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.
Record: 84-55; 1st Half Eastern Division Champions; Lost in the first round of the playoffs to West Michigan 2-1
2016 was an outstanding year for the South Bend Cubs. They set their second straight attendance record as a Cub affiliate. They also won the first-half Eastern Division title in the Midwest League. And, they had the number one prospect in the league for the second year in a row in Eloy Jimenez.
Once the weather warmed up in May, so did South Bend pitching. Preston Morrison dominated June and July with ERAs under one. Kyle Miller and Casey Bloomquist also had ERAs under 2 in June. It appeared there was nothing that could stop the team at the All-Star break.
Eloy Jimenez went to the Futures Game and came back a star as he hit a three-run home run and had an amazing catch in right field that electrified the fan base back home. In July, Eddy Martinez caught fire and was named the Cubs minor league player of the month.
And then the promotions came.
Gone were Donnie Dewees, Daniels Spingola, Ian Rice, Andrew Ely, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and Preston Morrison. That was a lot of talent to replace and it seem like the Cubs were never the same team after that. Although, Matt Rose, who left at the end of May hitting less than .200, returned to hit over .280 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in August and was named Midwest Player of the Month. For Eloy, he missed a lot of time in the second half of the year playing only 47 games out of 70.
Several other prospects stood out. Catcher PJ Higgins and second baseman Carlos Sepulveda showed that they could handle a bat. Sepulveda hit above .300 for the year while Higgins had the highest on-base percentage over the course of the season. Pitcher Ryan Kellogg also had an outstanding second half with a 1.99 ERA since the end of June.
When the playoffs came, The Cubs struggled to score runs in their two losses and were knocked out by West Michigan in the best of three-game series. It was a disappointing ending, but it was a great season.
The thing that I come away most impressed with is what a great job Manager Jimmy Gonzalez did in turning hitters into ones with patient approaches. We saw it all season long with Eloy, Eddy, PJ Higgins, and Ian Rice’s development. We also saw what a great job pitching coach David Rosario did in developing pitchers with fastball command who can throw strikes down in the zone.
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
Eloy Jimenez – I don’t think I need to explain myself on this one.
Team Cy Young
Preston Morrison – All it took for him to excel in 2016 was moving to the third base side of the river. He did that at the beginning of May, and for the next 90 days, he was the best pitcher in the Cubs system.
Eloy Jimenez – 14 home runs and 81 RBIs ought to do it.
Looking Ahead to 2017
Most of the players from 2016 will head to Myrtle Beach next year. Andruw Monasterio might stay to begin 2017 in South Bend along with some other bench players. Most of the roster in 2017 will be this year’s roster from Eugene. Some key hitters to watch include Wladimir Galindo, Trent Giambrone, Yeiler Peguero, and DJ Wilson. For me, Wilson is an extremely exciting player, and while Galindo has some major power, he is just beginning to tap into it at just 19 years of age.
The strength of next year’s team will be pitching. Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Bailey Clark, Bryan Hudson, Tyson Miller, Pedro Silverio, and Erling Moreno are starting pitchers who could take the mound next year. In addition, relievers Wyatt Short and Dakota Mekkes should arrive with Marc Huberman, Jed Carter, Chad Hockin, Michael Knighton, MT Minacci, and Duncan Robinson.
As of right now, I also think that Tom Hatch, the Cubs third round pick in the 2016 draft, could arrive to begin his Cubs career at South Bend. How long he stays there, is up to his performance. Then again, he might start at Myrtle Beach. He is now at Fall Instructs making his pro debut.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Robert Garcia is not going to hit a lot of home runs. However he will hit for average, he will get on base, and he will score a lot of runs.
While the team did fall short of expectations, they have nothing to hang their head about. They improved quite a bit over the course of a season and now they can get ready for next year.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans won four games in a row and flew into the second place in their division in the Carolina League. The team underwent a massive change in personnel the past month. Nine new players arrived from South Bend to replace players who were either promoted, injured, or traded. Just this week, Zach Hedges was promoted to AA Tennessee. Then on Monday, shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Rashad Crawford were part of the deal for reliever Aroldis Chapman. The players promoted from South Bend are fitting in quite nicely.
