By Todd Johnson
It’s getting to be the busy season here at Cubs Central. While next week will be all about the draft, and redoing the top 21 list, this weekend will be about wrapping up what happened in May in the Cubs’ system. Tomorrow, I will rank the top 10 cards I made for the month. For today, it’s all about recognizing the top performers in the Cubs system the last 31 days.
Surprisingly, only 7 prospects made both the May and April All-Star teams. That’s not a lot. And of those 6, only 2 hitters did, catchers Jhonny Pereda and Miguel Amaya. This is going to be an interesting year as players search to find some consistency at the plate and on the mound.
This month’s All-Star team came right down to the wire. Several pitching spots were in play throughout the course of the last two nights, including the Pitcher of the Month and Hitter of the Month.
I have been tracking the system on a month by month spreadsheet. One thing I noticed early in the month was the ascension of Pelican pitcher Casey Bloomquist as a setup man for Myrtle Beach. Like many arms in the system, Bloomquist has worked both as a starter and as a reliever. This year, he is thriving in his new role. All of his pitches are a little more polished this year. The cutter that he talked about two years ago with me, now is becoming a go-to pitch for him. Good for Casey!
So, without further adieu, here is this month’s all star team, once again in video form.
The June All-Star team will be a lot of fun to sort through. The Dominican Summer League begins play tomorrow.
Eugene and the two Mesa teams start on June 15th. Some names I look forward to seeing play in Eugene are OF Fernando Kelli, SS Luis Vazquez, and 3B Christopher Morel. Down in Mesa, pitcher Jesus Tejada is a must follow along with SS Luis Diaz and OF Carlos Pacheco, to name a few. It should be an exciting month of action.
By Todd Johnson
One good month does not a promotion make. Two months, … maybe.
So far, there has not been a lot of movement up and down in the Cubs’ system this year. However, Bailey Clark moving from South Bend to Myrtle Beach was one of domination at South Bend. But most other promotions that took place were related to injury.
In the next few weeks, there will be a lot of movement as the MLB Draft takes place and 20+ new Cubs begin their careers. In addition, the first half will come to a close. I don’t expect a lot of movement when it comes to hitters, but there should be plenty of pitching movement – especially when it comes to relievers. In addition, there could even be a few players released at the higher levels.
Look for the following players to get bumped up a level fairly soon.
Tennessee to Iowa
Dakota Mekkes has been impressive since the beginning of the 2017 season. He has dominated three levels in the last 14 months. And the only reason to keep him in Tennessee would be to work on his walks. In 17.1 innings, he has walked 12. However, in the past, that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from promoting Carl Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Dillon Maples. Mekkes is ready for the next level and could be in Chicago fairly quickly this summer if needed.
Thomas Hatch has looked much better this year. He looks pretty comfortable on the mound and with what he’s throwing. What I like most is that he is gone deep in the games this year And with solid results as he’s posted a 3.06 ERA in 9 starts. His WHIP might be a little high, but I like his ability to get out of jams. He’s also pitched 89 pitches or more in 5 of his last 6 starts. That’s big fo him as the Cubs kept him on a short leash and a 5 inning limit in 2017. He gets bumped around every once in a while, but when you start breaking down his starts, he looks to be fairly consistent. He’s more of a candidate to go at the All-Star break then he is in the first week in June.
Myrtle Beach to Tennessee
Tyler Peyton has been an eye-opener for some at Myrtle Beach. I saw this coming last summer at South Bend as he was pretty dominant the last six weeks of the season. Part of me hopes he would get a chance to start, but as a reliever he is throwing 96 mph consistently out of the pen. Add in a killer ERA of 1.29, and he should find his way to Tennessee shortly after Dakota Mekkes heads to Iowa.
South Bend to Myrtle Beach
2017 second round pick Cory Abbott is missing a lot of bats in the Midwest league, 44 Ks in 36.1 IP. He should be on the first plane to South Carolina fairly quickly at the rate he is going. His slider and fastball command are just wiping out hitters as he has posted a 2.72 ERA in 7 starts. His WHIP is 1.06 and opponents are hitting only .206 against him.
On the Edge
The main problem in promoting prospects is that there is nowhere to go for many of them. For the following list of prospects, they still need some more time to simmer in their respective affiliates before being promoted. While they may not be promoted in the next two weeks, look for their names to be bumped up in late June at the end of the first half.
Tennessee: Zack Short, Charcer Burks, and Jeffrey Baez – All three would need a place to play. Right now, there are no spots in Iowa.
