By Todd Johnson
Heading into today, the Cubs had six spots open on their 40 man roster. They could have used all six spots to protect six prospects from the Rule 5 Draft or they could have used less if they wanted. They could also release a couple guys and protect more than six.. But whatever they did, I was pretty sure the Cubs would protect their pitching assets. Namely, Adbert Alzolay and Oscar de la Cruz would be added so as not to fall into the enemy’s hands. In the end, the Cubs picked players they currently value who they think could help the team in the very near future.
Adbert Alzolay – He’s been pretty much a given since the end of the season and his standing in the organization has reached a level not seen for a Cub starting pitcher in a long time. He is far from a finished product as he still has work to do on his curve and changeup. He could make an appearance at some point this summer. Although, he hasn’t pitched over 120 innings in one season yet.
If Oscar de la Cruz ever gets healthy, he can move quickly. Then again, I have been saying that for two years. And in that timeframe, he’s barely pitched 95 innings. Still, his protection shows value. I wonder how long the Cubs are going to try to keep him as a starter if he continues to miss time.
David Bote – He tore the cover off the ball from July of 2016 to June 2017 before a minor slump in July. Still, he rebounded to do well in the Arizona Fall League to hit .333 with a .395 OBP and 4 HRs in 19 games. It helps that he played all over the field in 2017 including 12 games in the outfield. When I first saw him play in 2014, he was playing SS. His versatility is a key.
With only six spots, and some 50+ players eligible for Rule 5 selection, the Cubs cannot protect everyone. Then again if selected, the team making the choice has to keep the player on the 25 man roster or return them to the original team. The Cubs only have a few players eligible for rule five selection who could be at best bench players in the majors. To be honest, I did not see much of a gamble in whom the Cubs left off. The gamble will come by another team if they select a Cub.
Outfielder Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, and 3B Jason Vosler were the most notable position players left off. Trevor Clifton, Pedro Araujo, Jose Paulino, Erling Moreno, and Jake Stinnett are some of the better known pitchers.
A year ago, I said that Clifton and Young should be locks for the 40 man. In 2018, things still can change for both of them as they will make some adjustments for the upcoming season. Just because a player was not selected does not mean the Cubs are down on that prospect. Instead, it is more about 2018 than anything else. In a year from now, the Cubs will do this all over again.
In addition, the Cubs also sent Jacob Hannemann down to AAA Iowa. The roster now stands at 36.
By Todd Johnson
Beginning tomorrow, and running through Friday, baseball’s general managers hold their annual meeting in Orlando Florida. Something could shake down this week. In their search for two starting pitchers, the Cubs could come home with hopefully one. While I would like to see something get done this week, I am also not holding my breath. Ideally, the Cubs could make a trade for a #1 starter this week, get a closer, and then sign a free agent starting pitcher and their major offseason acquisitions would be done.
Right now, signing 23-year-old pitcher Shohei Ohtani from Japan is my number one preference. Considering that he just got a new agent this week, all signs now point to him coming after some things are worked out between MLB, the Player’s Association, and the NPB (Japanese League). He has not officially been posted yet. That could take a while.
As a result, no deal will get done this week.
I have always thought that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta would set the market and everything would fall in place after those two signed. Now that the Ohtani roller coaster looks to be heading to America, I wonder how much the market is going to be driven by him as teams try to acquire his talents. Considering that the max he can sign for is $3.5 million ($300,000 with the Cubs), his ability to drive the market will clearly be the coveted roster spot he takes at the top of the rotation.
The name of Alex Cobb has also been bandied about a lot the past few days. While many Cubs fans want to see the Cubs sign him, I would see that signing in a different light. Sure, Cobb is a nice pitcher and a quality guy, but he is not a top of the rotation arm. If the Cubs are trying to win a world championship, Cobb would be a nice back end of the rotation piece who will help get the Cubs to the playoffs but might not even start in the playoffs. The Cubs need a number one starter for the World Series to pitch alongside Hendricks, Lester, and Quintana. That is not Alex Cobb.
Currently, there is a four year window through 2021 for the Cubs’ young position player core to win another World Series. The Cub brass has to acquire two top of the rotation starters to make that happen. Ohtani makes that scenario much more likely than does Cobb.
Jason McLeod on the Score
For 20 minutes Saturday morning, the Cubs Executive Vice-President and Director of Scouting espoused on a number of topics from young pitching to Eloy and Gleyber to Schwarber and development at the MLB level.
