This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.
If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.
Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.
Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.
I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.
By Todd Johnson
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.
By Todd Johnson
What I thought would be the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night debut of Eddie Butler for Chicago. He went six innings, gave up two hits and three walks, but struck out five and did not allow a run as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3 to 2. Butler displayed a nice collection of pitches that included a fastball with some nice arm side run. He should get one more start before the Cubs decide on whether to keep him as the fifth starter.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ made his MLB debut against the Cardinals. His first at-bat was not very auspicious as he struck out on four pitches. He later homered in the game – Not a bad first game. On the other hand, he will likely be back in Iowa in ten days.
We were not done yet.
Eloy Jimenez finally was scheduled to play in a game that mattered on Saturday night for Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the game was called because of rain. So, Myrtle Beach will play two today. I doubt if Eloy does.
Finally, Wladimir Galindo returned from the DL for South Bend. In his first at-bat, he drove in two. For the night, he went 1-4 with 3 Ks. His average is now .321.
While some prospects have made a lot of noise with their bats and arms this season, there are several other prospects who are quietly going about their business and putting together some very nice seasons.
- Duncan Robinson has gone back and forth between starting and piggybacking. He now looks like a starter after a 7 IP, 5 K performance where he lowered his ERA down to 1.52.
- Michael Rucker has been very hard to score on out of the bullpen for South Bend. Currently, his ERA is 1.42.
- Bryant Flete has been a go to guy for the pelicans. He is one of the team leaders in RBIs while playing a very good shortstop.
- Both David Bote and Charcer Burks go about their business quietly and have been essential cogs at the top of the lineup for Tennessee.
- Matt Rose missed two weeks but it has not stopped him from being one of the team leaders in homers and RBIs for Myrtle Beach. Since returning from his injury, his average is slowly creeping up towards .250. I think he could go on a tear once the weather warms up a little bit more. Last August, he hit seven dinners in August at South Bend.
Here at Cubs Central
The Facebook page is beginning to take off with the Players of the Day segment. Every day we select the best hitter, starting pitcher, and reliever in the minors and give them some props and put their baseball card on the Internet. There is also a page on this site that keeps a record of who we selected. AND another new page on this site keeps track of each monthly All-Star team. If you are on your phone, you can click the drop-down menu in the header. If you have a computer, there should be a tab at the top of the page to select.
Around the System This Week
Iowa: 1-6; 14-20 – 8.5 GB
The Cubs can score 11 runs in a game, but then they give up 12. With Butler now in Chicago, I think there will be a mostly new rotation the second half. Alec Mills could be the only remaining starter come July.
Tennessee: 5-3; 22-14- First Place
The Smokies moved into first place in the Southern League’s Northern Division. Using a combination of excellent starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen, and some ascending hitters, the Smokies are a team to watch this year. Hopefully, they can clinch a playoff spot for the first half next month.
Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 19-16 – 2.5 GB
They have not really gone on a winning streak this year. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be in a groove just yet. Right now, they seem to be susceptible to the big inning. Adbert Alzolay looks like he could be the real deal this year.
South Bend: 5-2; 23-12 – 1.5 GB
This team does not have a lot of power at the plate. Nevertheless, they can put up some crooked numbers in a hurry. From 1 to 9, they might have the best lineup in the system. Pitcher of Bryan Hudson also had an encouraging start this week. If Manny Rondon can get straightened out like he was last night (6IP, 0 Runs), this team could be unstoppable with some consistent starting pitching.
Extended Spring Training
There is less than a month left and some of the pitchers are starting to get stretched out a bit. Jose Albertos had a very good scoreless three inning start this week and I expect to see him hit four innings this next week.
Players of the Week
POWER! in the System
Friday Six Pack
Saturday Prospect Profile
Grading the Drafts
My Posts on Other Sites This Week
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans won four games in a row and flew into the second place in their division in the Carolina League. The team underwent a massive change in personnel the past month. Nine new players arrived from South Bend to replace players who were either promoted, injured, or traded. Just this week, Zach Hedges was promoted to AA Tennessee. Then on Monday, shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Rashad Crawford were part of the deal for reliever Aroldis Chapman. The players promoted from South Bend are fitting in quite nicely.
