By Todd Johnson
This month’s All-Star team was pretty fluid right up through yesterday’s games. There were prospects who stayed consistent all month. There were those who got hot early and faded late. And then there are those who got off to a rough start but turned it on later in the month. At one point, before last Thursday, they were only five pitchers who met the usual pre-requisite 3.00 ERA. Somehow, two more pulled through
As for position players, no one but Jeffrey Baez really set the system on fire. Baez, who, in the past, has dominated levels in spurts. In April, Baez hit .411 with 3 HR and 15 RBI to earn Hitter of the Month honor. They were not that many players who hit above or near .300. While that is not required to get on the team, there were clear demarcations in the levels of production across the system about who should be on the team. I did not have to leave anyone off who was on a par with current crop of all-stars.
It will be interesting to see which players get promoted here in the coming weeks. I expect some of the players in the video below to move up a level. Most of the promoted prospects will probably be relievers and maybe one of the starting pitchers.
So, without further adieu, here is this month’s minor league All-Star team.
By Todd Johnson
Heading into Tuesday night’s debut, Brendon Little’s pro career had not been very stellar. The 21-year-old left-handed starter only pitched in 16 innings in 2017 for short season Eugene after being taken by the Cubs in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Those 16 innings were not kind. He struggled with his fastball. His velocity was down. His ERA was over 9 and he only struck 12 as opponents hit .300 against him. It was, as I say to my students, “73 kinds of bad.”
That was last year.
By all accounts (Arizona Phil), Little had a good spring in Mesa. Just a week ago, Little pitched five innings and did well. He allowed 1 run but had 6 Ks in the outing.
I was was not expecting to see anything from Little in his South Bend debut except his curve. Considering he did not pitch D1 baseball, but rather at a junior college, the Midwest League is a pretty big jump in talent. I was trying to temper my expectations and think long term with his development rather than get immediate results. I did not want to place unreasonable expectations on a first round pick.
Then again, I hoped to see his fastball in the low to mid-low 90s (91-93) and that he could command it often. If he could get through the fifth with just giving up 2 or 3 runs, I could have lived with that. Maybe he could get in 60-80 pitches for the night and strike out four or five. But those are just wishes and maybe unreasonable ones at that.
My wishes are where I want him to be by the end of the year. Tuesday was the first step to get there – or that’s what I told myself yesterday afternoon.
Here is how his 2018 debut went:
Little got the first two guys out on 5 pitches. He looked good at that point. He was throwing nothing but fastballs around 92, which was 3-4 mph better than at Eugene last year.
Then Little fell behind the third batter. It went to a full count when the batter laced a double down the left field line. After a passed ball, he walked Bowling Green’s cleanup hitter Brendan McKay.
At this point, I began to wonder why Little was nibbling on every pitch instead of attacking the zone. He looked to be in command with batter #5 when strike three was not caught by catcher Miguel Amaya, who then was unable to make a throw to first for the third out.
It looked like Little was going to get out of the inning on a liner to center but the ball kept sailing resulting in a 2 run double. Little faced one more batter who promptly walked.
After 35 pitches and 0.2 IP, Little was done – 1 K, 2 BBs, 2 hits, and 4 ERs.
A line I have been saying a lot lately is “I have seen this movie before.” After watching Little go at it last night, I said it again. This looked somewhat similar to how he pitched at Eugene last year. But then again it wasn’t. The velocity was up this year, he threw a couple of changeups that looked good, the curve looked nice, but his fastball was all over the place. He has to attack the zone rather than pitch on the edges. He has to get that straightened out.
At 21-years-old, he’s got time. If he figures it out, he could be special. But for now, it is hard to see that. Still, I look forward to his second start and see how he does then. It’s a process, but no one said it would be easy, even for a first round pick.
The rest of the game was a doozy! Bowling Green took an 8-0 lead after an inning and a half. Then, South Bend began to chip away at the Hot Rods’ lead. Home runs by Michael Cruz, Austin Filiere, and Jared Young pulled the young Cubs close to 11-9. Chris Carrier, an outfielder from Memphis, stepped up to the plate in the seventh and proceeded to hit a grand slam to give South Bend a 13-11 lead! Brian Glowicki held the Hot Rods scoreless to preserve the win.
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
Last week’s draft signing deadline was a close cut for three prospects. Alex Lange, Jeremiah Estrada, and Nelson Velazquez were all able to sign contracts with the Cubs. That brought the total number of draft picks signed to 29, a high for the Theo era.
Nine of those 29 picks are playing in South Bend, Eugene, and Mesa. The other 20, 16 at which are pitchers, have not begun their Cubs careers. Here some initial impressions about who is doing what and where.
At South Bend
Austin Upshaw – I really like this kid. He has a smooth left-handed stroke and some power. He can play either second base or first base. He is hitting over .400 after a couple of weeks and has been put in the middle of the lineup.
