By Todd Johnson
Out of all the positions in the breakdown series, relief pitcher is the most unpredictable. I don’t think anyone foresaw the phoenix-like ascendance of Dillon Maples last year to go from class A all the way to Chicago. One pitch can sometimes be the difference.
I went back-and-forth on how to organize this breakdown. First I was going to rank what I thought were the top 5 arms and then list of some potential breakouts. Then, I thought I had a great idea of putting them in categories until I thought about it some more. Then I went back to rankings. But after sifting through each affiliate, I began to wonder out loud how much more time the Cubs are going to give some of these relievers a chance to be a Cub. As a result, I wound up with four categories.
Kind of a Big Deal
1. Dillon Maples – Armed with upper 90s stuff and a devastating slider, he is technically not going to be a prospect very much longer. 2017 saw him harness his physical and mental skills to perfection at Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, Iowa, and Chicago. He does have closer type stuff but will probably be treated with kid gloves his first full year in Chicago.
2. Dakota Mekkes – The 6’7″ reliever from Michigan State dominated two leagues in 2017. For 2017, he put up an ERA under one and struck out 92 hitters in 73.1 innings. His deceptive delivery makes a 91 to 93 mile an hour fastball seem more like 96 to 98. The ball just sneaks up and creates a rushed decision. It should be exciting to watch him go at it in AA Tennessee this year. If he can cut down on his walks, the big league club could be calling very soon.
3. Jake Stinnett – After missing four months at AA Tennessee, Stinnett returned late in the season in a relief role and appeared to be reborn as a pitcher. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and did very well against elite competition. He always struggled as a starter in his previous three seasons as a prospect. Coming out of the bullpen, I think his stuff plays up a little bit better as most of his pitches have some sort of wiffle ball type movement to them. Along with Mekkes, he is going to be an interesting prospect and test case to see how the Cubs deal with just what his role is going to be.
4. Corey Black – Something Jaron Madison said at the Cubs convention has stayed with me for the past two weeks. In talking about Corey, Madison mentioned an “emotional maturity” that seems to bode well for Corey’s future. Now at 26 years of age, Black should be on the precipice of making it to the majors as Madison spoke very highly of Black’s potential and Madison was high on Corey’s 4+ MLB type pitches. If that’s the case, Black could be a guy. Sometimes an injury can turn your career around for the better.
Been over a year since I’ve stepped on a mound but boy let me tell you that’s the most comfortable I’ve felt on the mound in a very long time.
— Corey Black (@CblackCHC) January 23, 2018
Who the Hell Is This Guy?
Jhon Romero flew under the radar in the second half of 2017. He began his season in June at Eugene and ended up in South Bend. After Maples and Mekkes, Romero was this relief pitcher I enjoyed watching the most in August. He can throw 93 to 95 and has a beautiful tight breaking ball that just devastated hitters. He struck out 53 hitters in 41 innings and opponents only hit .109 against him. He should be at Myrtle Beach to begin the year.
How much longer?
James Pugliese, Daury Torrez, Ryan McNeil, Tommy Nance, Jordan Minch, Tommy Thorpe, Kyle Miller, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and David Garner
What we have here are several relievers who have been in the organization for at least three years, some of them going on six years. Out of this bunch, Tommy Nance has the best stuff. He throws a hard ball in the mid 90s and breaks a lot of bats. Hopefully, he can return healthy in 2018. Two players who came on strong at some point last year were Scott Effross and David Garner. Effross will be at AA and Garner will be in AAA, along with a spring training invite.
Breakout Relievers for 2018
Jake Steffens, Ricky Tyler Thomas, and Ben Hecht all were outstanding for Eugene last summer coming out of the pen. All three were also draft picks from last year. Steffens is pretty good sized guy with a natural sinking fastball while Hecht was a strikeout machine for the Emeralds. To me, Thomas has the potential and pitches (plus changeup) to be a starter, just unsure about his frame. He might get a shot to stretch it out this year. For these three arms, pitching in the Northwest League is a different animal than the Midwest League. It is usually a pretty good barometer or a pitcher’s acumen.
If I was to pick one more arm, I would go with Ivan Medina who was Mesa’s closer. I am sure there will be an arm that does really well that I did not foresee. There always is.
