Spring Training News and Notes – Part 1: A Preview

By Todd Johnson

In just three days, the Chicago Cubs open spring training when pitchers and catchers officially report. I say “officially” because many players have been in Mesa since mid-January getting in shape and working out.

On Wednesday, the Cubs officially announced they invited 27 non-rostered players to camp. Here is the official list. Notice, there’s a glaring SS missing. Don’t worry, Nico will be there. The Cubs are well known for having their top prospects play on the MLB split squads. Expect Miguel Amaya to be there, too.

This might be one of the more interesting camps in recent years. There are a couple of roster spots still open and there is plenty of room, and time, for a trade to take place, or even to sign your basic $300 million free agent.

Here are the big storylines heading into camp.

The Elephant in the Room
The only major talent acquisition this winter was free agent infielder Daniel Descalso. However, the player who shall be nameless has yet to sign with anyone and may not for a couple more weeks. The only clue that something could be happening is if the Cubs make a major trade and shed $20-$30 million worth of payroll. Right now, I just don’t see that happening. I don’t see a team willing to take on that much money in today’s marketplace.

The Bullpen Spots
With Brandon Morrow on the shelf for the first month of the season, there should be one available spot in the bullpen. Preferably, that spot should go to a lefty. Right now, the Cubs only have Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing to fill that capacity. Then again, Joe could head north with his eight best relievers regardless of their preferential throwing arm. I like that Dakota Mekkes is in the major league camp and I can’t wait to see how he does.

The Bench Spots
As it stands now, the bench spots from the left-handed side of the plate belong to switch hitters Victor Caratini, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist. David Bote is the only hitter who hits solely from the right. The question is not who is going to be a bench bat at the end of spring training, it’s who’s going to be a bench bat when a certain SS is eligible to come back in May.

Minor League News
With the big leaguers rolling in, winter instructs are now officially over. Arizona Phil had a few comments throughout the last couple of weeks about what was taking place. Top prospect Nico Hoerner was smacking the ball all over the park but was not throwing overhand in defensive drills. Two interesting names that Phil dropped to watch this year are Alexander Guerra, a soon to be 22-year-old catcher from Cuba who displayed good power in BP and should be at South Bend this year. As well, outfielder Carlos Morfa, who played some last year in the Dominican, also impressed Phil with his power.

In addition, the Cubs keep adding to their collection of relievers at AAA Iowa by re-signing former first round pick Luke Hagerty. At 37, Hagerty’s story is an interesting one chronicled by ESPN and other outlets this week. The Cubs also signed pitcher Robert Robbins. So far, the Cubs have signed three pitchers who improved their velocity at Driveline this winter.

Cards
I’m pretty pumped to see some pictures coming in of the guys getting ready and we know that means they’ll be some new cards heading your way. I do store them over on Cub Central’s Facebook page. Here is the link to the current album.

Coming up This Week
I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at who the Cubs might redraft this summer. The Five Series continues on Wednesday with Jonathan Sierra and maybe I will record a podcast for later in the week… or it could be a video.

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Cubs’ MiLB Tidbits and Getting Ready for Day 3

By Todd Johnson

Sundays are my favorite days and today is no exception. When you are probably reading this, I will be woofing down some biscuits and gravy or some scrambled eggs and sausage as I go out for breakfast every Sunday. What will be making this Sunday special is that the “Down on the Farm” session will be taking place at 10:30 this morning. I am a little giddy to see what some of the questions will be along with the answers. In addition, I wonder if Justin Steele or Adbert Alzolay will be on the panel.

While I was unable to make it to the convention this year, it hasn’t stopped me from checking out the events in real time. Between video streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope, I have been able to see all the sessions I wanted but the coaches session. I even got to see a few I didn’t know would be available like the “H.O.F.” session and “In the Batter’s Box.” Today, I will be checking out “Down on the Farm” in all its minor league glory.

