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.
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
By Todd Johnson
I was all set to begin uploading “The Weekly” on Saturday night when I thought I would jump onto Twitter to see if there was a trade or signing. I should have known better. 15 minutes later, I finished reading John Sickels’ ranking of Cubs prospects and realized I would have to write a whole new column. Damn you, John Sickels!
To begin, Sickels’ list has a different top prospect than other recent prospect lists and his contains several rankings that are quite different from Fangraphs and Baseball America.
Pitcher Adbert Alzolay is fittingly ranked number one. And not surprisingly, Sickels did not give out one grade of “A” to any of the Cub prospects. In fact, he only handed out just six Bs. That’s quite an indictment of the Cubs’ system. Then again, just three of his top 10 prospects began their season above A+ last year.
The top prospect for both Baseball America and Fangraphs, shortstop Ademan, came in at number two and 2017 draft pick Alex Lange came in at number three. Lange’s inclusion so high in the list likely has to do more with his ability to move fast through the system based on one single dominant pitch, his curveball. I really like the placement of Lange this high. I love his competitiveness just as much as his curve.
Yeah, I’ve noticed the effort issue plus mixed reports on his changeup and FB velocity. But his track record is strong and I think he may thrive in pro environment. https://t.co/TRs3tcoYYN
— johnsickels (@MinorLeagueBall) December 1, 2017
Other players to make the top 10 included Jose Albertos, Victor Caratini, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, Brendon Little, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Mark Zagunis. In Sickels’ second 10, his selections get a little bit more adventurous.
Coming in at number 16 is pitcher Michael Rucker. Rucker started out as a reliever at South Bend in 2017 and wound up going to Myrtle Beach mid-summer and later replaced Oscar de la Cruz in the Pelicans’ starting rotation. Based on his summer split of a 2.51 ERA in 15 starts at Myrtle Beach, Rucker doesn’t seem to be letting go of the rotation at all. It’s a pretty meteoric rise one year after being drafted. He throws a lot strikes, something the Cubs seem to lack.
Sickels also gives some love to pitcher Keegan Thompson out of Auburn at number 17. Drafted in the 4th round in 2017, Thompson pitched some in relief at Eugene last summer. After missing all of 2016, Thompson came back as a different pitcher as he relied more on experience than a purebred 95 mph fastball. Instead, command and control became his calling card. He only threw 19 innings while striking out 23 in short season ball. He did make one start, a three inning scoreless affair.
I was a little surprised to see Sickels’ list so early this offseason, even more so in the wake of Fangraphs’ list, which just came out on Thursday. Sickels’ list does prove a few things about what I thought would happen this winter. One, not every evaluator is going to agree on who the Cubs’ number one prospect is. In addition, I don’t even think there’s a consensus on who the top Cub prospects are. DJ Wilson, who came in at number nine for Fangraphs, did not even make Sickels’ top 20 and graded out of with a C+.
I’m starting to get a kick out of the differentiation amongst the lists.
Two players who I thought might see a little love just based on their 2017 performances were Ian Rice and Zack Short. Neither has yet to make a list.
Then again, while offseason lists are fun to discuss the value of prospects, I tend to prefer mid-season rankings as you tend to get a better feel for players drafted the year before. This was true last year for Short, Rucker, and pitcher Duncan Robinson. I wonder what will be said about Little, Lange, Cory Abbott, and Keegan Thompson in the middle of next summer?
No word on when MLB Pipeline or Keith Law will publish their new lists. However, Baseball Prospectus is set to drop their top 10 Cubs prospect list on December 11. Hopefully, there will be a new name on the top of that list, like… say, Ohtani. That would be great!
By Todd Johnson
Three weeks of next to nothing. The hot stove is very cold as nothing is happening anywhere. The only transactions the Cubs made were taking a couple of flyers on relievers Randy Rosario and Cory Mazzoni. I don’t think there’s going to be any difference this next week.
The Cubs shopping list is pretty short this off-season. They need two starters, maybe two relievers – preferably left-handed, a backup catcher, and maybe a fifth outfielder.
