By Todd Johnson
What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.
Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.
While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.
As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young
The topic for every six pack changes throughout the week. When I woke up this morning I didn’t think that I was going to do a six pack. Since it’s the 11th August, I thought I’d take a look at ten-day splits to see how prospects are doing in preparation for our monthly All-Star team. As a result, the topic for today’s six pack is who’s hot and who’s not.
1. Dillon Maples – In 11.2 innings at Iowa, it looks as though he started to figure things out at this level, too. His K/9 rate is astronomical (15.43) and he’s only walked one batter. I am starting to get the inkling that he might make it to Chicago before the end of the month. Adding a guy in the bullpen who throws 98 to 100 with a wipeout slider is not going to hurt anything.
2. Mark Zagunis – In addition to hitting over .300 the past 6 weeks, he is still a walking machine. I feel pretty good about his chances of being in Chicago in September. But beyond that, he’s not going to be anything other than a fourth/fifth outfielder with who is in front of him. I really hope he gets an extended shot sometime in the next year whether it’s with the Cubs or another team.
3. The South Bend Outfield – Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, Luis Ayala, and Chris Pieters – Every single one of them is hitting above .321 this month and they are killing it in all phases of the game. Last night, Mitchell hit a grand slam while DJ Wilson tracked ball after ball down in centerfield. The other night, Kevonte threw out a guy at the plate. It has been nice to see them perform so well and it’s almost as if they are trying to one up each other.
4. Four Hitters in Rookie League – First, Luis Vasquez has peaked my interest since the Cubs signed him this summer. The fact that he is hitting .300+ as a 17-year-old tall and rangy shortstop helps as well. The same is true of Delvin Zinn’s athleticism and he seems to be back on track this month hitting over .300. International free-agent Jonathan Sierra seems to have found a groove (still no power) while Jose Gutierrez seems to have done the same hitting over .450 this month. I could also add in pitchers Rollie Lacy, Brendan King, Jeffrey Passantino, and reliever Mitch Stophel for another four.
5. Zack Short – The 23-year-old shortstop has transversed three levels in the past year since he was signed by the Cubs. He seems to be getting better at every level. In the past ten games, he has been on a tear hitting over .400 with 3 home runs. Combined, between Myrtle Beach.and South Bend, the leadoff hitter has 12 dingers this year with an OBP of .391 and this morning was named as having the best strike zone control in the Midwest League by Baseball America.
6. Who is not hot? The Eugene Defense
Once Aramis Ademan was promoted to South Bend, this team has been in a tailspin defensively. It’s a struggle for pitchers Alex Lange, Jose Albertos, and Brendon Little to get through an inning. In the past week, routine grounders have been misplayed, balls to first have been airmailed, and assignments and coverages have been blown. Instead of a pitcher getting out of an inning, those mistakes lead to two or three runs being scored, sometimes more.
Honorable Mentions – Yasiel Balaguert, Taylor Davis, James Norwood, Craig Brooks, Tyler Alamo, Bryan Hudson, Tyler Peyton, Brian Glowicki, Chris Singleton, Marcus Mastrobuoni, Cam Balego, Fernando Kelli, Emilio Ferrebus, and Erich Uelmen.
By Todd Johnson
The Weekly is a day late. There were other pressing matters this weekend in Chicago. I think you understand.
As for minor league action this week…
Out in Mesa, it has become crystal clear who the star positional player is on the Cubs/Angels Co-Op team is and that is Donnie Dewees. If he’s not hitting triples, he’s hitting doubles and flying all over the field. Meanwhile, PJ Higgins seems to be going 1-3 every day with an occasional walk. Albert Mineo continues to impress with his bat. He’s been a pleasant surprise this year.
As for the pitching, Oscar de la Cruz and Kyle Miller look to be doing outstanding work in their brief 2 inning outings. On the other hand, Dylan Cease was shelled in his second outing and Carson Sands continues to struggle mightily.