A 17 and 15 record may not seem like much, but getting above .500 is. They currently hold a 3 game lead in the wild-card race. And, even though the Pelicans are just one half a game out of first, they are starting to put things together things they did not do in the first half. The first thing changed is hitting. The key to the Pelicans resurgence are the bats of David Bote (.385 in his last ten), Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice, who has been on
The key to the Pelicans resurgence are the bats of David Bote (.385 in his last ten), Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice, who has been on a HR tear at Myrtle Beach since arriving back in June. He has 5 HRs and 13 RBIs in a month. While his average is only .235, he has a .383 OBP and has been a big boost hitting behind Yasiel Balaguert. Torres and Crawford were also having great months before they were traded.
However, I think the biggest key in the batter’s box has been the awakening of first-baseman Yasiel Balaguert. Balaguert has won back to back Carolina League Player of the Week awards. For July, he has 3 HRs, 22 RBIs, an average of .333, and an OBP of .380.
Gone from the Pelicans are Ian Happ and outfielders Trey Martin and Shawon Dunston, and in, starting yesterday, are outfielder Donnie Dewees and infielder Bryant Flete, who both arrived from South Bend yesterday. Pelican fans are going to love Dewees style of play. He hit .282 in South Bend with a .327 OBP, 15 doubles, 3 HRs, and an amazing 12 triples while driving in 54, third on the team. Flete is an outstanding defender who has been home run happy the past two weeks by hitting three. In their debuts last night, Dewees went 2 for 4 while Flete went 3 for 4 with a triple and RBI while scoring 2 runs.
Another big factor in Myrtle Beach’s recent surge is the rebirth of the bullpen. Recent addition Pedro Araujo has been outstanding, except for one outing, since arriving from South Bend. Craig Brooks got off to a rough start and seems to be settling in since his promotion from South Bend. Daury Torrez, Tommy Thorpe, James Pugliese, and closer Ryan McNeil have all been outstanding during the past month.
The strength of this team has always been its starting pitching. Joining the Pelicans will be pitcher Preston Morrison, He adds to an already elite staff led by Trevor Clifton, Erick Leal, Jonathan Martinez, Jake Stinnett, and Jeremy Null. I think Pelicans fans are really going to like Morrison on the mound. He had a 0.79 ERA in June and a 0.49 ERA for July. He has four pitches which he can throw for strikes, but I think the movement he gets on his pitches is a little like Jake Stinnett, except Morrison has much better control.
Even though last year’s Pelicans team won the title, the strength was always in their starting pitching and defense. This year’s team as it’s now constructed going forward, it’s a little bit more offensive, in a good way. With all the recent additions from South Bend, this team is much deeper. That gives manager Buddy Bailey more options late in games on the mound, and at the plate.
The next six weeks are going to be very exciting for this club as they try to defend the Mills Cup. With all the position changes, bullpen help, and stable starting pitching, they should be able to get it done.
At the beginning of the minor league season, I predicted who I thought would breakout in the first half. I did two separate posts and broke them down by pitchers and hitters. And like always, I hit on some, and I missed on others. Then there are some I never saw coming. I think seeing a player break out in the minors is one of the coolest parts about covering the minors.
For the most part, players who breakout do so at the lower levels of the minors. To do so, their stats and performance have to be markedly better than previous seasons. I like what Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini did at Tennessee in the first half. However, those are not breakout performances, just continual growth. I love to see that, too.
The Hits: Craig Brooks, Trevor Clifton, Casey Bloomquist, and Scott Effross
Usually, you can see a breakout performance coming during the tail end of a season or in spring training. This belief holds true for all three pitchers. Craig Brooks and Scott Effross were dominant in the spring. While Effross had a bad April, he has been pretty near unhittable since the first of May. His ERA is under 0.50 since.
While Trevor Clifton was very good the last six weeks of 2015, he’s been near dominant this season. In his 11 appearances, he gave up 3 ERs in his first start of the year and has given up 2 ERs 5 times, 1 ER once, and 0 ERs 4 times. That’s some pretty consistent pitching.
Right now Casey Bloomquist is transitioning to a starter role. In May, he was dominant in relief with a 1.93 ERA. As a starter in June, he’s made 2 starts with 9 IP, 2 ERs, and struck out 7 while walking 1. I really love his bulldog mentality on the mound.
