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.
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
I don’t think anyone saw Daniel Spingola coming on so strong to start the 2017 season. The Myrtle Beach outfielder is hitting .323 with a .404 on base percentage. He made Cubs Central’s April All-Star team and he should be on the May All-Star team unless there is a complete meltdown between now and the first of June.
The Cubs first drafted Spingola in 2014 in the 24th round of the MLB draft. At the time, Daniel was coming off a very productive junior season at Georgia Tech. He hit .336 and was an All-ACC selection. Spingola did not sign with the Cubs. Instead, he went back to school to improve his draft stock.
His senior season did not go as well as he only hit .259. The Cubs redrafted Spingola in 2015, with his permission, in the 31st round. He played at three levels in 2015 ending up in low A South Bend.
In 2016, he began the year in South Bend where he hit ..308 in 38 games. He was promoted mid season to Class A Myrtle Beach where he struggled to hit only .243. Some adjustments would have to be made in 2017 if Spingola was going to continue as a Cubs prospect.
Ht: 6′ 1″ Wt: 180
Draft: Round 31 (2015)
School: Georgia Tech
Hit for average
Left Handed Hitter
Heading into 2017
Daniel is easily the most improved prospect in the System in 2017. The left-handed hitter has been very consistent since the beginning of the season. In April, he hit 308 and is now hitting 339 for the month of May. He’s on base percentage has also been over .400 for most of the year.
What Has Changed
According to Fangraphs, Spingola has been pulling the ball more than usual (Thanks to Scott Kornberg for this tidbit). It also looks as though he is swinging with more lift. As a result, he has been moved into the middle of the Pelican’s order based on his production. He has hit for a little more power, but I don’t know how much more power he has in his retool the swing.
Announcer Scott Kornberg believes that’s Spingola’s swing might be more reminiscent of an earlier time than the swing he developed at Georgia Tech as a leadoff hitter. Whatever Spingola has changed since 2016 has definitely worked. His fly ball to ground ball ratio is still tilted more towards ground balls. However, his fly balls just happen to be finding their way for hits. To date, he has 19 extra-base hits for a .529 slugging percentage. Combined with his on-base percentage, that makes for a nice .933 OPS.
He is also playing with some abandon out in left field. Here are two great catches he has made just in this year.
Spingola just turned 24. Being a little older than most prospects on the team, his time is very short. However, that should not limit his effort. In fact, I think it is intensifying it.
Going forward, Daniel reminds me a lot of Bijan Rademacher. Daniel has been able to adapt and improve at each level just like Bijan had to do. I don’t know if he will have an opportunity to reach Tennessee at some point this year. If he does, I think he’s going to succeed at AA. I would not have said that a year ago after his first 48 games for Myrtle Beach.
There are three reasons why I think he can do just as well at the next level:
1 – He has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He’s not afraid to lay off pitches and take a walk. He also seems to be looking for certain pitches in certain zones that appeal to his swing.
2 – He is willing to make changes to improve his odds of moving further up in the organization.
3 – Desire. You can clearly see how much Spingola likes to play baseball. From how he runs the bases to how he plays in the field and to how he attacks pitches, he is going all out, all the time.
The rest of the summer is going to be filled with more surprises from him. I don’t have a clue as to what those might be, but I’m sure he is going to continue what he started back in April. The arrow is definitely pointing up for him.
*Special Thanks to Scott Kornberg
*Cards made from photos by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans and Rikk Carlson.
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
Record: 84-55; 1st Half Eastern Division Champions; Lost in the first round of the playoffs to West Michigan 2-1
2016 was an outstanding year for the South Bend Cubs. They set their second straight attendance record as a Cub affiliate. They also won the first-half Eastern Division title in the Midwest League. And, they had the number one prospect in the league for the second year in a row in Eloy Jimenez.
Once the weather warmed up in May, so did South Bend pitching. Preston Morrison dominated June and July with ERAs under one. Kyle Miller and Casey Bloomquist also had ERAs under 2 in June. It appeared there was nothing that could stop the team at the All-Star break.
Eloy Jimenez went to the Futures Game and came back a star as he hit a three-run home run and had an amazing catch in right field that electrified the fan base back home. In July, Eddy Martinez caught fire and was named the Cubs minor league player of the month.
And then the promotions came.
Gone were Donnie Dewees, Daniels Spingola, Ian Rice, Andrew Ely, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, and Preston Morrison. That was a lot of talent to replace and it seem like the Cubs were never the same team after that. Although, Matt Rose, who left at the end of May hitting less than .200, returned to hit over .280 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in August and was named Midwest Player of the Month. For Eloy, he missed a lot of time in the second half of the year playing only 47 games out of 70.
Several other prospects stood out. Catcher PJ Higgins and second baseman Carlos Sepulveda showed that they could handle a bat. Sepulveda hit above .300 for the year while Higgins had the highest on-base percentage over the course of the season. Pitcher Ryan Kellogg also had an outstanding second half with a 1.99 ERA since the end of June.
When the playoffs came, The Cubs struggled to score runs in their two losses and were knocked out by West Michigan in the best of three-game series. It was a disappointing ending, but it was a great season.
The thing that I come away most impressed with is what a great job Manager Jimmy Gonzalez did in turning hitters into ones with patient approaches. We saw it all season long with Eloy, Eddy, PJ Higgins, and Ian Rice’s development. We also saw what a great job pitching coach David Rosario did in developing pitchers with fastball command who can throw strikes down in the zone.