A 17 and 15 record may not seem like much, but getting above .500 is. They currently hold a 3 game lead in the wild-card race. And, even though the Pelicans are just one half a game out of first, they are starting to put things together things they did not do in the first half. The first thing changed is hitting. The key to the Pelicans resurgence are the bats of David Bote (.385 in his last ten), Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice, who has been on
The key to the Pelicans resurgence are the bats of David Bote (.385 in his last ten), Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice, who has been on a HR tear at Myrtle Beach since arriving back in June. He has 5 HRs and 13 RBIs in a month. While his average is only .235, he has a .383 OBP and has been a big boost hitting behind Yasiel Balaguert. Torres and Crawford were also having great months before they were traded.
However, I think the biggest key in the batter’s box has been the awakening of first-baseman Yasiel Balaguert. Balaguert has won back to back Carolina League Player of the Week awards. For July, he has 3 HRs, 22 RBIs, an average of .333, and an OBP of .380.
Gone from the Pelicans are Ian Happ and outfielders Trey Martin and Shawon Dunston, and in, starting yesterday, are outfielder Donnie Dewees and infielder Bryant Flete, who both arrived from South Bend yesterday. Pelican fans are going to love Dewees style of play. He hit .282 in South Bend with a .327 OBP, 15 doubles, 3 HRs, and an amazing 12 triples while driving in 54, third on the team. Flete is an outstanding defender who has been home run happy the past two weeks by hitting three. In their debuts last night, Dewees went 2 for 4 while Flete went 3 for 4 with a triple and RBI while scoring 2 runs.
Another big factor in Myrtle Beach’s recent surge is the rebirth of the bullpen. Recent addition Pedro Araujo has been outstanding, except for one outing, since arriving from South Bend. Craig Brooks got off to a rough start and seems to be settling in since his promotion from South Bend. Daury Torrez, Tommy Thorpe, James Pugliese, and closer Ryan McNeil have all been outstanding during the past month.
The strength of this team has always been its starting pitching. Joining the Pelicans will be pitcher Preston Morrison, He adds to an already elite staff led by Trevor Clifton, Erick Leal, Jonathan Martinez, Jake Stinnett, and Jeremy Null. I think Pelicans fans are really going to like Morrison on the mound. He had a 0.79 ERA in June and a 0.49 ERA for July. He has four pitches which he can throw for strikes, but I think the movement he gets on his pitches is a little like Jake Stinnett, except Morrison has much better control.
Even though last year’s Pelicans team won the title, the strength was always in their starting pitching and defense. This year’s team as it’s now constructed going forward, it’s a little bit more offensive, in a good way. With all the recent additions from South Bend, this team is much deeper. That gives manager Buddy Bailey more options late in games on the mound, and at the plate.
The next six weeks are going to be very exciting for this club as they try to defend the Mills Cup. With all the position changes, bullpen help, and stable starting pitching, they should be able to get it done.
What I am liking about the Cubs minor-league system this year is that there is some depth at positions where there was none last year – that could change later this year. When it came time to fill out this month’s Cubs MiLB All-Star Team, some decisions were tough to make, especially first base. In fact, after two weeks, I thought most of these positions were pretty clear-cut. But the last two weeks made me think about who I was placing in each position.
Five players made a nice run here in the past two weeks to put themselves in contention to be on this list. They did fall short. They include Daniel Spingola, Yasiel Balaguert, PJ Higgins, Jean Machi, and Tyler Alamo. And in May, which starts today, others like Eloy Jimenez and Eddy Martinez could make a run at next month’s all-star team, even though they did not make April’s All-Star squad.
It’s hard to believe that 1/5 of the minor league season is complete. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played and a lot of strides to be made in a prospect’s development. I am struggling with how fast it went. Based upon the first month, it should be an exciting year in the Cubs’ minor-league system.
Here is the video form of Cubs Central’s April Organizational All-Star Team. The statistics were valid as of 4/30/2016 at 12 p.m.
Ed. Notes – Paul Blackburn lowered his ERA to 0.29 last night
Iowa – 5
Tennessee – 6
Myrtle Beach – 5
South Bend – 5