By Todd Johnson
Heading into Tuesday night’s debut, Brendon Little’s pro career had not been very stellar. The 21-year-old left-handed starter only pitched in 16 innings in 2017 for short season Eugene after being taken by the Cubs in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Those 16 innings were not kind. He struggled with his fastball. His velocity was down. His ERA was over 9 and he only struck 12 as opponents hit .300 against him. It was, as I say to my students, “73 kinds of bad.”
That was last year.
By all accounts (Arizona Phil), Little had a good spring in Mesa. Just a week ago, Little pitched five innings and did well. He allowed 1 run but had 6 Ks in the outing.
I was was not expecting to see anything from Little in his South Bend debut except his curve. Considering he did not pitch D1 baseball, but rather at a junior college, the Midwest League is a pretty big jump in talent. I was trying to temper my expectations and think long term with his development rather than get immediate results. I did not want to place unreasonable expectations on a first round pick.
Then again, I hoped to see his fastball in the low to mid-low 90s (91-93) and that he could command it often. If he could get through the fifth with just giving up 2 or 3 runs, I could have lived with that. Maybe he could get in 60-80 pitches for the night and strike out four or five. But those are just wishes and maybe unreasonable ones at that.
My wishes are where I want him to be by the end of the year. Tuesday was the first step to get there – or that’s what I told myself yesterday afternoon.
Here is how his 2018 debut went:
Little got the first two guys out on 5 pitches. He looked good at that point. He was throwing nothing but fastballs around 92, which was 3-4 mph better than at Eugene last year.
Then Little fell behind the third batter. It went to a full count when the batter laced a double down the left field line. After a passed ball, he walked Bowling Green’s cleanup hitter Brendan McKay.
At this point, I began to wonder why Little was nibbling on every pitch instead of attacking the zone. He looked to be in command with batter #5 when strike three was not caught by catcher Miguel Amaya, who then was unable to make a throw to first for the third out.
It looked like Little was going to get out of the inning on a liner to center but the ball kept sailing resulting in a 2 run double. Little faced one more batter who promptly walked.
After 35 pitches and 0.2 IP, Little was done – 1 K, 2 BBs, 2 hits, and 4 ERs.
A line I have been saying a lot lately is “I have seen this movie before.” After watching Little go at it last night, I said it again. This looked somewhat similar to how he pitched at Eugene last year. But then again it wasn’t. The velocity was up this year, he threw a couple of changeups that looked good, the curve looked nice, but his fastball was all over the place. He has to attack the zone rather than pitch on the edges. He has to get that straightened out.
At 21-years-old, he’s got time. If he figures it out, he could be special. But for now, it is hard to see that. Still, I look forward to his second start and see how he does then. It’s a process, but no one said it would be easy, even for a first round pick.
The rest of the game was a doozy! Bowling Green took an 8-0 lead after an inning and a half. Then, South Bend began to chip away at the Hot Rods’ lead. Home runs by Michael Cruz, Austin Filiere, and Jared Young pulled the young Cubs close to 11-9. Chris Carrier, an outfielder from Memphis, stepped up to the plate in the seventh and proceeded to hit a grand slam to give South Bend a 13-11 lead! Brian Glowicki held the Hot Rods scoreless to preserve the win.
By Todd Johnson
This is easily the hardest position to rank. Eloy Jimenez anchored the rankings for two years and I am just not quite sure how to arrange this year’s crop. Do I put them in tiers, number them, or do I arrange them into categories? I decided to be old fashioned up to 7.
A year ago, Eloy was at the top of the Cub outfielders followed by Mark Zagunis, Eddy Martinez, Donnie Dewees, and DJ Wilson. Two of those five prospects are gone. Although Zagunis did have a pretty good season in 2018, Burks and Wilson didn’t exactly light the minor leagues on fire for a whole year.
This is a position that has a lot of names of players who COULD be elite talents someday. However, their tools have not clicked for some reason. In fact, that pretty much sums up the Cubs system in general. There’s a lot of depth, just not elite talent. However, in two years, that could all change greatly.
In spite of that, here are the current top seven outfielders the Cubs have in their system heading into the 2018 season.
7. Jonathan Sierra – I am just waiting for him to get it going. Hopefully, this year will be the year the homers start to flow. In reality, though, it is more likely to happen at South Bend for him. He might be at the bottom of this list again next year or he could be #1. He as all the tools and the right approach at the plate, it is just a matter of game experience and tapping into his 6’3” frame and beautiful swing.
