By Todd Johnson
This week’s mailbag has just one question and it’s a doozy.
Shawn Cline: Is South Bend going to be stacked at pitcher next year?
By the time the 2018 minor league season begins, I could answer this question four or five different ways. There are a myriad of combinations of pitchers who could start at South Bend in 2018. Just off the top of my head, I counted 13 possible arms who could take the bump every sixth day. Not all of the 13 are going to start the year at South Bend. Some could find their way to Myrtle Beach to begin 2018.
So, Shawn, the simple answer to your question is yes.
The complicated answer would be that I have no idea which six will make the opening day roster.
The Cubs have targeted pitching in the last two drafts and the last two international free-agent signing periods, especially in the Mexican market. The dividends of those investments will begin to come to fruition at South Bend. In 2017, Duncan Robinson and Michael Rucker were the first wave of arms to breakout and both will be at AA Tennessee next year along with 2016 third round pick Thomas Hatch.
As for South Bend, here are 13 pitchers who could wind up in the rotation.
Alex Lange, Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, Jesus Camargo, Brendon Little, Cory Abbott, Erich Uelmen, Bailey Clark, Rollie Lacy, Keegan Thompson, Enrique de los Rios, Matt Swarmer, and Carson Sands.
The starting rotation for South Bend will be determined in spring training. Some of the arms could skip South Bend and wind up in Myrtle Beach to begin the year. Alex Lange and Jesus Camargo would be the two most likely selections based on their age and experience.
While having Albertos skip South Bend would be interesting, he is going to be just 19 years old next year and there’s no rush to move him up the system. He needs to refine his curve and basically get his work in. He needs to throw close to 100 innings after missing most of 2016. Whether he does that at South Bend or Myrtle Beach, I don’t care. But either way, it will be riveting.
The same is true for Javier Assad, who could be one arm at South Bend to really break out. I really like Assad a lot. Out of all the pitchers I watched at Eugene last summer, he improved the most in his arsenal and command. Now 20, he struck out 72 in 66 IP. He has a nice live mid 90s fastball and a good curve. If he commands his fastball down in the zone, he misses a lot of bats. He struck out 9 batters three times in short season ball where pitch limits are just 70-75 pitches. That is extremely impressive.
Top 2017 draft pick Brendon Little should be in South Bend most of the year as he works on his command and control.
While Albertos, Assad, and Camargo pitched well in full extended starts last year at Eugene, the one player who I am going to be fascinated with this year is the Cubs 2017 second round pick Cory Abbott. I was impressed with him last year as it pertained to his physical presence on the mound along with his actual talent and demeanor. He made five starts for Eugene, never throwing more than 3 innings and he exceeded 50 pitches only once.
While Little and Alex Lange got all the headlines from the draft, Abbott is an under the radar type who grew by leaps and bounds the last two years thanks in part to an uptick in his velocity and a slider that he modeled after Noah Syndergaard, his idol.
Fangraphs said the following about Abbott’s potential just last week:
Abbott has terrific glove-side control of his average slider and fastball, and can loop a 12-6 curveball into the zone for strikes. He’s not a great athlete but repeats his delivery well and could have plus command and control at peak. If he does — and he could move quickly — he’ll be a No. 4/5 starter.
Another possible breakout pitcher who did not get much time in Eugene in 2017 is Erich Uelmen. Uelmen was the Cubs fourth round pick out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After his selection, he got in 17.2 innings of work with a 2.04 ERA and 23 Ks. He was just used in relief. Next year, his role could change.
Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen also liked him. Longenhagen said:
The club’s 2017 fourth-rounder out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Uelmen’s college stats are remarkable. He allowed just three home runs in 212 career innings at Cal Poly and struck out a batter per inning as a junior there, just as he did the prior summer on Cape Cod. He was up to 95 on the Cape but pitched more in the low 90s as a junior. His delivery is odd but effective. Uelmen is basically a side-armer, but has a shorter, quicker arm stroke than most of his low-slotted peers. It creates deception/extension which, along with his fastball’s significant arm-side movement, makes the fastball effective despite middling velocity. He also has an average slider, which he locates consistently to his glove side, and feel for creating movement on his changeup but not for locating it. There’s a chance Uelmen ends up with a starter’s repertoire and command. Ultimately, the very thing that has many skeptical about his chances of remaining a starter — his delivery — is precisely (because of its deception) what might allow him to be one.