What caught my ear during the interview were some quick evaluations by McLeod of the Cubs minor league starting pitchers. He eloquently praised Adbert Alzolay as a future starter. In addition, he talked about the potential of Thomas Hatch and his ability to miss bats despite a “blip” in his development.
What I really enjoyed was how effusive McLeod was about Michael Rucker and Duncan Robinson. He praised Rucker’s ability to throw strikes at a high velocity and he was just as excited about Robinson’s ability to throw a variety of pitches. McLeod went on to discuss and issue plaudits for the talents of Jose Albertos and Javier Assad. I am excited to see who is going to be pitching for each affiliate next spring. It is going to be quite competitive in the lower parts of the system.
Arizona Fall League Ends Next Week
With just one week left in the season, it is been an up-and-down year for many of the Cub prospects who are taking part in the six week fall league. Both David Bote and Adbert Alzolay came on strong to begin the fall league, but they have faded somewhat. To be fair, Alzolay had one bad outing where he gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning. Meanwhile, Charcer Burks has been up-and-down and Pedro Araujo has been consistent throughout the six weeks season with an ERA under 2.00. Jake Stinnett has not thrown a lot of innings, but his thrown enough striking out 1.5 batters per inning.
In looking at Jason Vosler, his batting average at .229 does not inspire confidence, but his OBP is quite good at .349. Teammate Ian Rice has an OBP of .422. I’d say it’s been a good 2017 for Mr. Rice.
10 Days Away
I am just 10 days away from beginning my off-season series and I’m not ready yet. Right now, there is nothing planned to be published this week. If I do put out something, it’s going to be “incidental” news. That’ll give me time to get started on examining DJ Wilson and breaking down the catchers in the minor-league system for the position breakdown series.
By Todd Johnson
When it comes to prospect lists this winter, beauty is definitely going to be in the eye of the beholder. As prospect lists begin to come out over the course of the next three months, you could see 20 different Cubs make a top 10 list. And you could see four or five different Cubs atop each of those lists. In a post-Eloy world, it’s going to take a long time for those lists to settle down. With the possibility that the Cubs might make another trade this offseason, more chaos could soon enter those lists.
Baseball America is getting ready to drop their latest Top 10 Cubs Prospects List on Monday or Tuesday, in addition to their top tools in the system. I thought I might beat them to the punch at their own game and come out with my prediction of their list of top MiLB tools and try to guess who they will select as their top 10 Cubs prospects.
🔸Best Hitter for Average: Victor Caratini – No one else is even close.
🔸Best Power Hitter: Nelson Velazquez – 10 HRs in 6 weeks ought to get him the title.
🔸Fastest Baserunner: DJ Wilson – Watch him hit a triple and you will see how fast he flies.
🔸Best Athlete: Jacob Hannemann is now but might not be for long. Nelson Velazquez could overtake him in a year.
🔸Best Fastball: Adbert Alzolay – Sitting at 96 in the sixth and seventh innings is pretty impressive.
🔸Best Curveball: Dillon Maples – To him, this is his fastball as he commands it and throws it in fastball counts.
🔸Best Slider: Dillon Maples – This will be the pitch that makes him a killer pro.
🔸Best Changeup: Jose Albertos barely gets the nod over Eugene teammate Jesus Camargo. Both are excellent and get some ugly, ugly swings.
🔸Best Control: Adbert Alzolay – It begins and ends with the ability to put his fastball where and when he wants. Jen-Ho Tseng comes in a close second.
🔸Best Defensive Catcher: Miguel Amaya – While blocking might be a small issue, his arm is clearly not. PJ Higgins is next. It will be interesting to watch Will Remillard come back and to see what recent international signee Alexander Guerra can do
🔸Best Defensive INF and Best INF Arm: You might think that Aramis Ademan would get the nod. However, Luis Vazquez is better and more consistent. I’ve only seen him make a few plays, but he shows much more range, fluidity, and athleticism than Ademan.
🔸Best Defensive OF: Now that Trey Martin is gone and Jake Hannemann is back, Hannemann barely gets the nod over Charcer Burks, DJ Wilson, and Nelson Velazquez. In a year, Velazquez could win almost every hitting and outfield award.
🔸Best OF Arm: Eddy Martinez – 2018 is going to be his year. Don’t be shocked to see him get a chance in Chicago later this summer.
Baseball America’s top 10 list is going to be a little bit different than mine as I do not consider Victor Caratini to still be a prospect. While he technically is, he has spent enough time in the majors to not be, just not the prerequisite 130 at-bats. After Caratini, it could be a free-for-all. It just depends on what value one sees in a prospect.