By Todd Johnson
Let’s cut right to the chase – the Cubs are not known for developing relief pitchers. They’ve only developed a few arms that have stuck with the team for any amount of time in the last five years and most of those came via the Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster trades. Kyle Hendricks, CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez all came over from Texas. Things are about to change.
In 2017 Dillon Maples broke out and went from class A to the majors in one season. He is set to compete for a spot in the Cubs’ bullpen in spring training. Pedro Araujo is another reliever who broke out last year while at Myrtle Beach. Pedro has been doing excellent in the Arizona Fall league and should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2018. After missing most of 2017, Jake Stinnett was reborn as a reliever and is also turning heads from the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League.
At AAA Iowa
David Garner – He has had one of the quietest rides up through the system. Last year, he advanced to AAA without much fanfare. As a setup man, he throws in the mid 90s and 2018 should be the year he gets a crack at Wrigley. Although, he only got in nine games at AAA in August, his chance at the big-time is going to come later in the year.
Corey Black – No, I haven’t forgot about him and I look forward to seeing how Tommy John surgery has impacted his career and what type of pitcher he will be. As a reliever, he’s only had 1 full season but only 30.1 IP at AAA. His recovery bears watching.
Scott Effross – Part of me wants to see him start as he does have four pitches he can throw for strikes. Then again, with the second half he had last year at Myrtle Beach, he really put himself on the map with a 2.03 ERA in 44.1 IP. AA Tennessee is going to love him.
At Myrtle Beach
Jhon Romero – He basically got by on two pitches last summer but they were both excellent. Armed with a mid 90s fastball and a hard, biting curve, Romero could move quickly in 2018. He began last season at Eugene in July and was just dominant at two levels. I’m extremely excited to watch him pitch in his first full season.
At South Bend
Jake Steffens – It is hard to breakout in a half a season, but Steffens came close to it. His ascension to closer was definitely one of the surprises of the second half . He saw his stuff tick up a little bit from college. Now in full season South Bend, the Cubs should get a better picture of whether he can stick in the bullpen.
Ben Hecht – At times, this kid has a golden arm and you wonder why he is a relief pitcher to start his career. From southern Illinois, and at 6’5”, he was a strikeout machine at Eugene after struggling in his last season at Wichita State. He struck out 25 in 17.2 IP in his professional debut at Eugene.
Ricky Tyler Thomas – He started every year in college and he did it well until last spring. As a reliever, he was outstanding at Eugene last summer. He has a nice change up and when he can locate his fastball, he becomes even more deadly. Hopefully, his fastball will creep up a click or two this season.
Others to Watch at Eugene
It’s a little hard to project who will be at short season Eugene as there’s a lot of spring training and extended spring training for the young kids to develop and a draft to take place. One who might get some pub is Ivan Medina, the 21 year old closer for the Arizona Rookie League champion Mesa Cubs.
By Todd Johnson
It is easy to get a sneak peek at pitchers that have recently been drafted. However, their roles are not really going to be laid out for another year or two. Adjustments will be made at instructs this fall and again in spring training. The pitchers they are now will not resemble the pitchers they are next year or the year after
The thing I like to remember is that they have already pitched a full season of baseball. Some, like Alex Lange, have already thrown over 120 innings. Then again, there are relievers who fit right in when it comes to workloads this season. Of the 19 pitchers signed via the 2017 draft, only four have been given an opportunity to start in some capacity. In addition, two of the arms selected and signed have not thrown a pitch in game action.
Here is an update on how the young pitchers are doing.
Alex Lange – The first round pick dominated in his two inning debut. While it was at Eugene, I felt that he should not be there much longer in that it really wasn’t a challenge for him. Hopefully, he can go up to South Bend and make it a start of two innings and the Cubs can reevaluate from there. I tend to think he’ll begin next year at Myrtle Beach with an outside shot of Tennessee. However, Tennessee might be too aggressive.
Rollie Lacy – He is pitching only in relief in Mesa and he hasn’t allowed a lot of baserunners with a WHIP of 0.66. As a 22-year-old, he should dominate rookie ball and he is. I think there is a pretty good chance he’s in northern Indiana to begin the year.
