State of the Cubs’ MiLB System – Part 2: Strengths and Areas of Concern

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By Todd Johnson

Last week I looked at some big picture ideas in part one of my state of the Cubs minor-league system. Today’s analytical activities involve breaking down what the Cubs are doing well in their minor-league structure and where they need to improve.

Strengths

Young toolsy outfielders, plethora of catchers, long and lean physically projectable Latin starting pitching, no rush, or need, on getting anyone to the majors soon.  

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

There are probably more strengths that I could list but these are the biggest strengths. Sometimes I look at what’s left of the Cubs’ system and I get a little scared. It’s not a fear of failure. I know that not every prospect is going to make it. The anxiety that I have is that when the current minor-league talent is ready in 3 to 4 years, it is nowhere near the talent level of the players they’re going to be replacing. Yes, the Cubs have until 2021 to start producing more position players. But the Cubs don’t have anyone even projected to be even close an Addison Russell or a Javier Baez or Kris Bryant. There is no one that could even be as good as Albert Almora right now. However, that could all change by 2020/21.

To me, Nelson Velasquez holds the most promise. No one else has his power but he’s only played rookie ball. In another year, he could be the one. If he can start producing at full season A ball, then the Cubs will have something. But that’s just one player. The Cubs need several more high value position prospects.

Areas of Concern

Underdeveloped pitchers, stagnation of several prospects at the upper levels in AA and AAA, few top of the rotation starters in the pipeline, lack of overall power

The fact that the Cubs have not produced any MLB starting pitchers that they drafted or signed in the last five years is raising several questions. Are they doing something developmentally wrong? Are the Cubs taking too big of risks with the pitchers they select? Or could it be that the Cubs are not willing to pay big money to sign bigger named arms in the draft?

I’m going to answer the last question because I think the Cubs statistically know that selecting a pitcher is a big gamble and a huge risk over time. In the last two years they have tried to remedy the lack of pitching by over drafting and compensating with two high picks in the 2017 draft. The fruits of those two drafts will be at AA next year and also filling up South Bend and Myrtle Beach’s rotations. Add in several arms that should be coming stateside from the Dominican Summer League, the Cubs could have a ton of pitching coming ashore. Remember the names of Jesus Tejada, Danis Correa, Emilio Ferrebus, and Didier Vargas. Correa and Ferrebus actually helped Mesa win the Arizona Rookie League title.

Next year is going to be another transformative season in the minors. It’s going to be a season in which there’s a lot of movement up-and-down prospect lists. While prospects should be judged on talent and projection, performance is going to have a huge impact on how some people see the Cubs prospects in the post Eloy world. Doing well in low A ball is not a prerequisite for MLB stardom, but it doesn’t hurt.

Usually, a President says in the State of the Union address that the state of the nation is strong. I don’t think I can attach those kind of adjectives to the Cubs’ system right now. I think if I could attach one word it would be rebuilding. Promising would be another good word to throw in, too.

I do feel good about that since the current regime did it once before starting in late 2011.

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NLDS Game 4: Missed Opportunities

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By Todd Johnson

I really like the Cubs chances in game five. They play a little better on the road in the postseason, and with Kyle Hendricks pitching, I feel even better with what “The Professor” can do to the Washington hitters.

As for game four, I don’t really want to revisit what happened. It all came down to one inning. Before the 8th, the Cubs had several opportunities to score and could not take advantage.

The game starts at six tomorrow and I will be primed and ready to watch the Cubs win.

NLDS Game 3: Cubs Sneak In a Win

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By Todd Johnson

I guess the key to winning this series is to get no-hit for 5 or 6 innings, score a couple key runs late, and then turn it over to Wade Davis. It seems to be working.

For the third straight game, the Cubs starting rotation did its job again as Jose Quintana was very impressive and only gave up 1 unearned run in 5.2 IP. He struck out 7 along the way. Max Scherzer was very efficient for the Nationals going 6.1 IP while allowing 1 run on 1 hit. He also had 7 Ks and scattered 3 BBs and a HBP.

You can’t fault the Nationals pitching staff in this one as their bats looked mostly hopeless all day only managing to get their run after a Kyle Schwarber error in the sixth. On the day, they only managed three hits.

The Cubs were able to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth after a Tommy La Stella walk, a John Jay bunt, and an Anthony Rizzo bloop single.

OK, I can breathe fairly well now. Considering the Cubs combined for four errors, it was a sloppy win, but I will take it.

The Cubs have two chances to advance to the NLCS for the third straight year. Tomorrow, Jake Arrieta takes the mound at 4:30 in what I hope will be the clincher.

