Fangraphs Leads Off the Prospect Lists by Going Young, Very Young

By Todd Johnson

Amaya 08 2018 SB

When Fangraphs started releasing their prospect lists last week, I got a little excited. They started out with the NL Central and had three teams done by the weekend. I knew last Saturday that the Cubs would be up this week.

The list itself was somewhat surprising. Authors Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel emphasized what is becoming a system with some highly ranked youth.

The first surprise was that the two authors still hung with Miguel Amaya who ascended to the top of most Cub lists last summer. Coming in second was my favorite, Nico Hoerner. Scouts that McDaniel and Longenhagen talked to were still unsure what position Nico is going to end up playing. The scouts think Hoerner could end up at second and/or center.

After Ademan, Adbert Alzolay, and Justin Steele, the first big ripple in the list came with the placement of Cole Roederer at #6. Fangraphs’ placement of Roederer this high is very encouraging for the strength of a system. Roederer was outstanding in 36 games with a .354 OBP, 5 HRs, 24 RBI, and 13 SB after being signed in 2018.

Marquez 65 2018 EugThe Youth Movement continued to flow throughout the top half of their 31 prospects. 19-year-old lefty Brailyn Marquez came in at #7 while 17-year-old Richard Gallardo rounded out the top 10. Reivaj Garcia was the biggest surprise at #11. The 17-year-old second baseman held his own in the Arizona Rookie League last year. 19-year-old Brennan Davis could be a classic five tool guy in time and he was put on the list at #12.

Despite injuries and troubles, Jeremiah Estrada and Jose Albertos both made the list.  I don’t understand the placement of Nelson Velazquez at 28. With his power profile, Velazquez is likely a top 10 power prospect in a system devoid of power.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of pitcher Benjamin Rodriguez at #30. He’s just 18 and still growing and was lauded for his spin rates in the Dominican Republic..

Who’s Missing: Pitching staple Trevor Clifton came up missing on the list along with the Jared Young, the Cubs MiLB Player of the Year in 2018. As well, reliever Dillon Maples and Duane Underwood were nowhere to be seen. DJ Wilson and Mark Zagunis made the other prospects portion of the list. The two outfielders were routinely in the top 10 the past four years and now, poof!

Final Thoughts

Hoerner 07 2018 SBFor the first major prospect list, Fangraphs really went hard to the young prospects. 15 of the 31 prospects on the list actually come from the international market. And 17 of the 31 are 20 or younger. That’s a lot of young guys. It still is a very heavy pitching list with just a few players with power potential.

Several of the younger prospects came across as overrated. On my own list, I am starting to trend towards not listing prospects until they have at least got some substantial time in full season ball. 15 of the 31 on Fangraphs’ list have yet to log at least a half a season at South Bend. Many have not faced a lot of pitchers or hitters with college experience yet.

In the next year, the prospects listed by Fangraphs should be lighting it up all across the system. Then again, they might not. This list is still about projection. The one thing that very few Cubs prospects did in the last year was to dominate a level. That’s what these 31 need to do. I still think they are 1-2 years away from that kind of domination by these young kids.

 

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The Weekly: The Lame Duck Effect, Arizona Fall League Begins, and Awards Come In

By Todd Johnson

Joe Maddon’s Lame Duck Effect
Amidst all the hoopla of Chili Davis being let go as hitting coach, it got me thinking of what effect Joe Maddon’s contract is going to have on the future of the Cubs. Right now, he is only signed through 2019. And with that in mind, it’s gonna be hard to get personnel on the coaching side for just one year.

However, when it comes to free agency, I don’t think Joe’s contract is going to have much impact. Players are going to come here for the money and the culture, but mainly for the money. Their teammates will be a bigger draw than Joe would be.

Arizona Fall League Stats
The Arizona Fall League kicked off this week and several Cub players got in some action. Even though there will be a total of about 36 games, most of the position players the Cubs sent will be lucky if they see action in 20 of them. Trent Giambrone was impressive in his first turn at third base. Former Scout Bernie Pleskoff was impressed by Trent’s short, quick stroke to the ball as Trent wrapped out four singles in his debut.