Where all these prospects are going to be ranked is a complete mystery to me. I’m having trouble reconciling whether to put Ademan in the top five and whether to include Dillon Maples in the top 10. I know other people like pitcher Adbert Alzolay a lot (as do I), but I think that Jose Albertos is a better high-end and prospect and would be my top prospect overall. I would expect the two young pitchers to be 2A and 2B.
Then, all bets are off.
In thinking of how I would do my own list, I’m half tempted to put Nelson Velasquez at number four. Just based on his little six week stint of 10 home runs in Mesa, you have to love the praise he garnered from evaluators and Jason McLeod in the Mark Gonzalez article.
There at least a dozen players who could make their way into Baseball America’s top 10. Mark Zagunis might be the most ready for the majors after Caratini. Thomas Hatch could more than likely be in the top 10 along with the Cubs two first round picks from 2017, Brendon Little and Alex Lange. MLB.com’s number one prospect, the oft-injured Oscar de la Cruz, should be in the top 10 as well as shortstop Aramis Ademan. Cases could also be made for Dillon Maples, Jen-Ho Tseng, Trevor Clifton, Duane Underwood, Jr., D.J. Wilson, and Justin Steele as top 10 prospects this winter.
Their analysis should make for some very interesting discussions in the coming week.
By Todd Johnson
On Monday, 10 minor league Cubs became free agents. Some names were surprising. Others, not so much. Many of the players were signed last year to provide depth and insurance for the MLB club and then stored in Iowa.
Some of them will latch on with someone next year just as they did in 2017. Some of them could even re-sign with the Cubs come Spring Training. However, I do think most of Iowa’s roster in 2018 will be promoted from AA Tennessee.
Scott Carroll – RHSP – He only made 4 starts, but did OK with a 3.68 ERA.
Chris Dominguez – 1B-3B – He actually had a good year hitting .284 with 11 HRs and 45 RBI. However, at 31, he will have a hard time doing anything but filling in a spot.
Mike Freeman – INF – He did make it to Chicago in September, but he was only in Iowa for 23 games.
Ryan Kalish – OF – An injury took his season and he did not play in 2017.
Ozzie Martinez – INF – Hitting .222 is not going to endear him to anyone.
Williams Perez – RHSP – He started 23 games with an ERA over 5. The Cubs took a flyer on him, but it did not take off.
Elliot Soto – SS – I would not be surprised to see him stay with organization in some coaching capacity.
Jemile Weeks – IF-OF – He hit .235 for the year. Some team might like his versatility.
Surprised and Sad to See Go
John Andreoli – OF – A classy guy, he was a player whose grit and hustle pleased many prospect lovers. He just could not hit enough at Iowa to make it to Chicago. At 27, he should be able to latch on somewhere soon.
Trey Martin – CF – A gold glove outfielder who is extremely athletic, he just could not stay healthy. Still, at 24, he will not be a free agent very long. I, actually, am sad to see him go. He can go get a ball like no other.
The big thing to take away from the Cubs not re-signing many of these prospects is that the Cubs’ system is deep enough to not keep a plethora of “AAAA” type players at Iowa. Now, with as many 7 new position players coming from AA to begin 2018, the depth is finally pushing prospects en masse to Iowa.
However, I think if Trey Martin could have stayed healthy, he could have done well at AAA. Now, with Martin moving on, Charcer Burks’ ascendancy could have a greater effect in a shorter time frame. The way has now been paved for David Bote, Ian Rice, Jason Vosler, and Yasiel Balaguert to get plenty of playing time in Des Moines next summer.
I am not quite sure what went down in Kodak, Tennessee this summer. In April and May, they were close to being the best team in the system and were competing for a playoff spot against Chattanooga. Then, in one series, they were swept by Chattanooga and that doused any first half playoff hopes. Several prospects struggled in June and July and yet the Smokies were still in the thick of the playoff hunt again until mid August when the Montgomery Biscuits put some distance between themselves and the Smokies. Pitcher Jake Stinnett, who missed most of the year, returned in late July as a reliever and shined in his new role (0.61 ERA in 9 games). There could be something there.
Still, there was a lot of development that took place in 2017 for a team that was not considered to have a lot of elite prospects. Here are seven things about the Smokies talented roster.
1. Outfielder Charcer Burks was one of the prospects who came out of the gate extremely well in spring training playing with the big league club. That carried over into April and May as Burks made his way onto MLB Pipeline’s top 30 cubs prospect list after hitting .293 and .286 and then .333 in June. Then July happened. He hit .135 for the month but he did rebound some in August. For the year, he hit .270 with a .370 OBP.