It was also cool to see pitcher Justin Steele do an interview with my Cubs Insider compadre Evan Altman. Justin talked on a series of topics which I found very interesting. Here is just one example about why Justin wears #21.

You can see the whole thread of the Steele videos here for now.

In other Cubs’ MiLB News


*Miguel Amaya was ranked as the #7 catcher in all of the minors by MLB Pipeline. It will be interesting to see if Nico cracks the top 10 SS early this week. On Saturday, Pipeline will release their new top 100. Amaya will be on it and Nico could be close after his stunning AFL.

*Baseball Prospectus will be releasing their top 10 Cubs prospects list later in the week. I will be all over that in comparing it to other lists.

*The Cubs signed former White Sox, Brewers, and Rockies reliever Rob Scahill to a minor league deal. He has a career 149.2 IP at the MLB level over 7 summers.

*The Cubs began their new January instructs in Mesa this past week. According to Arizona Phil, there are 35 pitchers, 6 catchers, 19 infielders and 11 outfielders. The most interesting aspect of the list is that the pitchers are mostly starters going all the way up to a few possible starters at AA and AAA.

*There are very few relievers at instructs except for recent draftees. Phil also said that Nico Hoerner was getting infield instruction in a 1 X 1 setting and that Jared Young and Nico were the most advanced hitters in the group.

*Also, Phil spoke to the fact that only OF Carlos Morfa is the only player to be assigned to instructs from the Dominican.

* In looking at the position players on Phil’s list, most of the Cubs present either were drafted in 2018 or were at South Bend, Eugene, and Mesa last year. It’s like a who’s who of class A for 2019 with a couple of exceptions. 

I will be back later with a summation of today later in the afternoon.

The Midweek: Day 3 of the Draft Coming Up, Promotions, Machin is Cranking, and Morfa Emerging

By Todd Johnson

Today’s going to be a hectic day. Starting around 11 Central, Day 3 of the MLB draft begins. If you go online to MLB.com, it’s like listening to a giant conference call because that’s exactly what it is. There is no time between picks and it is sometimes hard to keep up. I will be live blogging starting around 11 and, at some point, I will need to take a break as the day wears on. I hope to see a surprise or two today in the draft.

Around the System
Unfortunately, the minor league system does not shut down while the draft takes place. Tennessee and Myrtle Beach are playing well right now and both are closing in on playoff spots with 12 games to go. Tennessee is three games back of arch-rival Chattanooga while Myrtle Beach is 4.5 games back of Winston-Salem. South Bend has won three in a row and it’s two games below .500, also with 12 games left. But they are 9 games back.

The big story this week has been the parade of pitching prospects moving up and down the system. Southern League All-Stars Trevor Clifton and Dakota Mekkes are now at AAA Iowa. That is pretty exciting. It is pretty cool that both of them are one step away from realizing their dreams. I will hopefully be traveling out to Iowa some point in the next two weeks. Most likely, Monday or Tuesday next week.

In addition, Matt Swarmer heads from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee along with reliever Jordan Minch who now gives Tennessee their first left-handed on the roster this season. Pitcher Cory Abbott takes off his South Bend uniform and will put on Myrtle Beach Pelicans jersey for a while. I cannot wait to see how he does in a pitcher’s park.

Even though he was promoted a few weeks ago to AA Tennessee, infielder Vimael Machin has been on fire since arriving in Kodak. In 16 games as a Smokie, he’s hitting at .432 clip. I will have a profile of him in the next few days. I also have one ready to go on Trevor Clifton.

Down in the Dominican, the two teams have played 3 games. Outfielder Carlos Morfa is stealing all the thunder hitting 3 HRs, 2 of them yesterday, while hitting close to .600. His OPS is 2.199!!! Be wary of DSL stats, but this is an interesting story to follow as Morfa needs to builds up a larger sample size of data. This is about the only thing I can find about Morfa and it is his prospect video from the DPL. First thing you notice in the video. He’s just 17.