Myrtle Beach: Jhonny Pereda, Wyatt Short, Casey Bloomquist, Bailey Clark, Connor Myers, and Tyler Alamo – Bloomquist has been a nice surprise out of the pen this year, along with Short, while Alamo and Pereda are part of the logjam at first and catcher in the system. Bailey Clark has been a stud throwing between 95-97. He had a couple of adjustments to make at high A but looks to have righted the ship. If Baez and Burks go to Iowa, look for Connor Myers to head west to Tennessee.
South Bend: Tyler Thomas, Javier Assad, Rollie Lacy, and Austin Filiere – All four have shown flashes of potential and have put together some impressive performances along with some befuddling ones. The pitchers probably move before Filiere does.
It will be interesting to see how this shakes down in a couple of weeks both before and after the draft.
By Todd Johnson
The lack of hitting in the Cubs’ system in 2018 is a little disconcerting. Then again, that’s not a big surprise. Over the past two summers, the Cubs have drafted mostly pitchers. Position players, and, more specifically, college position players, have been few and far between in the draft in the top rounds. As a result, the Cubs do not have that elite type of hitting prospect dominating the system. The Cubs just don’t have the big bats they used to.
Some of the major prospects are struggling. Aramis Ademan is below .230 at Myrtle Beach. Nelson Velazquez is hovering around .200 while Mark Zagunis and David Bote were shuttling back and forth between Iowa and Chicago. As well, DJ Wilson has been injured most of the spring.
Then again, Jhonny Pereda and Jeffrey Baez haven’t stopped hitting all season. There are some other bats worth watching right now who are putting together a serious May at the plate.
1. Chesny Young seems to have found his stroke again. After hitting only .183 in April, Chesny looks like 2015 and 2016 Chesny that came to close to leading three leagues in hitting. In May so far, Young is hitting .333 with a .400 OBP. Last year, his average was up and down every month, Hopefully, he can maintain some consistency at AAA Iowa over the course of this summer. Right now, Chesny looks to be back to who he is and Manager Marty Pevey has moved Chesny into the 2 hole in Iowa’s lineup.
2. Charcer Burks, like Young, had a horrible April. Now that May is here, Burks, too, has been destroying the baseball to the tune of .344 with a .429 OBP and an OPS of .953. He has also been spotted playing more center than usual, too! Last year, he got off to a great start and sputtered in the second half. Hopefully, consistency every month is something he can sustain in 2018.
3. Yasiel Balaguert is a notoriously slow starter. He tends to turn it on in the second half. This year, Yasiel is not waiting until it warms up to get hot himself. He’s hitting .340 this month with 2 HRs and 9 RBI. In addition, he was named the player of the day twice just this week. he still needs to walk more as he’s only walked twice this month. Still, the burly 1B/OF can get hot for months at a time. It is good to see him go off so early.
4. Zack Short – This dude is just ripping it this month. In 15 games, he’s hit 4 homers and driven in 12 runs while hitting .286 with an OBP of .420 and an OPS of 1.027. He’s never been one to hit for that high of an average in his pro career, but the homers and OBP have always been outstanding and are consistent with past numbers. After an April where he hit just .183, he looks to be back on track. And, he should be moving up several prospect lists if he continues to maintain his performance.
5. Tyler Alamo – He is just killing it at 1B for Myrtle Beach. He seems like he has been around forever, but he is only 23 (deja vu line of 2018). In May, he’s raking it to the tune of a .378 average with 3 HRs. He has an amazing OPS of 1.142 that shows how hard he is hitting and driving the ball. I don’t know how much longer he will remain a Pelican. There’s not a lot left for him to prove in the Carolina League.
6. Austin Filiere – The 2017 draft pick out of MIT was excellent in April hitting .310 with a .403 OBP. In May, he’s been pretty good, too. For the month, he’s hitting .288 with a .408 OBP. He’s only put 3 HRs in the seats so far, but the weather will be heating up soon. Filiere is a little ahead of summer.
When the second half arrives, look for Fernando Kelli, Luis Hidalgo, Luis Vazquez, Luis Diaz, Alexander Guerra, and Jonathan Sierra to heat up for Eugene starting on June 15, now less than a month away. It should be an ongoing story of who can get it done at the plate this summer as well what hitters the Cubs take in the first few rounds of next month’s draft.
By Todd Johnson
How quickly things can change. What happens in April doesn’t always happen in May and some players who got off to slow starts are now starting to turn it on. That includes hitters, starters, and relievers. Here are a few players who are off to sizzling starts in May.
