By Todd Johnson
The second half of the minor-league season begins today. With Myrtle Beach already in the playoffs, Tennessee and South Bend will both be trying to get in after barely missing in the first half. Both of those teams will have to improve and infusion of talent could help. For the Iowa Cubs, they are going to need a lot to go right just to get back to .500. But then again, their main gig is to have players developed and ready to play in Chicago.
Iowa: 31-41 – Record is cumulative for the year (last place in Northern Division)
This team needs some starting pitching. They ranked 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Starter Zach Hedges joined Iowa a week ago, but they need one more arm in the rotation and maybe one or two in the pen. Dave Berg is turning out to be a pleasant surprise at this level. When it comes to hitting, who knew that Jake Hannemann would be profoundly better at AAA than at AA. He’s hitting .311 in 16 games. Expect to see Jen-Ho Tseng make it to Iowa after the All-Star Break. I don’t expect to see any promotions to Chicago except a bullpen arm like Zac Rosscup or Jack Leathersich.
Key Hitting Prospect: Victor Caratini – His bat has nothing left to accomplish in Iowa. It is all about his glove and arm the rest of the year.
Key Pitching Prospect: Jack Leathersich – After missing a year and a half, he looks to be in shape and ready to help out at the MLB level. In 6 June appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and has struck out 13 in 7.1 IP while opponents are only hitting .154 against him.
Tennessee: 36-33 First Half – 5.5 GB
This team had a nice stretch in May and then fell apart the past two weeks. They will be fine. I wonder how long Burks and Vosler stay at this level? They have been outstanding hitters along with Andrew Ely. Ian Rice has been streaky as has David Bote. But the key to their season is the bullpen. If Ryan McNeil gets it figured out, look out because Torrez and Pugliese have given up nothing in front of him all year and David Garner was having a good June. Dillon Maples and his MLB ready curveball have been excellent so far. Also, I am hoping that Jake Stinnett makes it back to pitch this year. If he does not, look for some starter from Myrtle Beach to move up to Tennessee soon.
Eloy Jimenez is coming…it is not a question of if, but when. He is being pitched around quite a bit in the Carolina League. I don’t expect this promotion to take long, though. When he does come, his bat will really change the lineup for those in front of him, and those behind, especially Jason Vosler.
Key Pitching Prospect: Trevor Clifton – Just 22, Clifton has gone a level a year. He had a good April and May and slumped a little in June. He should be back to normal after the break. He has been a stud in July and August the past two summers.
Key Hitting Prospect: Eloy – He better be.
Myrtle Beach: 43-27 First Half; Southern Division Champions
They won 20 out of 24 to close out the first half. All parts of the team clicked to make it happen – starting pitching, hitting, defense, and the bullpen. In the second half, Manager Buddy Bailey will surely have some roles to figure out as some players head to Tennessee and others come in from South Bend and the draft. Adbert Alzolay made a case to be promoted as he went deep into games most every night. It should be interesting to see who is on this roster come the first of July. Even then, this team will have plenty of starting pitching and a shut down bullpen to possibly win the second half title as well.
Key Hitting Prospect – Trent Giambrone – He is coming on strong. After barely hitting .220 in the first half, he is hitting almost .300 in June
Key Pitching Prospect – Thomas Hatch – He has yet to give up a run this month and looks to have his command and control down perfectly.
South Bend: 39-30 First Half – 1.5 GB of a Wild Card Spot
They were blowing the doors of teams in May and then they hit a wall. The 18-20 year-old hitters just looked tired at the end of late May and they began slumping at the worst possible time. Wladimir Galindo broke his leg and some key bullpen arms were promoted, not to mention Dylan Cease’s ankle injury. Still, there’s a lot of hope for the second half. They’re a very young team but they can hit. Zack Short seems an old man at 21. Duncan Robinson was a nice first half surprise along with Short, Vimael Machin, and Albert Mineo. I think several college picks could arrive to help the bullpen and to offset any losses for position players – remember the name Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State.
Key Hitting Prospect: Isaac Paredes – He is already hitting over .300 for June. It took a while, but I think he is beginning to live up to the faith the Cubs brass had in him skipping Eugene.
Key Pitching Prospect: Dylan Cease – He really needs innings and developing efficiency is the key to him strengthening that arm. Right now, he has 38.1 IP. He has about 13-14 starts left. Hopefully, he can get over 100 IP in this year. That would be great!
