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Ems’ Debut Shows Some Promise

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By Todd Johnson

I always find it exciting to watch the Eugene Emeralds on MiLB.TV. It is usually my first live look at most of the players. In game situations. For most of them, I’ve read about and maybe saw them in a video, but I like to get a get a live look at their swings, their speed, and their arms.

Here are a few things that stuck out about last night’s opening game.

1. Fernando Kelli had some major league speed. He also has a short quick stroke to the ball. Anytime he gets a single, he’s going to be standing on second base very, very soon. In the bottom of the first, he singled to right, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly, and came home after a dropped third strike when the catcher threw to first. It was pretty Impressive.

2. Nelson Velasquez looked much more relaxed at Eugene than he did at South Bend. He went one for four, and only struck out once. But he put the bat on the ball pretty consistently.

3. It was pretty clear that defensively Luis Vasquez is going to own the infield. Whether it’s a pop up or a ground ball, he’s going to try and get to it. At just 19, I really like what he can do on the left side of the infield. The bat will come in time.

4. Christopher Morel started at third and I really liked what I saw from his swing. It’s still a little bit long but it does show the potential for power. He went one for four on the night..

5 Skinny Jonathan Sierra is dead. Bulked up Jonathan Sierra is quite alive in Eugene. Like Morel, Sierra also has a long swing that he’s going to crush balls when he hits him. The problem was he didn’t really make much solid contact last night. It’s just one game. There are plenty more to come.

6. Lefty Faustino Carrera has some nasty offspeed stuff. His fastball usually came in about 86 to 90 and a curve came in in the upper 70s/low 80s. But it his changeup that is devastating. I could’ve sworn broadcaster Matt Dompe say that it came in at 72. That’s just unfair. For a 19-year-old kid to throw that kind of pitch is pretty cool. On the night, he went six innings and gave up two hits, zero runs, walked one, and struck out five while also picking a runner off first. He worked some deep counts early but shortened things up in innings three through six. But I liked what I saw yes he used only 71 pitches on the night.

7. Catcher Jonathan Soto looked good behind the plate and he also looked good with a bat in his hands going two for three. He’s got a nice left-handed stroke to the ball and put it in play every time.

At some point late tonight, I’ll see if I can stay awake to watch the second game of the Emerald’s season. I really liked the talent that I saw for just one game. It’s hard to make a full profile of a player just on one game. However, there might be something here. It Will be fun to get more data over time.

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Let the Round Two of the Live Blog Begin…It will be over quick!

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To see the Cubs Central profile on the Cubs’ first round pick Nico Hoerner, click here.

By Todd Johnson

10:55 pm – I am left shaking my head a bit. Cole Roederer could be a nice player as could Paul Richan. The Cubs could have gotten both of them in the fourth and fifth rounds. However, they have them now. I will have a summation up shortly.

10:40 pm – Davis was ranked number 145 by MLB Pipeline and 136 by Baseball America. Very athletic kid and is a high-risk, high-reward type of kid.

10:30 pm – The first of three second round picks is in. Brennen Davis of Basha HS in Arizona. He’s 6’4″ and 175 lbs.

10:20 pm – Bo has really stole the show tonight, but the Cubs pick at 62 could be equal in talent to Hoerner. Cubs are up in two picks.

10:15 pm – The Cubs will be up shortly. They are going to get a player who is very good. There’s still a lot of first round talent still available.

10:10 pm – With those promotions, there is going to be a lot of movement starting tomorrow and over the next two weeks as players sign their contracts.

10:00 pm – Big promotion news is stealing some thunder from the draft. Both Trevor Clifton and Dakota Mekkes are heading to Iowa from Tennessee. Both have had excellent first halves. For Trevor, it’s a been a long road and I could not be more excited for him and his family!

9:40 pm – The second round is about to start in ten to fifteen minutes. In the second round, there is only a minute between picks. So, strap yourself in and get ready for a quick ride. I will just do one post on all three picks.

And here is what I wrote at BP Wrigleyville about Hoerner

 

Draft Prep – 10 Days to Go and No Consensus on Who the Cubs Will Get

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By Todd Johnson

With 10 days to go until the 2018 MLB draft, this is quite clear: After Casey Mize goes number one to Detroit, there is absolutely no consensus on who goes where and at what slot throughout the draft. It is quite evident that this is a deep draft and that there’s not a lot of separation between the top picks. When it comes to the Cubs at #24, even less is clear.