Ben Hecht – He has been a most impressive reliever as he has swing and miss stuff. At Eugene, he has pitched 6.1 innings and struck out an amazing 15 batters. With that kind of firepower, I think long term that he is a reliever with closer or setup potential.
Jake Steffens – To date he’s pitched up 10.2 innings and is look good doing so. He had one bad outing in his eight appearances and opponents are only hitting .108 against him. It’s pretty good for a 29th round pick.
Brendan King – He is just getting going and he is making short starts. Right now, his ERA is 1.59 and he’s struck out 13 and 11.1 innings while only giving up two earned runs. Depending on how he does this fall and next spring, I think he has an outside shot at making it to Indiana for the summer.
Erich Uelmen – He has only made three appearances. His first outing was a bit rough, but his second saw him strikeout five in two innings. He is currently at Eugene and I expect him to be in South Bend starting in 2018.
Mitch Stophel – Currently, he is in rookie ball in Mesa. He has pitched nine innings in a relief it is struck out 13. He walked five, but for a 25 round pick, I’m not gonna complain. He could be in South Bend next year.
Cory Abbott – He debuted Monday night. He flashed a four pitch mix and struck out three in two innings but did give up a homer, his only hit. His fastball sat in the low 90s topping out at 93.
Depends on the Day
Kegan Thompson – After missing all of 2016, I was surprised the Cubs let him pitch after he threw 98 innings for Auburn this spring. He’s being used in relief and he has only made two appearances so far. I see him starting next summer in the rotation for South Bend.
Brian Glowicki – The closer from the University of Minnesota has had some ups and downs in that role for the Emeralds. He has shown the ability to miss bats and I think he will get better as the season goes on.
Casey Ryan – Take away one outing where he gave up four runs in 1/3 of an inning, and he’s been really good. He is a reliever in a starter’s body.
Jeffrey Passantino – I am not sure what his role is going to be. In Mesa, he hass been relieving. I don’t know if they’re going to try and turn him into a starter as a pro or leave him in the bullpen with his bulldog mentality. I guess we’ll find out next year.
Brendon Little – He has been lit up in his two outings. After only pitching four innings in college plus the cape cod league in 2016, he threw 80+ innings this year. I thought we might see him out of the pen to begin with, but he is taking the bump to begin the game twice. I would not be too alarmed that his performance so far. You still have to remember he’s only 20 years old and has been basically shut down for two months.
Sean Barry – He’s only made three appearances so far in Mesa. All were in relief. I don’t have a good read on him yet.
Peyton Remy – He made his first appearance on Sunday night when he threw a scoreless one third of an inning.
Crickets…They have not pitched yet and might not.
Jeremy Estrada – He has not been rostered yet. I think Estrada will more than likely be in Mesa at worst and Eugene at best.
Brady Miller – No roster has been assigned for Miller yet, either.
Braxton Light – He has been assigned to Arizona but has yet to see any action.
19 arms is a lot about pitching to accommodate in an organization at one time. We will know more next year at this time than we do now about these arms. I think this summer’s performances have kind of given us a sneak peek and there’s a lot to be encouraged by past month, and even the last week. And I think once the starters are stretched out next year, it will be even more impressive. With a lot of the young arms at Eugene and South Bend, this collection of arms will create quite the competition for spots next spring. So far, I find their performances encouraging for the organization.
By Todd Johnson
30 picks in a little over six hours is a bit much to cover. It seemed as soon as I started learning about one selection, there was another one stacked. At pick 29, the Internet went down (thanks Mediacom!). I kept up on my phone as best I could until it was done. And guess what? As soon as the Cubs made the final selection, the Internet popped back on. Go figure.
As for the Cubs Picks…
They loaded up on pitching with 17 picks. Most of them are relievers, but a few were starters. The Cubs also popped a few HS prep arms in the 30s, although those players are unlikely to sign. With 13 position players today, college players were the order of the day. By the early 30s, the Cubs started picking prep players as backups in case someone in the top 10 does not sign, which is clearly a possibility.
What Picks Did I Like Most Today?