Keegan Thompson out of Auburn is a third pitcher who I think will do extremely well at South Bend. He missed all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and came back last year and was the Cubs third round pick. He pitched well in his debut in Eugene (mostly in relief) and he should come back stronger from the surgery than he did in 2017.
One of my own personal favorites from this list is Bailey Clark. Drafted out of Duke in 2016, Clark debuted that summer for Eugene but returned to school to finish his degree that fall. Due to finishing his degree and some nagging injuries and an inability to weight train, Clark came to camp late in the the spring. He pitched well in Eugene, especially in August where he had a 1.69 ERA in 3 starts. This offseason, Clark is injury free, improving his strength and his velocity should be back in the mid 90s when spring training rolls around. As a result, he could be either at South Bend or Myrtle Beach, depending on his camp.
So, here are my six to start the year for South Bend: Albertos, Assad, Little, Abbott, Thompson, and Clark or Uelmen. It’s still extremely hard to call this some 3 1/2 months away. However, I think Lange will go up and start at Myrtle Beach and Camargo and his plus changeup will be there, too.
I didn’t even get to the relievers in this post but here are three names to watch for out of the pen: Ricky Tyler Thomas, Jake Steffens, and Ben Hecht.
I am pretty geeked to see all of these guys throw next year. It should be very interesting to see who goes to what affiliate to begin the year and what their roles will be.
Next week’s mailbag will be just one question again. I will be comparing and contrasting the system now to 2011, just before Theo took over. That has brought back some ghosts.
By Todd Johnson
Today’s post concludes the 7 Series. While I cannot include every prospect in every affiliate review, I can add an extra post that discusses 7 players I think will take off in 2018. Some names will be very familiar. Others may not be household names as Cubs prospects. Many of their seasons were truncated because of either injury or just being drafted.
Austin Upshaw – His time at South Bend was brief but impactful. He ended the season in a hail of batted balls as he hit .290 in 52 games at South Bend. The 13th round pick out of Kennesaw State was my favorite in-person interview of the year and I really like what he can do at the plate. He shows a solid knowledge of the strike zone. While he only hit 2 HRs for South Bend, I would not be surprised to see those numbers increase as he moves up the system. He played 1B, 2B, and 3B, but his bat is best suited to 2B. He should be at Myrtle Beach to begin next year.
Scott Effross – Since being drafted out of Indiana in 2015, his career has been steady but slow going. This year, however, Effross displayed some potential in spurts. In both relief and starting roles, he grew into something of a possible piece for the future. His ERA dropped every month as his control increased. In the second half, he had 44 Ks in 20.1 IP with a 2.03 ERA. He will begin 2018 at AA Tennessee
Vimael Machin – Now 24, Machin went from what appeared to be an organizational guy into a legitimate prospect. He can play all 4 infield positions and he can definitely handle a stick. He did it at both South Bend and Myrtle Beach this season. For the season, he hit .303 with 11 HRs and an OBP of .360 while displaying a knack for key hits. He should begin 2018 at Tennessee.
Bailey Clark – At times in 2017, he was magical. And at other times, he was frustrating to watch. The 2016 draft pick finished up his degree at Duke in the offseason and arrived late in spring training. As a result, he was playing catch up, especially when it came to conditioning. I expect that he will be much better in 2018, especially if he comes to camp in great shape. He did strike out 44 in 44.2 IP at Eugene in 2017 but he also walked 28 leading to an unsustainable 1.63 WHIP. As the season went on, he got better. In 3 August starts at Eugene, he had a 1.69 ERA before he was promoted and thrown into a pennant race at South Bend. If all goes well this offseason, you should see him throwing 95-ish from the get go in the spring.