Shortstop Nico Horner took a few games to shake the rust off before going three for five on Friday. Catcher Johnny Pereda went one for four and PJ Higgins was one for two with two walks. Outfielder DJ Wilson has gotten one hit in three games opening week.

As for pitching, Bailey Clark was scoreless in two innings along with fellow reliever Manny Rondon. Justin Steele got bumped around in his 1.2 innings of work as he gave up four runs. On the other hand, Erick Leal struck out three in 2.1 innings of scoreless work, although he did have to be rescued in the third.

It’s just the first week and I don’t think you want to take too much away from just a couple of games. There is a lot of baseball left to be played against quality competition. It’ll be interesting to see how they do adjust over the next few weeks. Every Sunday I will have an update, but I will be positing highlights Mondays-Saturdays on Twitter. (@CubsCentral08)

Baseball America and Pipeline Awards
Baseball America released its top 20 prospects in the Northwest League and the Cubs placed two in the top 10. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez came in at number three and outfielder Nelson Velasquez came in at number eight. I like seeing that the two 19-year-olds, who were key parts of the team, get some love. I am looking forward to seeing both at South Bend, hopefully, in 2019.

In the Arizona League, OF Cole Roederer came in at #7 while SS Luis Verdugo got a lot of love for his defense at 17 years of age. Verdugo was assigned #17. Pitcher Yovanny Cruz just missed according to BA’s Bill Mitchell.

Over at MiLB Pipeline, They released their Players of the Year for each organization. Here’s what they said about Cubs Jason Vosler and Cory Abbott.

Jason Vosler, 3B: For the second straight season, he set career highs in homers (23), extra-base hits (54) and RBIs (93), pacing the system in all three categories.
Cory Abbott, RHP: Thriving on deception, Abbott led all Cubs farmhands in ERA (2.50), hit rate (7.4 per nine innings) and strikeout rate (10.3 per nine innings).

On the 18th, Pipeline will release their All-Star teams for each system. That should be interesting to see. If I can, I will have a full post on it come Friday morning. I have Parent-Teacher Conferences Thursday night, so those come first…

Coming Up This Week
The 2018 affiliate reviews end as I look at Eugene and Mesa on Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday I’m going to put out the annual baseball cards of the year post with my top 11 cards going all the way back to spring training. It was a lot of fun to put that together!

If some other major news breaks during the day, I will probably have something on it at night. October already seems to be flying by.

Card of the Week

2018 Affiliate Reviews: South Bend’s Deep Starting Staff Was the Highlight

By Todd Johnson

2018 Record
64-74

Strengths and Highlights
Starting Pitching – From the beginning of 2018, South Bend was supposed to be most exciting franchise/affiliate to watch because of its starting pitching. It didn’t start out that way as elite prospect Jose Albertos began a struggle that lasted all year. But Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, Cory Abbott, Brendon Little, Javier Assad, and Ricky Tyler Thomas did do very well for the Cubs Midwest League affiliate on the mound. Later, Jesus Camargo, and Brailyn Marquez were two more solid pitching prospects to grace the bump for the Cubs. About half of the starting pitchers went on to have success at Myrtle Beach while two (Lacy and Thomas) wound up being traded in the Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez trades.

South Bend also produced one of the top closers in the system in Brian Glowicki who turned into a bulldog on the mound in the last month of the year. He did not allow an earned run in August. Add in the success of Brendan King, Enrique de los Rios, and Garrett Kelly and it was a pretty good year for pitching for the Cubs.

At the plate, most, but not all, of the Cubs struggled. In the beginning of the year, first baseman Jared Young and catcher Miguel Amaya were a nice back-to-back power duo. Young wound up in Myrtle Beach in July while Amaya caught almost every day in July and August but still showed a burgeoning bat with 12 HRs on the year and a wRC+ of 114.. In addition, Christian Donahue and Delvin Zinn displayed they can be successful role players. Austin Filiere struggled at times in the first half of the year but seemed to rebound and was very good at the plate the last six weeks of the season.

