This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.
If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.
Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.
Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.
I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.
By Todd Johnson
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.
By Todd Johnson
It is all about the draft over the next three days. Here is my plan.
Monday – Rounds 1-2
On Monday night I will be blogging live. The keyword for you will be “refresh.” That way, you can follow along as I make changes and other teams make their selections. Once the Cubs make their first pick, I will begin frantically putting together a new post for pick #27 while awaiting pick #30. Once a second round pick is made at #67, I will do my due diligence on that new prospect as well. So, there will be four posts altogether and three draft cards. I will be on Twitter most of the evening and begin blogging somewhere around 7:30 pm Central.
Tuesday – Rounds 3-10 begins at noon
I tend to like covering day number two a lot. With just 8 picks, there’s a lot less stress in between picks. That leaves me plenty of time to find information, write a brief profile, and make a card. Coverage begins at noon Central. This will be one post for the entire day. Just hit refresh to get caught up on each selection and profile, plus seeing their draft card is always a kick.
Wednesday – Rounds 11-40 begins at 11 AM
This day is a lot of fun just for the research and the cards. I tend not to do too big a blurb about each prospect. It usually starts out bigger at number 11 and by the time I get into the 30s there’s only a sentence or two about the player. For me, this is the most challenging and sometimes fun part of the draft as there’s just not a lot out there on some guys. Think about it, there are 1200 players going to be drafted over three days. My knowledge only goes to about 200-250 tops.
Top 21 List Redux
After the draft is complete, I will have a new top 21 list by the end of the week I don’t know how many draft picks will make it onto the list, but right now I’m guessing three. The Cubs pick at number 27, 30, 67, and 105 in the first three rounds. I am pretty sure the top three picks will make the cut. I think the third round pick has a chance to be in the top 21. As for the fourth round pick, I am not so sure. I think that player will definitely be in the Ala Carte portion of the list.
The Playoff Chase in the Minors
Exactly one week from today is the end of the first half of the minor league season. I cannot believe how fast it went. Three of the affiliates are still in position to earn a playoff spot.
Iowa: 2-6; 26-36
I feel bad for this team right now. They are basically down to three startIng pitchers and two relievers making spot starts. I am pretty positive this will be remedied once the first half ends for Tennessee.
Tennessee: 5-2; 35-26
The pitching is there to finish off the first half championship. They just need the bats to keep it up for one more week. Trey Martin is back patrolling centerfield and Dillon Maples will be joining the team from Myrtle Beach. Yasiel Balaguert seems to be turning it on and Charcer Burks is a model of consistency this year.
Myrtle Beach: 6-1; 36-26
Winning seven and a row has them in the first place. It’s going to come down to their offense. Their starting pitching has been outstanding and the bullpen can shut it down. Thomas Hatch and Ryan Kellogg seem to be peaking at the right time. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to the last day, but I think it might.
South Bend: 3-3; 37-24
Last year it came down to the last day and I think the same thing is going to happen this year. I don’t think they have a shot at winning the division, but they are now tied for a wild-card spot. For that to happen their offense needs to get clicking. And with Dakota Mekkes now in Myrtle Beach, someone in the pen needs to step up as well. Isaac Paredes is hitting over .300 this month.
DSL 1: 3-3: 3-4
DSL 2: 2-4; 2-5
After another two weeks of play I will begin to take a look at some of the players who are standing out. It’s hard to get a grasp on what is happening in the DSL, but usually time wins out when looking at their statistics.
Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
It’s almost over! The players had to Mesa in Eugene and begin their seasons on Thursday. I’ll see if I can have the profile of each team on Thursday. I am not promising anything with the draft. It might be an afternoon post or Saturday at the latest.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
My Posts on Other Sites This Week
By Todd Johnson
April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.
Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.
I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.
Let’s get right to this month’s list…
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)
For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.
The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.
By Todd Johnson
It is getting to be that time of the year. MiLB rosters change as May gets a little warmer and the draft gets a little closer. Injuries play a part as well as major league promotions. We have only seen a few promotions so far. Pitchers Kyle Miller and Marc Huberman moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny were yo-yos over last weekend. In addition, some prospects came off the DL like Todd Glaesmann and Chris Dominguez.
Today, Eddie Butler gets a crack starting in the show.
Here are six prospects I think will get the call to move up a level in the next month.
1. Michael Cruz
He is just punishing balls in the desert in Extended Spring Training. While he is there to work on his defense, Cruz has taken the time to make impressions with his bat. I think he could be in South Bend by the MiLB All-Star Break
2. Dakota Mekkes
He finally gave up another run the other day. It was his second one in 17.2 IP this year. His ERA is now a sparkling 1.02. Another great stat he has going for him is that he has struck out 24 batters in those same 17.2 innings. A 0.79 WHIP screams promotion. His deceptive delivery allows his fastball to sneak up on a hitter. I think he could skip Myrtle Beach, but he likely won’t.
3. Craig Brooks
While Mekkes has been outstanding, Brooks has been better. He’s thrown 17.1 IP with only 1 ER for an ERA of 0.52. He’s struck out 26 and only walked five while throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s. At 24-years-old, Brooks might be the first prospect to move.
4. Dillon Maples
It’s all about the curve, the curve, the curve… Maples is spinning his breaking ball with great success in 2017. He’s a reliever now The only difference between Brooks and Maple at Myrtle Beach is Maples has given up 1 more this year and his groundout/air out ratio is 1.56, triple that of either Brooks or even Mekkes. He turned 25 on Tuesday and could move quickly this year…finally!