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
Eloy Jimenez – I don’t think I need to explain myself on this one.
Team Cy Young
Preston Morrison – All it took for him to excel in 2016 was moving to the third base side of the river. He did that at the beginning of May, and for the next 90 days, he was the best pitcher in the Cubs system.
Eloy Jimenez – 14 home runs and 81 RBIs ought to do it.
Looking Ahead to 2017
Most of the players from 2016 will head to Myrtle Beach next year. Andruw Monasterio might stay to begin 2017 in South Bend along with some other bench players. Most of the roster in 2017 will be this year’s roster from Eugene. Some key hitters to watch include Wladimir Galindo, Trent Giambrone, Yeiler Peguero, and DJ Wilson. For me, Wilson is an extremely exciting player, and while Galindo has some major power, he is just beginning to tap into it at just 19 years of age.
The strength of next year’s team will be pitching. Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Bailey Clark, Bryan Hudson, Tyson Miller, Pedro Silverio, and Erling Moreno are starting pitchers who could take the mound next year. In addition, relievers Wyatt Short and Dakota Mekkes should arrive with Marc Huberman, Jed Carter, Chad Hockin, Michael Knighton, MT Minacci, and Duncan Robinson.
As of right now, I also think that Tom Hatch, the Cubs third round pick in the 2016 draft, could arrive to begin his Cubs career at South Bend. How long he stays there, is up to his performance. Then again, he might start at Myrtle Beach. He is now at Fall Instructs making his pro debut.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Robert Garcia is not going to hit a lot of home runs. However he will hit for average, he will get on base, and he will score a lot of runs.
While the team did fall short of expectations, they have nothing to hang their head about. They improved quite a bit over the course of a season and now they can get ready for next year.
While the major league team is destroying the Reds this weekend, the minor league prospects are getting to the point where early streaks start to fade. A two week split turns into a month of statistics. With sixteen games into the season, there a few Cubs prospects who are off to a surprise start. Some I predicted a month ago (pitchers, hitters), and then there are some I did not see coming at all.
Coming into the season, he looked like he was going to be the odd man out in a crowded outfield with Billy McKinney, Jake Hannemann, and Mark Zagunis. Instead, Rademacher has outshown them all…combined. He is hitting .425 with a .549 OBP with 4 HRs and 12 RBIs. Add in that he has a 13 game hitting streak, and you have yourself a 24 year outfielder coming into his own at AA.
In three starts, the young 21 year old righty has a 0.50 ERA. He has only struck out ten in three starts, but he has a 0.83 WHIP. He is getting it done by pitching to contact. He gets the ball tonight against Mobile. It should be interesting to see how he does. He’s been pitching very well since the middle of July. In those 8 starts, he has allowed only 7 ERs.
The man who the Cubs traded Frandy Delarosa for has had a spectacular April. In 6 appearaences he has yet to allow a run, he has struck out nine, has allowed only three hits while only giving up two walks. It’s been an impressive beginning to his Cubs career. If the Cubs need a reliever at any point, this kid is now at the front of the line.
Right now he is on the DL, but he was on fire beforehand. He was hitting .333 with a .404 OBP while patrolling CF for the Pelicans. He should be off the DL soon where he will return to the top of the Pelicans’ lineup.
I knew he could be good, but this past week saw him get his groove going. In the last seven days, he is hitting .444 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. His OBP for that frame is close to .600. It’s been a good week for him in a pitcher’s league. What I like most about his start is his approach. He never swings at just any pitch.
I wondered early if he was going to be a starter or a reliever. He started. In fact, he’s started three games with a 2.37 ERA. On Wednesday, he went seven innings allowing 1 run and striking out four. Every start has been better than the one before. Last summer I saw a nice run like this by him in June. When I saw him pitch in Burlington, the humidity wore him down, but he gets some nice movement on all his pitches, but he does have a really good slider that can get him a lot of weak groundball outs. And that is what he is doing this year.
The young 3B from Northeastern is having an outstanding start for Myrtle Beach. He is hitting .333 yet he has not hit a HR. With his .429 OBP, he is really a force in the middle of the Pelicans’ lineup. I liked what he did when he went to Myrtle Beach late last summer when he had 6 HRs in just 38 games as a Pelican. I think this year, his approach will pay off later this summer in some more power.
The young outfielder has been outstanding this season. He’s hitting .364 with 11 RBIs. He leads the team in runs with 14 and 6 SBs. He is an extremely exciting player to watch hit, run, and play the field.
I thought for sure he would not see the light of day much. Instead, he’s been an on-base machine hitting .378. Like Rademacher, he was an afterthought on the roster to me. I was wrong and good for him. In fact, he might be the biggest surprise of all on this list. The 2015 (and 2014) draftee out of Georgia Tech has shown good speed and good patience at the plate.
While he still needs to work on his defense, the young 2013 draftee’s bat has been a pleasant surprise at South Bend. In fact, he leads the team in hitting while playing a little C, 1B, and DH. He is hitting .400 in 7 games, he shows the potential for more power. That will come. He spent most of this winter bulking up while trimming down.
Tomorrow, I will be back with the weekly news and notes on how each minor league team did this past week and I will have the players of the week as usual.