To Be Determined: Ryan Kellogg, James Norwood, Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson
For Cease and Hudson, they never made it to South Bend in late May like I envisioned. Both Norwood and Kellogg have been up and down this season. I can see both having excellent months later this summer.
The Misses: Daniel Lewis, Dillon Maples, Tommy Thorpe
For Daniel Lewis, he was held back in extended spring training followed by an inauspicious debut in Myrtle Beach. I still see him getting it together later this year. Dillon Maples didn’t make it out of an inning before he was injured. He recently came back. Take away one 2/3 of an inning outing and he has a 2.50 ERA. Thorpe is still a valuable part of the organization as a left handed reliever. He hasn’t had a terrible season, but it hasn’t been great either.
The Hits: Eloy Jimenez and Carlos Sepulveda
If you don’t know what Eloy has been up to, you have been living under a rock. He’s everything Cub fans could hope for in a 19 year old power hitting outfielder. What I have really enjoyed this season is his pitch recognition skills. He rarely gets fooled even if he does strike out a lot.
For Carlos Sepulveda, he spent most of April and May on the DL. He’s hitting .372 in June and has been healthy since the end of May. His ascendence allowed for Andrew Ely to go to Myrtle Beach.
To Be Determined: PJ Higgins and Ian Happ
I like what both of these hitters have done this year. However, I think they can do better. Higgins has been hitting well of late and Happ went three for four Tuesday night. I think in July, these two will tear it up in the .300 range. And perhaps, I think we’ll see a little more power.
The Misses: Matt Rose
I really feel for Matt Rose. Great kid, good sense of humor, and he has great balance in his swing with power. He was fourth on South Bend in homeruns for two months, but his batting average was not good. For April it seems as though everything he hit went right to somebody. Every time he hit the ball, he hit it hard. In fact, his BABIP for 2016 is .193, that’s some pretty bad luck. I hope he gets his batting average back together at Eugene because he does have a lot of potential, especially when it comes to power.
The Who Has Broken Out or The I Didn’t See Them Coming List
Pitchers: Zach Hedges, Paul Blackburn, and Preston Morrison
It seems like every time I went to a South Bend Cubs game last year, I got to see Zach Hedges. On a hot night in Burlington, Iowa, I saw him battle the heat and humidity for 5 innings with a masterful pitching performance before the humidity got to him in the sixth. I loved his slider then, and I love it now. What has happened since is Hedges has developed his muscle strength, gained a few pounds, and gained a couple miles an hour on his fastball.His slider is still a plus pitch. He tends to pitch to contact more which allows him to pitch deep into games. It is nothing to look at the box score see that he pitched in to the seventh or eighth inning.
For Paul Blackburn nobody expected him to have an ERA of 0.29 for the month of April. Like Hedges, Blackburn pitches mainly to contact. He’s had such masterful command for most of the year that even into May. It was expected that he could pitch 6 or 7 innings and not give up a run, or even one. He’s leveled off a bit since. But it will be interesting to see what he does in the second half of the year.Will it be more like the past year from when he came off the DL at Myrtle Beach, or will it be more like his previous years where his ERA hovered a little bit above three?
For two months, Preston Morrison has quietly gone about his job at South Bend. He did not get off to a good start in April with a 6.11 ERA. But since, he has been sensational. In May, things quieted down for him. He had a 2.66 ERA while striking out 23 in 23.1 innings. In June, he could be Pitcher of the Month if he continues on his current trend. He has a 1.47 ERA in 3 starts. On Thursday night, he struck out 9 helping the Cubs maintain a 1 game lead in the playoff race.
Hitters: Ian Rice, Andrew Ely, Daniel Spingola
Ian Rice is the breakout hitter of the first half. Despite missing most of April, he had a monster May hitting .378 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs. June’s been a little rougher going, but he’s still at .321 for the year. He also has rocketed four more homers in 15 games this month. His bat has returned to normal the last four games hitting .333.
For Ely and Spingola, both hit for high averages (.295 and .309, respectively) at South Bend before being promoted to Myrtle Beach. Both are singles hitters who also have high OBPs, .368 and .377.
It has been quite an exciting first half many prospects. I will be back early next week to profile who I think will be some breakout prospects in the second half. Most of them will be in the lower levels, but I think you will be surprised with a couple of picks in Myrtle Beach and South Bend!