I think everything’s going to come down to Ohtani. He gets posted by his Japanese club next weekend and then it’s a matter of time until he signs. Once he makes his decision, then everything is going to start to fall in place. Then Darvish will sign, then Arietta. Those three will set the market.
With the Winter Meetings scheduled for the week of December 11, look for a lot to happen then.
Atlanta Braves Penalized
Commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Braves and their former GM John Coppolella was banned for life and one scout for a year. They also set free 13 young international players including shortstop Kevin Maitan. The Cubs are eligible to go sign any of these players under this year’s bonus pool, or if they choose, next year’s bonus pool. Those players officially become free agents on December 5. I will have a full fledged post on this topic later this week.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler also reported the Cubs are in the lead to sign 15 -year-old SS Rafael Morel this summer during International Free Agency.
MLB and MiLB Rule 5 Lists
The Cubs finalized their 40 man roster earlier this week. They protected Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, and David Bote from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40 man roster. Below is the list for the major league portion of the draft and the other is for the minor-league portion of the draft. Both come from The Cub Reporter.
Rule 5 MLB Selection Only
Any of the following players selected will have to be placed on the 25 man MLB roster or returned to the Cubs. The odds are slim that any of the following players are taken on December 14. However, I could see Hanneman, Araujo, and Hancock as possibilities. Maybe Chesny Young or Bijan Rademacher have an outside chance.
C-1B Tyler Alamo, RHP Pedro Araujo, OF Luis Ayala OF Jeffrey Baez, 1B-OF Yasiel Balaguert, RHP Corey Black, OF Charcer Burks, RHP Trevor Clifton, RHP Elvis Diaz, INF Mike Freeman, RHP David Garner, LHP Yapson Gomez, RHP Justin Hancock, OF Jacob Hannemann, RHP Zach Hedges, INF Jesse Hodges, RHP Erick Leal, RHP Brad Markey, 1B-OF Joe Martarano, RHP Ryan McNeil, LHP Jordan Minch, RHP Erling Moreno, RHP James Norwood, LHP Jose Paulino, INF Carlos Penalver, C-1B Jhonny Pereda, RHP Williams Perez, OF-1B Chris Pieters, OF Bijan Rademacher, LHP Manuel Rondon, RHP Jose Rosario, LHP Carson Sands, RHP Pedro Silverio, RHP Jake Stinnett, RHP Daury Torrez, INF Jason Vosler, RHP Ryan Williams, and INF Chesny Young.
MiLB Rule 5 Only
The minor-league portion of the rule draft is a bit different. I could see anyone of these prospects being taken by another team. To be honest, the catchers are most likely to be selected. While the Cubs do have some depth there, you still hate to lose anyone.
INF Gioskar Amaya, RHP Luis Aquino, C-1B Cael Brockmeyer, INF Stephen Bruno, OF Roberto Caro, C Erick Castillo, INF Kevin Cornelius, RHP Yan de la Cruz, RHP Enrique de los Rios, INF Andrew Ely, RHP Luiz Escanio, RHP Miguel Estevez, OF Robert Garcia, RHP Mark Malave, C-1B Alberto Mineo, LHP Chris Nunn, INF Adonis Paula, C Tyler Pearson, INF Henry Pedra, RHP Stephen Perakslis, RHP James Pugliese, C Will Remillard, C Ali Solis, and LHP Tommy Thorpe.
40 man Roster Analysis
By Todd Johnson
40 Man Decisions
Monday should be a big newsday as every major league baseball team has to turn in their 40 man roster which will include prospects that will no longer be available for other teams to take in the Rule 5 Draft. it should be interesting to see which players the Cubs protect.
With six spots on the 40 man available, I have a pretty good inkling that the Cubs’ list will be pitching heavy with Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, Pedro Araujo, outfielder Charcer Burks, and infielder David Bote most likely to be added. I also think that Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett could make the 40 man cut as well. It would be a huge gamble to leave one of the two off. Then again, the team that selects a player has to put them on the 25 man roster. It is easier to hide a pitcher in the pen than a position player on the bench. Don’t be surprised if the Cubs only select pitchers to go on the 40 man.