14. Luis Vazquez, a high school SS from Puerto Rico, is definitely intriguing. He has a big frame to grow into and his video, although staged, shows him to be a very athletic young man.
27. Darius Vines is a two sport athlete who I think comes across as maybe the best our athlete the Cubs picked this year.
24. Andrew Karp – The Cubs might be not be able to sign him. But if they do, they get a player on the rise who is only 20 with 2 years of big time college experience.
I also think the college picks of Brandon Hughes, Jared Young, and Ramsey Romano ar excellent. They all could be quality players in the low minors the next year or two.
Here’s today’s brief synopsis of each pick along with their draft card.
Rollie Lacy – RHP – Creighton
6’3″ 195 – Friday night starter
2.54 ERA, 88.2 IP, 83 Ks, 18 BBs
Ben Hecht – P – Wichita State
6’3″ 185 – Closer/Reliever
Struggled this year. 41 Ks in 30.1 IP
Austin Upshaw – IF – Kennesaw State
He hit 8 HRs in 200 ABs this year. He batted .327 and slugged .516. He is a draft eligible sophomore. He could go back to school.
Luis Vazquez – SS – Alberto Melendez Torres School, Puerto Rico
He was a challenger to find info quickly on. However, I did find this video. He looks pretty lean and has a lot of physical projection left.
Jared Young – 2B – Old Dominion
Third Team All-American this year
He hit .347 with 7 HRs and 34 RBIs as a Junior. His OBP looks good at .441.
Brandon Hughes – CF – Michigan State
He has a nice frame. Stole 30 bases this year and was named 2nd Team All-Big Ten. He hit .330 with 5 HRs in 200 ABs.
Peyton Remy – RHP – Central Arizona College
He threw 59.1 innings striking out 58. He’s just 19.
Casey Ryan – RHP – Hawaii
He was the closer for Hawaii. He threw in 23.1 IP and K’d 20 while putting up a 1.52 ERA. Opponents only hit .188 against him. I like the frame.
Chris Singleton – OF – Charleston Southern
Bats and Throws Right
He hit .278 as a junior with 18 stolen bases.
Brendan King – P – Holy Cross
Four pitch mix
He threw 80.2 IP with 60.2 and a 4.35 ERA. As a junior, he had a 2.84 ERA with 74 Ks in 82.1 IP.
FB: 90-92, CB: 73-76, CUT: 86, CH: 84-85
Sean Barry – RHP – San Diego
He did start twice this year but mostly came out of the pen. He struck out 54 in 42.2 IP.
Skyler Messinger – SS – Niwot HS, Colorado
MLB.com listed him at 6’3″ 295 pounds. I know it’s a typo, but I found it funny.
Bats and Throws Right
Brady Miller – RHP – Western Oregon
Struck 57 in 54 IP. He had an ERA of 3.50 in 10 starts.
Braxton Light – RHP – Wallace State
He struck out 50 in 38.2 in relief. He had a 1.86 ERA and 9 saves.
Mitch Stophel – RHP -King University
45 Ks in 38 IP. He had a 4.74 ERA.
Bryce Bonnin – RHP – Barbers Hill HS, Texas
6’0″ 180 lbs.
Committed to Arkansas
According to Baseball America, they like ehim better as a pitcher.
MLB.com has him at #74 in their top 200. He could be a tough sign, MLB.com said this of the young SS/P:
Entering his high school senior season, there was some question as to whether Bonnin was better as a position player or a pitcher. Arkansas lists him as a shortstop among its incoming recruits, and he does display arm strength, athleticism and offensive potential. But he might not make it to the Razorbacks because he came out firing fastballs up to 95 early in the year and could go in the top three rounds as a pitcher.
Bonnin’s heater settled at 90-92 mph at times later in the spring, though he should have consistent plus velocity once he focuses on pitching and gets a little stronger. His slider has similar upside, usually arriving in the low 80s with sharp, late action and looking like a wipeout pitch when he runs it into the upper 80s. He rarely throws a changeup because he hasn’t needed it against high school competition.
Bonnin throws across his body and with effort and a long arm. He has no problems finding the strike zone, but his mechanics and relatively small stature lead some scouts to project him as a reliever. Others think his athleticism gives him a chance to refine his delivery and make it as a starter.
