 a week ago and is closing in on .250. He also drove in 11 over 8 games of that stretch. I was able to sit down with him on Saturday for a bit and talk about his adjustments. A more full length interview will follow later in the week or early next week.

South Bend Pictures and Video
The last two nights I have gone over to Clinton, Iowa to see South Bend play. I have taken almost 400 pictures and I was going to go Sunday, but I have too much to do at home to go to the game today. But you can see some of the ones that I’ve taken on the Facebook account. Here is the link to the collection of albums and just click on the set for each day.

I also have some video on some BP, ABs, and pitching over on my YouTube channel. Last night, I came away extremely impressed with Riley Thompson. He went 5 innings, gave up 4, but only 1 run was earned as the defense struggled behind him. But Thompson struck out 8 on the night and most of the them were on some very ugly swings. He sat 93-94 on the fastball, sometimes topping out at 96. His curve looked unhittable at time.

Weekly Roundup
Iowa (5-2; 19-10) – They just keep rolling and last night they got a nice start from Duane Underwood. Also, Donnie Dewees did not get the player of the week, but he’s on a 10 game tear.
Tennessee (5-2; 15-13) – It looks like they got some life back in them, and no, Nico has not returned.
Myrtle Beach (2-5; 9-21) – They had a tough first half of the week, but Alex Lange had his best outing of the year with 7 Ks in 5 scoreless last night.
South Bend (3-4; 14-14) – I spent two days with them and there’s a lot of talen there that could be amazing if it fully develops.

Roster News
There was a lot of roster news this week. The Cubs signed minor league free-agent John Palmer Roy who was recently released by the Pirates. He is a big 23-year-old right hander who can throw in the mid-to-upper 90s. He had TJS and missed all of 2017. Upon his return in 2018, he had command issues. He was assigned to extend it spring training.

Oscar de la Cruz completed his suspension and was assigned to AA Tennessee. He was very good at Myrtle Beach in his rehab and I will have a full update on him tomorrow. Meanwhile, Jake Stinnett began his rehab at Myrtle Beach. DJ Wilson went on the seven day IL for the Pelicans and Zach Davis came off. In addition, hard throwing Tommy Nance moved out of extended spring training and will be working alongside Stinnett at Myrtle beach.

Draft News
MILB Pipeline changed their top 50 draft prospects into a top 100 this week. And guess who is penciled in at number 27? That’s right, third baseman Kody Hoese of Tulane who I penciled in as one of seven guys the Cubs could take over at Cubs Insider. It’s possible that he could continue to rise but there are still several names right there that the Cubs are going to get one of them. And based upon the depth of this year‘s draft, the Cubs are going to select two really good players in the first two rounds and possibly another really good one in the third round at number 103.

May Card Set
I’ve also began a new card set for the month of May. I have yet to go through and make cards of some of the pictures that I’ve taken at South Bend.

Card of the Week
Pic by MiLB.TV

Players of the Week

The Friday Six Pack: Who Could Get Promoted Next?

In the next couple of weeks, the Cubs are going to make a small series of roster moves as they will promote just a few players. Usually in the first week in May, which is after a full month of baseball, they tend to promote a few guys up a level. Right now, I don’t for see anyone from Iowa heading to Chicago. As a result, player movement will be limited all the way from extended spring training up to Iowa. Here are six possible promotions we could see in the next couple of weeks.

From Extended Spring Training to South Bend
This could depend on when Fidel Mejia is ready to come back. If his wrist/hand injury has healed by early May he could be the only guy returning to fill a roster spot at that time. If Mejia is not ready, expect to see OF Edmond Americaan, the Cubs’ 35th round pick out of Chipola JC from last year make his single-A debut. 

From South Bend to Myrtle Beach
DJ Artis Exploded onto the scene in South Bend this spring showing maturity far beyond everyone else at South Bend. He could wind up as a Pelican and as a lead off hitter, something they could use.

From Myrtle Beach to Tennessee
I was a little perplexed he came back for part of a third year in the Carolina League, but Ryan Kellogg is showed his versatility in April. He’s did a spot start, he’s piggybacked, he’s was a long reliever, and a short one. I don’t think there’s much left for him to do and achieve at Myrtle Beach.

From Tennessee to Iowa
Craig Brooks did not allowed an earned run as he was dominant throughout the entire month of April. The problem with promoting him is that there’s not really a spot for him right now in Iowa. The same is true for the other guy that I would like to see promoted from Tennessee and that’s catcher PJ Higgins. Higgins has arguably been the most valuable prospect in the system for the month with his mix of power and defense as he’s put up a wRC+ of 171 so far. He’s earned a promotion, but when will he get it?

