The Weekly: Two Affiliates in the Playoff Hunt, Promotion Debuts, Theo and I Speak on the Radio…Separately
By Todd Johnson
Around the System This Week
Iowa – 2-4 (23-37)
Tennessee – 3-5 (31-31)
Myrtle Beach – 6-0 (32-29)
South Bend – 6-1 (31-30)
DSL 1 – 3-3 (4-3)
DSL 2 – 0-6 (1-6)
For the better part of the first half, only Tennessee had a winning record among the Cubs affiliates. Both Myrtle Beach and Iowa got off to horrible starts while South Bend was extremely inconsistent from series to series. Now that things have warmed up quite a bit, the system is seeing some outstanding pitching on a nightly basis. There are a few hitters who are starting to heat up, but it’s been impressive to watch the starting rotations go out at night after night across the system. At the end of this week, two out of the four major affiliates were above .500.
There is just one week left to the first half of the 2018 The fact that the Pelicans are in contention is a testament to manager Buddy Bailey and to the hard work of the team. They sit just 2.5 games back with 8 to go including 3 against first place Winston-Salem.
The Smokies sit just three behind Chattanooga.
Outside of the Draft, the big story of the week was the combined no-hitter for Rollie Lacy and Ben Hecht of South Bend. Lacy went 7 IP on Wednesday with 6 Ks against Lake County and Hecht finished them in 2 innings with 2 strike outs. What I loved most about the night was that Lacy’s curve was just so dominating and the defense made a couple nice plays behind him.
This week also saw the pitching debuts of several prospects at their new affiliates. Cory Abbott went six innings at Myrtle Beach and gave up two runs while striking out 8. Matt Swarmer had a tougher time at Tennessee. He only managed four innings while giving up three earned runs and striking out three.
At AAA Iowa, Dakota Mekkes threw a scoreless inning hitting 95 on the gun in his debut earlier in the week. Last night, he got in some more work. He went 1.2 IP with 4 Ks, but was removed with the bases loaded and two innings. He was not charged with a run. Trevor Clinton made his AAA debut. He got through it. He went just 4 and allowed 2 runs with 3 Ks, but used 85 pitches to get it done. Now that the butterflies are out of the way, his next start should be better.
Short Season Leagues to Begin Friday
On Friday night the 15th, three more Cub affiliates join the fray when Eugene and the two Mesa teams begin play. Hopefully, they’ll be a lot of draft picks in tow. At some point during the week, Eugene will release its roster and I will do an official preview of the team.
Me and Theo On the Air
In other news, Theo Epstein and I spoke on the radio this week, although not to each other. He spoke to 670 the Score about current state of the Cubs, Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, and other assorted sundries.
I was on the Kent Sterling Radio Show in Indianapolis (1430 AM) subbing for Evan Altman in his weekly radio spot. I talked with Kent about my love for baseball cards, the draft, and Tyler Chatwood.
I also appeared on fellow Cubs Insider Sean Holland’s Holy Cow podcast this week to talk about the draft at length. We also touched on the current state of the minors, the draft, and presidential scandals. Hopefully, that link will be released shortly. I will send it out on Twitter when Sean releases it.
Draft Signings Update
It’s only been a few days since the draft ended, but it looks like the Cubs are going to get a pretty good haul this year. When Theo first took the over, they signed a little over 20 that first year and that has been creeping up the twenties ever since. In 2016, they signed 25 and last year they signed 29. This year, it’s looking like they’re going to sign between 30 and 33 players. Most of the high school kids in the 30s are not gonna sign but it looks like almost everyone else will.
And some of the draft picks are playing in the College World Series this weekend. Here’s how they did yesterday.
Pitcher Ethan Roberts from Tennessee Tech – 4 IP, 1 runs, 4 Ks
SS Levi Jordan from Washington – 0-4
C Hunter Taylor out of South Carolina – 1-4, 1 RBI
CF Jimmy Herron who plays for Duke – 1-3, BB, 2 runs
Coming Up Next Week
Both Myrtle Beach and Tennessee will be the majority of this week’s coverage as they chase down a playoff spot. I do have a Duane Underwood update ready to go. That should be out on Monday. Later this week I will take a look at the Mesa and Eugene rosters before they begin their season on Friday. They should be very interesting to see which of the young international kids make which team.