Brian Glowicki – In 2 relief appearances, he’s given up one earned run and struck out three. In the second appearance on Sunday, he looked pretty good throwing in the low 90s.
Jake Steffens – He is a big boy and throws on a steep downhill plane. He’s not going to strike out a lot of hitters, but he will get a lot of ground balls.
Casey Ryan – He is a huge presence that on the mound. He’s made 2 appearances for Eugene and nothing has really happened other than a lot of ground balls. He’s got some nice arm side run that goes in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
Austin Filiere – In just 8 games he’s shown the ability to hit for power to all fields. He came on strong at first and is having a little slump in the last couple of games.
Jared Young – The first thing you notice is that he is a 6’2” second baseman. He has shown a good approach at the plate from the left side in just a few games. I am very impressed with how he carries himself when he’s looking for a pitch to hit.
Brandon Hughes – He provided all the offense on Sunday, including a home run. I think the Cubs are going to try and tinker with his swing a little bit to create more lift. At Michigan State, he relied on speed to get on base. He has only played in a couple of games so far with excellent results. Love the bat drop.
Cam Balego – He currently leads the team in hitting and has only been there a couple of weeks. He’s just played second base.
Chris Carrier – He started his first game on Monday night so it’s a little early to tell. He has good size and speed and we will know more when he gets to Eugene.
I expect most of these players to be rostered by the end of next week with the majority of them in Mesa and Eugene, and a few might matriculate their way to South Bend. I would not be surprised to see some of the starting pitchers shut down for the year based upon how many pitches they have already thrown in college this spring.
Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Jeremiah Estrada, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Rollie Lacy, Ben Hecht, Peyton Remy, Brendan King, Sean Barry, Mitch Stophel, Brady Miller, Braxton Light, and Jeff Passantino.
There is a lot up in the air with this group of arms. I think Little might see some action in the pen but start next year. I doubt if Lange pitches this year after throwing over 120 innings at LSU. I think it could take a while to shake these roles out. You would think that Abbott, Thompson, Uelmen, and Estrada are destined to be starters.
Nelson Velazquez, Luis Vazquez, Chris Singleton, and Ramsey Romano
I’m looking forward to seeing how Velasquez and Vazquez do in rookie ball. The Cubs have not selected a lot of high school position players the past few years so they are the exception rather than the mainstream type of pick. As for Singleton, his mother was killed in the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting for around 2015.
Hopefully, I can see some of the newest Cubs when South Bend travels to Beloit in 10 days.
By Todd Johnson
Now that there is some distance between me searching for basic information on draft picks the day of the draft and finding out detailed information, I am beginning to like, for the most part, what the Cubs did on draft day. Overall, it was a good draft haul that is built on ascending players, some established arms, and a couple of high risk players.
Here is who I like best from the three days and a brief statement why I like them.
Brendon Little – P – Manatee – 97 from the left. Any questions?
Alex Lange – P – LSU – I think the Cubs got a steal when he dropped to them. He is one of the top college arms who with a little pro coaching could really take off. He already has a plus curve.
Keegan Thompson – SP – Auburn – Experience, Experience, Experience
Nelson Velazquez – OF – Puerto Rico – He has tools that could develop into a top flight outfielder with power and speed
Austin Filiere – 3B – MIT – Track record of power and he went to MIT
Chris Carrier – OF – Memphis – Sculpted body who might have lurking power in his body somewhere waiting for the Cubs coaches to draw it out.
Brian Glowicki – RP – Minnesota – Experience closing in a power conference
Luis Vazquez – SS – Puerto Rico – Like Velazquez, he’s young, moldable, and has a lot of raw tools.
Jared Young – 2B – Old Dominion – He comes from a good baseball school. The more I read, the more I like about him.
Brandon Hughes – OF- Michigan State – The Cubs can take his swing and adjust it. He hit for average and he has the body to hit for power and natural speed.
Casey Ryan – RP – Hawaii – He’s a big man with a power arm at the back of the pen.
Brendan King – SP – Holy Cross – Those Ivy League guys seem to do well for the Cubs.
Darius Vines – SP – Oxnard – He’s a toolsy player but the Cubs like his pitching more than his hitting. Hopefully the Cubs can sign him.
I am sure there will be some prospects who surprise everyone, too. The Cubs scouts have shown that they can find some gems in later rounds.
Now comes the hard part – signing them. The Cubs should be able to sign between 25-28 out of the 41 picks from my calculations. You need to be following @Savermetrics on Twitter, he has a pretty good collection of tweets, hometown articles, and quotes about what the players’ intentions are.
Here is what I think will happen between now and the final day to sign on July 15 (I have also heard July 7).
Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Nelson Velazquez, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Austin Filiere, Chris Carrier, Brian Glowicki, Rollie Lacy, Austin Upshaw, Jared Young, Brandon Hughes, Casey Ryan, Chris Singleton, Brendan KIng, Sean Barry, Brady Miller, Mitch Stophel, Jacob Steffens, Ramsay Romano, Cam Balego, and Jeffrey Passantino
Luis Vazquez and Peyton Remy
Ben Hecht and Braxton Light,
Jeremy Estrada, Skyler Messinger, Darius Vines, and Kier Meredith
Bryce Bonin, Hunter Ruth, Joe Donavan, Ben Ramirez, Tanner Allen, Alex Cornwell, Russell Smith, Cooper Coldiron
I will keep you posted on who signs and when they debut. Eugene should get the most players while South Bend will get a few. It is rare that draft pick goes to Myrtle Beach, but it does happen occasionally the first year. The last time it happened was Dave Berg.
It was an interesting day as the Cubs selected 8 more players to join the organization. The day started off with a rapid selection of starting pitchers including a promising Keegan Thompson in the third round. As the day wore on, the Cubs drafted 5 pitchers and 3 position players.
I like what the Cubs collected. They took some chances by selecting OF Nelson Velazquez who is an extremely raw player from Puerto Rico. He could be a star or a bust. Uelmen might be a sneaky sign. Cal Poly -SLO is not a magnet for players, but the Cubs got Casey Bloomquist from there two years ago.
I think almost all of today’s picks will sign. 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada might go to UCLA rather than play for the Cubs.
I will be back tomorrow at 11 with a live blog of day 3. There will be no preview in the morning.
Here are some brief notes and video about each player taken by the Cubs today.
Keegan Thompson – SP – Auburn
6’2″ and 210 lbs.
Pitchability is a major plus
Came back with a very good season after having TJS. His stuff is still coming back. He appeared in 15 games as a starter with a 2.41 ERA. He struck out 75 in 93.1 IP while walking only 17. MLB.com said this of his stuff:
I like that he has overcome adversity with TJS and now focuses on getting batters out versus blowing everyone away. His CB is a plus pitch. Like Hatch, and likely Lange, he may be move a bit faster, or at the least, start higher at Myrtle Beach next year.
He was also a former teammate of Trevor Clifton and Tyler Alamo on USA Baseball.
Erich Uelmen – SP – Cal Poly SLO
6’3″ and 195 lbs.
Improving rapidly from year-to-year
Same school as Casey Bloomquist
He threw 98.1 innings this year. As a result, I doubt if he sees significant action this year. His stats are outstanding for his junior year. He struck out 100 with a 2.93 ERA. He only walked 23. Baseball America spoke highly of him (BA #273). He comes across as an ascending player.
Nelson Velazquez – OF – Puerto Rico
6’1″ and 200
Originally came to the US and went back. He is very much unrefined. I did find an article in Spanish where he crushed two home runs. He was the third ranked position player from Puerto Rico behind Heliot Ramos and Ricardo de la Torre (who went one pick behind in the 6th). Sounds like he is coming into his own.
He is likely destined for rookie ball in Mesa.
Jeremiah Estrada – P – Palm Desert HS
6’1″ and 185 lbs.
Has some room to fill in on his frame
In 2016, he was one of the top pitchers on the summer All-Star circuit. In his senior season, his stuff was not as good. However, MLB.com ranked him at #93 in their Top 200. They said of the young man:
It looks like he could be a hard sign.
#Cubs 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada: “Most likely, I’ll choose UCLA… It’s longer, but I think it’s worth it.” 5/5
— Wes Saver (@Savermetrics) June 13, 2017
Ricky Tyler Thomas – P – Fresno State
I profiled him early in the season when he was going great.
I think he might get some rest in this summer. Then again, I think he profiles as a reliever. So, we could see him in Eugene out of the pen.
Austin Filiere – 3B – MIT
6’1″ 185 lbs.
Hit 13 HRs every year
MIT has a baseball team? Played well for Harwich in the Cape Cod League and played outfield there. He hit 7 HRs with 27 RBI in just over 30 games in 2016.
Per Brad (@ballwok), Peter Gammons did a nice write-up on him.
He should be in Eugene after he signs.
Chris Carrier – OF – Memphis
Good size at 6’2″ 204
Sculpted frame. still room for more.
He hit .330 with 16 HRs with 50 RBI and an OBP of .438 in his senior season. Like Filiere, Carrier will head to Eugene for most of the summer.
Brian Glowicki – RP – Minnesota
5’11” and 190
From Downers Grove
For his senior year, he recorded 16 saves with a 2.20 ERA. He struck out 39 in 32.2 IP. Opponents hit just .216 against him. A huge Red Sox growing up, Glowicki will have some adjusting to do.
Say hello to Eugene. He should love it there in the summer.