The Weekly Returns – April Means MiLB Baseball Is Here!


The major league club kicked off the season on Thursday this week down in Texas. I’d say a 12-4 win kicked off the season the right way. Last night, the walkfest, the lead evaporator, or whatever you want to call it, was not a fun game to watch. The Cubs suit up at 3 today. Cole Hamels, who I love, is on the bump.

MiLB Opening Week
While I await for what I am going to call the “2019 Iowa Roster Massacre,” today, I will be putting the finishing touches on the affiliate previews. Currently, Iowa has 37 guys on the roster. They have to get down to 25. Some will be cut, some will be sent to extended spring training, and some will head down to Tennessee. Myrtle Beach published their roster on Friday and South Bend did their’s last night. Come tomorrow, I roll out Iowa’s preview, followed by Tennessee on Tuesday, Myrtle on Wednesday, and I wrap it up with South Bend on Thursday.  On Saturday, I will have my annual preview of a preview of Eugene.

Three of the four major affiliates will kick off their season with exhibition games on Tuesday or Wednesday. Only Iowa is sitting that experience out. Come Thursday, Iowa will open the season down in Nashville while Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend all start the year at home. Right now, I don’t know which game to watch, a lot of that depends on who will be pitching. Come Friday morning, I will have a summary about opening night.

A Few Things to Watch for in April not Named Nico or Cole
1. The Pitching Hook – Considering the quality and depth of starting pitching in the system, it will be interesting to see who struggles early and how soon they get “the hook.” By that, I mean removed from the rotation. The lower levels will probably more tolerant, but not at AA and AAA.
2. Extended Spring Training Performance – I like to see who is tearing it up in Mesa in the warmth of desert while 25 guys are freezing in the Great Lakes region. In doing so, that prospect could get promoted to South Bend and skip Eugene. Dalton Hurd and Rafael Mejia are two batters to watch while pitcher Yunior Perez might be one to follow. I also look forward to the progress of some injured players and the progress of Jose Albertos.
3. Promotion Logjams – Any prospect is going to have to dominate to move up but just how much? Usually there are a few promotions at the end of April/early May. I wonder how many will take place this year?
4. Luke Reynolds – People loved his approach in college and now that he is in his first full season, we’ll see just how good it is. He is skipping South Bend and heading straight to Myrtle Beach. He should be fine and he should be fun to watch at the plate..
5. The Breakout for Which We’ve All Been Waiting – Jonathan Sierra is a physical specimen in the mold of Jorge Soler. Yet, all that muscle has only translated to 5 HRs in 3 seasons in rookie league and short season class A. Hopefully, this will be the year he puts it all together. He will in RF for South Bend to start the 2019 campaign.

The New “Awards” Page

It is up and ready to go. Starting on Friday, I will put up the 3 players of the day from around the Cubs’ MiLB system.

Down the Road a Bit
I am starting to get ready for the 2019 MLB Draft in more detail. It set for June 4 which is not too far away. I started writing a series called “Examining #27” where I break down draft prospects by the following categories: college pitchers, high school bats, college bats, and high school arms. I am excited about it. As well, I will probably have just a few individual draft profiles this year. The current one I am working on is pitcher Mitchell Parker from San Jacinto North JC.

Thank You
For some strange reason, March of 2019 was the second busiest month in the history of this site not named June (the draft). I don’t know what it was but thank you for reading. Now I am curious to see whether April will do just as well.

On a Personal Note
My wife Anne has been dealing with health issues the past 2.5 years. It started with vision loss and then turned to peripheral neuropathy. First, she had cancer, then she didn’t, and then no one knew what she had as she slowly began to lose the use of her limbs. She went on disability in January of 2017 and began walking with a cane and sometimes rode in a wheelchair. We went from test to test and doctor to doctor. Nothing.

Well, to make a short story long, late last fall we saw Dr. Craig Torosian in Geneva who helped get us into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I drove her up there twice in the past 5 weeks. On Thursday, we finally got an answer after 2.5 years. Anne’s been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It’s treatable. We go back up to Mayo later in April to do a couple more tests, meet with a specialist, and pick the treatment plan that is best for her.

We are so thankful to so many people, especially at Mayo. Along the way, writing about baseball gave me something to do while Anne went through all her tests. I need to send out a special thanks to my friends Rikk and John for helping to distract me and also listening to me along the way. Needless to say, spring this year looks to be very a exciting season for us!

Pic of the Week
Last year’s Eugene players got their rings yesterday!

Card of the Week

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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!