2017 Cards of the Year Have Several Classics

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By Todd Johnson

There was a lot of stiff competition to make this year’s Top 10 baseball card list. Two cards of the month didn’t make it. Some cards aged well over time. Others did not. I still think I could have argued for five cards to be the top card of the year. In fact, I changed the number one card five times over the past two days for a variety of reasons. As soon as I click publish, I will probably wish I could have changed it.

Honorable Mention

I just like this picture. I took this picture of Joe in Beloit. It was taken just before he eliminated his giant leg kick. Shortly thereafter, he began to hit much better in August.   

10-8

  

At number 10 for the year, Larry Kave took this excellent shot of Justin Steele. In addition to the colors and the action, I really like the sunlight illuminating the top half of the card. Rikk Carlson captured a series of lines and angles in a great picture of DJ Wilson at number 9. The Eugene Emeralds nailed this action shot of pitcher Ben Hecht in a great picture as he warmed up between innings.

7-5

 

Taken off his Instagram account, I just love the colors of Eddy Martinez as he jogs to wherever he is going. Number six is by the Eugene Register Guard and has infielder Jhonny Bethencourt leaping up in the air to grab a throw down to second base from the catcher. Needless to say, the runner was safe. September’s number one picture comes in at number five for the year. I love the color of the lettering on the Emeralds’ Friday night jerseys and the expression on Jose’s face as well as how everything meshes with the woodgrain texture..    

4-2 – Any of these could have been number one.

 

I think the Tennessee Smokies Charcer Burks’ card has aged very well over the year. What I like most about it is the smattering of blue throughout the card. In at number three, Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) nailed this photograph of DJ Wilson flying through the air with the greatest of ease. At number two, this card of Duane Underwood is another card that has aged well and I thought for a while it might be the best picture of the year as I just love the twilight experience in the card as well as how the red of Underwood’s hat matches the piping on the bottom of the card along with the trim on his uniform.    

#1

I hemmed and hawed in my own mind about the qualities of this card and the Underwood card above. I was actually smitten with this Albertos card caught by the Eugene Register Guard for several reasons. First, the action taking place in the cartoon is top notch. Second, the photograph encapsulates both objects in focus and out of focus which I think it adds to its enjoyment. Finally, the fact that this is a picture of Jose Alberto’s wearing Eugene’s throwback uniforms tops it off in my book. To be honest, I think it matters that it’s in a 1986 frame as that allows for the picture to be more of the star of the card then hiding behind the outline features of the card.

Over the next six months, there will be more cards made. Between now and the beginning of the spring training, I always tend to find just as many pictures in the off-season as I do in the regular season from the local newspapers of the prospects as they do write-ups and profiles. I won’t be having any special post for the winter cards, but I will add them to the Facebook account with its own photo album if you would like to see some of them. I will get started on them next weekend as I have about 10-15 pics waiting to be turned into cards.

The Weekly – Tyler Alamo, Baseball America Lists, and a Busy Week Ahead

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Sometimes, the games don’t seem so important.

Cubs Prospect Tyler Alamo was one of those in attendance last week at the shooting in Las Vegas. Tim Huwe (@tim815) first reported on this a couple of days ago. Included in Tim’s article was a link to an interview where Alamo recounts the harrowing events of that night including the loss of his friends.

MiLB News
Felix Pena was DFA’d this week to make room for pitcher Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell and brother of South Bend Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell. Farrell appeared in nine games for the Reds last summer and had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP, all in relief.

At fall instructs, the Cubs prospects are playing sim games but with pitching machines. Although, Koji Uehara, on a rehab assignment, did face a few batters.

The Arizona Fall League begins play on Tuesday. The Mesa Solar Sox have 7 Cubs on the roster: Relievers Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett, starter Alec Mills, catcher Ian Rice, infielders David Bote and Jason Vosler, and outfielder Charcer Burks. Their schedule goes through mid-November. I will try and keep up with their performances every Sunday.

Baseball America Offseason Prospect Lists

Baseball America has been publishing their top 20 prospects in each minor league the past couple of weeks. In the first week, Victor Caratini made it in the Pacific Coast League. And last week, Adbert Alzolay made it for the Carolina League. This week saw a large number of prospects make it for the Midwest League and the Northwest League. The problem was not all the prospects are still with the franchise. In the Midwest League, Isaac Paredes came in at number nine and Dylan Cease at number 11. No current South Bend Cub made the list.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravich
For the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs hit the motherlode. Jose Albertos was ranked number four, Aramis Ademan came in at number eight, and Miguel Amaya was number 16. None of those three selections were surprising. However, at number nine, pitcher Javier Assad was a stunning selection as BA’s Michael Lananna praised Assad’s improving arsenal.