Erick Leal – In 2016, the 6’3 righty had an outstanding season at Myrtle Beach. He had a 3.23 ERA in 19 games for the Pelicans. His fastball was sitting 91-93 most nights and he threw strikes. I was saddened to hear last spring that he would miss all of 2017 due to injury. I don’t know if he will be limited in 2018, but he is still only 22 despite being around for what seems like forever. I like forward to seeing what his role will be in 2018 coming off a missing year.
Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate. At 6’2”, he’s a bit huge for a second baseman, but that’s OK. Even we hit .131 in July, his approach was excellent, balls were just not dropping. In August, he hit .323 with a .371 OBP that is more indicative of his eye at the plate. He should start at South Bend to begin the year. I would like to see him get some work in at 1B in addition to his normal second.
Wladimir Galindo – He’s just 20. And at that age, he is one of the top 3 power hitters in the Cubs MiLB system and maybe my favorite hitter. This past year, he played at South Bend and displayed an ability to hit for average that he had not shown before. A broken ankle/leg ended his season early. Before it ended after 44 games, he was hitting .290 with 4 HRs and a .350 OBP. He will be 21 when 2018 begins and he should be at Myrtle Beach. What I look forward to most is seeing if he stays healthy what kind of numbers he can put up in a full season.
Bonus – Erling Moreno – For the first time in his short Cubs career, he was relatively healthy and finished a season on an active roster. I am not worried about his stats right now just his ability to get in innings and throw his plus curve for strikes.
By Todd Johnson
What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.
Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.
While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.
As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young
By Todd Johnson
With just a little over a week to go, two teams are still in the playoff hunt. Myrtle Beach is already in but Eugene has a slight two game lead over Boise for a wild-card spot and Mesa is one game out of first after winning five in a row. Eugene’s final game is on Labor Day while Mesa’s is next Saturday.
Two players I was most impressed with this week were reliever Jhon Romero, now at South Bend, and Jesus Tejada of DSL 2. Romero throws a mid 90s fastball with a 12 to 6 curve that has a sharp downward break. He’s been at South Bend for the past couple weeks and has been dominating. This week, Tejada pitched a seven inning no-hitter for DSL 2. He also struck out nine in the game after having striking out ten in his previous start. He’s a certain lock for this month’s All-Star team and he could be the August pitcher of the month.
In addition, it looks like Joe Martarano has dropped his high leg kick in favor or something much quieter and he is taking off hitting .344 in his last ten games. Miguel Amaya is hitting over .300 this month while Jonathan Sierra is raking at a .290+ clip and recent draft pick is hitting .259 with 4 HRs in August.
Bailey Clark made his way to South Bend and will hopefully get 2 starts in this year as a South Bend Cub. Reliever Manuel Rodriguez arrived before him from Eugene and already has a save. Pitcher Alex Lange was transferred back to Mesa as he is at 9.1 innings of his 10 inning limit this year. Pitchers Matt Swarmer and Tommy Thorpe continued their tour around the organization this week. On Friday night, they both pitched for Tennessee.
Carlos Sepulveda – After missing most of the year, Sepulveda went three for four on Friday night and will likely be back to help Myrtle Beach go for its third straight Mills Cup Championship.
Will Remillard – He went 5 for 7 (.714) in his return at Eugene this week. He also threw out a baserunner by a good 10 feet at third base. It’s so nice to see him back and I wonder if he’s going to get a sneak peek at another level this week, even if it is just for a couple of games.
Oscar de la Cruz – After making an appearance at Mesa last week, Oscar returned to Myrtle Beach to go just a couple of innings. He still looked a bit rusty and still has not let it loose. I don’t know if that’s on purpose, but he doesn’t have the velocity that he did two years ago. His quality pitches are still there, it’s just a matter of him commanding them.
Alec Mills – He made his second start for Mesa this week and looks to be rebounding nicely. I don’t know if he’ll make it back to Iowa this next week or if he’ll stay and help Mesa and their playoff push. It’s likely the Cubs will just keep an eye on him in Mesa.