6. Kevonte Mitchell – A physical specimen, he could be a beast. At times in 2017, he showed that he could carry a club for a week or two at a time. In 2018, he should be at Myrtle Beach and he could begin to fulfill his power potential. Watching him work hard in pre-game activities bodes well for him grinding it out at some point.
5. I could’ve easily written Eddy Martinez in at number two as well as number five. That’s what is hardest about this group – there’s depth but not much differentiation of talent. For Martinez, he was pretty good in the second half of last year hitting .276 with 7 home runs. Already a defensive stalwart, he just needs to walk more and strike out less. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It is another thing for it to happen.
4. DJ Wilson – He is an amazing athlete who I think should break out a little bit this year at Myrtle Beach. Now at 21 years of age, and in his fourth season as a Cub, the time has come for him to begin to put it together. The lack of a any kind of a sustained performance could be a concern very soon. He has all the skills he needs, it is just a matter of putting it together on a daily basis.
3. Charcer Burks had a great first half at AA Tennessee and I thought for sure he was going to get a promotion in late June to AAA. He got off to a great start in spring training with the big league club and never let up until the middle of June when he seemed to take a step back. He did alright in the Arizona Fall League but he didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off. It was a long year but it was also a huge step in the right direction that truly began the second half of 2016 at Myrtle Beach when Rashad Crawford was dealt. He should be fine at AAA. And to be honest, his power game might improve at AAA. Last year, he hit 10 at AA. I would not be surprised if he hit 15 this year in the PCL.
2. Mark Zagunis – Like Victor Caratini, I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at AAA. His power improved last year, his batting average improved, while his on base percentage is always spectacular. All he needs is a place to play every day. The problem it is not in Chicago. I was hoping that he might get a chance with another club to break through. That hasn’t happened yet this offseason.
1. Nelson Velasquez – His power potential is off the charts. In just a short six week span, He cranked out 11 home runs in Mesa between rookie league and the playoffs. He still has some swing and miss to his game (30% K rate in the Arizona Rookie League). As a result, I think the Cubs are going to be pretty patient with him and it will be interesting to see how he does in Eugene, which is not a place where home runs have been known to happen frequently. Still, there’s just too much talent to not rank him number 1 just based on potential.
Some Names to Watch for 2018
Out of all the position lists from this winter, the outfield list could change drastically in one year’s time. In fact, the Cubs could pick up another college outfielder or two in the top three to four rounds of the draft next summer that could totally reshape these rankings. Add in some amazing athletes who will be patrolling the green grass in Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend in 2018 who are young, unproven for a full season, and extremely athletic and the system becomes much more dynamic.
Fernando Kelli leads the list and should be making his stateside debut along with Carlos Pacheco. Both played in the Dominican last year and they could be playing anywhere from Mesa to South Bend. Meanwhile, Brandon Hughes begins his first full season after being drafted last summer. A switch-hitter, Hughes is an amazing athlete with the build to hit for power but has never been asked to do so. Chris Carrier, another 2017 draft pick, struggled at Eugene, but is a physical specimen.
Finally, Jose Gutierrez is another young and athletic outfielder who was the leadoff man on Mesa’s championship team. Down the stretch, he hit .354 in August helping to set the table for the rookie league Cubs.
One thing about this class of outfielders from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend is that they are not going to be dull.
By Todd Johnson
I think it’s tough for draft picks to come in to an organization in the middle of the year and play well. I also think that you really shouldn’t evaluate the draft pick based on two months after they’ve already played a full season. Many of them have basically been playing since January. At some point they have to get tired regardless of how good they are.
In looking at this year’s draft class, I think there a couple key things to take notice of for next year. One, there is some serious athleticism in the group as a whole. Two, there are some guys who I think can really hit and will prove so next year.
Several draft picks came out of the gate pretty hot. Some have cooled off while others have been able to maintain some semblance of success.
Austin Upshaw – He came out of the gate very hot and now has cooled. He is still showing a solid approach but his hits have not been at falling in August like they did in July. He will be fine next year. He should begin the year at Myrtle Beach. They are going to love him there.
Luis Vazquez – Heading into Sunday, he was hitting .316. That is very good for a high school product to do that in rookie league just jumping right in. I still remember thinking how athletic he was in his prospect a video back on draft day. I cannot wait to get Arizona Phil’s take during instructs. He should be at Eugene next year as an 18-year-old kid.
Brandon Hughes – Like Upshaw, Hughes came out of the gate hard and has since slowed down. He bats third or fourth for Eugene and he’s been in the lineup most every day. The first thing you notice about him is his advanced athleticism and build. I see him being at South Bend to begin 2018.