2019 Roster
A few players who ended the season in South Bend could be back to begin the 2019 season in the Midwest League. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is the most obvious. Outfielder Jimmy Herron, the Cubs third round pick in 2018, could return for a short stint or he could even start the year in Myrtle Beach.

However, most of the roster will be made up of players from the lower levels of the Cubs system. There are usually prerequisites to get to South Bend. First is Mesa, then Eugene. However, in recent years, some prospects have been skipping Eugene altogether and going straight from Mesa to Indiana with only a pit stop in extended spring training.

There will be no shortage of pitchers and hitters for Jaron Madison to select. There are over 100 rostered players between the two Mesa teams and Eugene to squeeze onto the 25 man roster in South Bend to begin 2019. And that’s pretty much the theme for the lower part of the system in 2019.  That competition will only benefit the Cubs in the long run and increased focus for each and every prospect.

Nelson Velazquez, Fernando Kelli, and Jonathan Sierra should be in South Bend manning the outfield on day one but will 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, and Edmond Americaan give them a run for their money?

The most interesting battles I see coming in 2019 will be over the starting rotation. Riley Thompson is the guy I want to see most next year. Armed with a 95 mph fastball, he’s going to be facing some stiff competition with Faustino Carrera, Yovanny Cruz, Didier Vargas, Jack Patterson, Eury Ramos, Brailyn Marquez, Jesus Tejada, Peyton Remy, Blake Whitney, and more to start every sixth day.

I am not going near the bullpen at this point or who might even be in the infield. There are lot of prospects to fit in and too many questions to answer.

2019 Sleeper
He didn’t see any action in 2018 after pitching for Arkansas in the College World Series. However, that might not stop reliever Jake Reindl from doing well in 2019 with his experience at such a high-level in a power conference.

2nd Half Breakouts: Cubs Have a Lot of New Arms on the Way Up

By Todd Johnson

Yesterday, breakout hitters of the second half were covered. Today, it is the pitchers.

Usually once a pitcher has a spike in their development, they don’t get to breakout again. By that definition, I had to rethink who the breakout pitcher of the second half was going to be Matt Swarmer easily won the breakout pitcher of the first half. But Keegan Thompson and Cory Abbott also had breakout campaigns at their first full season affiliate. So, by definition, all three could not win the award for the second half, even though they all did have another spike in their development in the second half of the year at a new affiliate.

Arizona
This is the first year in a long while I can remember so many pitchers in rookie league having a pretty decent season. This year‘s crop includes some junior college players and young international free agents. I’m excited to see if these guys are going to end up next year in Eugene or at South Bend.

To begin, Peyton Remy was somewhat of an ace for Cubs 1. He led the team into the playoffs and was pretty dominant in July and August. For the season, Remy struck out 59 in 52.1 innings with an ERA of 2.58. He even got to roll with Eugene in the playoffs and was brilliant in the Hillsboro series throwing 3 scoreless in relief and 4 more scoreless against Spokane in the clinching game.

Blake Whitney played for Cubs 2 and had a pretty decent season after being drafted from South Carolina – Upstate. His campaign was surprising because most pitchers that were drafted as starting pitchers only go 2 to 3 innings or 50 pitches. He went 5 innings in 3 of his last 4 appearances. Whitney had a 2.30 ERA and struck out 37 in 31.1 innings.

Jesus Tejada and Didier Vargas were both excellent starters for Cubs 1. I still think they’re both busting out next year. Vargas puts himself in to contention because he just misses him a lot of bats at 19 years old. Both will be pushing for a spot in South Bend next spring.

Eugene
Yovanny Cruz only made one start for Eugene, but he flashed an amazing curveball for a 20-year-old kid. I came away extremely impressed with his command and ability to keep hitters off balance. 2018 draft picks Paul Richan and Riley Thompson each had their moments of dominance this summer. I came away especially impressed with Thompson who is being converted from a reliever to a starter. Right now Thompson is a little bit on the effectively wild side with his secondaries, but he has pretty good command of a 95 mile an hour fastball. It’s pretty dangerous and pretty cool at the same time.