Iowa – David Bote returned from Chicago and just killed it going 17 for 34 with a couple of home runs and 8 RBI. He was in Chicago yesterday and ripped a 2-run pinch hit double in the third for the Cubs. In addition, Randy Rosario still has not given up a run this year. And Duane Underwood again flashed his promise by going 7 innings with 7 Ks and not allowing a run. Underwood seems to have some sort of Jekyll and Hyde thing going on this year. Hopefully, his next start will be reminiscent of his last.
Tennessee – Charcer Burks did not have a good April hitting .151. However, his May has been scintillating. He’s gone 10 for 27 (.370) with one home run. His teammate, shortstop Zack Short, has displayed a bit more power. In 8 days, Short has posted an OPS of 1.386 and he has seen his batting average rise 34 points in 6 games. He’s hitting .333 this month, mostly in the second spot in the batting order.
Oscar de la Cruz also had a dominating first start in striking out 10 in 5.2 IP while Trevor Clifton rebounded from a poor start on the 2nd (2 ER in 0.2 IP on 40 pitches) to to strike out 9 in 6 IP on the 7th in 6 innings of 1 hit ball.
Myrtle Beach – Connor Myers has never really hit for average. What has allowed him to stay in the system has been an outstanding defensive and baserunning skill set. But to begin May, Myers has been fantastic and looks to be a different hitter as he is at .296 for the month. I asked Pelicans announcers Scott Kornberg what’s been the key to Myers ascension this month. Scott quipped:
It’s really amazing! He has talked a lot about more bat control and having a better plan at the plate. And his walk rate is double what it was last year, and also he’s swinging and missing about five percent less. And on that note about bat control, his line drive rate is actually the second-best mark in the league
On the mound, Matt Swarmer has been enlightening. After winning pitcher of the month for April, he began May in the same fashion going 6.2 innings with 7 Ks and no runs.
South Bend – It took Jared Young a couple of games to heat up once he returned from the DL. But once he started hitting, the South Bend Cubs started winning again. Add in the fact that leadoff man, Roberto Caro, seems to be playing with his hair on fire this month. The 24-year-old outfielder from the Dominican has bounced around the system the past three seasons between Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Caro could be putting a statement on this year as he is currently hitting over .400 from the leadoff spot in 16 games.
Tomorrow, I will be discussing the maturation of Brendon Little during his first month for South Bend. And, on Friday, the six pack looks at relievers around the minors who might get promoted in the next few weeks.
Days left to teach for me…now down to 11.
By Todd Johnson
The Cubs made several roster moves in the minors on Thursday. Many of them were surprising. And, just as surprising, the Cubs did not make other moves one would think would happen. The assignments signify a shift within the Cubs organization. Now that the major league roster seems pretty much set for a couple of years, it is going to be hard for a prospect to break into the majors. As a result, that lack of movement continues down through the minor league system and you get what happened yesterday.
With just a week until the season begins, two teams’ rosters are pretty much set in Tennessee and Myrtle Beach. South Bend and Iowa have some adjusting to do as Iowa currently has 33 on their roster and South Bend has 32. The Cubs have until next week to finalize all full season affiliates at 25.
Here are the surprise moves that were made yesterday.
To be brutally honest – I was glad to see Oscar make it up to Tennessee to begin the year. His stuff, when he is healthy, is so advanced and hard. He breaks a lot of bats. As for everyone else that on this list, those are a bit of a letdown. Who knew that Efren Navarro Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, and Stephen Bruno and their outstanding spring training performances would keep Jason Vosler from heading to Iowa? Charcer Burks is in that same boat, too. Ian Rice might be the one I least expected. The Cubs have so much catcher depth now, it’s sick. So, the backlog for backstops begins in Iowa and ripples down.
To Myrtle Beach: PJ Higgins, RHP Casey Bloomquist, RHP Kyle Miller, LHP Jordan Minch, and Daniel Spingola
I was surprised to see Higgins stay in Myrtle Beach to begin the year (see the catcher effect). Higgins might be the best defensive catcher in the system overall, for right now. His bat slipped a little last year. Who knows? Maybe something happens that will free up this logjam of catchers.
As for Spingola, I did not see that coming after he dominated the Carolina League in the first half last year and spent half a season in AA. It is strange that Bloomquist and Miller are not heading to Tennessee, even in bullpen roles, has a bit of the “Oscar de la Cruz” promotion effect to it. Both are versatile swingman. Bloomquist made two appearances in AA and did fine. Miller is a versatile swingman who can start or relieve. As for Minch, he is one of the few lefty relievers left in the system. Then again, he battled injuries off and on the past two summers in Myrtle Beach.