In a fury of tweets, several promotions and reassignments took place in the Cubs’ system in just a few minutes. It was a lot to take in so quickly. First, here are the new homes of several Cubs prospects.
To Myrtle Beach
To South Bend
I was surprised to see so many promotions at this point in the month. I think in the next two weeks they’re going to be plenty of others who get the call to the next level. I was taken aback at first to see Jeimer Candelario get the call AAA. He did not have the best April after a scorching spring training, but his May was much better. I think with him, the Cubs might have been asking him to change his approach a little. I think Candelario’s May statline is more in line with his career average (.264). Considering what he did in Arizona this spring, it took a while for him to accumulate 400 at bats at AA. It would not surprise me to see him have a blistering June and July in Iowa.
For me, I think Zagunis is getting promoted at the right time. His ability to command the zone at AA points to him moving a little bit faster than I thought he would. I thought for sure that Zagunis would be in Tennessee all year. In May, he was very impressive showing the approach the Cubs covet. He hit .333 with a .444 OBP (!!!!) and he hit 3 HRs with 11 RBIs. Development boxes checked, checked, and checked. If he can make it a AA, he’s not gonna have much of a problem at AAA Iowa. Once he gets his 500-600 AAA at bats, he will be ready for Chicago.
Both Daniel Lockhart and Trey Martin have not had the best seasons, but they both have made recent offensive adjustments to improve their games over the past month. They are both considered defensive first players. Martin is a two-time Gold Glove winner in the minors and Lockhart, along with Martin, has been a key defensive cog on two championship teams at Myrtle Beach and Kane County.
Andrew Ely has been the leadoff catalyst for the first place South Bend Cubs. He has played a mixture of 2B, SS, and 3B this season. He is an outstanding defender and his bat played very well as he was named a Midwest League All-Star on Monday. What makes Ely’s promotion easier is the emergence of a healthy Carlos Sepulveda. David Bote, who had been filling in at Iowa, goes back with his cohort to Myrtle Beach. He has the ability to hit for power and play three positions in the infield.
There were a couple surprises (I don’t want to call them snubs as maybe there is something on their development program they haven’t checked off yet). I thought for sure that when I saw Candelario that Jason Vosler would take his place at Tennessee. That didn’t happen even though Vosler leads the Pelicans in hitting.
Neither Eloy Jimenez nor Donnie Dewees were promoted. There’s not much either has left to prove at South Bend. I think Jimenez might need to lower his strikeout rate. Dewees hit .223 in May but is hitting .296 in June and seems to have righted the ship. I think he hits much better in the leadoff spot (.353) than he does third (.257), where he is now.
I think these promotions are very interesting because they are all position players. When it comes to pitching prospects, they should come very, very soon. Some names we could hear in the next week include Paul Blackburn, Brad Markey, Trevor Clifton, Zach Hedges, Preston Morrison, and Ryan Kellogg.
When it comes to picking the All-Star team each month, it’s usually clear and dry. The players pretty much decide it for you. Whether it is average, home runs, runs batted in, earned run average, or strikeout, all I have to do is look at their splits for the month and I am done. For hitters this month, that was the case. Even the hitter of the month was a no brainer. However, when it came to pitching, I had to make some tough choices for both starters and relievers.
I take it as a good thing that the choices were hard this month. That means there is a lot of good pitching taking place in the Cub system. Usually, I like the starting pitchers on the All-Star team to have an ERA under 3. That was easy this month as there were six. Paul Blackburn just missed out at 3.00. For relievers, I like them to be under 2.00 for their ERA. And closers take precedence. This month, there were so many studly performances that I included 11 relievers on the team. They were two others who came close in Ryan McNeil and Casey Bloomquist. I am sure than next month that James Farris will return as well. I may have to readjust my standards a little bit to keep it down to six.
The pitcher of the month was the hardest to choose. Was an ERA difference of .005 going to decide it? It came down to Carson Sands of South Bend (1.24 ERA) and Trevor Clifton of Myrtle Beach (1.29). Had it not been a short start of 1.2 innings and 5 ER, Zach Hedges would have had a 1.00 ERA and been in the discussion. So, I had to do to my due diligence.