2. Trey Martin – He has been around for a while and he has improved at every level. It is not been a rapid ascent, though, but a slow steady climb. Along the way, he’s won two gold gloves and struggled with minor issues like this year’s hamstring strain that caused him to miss two months. Upon his return, his bat showed a marked improvement and I am really excited about what he might be doing at Iowa next year.
3. David Bote exploded in the second half of 2016 and that carried over into April and May 2017. Like Burks, he went down a little bit in the summer but rebounded well in August hitting over .280. I like the fact that he can play multiple positions in the infield. He has shown some power, but I prefer the fact that he is hitting the ball up the middle on a consistent basis.
4. Jason Vosler – He led the Cubs’ system in home runs this year with 21 but he also hit less than .200 in August. He came on like gangbusters this spring and then faded over the course of the rest of the summer. I am looking forward to seeing his batting average/OBP bounce back in 2018. It seems the more home runs he hit in July and August the lower his batting average got. Considering the fact that he never had more than 10 home runs in a season before 2017, it was interesting to see him produce at such a prodigious rate.
5. Yasiel Balaguert – We should just rename him Mr. Second Half. If he ever had a good first half, he would hit over 25 homers and drive in100 every year. That’s basically his second half pace when prorated out to a 162 game schedule. Maybe he’s just one of those guys it does better when it’s warmer. I look forward to him playing first base and the outfield next year for Iowa in a hitter’s league.
6. Ian Rice – You have to be picky when looking at his stats. You can hone in on the on-base percentage, the power numbers, and games played behind the plate that all point to him being one of the most improved prospects the past year. He played in 114 games this year with a .353 OBP and hit 17 homeruns. Considering that he was a last-minute addition to the Tennessee roster, he did an outstanding job transitioning over to catching almost full-time. I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do in Arizona Fall League this October and November.
7 – Which starting pitchers will get promoted to Iowa with Duane Underwood? I don’t know who that’s going to be. I honestly don’t. It should be determined in spring training. I think Zach Hedges will get a crack at Iowa again if I was to make a bet. If Adbert Alzolay and Trevor Clifton shine in spring training, they could also find their way there. I think a lot of it depends on who the Cubs sign, or trade for, in the offseason to replace Arrieta and Lackey. Right now, Alzolay, who is pitching well in relief in Arizona, might have the inside shot. Clifton, who was brilliant in the first half of the year and struggled in the second, could turn his career around quickly with a good spring. I would not be surprised to see all four get a shot in spring training to make a start with the big league club.
Smokies to Watch in 2018
Now 22, Eddy Martinez will be the player to watch in 2018. He’s finally acclimated to playing baseball again and playing baseball in the United States. It’s been a huge cultural shift for him and he is now able to relax and just play. In the second half of 2017, he hit .276 with 7 HRs and an OBP of .333. I imagine that the Eloy trade was tough for him as they were inseparable as teammates. The trade also may have helped him realize he is on his own now. I am looking forward to seeing him do his own thing in AA in 2018.
SS Zack Short, Pitchers Dakota Mekkes, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, Pedro Araujo, C Tyler Alamo, and 3B Jesse Hodges also bear watching in Tennessee. All will be at critical junctures in their development.
By Todd Johnson
At some point over the next two weeks, the Cubs will select up to eight players to participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. The league is a collection of elite talent. Held in October and November, the Cubs use this opportunity to evaluate how some players do against top-flight competition. The Cubs also use the league after to determine if they want to add certain players to the 40 man roster to avoid losing them in the Rule V Draft. And they also get some top prospects, who have been injured, some extra games in.
This year is quite the conundrum. I think the Cubs could add up to 8 prospects to the 40 man roster this winter. Here is List of Eligible Players for the rule five draft per The Cub Reporter:
Tyler Alamo, Adbert Alzolay, Luis Ayala, Yasiel Balaguert, Corey Black, David Bote, Cael Brockmeyer, Charcer Burks, Stephen Bruno, Roberto Caro, Trevor Clifton, Kevin Cornelius, Oscar de la Cruz, Enrique de los Rios, Andin Diaz, Andrew Ely, Luiz Escanio, Bryant Flete, Robert Garcia, David Garner, Yapson Gomez, Zach Hedges, Luis Hernandez, Jesse Hodges, Eloy Jiménez, John Michael Knighton, Erick Leal, Mark Malave, Dillon Maples, Brad Markey, Joe Martarano, Ryan McNeil, Jordan Minch, Erling Moreno, James Norwood, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Adonis Paula, Jose Paulino, Tyler Pearson, Henry Pedra, Stephen Perakslis, Jhonny Pereda, Chris Pieters, Bijan Rademacher, Moises Ramirez, Will Remillard, Juan Rengifo, David Rollins, Manuel Rondon, Carson Sands, Pedro Silverio, Jake Stinnett, Tommy Thorpe, Jen-Ho Tseng, Jason Vosler, Ryan Williams, Chesny Young, Jose Zapata.