And the winner is…from South Bend…sort of.
A lot of people were aware that Brailyn Marquez had some talent. He could throw in the low to mid 90s but had huge command issues in the Dominican and at Mesa last year. When he arrived at Eugene in June, I was excited to see the 19-year-old lefty have a go at it.

Marquez had a nice jump in velocity this year as he sat 94 to 97 most games and he did so with decent command. He used a slider with a nice 10 to 4 break, sometimes 10 to 5. Against a right-handed hitter, it was just devastating at times. He didn’t throw his changeup a lot, but when he did he seem to have better consistency with it as the year wore on. With just a couple weeks to go in the season, Marquez was promoted to South Bend and he did OK in 2 brief starts. I’m pretty pumped to see him go at it for about 120 innings next year. If he can control and flash 3+ pitches, which is what Marquez has, he might be flying through the system as a 20-year-old. The keys are just command and efficiency for him.

The Weekly: Playoff Hunt Winding Down, DSL Ends, and Promotion Commotion.

By Todd Johnson

The Playoffs
It has come down to the last week. Eight days from now the minor league season will be over and only Cubs 1 in Mesa has secured a spot. Iowa and Myrtle Beach are eliminated while South Bend and Tennessee should be any day now.

The only other team with a chance to get into the postseason is Eugene. They are currently neck and neck with the Salem-Keiser and it’s going to come right down to the last week. They actually play each other in a three-game set at Salem-Keizer this week.

Cubs 1 will defend their Arizona League championship starting this week on Wednesday in a single elimination semi-final match. If they win, then they play a best of three series for the title.

DSL Season Ended Yesterday

It turned out to be a very hopeful season for the Cubs’ two Dominican Summer League teams. The 2 team wound up with a 27-45 record while the 1 team went 41-31. That’s pretty good considering the Cubs had no “big-name” international free agents on either roster as the Cubs were restricted in their international spending the past two years.

There are a few prospects I have mentioned throughout the course of the season who have either put up good numbers or flashed some potential. Shortstop Fabian Pertuz has hit at, or near, .300 for most of the season. Pitcher Misael Garcia has had an outstanding second half of the year. Top starter Luis Rodriguez has an ERA of 0.73. Hitters Pedro Martinez, Rochest Cruz, Ervis Marchan, and Widimer Joaquin showed the ability to put the ball in play. I thought that maybe some of them would make their way to Mesa for the playoffs, but so far, none have.

Promotions
After the Daniel Murphy trade for Andruw Monasterio, there were a parade of promotions this week. Duncan Robinson moved to Iowa where he proceeded to go six scoreless in his first AAA start. 1B Tyler Alamo advanced to Tennessee along with Justin Steele, who is just 1 year removed from Tommy John surgery. Utility player Christian Donahue of South Bend continues to rake this month and hit his way to Myrtle Beach where he quickly endeared himself to the Pelican faithful with a home run in his first game.

While all promotions are big, the biggest surprise of the week was pitcher Brailyn Marquez getting promoted to South Bend. I found it odd because Eugene is right in the middle of the playoff hunt and Marquez has arguably been their best arm the whole year. Still, his appearance at South Bend, as a 19-year-old starting pitcher, will be very exciting.

After missing two months, Bailey Clark made a few appearances in Mesa and returned to Myrtle Beach this week where he threw two scoreless innings. Hopefully, Bailey can make up that lost time in the Arizona Fall League.

South Bend 2019 Schedule
South Bend released their 2019 season schedule this week. I was pretty excited to see it just to find out when they play Burlington, Clinton, Wisconsin, and Beloit. I am not going to be able to make it down to Burlington this year because it takes place during school time, but I will be able to make it over to Clinton for three games as they play over the first weekend in May. I’ll also be traveling up to Appleton, Wisconsin in July for a couple days to see South Bend play the Timber Rattlers. That’s going have to be an overnight stay while Beloit is just 35 minutes from my house.