The August All-Star Team selection post that will come out on Friday is nearing completion. This month’s post will be a little different. Rather than have a prospect in every position, I am going with just whoever had the best month regardless of their position. I should have upwards of five catchers making the All-Star team this month and all would be deserving. It’s going to be quite the different All-Star team. There are some familiar names of prospects who have appeared at one point during this season. There are also a lot of young players who are beginning to figure things out in the lower minor leagues.
This offseason, the profile series will be entitled “Levelling Up.” In the past, the prospect profile updates were called “Making the Jump” and “Next Up.” These will appear once a week. The players to be profiled will only be players moving up a level for 2018. Players that I expect to stay at a level will not be covered.
I am hoping to travel more next summer. I would love to make it down to Tennessee to see a couple of games. As for the Midwest League, my scheduled trips will be to Clinton, Kane County, the Quad Cities, and Cedar Rapids. Although the schedule has not come out yet, it looks like all I can just drive back and forth the day of a game except for Cedar Rapids. However, Kane County might fall on school nights based on this year’s schedule.
Players of the Week
Around the Minors This Week:
Iowa – 3-2; I tend to think when this season is over that the Cubs will be clearing house this winter. Some of the players contracts will just expire while other prospects will be just given their outright release to have an opportunity to play elsewhere. The Cubs did this exact same thing a couple years ago. A lot of the players on the Iowa roster are not long-term Cubs.
Tennessee – 2-5: When it comes to promotions next spring, I think about half this team will make its way to Iowa. There are a few more who could join them depending upon their performance in spring training. Don’t expect all the Smokies to head to Des Moines.
Myrtle Beach – 3-3: Over the past two weeks, the Pelicans won 10 out of 12 at one point looking like the Pelicans of May and June. That’s a good sign heading into the playoffs.
South Bend – 7-0: If not for a six week stretch in late May through early July, they would be the team of the year in the Cubs organization. I don’t know what happened during that stretch but everything stopped working. Over the past month they have come from the bottom of the division to compete for a playoff spot that seemed hopeless after starting the second half so poorly.
Eugene – 5-2: In order to get in the playoffs, their last stretch of the season is all on the road. Luckily for the Emerald, those games are against the teams with the two worst record in the Northwest League. Hopefully, the hitting will come around as it appears the starting pitching has solidified.
Mesa – 5-1: This team struggled all season and in the last two weeks they have turned it on. The nice thing about the Arizona Rookie League as it has two short halves. At 11-11 in the second half, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt with just six days to go. Thanks to some recent draft picks, the starting pitching is decent given the bats a chance. There could even be two DSL pitchers coming up to join them this week. Recent draftee Jeremiah Estrada has thrown 3 scoreless IP with 3 Ks so far.
DSL 1 – 3-3: Final Record 37-33.
DSL 2 – 5-2; Final Record 34-37.
I will have a post out this week about some players from both teams who should be heading north soon.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Technology is pretty cool.
Now that school has started, I don’t get to stay up and watch the Eugene Emeralds every night. Instead, I watch the first couple of innings and I’m asleep by 10 o’clock Central. However, when I get home from school the next day, I can sit down and watch the archived version of the game. I got quite the treat yesterday watching Bailey Clark shut out the Boise Hawks for five innings.
One stat that did show up in the box score was that Clark’s ERA is now under 4. In fact, he has had two excellent starts in a row. Considering consistency is the main thing that he needs to work on, that is hopefully a good sign. While he only struck out three, I was more impressed with things that did not show up in the box score.
1. Weak Contact
While he has been known to throw in the mid 90s, all last night he was in the low 90s with some movement. He also looked to be coming more over-the-top creating more downhill plane on his fastball. As a result, he got high choppers, weak ground balls, and pop ups. In some games for Eugene’s defense, that could be an issue. It was not last night. In addition, most of the fly balls hung up in the air. No one really squared him up all night long. For the evening, he had four ground outs and five fly outs.
