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.

Cubs Have More Prospects to Breakout in the Second Half

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By Todd Johnson

As I have said before, it is hard for a prospect to break out anymore. There is press coverage almost everywhere in addition to photographers and people who can take video. With Mesa and Eugene ready to begin play, here are some names of prospects who I think will grab a few headlines in the second half and propel themselves up several prospect lists.

I did not include top prospects Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan on this list. Technically, they should break out, but most people already know about them. For me, it’s just a matter of seeing them do it this summer on him MiLB.TV.

Photo by Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard

Joe Martarano – At 6’3” and close to 240 pounds, Joe is quite the presence in the batters box. I saw him for the first time on opening night at Eugene. The thing I took away from his performance was that he does have a really good eye at plate. He might be a little “roller-coastery” this summer as he gets used to playing every day after not playing for two years.

Delvin Zinn – He is beginning this year in Mesa after missing most of spring training. He’s a great athlete and it looks like he’s gonna play second base. With college draft picks coming, I think he’ll be at Mesa most of the summer.

Bailey Clark – I love this kid. While technically a bearded monster, he also has a 95 to 98 mph fastball. He is starting out at Eugene and should eventually spend most of his time this summer playing at South Bend.

Brailyn Marquez – At 6’6” and only 18 years of age, I look forward to seeing what this young left handed pitcher can do. Last year in the DSL he put up an ERA of 1.48. He struck out 48 in 54 IP in the DSL, I doubt he does that in Mesa. I am intrigued to see how he does stateside.

Faustino Carrera – He’s a bit small, so I don’t think he’s destined to be a starter, but for right now he is. He put up a 1.06 ERA in the DSL last year and, like Marquez, I wonder if he if he can do that in Mesa with the same success.

Jonathan Sierra – He looks like Darryl Strawberry, but does not have Darryl’s skills yet. Then again, Sierra is only 18. He hit .264 in the DSL last year with a .384 OBP. That shows me he has a good eye at the plate. He did not have the greatest spring training, but I am interested to see how he hits in Mesa and whether his power stroke begins to develop. Hopefully, he begins to breakout this year. If not, it could take him 2-3 years to do so.

Gustavo Polanco -Last year, he lead the Mesa Cubs in hitting at .322. He is already off to great start at Eugene. Although he started off as a catcher, the 20-year-old moved to first base and is also a designated hitter. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he is pretty much maxed out physically, but he has a great eye for the ball.

Under the Radar
Image may contain: one or more peopleI am sure there will be other players who do breakout. More than likely, most will be players the Cubs recently drafted. I wrote the following at BP Wrigleyville about two top hitters I think might fit the breakout bill.

3B Austin Filiere (eighth round pick) and OF Chris Carrier (ninth round) both have a lot of potential for power. Carrier comes from Memphis while Filiere comes from MIT—neither of which are powerhouse college programs. Carrier is a sculpted physical specimen at 6’2” and 225 pounds, while Filiere’s experience in the wooden bat Cape Cod League might give him an advantage as they begin their pro careers, most likely in Eugene.

2B Jared Young and OF Brandon Hughes are two other college names who could do the same as Filiere and Carrier.

When it comes to pitchers, the Cubs did pick some relievers. Most notable are Casey Ryan from Hawaii, Sean Barry from San Diego, and Brian Glowicki from Minnesota. The starting pitchers the Cubs draft pitch short stints (40-50 pitches) as they already have thrown a full season.

First Half Cubs MiLB All-Star Team Has Some New Faces

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This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.

If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.

Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.

Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.

I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.

Cubs Strike with Two Pitchers in the First Round

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By Todd Johnson

Jason McLeod said the Cubs would focus on pitching and he wasn’t kidding. The Cubs usd the 27th pick to select lefty Brendon Little and the 30th pick to select righty Alex Lange. Both players have pitched significant innings this year with Little at 85 and Lange at 111 so far. Little could pitch some in relief this year in either Eugene or South Bend, while Lange will probably be shut down after the College World Series, much like Thomas Hatch was in 2016.

I really like both selections. I think both have some serious upside, but they also need some work. Lange, to me, is a steal. A known perfectionist, he is not going to take long. I think with the coaches the Cubs have in the system, he could improve greatly. As a result, the Cubs may have gotten a top ten talent at #30.

Here are some brief profiles and stats. Click on the link for previous articles about them.

Image may contain: 1 person, textBrendon Little – State JC of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota
Earlier Post on Him
6’2” and 195 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

He can bring it at 97
Did I mention a 97 mph fastball?
Left handed
Tight curve with projection

Areas of Concern
Starter or Reliever?

Here is what MLB.com said of Little

Little pitched very well in the Cape Cod League this summer and has continued to show premium velocity in junior college this spring. He was touching 97 mph in fall ball and has kept that up during the regular season in Florida. He complements it with a true 12-to-6 power curve which flashes plus on occasion, and he’ll also show some feel for his changeup, though it’s behind the other two pitches. While he has a very quick and clean arm delivery, his command comes and goes and his fastball can be flat at times, though that hasn’t kept him from missing a ton of bats this spring.

The lack of track record, as well as the inconsistency with his delivery and command, might concern some, with scouts wondering if he’s a starter or a reliever long term. This kind of arm strength from the left side is hard to find, so teams won’t too long to take him off the board.

Image may contain: one or more people and textAlex Lange – Louisiana State University
Earlier Post on Him
6’3″ and 198 pounds
Bats Right
Throws Right

Power Curve
High Floor

Areas of Concern
End of the Year Dropoff
Velocity Dip

Here is what MLB.com said of the right hander.

Lange has two plus pitches in a fastball that usually ranged from 92-96 mph and a power curveball that stood out as the best on the U.S. college national team last summer. He has a strong build and repeatedly has demonstrated the ability to maintain his stuff into the later innings. Lange is showing better feel for his changeup after emphasizing the development of the pitch during his time with Team USA.

Lange sometimes gets himself in trouble by overthrowing and not staying online to the plate. Both of those bad habits cost him control, which along with some effort in his delivery has some scouts wondering if he might wind up as a reliever in the long run. Lange’s track record as a successful starter means he’ll get every opportunity to make it as a mid-rotation option.

More information will be forthcoming in the next few days about each prospect including thoughts from Jason McLeod.