The biggest name out there to get a promotion is Robel Garcia. The 26-year-old is becoming a Friday staple as he is just impressing, impressing, and impressing everyone with his his play. He should be the Cubs hitter of the month as he was Cubs Central. Since last week’s post about his Phoenix-like rise, he has not slowed down. The issue for him is the same one that Brooks and Higgins face. There’s just no where to go.

The Cubs can make room, but who do you release or who do you demote?

Usually, promotion commotions work pitcher for pitcher, position guy for position guy. So if Garcia goes up, does that mean Aramis Ademan is going to be playing 2B alongside Nico at Tennessee? That could happen, too.

The next week should be intriguing to see if any promotions do take place. And if they do, which way the movement of players goes. However, I would not expect too much movement until the end of the first half in June, shortly after the draft. But for now, these prospects have earned a shot at the next level.

Prospect Profile: Chris Morel Is Another Toolsy Kid to Watch

When I first saw Christopher Morel at Eugene in the summer of 2018, I thought if he turned sideways he was going to disappear. The then 18-year-old third baseman began the season with the Emeralds/Monarcas and really struggled to hit balls that begin with a C. He struck out 29 times in 25 games. Once the college kids signed from the draft, Morel went down to Mesa to work on his game. And he did fine in Mesa for a kid his age hitting .257 with a .331 OBP.

Here is what MLB Pipeline said about Morel heading into this season:

Morel has some of the best bat speed in the system but will need to add more muscle to his skinny frame before he can translate it into power. He has a nice right-handed swing and bat-to-ball skills, but his NWL experience showed he’ll need to refine his approach at the plate. An average runner out of the batter’s box, he’s a step quicker once he gets going.

Morel’s athleticism and solid arm strength give him a number of defensive options. He broke into pro ball as a shortstop and may have enough quickness to stay there. He spent the majority of his time in 2018 at third base and the Cubs believe he may be able to handle center field in the future.

Basic info
Height – 6’
Weight – 175 (a guesstimate)
Bats – Right
Throws – Right
Strengths – Potential Power, Arm
Acquired – International Free Agent from the Dominican Republic in 2016
ETA – 2023

Fast forward to 2019.
When South Bend third baseman Fidel Mejia went down with a hand/wrist injury after 6 games, Morel was bumped up to South Bend. Now 19 years old, Morel seems to be flashing quite a few tools on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

When Morel showed up in South Bend in 2019, my first thought was that this could be interesting. Here’s a 19-year-old kid playing in the cold environs of the Great Lakes region after spending two months in warm Arizona. In the first few games, Morel showed that he was much improved from 2018. He looked more patient at the plate, he did not seem to be trying to cream every baseball.

It’s on the offensive side of the ball that Morel is showing the most improvement. In just 8 games, he is putting up an average of .241 with an OBP of .267 and a wRC+ of 103. It’s a pretty small sample size so his numbers will fluctuate wildly for a while. But for now, he’s hit one home run.

He’s about 3-4 years below league average and seems to be holding his own with some newfound pitch recognition skills.He’s watching the ball into the catcher’s glove. I like it when kids can track the ball the entire way. It helps to develop pitch recognition and teaches them to pick up the spin on the baseball. Morel also is showing off his rifle of an arm at both third and shortstop.

In March, I thought for sure that he would begin the year at Eugene and that he could do well there. But it looks like things are going well at South Bend. If it continues, he could stay with the young Cubs if and when Mejia returns. Here is some video by Prospects Live from spring training.

As for his future, he has a very high ceiling and a lot of things going to have to go right for him to reach that ceiling. When he signed he was only 140 pounds. Now he looks to be carrying around 175 pounds with plenty of room for more. Already, he has a plus arm and  adding more weight will only add to his power profile. It’s little uncertain where he’s going to play in the future. But for right now, playing shortstop and third without favoring one over the other is fine.

Get used to the name Morel as the Cubs signed his little brother Rafael last summer.

The Weekly: Injuries Mount, Replacements Shine, and Other Impressions

There was a lot of rain this week in the eastern half of the country and that wiped out several games. On Friday, Iowa was the sole team in the system that got a game in. As a result, there were a lot of baseball games on Saturday for Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, and South Bend. And once again, rain reared its head.