Meanwhile, on Cubs Central, the draft is hogging the website for just one more day. After today, I will have a new top 21 list tomorrow and then I think I might take a day off from writing as it feels like it’s becoming a full-time job the past three days.

Right now, I’m going to go for a walk. It’s a little brisk here in northern Illinois as it got down into the 40s last night. The cool air ought to wake me up and get me ready for 30 new Cubs to be selected starting in less than 3 hours.

Day Two Live Blog: Cubs Have 8 Picks to Make Today

By Todd Johnson

 

5:35: Tenth and final round for today

Luke Reynolds – 3B – Southern Mississippi – 6’1″ 195 lbs Bats Left Throws Right

He was a hitting machine this year. But his OBP was .551! Wowzers! Likely to play first base as a pro. The NCAA made him actually sit out two years after transferring from Mississippi State and he responded. Amazing! He is very disciplined and can hit to all fields. He is the sleeper of this class so far.

4:55 Ninth Round

Derek Casey – LHP – University of Virginia – 6’2″ and 190 lbs. Throws Right
Missed all of 2016 with TJS but has rebounded well the past two years. He has a nice K/BB ratio of 4 to 1. Had a 3.79 ERA in 2017 and 3.48 this year. I like this pick because he’s solid. He could relieve, he could start, but I am leaning starter first in 2019. I like this pick. His experience will add to his pitchability.

4:15 Eighth Round

Zach Mort – RHP – George Mason University – 6’1″ 2015 lbs. Throws Right

Whiffed 108 in 105 IP. Only walked 13. Wow! Jim Callis said he is ultra-competitive. Made 15 starts this year with 3 complete games. That’s impressive! He had a 2.48 ERA this year.

 

3:30 Seventh Round

DJ Artis – OF – Liberty University – 5’9″ 165 lbs. Bats Left Throws Left
DJ Artis was slated as a late first round pick at the beginning of the year. He took a step back this year after being named the Conference player of the year. He can hit for average, he has amazing speed, and he was probably pitched around a bit this year. More than likely, he has second round talent. This is a bit of a steal, to be honest. He was ranked 136 by MLB Pipeline and and 145 by BA.

Pipeline said this of Artis:

He’s proven he can really hit, albeit from an unorthodox crouch from the left side of the plate. There is some raw power, but he doesn’t tap into it consistently, focusing on line-drive contact and drawing a lot more walks than strikeouts. He’s a plus runner who can handle center field with below-average arm strength, one who could one day hit near the top of a big league lineup.

3:17 Again with the waiting….

At some point I have to tune out the broadcast for a bit. Now, I have The Smithereens playing in the background while I do stuff. I love 80s pop/rock bands with jangly guitars and snazzy hooks.

2:52 6th Round

Kohl Franklin – RHP – Broken Arrow, Oklahoma HS – 6’4″ 190 lbs.

I love this pick! He was injured for part of the year (seems to be a theme this year) but he has big game pedigree, a nice projectable frame, good life on his fastball up to 93, and also throws a slider and a change.

2:39 – While we wait….

Four Smokies named Southern League All-Stars: Trevor Clifton (second year in a row), Thomas Hatch, Jeffrey Baez, and Dakota Mekkes.

  

2:31 Promotion Commotion

It started last night and continues today. One more roster announcement should be coming at SOuth Bend.
-LHP Jordan Minch has been assigned to Double-A Tennessee
-RHP Matt Swarmer has been assigned to Double-A Tennessee
-LHP Jose Paulino has been activated from DL
-RHP Cory Abbott has been assigned to Myrtle Beach

2:05 – Fifth Round

Andy Weber – 2B – Virginia – 6’1″ 190 – Bats Left, Throws Right
Hit first, but is a decent defender. 3 year starter.
He was not listed on any top lists. However, he hit .344 with a .415 OBP and drove in 49 in 54 games. Very impressive. His K rate this year was about 15% while he walked about 12% of the time. He did OK in the Northwoods League (a wooden bat league) over two summers hitting .280 and .309.

