By Todd Johnson
On Sunday morning, the Cubs announced that Jen-Ho Tseng and D.J. Wilson were named the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher and Player of the Month for July. Tseng had a 1.42 ERA at AAA Iowa to go along with 23 Ks in 25.1 IP. Wilson hit .284 with 7 HRs and 21 RBI in between Mesa (rehab stint) and South Bend. With officially four weeks left in the MiLB season, it got me thinking: Who will be the Cubs MiLB Pitcher and Hitter of the Year?
When it comes to hitting, the winner is clear cut – Victor Caratini. No one else is even in the discussion in my mind. He’s batting .350 with a .959 OPS. He’s hit 10 HRs and driven in 58. While his OBP is a bit less than Mark Zagunis’, whose isn’t. I do not see how Caratini could lose this award. Since his return to Iowa from Chicago, he’s hitting .600.
On the other hand, selecting the Pitcher of the Year is going to be a tough choice that will play out over the next month. I currently have six pitchers in the running with five having a pretty good shot of staking a claim to it.
The Front Runners
Michael Rucker has done it all this year in 84 innings. He’s been a reliever and a starter. He’s been a closer, a setup man, and an ace. His 1.93 ERA is the lowest of the starters up for the award. His 95 Ks gives him a 9.21 K/9 rate. I love to watch him pitch as he just throws strikes. He’s only walked 16 all year.
Jen-Ho Tseng has had a resurgent year relying on good command of his pitches which includes a low 90s fastball and a plus curve and change. His 2.77 combined ERA between Iowa and Tennessee is impressive and he has 110 Ks in 120 IP.
Adbert Alzolay was my breakout player of the first half. Now at AA Tennessee, he has a combined 2.84 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee with 101 Ks in 107 IP. I like his energy, his pacing, and his 96-97 mph heater. He still needs to refine his secondaries going forward.
The Long Shots
Duncan Robinson is a bit like Rucker in that he began the year as a reliever and morphed into a starter. He was a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted in July to Myrtle Beach from South Bend. On the year, he has a 2.13 ERA over 91 innings. His 77 Ks take him out the discussion a bit when compared with other front runners.
It has been a most impressive season for Justin Steele. He’s been very steady all year. His 2.92 ERA is a testament to his approach and hard work after a rough season at South Bend in 2016. He has 82 Ks in 98.2 IP.
If you were to pick this award on sheer domination, reliever Dakota Mekkes would win hands down. He dominated at South Bend and then again at Myrtle Beach. He did allow an earned run for almost three months. Heading into today, his ERA is a miniscule 0.76 ERA to go along with 79 Ks in 59 IP. Opponents are only hitting .152 against him. If not for 27 walks, I think he would be in Tennessee.
I think Michael Rucker is currently in the lead. However, I truly think the award should go to Mekkes. For the past few years, the Cubs have rewarded starters including Tseng, Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood. But Mekkes’ season has been one of pure domination across the board and two levels. However, I don’t think the Cubs will give that award to a reliever. I wish they would, though. I really wish they would.
By Todd Johnson
This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.
On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.
As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.
By Todd Johnson
Bo Bichette – 0/2 with 1 K
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. – 0/1 with a walk
Jorge Ona – 0/2 with 2 Ks
Fernando Tatis, Jr. – 0/3 with 2 Ks
Those four hitters were some of the best hitters in the Midwest League in the first half of 2017. The statistics listed above are how they fared against Dakota Mekkes. They should not feel ashamed as that is pretty much how everyone did against Mekkes while he was with South Bend. In 2017, he’s struck out 70 batters in 49.2 IP across 2 levels with a God-like ERA of 0.36.
Earlier this year, I wrote about Dakota Mekkes for Cubs Insider. At the end of the article, I foresaw the 6’7” 255 lb. right-handed reliever being a fast riser through the Cubs system. In the early part of June, Mekkes was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. I originally thought he should just skip Myrtle Beach because he had been so dominant for South Bend. Since his promotion, he has not given up an earned run. Soon, I would imagine, he will be in AA Tennessee.
I had the great opportunity to sit down and talk with him on Tuesday about his routine and the adjustments he is making at AA.
Did your daily process/routines change when you went from South Bend to Myrtle Beach?
No, I pretty much stayed doing the same thing every day that I did in South Bend. I figured if it’s not broke don’t fix it. I like to get in a routine, get my routine down, and do the same thing every day.That’s what I have been doing since I moved up here is stay with what I have been doing. Some days, if I throw 2 innings (the night before), then I know I will have a couple days off, then I will just do long toss. Normally, I just go 90 then 120 and get some sprints in before the game. It’s nothing too crazy or complicated. I’m a big routine guy. I’m really superstitious actually.
How is the coaching different? You had Brian Lawrence at South Bend and now have Anderson Tavarez at Myrtle Beach. How are they similar and different?
For me, since I throw kinda funky, they have been kinda hands off. Like neither of them really tell me too much. That’s just like how they are through the organization. Like the coordinators, they just let me throw. If they see something small, they’ll tweak it.
Mekkes did add that the two pitching coaches have different personalities but he likes that they are different.
Are you using video to adjust your pitching?
I am actually not a big video guy, I have always been someone that when I throw a bad pitch, I typically know what I did wrong. I will look at it every now and then like if hadn’t had my slider for a few outings or I haven’t had my changeup. I’ll look at it to see if I can find any differences in my last outing and an outing from a month ago when I knew it was good.
What has been the biggest adjustment you have had to make at Myrtle Beach?
I noticed it right away. The hitters are much better at Myrtle Beach, obviously. They don’t miss mistakes. If you make a mistake pitch here, you are not going to get away with it. Down at South Bend you get away with missing a fastball and get some swing and miss. Up here, more likely than not, it’s going to be a base hit. You gotta be pinpoint with your accuracy.
I think Mekkes has made the adjustment to playing at a higher level just fine. In fact, he has far exceeded expectations with a 0.00 ERA at Myrtle Beach in 18.2 IP along with 23 Ks and a 100% Left-on-Base rate. In other words, he’s stranded every runner.
The fact that opponents hit just .132 against him across both levels is a testament to his arsenal. Even more, it is a testament to his work ethic and routine.
I will be back next week with part 2 of the interview where Dakota discusses his unique delivery, its development, his grips, and getting to AA Tennessee.
By Todd Johnson
I think the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching this month’s presentation is the amount of new names who made the All-Star team in June. In fact, there are only ten holdovers from last month. That means there are 10 new names and one returning name from April. That’s a lot.
June was a rough month in the Cubs’ system. Going into Thursday and Friday, I only had five starting pitchers on my list and only four of them met the usual requirement of an ERA below 3.00 for a month. I do like the fact that there are a lot of new names as it shows the depth of the system, and it also shows that they are all performing at a high-level.
July is usually when we see a lot of new names make the list. Arizona and Eugene players will make their names heard. For me, this is when I really I get to know a prospect. I begin to keep track of their stats almost on a daily basis. I am always excited to see new prospects do well, whether it’s the ones I think will or the ones who surprise me. To be honest, I always enjoy being surprised more.
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