2. Getting Out of Jams
In both the second and third innings, he was able to work around two baserunners and avoid the big inning. There have been plenty of times this season where he has struggled with men on base. Last night, his defense helped him out and it never hurts to have Miguel Amaya’s arm throwing out base runners. Still, Clark made the pitches he needed to make for those things to happen. He kept the ball down in the zone and he was able to move it in and out.
I really liked that he had a nice pace in between pitches. He didn’t waste a lot of time. He got the ball, got the sign, and got things going quickly one pitch right after another. He wasn’t rushing, but he did just have a nice steady rhythm which I think kept him loose and kept hitters off balance and did not give them time to think.
4. Tight Breaking Ball
I really liked the tightness of his breaking ball last night. It looked to have a sharp descent from 1 to 7. He didn’t necessarily pitch off the breaking ball, but he used the pitch to effect, almost like a changeup. really liked that he threw more breaking balls than usual. He did catch several hitters napping, but everything worked off his fastball command. I
Consistency is the big thing for him. Monday was his 11th start and he is likely to have two more starts in the regular season. That’s going to put him close to 55 innings on the year. It doesn’t seem like a lot of innings , because it is not. But it is a start.
For the month of August, he has a 1.69 ERA. That includes an outing where he only lasted 1/3 of an ending yet somehow only gave up one run.
I still think we’re really haven’t seen what all he can do. Short season ball is such a small glimpse into the life of a pitcher. There were a lot of things going on with him last year after poor season at Duke and this month he seems to have found a groove which I really like.
I can’t say this about too many arms in the Cub’s system, but I think he has what it takes. I hope that he does, too. I hope to see him develop a lot over the next year by being consistent from outing to outing. I am really looking forward to getting an extended look in person next year when he gets to South Bend.
By Todd Johnson
I don’t think there’s any secret of my admiration for Cubs prospect Bailey Clark. The 2016 5th round pick out of the Duke has been a favorite of mine since he pitched at Eugene last summer. I already wrote about him once this year, and it’s not often that I write about a prospect more than once in the season, let alone a month. But yesterday, his start against Hillsboro made me want to examine the pitching job that he did.
I called his last start frustratingly magical. I don’t have any illuminative adjectives to describe yesterday’s start other than that he pitched extremely well. I know this is going to sound strange, but he scattered four walks across 5 innings while striking out three and allowing just three hits and an unearned run.
I thought it was his most efficient outing when it comes to pitchability. Heading into the fifth inning he had only thrown 50 pitches. He did finish the day with 72 and I think he could’ve gone one more inning if needed. But with a 9 to 1 lead, why push it.
From the beginning, Clark looked to be in command. He did give up a single in the first and had a pickoff attempt go down the first base line, but other than that he was able to get two pop-ups and a fly out against one of the top offenses in the Northwest League in Hillsboro.
The second, third, and fourth innings were pretty inconsequential. He was locating his fastball (low 90s), he was getting his curve across, and he wasn’t wasting any time nibbling on the corners. Aside from a walk in the third and a walk in the fourth, he looked to be around the plate all day long.
In the fifth, he did run into some trouble after giving up a walk, a single, and another walk to load the bases. He did give up an unearned run on a throwing error that would’ve ended the inning. However, he got the next batter to line out and the damage was kept at a minimum.
This is about the fourth different Bailey Clark I’ve seen this year. There was dominant Bailey Clark who struck out nine against Boise and eight against Everett. There was also the wild Bailey to go along with the nibbler Bailey. However, I really liked the Bailey I saw on Sunday a lot.
He didn’t get rattled. He stayed in control. He didn’t begin nibbling or throwing 59 foot curves in the dirt. He looked like a pitcher navigating his way through a lineup – a very good one at that. He looked poised and mature.
I think I can handle this incarnation of Bailey Clark, too.
By Todd Johnson
It has been a busy few days for me. I started getting ready for my real job as a history teacher by doing some long range-planning this week. But I am ready to get back to baseball writing.
I was able to take a few breaks and watch some outstanding pitching performances from Cubs prospects this week. As I mentioned last week, the Cubs farm system has shifted towards being pitching heavy. The past few days have proven that with some serious games thrown across all levels. When I go to pick the monthly prospect All-Star team in less two weeks, these guys will make my job very hard.