Here are six things you need to know.

1. The Cubs are going to get a very good player at number 24. Because of the depth of the draft, that pick’s talent level should be on par with someone taken in the early to middle teens. As a result, that pick’s projectable talent level would not be too far off of a top ten pick. This would be a good thing for a system starved for hitting talent.

Trevor Larnach would be my guy at #24

2. That’s right, I said hitting talent. There are only three players who are not hitters that I think the Cubs would take if they were still there at number 24. One is pitcher Logan Gilbert of Stetson who has experience in the Cape Cod League, which is a definite plus for Jason McLeod. The other is prep pitcher Ethan Hankins, who was ranked in the top five back in January. Georgia prep star Kumar Rocker is an amazing athlete which is one box that is hard for Jason McLeod to pass up.

3. How the mighty have fallen. Seth Beer from Clemson continues to drop and might actually be available for the Cubs to take in the second round at number 62. In addition, TCU’s Luken Baker could also be available at 62 because of an injury, and maybe even at 78+79. Just a year ago they were the top two picks on most people’s draft boards.

4. There is still going to be a lot of movement up-and-down draft boards and that includes the night of the draft. Player evaluation is not an exact science at projecting what kind of player a prospect could be.

Alec Bohm of Wichita State

5. Four months ago I pegged Alec Bohm to be the Cubs pick. Now he’s all the way into the top 10. His ascension shows how valuable a commodity college hitting is.

6. Time – For the Cubs, their current roster is not going to be that different in the next few years. Maybe 2-3 players a year change. As a result, the Cubs have the luxury of time to developing their player.

Whomever the Cubs select this year should be at AAA by 2021 getting ready by then to make their pro debut. The Cubs need to select the player they best think is going to help them for 2021 and beyond. It’s not that long from now. If you think about it, the Cubs top picks from 2012 2015, three out of the four of them were playing in Wrigley within 2 to 2 1/2 years. But then again, they were all top 10 picks. This year’s pick isn’t needed for a while. Taking three years to develop might be beneficial.

The Cubs could take a hitter or a pitcher, whether college or high school. In fact, it would have to take a reach for me to surprised this year.

Next Monday, on the first day of the draft, I will review players who I think the Cubs could take at #24. You’re not going to be surprised as four of the five I go over are names that are very familiar to you.

MiLB Playoff Action – Ems Tie Up the Series as Filiere and Assad Star

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By Todd Johnson

After losing game 1, the Eugene Emeralds needed a win in the worst way against Vancouver. If the Ems lost, they would travel north to Vancouver needing to sweep three games in the best of five Northwest League Championship Series.

The Ems got off to a quick start in game 2 when Austin Filiere cranked a 2 run HR to make the score 2-0 in the first inning. The Ems tacked on one more on a Gustavo Polanco single and it was 3-0 heading to the second.

Starting pitcher Brendon Little struggled again for Eugene as he has done most of the season. Only scheduled for 50 pitches, Little lasted just two innings. He struck out four, walked four and gave up 2 runs. He was relieved by Javier Assad as planned to start the third inning.

When Assad came in, the tenor of the game changed. Javier worked quickly and attacked the zone. He moved the ball around the zone and moved eye levels up and down the strike zone. In the fourth, a single and and an error started a faux rally for the Canadians before a double play ended the inning.

In the fifth, Eugene outfielder Zach Davis got on base with a beautiful bunt single, stole second, and scored on a Jared Young single. That put the lead up to 4-2.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravitch

The star of the game, however, was Javier Assad. He sailed through the Canadians lineup getting 9 Ks in 6 IP in relief of Little with three of them in the eighth inning. As the game wore on,  he became more and more efficient. He finished with 85 pitches, 56 of them for strikes.

Jake Steffens came on in the ninth for the save. A defensive miscue by Chris Singleton put a man on second to begin the inning. The runner would come around to score after a sac fly and a groundout. Steffens got the final out on a fly to left to tie the series up at one game apiece.

The final three games are set for Monday through Wednesday this week. None of the games are on MiLB.TV.

July All-Star Team Filled with New Faces Including 4 Draft Picks

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By Todd Johnson

This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.

On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.

As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.

A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.

An Inspiration and Aspiration – John Arguello

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Cubs Den founder and writer John Arguello passed away today.