As for the younger players, who are only playing intrasquad games. I think the news this week from Arizona Phil is pretty much the same as last week. Zack Short, Chris Pieters, Wladimir Galindo, Gustavo Polanco, Rafael Narea, Sam Tidaback, Jose Gutierrez, and Aramis Ademan all had multiple hits. Faustino Carrera also went scoreless over two innings. Hector Garcia, Chad Hockin, and Wyatt Short were the only other pitchers to throw a scoreless frame.
In game two on Saturday the 8th, pitcher Alfredo Colorado went three scoreless and Faustino Carrera went two shutout innings. As for the hitters, Luis Ayala, Aramis Ademan, Michael Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Carlos Diaz, Yeiler Peguero, Sam Tidaback, Miguel Amaya, and Fernando Kelli all had good games at the plate in the 5-4 eight-inning affair.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Fall League kicks off Tuesday with a mid-afternoon game.
Baseball America began publishing articles last week about the Top 20 Prospects in each minor league. I will have a fully fleshed out post later in the week once BA releases lists on the Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues. Here is who the Cubs have placed on their lists so far.
Arizona Rookie League: None
Northwest League: Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Wladimir Galindo, Chris Pieters
Midwest League: Eloy Jimenez
Carolina League: Trevor Clifton
These names are just a few of whom will be reshaping the Cubs Prospects lists that come out in January.
I originally thought that I was not going to make baseball cards from fall instructs, but John Arguello’s pics have been so good. I cannot stop myself. Here are a few so far.
This week’s posts will continue to focus on MLB playoffs. While recaps are not technically “our thing,” we will focus on keeping them simple with a keen edge towards analysis, reflecting back on our predictions, and looking forward to the upcoming game. Hopefully, by Tuesday or Wednesday, we might have another series preview for you. That would be very exciting, too!
MLB Playoff Recaps
Prospect List Changes Hinted at by Baseball America
NLCS Preview (hopefully)
Record: 54-22 – 1st and 2nd Half Division Champions, Northwest League Champions
From start to finish they were the best team in the Northwest League in 2016. They were a team built on starting pitching, defense, and team speed. They had two highly touted pitchers to begin the year in Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson. Although Cease would suffer a forearm strain, he still showed off the magic of his arm in the second half. The first half saw pitcher Jose Paulino post an ERA under one and was promptly promoted to South Bend. In the second half, Manny Rondon became somewhat the ace pro tempore of the staff with his ERA of 1.10.
At the plate, five different players took turns carrying the team throughout the year. First, it was Matt Rose, second, Chris Pieters took over when Rose was promoted to South Bend, and then Wladimir Galindo took over for a short time in late July. In August, DJ Wilson, Trent Giambrone, and Zack Short each had their moments. Robert Garcia showed he can handle a stick, too, and Kevonte Mitchell flashed some potential and had a much better 2016 than 2015.
In the playoffs, the Emeralds won their first series over Hillsboro with some dominating pitching from Pedro Silverio, who struck out 8 in his start. Erling Moreno did excellent in the deciding game holding the Hops to one run while striking out 7 in five innings.
Like the rest of the year, the Emeralds used good starting pitching, defense, and an excellent job from the bullpen to defeat Everett 2 games to 1 to win the Northwest League Championship! In game 3, Starter Manny Rondon scattered six hits and two walks with 3 strikeouts to only allow one run. The key play came in the top of the fifth inning when a single by Everett’s Kristian Brito plated a run but Kevonte Mitchell threw out Bryson Brigman at the plate on the same play to keep the game at 1-1. In the bottom of the inning, Yeiler Peguero singled home Robert Garcia to give the Ems a 2-1 lead. The bullpen of Duncan Robinson, Michael Knighton, and Wyatt Short did what they have done all year and shut down the opposition for the next four innings.
The championship is the first for the affiliate in the Cubs organization and the first since 1980. Congratulations to Manager Jesus Felciano, the players and the Ems organization on a job well done!!!
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
|ERA (50 IP)||Strikeouts||WHIP||Saves||Innings|
It was hard to pick just one. There were five players who seemed to carry the team at distinct points in the season. Matt Rose, Chris Pieters, Wladimir Galindo, DJ Wilson, and Trent Giambrone all put the team on their backs and carried them for two weeks at a time.