Other Stuff I Wrote This Week
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
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
It was an interesting week in the minors. Everyday saw a great pitching performance or two. On Sunday, Erich Uelmen went six scoreless while Jen-Ho Tseng had the first of two good starts on the week going 7 innings with 9 Ks and 2 runs. On Monday, Michael Rucker went 6 innings with 8 Ks while allowing 2 runs. Javier Assad struck out 7 on Tuesday.
Wednesday was the big day as Brendon Little went 7 scoreless while fellow first rounder Alex Lange went six scoreless with 10 Ks. Duane Underwood also did well on Wednesday along with Trevor Clifton, whose start was cut short due to rain.
On Thursday, the pitching parade continued as Matt Swarmer went 6 scoreless with 7 Ks before leaving in the 7th with a tired arm. He should not miss a start. On Friday, Bailey Clark went from piggyback starter to a full-fledged rotation piece at Myrtle Beach with 4 innings of 1 run ball. That same night, Cory Abbott went 6 strong with 5 Ks and 1 run.
Last night, all four starters were magnificent as well. Keegan Thompson got things started off with 6 scoreless and 8 Ks for Myrtle Beach. South Bend’s Erich Uelmen went 5 scoreless and 8 Ks, too. The only difference between the two was that Thompson gave up just one hit while Uelmen allowed three. Alec Mills continued the night with 6 innings of 1 run ball. Oscar de la Cruz looked very strong for Tennessee, even taking a liner off his knee and staying in the game. He went 7 innings with no runs allowed while striking out 7 and scattering 5 hits.
As the temperature warms up, so has some hitting.
Christian Donahue is an infielder who currently plays for South Bend. After coming off the DL on the 16th, Donahue’s bat has taken off with steady playing time. He’s hitting .400 for the month. He seems to be a doubles machine as he has a .964 OPS despite not having a home run. But what I like the most is Donahue’s hustle. He plays the game hard. Being an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State might have something to do with that. I will flesh out his bio a little later this week.
Some Good News
Ryan Williams returned to action for the first time in 2 years yesterday. The “Big Lumberjack” threw 46 pitches (3.2 IP) yesterday in an EXST game. He didn’t light up the radar gun, but he was effective the first two innings. In addition, Erling Moreno came on in relief throwing harder than usual at 96-98. Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter wondered if Erling is being transitioned into a reliever.
Victor Caratini is back in Iowa while Chris Gimenez is now in Chicago. Victor really needs to play everyday. I am sure the experience was good, but Victor’s future is not as a backup to Willson, Victor, more than likely, will be his own catcher at some point. Efren Navarro of iowa, who was on track to make this month’s All-Star team at 1B, was designated for assignment yesterday.
Jim Callis Draft Interview
On Saturday, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline was on 670 The Score’s “Inside the Clubhouse” talking about the draft. Callis said the Cubs have to let the draft come to them picking at #24. Callis talked about how the Cubs may have a strategy of looking for a college bat, but players drop or fall for various reasons. Callis used Alex Lange dropping last year as an example. Callis brought up some college arms who could fall to the Cubs including lefty Shane McClanahan of Central Florida, Logan Gilbert of Stetson, and Jackson Kowar of Florida as guys who could be bypassed earlier in the draft in favor of college bats.
One interesting name that came up as possible bats at that position, aside from Callis’ pick of Trevor Larnach, was Indiana high school outfielder Nick Schnell. The Louisville commit has a nice 6’2” 180 lb. frame and bats left while throwing right. Callis called him an all-around player.
Another player I hear gaining traction, and not just for the Cubs, is Georgia prep catcher Anthony Seigler. Though decent behind the plate, his bat is his true calling card. He also has the experience of playing USA Baseball, a box that scouting director Jason McLeod like to check. If he shoots into the first round, he could mess up a lot of draft boards.