Major League Baseball will supposedly be handing down their punishment to the Atlanta Braves tomorrow. I expect it will be harsh and result in several prospects being named free agents, including SS Kevin Maitan. It would be wise of Maitan to wait until July 2 to resign with a new team as most teams have already spent most of their 2017 IFA pool. The 6’2” 190 pound 17-year-old would look good in Eugene this summer!
Arizona Fall League Ends
It was an up and down 6 weeks for most of the Cubs’ prospects. David Bote came on like gangbusters hitting .333 with a .395 OBP to go with 4 HRs (most in the first week). Catcher Ian Rice was pretty steady hitting .311 with a .415 OBP in just 13 games. Outfielder Charcer Burks hit .236 while Jason Vosler hit .210 with a .323 OBP and 2 HRs.
Pitcher Alec Mills had his moments as a starter but then equally struggled at times. Adbert Alzolay was used frequently and was excelling before he gave up 6 runs in 0.2 innings. However, Jake Stinnett and Pedro Araujo shined all fall with ERAs under 2 and K rates of 14+/9 IP.
The Cubs brass probably learned what they wanted to know about each prospect this fall. Tomorrow, we shall see who they value most from this bunch when some will be protected and some will not.
While Baseball America did kick off the prospect list season this week, it will be about another month before Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs do theirs. In the meantime, John Sickles will probably have his prospect list released by the end of this week or early next week.
On Wednesday this week, the off-season prospect series debuts with a profile of outfielder DJ Wilson. The series is called “Leveling Up.” The emphasis of each article will be a 2017 review and a 2018 to do list. On Friday, the position breakdown series returns as I analyze each position by ranking the top Cub prospects at that position.
Mailbag Part 2 Coming Up
The first mailbag post this week was somewhat successful. I have enough questions left over for two more posts. The second one will be out tomorrow, the other on the 27th.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Beginning tomorrow, and running through Friday, baseball’s general managers hold their annual meeting in Orlando Florida. Something could shake down this week. In their search for two starting pitchers, the Cubs could come home with hopefully one. While I would like to see something get done this week, I am also not holding my breath. Ideally, the Cubs could make a trade for a #1 starter this week, get a closer, and then sign a free agent starting pitcher and their major offseason acquisitions would be done.
Right now, signing 23-year-old pitcher Shohei Ohtani from Japan is my number one preference. Considering that he just got a new agent this week, all signs now point to him coming after some things are worked out between MLB, the Player’s Association, and the NPB (Japanese League). He has not officially been posted yet. That could take a while.
As a result, no deal will get done this week.
I have always thought that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta would set the market and everything would fall in place after those two signed. Now that the Ohtani roller coaster looks to be heading to America, I wonder how much the market is going to be driven by him as teams try to acquire his talents. Considering that the max he can sign for is $3.5 million ($300,000 with the Cubs), his ability to drive the market will clearly be the coveted roster spot he takes at the top of the rotation.
The name of Alex Cobb has also been bandied about a lot the past few days. While many Cubs fans want to see the Cubs sign him, I would see that signing in a different light. Sure, Cobb is a nice pitcher and a quality guy, but he is not a top of the rotation arm. If the Cubs are trying to win a world championship, Cobb would be a nice back end of the rotation piece who will help get the Cubs to the playoffs but might not even start in the playoffs. The Cubs need a number one starter for the World Series to pitch alongside Hendricks, Lester, and Quintana. That is not Alex Cobb.
Currently, there is a four year window through 2021 for the Cubs’ young position player core to win another World Series. The Cub brass has to acquire two top of the rotation starters to make that happen. Ohtani makes that scenario much more likely than does Cobb.
Jason McLeod on the Score
For 20 minutes Saturday morning, the Cubs Executive Vice-President and Director of Scouting espoused on a number of topics from young pitching to Eloy and Gleyber to Schwarber and development at the MLB level.
What caught my ear during the interview were some quick evaluations by McLeod of the Cubs minor league starting pitchers. He eloquently praised Adbert Alzolay as a future starter. In addition, he talked about the potential of Thomas Hatch and his ability to miss bats despite a “blip” in his development.