Team Cy Young
Manny Rondon – 49 Ks in 57.1 IP, 1.10 ERA, 1.26 WHIP. Had Cease not been injured and missed three starts, I think this would’ve been his. One thing that concerns me about Rondon right now is his 1.26 WHIP and high walk rate. He does struggle sometimes, but he’s come a long way from rookie ball where he was horrible in 2015 for the Angels (8+ ERA). This year, he was able to work out of jams and relied on his defense as hitters hit .233 against him.
Breakout Prospects in 2016
To me, Manny Rondon appears to be the breakout prospect on the surface. However, I was totally stunned at the tools of Giambrone and Zack Short, both of whom are excellent on defense and had OBPs of over .400. I find that amazing, especially since Short only hit .236.
Looking Ahead to 2017
I am not quite sure what to expect for this team next year. Between fall instructs, spring training, and extended spring training,a lot of development can take place over those nine months. I think Gustavo Polanco is the one certain hitter who should be at Eugene and entrenched in the middle of the lineup come next June.
The big name for 2017 might be Jose Albertos, a young 17-year-old pitcher who spent most of 2016 on the DL but should be at fall instructs. When healthy, the youngster can top out in the upper 90s. He only made one start at Mesa where he struck out 7 in 4 innings before being put on the shelf for precautionary reasons.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Delvin Zinn – First, I was surprised the 19-year-old signed after being drafted by the Cubs a second time in 2016. He is extremely athletic and started playing well at the end of Rookie League.
There are eight and a half months before the next season of Emeralds baseball. A lot can happen with developing prospects in that big of a time frame, especially when many of them might only be 18-20 years old. It should be exciting to see next year’s crop of prospects in the great Northwest.
Both Eugene and Myrtle Beach won their respective games last night!
Over in Everett…
The Eugene Emeralds won 3-1 over the Everett Aqua Sox on the basis of three solo home runs by DJ Wilson, Yeiler Pegeuro, and Chris Pieters. Dylan Cease threw four shutout innings before he reached his pitch total at 82 pitches. Cease allowed 2 hits and walked two along the way. Every inning saw him go deep into counts. It was not his most efficient outing, but he did strike out six and did not allow a run.
In the fifth, Michael Rucker came in and pitched three wonderful, scoreless innings. He only allowed one baserunner on a walk and struck out one. When Andin Diaz came in for the eighth, things got a little hairy quick. Two hits and a walk loaded the bases with no one out. Dakota Mekkes came into the game to put out the fire. Mekkes struck out the first batter he faced and then appeared to have gotten an inning-ending double play. The runner was ruled safe after a consult between the umpires and the Aqua Sox had their first run. Mekkes got the next batter out to end the rally with the Emeralds up 3-1 heading into the ninth.
The Aqua Sox got another hit in the ninth but Mekkes got the next two batters to secure the victory and earn a save. The Emeralds play tonight at home at 9 central. 2016 fourth round pick Tyson Miller will start for the Emeralds as they look to clinch a title in game 2 of the three-game series.
Meanwhile in Myrtle Beach…
The faithful in Myrtle Beach got a surprise when they showed up for game two of the best of five series. Eloy Jimenez was called up to the Pelicans to replace Yasiel Balaguert who had been placed on the DL. Eloy went 1 for 3 with 2 walks and a RBI, but it was David Bote who was the star of the night going 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs including the game-tying RBI in a five-run fifth inning en route to an 8-3 victory. The series is now even against the Lynchburg Hillcats.
Jeremy Null got the start for the Pelicans. He had a rough first inning giving up three hits. Luckily, he was able to pitch his way out of it by only allowing one run. That seemed to be the theme of the night as Null gave up 7 hits in four innings and allowed 2 runs. James Norwood came in to relieve Null and Norwood struggled by giving up a run on two hits and a walk in his only inning of the night.