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

Prospect Profile – Jordan Minch Could Gain Some Serious Confidence from This Spring

By Todd Johnson

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Smokies

When you get drafted in the 35th round of the MLB as a draft eligible sophomore, odds are that prospect is heading back to school. However, in 2014, when Jordan Minch was taken by the Cubs and signed, it came as a bit of a shock. The lefty reliever out of Purdue began his career in Mesa that year and skipped to South Bend to start 2015. After some nagging injuries in 2016 and 2017, Minch is now at AA and has spent a lot of time pitching with the big leaguers this spring. This leads to the question of whether or not Minch has a chance to make it to Chicago.

Photo by Rikk Carlson

The great thing about being a lefty reliever in the Cub system is that you are a lefty reliever. I know, it sounds stupid, but there is some context to it. Last year, between AA and AAA, there were a whopping 4 lefties at the end of the year with just 1 in high A Myrtle Beach. 

But here’s the thing…That was last year. As a result of that depravity, the Cubs went out and signed several MiLB left handed free agent relievers over the winter.

This spring, Minch has appeared in only 4 games with the big league club but he has yet to allow a run. While Minch has been assigned to the Cubs since February 24, he is not going to make the 25 man squad this year, but the experience has to be an eye opening one for the 25-year-old even if it is just a few games. The experience of pitching this deep into camp has to do wonders for his confidence.

When Minch is going well, he is deadly against lefties. Last spring, he put up a 1.35 ERA against them in April and May before getting promoted to Tennessee. He’s not going to light up a radar gun but sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s. When he commands his breaking stuff, he’s tough to square up from any side of the plate.

Last year’s splits show a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience.

April @ Myrtle Beach – 5.79 ERA in 8 games, 9.1 IP, 14 Ks, 5 BBs
May @ Myrtle Beach – 2.57 ERA in 9 games, 14 IP, 13 Ks, 7 BBs
June @ Tennessee – 3.00 ERA in 8 games, 15 IP, 10 Ks, 8 BBs
July @ Tennessee – 6.75 ERA in 8 games, 13.1 IP, 7 Ks, 8 BBs
August @ Tennessee – 0.00 ERA in 9 games, 11 IP, 9 Ks, 3 BBs

The ending to the season is a main reason for a positive outlook for Minch’s current career arc. Still, I like to say I am from Missouri (I’m not) and Minch will need to “show me.”

Minch will head back to the MiLB camp coming up this weekend. His 2019 season will need to begin like 2018 ended. He’s got to command his offspeed pitches. He’s got to be consistent from month to month.

Minch described what he needs to do to be successful way back when he was at South Bend. Minch told NWI.com:

“Lately I’ve been getting ahead of hitters and throwing the off-speed in any count and it’s a totally different game when you get ahead of hitters; it’s a lot easier to work. I rely on my fastball, which is up to between 92-96 MPH, so once I establish that pitch then I can go to the off-speed and keep the hitters off balance. I just have to continue to keep getting ahead of hitters and trust my stuff because the hitters only get better.”

That quote is 4 years old and solid as a rock. Still, that same plan is time-tested and could pay off in a big way for Minch in 2019. I am hoping he continues in April with what he’s done in March. He should be pretty confident when he gets back to Tennessee. Who wouldn’t be?

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.

Spring Training New and Notes #5 – A “Quotable” Week

By Todd Johnson

It was another exciting week out in Mesa. Pitchers started their third time through the rotation. Jose Quintana probably had the most impressive start and Tyler Chatwood also continued his good spring. In addition to regular games, the Cubs stretched out their pitchers out in sim games out on the backfields. Most pitchers are now starting to crank it up to about 75 pitches or four innings on this turn through the rotation.

Photo by Todd Johnson

Some of the most exciting news came on Thursday when Nico Horner made a start and went three for three with an RBI or two in the designated hitter role. Nico also had a good day on Saturday with a HR and 3 RBI but his average dropped to .833…..ba-dump-bump. Here’s what Joe had to say about Nico’s swing on MLB.com.


As well, Jared Young continues to impress. On Saturday, he played the whole game in RF against the Giants. He went 2/4 with a RBI. He’s batting .385 with an OPS of 1.305.

In addition, Jim Callis weighed in on with his thoughts on Dakota Mekkes, which look to be pretty positive. Mekkes has been very impressive in 4 outings without allowing an earned run in 4 IP.

And finally, there was Joe on Yu

Down on the Farm…
It looks as though MiLB roster construction is going to be one hot mess this spring. Then again, I have said that all winter. On Thursday, Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter
published the current spring training rosters for each affiliate. Those are going to change quite a bit in the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.

Before the cuts on Saturday, Iowa had 43 players, Tennessee 38, Myrtle Beach 41, and South 47. With more cuts coming, those numbers will creep higher.