What I really enjoyed was how effusive McLeod was about Michael Rucker and Duncan Robinson. He praised Rucker’s ability to throw strikes at a high velocity and he was just as excited about Robinson’s ability to throw a variety of pitches. McLeod went on to discuss and issue plaudits for the talents of Jose Albertos and Javier Assad. I am excited to see who is going to be pitching for each affiliate next spring. It is going to be quite competitive in the lower parts of the system.
Arizona Fall League Ends Next Week
With just one week left in the season, it is been an up-and-down year for many of the Cub prospects who are taking part in the six week fall league. Both David Bote and Adbert Alzolay came on strong to begin the fall league, but they have faded somewhat. To be fair, Alzolay had one bad outing where he gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning. Meanwhile, Charcer Burks has been up-and-down and Pedro Araujo has been consistent throughout the six weeks season with an ERA under 2.00. Jake Stinnett has not thrown a lot of innings, but his thrown enough striking out 1.5 batters per inning.
In looking at Jason Vosler, his batting average at .229 does not inspire confidence, but his OBP is quite good at .349. Teammate Ian Rice has an OBP of .422. I’d say it’s been a good 2017 for Mr. Rice.
10 Days Away
I am just 10 days away from beginning my off-season series and I’m not ready yet. Right now, there is nothing planned to be published this week. If I do put out something, it’s going to be “incidental” news. That’ll give me time to get started on examining DJ Wilson and breaking down the catchers in the minor-league system for the position breakdown series.
By Todd Johnson
MLB Roster Moves
8 Cubs declared for free agency after the World Series this week. On Tuesday, the offseason is all set to begin. The Cubs will be active but Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will drive the market. Once those two sign, then you will begin to see slots fill up around the league. I hope the Cubs can hang onto Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta, but the odds are slim.
After the declarations, the Cubs announced that they claimed left-handed reliever Randy Rosario off waivers from Minnesota. The newly converted reliever pitch mostly at AA in 2017 but did see an unforgettable 2.1 IP. This has all the markings of a flyer and a gamble. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90s with a 90 mph slider. That, my friends, is worth exploring.
MiLB Roster News
Catcher Alberto Mineo is back on board. However, there is still no word on Trey Martin, Matt Carasiti, or John Andreoli either signing or choosing free agency. The Cubs don’t necessarily have to sign Carasiti to retain his services if they automatically place him on the 40 man roster. It is doubtful, but there’s a small chance it could happen before Tuesday’s signing deadline. Other prospects, who are not free agents but who would but eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, have to be placed on the 40 man by November 20 to avoid the Rule 5 Draft.
Johnson Roster News
In the past year and a half, two of our old dogs passed after short illnesses. On Friday night, my wife and I drove up to Madison, Wisconsin to get a new member for our pack. Socrates is a 4-year-old Spaniel mix who seems to be fitting in nicely. He has some 80 grade deception on his left front paw. He’s a keeper! High floor on his cuteness!
Otani Fever Is Getting Cold
Earlier in the week, the Posting Fee agreement between MLB and NPB (Japanese Professional League) expired without a new agreement in place. As a result, that fact could definitely hamper the career aspirations of P/OF Shohei Otani. Until a new agreement is in place redone, Otani will not likely come to the states unless his home team in Nippon financially benefits in a big way.
Since Otani could only sign a MiLB deal because of his age, the fee would be minimal. As a result, he is staying put for the time being unlike he gets an exception in the new deal.
I could have sworn I wrote a post about possible breakout players for 2018. I went back and looked to see who I picked and I could not find it or anything resembling it. Yes, I had some storylines I wanted to follow, but no posts exist about breakouts or sleepers for 2018. So, this week, that is what I am going to write about.
In three different posts, I will breakdown some players I will think will break out next year and shoot up the Cubs system or prospect lists. This will be in three parts. I will do hitters first, then starting pitchers, and I will close it out with relievers.