Chris Singleton – A later round pick, the athletic outfielder began at Mesa and has been promoted to Eugene where he slid right into the leadoff spot. I really like what I have heard from the Eugene radio broadcasters, but I have not seen him play on TV yet. I am thinking he will be at South Bend to begin 2018.
Cam Balego – The young infielder has been playing all over the diamond for the rookie league Cubs and has hit almost .400 last month. I have not read much about him and I think I might not until fall instructs.
Ramsey Romano – He just got promoted to Eugene where he went two for five in his second game with two RBI. He can play all over the infield and I think this utility player will probably be at South Bend to begin 2018.
Austin Filiere – His average has been up-and-down but he has definitely shown some power in his bat. In the field, he gets by as a third baseman. His arm is average but that can be improved on. He will be at South Bend to start 2018.
Have some work to do…
Nelson Velazquez – He has flashed some serious athleticism and power in Mesa. However, he has not shown the ability to hit for average so far in rookie league and he strikes out a lot. Then again, he is still very young. He is one player who is going to improve dramatically with instruction this fall and in spring training. I think once he gets in the routine of doing things every day, we might see his power be a daily thing.
Chris Carrier – He has not had a good start to his career at both Mesa and Eugene where he is striking out about 75% of the time. More than likely, if he has a good spring training next year, he should be in South Bend.
Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate and announcer Pat Zajak concurs. In other words, the BABIP Gods have not been kind to him in Eugene. I see him beginning the year in South Bend in 2018. He’s a pretty good sized second baseman.
I don’t know if any of these position players will show up on any prospect list in the next year, but that is not going to stop them from succeeding. I would not be surprised to see Velazquez and Vazquez make a list in 2019. It is rare for the Cubs to select a HS position player in the Theo era. I can only think of a few the Cubs have signed – Kevonte Mitchell and DJ Wilson who are both in low A this year, Tyler Alamo at Myrtle Beach, and Charcer Burks at Tennessee. It takes a few years to get going.
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
As I have said before, it is hard for a prospect to break out anymore. There is press coverage almost everywhere in addition to photographers and people who can take video. With Mesa and Eugene ready to begin play, here are some names of prospects who I think will grab a few headlines in the second half and propel themselves up several prospect lists.
I did not include top prospects Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan on this list. Technically, they should break out, but most people already know about them. For me, it’s just a matter of seeing them do it this summer on him MiLB.TV.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3” and close to 240 pounds, Joe is quite the presence in the batters box. I saw him for the first time on opening night at Eugene. The thing I took away from his performance was that he does have a really good eye at plate. He might be a little “roller-coastery” this summer as he gets used to playing every day after not playing for two years.
Delvin Zinn – He is beginning this year in Mesa after missing most of spring training. He’s a great athlete and it looks like he’s gonna play second base. With college draft picks coming, I think he’ll be at Mesa most of the summer.
Bailey Clark – I love this kid. While technically a bearded monster, he also has a 95 to 98 mph fastball. He is starting out at Eugene and should eventually spend most of his time this summer playing at South Bend.
Brailyn Marquez – At 6’6” and only 18 years of age, I look forward to seeing what this young left handed pitcher can do. Last year in the DSL he put up an ERA of 1.48. He struck out 48 in 54 IP in the DSL, I doubt he does that in Mesa. I am intrigued to see how he does stateside.
Faustino Carrera – He’s a bit small, so I don’t think he’s destined to be a starter, but for right now he is. He put up a 1.06 ERA in the DSL last year and, like Marquez, I wonder if he if he can do that in Mesa with the same success.
Jonathan Sierra – He looks like Darryl Strawberry, but does not have Darryl’s skills yet. Then again, Sierra is only 18. He hit .264 in the DSL last year with a .384 OBP. That shows me he has a good eye at the plate. He did not have the greatest spring training, but I am interested to see how he hits in Mesa and whether his power stroke begins to develop. Hopefully, he begins to breakout this year. If not, it could take him 2-3 years to do so.
Gustavo Polanco -Last year, he lead the Mesa Cubs in hitting at .322. He is already off to great start at Eugene. Although he started off as a catcher, the 20-year-old moved to first base and is also a designated hitter. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he is pretty much maxed out physically, but he has a great eye for the ball.
Under the Radar
I am sure there will be other players who do breakout. More than likely, most will be players the Cubs recently drafted. I wrote the following at BP Wrigleyville about two top hitters I think might fit the breakout bill.