In addition, I keep hearing people raving about Fort Wayne’s ball park. I’m going to try to get over there for a couple of games and then swing back through South Bend at some point next summer

Busy Week Ahead
Matt Swarmer gets updated Tuesday and then on Thursday I look at who should/could be on the Cubs’s playoff roster. The deadline to be on the Cubs’ to eligible is this Friday.

I also started assembling two all-star teams this week – one for the month of August and one for the second half. The August all-star squad will be rolled out on Saturday and the second half group will come out on Tuesday the 4th, the day after the regular MiLB season end. I will also have a new Top 21 list sometime the week after Labor Day.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Are There Any Cub Prospects Breaking Out in the Second Half?

By Todd Johnson

Usually, the first half is pretty clear-cut when it comes to prospects breaking out. The second half is not. Playing well in Mesa and Eugene is not a precursor for future success in the upper minors or the majors. With one short season team, four rookie league teams, an influx of draft picks, and a whole lot of player movement, there are a dozens of prospects to monitor. Right now, there are exactly three plus weeks left in the minor league season.

When I started to think about which prospects are breaking out in the second half, no one really popped out with that blinking neon sign that said “BREAKOUT!” In the first half, it was quite evident that Jared Young, Matt Swarmer, and Tyler Peyton were heads and shoulders above everyone. This half, not so much.

Here are some thoughts about prospects that are in the running for being a breakout prospect of the second half.

Tennessee: Keegan Thompson got destroyed in his first two weeks in Tennessee and since then, he might be the closest thing to a possible breakout starter. With a 1.46 ERA in July at AA, Chicago does not look that far away for him.

Myrtle Beach: Tyson Miller has flashed his potential at times and he’s been rocked hard at others. In July, he was outstanding with an ERA of 2.49 , but his first start in August was not something to write home about. There’s still time for him. Jared Young continues to just get better and better at high A. I doubt if you can technically be the breakout hitter of the second half if you already broke out in the first half? As for relievers, Manny Rondon has really taken off and might be close for breakout reliever of the second half with a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings of relief.

South Bend: This is a difficult place to pick a breakout player. They’ve had a few guys go on streaks like Delvin Zinn and Christian Donahue, but nobody that’s really put it together for a long stretch of time. On the mound, they have lost 2/3 of their starting rotation from the beginning of the year The bullpen is decent. They do a good job night after night. But no one is really dominating the opposition. Reliever Garrett Kelly is close as he’s only allowed one run since the beginning of July. Right now, he might have a short lead over Rondon. This half, Kelly’s stats are eye-popping with a 0.44 ERA and 22 Ks in 22 innings with a batting average against of .105. Those are stunning!

Eugene: This is a topsy-turvy team. Half the roster turned over after the first half (38 Games). The team is now loaded with college players from the draft who are sort of/kinda/maybe on the verge of being the breakout hitters of the second half. Luke Reynolds and Grant Fennel seem to be taking the lead in the hitter category. In their last three weeks, they look to be running number one and two in that category. The question I have is: How much they are going to hit for power? Eugene has two starting pitching candidates. I really like Derek Casey, the recent draft pick out a Virginia. He has been outstanding for the Emeralds, but he only pitches 2 to 3 innings a night. That kind a hampers him for being a breakout. It does set him up for next year though. The closest thing to a breakout starting pitcher might be Brailyn Marquez. The tall 19-year-old lefty throws between 95 and 97 this year but he also has his struggles. He’s not efficient as he works a lot of deep counts. He rarely gets out of the fourth inning. Once he makes that adjustment, he could really take off.

