Leveling Up – Wladimir Galindo Is on Track to Get Back for 2018

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By Todd Johnson

There have been many times over the past two summers where I have referred to Wladimir Galindo as “my guy.” I still feel that way despite his inability to stay healthy. What Galindo has is a large frame and the potential for power similar to previous prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ. It’s a pretty fancy comparison, and I don’t really think it’s hyperbole to put him in with those two names. The only issue is whether he can stay healthy enough to fulfill that potential.

Basic Info
Age: 21
Signed in 2013 – International Free Agent from Venezuela
Bats/Throws: R/R
Ht: 6′ 3″ Wt: 210

2017 Season
After staying healthy for most of 2016 at Eugene, I was really excited to see what Galindo could do in his first year in full season baseball at South Bend. I liked the fact that when he sees the ball, he hits the ball. In just 44 games, he hit .290 with four home runs and 19 RBIs at 20 years of age. There is a natural inclination for him to go up to the plate swinging. Although, in 2017. his K percentage shrunk to an all time low of 20.9%. Considering his injury history, you should not find this approach surprising.

Despite being signed in 2013, he only has 787 at bats for his total career. There’s not very many. In addition, he has not seen that many pitches in his four years of playing baseball in Venezuela, Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend. He has seen just a total of 2106 pitches as a professional. For your average player, that is not very many. Most full season minor leaguers will see between 1600 to 1800 pitches in just one season (120-140 games).

In his brief stint at South Bend, Galindo came across as an experienced hitter despite his lack of game experience. One thing that impressed me was how often and how easily he went to right field. at South Bend. 36.9% of batted ball by Galindo wound up in the opposite field. That is an extremely high rate that reminds me of another Cub who loved to go oppo in his prime in the 1990s.

Fangraphs said this last week,

Reports concerning Galindo’s approach indicate that his bat-to-ball profile is still pretty volatile despite the slight reduction in K% (over just a 44-game sample, mind you). Still, it’s an improvement when compared to Galindo’s previous two seasons. He’s a potential everyday player if he can stay at third and get to most of his power.

What needs to happen in 2018.
Wladimir has been posting updates on Twitter (@galindowladi38) about his rehab since his surgery to repair his broken leg in June. In early November, he began hitting off the tee and I think he’s going to be primed and ready to go when 2018 begins.

A few of you have asked me if I think he will start at South Bend or at Myrtle Beach in 2018. To be honest, he’s hit at every level and, despite a lack of plate appearances and pitches seen at each level, he has done extremely well. If he begins 2018 in the Carolina League, I expect him to do well. For him, it’s not gonna be that big of a jump.

What I would like to see most from him next year is to stay healthy. I’d like to see him get in 120 games at the plate. He could get 400 at-bats and see 1600 to 1700 pitches while hitting 15 to 20 home runs and driving in 70 to 80 runs. He could get in 80 games at third base and 20 at first while being the DH every once in awhile to rest his leg.

But the overriding goal is to stay healthy to do all of these things. I firmly believe that if he stays healthy, he could easily be the top power hitter in the Cubs’ system without much effort.

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Cubs Central MiLB Mailbag – Episode IV: What Will Galindo and de la Cruz Be Like in 2018?

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By Todd Johnson

This series is beginning to stretch out longer than I thought it would. Originally, the plan was to do one mailbag, maybe two this offseason. Yet, this is the fourth and I have enough questions for two more after this. Considering there’s no rush to get to spring training, if you’d like to send me a question, go ahead and tweet at me (@CubsCentral08) or you can send me an email to CubsCentral 2016@gmail.com.

Eldrad
Does Wladimir Galindo start 2018 in South Bend?
I sure hope not. On Wednesday, Galindo gets centerstage in the “Leveling Up” series. In that piece, I am going to talk about how despite his injuries, he keeps moving up a level every year. A lot of that attributes to his natural power stroke. But the strange thing for me is that he gets better every year. Last year he hit .290 in just 44 games and had 36.9% of batted balls go to right field – that’s very Sammy-esque. As a result, I feel pretty confident in saying that he’s going to begin 2018 in Myrtle Beach.  

Coming off a broken leg cannot be easy, but Galindo is already soft hitting off a tee and looks to be on track to be ready. 

Should the Cubs promote Buddy Bailey to bench coach in the next couple of years?

While Buddy does have a wealth of experience and a great mind, it’s obvious that he is best suited to teaching prospects. He has done a much better job of getting AA prospects ready to play for AA while he has been in Class A Myrtle Beach the past two seasons. I am excited to see how his work this year with Eddy Martinez, Jesse Hodges, Zack Short, and Tyler Alamo pays off next year in Tennessee. Even though he won’t be there, you can see his fingerprints all over David Bote and Charcer Burks from this past year. I think Buddy is right where he needs to be to help the Cubs organization the most.