Overall, I don’t see a lot of promotions taking place this month. Maybe one starting pitcher/reliever per team and maybe one position player as well. I think most of the movement is going to come with draft picks. As a result, the lower levels will have the most impact, specifically South Bend and Eugene.
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.
By Todd Johnson
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.
By Todd Johnson
Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.
I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.
I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.
I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.
Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.
10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.
9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.
8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.
7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!
6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.
5. Trevor Clifton – SP
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.
4. Tom Hatch – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.
2. Dylan Cease – SP
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.
1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.
By Todd Johnson
April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.
Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.
I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.
Let’s get right to this month’s list…
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)
For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.
The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.
By Todd Johnson
The trade talk for the Cubs right now surrounds the acquisition of a starting pitcher, preferably one who is signed beyond this year. Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article yesterday that listed some possible candidates who might be available this summer. Names included Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer and every Tampa Ray known to man. The price will be steep if the Cubs decide to go that route.
On the other hand, I was watching/listening to the Myrtle Beach game last night and I started to work on a post for next week. My monthly minor league All-Star team for May has some intriguing options. Usually, for a starting pitcher to be considered to make the team, the ERA is most often near or below three. This month four players who met that standard would not make the team. Zach Hedges is at 3.23, Adbert Alzolay, 2.91, Seth Frankoff, 2.76, and Jen-Ho Tsen, 2.70.
Granted, the month is not over. With six days to go, all of the pitchers listed in this post have one start left. So, it is technically still in a state of flux. That being said, today’s six pack shows just how deep and rich the Cubs starting pitching has been this month at AA Tennessee and high A Myrtle Beach.
Here are the six leading candidates to make Cubs Central’s May All-Star Team. They also could be considered to move up a level here in the next month around the draft. None of them should come as a surprise if you have been reading as I have written about all of them but one this month.
Oscar de la Cruz 2.63 ERA
What impresses me most is that he works fast. He gets in a rhythm and just throws. He doesn’t necessarily rely on the strikeout, but he can if needed. Last night he struck out ten.
Preston Morrison 2.50 ERA
As usual, he had a crappy April and has had three quality starts in May. I wrote about him earlier this week. He gets great movement on all his pitches and he combines that with great strategy to baffle hitters.
Trevor Clifton 1.85 ERA
He might be my favorite pitcher to watch. When he is on, it looks like his arm is made of rubber as to how effortless he throws. He also has the best pickoff move in the organization. It’s a bit of an under reported weapon for him. He is off to his best start as a Cubs prospect.
Bryan Hudson 1.23 ERA
He stayed in EXST to begin the year. He made 2 starts in April and his ERA was 10.13. In May, he’s been a ground ball machine averaging over 10 a game. In four starts, his 1.23 ERA is more indicative of the type of pitcher he’s becoming. The 6’8” lefty is moving up lists this summer. He just keeps gaining more and more confidence.
Justin Steele 1.19 ERA
Good for him! He is the kind of kid you can root for. He is still working on some things, but his stuff this year has been compared to Lester’s. However, he still needs to get his command down. Even though opponents are hitting .250 against him, he’s stranding them on base this year.
Duncan Robinson 0.90 ERA
At the beginning of the month, he was one of the best relievers in the system. Now, the 6’6” righty from Dartmouth has been one of the best starters. He’s gone 13 innings in his two starts and only allowed one run. For the month, he pitched 20 innings combined.I don’t think he is going back to being a reliever. He is the biggest surprise/breakout of the 2017 season.
The next week should be fun to see who makes the All-Star team.
By Todd Johnson
You can thank the rain storms that covered much of the Midwest for me being able to finish this month’s all-star team on schedule. There were no yards to mow, no weeds to pull, and no dogs to walk in the rain. In addition, there were no minor league games except for Myrtle Beach and South Bend on Sunday.
It was a strange month for trying to pick a few spots on the All-Star team. First base was a difficult choice as most of the organization struggled at that position. I wound up going with a player who only played a few games there. When it came to starting pitching, I had a couple players drop off after poor starts in the last week. When it came time to select the hitter of the month, all I had to do was look at only one team who was rained out for the weekend.
I think the May All-Star team will be much different. For one, I think Yasiel Balaguert has started to find his stroke at first base. In the outfield, there will be much more competition as Jake Hannemann, Kevonte Mitchell, and Mark Zagunis all had strong final weeks in April. Trey Martin could return as well. I also think that some of the starting pitching will start to stabilize in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Duncan Robinson will be one pitcher to watch in May as to whether he starts or relieves in South Bend.
So, without further adieu, here is the April All-Star team.
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4