Mesa: It’s very hard to break out in rookie league. You’re not exactly facing the best competition on the planet. Then again you still have guys that throw in in the upper 90s and guys hitting 400 foot home runs. Four players come to mind so far based on their performance. Pictchers Didier Vargas and Jesus Tejada both had outstanding Julys on the bump. Vargas was outstanding last year with a 0.99 last year in the DSL and Tejada was the best pitcher in August in the entire system last year, also in the DSL. In addition, second round pick Cole Roederer has been very impressive. He’s shown the ability to hit for average, power, get on base, and steal bases. He looks to be a dream pick! I can’t wait to see him play on actual TV.

You wouldn’t think that 20 games would make a whole lot of difference to picking breakouts, but it does. When the second half of the minor league season is only 70 games, that’s almost a third of the season. In the real world, that’s not much time, but in the minor leagues that’s a good bit of time to show what you can do.

MLB Pipeline’s New Top 30 Cubs Prospect List Reveals a New Young Base of Talent

By Todd Johnson

I figured this year would be a season where there would be a lot of variation of players moving up and down my own prospect list. Usually, MLB Pipeline is pretty conservative when it comes to adjusting their own list. They aren’t so herky-jerky and prospects take a lot of time to move around on the list. Today, MLB Pipeline released their new top 30 list that included recent draft picks and international free agents. Based on the year that several prospects are having, I thought there would be a lot of turnover throughout the list. There was.

What Was the Least Surprising Thing?

Everybody and their mother knew last week when Jim Callis answered my MLB Pipeline inbox question if Miguel Amaya would be “the cream of the Cubs’ crop.” Here is what MLB Pipeline said about Amaya’s growth in 2018:

Amaya is starting to make the same type of impact offensively, showing feel for the barrel and the ability to make consistent contact from the right side of the plate. He’s doing a better job of waiting for pitches he can do more damage against, allowing him to tap into his power. He moves decently for a catcher but isn’t a factor on the bases.

Another thing that was not very surprising to see the number of players moving up and down the list. There five new additions to the list and one player returned to the list. Otherwise, there was not a lot of separation between the prospects, but that will be changing as the 2016-2018 draft and international free agent classes make their way up the organization.

What Was the Most Surprising Thing on the List?

Seeing lefty pitcher Brailyn Marquez all the way up at number 4 was quite surprising. Then again, Marquez has the type of talent that has everyone picking their jaws up off the floor. Marquez, who is only 19, has gone from the low to mid 90s to the mid to upper 90s on his fastball.

On the other hand, Thomas Hatch fell all the way down to #20. I thought he would drop but not all that far. The 2016 third round pick has struggled at times this year at AA. MLB Pipeline said the following about his fall from grace: “He hasn’t missed as many bats this year in Double-A, leading to some thought that he might be better suited for middle relief than the back of Chicago’s rotation.

Who is New to the List?

Trent Giambrone, Richard Gallardo, Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, Erling Moreno, and James Norwood.

I was glad to see Giambrone make it along with Norwood. As for Moreno, he is not technically new, he is back on the list. Roederer, meanwhile, is off to a good start in Mesa and could rise fast next year along with fellow draft pick Brennan Davis. Both Roederer and Davis could easily make their way into the top 10.

Who is Missing?

I really like Jared Young as a hitting prospect. He dominated the Midwest League from April through June and is doing the same in July at Myrtle Beach. Young will more than likely be named the Cubs Hitter of the Year at the end of the season, Duncan Robinson has put together a good year at AA Tennessee. He’s had a rough patch in July, but for the year, he has been a steady force for the Smokies.

Who is is now off the list?

Jen-Ho Tseng, Alec Mills, Javier Assad, Bryan Hudson, Jeremiah Estrada, and Wladimir Galindo all fell off. In the future, I would not be surprised to see Assad, Hudson, Estrada, and/or Galindo back on the list.

In the offseason, MLB Pipeline will release another list at some point. It will be different, too. It might not have six players change, but there could be 3 or 4 of this year’s draft picks get some more action over the next 5 weeks of the MiLB season and more development in fall instructs. The system has a new breath of life and that should continue to improve with the majority of elite talent at 18-19 years of age.

For your information, here is the old list from the end of 2017.