Additional stats like WHIP, BBs, Ks, and some advanced stats over Fangraphs, like BABIP and FIP, all came into play. However, it was old fashioned stats that swayed my decision. One pitcher walked half of what the other player did and struck out twice as many hitters. I like that both pitchers are in the lower levels and will be in the hunt for this award again the next couple of years. In fact, I think both are just beginning their breakout seasons.
Without further adieu, here is this month’s Cubs MiLB Monthly All-Star Team.
I think several players who’ve been in a bit of a slump will be back next month including Donnie Dewees, Billy McKinney, and Chesny Young. With Pierce Johnson, Jen-Ho Tseng and Dallas Beeler now throwing, the starting pitching could change drastically, especially at Iowa.
I will have a first half All-Star Team on the 23rd and the regular monthly one on July 1. They should be quite different.
The June All-Star Team will be much more of a challenge as 4 more teams enter the fray in Eugene, Arizona, and two Dominican teams (who start Saturday). Add in some draft picks into the minor league system and it will be a whole new ballgame.
This might have been the fastest week of the year. Between the rainouts, school events, mowing, and more mowing, I was not sure if I was coming or going. I did get to see Myrtle Beach play several times when they were on MiLB.TV. It was fun watching their pitchers work, especially Clifton, Null, and Stinnett. There were also several bats who caught on fire this week, some of them are the top prospects in the system.
Despite not having a good week (3-3), the South Bend Cubs moved into first place. Eloy Jimenez hit 3 HRs, all on the road. Andrew Ely and Matt Rose added to the power display Friday and Saturday. At Iowa, the starting pitching, which once seemed stabilized, now is not. Conversely, Myrtle Beach continues to pitch well, but the hitting is starting to come around. Gleyber Torres is now at .255, after his average was a scant .179 three weeks ago. Tennessee, after two weeks at 1-4, now are showing some signs of life as Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini are on rolls. On the other hand, Duane Underwood is still struggling since coming off the DL.
On Saturday night, a lot of fireworks took place as Andrew Ely went for 4-5 with a HR and 4 RBIs. Jeimer Candelario went nuts with a grand slam and 7 RBIs. Candelario went 9/24 (.375) on the week with 1 HR and 9 RBIs on the week while Ely went 12/26 (.462) with 2 HR and 7 RBIs.
Arizona and Eugene are now less than a month away from opening day. Add in the fact that the draft is less than three weeks from beginning, the season is moving along at breakneck speed.
Record: 18-22; 6.0 GB
Last Ten: 3-7
Weekly: 0-6, lost 6 in a row
Record: 20 – 22; 5 GB
Last Ten: 5-5
Record: 23-18; 5.5 GB
Last Ten: 7-3
Record: 24 – 16; +1.0 GB
Last Ten: 6-4
Extended Spring Training
Dylan Cease had a fabulous start Monday going 4 IP with 5 Ks. Aramis Ademan, Isaac Paredes, Jonathan Sierra, and Jonathan Perlaza (all 2015 IFAs) all had big weeks at the plate. Bryan Hudson and one of my favorite prospects, Erling Moreno, also had good starts this week.
Players of the Week
Hitter of the Week – Andrew Ely – South Bend.
I thought for sure this was going to be Eloy Jimenez who went 11/27 (407) with 3 HRs and 5 RBIs. But Ely out did him while hitting leadoff for the Cubs. Ely saw his average rise from .282 to .327 on the week.
Starting Pitcher of the Week – Trevor Clifton – Myrtle Beach
This was a tough choice but Trevor did not allow a run in 5.1 innings while striking out 7 and lowering his ERA to 2.62 on the year and 1.10 for the month. Runner up was Rob Zastryzny who went 7.2 innings with 2 ERs and 8 Ks.
Reliever of the Week – James Norwood – South Bend
Since mid-April, he’s been quietly going about his business. Now he’s racking up some saves, 5 in his last five outings. I really like his fastball, which sits at 95-96, His secondary pitches still need some work. Runner up – James Farris had been on a roll until a blown save on Friday night.
Team of the Week – Myrtle Beach Pelicans
If this team ever gets to hitting, they could really take off. Now that Salem’s Andrew Benintendi has been promoted, the Pelicans could have a chance to catch Salem in the playoff chase.
Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
A series preview with the Cardinals
The Six Pack Peaks at the Phillies Series
And maybe some draft stuff, maybe