3B Austin Filiere (eighth round pick) and OF Chris Carrier (ninth round) both have a lot of potential for power. Carrier comes from Memphis while Filiere comes from MIT—neither of which are powerhouse college programs. Carrier is a sculpted physical specimen at 6’2” and 225 pounds, while Filiere’s experience in the wooden bat Cape Cod League might give him an advantage as they begin their pro careers, most likely in Eugene.
2B Jared Young and OF Brandon Hughes are two other college names who could do the same as Filiere and Carrier.
When it comes to pitchers, the Cubs did pick some relievers. Most notable are Casey Ryan from Hawaii, Sean Barry from San Diego, and Brian Glowicki from Minnesota. The starting pitchers the Cubs draft pitch short stints (40-50 pitches) as they already have thrown a full season.
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.
It was an interesting day as the Cubs selected 8 more players to join the organization. The day started off with a rapid selection of starting pitchers including a promising Keegan Thompson in the third round. As the day wore on, the Cubs drafted 5 pitchers and 3 position players.
I like what the Cubs collected. They took some chances by selecting OF Nelson Velazquez who is an extremely raw player from Puerto Rico. He could be a star or a bust. Uelmen might be a sneaky sign. Cal Poly -SLO is not a magnet for players, but the Cubs got Casey Bloomquist from there two years ago.
I think almost all of today’s picks will sign. 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada might go to UCLA rather than play for the Cubs.
I will be back tomorrow at 11 with a live blog of day 3. There will be no preview in the morning.
Here are some brief notes and video about each player taken by the Cubs today.
Keegan Thompson – SP – Auburn
6’2″ and 210 lbs.
Pitchability is a major plus
Came back with a very good season after having TJS. His stuff is still coming back. He appeared in 15 games as a starter with a 2.41 ERA. He struck out 75 in 93.1 IP while walking only 17. MLB.com said this of his stuff:
I like that he has overcome adversity with TJS and now focuses on getting batters out versus blowing everyone away. His CB is a plus pitch. Like Hatch, and likely Lange, he may be move a bit faster, or at the least, start higher at Myrtle Beach next year.
He was also a former teammate of Trevor Clifton and Tyler Alamo on USA Baseball.
Erich Uelmen – SP – Cal Poly SLO
6’3″ and 195 lbs.
Improving rapidly from year-to-year
Same school as Casey Bloomquist
He threw 98.1 innings this year. As a result, I doubt if he sees significant action this year. His stats are outstanding for his junior year. He struck out 100 with a 2.93 ERA. He only walked 23. Baseball America spoke highly of him (BA #273). He comes across as an ascending player.
Nelson Velazquez – OF – Puerto Rico
6’1″ and 200
Originally came to the US and went back. He is very much unrefined. I did find an article in Spanish where he crushed two home runs. He was the third ranked position player from Puerto Rico behind Heliot Ramos and Ricardo de la Torre (who went one pick behind in the 6th). Sounds like he is coming into his own.
He is likely destined for rookie ball in Mesa.
Jeremiah Estrada – P – Palm Desert HS
6’1″ and 185 lbs.
Has some room to fill in on his frame
In 2016, he was one of the top pitchers on the summer All-Star circuit. In his senior season, his stuff was not as good. However, MLB.com ranked him at #93 in their Top 200. They said of the young man:
It looks like he could be a hard sign.
#Cubs 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada: “Most likely, I’ll choose UCLA… It’s longer, but I think it’s worth it.” 5/5
— Wes Saver (@Savermetrics) June 13, 2017
Ricky Tyler Thomas – P – Fresno State
I profiled him early in the season when he was going great.
I think he might get some rest in this summer. Then again, I think he profiles as a reliever. So, we could see him in Eugene out of the pen.
Austin Filiere – 3B – MIT
6’1″ 185 lbs.
Hit 13 HRs every year
MIT has a baseball team? Played well for Harwich in the Cape Cod League and played outfield there. He hit 7 HRs with 27 RBI in just over 30 games in 2016.
Per Brad (@ballwok), Peter Gammons did a nice write-up on him.
He should be in Eugene after he signs.
Chris Carrier – OF – Memphis
Good size at 6’2″ 204
Sculpted frame. still room for more.
He hit .330 with 16 HRs with 50 RBI and an OBP of .438 in his senior season. Like Filiere, Carrier will head to Eugene for most of the summer.
Brian Glowicki – RP – Minnesota
5’11” and 190
From Downers Grove
For his senior year, he recorded 16 saves with a 2.20 ERA. He struck out 39 in 32.2 IP. Opponents hit just .216 against him. A huge Red Sox growing up, Glowicki will have some adjusting to do.
Say hello to Eugene. He should love it there in the summer.