Shawn Cline
Is De La Cruz’s future/projection as a starter or a closer?
This is a great question, Shawn. I have been thinking about this a lot over the past two summers. In that timeframe, Oscar has only pitched 95 innings. He’s look good in doing so, but if he’s going to need a lot of work to be a MLB starter. Consider this – the highest amount of innings he’s pitched in one season is 73. That’s not very many. Ideally, when starters get to the MLB level, they should have pitched between 130-140 innings the previous year at AA/AAA. With Oscar, I am really struggling to keep him a starter if beyond this year if he cannot stay healthy because of his lack of innings.

If you watch Oscar throw, it doesn’t look like there’s any kind of over-exertion. He comes across as throwing free and easy in the low to mid 90s. It doesn’t look like he puts much effort into throwing a curve or change. It is easy to see why so many people are so high on him. But if you can’t stay healthy, you can’t stay healthy.

The best thing about Oscar is that he still 23. The Cubs still have about three more years to work with him if they envision him as a starter. I would wager that he gets a crack at starting again this year and next.

As for his assignment in 2018, I don’t know if that’s going to be at Myrtle Beach or Tennessee. I’d like to think it would be Tennessee, but I think how he looks in spring training will determine everything.

Next Week’s mailbag will be devoted to just one question – How does the system now compare to when Theo took over in 2011?

John Sickels’ Top 20 Prospect List Takes Over “The Weekly”

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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.

Card made from a photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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!

The Cubs’ Bullpen Looks to Be Gutted

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By Todd Johnson

Pedro Strop.
Carl Edwards, Jr.
Mike Montgomery.
Justin Grimm.
Justin Wilson.

Those names don’t exactly exude confidence to get the final three to nine outs of a game. After yesterday’s announcement that the Cubs did not tender a contract to reliever Hector Rondon, new pitching coach Jim Hickey’s job just tougher, a lot tougher. At over $6 million, Rondon’s contract was getting too pricey to just be a setup man. The Cubs essentially said, “Thank you for service, but no thanks for 2018.” As a result, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer now have their work cut out for themselves this offseason.

Originally, just Wade Davis and Brian Duensing had left via free agency. The Cubs now have to replace half their pen and add depth to stash at AAA Iowa, which appears to be well underway.

Since the end of last season, the Cubs have taken some flyers on some arms with minimal MLB experience. Righty Luke Farrell could relieve, he could start. He has 13 career MLB innings. Righty Cory Mazzoni has 16 career innings to go with his shiny 17.28 career ERA. Lefty Randy Rosario’s career ERA is a whopping 30.86 in just  2.1 innings. And this week, the Cubs signed 29-year-old lefty Dario Alvarez. He might be alright. He threw 16 IP in 2017 with a 2.67 ERA but also put up an unsustainable whip of 2.02. He walked 14 batters. I thought his signing was a little odd as Theo talked about adding strike throwers in his offseason press sessions. I don’t think that is what he had in mind.

After seeing those stats, I am not brimming with confidence. I am not in sheer terror either, but I am concerned. The Cubs will need to find a closer and a couple of setup men while adding depth at AAA.

Theo is going to have hit the free agent market and maybe use the Rule 5 Draft (Kohl Stewart of Minnesota is one name I like) as a cheaper option. Theo has been able to find arms in the past rather cheaply and I am sure he will again. In addition, I would not be surprised to see Theo make a trade for an arm or two rather than overpay in the free agent market or in an international free agent.

Here are some free agent names to look for to see if the Cubs are associated with or show interest in over the next month:
Brian Shaw, Brandon Morrow, Pat Neshek, Brandon Kintzler, Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, Luke Gregerson, Fernando Rodney, Matt Albers, Tony Watson, and Jake McGee.

As for internal options…
Dillon Maples is close to being ready. While he has top flight MLB pitches, it is just a matter of controlling them. At 25, he now stands a better chance of making the 25 man roster. I always thought that Jen-Ho Tseng’s change-curve combo would play better out of the pen than as a starter. He could get that chance in 2018. While Rob Zastryzny is an option, but I don’t know if I see him as a long term option. Justin Hancock is another strong arm. He had an up and down year year for three MiLB teams in 2017, but he does throw in the upper 90s. David Garner finally made it to AAA in August but struggled in his one month there. He is going to need some seasoning at that level. One name I like is Tommy Nance. He spent all of 2017 injured. He reminds me of Brandon Webb in that he throws a “hard” ball that breaks a lot of bats. Nance would be a very longshot to make the team, but I could see him getting a shot later in the summer if all goes well with his health.