The first two names are the biggest surprises to me. There is no way South Bend will carry 4 catchers. Even if Alamo plays first base, that still leaves three catchers on the squad and Miguel Amaya needs all the playing time he can get. As for Kevonte – he should be at Myrtle Beach. However, there appears to be a logjam for OF, too. Conor Myers, who is an outstanding defender as one will see, but struggles hitting, drops down to South Bend. Right now, the young Cubs have 3 CF on their roster. They won’t begin the season with three.
To Extended Spring Training/Eugene/Mesa: Gustavo Polanco, Alexander Guerra, and Jake Steffens
All three of these players will work on some things the next two months and should be the first called up to South Bend when a spot opens up, as it always does. It could happen next week or two months from now. You never know.
The Big Analysis From All This
Promotions are not a given. They never have been.
With Iowa pretty much cleaning house last winter, it looked as though several prospects would have spots to move up a level in 2018. Things changed in Mesa and spring training that prevented that from happening. The Cubs also have a ton of catchers and that depth will make it hard to move up an affiliate/level. The same is true for outfielders.
Here’s the big kicker – The Cubs still have more trimming of the rosters to do. On Tuesday, it was ten guys let go. Each affiliate still has to get down to 25. That’s 18 more bodies that will be moving down a level, moving to Mesa for extended spring training, or they will be cut.
With no positions opening up at the big league level for the foreseeable future, advancing in the minors will be hard for a couple of years. That is the “New Normal.” There will be another wave of players entering the organization this summer via the draft and international free agency. A prospect is going to have to make themselves stand out, to not be normal, but rather, to excel.
By Todd Johnson
I am still so excited! I haven’t been this pumped up since November of 2016!
Cubs fans are now just 4 days away from meeting Yu Darvish and him taking part in his first official practice this Thursday. Now, with Yu in the rotation, Mike Montgomery heads back to the pen. It makes me wonder who Dillon Maples has to get past to earn a spot. It also makes me wonder how much this could affect Justin Grimm, who no longer has a guaranteed contract after losing his arbitration case.
The Cubs starting rotation is now very deep at the major league level. A staff of Hendricks, Quintana, Darvish, Lester, and Chatwood puts the team on par with any staff in the majors. They aren’t going to go 162-0, but I could see the Cubs winning 95+ games in 2018. A week ago, without Darvish, the Cubs were predicted to win 89 games by Pecota. Darvish has to increase that win total at least 5 or 6 games.
About an hour after the signing, I began shifting my thoughts on the organizational impact this signing has. It puts in place a staff for at least the next two years, depending on when Darvish could opt out of his deal. It buys the Cubs time to develop several young arms. After the 2020 season, Darvish is the only current Cub in the rotation signed to a contract. Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, and Chatwood’s contracts all expire at the end of the 2020 season.
As a result, the Cubs’ young arms can be brought along and developed as assets, as Theo always intends. With so many young arms, the Cubs could have a large stockpile they could use in a deal later down the road while still being able to cherry pick the best of their own to keep. It’s a win-win scenario.
And finally, there is no compensation pick attached to Darvish. Because he was traded mid-season, the Cubs do not lose their second round pick. So, it looks like the Cubs will be picking up a pick should Arrieta sign soon. That would give them 4 picks in the top 75-80 selections.
In Prospect News…
Baseball Prospectus released their Top 101 prospects for 2018 and one Cub made the list. Adbert Alzolay came in at #95. Here is what John Eshleman of BP had to say about Adbert:
Alzolay has a starter’s delivery in a reliever’s body with a change-up that could push him to either role. Currently, the pitch is not playable to turn over MLB rotations, but he could right now get outs from a bullpen with his FB/SL combination, playing to higher end of velo band in short stints. The relative quietness of his delivery given his size, a result of plus athleticism and a strong lower half that stabilizes his delivery. I project change up and command improvement enough to keep Alzolay in an MLB rotation.
While Theo Epstein and the Cubs see Alzolay as a starter for now, Adbert still has some work to do to get there.
MLB Pipeline announced they will release their latest Cubs’ Top 30 Prospect list on Thursday February 22. Over the offseason, I have been keeping track of the prospect rankings and assigning points to where each player has been ranked. Using Baseball America, Fangraphs, John Sickels, Keith Law, Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus, the leader in points right now is Adbert Alzolay followed by Aramis Ademan. Only one point separates the two. Pitcher Jose Albertos rounds out the top three. Then it is a while until fourth place. Here are the top nine point values so far.