5. Jed Carter
Carter has been out in EST and has been doing well. The 22-year-old righty out of Auburn-Montgomery has been putting together shutout inning after shutout inning. If he does make it to Eugene, he likely won’t be there for long.
6. Dylan Cease
I see him making it through May at South Bend. After that, all bets are off. He still needs that changeup to come around before going to Tennessee.
There could be a few others, but I think relievers are on a faster track. Two other position player names you might hear would be Jason Vosler and Daniel Spingola.
By Todd Johnson
You can thank the rain storms that covered much of the Midwest for me being able to finish this month’s all-star team on schedule. There were no yards to mow, no weeds to pull, and no dogs to walk in the rain. In addition, there were no minor league games except for Myrtle Beach and South Bend on Sunday.
It was a strange month for trying to pick a few spots on the All-Star team. First base was a difficult choice as most of the organization struggled at that position. I wound up going with a player who only played a few games there. When it came to starting pitching, I had a couple players drop off after poor starts in the last week. When it came time to select the hitter of the month, all I had to do was look at only one team who was rained out for the weekend.
I think the May All-Star team will be much different. For one, I think Yasiel Balaguert has started to find his stroke at first base. In the outfield, there will be much more competition as Jake Hannemann, Kevonte Mitchell, and Mark Zagunis all had strong final weeks in April. Trey Martin could return as well. I also think that some of the starting pitching will start to stabilize in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Duncan Robinson will be one pitcher to watch in May as to whether he starts or relieves in South Bend.
So, without further adieu, here is the April All-Star team.
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4
By Todd Johnson
An interesting thing began developing about two years ago. People began realizing that this Cubs team was very good. That if the Cubs didn’t win today, there was still a good chance they could win tomorrow. They began to level out their emotions and to take things in stride. I think this year, with a World Series ring In tow, Cubs fans are a lot more relaxed about the regular season. In fact, they are extremely confident and are looking forward to the postseason. One close loss in April does not seem so damning anymore.
It was a pretty busy week in the Cubs’ universe as they raised four banners on Monday night and on Wednesday, the players got their rings. Both nights were very emotional and I think the Cubs put on two very classy ceremonies. I shed a few tears when Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins got their rings. I even shed a few more when they announced that Ernie and Ron’s rings would be stored in the Cubs archives for all to see. In fact, I am welling up now just thinking about it.
With the arrival of Brian Duensing back from the DL, a decision will have to be made in the next few days about Tommy La Stella and/or Matt Szczur as Carl Edwards will likely be back from bereavement leave early next week. Odds are La Stella will head down to AAA Iowa.
It should be a good week for Cubs’ hitting as they play Milwaukee Monday through Wednesday. Thursday, they are off and then head to Cincinnati for the weekend where the Cubs tend to hit very well. Let’s hope the bats begin to wake up some more.
Around the System
Iowa: 2-5; 5-5 overall -third place
The young Cubs had a good week as Ian Happ, Victor Caratini, and Jeimer Candelario continued to punish baseballs in the Pacific Coast League. Alec Mills and Eddie Butler were both outstanding in each of their outings this week.
Tennessee: 2-5; 4-6 overall – fourth place
It was a rough week, especially for the bullpen which seems to be falling apart early. The only bright spot was an 8 run ninth-inning as the Smokies came from 7 down to defeat the Mississippi Braves. David Bote and Trey Martin continue to hit well. Trevor Clifton is having “that one big inning issue” again this year, but at least they have only been 2 and 3 runs. Otherwise, he hasn’t given up a run in 8 of his 10 IP.
Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 5-4 overall – fourth place
The Pelicans seem to have trouble getting a lot of runs. The pitching seems to be the strength of this team. Oscar de la Cruz had 10 Ks in 9.2 innings of work this week. Thomas Hatch looked very good except for one inning and Justin Steele looks to be pitching like Justin Steele of 2015.
South Bend: 5-2; 5-5 – fifth place
After being frozen the first three games, the bats started to come around quickly. Isaac Paredes, Yeiler Peguero, and Wladimir Galindo all broke out in a big way this week. The pitching, meanwhile, continues to be otherworldly led by Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, and my new favorite pitcher, who is the breakout pitcher of the year so far, Tyson Miller.
Extended Spring Training
EXST began this week as the Cubs played two intrasquad games and one game against the Angels.. Bryan Hudson threw six scoreless innings with 10 ground ball outs and 6 Ks. Here is Arizona Phil’s take:
“The 6’8 Hudson (Cubs 2015 3rd round draft pick – Alton HS – Alton, IL) was an absolute ground-ball machine, mixing an 87-89 MPH sinker, a plus-curve, and an occasional change-up to keep the A’s hitters off-balance and constantly beating pitches into the ground. He also threw 70% strikes and averaged only 11.5 pitches-per-inning. Hudson’s outing was simply one of the best performances by a starting pitcher in a Cactus League Extended Spring Training game I have ever witnessed (and I have seen many good ones over the last 40 years).”
That’s pretty high praise.
Michael Cruz, his bat, and approach look to be no match at either Mesa or Eugene. I cannot wait to see him play in the next couple of months.
Yesterday, Joe Martarano return to playing minor-league baseball. It is been two years and a horrific knee injury since we last saw Martarano. He will play some first base, some third-base, and even somehow outfield this summer, most likely for Eugene. To shake off the rust, He belted a triple in his first game back.
Card of the Week
Made from a photo by Larry Kave
Players of the Week