In the end, adding three to four more arms to a corps that struggled to find the plate in 2018 is a bit concerning. All last night I kept wondering if Theo would overpay for pen security or would he try to find undervalued arms somewhere. However, heading into day 2 of the Shohei Otani watch, rebuilding the pen could take a while as the Cubs do have more pressing needs at starting pitching. Once the Otani dust settles, it should be interesting to see how the bullpen shakes down.

Position Breakdown Series: First Base Lacks Star Power…For Now

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By Todd Johnson

With Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base for a while, there’s really been no need to draft or develop a first baseman. Last year, I only listed four first baseman in the position breakdown. I had Yasiel Balaguert, Matt Rose, Chris Pieters, and Gustavo Polanco ranked. This year is slightly different.

A lot changed at the position in one year…Matt Rose was traded in the Eloy deal. Yasiel played 25% of his season in the outfield and Chris Pieters almost exclusively played on the green grass as well. However, three players in 2017 began to emerge as possible bats at the first base position. Like their fellow brethren before them, they are not exclusive to first base. Although, some soon could be.

1. Yasiel Balaguert – For the second year in a row, he had a great second half at AA Tennessee hitting .285 with 10 HRs and 40 RBI. That’s a pretty productive half a year. However, for the second year in a row, he had a poor first half. If he ever gots hot in the first half, he’d be in the majors quickly. Now that he’ll be at Iowa in 2018, the environs of the Pacific Coast League should play to his power game.

2. Joe Martarano – I really dig his bat and his potential. While his July at South Bend was just plain horrid (.167), he had a pretty good year otherwise. He was good in extended spring (.324), great at Eugene (.385), and he quietly rebounded  at South Bend hitting .273 in August. I love the sound the ball makes when he squares it up live. Losing a leg kick and going with a toe tap will help him in 2018, especially with curveballs. He might start out at South Bend, but don’t expect him to be there long if he gets off to a fast start. Myrtle Beach will come calling soon enough.

3. Luis Hidalgo – He might be the most unheralded player on any list I have this winter. After one good season in the Venezuelan Summer League and 2 mediocre stints in the Dominican, Hidalgo, a righty, put it together last year at the age of 21. He hit .353/.419/.521 in the DSL before coming stateside in August. In 17 games in the Arizona Rookie League, he hit .339 with a .516 slugging percentage. He should continue to feast this year in Eugene, if he plays there. He might be talented enough to skip that level if he has a good spring training and extended spring training. Watch him.

4. Tyler Alamo – His offseason has already been tragic as a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting. Hopefully, he will be ready to go when 2018 begins. Despite the tragedy, his baseball season was somewhat of a breakout. After the Eloy trade, Alamo’s playing time increased and his place in the order moved up. In the second half, he hit .306 with a .345 OBP, and 5 HRs. I think the right-handed hitter has the plate discipline, work ethic, and maturity to improve again next year.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravitch

5. Gustavo Polanco – He is a prospect of extremes right now. First off, he has a beautiful inside-out swing that takes the ball naturally to right field. He hit .281 for the year but his OBP was only .322 as he only walked 4% of the time. Second, he has the potential for great power but hasn’t shown it yet. On the other hand, he has shown the ability to hit the ball hard. Then again, he lacks some discipline at the plate. With a 27.5% K rate, he at least has something to work on next year at South Bend. He has no trouble with a pitch that starts with an F, he just needs to recognize pitches that don’t.

Second base is on deck for next week.

Fangraphs’ Top Prospect List Goes All-In on Potential

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By Todd Johnson

Last year, I quipped that Fangraphs produced the prospect list your mother warned you about. This year, Eric Longenhagen continued the tradition of creating a list different from the mainstream. The list, which came out today, contains analysis of upwards of 50 Cub prospects in detail. Although he only ranks 22, there is still plenty of information to go through and dissect. Overall, the list is a selection of young, athletic, and unproven prospects in the top 10.

Like Baseball America, Fangraphs placed shortstop Aramis Ademan at number one followed by pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos. While I would probably have them in inverse order as a top three, I really can’t quibble with Longenhagen’s reasoning. For the next 18 picks, though, it is all about potential. Longenhagen states:

Trades and graduations have sliced off the head of this system, but I remain fond of its “fruit on the bottom” composition. It features a wide swath of young talent at the lower levels, mostly from Latin America. The Cubs have cast a wide net in Latin America, adding a slew of good-bodied athletes with middling tools and then just kicking back to see what the player-development staff can do with them.

Pitcher Oscar de la Cruz is still held in esteem at number four and is soon followed by Brendon Little and Alex Lange, both of whom seem to have incomplete projections about whether they will be starters or relievers if, and when, they get to Chicago

The biggest shockers in the list came in the middle with the inclusion of several young 18 to 19-year-olds. Catcher Miguel Amaya is a favorite of mine and he is situated at number nine. Pitcher Alec Mills was next at ten, even though he missed most of 2017 with bone spurs. Mills was praised for his baseball command and plus changeup.