I think two pitchers they want to get a closer look at are Dillon Maples and Adbert Alzolay. Although Alzolay is a starter, he could work in relief in Mesa. I also think 3B Jason Vosler and OF Charcer Burks are definitely going to Arizona. You could even throw in left-handed reliever Jordan Minch as that is a scarce position in the majors. The Cubs could also use a closer look at C Ian Rice and to get him more time behind the plate with elite pitchers. Closer Pedro Araujo Is another ascending reliever who the Cubs might want to take a look at. Currently he is dominating as the closer at Myrtle Beach. Outfielder Eddy Martinez could get a shot at Arizona if he could improve a little bit this summer. Currently, he is hitting .325 over his last 10 games.
The big-name prospect that they could send this year is not Eloy. Instead it is pitcher Oscar de la Cruz who missed most of June with a strained shoulder muscle. I would like to see how his mid 90s heat does against more advanced hitters.
As a result, I think the Cubs will definitely select a minimum of five players to go on the 40 man roster this winter. I do think they could really add up to eight.
Definitely 40 man material
Adbert Alzolay, Charcer Burks, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Eloy Jimenez
I think these five are all on a major-league track. Adbert’s has been a surprise this year along with Burks. The other three have been some of the Cubs top prospects for the past three years. I would be stunned if Clifton, Jimenez, and de la Cruz are not on the 40 man.
Most Likely Added
I really like Dillon Maples. His curveball is out of this world and he’s really taking big steps toward becoming a major-league reliever this year. I think it all boils down to confidence for him and he will probably be in Iowa in August. As for Jason Vosler, I think the Cubs need to see what they have in the left-handed third baseman before they make a decision. He had a great April and May before slumping in June, even though he hit five home runs for the month.
Maybe – Maybe Not
Chesny Young has not had the greatest year. I don’t think the Cubs are going to protect him. If they don’t, I think somebody might snag him. Jen-Ho Tseng is a tricky one. He’s had a rebirth this year, but I don’t know if he will make it to Chicago if he does get put on the 40 man.
Bijan Rademacher is a guy you root for. He is still relatively young and can play all three outfield positions. He just doesn’t have much power but he can hit for a high average.
Jake Stinnett, Erick Leal, Ryan Williams, Zach Hedges, Carson Sands – These are all nice guys but injuries have done four out of five of them in for this year. Sands might be one to talk about a year from now. He is currently rehabbing in Mesa after elbow splints.
Joe Martarano – even though he missed a season playing football, he was just promoted to South Bend. I know a team is not going to take a chance and select him with the expectation of him playing on the major-league roster. A year from now, that might be a different discussion.
Jordan Minch – he’s left-handed, he’s a reliever, and if exposed, he might get selected. But that’s a big if.
Do they stay on?
Right now Pierce Johnson, Dwayne Underwood, and Jacob Hannemann are all on the 40 man roster. Johnson and Underwood have had underwhelming seasons in 2016, while Hanneman has had a resurgence in his best month as a prospect since his promotion to AAA Iowa. I think the Cubs give them one more year. Underwood, after all, is only 22 years old. On the other hand, Johnson and Hannemann are 26.
The decisions for the Arizona Fall League usually occur in the middle of July. Whomever the Cubs select to attend always gives a glimpse into who they value and who they need to evaluate some more.
By Todd Johnson
I think the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching this month’s presentation is the amount of new names who made the All-Star team in June. In fact, there are only ten holdovers from last month. That means there are 10 new names and one returning name from April. That’s a lot.
June was a rough month in the Cubs’ system. Going into Thursday and Friday, I only had five starting pitchers on my list and only four of them met the usual requirement of an ERA below 3.00 for a month. I do like the fact that there are a lot of new names as it shows the depth of the system, and it also shows that they are all performing at a high-level.
July is usually when we see a lot of new names make the list. Arizona and Eugene players will make their names heard. For me, this is when I really I get to know a prospect. I begin to keep track of their stats almost on a daily basis. I am always excited to see new prospects do well, whether it’s the ones I think will or the ones who surprise me. To be honest, I always enjoy being surprised more.