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.
By Todd Johnson
One of the great joys over the past two summers has been sitting back and watching the Eugene Emeralds play on TV. It’s great to see some of the Cubs’ youngest prospects begin their careers. Last summer, for only two games, I got to see Bailey Clark, the Cubs 2016 5th round pick, dazzle hitters with his mid 90s fastball. I expected him to begin 2017 in South Bend mowing down hitters in the Midwest League. That did not happen. Whether it was shoulder related or the aftereffects of him missing time due to finishing his degree at Duke, he’s back in Eugene to start his season.
I really like what Clark brings to the table. He has a nice low-to-mid 90s fastball, a curve with a nice 2 to 7 break, and he has a pretty good frame at 6’4″ in which to go deep into games and a season. Most importantly, I think he has a bulldog type mentality. He is not going to give in to a hitter, he is going to attack and attack. These are all the kinds of things you want in a major league starter.
I see all these things and I’m really pulling for this guy to make it. The Cubs really need an arm like his. But, he’s not going to develop overnight. I think when it clicks for him, it’s going to click fast. Basically what needs to happen is he needs to improve his command.
Last’s night start against Boise was a perfect example.
It was a tale of two games. In the first part of the game, Bailey Clark had trouble commanding his pitches. He gave up a couple of ill timed hits, a walk, and next thing you know it was 2-0 after an inning.
But when you start to dig deeper, he was not getting in good pitching counts. It’s not that he was laboring to get through the inning, but a 25 pitch 1st inning is not conducive to a long start. I initially thought that there was no way he was going to make it through even three innings. But as they say in Mexico, the worm turned. He came out in the second and struck out three out of four hitters.
The third saw the frustration creep in again. Three singles, a balk, and a wild pitch lead to two more runs. It was 4-0. I thought he was done for the night. I was wrong.
In the fourth and fifth innings, Bailey Clark looked like a major-league pitcher toying with the Boise Hawks lineup. He only needed 7 pitches in the fourth to dispose of the Hawks. In the 5th, he just needed 12. By the end of the fifth, he was at 79 pitches and had struck out nine batters in total. I don’t know if something clicked or he just finally get warmed up, but he got in a serious groove. You don’t see that very often in the minor leagues. Then , you ask yourself, why can’t you do that all the time? I remarked to a friend, “He just needs to start in the second inning and he’ll be fine.“
If not is if the Cubs are bereft of starting pitching in the minors, they are not. However, there are only a handful of guys you can say, “I can see that guy pitching in the majors,” or “I could see him pitching for the Cubs.” I can see Bailey Clark pitching in the majors for the Cubs. I can see him starting. I can see him relieving. I can see his 2 to 7 breaking ball wiping out hitters.
While his start last night was frustrating, it was also magical. I think that is who he is right now. Hopefully, he moves to magical side in the coming starts. With 18 Ks in just 15.1 IP, that is something to hang a hat on. On the other hand, a 1.63 WHIP is not. They key, as I see it, is to ignore the bad stats and focus on his development. He did a lot of things right last night. Sure, there were mistakes, but you can learn just as much in baseball from succeeding, if not more, than you can from mistakes. It might be best to play to his strengths.
After watching his last two innings, I am a little excited to see how he does in his next start in about a week’s time. If all goes well, I hope to see him in South Bend in August.
Other Bailey Clark Articles: Better, Faster, Stronger
By Todd Johnson
As I have said before, it is hard for a prospect to break out anymore. There is press coverage almost everywhere in addition to photographers and people who can take video. With Mesa and Eugene ready to begin play, here are some names of prospects who I think will grab a few headlines in the second half and propel themselves up several prospect lists.
I did not include top prospects Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan on this list. Technically, they should break out, but most people already know about them. For me, it’s just a matter of seeing them do it this summer on him MiLB.TV.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3” and close to 240 pounds, Joe is quite the presence in the batters box. I saw him for the first time on opening night at Eugene. The thing I took away from his performance was that he does have a really good eye at plate. He might be a little “roller-coastery” this summer as he gets used to playing every day after not playing for two years.
Delvin Zinn – He is beginning this year in Mesa after missing most of spring training. He’s a great athlete and it looks like he’s gonna play second base. With college draft picks coming, I think he’ll be at Mesa most of the summer.
Bailey Clark – I love this kid. While technically a bearded monster, he also has a 95 to 98 mph fastball. He is starting out at Eugene and should eventually spend most of his time this summer playing at South Bend.
Brailyn Marquez – At 6’6” and only 18 years of age, I look forward to seeing what this young left handed pitcher can do. Last year in the DSL he put up an ERA of 1.48. He struck out 48 in 54 IP in the DSL, I doubt he does that in Mesa. I am intrigued to see how he does stateside.
Faustino Carrera – He’s a bit small, so I don’t think he’s destined to be a starter, but for right now he is. He put up a 1.06 ERA in the DSL last year and, like Marquez, I wonder if he if he can do that in Mesa with the same success.
Jonathan Sierra – He looks like Darryl Strawberry, but does not have Darryl’s skills yet. Then again, Sierra is only 18. He hit .264 in the DSL last year with a .384 OBP. That shows me he has a good eye at the plate. He did not have the greatest spring training, but I am interested to see how he hits in Mesa and whether his power stroke begins to develop. Hopefully, he begins to breakout this year. If not, it could take him 2-3 years to do so.
Gustavo Polanco -Last year, he lead the Mesa Cubs in hitting at .322. He is already off to great start at Eugene. Although he started off as a catcher, the 20-year-old moved to first base and is also a designated hitter. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he is pretty much maxed out physically, but he has a great eye for the ball.
Under the Radar
I am sure there will be other players who do breakout. More than likely, most will be players the Cubs recently drafted. I wrote the following at BP Wrigleyville about two top hitters I think might fit the breakout bill.
3B Austin Filiere (eighth round pick) and OF Chris Carrier (ninth round) both have a lot of potential for power. Carrier comes from Memphis while Filiere comes from MIT—neither of which are powerhouse college programs. Carrier is a sculpted physical specimen at 6’2” and 225 pounds, while Filiere’s experience in the wooden bat Cape Cod League might give him an advantage as they begin their pro careers, most likely in Eugene.
2B Jared Young and OF Brandon Hughes are two other college names who could do the same as Filiere and Carrier.
When it comes to pitchers, the Cubs did pick some relievers. Most notable are Casey Ryan from Hawaii, Sean Barry from San Diego, and Brian Glowicki from Minnesota. The starting pitchers the Cubs draft pitch short stints (40-50 pitches) as they already have thrown a full season.