1:50 – Roberts Video

Take a look at his breaker

1:25 – 4th Round Pick

Ethan Roberts – RHR – Tennessee Tech – 5’11” 170 lbs. Throws Right
Misses a lot of bats. 96 Ks in 71 IP this year. 2.41 ERA in 26 games.
He was not in BA’s top 500 or MLB Top 200, as most closers are not. Yesterday, he started for the first time against Mississippi State in the CWS and went 7.2 IP before giving up 4 runs in the 8th. Cubs fans should get to see him in some capacity this weekend in the Super Regional. Still trying to find a scouting reports on his arsenal. He has not played summer leagues, so his arm is still pretty fresh. It will interesting to see if he starts or relieves in 2019. For this year, expect to see him in Eugene.

1:10

I am not starting see a lot of positives about Herron’s experience on the Cape last summer. However, 3 of the 5 picks the Cubs have taken were injured for part of this year.

12:55

All of the aforementioned picks at the beginning of the post, about half are still available.

12:45 – Third Round Pick

Jimmy Herron – OF – Duke – 6’1” 195 – Bats R, Throws L

He hit well on the Cape last summer and gained a lot of praise, but was injured most of this year at Duke. Excellent makeup and top of the order kind of guy. Projects as a top of the order kind of guy. Should begin his career at Eugene.

12:24

Morfa hit a second HR on the day and is now up to .583…sheesh! 17 years old.

The pick can come in anytime.

12:15
As I’m waiting for the pick to come in, I checked the MiLB scoreboard, I noticed the DSL was playing. I checked in on Carlos Morfa who has had two big games already. Today, he hit his second HR and has driven in 3 while hitting .545 in 3 games. I don’t know much about him until I found his DPL profile. He has some good size and plays in the outfield. I should probably keep an eye on him.

11:45
Draft Grades the day of the draft are a bit silly. I usually wait a year before I start analyzing a draft class and that continues over several years.

Here are some comments from yesterday from around baseball. Here is Sports Illustrated thoughts on Hoerner:

Not gifted with extraordinary tools and inhabiting a somewhat thick body, Hoerner has produced offensively at Stanford this spring. The Cubs figure to use Hoerner in the same fashion they use Ben Zobrist: play multiple positions with the ability to hit at several different spots in the lineup.

That’s one way of looking at the pick.

11:30 AM
After going to get some groceries and putting them away this morning, I am finally settling into the Internet. I have done some reading to see what others think of the Cubs selections from last night. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline wrote this intriguing snippet:

I’m a little surprised the Cubs passed on a couple of the college arms that were available here, but Hoerner is an offensive-minded middle infielder with a track record of hitting in college. Those are hard to find, and he should continue to hit at the next level, with good power for his position. A lot of scouts see Hoerner more as a second baseman than a shortstop, but he should definitely be able to stay up the middle.

I will have some other analysis like that throughout the day.

11:15 AM
In less than an hour, round three of the MLB Draft fires up. I am excited. The day flows at a nice pace. NOt too slow, not too fast.

I am still spinning from last night. Not so much about the draft, but more about the promotions of Trevor Clifton and Dakota Mekkes.

Some Top Remaining Picks. The number is their ranking on MLB Pipeline. Any one of these would be a good selection for the Cubs as they have the 20th pick in the round.
19. Cole Wilcox, RHP, HS (Ga.)
23. Kumar Rocker, RHP, HS (Ga.)
35. Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford
40. Mike Siani, OF, HS (Pa.)
43. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, HS (Texas)
48. Blaine Knight, RHP, Arkansas
51. Tristan Pompey, OF, Kentucky
55. Nander De Sedas, SS, HS (Fla.)
60. Konnor Pilkington, LHP, Mississippi State
63. Slade Cecconi, RHP, HS (Fla.)