Darius Vines – RHP – Oxnard
2 Sport Athlete
He struck out 95 in 83.2 IP. He had a 1.94 ERA and is only 19. He might be my favorite pick today.
Kier Meredith – OF – Robert B Glenn HS, North Carolina
Speed to burn
Ranked 215 on BA’s top 500
Bats and throws Left
Committed to Clemson
Jacob Steffens – RHP – Santa Clara
Big Body and Frame
Missed most of 2 years
Pitched 102.2 innings this year and struck out 101.
Cam Balego – IF – Mercyhurst
He resembles a few picks the Cubs have taken today. He’s an infielder with the potential for power.
Ramsay Romano -IF – Cal State Long Beach
He will be playing in the College World Series and Cub fans should be able get a good look at him. He led the team in hitting this year at .313.
Hunter Ruth – RHP – Bucholz HS, Texas
He is ranked number 151 on MLB’s top 20. He is going to be a tough sign. MLB Pipeline said the following about the big high school right-hander:
There’s a ton of arm strength, with Ruth getting the heater up to 95-96 mph at times. He’ll often live off of his fastball, but he’ll show a really good breaking ball and a feel for a changeup as well. There is some effort in his delivery, which is a bit unorthodox. That arm action along with elbow injury, does leave some wondering if he’s more of a reliever in the future. It’s hard to figure out where good talent that has gone down with TJ surgery in high school should go in the Draft. Based on ability, Ruth definitely belongs in the top five rounds, with some scouts thinking he could have snuck into the conversation of high-upside high school players being discussed at the back end of the first round. If a team doesn’t want to sign and rehab him, Ruth can stay home and head to Florida to get healthy there.
Joe Donovan – Catcher – Westmont HS
I was a little surprised the Cubs went this long before taking a catcher.
Andrew Karp – RHP – Florida State
The Cubs are taking a gamble here as Karp will more than likely go back to school as a draft eligible sophomore. I like this pick as he is an ascending player.
MLB.com said the following:
Karp pitched midweek for Florida State this season as a redshirt sophomore. Injuries limited him a bit early, but he eventually got his fastball up to 94 mph, and he mixes in three different off-speed pitches. Karp put himself on the map with an 11-strikeout performance against No.5 Florida in March, but his late-season struggles muddle his Draft standing a bit.
Ben Ramirez – SS – Eastlake High School
He is ranked number 199 on MLB.com stop 200. here is what they had to say about him:
Chances of signing him up are slim.
Ramirez has considerable upside and potential at the plate that teams might be interested in adding to their system. When he’s right, he’s nice and short to the ball, allowing him to drive from the left side of the plate. He tends to fiddle with his stance and listen to too many people, with his swing lengthening as a result. He does have power potential, but he’ll need to find a more consistent swing path and use his lower half better […] Signability might be an issue for Ramirez, who has a commitment to attend Southern Cal should the Draft not go his way. But a team willing to roll the dice early enough and be patient with his development could get a solid all-around third baseman when all is said and done.
Tanner Allen – CF – Prep School
MLB.com said the following:
A former LSU commit who is now set to attend Mississippi State, Allen was a 4A First Team All-State performer in Alabama back in 2015. The second baseman followed up his sensational 2015 season by helping lead his high school team to a state championship last year. He was then selected as a member of the 40-man roster for the U18 National Team as an outfielder. In addition to his baseball accolades and skills on the diamond, Allen started at quarterback for the UMS-Wright football team for three straight seasons. Allen has drawn comparisons to Keith Lockhart, who played in the Majors for a decade and was known for his consistent bat and infield play. While he could use more time to develop in college, Allen has adequate arm strength and a smooth, simple approach at the plate, often resulting in line drives and quick, hard contact. Allen attended MLB’s Prospect Development Pipeline premier event in Atlanta this January.
Alex Cornwell – LHP – Maranatha HS
Russell Smith – LHP – Midlithian HS
At 6’9″ tall, there’s a lot to work with.
Cooper Coldiron – IF – Houston
Jeffrey Passantino – RHP – Lipscomb
I profiled him back in the winter