Entering the bottom of the fifth, the Pelicans were down 3-1. Charcer Burks got things going with a solo shot to make it 3-2. Donnie Dewees singled and scored later on a Bote double to tie the game. Eloy then drew a walk after being down 0-2. After a force out, three straight singles by Jeffrey Baez, Andrew Ely, and Erick Castillo made it 6-3 Pelicans.
The Pelicans would score two more in the eighth on a Bote single to put the game away. Daniel Lewis held the Hillcats scoreless in the sixth and seventh. Tommy Thorpe shut them down in the eighth and Ryan McNeil, as usual, was his exemplary self closing it out in the ninth to even the series at 1 game apiece.
The series now shifts to Lynchburg for the final 2 or 3 games. The Pelicans have Trevor Clifton going on Tuesday, Duane Underwood on Wednesday, and if necessary, Preston Morrison on Thursday. I like their chances.
Things are looking good for some Cubs’ affiliates in the minor league playoffs. Both Eugene and Myrtle Beach clinched berths in their respective league championships. Meanwhile, in South Bend, they will complete their final opening round series today, weather permitting, starting at the top of the eighth inning. South Bend’s game was suspended due to rain.
1. Trevor Clifton shut down the Salem Red Sox on Wednesday with a six inning, 3 hit, and one run gem. Clifton looked vicious attacking the zone early and used all three of his pitches to keep hitters off balance. He struck out 6 and only walked one on the night.
2. Duane Underwood was moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach in his rehab and he made his second start for the Pelicans on Friday. He gave up one run over five innings and left the game trailing by one.
3. The Bullpens of all three team have been fantastic all week. In the Eugene series, Hillsboro had men on all night but the Emeralds pen was able to coax double plays and get out of it. The same is true in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. On Thursday night, Casey Bloomquist pitched three scoreless for South Bend while Duncan Robinson did not allow an earned run in four innings for Eugene.
4. Erling Moreno’s curveball was a thing of beauty on Friday as it baffled Hillsboro hitters all night long.
5. For most of the year, Pedro Silverio had an ERA of 6+ for Eugene. In August, it sank into the 4s. On Thursday, he pitched his best game of the year. He did not allow a run while walking four. The highlight stat of the night was that he struck out 8!
6. David Bote and Jeffrey Baez both went 2 for 5 with 2 RBIs on Tuesday.
7. Tyler Alamo’s bat woke up with a go-ahead home run on Thursday and 2 runs so far in the suspended game. Hopefully, when it his turn again today, his hot streak will continue.
9. The top of Ems’ lineup seems to be waking up. DJ Wilson, Yeiler Peguero, Chris Pieters and Wladimir Galindo, who drove in both runs last night, have regained their mid-season form.
10. Matt Rose just crushed a ball on Thursday putting the game out of reach with a 3 run shot that might be still going somewhere in Michigan.
South Bend will resume its suspended game at 3 central. The winner advances to the Midwest League semis to take on the winner of Great Lakes on Bowling Green starting tomorrow.
Myrtle Beach starts the Mills Cup at home tonight versus Lynchburg, a very good team in the Indians organization. It is a best of 5 series. Erick Leal will take the bump tonight for the Pelicans.
Eugene, meanwhile, begins their series (2 of 3) against Everett tomorrow at 8 central in Everett. The series concludes in Eugene on Monday, and if necessary, Tuesday in Eugene as well. Dylan Cease will likely start Sunday or Monday for Eugene. That should be very exciting.
Success can be fickle in the minors. The nature of the minor leagues is that it is an affiliate’s job is to develop players and send them up the system and eventually the major leagues. Like the quote above, players that make a team can often destroy it when they are promoted. Be it pitchers or hitters, the void left sometimes may at first seem unfillable. Such is not the case this year at Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and, in today’s case, Eugene.
“One door has closed, but another has opened, and on the other side, our future.” – Frank Herbert
The Eugene Emeralds cruised to a first half title in the Northwest League with a 28-10 record. On the way to their title, the team lost the services of their top hitter, top home run leader, three starting pitchers, and their closer. It is quite remarkable that they were able to sustain some semblance of excellence in the first half and build upon it in the second half. There were bumps along the way, but manager Jesus Feliciano has his players heading in the right direction. Currently, they are in first place again in the second half with an 8-5 record.