The first part of the week saw a lot of player movement throughout the system. Injuries and paternity leave resulted in several players making their season debut. At Iowa, Carl Edwards hit the IL for seven days and hopefully he’ll be back sometime this week. For Tennessee, Keegan Thompson is on the IL along with Justin Steele. As a result, Zach Hedges and Brad Markey were pushed into starting roles for the Smokies.

At Myrtle Beach, new faces seemed to have invigorated the offense. The Pelicans actually won a few games this week. Zach Davis made his season debut last weekend and Cam Belago came in and put up numbers all across his box scores this week including 7 RBI.. At South Bend, Christopher (now being called Chris) Morel replaced Fidel Mejia in the lineup and Morel has been impressive in just eight games.

Speaking of Impressions
Here are a few things about some performances so far this year.
Iowa – (10-6; 4-3 this week) Without looking, I can’t remember the last time Iowa had a winning record for any substantial amount of time. A lot of the minor league free agents the Cubs signed last winter have been impressive at the plate. Johnny Field drove in 4 runs the other night and Zach Borenstein seems to have found his stroke after a couple of weeks. Add Dixon Machado tearing it up and Iowa’s got a nice little trifecta to go along with Trent Giambrone who now has 5 dingers on the year.
Tennessee (8-6;  3-3 this week) The Smokies have been impressive with their starting rotation doing well. Their issue right now is the middle relief corps is really struggling to hold leads. That’s going to need to get that shored up quick.
Myrtle Beach (6-11; 4-3 this week) To be quite honest I really like what I’ve seen from Bryan Hudson. He’s not quite dominant yet but he’s pretty sturdy for the Pelicans. I still can’t fathom that he’s just 21 years old but he is starting to pitch like he’s not. He starting to pitch like this is going to be his career. As for their recent surge of wins, I attribute some of that to the solid starting pitching of Paul Richan, Hudson, Javier Assad, and the rehabbing Oscar de la Cruz.
South Bend. (8-8; 3-3 this week) The only thing they really need to do is to shore up the back end of the rotation. Like other Midwest League teams, pitching in 30° to 40° weather is not ideal. Sanders, Thompson, and Marquez all have been outstanding in the first month in the front half of the rotation. If Derek Casey and Eury Ramos can get it going, South Bend might have something there to push for a playoff spot.

In the News
Riley Thompson got some free pub this week as MLB Pipeline called him the Cubs’ closer of the future. They said, 

“Thompson is a starter for now but had trouble staying healthy and throwing strikes in college. He can reach triple digits with his fastball and spin some well above-average curveballs when he’s at his best.”

Fabian Pertuz also got some love from Baseball America who called him one of the top 20 prospects coming out of the Dominican Summer League. Pertuz is a SS who should be at Mesa to begin 2019. He’s all of 18. Here is the link to the subscription article by Ben Badler.

Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central
I only have a couple of things planned for right now. Tuesday’s draft prep examines some high school bats who could be available at number 27. I’m not sure what the Midweek Report holds on Wednesday, I might talk about Nico for a bit. The Friday 6 Pack will be all about possible promotions at the end of April. Next Saturday’s affiliate update will look at what is happening with the Pelicans in Myrtle Beach.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
Made from a picture by Rikk Carlson

Affiliate Update: South Bend’s Got Some Compelling Young Hitters

Last week, I started a new type of post called an affiliate update as I examined
Tennessee’s watchability. I enjoyed writing it a lot as it was different. So, I thought I would try it again this week by looking at the South Bend Cubs. The issue I had in writing about South Bend was figuring out a focus for the article.

My first choice was to hone in on their young hitters. Then, for choice B, I thought about examining three young arms that are doing well in the starting rotation. A part of me also wanted to go over some bullpen arms that have been surprising. In trying to decide. I just knew it was not going to be all three. I went with choice A.

First Impressions of the Roster
Although South Bend is filled with a lot of young players who are 20-years-old and below, some of the older players who were taken last year in the draft out of college have been the bright spots. At the plate, Tyler Durna, who I profiled on Thursday, has been outstanding in the five hole while DJ Artis, who I profiled for Cubs Insider, sets the table every night in the leadoff spot.

What I like about these two is that they are leading by example and in different ways. DJ Artis is an on base machine who uses a great awareness of the strike zone and his speed to score runs. As for Durna, he looks to be a guy who can put the ball in play in several ways in different counts.

As for the youth movement on the team, players are still learning their way but Jonathan Sierra (hitting .342) and Nelson Velasquez (hitting .368) look outstanding at the plate so far. While both have immense power skills, Sierra is the only one with a home run to date. That will change once it warms up. What has impressed me most about these two is that they’ve hit for high averages and shown good pitch recognition recognition skills and are not giving in to pitchers this early in their career.

