By Todd Johnson
When it comes to baseball cards, I am weird. When I was a kid, I loved collecting them around 10, 11, and 12-years-old. It consumed every summer. I used to have a card table in my bedroom where I had them all sorted into neat little stacks by team and arranged by division. I was consumed with collecting them and trying to find the money to collect them. But as the 70s turned into the 80s, there were other things that began to take over my time. Part of me still enjoys that euphoria I got from collecting those initial cards of the 1970s.
That was over 40 years ago. This winter, I added some new templates of more recent years and I’m kind of digging that, too, but in a different way. For the month of January and into early February, I found a few more pictures of prospects that are starting to show up in Google and Twitter searches. Some of the cards I made turned into instant classics.
There’s not really a theme that weaves throughout all of the cards in the second “best of” post for this winter. Instead, the 12 cards I’ve selected today I like for variety of reasons. The key to any great card is a great photograph. And each of the photographs of the following cards are special for a different reason.
There were only a few pictures of Cory Abbott, the Cubs 2017 2nd round pick, out there on the Internet. This is one of them from the Eugene Emeralds that I really like because of the arm action in the follow through. For the other card, Duncan Robinson is in a Myrtle Beach Merman uniform, a play on the show “Eastbound and Down” that followed the mythical career of one Kenny Powers. I really love that jersey and the picture by Larry Kave!
Coming in at number 10 is a picture by my friend John Conover that captures Aramis Ademan in action against West Michigan. While I do like action, I really like the lines in the background of the dirt and the shaded section of the grass as much as the player. Coming in at number nine is a picture by MiLB of Adbert Alzolay at the high class A All-Star game. It’s it’s a very appealing picture to me because he’s in a different uniform and I like the shade of that blue. Sometimes, the specialty jersey can get played out a little bit, but I love this picture of Brendon Little in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” jersey.
7 to 5
Duncan Robinson returns again in the Mermen jersey at number seven. When I love about this picture is how the rain in the background dances in the light in another capture by Larry Kave. In contrast, Duane Underwood’s number six card has him bathed in the sunlight in an old picture from when he was in the Arizona Fall League from USA Today. Larry Kave’s close up of Zack Short is special because the yellow lettering just pops on the card.
4 to 2
Even though he didn’t get to see a lot of action after being drafted, Rollie Lacy comes in at number four in a night shot from the Emeralds that blends in perfectly with the staggered background in a 1999 template. I just love the many shades of black in the card. At number three, Alex Lange gets bathed in the trees that really offset the action in the card in this warm up shot from the Emeralds. For number two, I just love this blue sky blending with the stadium lights of Eugene reliever Casey Ryan. It is a classic action shot of him warming up in between innings in. I think the blue sky and the stadium lights reflecting against his hair is magical.
2017 draft pick Chris Singleton has been through more in the last three years than anyone can imagine. His mother was killed in a church shooting in South Carolina. It didn’t stop Singleton from chasing his dream. When I look at this picture, I see a determined look in his face and how the world is just melting away behind him.
Starting later next week, spring-training shots should be floating around the Internet. I will take a few of those images and begin to make cards for spring training. It will have its own folder over on the Facebook page and I’ll have a post in early April for those cards. I’m really excited to see how much some of the players have changed over the winter and it’s always exciting to see them in a blue Cubs uniform in the Arizona sunlight.
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.
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