When the season began, SS Andruw Monasterio and 3B Matt Rose helped to power the team. The Emeralds got out to an early lead in the South Division and cruised to a title that also included the top flight pitching of Jose Paulino, Manny Rondon, and Jesus Castillo. Later, Oscar de la Cruz stopped by for a couple of starts. Jared Cheek was outstanding as the closer and, from first appearances, there was nothing that could stop this team. Even a forearm strain to Dylan Cease and control problems for Bryan Hudson could not slow them down.
Then the promotions came. Heading to South Bend in the first wave were Monasterio and Rose. Outfielder Connor Myers, who only played ten games, but did so brilliantly, went in the second wave. Later, Paulino, de la Cruz, and Cheek went in the third wave. To make matters worse, Jesus Castillo was traded to the Angels.
Luckily, the Ems got through the first two waves with great play from OF Robert Garcia who moved into the leadoff spot. 1B Chris Pieters anchored the lineup in the void of Rose. 2B Yeiler Peguero moved over to SS and began a hitting surge in late July after the All-Star Break. 3B Wladimir Galindo showed he has the power to hit in the middle of the lineup after Pieters, but still needs to improve his approach (although his 4/6 night on Tuesday helps). Top prospect Darryl Wilson struggled in the leadoff role but still was able to draw his walks in the first part of the year. He was moved to the #9 spot and has taken off the last two weeks showing that he can hit for average and power. As a result, the lineup is deep from 1 to 9.
The loss of Paulino and de la Cruz was seen coming. The duo was just too good for this level. As a result, the Ems had to adjust. Manny Rondon has kept up his great season with a 1.43 ERA. Michael Knighton has now moved to the rotation after an excellent season in the pen. MT Minacci and Mark Malave stepped up their bullpen roles. And eventually Cease returned and Hudson has pitched much better, especially three days ago on Monday night start where he went 5 IP with 5 Ks. He still walked three, but that’s much better than 5, 6, or 7.
To fill the void of the promotions, recent draft picks have been making their way to Oregon. Trent Giambrone was the first as the second baseman flashed a plus glove from day one. His bat has been improving as of late. After a 4 for 4 night on Wednesday, he’s up to .277. SS Zack Short has shown a short, solid swing with some uplift. He gets better every week. In addition, he’s pretty good in the field.
As for pitching, Bailey Clark is now starting in short stints and has some excellent stuff that needs some more command. Last night he was very good going 4 IP while allowing 1 run and striking out 4. Dakota Mekkes, Chad Hockin, and Duncan Robinson are improving out of the pen. Lefty Marc Huberman has been very good from the get go, but it is fellow lefty Wyatt Short from Ole Miss who has been lights out in taking over the closer role. He has yet to give up a run in his tenure as an Emerald. I like the fact that the Cubs also got two excellent lefty relievers out of this draft. Most recently, draftee Jed Carter made his debut and looked sharp in one inning.
To help fill the starting pitching void, Erling Moreno was promoted from Mesa and has pitched 10 innings with 10 Ks. He has yet to allow a run in his two starts. The 19-year-old was part of the vaunted 2013 IFA class that included Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Jen-ho Tseng, and Wladimir Galindo. He has spent the better part of two years recovering from TJS.
What the Cubs have done in recent years is that they promote certain elite prospects late in the year to get a glimpse and participate in a winning culture and the playoffs. Right now, all 3 levels of the Cubs Class A affiliates look to be in the playoffs. There will be some promotions in the last week of August. Luckily, for the Ems, they will be a team that players will be coming to.
It does not look like the Cubs rookie league team in Arizona will make the playoffs. Expect to see a few players make their way to experience “winning” in Eugene. A few names you might see are pitchers Michael Rucker, Javier Assad, and Eugenio Palma as well as C/1B Gustavo Polanco who has an average in the .340s. Recent draftee Michael Cruz and 17-year-old hitting phenom Isaac Paredes could come up and do some work at DH.
It is shaping up to be a great fall in the great Northwest!