At number 11, 2017 sixth round pick pitcher Jeremiah Estrada got a lot of love from Longenhagen for his potential despite only pitching six innings of professional ball in 2017. One of my favorite young Cub prospects, outfielder Nelson Velazquez, came in at number 13 while unheralded lefty starter Brailyn Marquez surfaced at number 14 after an up-and-down year in Mesa.

The more I got through the list, the more and more the emphasis is on potential. Former top prospect Mark Zagunis wound up at number 20 while several more established Cub prospects did not make the top 22 cut like Trevor Clifton, Chesny Young, and Duane Underwood. Even the Cubs’ reigning MiLB Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng did not make it. It is not as if Fangraphs have tossed the old guard to the side of the road, they made way for more prospects with a higher upside. DJ Wilson, for example, is one young and athletic prospect I profiled just last week who made the top 10.

In the end, this list is just going to be one of many this offseason that could have a totally different view of the Cubs system from every other list. In the next two weeks, Baseball Prospectus is set to release their Top 10 Cubs list either late next week or the week of the 11th.

The more lists that come out, the greater the variance is going to be. It’s pretty evident that the era of consensus on who the Cubs top prospects are is over. Even though Ademan has gotten the top nod in both major lists so far, don’t expect him to get top billing in every one.

Leveling Up – Kevonte Mitchell Is Coming Right Along

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By Todd Johnson

2017 was a mixed bag for Kevonte Mitchell. He had moments when he looked like a monster at the plate and times when he did not. And if I had to come up with one phrase to describe his season, it would be “confidence building.” For the season, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 59 in 115 games. However, what I was most impressed with was not the work he did on the field, but his work ethic off the field.

Many times writers forget that the minor leagues is about development. It’s often about taking a hitter with raw skills and athletic tools and polishing them up. When I watch all the work Kevonte Mitchell puts in to get ready for a game, I come away extremely impressed at the effort he puts into everything. As a result, 2017 saw improvement in his approach at the plate and his performance on the field. He still has some work to do, but when he goes up a level in 2018, he could really break out as a hitter in Myrtle Beach.

Basic Info
6’5”, 235 lbs.
Bats – Right
Throws – Right
2014 13th round pick
Just turned 22-years-old

For Mitchell, 2017 was a series of adjustments. His monthly splits were very inconsistent but there were glimpses that he is starting to put things together. July saw him hit .295 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. April wasn’t bad either with three dingers and 11 driven in. But August and May were not good at all (.229 and .193 respectively).

When I watch Kevonte, anything can happen. It could be a 500 foot home run, a mile high pop up, a screamer, a weak grounder to first, or a strikeout. But I also see his ability to track the ball better over the course of the season. He is able to identify a curveball and lay off one out of the zone now, but he also struggles with that same pitch and putting it in play if it is in the zone. If he can make that small adjustment in 2018, everything for him is going to change.

One stat that impressed me most about 2017 was the percentage of balls he hit to right field increased to over 30%. Rather than trying to pull everything, as he he has done in the past, he is taking what he is given. In addition, that type of approach fits well with his batting practice approach and routines to drive the ball up the middle.

What needs to happen in 2018?

Playing full season ball in Carolina is a lot different than the Great Lakes region. It’s a lot more humid and it’s a lot warmer at the beginning of the year. For Kevonte, he is going to be playing half his games in a stadium that is known for the wind coming in off the ocean. However, some Cubs’ hitters have been able to hit well at Myrtle Beach. They don’t put up ridiculous power numbers, but they have been able to put up 15 to 20 home runs.

And for Mitchell, I think that is a good range for us to expect in 2018. For me, what I am going to be looking for is for him to put up consistent averages at the plate. I do not expect him to break out and hit .300 for the season. Instead, if he has a good year, he should have consistent splits between .265 to .280. If he can hit 20 home runs, that would be an outstanding season.

It seems as though Kevonte has been around for quite a while. However, he still is only 22 years old. And he’ll be 22 most of 2018 until late August. He’s still very young, developmentally speaking. Before last year, he had not seen 1500 pitches total in his career. He saw 1700+ pitches in 2017.  So, in one season, his eyes saw more pitches than he had seen in his previous three combined.

This will be his fifth season as a Cub and I think the fact that he can see somewhere close to 1800 pitches in 2018 is only going to benefit his long range development. He should be one of the most exciting bats to watch all season.

If all goes well in 2018, the Cubs might take an extended look at him in the Arizona Fall League as he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December.