On Thursday, the Arizona League post was published. It’s not surprising that Nelson Velasquez was on the list. However, he was ranked at number 20. He is still a bit raw, but he still does have a lot of upside and room for improvement in his game.

The DSL list should be published this next week. It will be interesting to see if any young Cubs make it.

I think what the six lists do show is that the Cubs are not devoid of talent. There may not be a lot of prospects at the top of each league, but the Cubs do have several players who could be on their way up the lists.

Top 20 Chat Post

There was an interesting question in the Northwest League chat that accompanied the post. A Cub fan from Pasadena California asked about whether the Cubs should be concerned about Brendon Little’s performance in the Northwest League. Here is the response to that question:

Michael Lananna: Mildly concerned, but  don’t press the panic button yet. He’s the same guy. His control was erratic throughout his college career, and that’s still going to remain his biggest hurdle to the next level. This summer was just a small snapshot of that, and I’m sure the Cubs will work with him on his strike throwing going forward. He’s still an exciting left handed arm with power stuff.

Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central

I have three posts scheduled to be published in between playoff recaps over the next five days. The Cards of the Year post should be out Monday. Later in the week, Shohei Otani and his impending free agency gets previewed. Part 2 of the State of the Cubs MiLB System will hit the Internet as well at some point in the next five days.

A Mock Draft Already?
Baseball America also posted their first mock draft for 2018. I was surprised to see that they had the Cubs selecting wiry high school pitcher Cole Wilcox at 24 considering that OF Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama was taken at number 25, I would’ve preferred the Cubs have gone with the college outfielder rather than the high school pitcher. Then again, it was only a mock draft but it is interesting to see where players are falling now and then compare that to a few months from now.

 

NLDS Game Two: Bullpen Blows Up But Cubs Still Have Homefield Advantage

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By Todd Johnson

For 7.5 innings, it was a wonderful game to watch as the Cubs led 3 to 1 heading into the bottom of the eighth. Jon Lester pitched in and out of jams, Anthony Rizzo homered, and the Cubs looked primed to sweep the Nats out of their own building. Then the bullpen threw up all over Nationals Park. Between Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery, the Nationals destroyed two baseballs to score 5 runs in the eighth to take a 6 to 3 victory.

I’m not going to belabor any point of the game other than to say the Cubs had this in hand and lost it. Being a big picture guy, the Cubs head home with a split. Had you asked me on Friday morning, I would’ve taken that outcome before arriving in Washington. It would’ve been nice, though, to sweep in Washington as the Cubs and Cub fans have to feel like they let one get away.

I hope that doesn’t happen again. I am not into this losing thing.

I will be back in the morning with “The Weekly.”

 

NLDS Game One: Precision, Patience, and Destroying Some Narratives

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By Todd Johnson

Kyle Hendricks was the man.

Last night, for five innings, the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg was the man. He looked like the best pitcher on the planet with 8 Ks and he had not allowed a hit when the sixth inning rolled around. After Javy Baez reached on an error, the Cubs capitalized two batters later when Kris Bryant got the Cubs’ first hit of the night to drive in Baez from second. Strasburg hung a breaker on a two strike count and the Bryant made him pay. Otherwise, Strasburg was near perfect.

The Cubs tacked on a second run on a hit by Rizzo, who also added another RBI in the 8th.

The star of the night for the Cubs was Kyle Hendricks. He kept the Cubs in the game with 7 innings of two hit ball. Hendricks used 6 Ks and a double play to shut out the Nats. Every pitch had a lot of movement and he moved the ball around the zone. In the post-game press conference, Hendricks complimented catcher Willson Contreras about how the two were on the same page in executing the gameplan for each hitter.

Carl Edwards struck out two in the eighth in relief and Wade Davis was Wade Davis in the ninth to get the save.

What I liked most about last night’s victory was that it smashed some narratives.
1. Cubs can’t hit good pitching. They beat the second best right handed starter in the NL  by waiting him out and capitalizing on his only mistake.
2. Joe won’t let Kyle Hendricks go deep in the playoffs. Hendricks went seven and looked like he could go nine as he looked so relaxed. He only threw 106 pitches and I liked that Joe let him go that long.
3. Kris Bryant is not clutch. Yeah, his hit was everything and his baserunning was even better than his hitting to get in scoring position for Rizzo to drive him in.

I can’t wait for game two at 4:30 Saturday afternoon. Jon Lester will be dueling Gio Gonzalez. Look for Albert Almora to play a key role in the game.