Arizona Fall League
Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett are still going strong. David Bote, Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice have all come back to the pack a bit. Even though Adbert Alzolay had a horrible outing this week (3 HRs and 6 runs in 0.2 IP), he was still in the AFL All-Star Game last night as were Bote and Stinnett. There are only just 2 weeks left in the AFL season. It has been an eye-opening experience as Bote and Rice have done really well against some of the best prospects in all of baseball.
There are still about three weeks left before I start posting my two off-season series – the usual MiLB system position breakdown series starts around Thanksgiving as does this year’s prospect series called “Leveling Up.”
Rule 5 Draft and the 40 Man Roster Choices
Expansion and Realignment are not so easy.
The Weekly: MiLB Roster Moves, International Free Agent List, and the 40 Man and Rule V List is Coming
By Todd Johnson
MiLB Roster News
The Cubs claimed outfielder Jake Hannemann off waivers from Seattle who previously acquired Hannemann from the Cubs back in September. With the pending free agency of John Jay, and the possibility of the Cubs trading one of their young outfielders, Hanneman provides some depth along with current Iowa Cub Mark Zagunis.
The Cubs re-signed Minor League free agent James Pugliese on Friday. In the past week, fellow Cubs prospects Gioskar Amaya and Erick Castillo also re-upped. Trey Martin, John Andreoli, Chris Nunn, and Matt Carasiti still remain unsigned for next year.
The Cubs also released the names and ages of 21 more international free agents they signed. Arizona Phil, as usual, of The Cub Reporter had the full list. He spent most of the article talking about 20-year-old Cuban catcher Alexander Guerra who I found out is nicknamed “El Tanque!” The Cubs previously announced they had signed shortstops Luis Verdugo and Fabian Pertuz, pitcher Florencio Serrano, and OF Alexander Ovalles back in July.
40 Man and Rule V Deadline Approaching
By November 20, The Cubs have to turn in their 40 man roster prior to the Rule V Draft. When I looked at possible prospects back in the middle of the summer, a lot has changed in those four months. Certain locks are not so certain anymore. I think the Cubs might even gamble I’m leaving a few touted prospects off the list.
I think there are four prospects that definitely will get added. They are Oscar de la Cruz, Adbert Alzolay, David Bote, and Pedro Araujo. Reliever Matt Carasiti could be in the discussion as he has had success at AAA in the Rockies’ system and again at Iowa. Carasiti has yet to sign a contract for next year.
Pitchers Trevor Clifton and and Jake Stinnett are borderline candidates to be added to the 40 man roster along with infielders Chesny Young and Jason Vosler.
2017 was such a strange year for Trevor Clifton. He looked like a certain 40 man candidate at the end of May and again at the All-Star break where he was a Southern League All-Star. Things fell apart in the second half. For Stinnett, he did not see any action until late in the summer and that was in a relief role. I think a team could take a huge gamble and select him. The Cubs could/should end up protecting both.
Arizona Fall League
What I am enjoying most about performances by the Cubs’ prospects this fall is the job that relievers Jake Stinnett and Adbert Alzolay are doing. On Friday, they each pitched two innings and struck out three and neither allowed a run. As for Stinnett, he did not allow a hit as his ERA is now down to 2.45 in 7.1 IP. Alzolay is at 0.90 in 20 IP.
It has also been nice to see Adbert Alzolay get a lot of traction online as a possible pitcher for next summer. While his fastball and approach are close to major-league ready, he still needs some work on his curve and changeup. I think the earliest we could see Adbert in Chicago would be in July. That could be in relief or it could be as a starter. At AAA Iowa, he is definitely going to be a starter for now. It is best to take a wait and see attitude. He is sure to get some looks at doing both in the major league camp.
In exactly one week, free agency will begin and trades will start happening. It doesn’t take long after the World Series ends. I will have a three-part look this week at the “State of the Cubs for 2018.” I will look at position players first, then I take a peek at the starting pitching, and finally, I examine what is needed in the bullpen.
After Friday, I am all out of prewritten material. The “Leveling Up” and “Position Breakdown” Series begin the week of Thanksgiving.
Top MiLB Storylines for 2018: Part 1