Around the System
Iowa – 5-2 (18-29)
Tennessee – 3-3 (25-23)
Myrtle Beach – 4-4 (21-28)
South Bend – 4-3 (21-26)
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
Coming Up Next Week on Cubs Central
Monday – Draft Questions
Tuesday – Christian Donahue
Wednesday – Pitching in the MiLB
Thursday – ???
Friday – May MiLB All-Star Team
Saturday – May Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday the 4th – Draft Day #1
As for Me…
I wrapped up another year of teaching on Thursday afternoon. That, to me, means the beginning of summer. When I am not checking in on baseball the next few weeks, I am going to do a lot of little things around the house and yard while trying to figure whether I am going to South Bend or Des Moines for a trip the week of June 11th.
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
Even after just one year, it’s sometimes hard to get a good feel for a draft class until you’ve seen them play for at least a couple of years. Last year, the Cubs selected 41 players and signed 29 of them. A couple of young pitchers have yet to debut this year while 3 prospects are all the way up to high A Myrtle Beach. A large portion of the draftees are at South Bend (13) and the rest will likely play for Eugene this summer or fill in at South Bend within the next month.
While the Cubs did take a majority of pitchers last year in the draft (including two in the first round), it has been the hitters who are currently my focus on a daily basis this spring in Austin Filiere, Jared Young, and Nelson Velazquez. In addition, there are some pitchers trying to figure out whether they are going to start or relieve. Those decisions might be ongoing for a couple of years.
Next year’s grade will be more interesting and indicative of this class’ potential.
The Big Pitching Guns
It’s a bit hit and miss so far.
Alex Lange, Keegan Thompson, and Cory Abbott have been up and down. Brendon Little is improving every start. Tyler Thomas was very good in April but seems to be inconsistent to begin May. And Brendan King is just getting to South Bend in a relief role and doing well. Rollie Lacy just made his first starts of the year for South Bend. It’ll be much easier to evaluate a year from now when these arms have 25 to 30 starts under their belt rather than five or six.
If the last few days are any indication, there’s a lot of promise. 2nd round selection Cory Abbott struck out 11 on Saturday night and 18 for the week while 3rd round pick Erich Uelmen went 12 scoreless on the week with 9 Ks.
The Cubs did pick a few hitters who I really liked last year. Austin Filiere seems to have improved the most as he is hitting for average as well as drawing walks. I thought he would hit a lot more home runs but it hasn’t really heated up yet in the Midwest League. Jared Young is another impressive bat who really came on strong in August. He is one of my favorite hitters to watch in the organization because his approach is so good. The same is true of Austin Upshaw who did well at South Bend last summer. However, Upshaw is struggling in 2018 at Myrtle Beach. The approach is still there, but the results are not.
The Young Guns
Outfielder Nelson Velazquez tore it up last summer in Mesa. I thought he would begin 2018 in Eugene and I was really surprised to see him debut at South Bend the week of May 7. You can definitely see the tools and the skill set on display, but he seems to be struggling at the plate as I don’t think he has seen those types of curves or changeups before. Shortstop Luis Vazquez should also be a sight to see this summer in Eugene. He might be the best defensive shortstop in the system. If he can do anything with his bat, he should move pretty quickly with his skill set on defense. I’m looking forward to seeing Jeremiah Estrada pitch for Eugene this summer. He pitched a little bit last year in Mesa but not enough to get a good look at. This summer, seeing him on TV should be an eye-opener to see if the Cubs got a steal in the sixth round.
There are more than 10 other draft picks who make their 2018 debut later this year. That’s 1/3 of the draft class. Part of me says to give them a B and move on, but that is a lot of players who are still getting in the swing of things.
In trying to decide the grade, the one I really wanted to give was an incomplete. And that might be true for most drafts after their first year, honestly. There are many good things happening with this class and there are other picks who really haven’t even gotten going. I thought it would be unfair to the reader to get through this whole article and not even give a grade.
With that in mind, I’m going to throw out a B-. There’s no one who has gone out and consistently dominated. However, depending on how things go this year, the 2017 class could easily be an A at draft time a year from now if Little continues to improve, Lange and Thompson find some consistency, and Estrada flashes at Eugene to go along with the excellent hitting of Young, Filiere, Upshaw, and Velazquez, and the defense of Vazquez.