Duncan Robinson – In his third start at high A Myrtle Beach, Robinson put his excellent command to good use going 5 IP with 5 Ks while only allowing 1 hit. This was clearly his best start since being promoted. It lowered his ERA for the month to 3.27 and for the year to 2.28.
Manny Rondon – He got off to a rough start to begin 2017. I found it surprising as he was the Northwest League pitcher of the year in 2016. On Monday afternoon, the lefty went 6.2 IP and gave up only a run while striking out three. It was one of his best starts of the year. After a 3.60 ERA in June, things are beginning to look up.
Jose Albertos – At short season Eugene, the young 18-year-old top prospect has put up a 2.70 ERA so far. He has a really good fastball in the mid 90s that he can command most days. His curve is a work in progress. I wish he would use his change more as that could be his most devastating pitch.
Justin Steele – He has quietly put up one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the Cubs’ system in 2017. He credits a new mental focus that includes stir-fry and meditation before every game. His major league type arsenal is looking very good. On Sunday, in a rain shortened game, he only gave up 1 run in 4 innings, which is about the norm for him this year.
Thomas Hatch – In June, the Cubs 2016 third round pick put up a 0.98 ERA. He got roughed up in one start this month but still sports a 3.21 ERA in just July. With improved command of a “new” four seam fastball in his pocket, he has been changing eye levels all summer.
Jen-Ho Tseng – He might have the most underrated story in the Cubs’ system this summer. After a rebirth that made one think of his 2014 summer at Kane County, Tseng hung up a 2.99 ERA at AA Tennessee. Most impressive in his statistics arsenal were his 83 Ks in 90.1 IP. In his second start at AAA Iowa, Tseng went 7 IP with 8 Ks and did not allow a run on Monday night.
Michael Rucker – His transformation has been stunning this year. As a reliever, he was a strikeout machine at South Bend. He was promoted in early June and was doing the same. All he does is attack the zone. It’s a simple plan that he can execute. The 2016 11th round pick out of BYU took over the injured Oscar de la Cruz’s spot in Myrtle Beach’s starting rotation and has never looked back. Check out this line from Monday night – 8 IP, 10 Ks, 2 hits, and 0 runs.
Preston Morrison – He’s had an up and down year. After a 1.88 ERA in May, it ballooned to 6 in June, and he is killing it in July with a 1.50 ERA. I enjoyed watching him last year at South Bend where he used what I call a “whiffle ball repertoire” to confound hitters. His last two starts saw him go 6 IP apiece and only give up 1 run in each.
Adbert Alzolay – He was promoted from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee two weeks ago. He proceeded to strike out ten in his five inning AA debut. So far, he has a 2.70 ERA in two AA starts. With a fastball that he can maintain deep into games, he bears a lot of watching.
Jesus Camargo – He comes across as a sneaky pitcher who I love to watch pitch. Currently at short season Eugene, he is having a good season after missing all of 2016. He has upper 80s/low 90s heat with a mid 70s curve and a changeup that is just plain filthy and that he can add and subtract mph. It is really a devastating pitch. The 21-year-old righty has a 1.73 ERA in six appearances and has struck out 31 in 26 IP. I really enjoy watching him work.
Jose Paulino – His last two starts saw him throw 12 scoreless innings with 12 Ks. His ERA for July is 0.55. Just six weeks ago, he was taken out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen. The young lefty has returned with a vengeance.
There should be even more great performances coming on a nightly basis. Hopefully Oscar de la Cruz will return to action along with Jake Stinnett. Stinnett made a rehab appearance this week down in Mesa. Trevor Clifton will look to bounce back in his next start and Bryan Hudson looks to recapture his ground ball magic. Even Bailey Clark has shown signs that he was a good gamble. Last night, he struck out 8 in 5 IP. He struck out 9 a couple of weeks ago. It’s getting deep when it comes to Cubs’ starting pitching.
Mind you, these 11 are just the starters. I did not talk about the relievers. I will be covering some of them the next few days.