Ademan – 55
Lange – 36
de la Cruz – 30
Little – 27
Caratini – 25
Hatch – 19
Tseng – 12
I did include my Top 21’s top 10 in these results. However, I did not include Caratini as I don’t consider him a prospect. Normally, I usually include Cubs Den’s rankings, but this year Michael Ernst’s did not rank them. Rather he placed them in tiers. Although, Michael did have Jose Albertos as the lone Tier 1 prospect. I don’t think that his ranking them would have changed the list and its point totals and rankings much.
I don’t really think MLB Pipeline’s list will change many people’s perceptions of either prospect or the Cubs as a whole. It has been a while since the Cubs did not had a clearly defined top prospect, let alone a top 100.
I hope that this summer sees some prospects like Albertos, Ademan, and Lange matriculate up to full season ball and onto prospect lists. Maybe next winter the Cubs could get 3-4 names on a list.
Also in prospect news, Fangraphs released their KOTAH projections. The list is a projection of WAR for the next five years at the MLB level. Two Cubs made the list. Charcer Burks came in at #61 with a projected WAR of 5 and Victor Caratini came in at #35 with a 6.7 WAR projection. I did not see Burks like that, but I like that he is highly thought of after a brilliant first half in 2017.
Just throwing this out there…
I am wanting to do profiles of two prospects but I don’t have pictures of them, yet. One is of Danis Correa, a pitcher who threw in just two games for Mesa after coming over from the DSL. The other is Jesus Tejada, who threw in the DSL the past two summers.
This week, come Wednesday, Fernando Kelli gets profiled in the “Leveling Up” series. I really enjoyed profiling the excitement for the young outfielder. I also have two spring training previews for the major league camp and the minor league camp in the works for this week. The major league post hits Monday, the minors on Friday.
Baseball Cards of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Lists, Lists, and More Lists
It was a pretty exciting week as far as lists go. On Monday, Keith Law released his top 100 prospect list. Two Cub prospects, Aramis Ademan and Adbert Alzolay, found their names in the second half of the list. In addition, Jose Albertos later made Law’s “Just Missed List” of 10 prospects outside the top 100. That is a great sign heading into the season for Jose and the Cubs. On Friday, Law ranked the Cubs very low in his annual farm system rankings (subscription required). No shocker there.
Over the past two weeks, MLB Pipeline listed their top 10 prospects at each position in the minors. Catcher Victor Caratini was the only Cub prospect to make any position list and he came in at number 10.
And then last night, MLB Pipeline released their top 100 prospects. I did not expect to see any Cubs make the list as Jim Callis spoke previously that it would be very hard to get a Cub on there. And no Cub made it.
Starting in about a week, MLB Pipeline will be putting out their top 30 prospects for each MLB team. Alzolay looks to be their number one prospect on that list for the Cubs.
— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) January 28, 2018
Spring Training Invitees
With just two weeks until the beginning of Spring Training, the Cubs began assembling the camp roster this week. In addition to minor league players on the 40 man like Mark Zagunis, Adbert Alzolay, and Duane Underwood, the Cubs invited 19 other non-rostered players to come to camp. They include:
Pitchers: Anthony Bass, Craig Brooks, David Garner, Justin Hancock, Thomas Hatch, Williams Perez, Alberto Baldonado, Daniel Camarena, and Kyle Ryan.
Infielders: Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, Jason Vosler, and Chesny Young.
Outfielders: Jacob Hannemann and Bijan Rademacher.
Catchers: Taylor Davis, Chris Gimenez, Ian Rice, and Ali Solis.
A few names stick out to me in Hatch, Rice, Garner, and Brooks. I am not surprised to see Rice, Garner, and Brooks get invites because they have already played at AA. As for Hatch, I’m gonna look forward to seeing what he can do as he has yet to play at Tennessee. This might be a little crumb for him. I can’t wait to see how Rice does in that setting along with Garner and Brooks, both who throw in the mid to upper 90s.
Additionally, a few names that were omitted also stand out to me. Jake Stinnett, Yasiel Balaguert, Charcer Burks, and the newly signed Wynton Bernard did not receive the special invitation. In most years, the NRI is usually just a formality as the Cubs tend to use players from across the system in games. It’s going to be true again this year. Burks should get some playing time and Stinnett will likely pitch for an inning or two just to see how they match up against MLB talent. That might be good for both of their confidence levels.
Coming Up Next Week
On Tuesday, I have an article coming out for BP Wrigleyville where I talk about 10 things to think about regarding the 2018 draft. On Wednesday, 2017 first-round draft pick Alex Lange gets the “Leveling Up” treatment. The “Position Break Down” series ended last Friday with relievers. So, now I have to come up with some new things to do until Spring Training. One of them involves the year 2021. I may just come right out with one post about that year and what the end of that season means.
Baseball Card of the Week