The Cubs took some chances in the 2017 draft and may hit on a few of them in due time. Just a year from now we’ll know a lot more. For right now, it’s a pretty promising class.
By Todd Johnson
It is good to see catcher Will Remillard back in action and playing all the way up at AA Tennessee. The former Midwest League All-Star missed 2.5 years due to two Tommy John surgeries. He saw his first action since 2014 last August doing some catching for the Eugene Emeralds. He spent most of this spring in extended spring training and he began playing last week in Tennessee.
His bat has acted like he never left and skipped high A baseball. Heading into Wednesday’s game, he was 5 for 11 (.455) in 3 games at AA and I am extremely happy to see him play. I love his catching skills and his leadership skills. He brings a lot of intensity to any team he is on.
In Other Injury News…
Manny Rondon made his debut last night in South Bend. He did so in relief giving up 1 unearned run and striking out 1 in 1.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Justin Steele, who was outstanding at Myrtle Beach last year before TJS in August, is back throwing after surgery.
Also, reliever Chad Hockin showed off his scar work from his Tommy John Surgery last month.
For some weird reason, I am also thinking about June when I plan on redoing my Top 21 prospect list. At the beginning of the year, I knew that players would move up and down the list this year depending on performance. The lack of elite talent and separation between the talent in the system would cause that movement as players heated up or cooled off.
There are a few prospects who are putting together nice seasons and could be promoted at the All-Star break in mid June.
Zack Short – After a poor July, he’s pounding the ball in May with a .698 slugging percentage and hitting above .300 this month with an OBP well over .500.
Jared Young – He did have a brief injury after hitting .400+ the first two weeks of the season. He struggled a bit after coming off the DL, but seems to have found his stroke the past four or five games.
Austin Filiere – The 2016 draft pick out of MIT hit for more power last year, but this year finds him hitting for a high average (.313)) and his usual .400+ OBP.
Duane Underwood was doing this best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation for a few starts and now looks to be using all his pitches in a variety of counts to keep a batter guessing. When he’s been on, he is is amazing. When he’s off, yeesh!
I really enjoy watching Keegan Thompson pitch. I like how he works hitters and uses all of the zone and throws a variety of pitches. He’s really been impressive in May with a 2.65 in 3 starts.
Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott, Tyler Thomas, and Javier Assad have all been impressive in spurts, but I need more data on them. Of the four, Abbott could be the most consistent and he could sneak into the back end of the list. Although, Matt Swarmer’s K totals are amazing (42 in 32.1 IP).
I don’t know how it will all shake down, but there will be an even greater number of prospects this June to add into the Top 21 mix when Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican begin play. Jeremiah Estrada is one player pitching I am looking forward to seeing along with Outfielder Fernando Kelli and Shortstop Luis Vazquez as well as the new draft picks.
I will be writing about Adbert Alzolay in anticipation of his supposed start on Saturday. The issue is whether I will be posting it in the Six Pack on Friday or its own post on Saturday.
By Todd Johnson
This month’s All-Star team was pretty fluid right up through yesterday’s games. There were prospects who stayed consistent all month. There were those who got hot early and faded late. And then there are those who got off to a rough start but turned it on later in the month. At one point, before last Thursday, they were only five pitchers who met the usual pre-requisite 3.00 ERA. Somehow, two more pulled through
As for position players, no one but Jeffrey Baez really set the system on fire. Baez, who, in the past, has dominated levels in spurts. In April, Baez hit .411 with 3 HR and 15 RBI to earn Hitter of the Month honor. They were not that many players who hit above or near .300. While that is not required to get on the team, there were clear demarcations in the levels of production across the system about who should be on the team. I did not have to leave anyone off who was on a par with current crop of all-stars.
It will be interesting to see which players get promoted here in the coming weeks. I expect some of the players in the video below to move up a level. Most of the promoted prospects will probably be relievers and maybe one of the starting pitchers.
So, without further adieu, here is this month’s minor league All-Star team.