The Cubs also signed non-drafted free agent outfielder Brandon Vincens out of the University of Maine. He played football there as well. He’s a pretty stocky guy.

The minor-league season doesn’t begin until April 5. That’s 3 and 1/2 weeks away. In the meantime, they began playing intersquad games on Friday. Robel Garcia and Michael Cruz had a good day with homers. Vincens drove in 3 while Derek Casey and Tyson Miller looked sharp on the mound according to Arizona Phil. Casey went 3 IP with 5 Ks.

On a Personal Note
My busy season at school will come to an abrupt halt on Thursday with the conference scholastic bowl tournament. We have two final regular season matches on Tuesday night and the team is currently 6-1 in conference play and tied for first. After that, all my attention will be on baseball for quite a while.

Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
2018 Draft Pick Chris Allen gets his first profile on Tuesday. Later in the week I will pick up on something I touched on last Friday. I started talking about how 2019 is going to be a do or die year for some players. I will expand that paragraph into a full blown article later this week. I hope to finish something I got going on Bailey Clark as well as a draft profile on Glenallen Hill, Jr.

Card of the Week
Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Spring Training News and Notes #4: Who’s Hot So Far?

By Todd Johnson

The Bryce Harper saga is finally over. When he signed his 13-year $330 million deal I was actually a bit underwhelmed. He’s going to be paid until he’s 39-years-old. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Considering that he is only 26, a 10-year contract would’ve been acceptable, but 13?

Then again, a year ago, I could not foresee Harper signing with anyone but the Cubs. While disappointed, it makes me wonder how his deal along with Nolan Arenado’s 8-year $255 million deal are going to affect what the Cubs might be doing with Bryant, Baez, Rizzo, and Schwarber before their contracts expire in 2021. The Cubs cannot keep everyone especially since they have to go out and pay for starting pitching. If they can develop their own starters the next three summers, things could change.

Back to Spring Training
There were plenty of games this week and plenty of prospects saw a lot of action. Regular position starters are still only going about 4-5 innings or 2 ABs into the games while starting pitchers went 2 IP their first time through the rotation. As a result, several prospects are showing what they’ve got and might be impressing the major-league staff. Here’s a summary of the week.

Who Is Hot?

Jared Young, who played last year at South Bend and Myrtle Beach, already has two home runs. One was an impressive no doubter to right field, and the other was an equally impressive opposite field shot on Friday. I’m inquisitive as to how much Young is going to continue to play this spring with the big league club considering his power display of the past week.

In addition, Trent Giambrone is right there with a near .500 average and two dingers. I watched yesterday’s game and he just crushed a pitch that got out in a hurry. He is making quite the name for himself. What I found cool was he did it while Theo was answering questions on the broadcast.

While technically not a prospect, infielder Ryan Court has been pummeling the baseball this spring with a .333 average and a .412 OBP in 15 ABs heading into Saturday. 

As well, Mark Zagunis has 2 HRs as he’s off to a fast start. The fact that he is wearing #2 bodes well for Zagunis’ future. Yesterday, Zagunis had a nice RBI double down the right field line as he sits at .313. While Zack Short has struggled a little at the plate, he’s defensively shown that he can hold his own as he’s made a couple nice place in the six hole.

As for pitching, Dillon Maples has been lights out and Dakota Mekkes has held his own. When split squad games start here in the next week or two, I think we will see more AAA/AA guys get some starts against major league hitters.

Surprises
I was not expecting Ryan Kellogg to get in a couple of games early with the big league club considering his recent conversion to being a reliever last year. He has yet to allow a run. He should be at AA Tennessee this year.

Who is Not?
Jen-Ho Tseng has been beat around in his two appearances so far. It’s hard to believe that he is a two-time Cubs minor league pitcher of the year who has struggled for the better part of a year now. Both Jake Hannemann and Charcer Burks are hitting well below .200 along with MiLB free agents Jim Adduci and Josh Fields.

I know this sounds hard to believe, but opening day is in just a little over three weeks. The first round of cuts and options should take place late next week.

Meanwhile, the minor league camp has not officially begun but will do so tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see where everyone is assigned to start out the camp. I will have more on that next week.

On a Personal Note…
I am right smack dab in the middle of my busy season at school. My academic team went 4-0 this past week as they began conference play. They have their IHSA regional on Monday night and continue with conference play on Thursday with three matches. That will be the biggest test this year.

Coming up Next Week
I have a couple of articles ready to go. One is on Thomas Hatch. The other is on James Norwood and that will be out Tuesday morning. On Friday this week will be 10 things I think. I finally got to make a few cards with a few pictures by Rikk Carlson and those are up on the Facebook site with one of them down below.

Card of the Week

Photo by Rikk Carlson