While I never met John face to face, I did have the opportunity to interact with John on several occasions over the past 6 summers. In fact, it was John who used to put my homemade baseball cards on his site. When I started this site, I was used to writing for history and had finished my dissertation and blogging filled a hole to write. It was John who was the inspiring figure for me. He helped me with an article on Dominican Summer League stats. Anytime I asked, he was always helpful. I looked up to him a lot.

I didn’t always agree with him, but he was right more often than not. I would apologize and we would move on. He was always willing to share information, pictures, and a kind word. He was a champion of prospects who were raw early in their careers like Willson Contreras and Adbert Alzolay. He had a good eye for skills and to be able to tell a prospect’s story.

This spring, he was really into his new camera toys and we would message back and forth. In years past, I would use his spring training pictures to make cards. We talked several times if there was too much red, or too much blue. He loved to take pictures and wanted to be better. He just loved that camera.

This year, I wanted my cards to be of the prospects in their affiliate uniforms. Right now, I regret not making cards with his pictures of prospects from this spring. I still can, I guess. That would be a fitting tribute of how it all began for me.

He always loved baseball cards and the 1975 template was his favorite (It was when he became a fan). And if I forgot to credit him, he would always remind me. Always!

For John,

Photograph by John Arguello

God speed.

The Friday Six Pack: Zinn is a Hit in Mesa While Sands’ Rehab Is Going Well

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By Todd Johnson

The Mesa Cubs now have two weeks under their belt. A few things are starting to emerge and the extremely young team is trying to adapt, Many of them are new to the United States. Currently, the club has a record of 5-6. At times, they struggle with hitting and, at other times, they struggle with pitching. Today’s six pack will examine a few things happening out in the Arizona Rookie League.

1. Yonathan Perlaza – Most days, the 18-year-old switch hitter seems to be hitting well. There are other days where is bat does not show up. Signed as part of the 2015 international free agent class, this is his first year playing in the States and it will continue to be an adjustment for him. He’s mainly been playing second, but I expect him to get his time at third. Currently, he is hitting .268 with on base percentage of .348.

2. Carson Sands – At South Bend last year, he was one of their best pitchers in the rotation in the first half. Then things fell apart in the second half. Part of that could’ve been due to elbow splints that he had removed over the winter. As a result, his full season has been delayed. However, in three inning rehab starts at Mesa, he has been excellent. He’s struck out 5 but he has handed out 8 walks – this is, basically, his spring training. Right now, it’s more about the process and strengthening the arm. I hope that he can return to a full season team by the end of July.

3. Delvin Zinn – This is my guy. I love his athleticism! Although, I am not entirely sold on him sticking at short or even second. I think he could play the outfield and do an excellent job. His bat, meanwhile, has been outstanding and consistent. If not for an injury in spring training, he would’ve started the season at Eugene. He should be there shortly as he is hitting .281 with an on-base percentage of .324.

4. Marco Mastrobuoni – This is his second go around in the Arizona Rookie League and his bat has been doing marvelous things. Not only is he heading for high average (.333) but he is also hitting for power. As of today, he has 3 HRs and 8 RBI in 9 games as a catcher and DH.

5. Cam Balego – I have been really surprised by the 31st round pick out of Mercyhurst. He’s played mostly second and third and is showing the ability to handle the stick as he is hitting .333, At that pace, I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be in Mesa. Then again there’s not really a place for him to move in Eugene.

6. Jed Carter -. Relievers in rookie league don’t get much pub. It’s not a glorified position at that level, but Carter is making it his. The 2016 draft pick seems to have found his groove in his first full season is a Cub. To date he’s pitched 5 innings, He has not allowed in earned run, and he has struck out 6 while only walking 2. I hope he gets to go to Eugene very soon.

Bonus One
7. Jonathan Sierra – Like Perlaza, this 18-year-old has been up and down. Batting cleanup most every day, he has shown the ability for timely hits but then not get one for three days. He is batting .250 with 5 RBIs and an OBP of .302. The tall lefty has yet to hit a homer.

The starting pitching has been pretty volatile. Jose Albertos is now in Eugene and more draft picks should be getting some action in over the weekend. One always has to keep their eyes on the Arizona roster as it is in flux daily. Between players making rehab appearances, draft picks coming and going, and later in the year, players from the Dominican coming north, it is always a test to report on. DJ Wilson of South Bend has played in 3 rehab games and is 4/8 with 3 HRs.

Only three draft picks saw action so far in Mesa. Two have moved on to Eugene. I will be back with a post on all where the draft picks are at and how they are doing early next week.