The one thing that I really noticed about this year’s South Bend squad is that these young kids are very toolsy. You can see it every time Cole Roederer swings and everytime he flies to the baseball in the outfield. There’s some serious athleticism in South Bend that we haven’t seen for a few years at this level.

I really like what Roederer can do at the plate. It could take him some time to acclimate, but his tools will help him do so. Roederer was hitting .209 after Thursday night’s game against Lake County. Then again, that’s over a 10 game span for a 19-year-old from California playing in cold weather for most of those games. Fans should step back, let him learn, and be patient about his progress. When it gets hotter, Cole should, too.

Fidel Mejia, who is now on the DL, was very impressive before sliding into second base and injuring his hand/wrist. A 20-year-old switch hitter, Mejia also flashed a lot of hitting tools in his brief stay. He hit .333 with a .364 OBP in just 6 games.

Mejia’s replacement, Christopher Morel, is only 19 and will get the full profile treatment next week on Cubs Central. I saw him some last year at Eugene before the college kids  signed. To understand Morel, you really have to picture him as a tall, skinny kid who has a lot of potential; He is far from a finished product. However, in the short span of a week, he’s put up some pretty impressive numbers in 6 games. A 153 wRC+ is outstanding and he also is hitting over .300. I look forward to more of what he can in an extended look.

The First Week in May
In 13 days, I will be getting my first look at South Bend in person. That’s a lot of time for a young player in the minors. Some things about them will change and some things may not. What I enjoy most about getting a sneak peak inside the team is watching them prepare for the game for two hours before they play. Whether that is taking infield, taking BP, or doing soft toss and tee work in the cage, it’s never dull seeing how hard the prospects work at developing and honing their skills.

And that’s the thing about low class A players; they are not complete players. In fact, most of them are just beginning their grind over a 140 game season for the first time in their careers.

While watching these kids play on TV is fine, seeing them develop in person is even more fun. Usually, when I am still teaching, I don’t get to too many games. The schedule happened to fall right for me this year for this May trip. I’m excited to see what all these kids can do.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Durna Is Looking Impressive at the Plate

One of the cool things about watching the Eugene Emeralds play every summer is that I get a sneak peek of what prospects might be playing at South Bend the following summer. Most of the players tend to be the most recent draft picks and that was the case last summer. One of them was first baseman Tyler Durna.

Basic Info
Ht: 6’
Wt: 205 lbs.
Bats – Left
Throws – Left
Strengths – Approach, Pitch Recognition, Defense

The Cubs selected Durna out of UC San Diego in the 15th around last summer. He played a little bit for Eugene before he was pretty much shut down the month of August. Heading into this season, I did not think much about him in terms of being in a lead bat in South Bend’s lineup. After two weeks, I’m pretty excited to watch him hit every game and every at bat.

You have to cut me a little slack on this one as I focused in on Nico Horner in Eugene last summer and a few other prospects who had a little more shine. After watching Durna every day now, he’s pretty impressive. I had an inkling something might be happening with him back in the middle of March when Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter talked about how good of a spring Durna was having and that he should be on the Myrtle Beach squad. Phil was disappointed when Durna was moved down, but Myrtle Beach’s loss is South Bend’s gain.

What Durna can do is give an outstanding at bat every time up. He has a great knowledge of the strike zone and I love it when he chokes up with two strikes. He was hitting .326 before Wednesday’s game with an on base percentage of .354. His value as a run producer is easy to see as he’s posted a wRC+ of 130 in two weeks of action.

He leads off this highlight below with his 2 strike approach. It is a thing of beauty.

Durna is also an outstanding defender at first base. He’s got a pretty good floor but I’m not sure what his ceiling is going to be. In three years at UC San Diego, he only had 14 home runs. Home runs are hard to come by in April in the Midwest League, but I would expect to see Durna start to crank out a few. At 6 feet and 205 pounds, he’s close to being maxed out. But if you look at him, he carries that 205 pounds well and he might be able to add 10 pounds of muscle without it slowing him down.

What is going to carry him forward in the organization is his bat and approach. The Cubs have shown time and time again that if a prospect can hit, they will find a place for him to play. Since he does throw left handed, it limits where he can go, but the bat should propel him through class A this summer. To be quite honest, he looks a little advanced for the Midwest League. Maybe after the draft, he’ll get bumped up to Myrtle Beach where he probably should’ve started the year.