By Todd Johnson
For most Cub fans, the off season has begun. Theo Epstein did his annual postseason analytical press conference and now it is just a matter of time before he begins reassembling the team for 2018. Yesterday’s letting go of Chris Bosio was a surprise and it won’t be long before the Cubs have a new pitching coach. Then, a week after the World Series is complete, MLB free agency will begin and a new market for players and pitchers will take shape.
There’s a large part of me that enjoys the off-season just as much as I do the regular season. I enjoy the evaluative aspects of free-agent signings and trades just as much as I do breaking down prospects and trends during the regular season.
Another thing I really enjoy about the off-season is it allows me to write more about a specific topic. And I can carry that out over several days or weeks. This off-season is no different. I will again examine the positional depth throughout the system and, additionally, what several prospects need to do at the next level in 2018. Those series will start around Turkey Day.
As for the World Series and who will win, I don’t really have an emotional stake in either team winning. I would prefer that Houston would win just because they have never won a World Series championship.
Arizona Fall League
David Bote and Ian Rice both continued to terrorize pitchers in the Arizona Fall League. While Bote’s exploits continue to lead the league in most every offensive category, Rice is not far behind hitting .375 with a .524 OBP and a 1.086 OPS after two weeks. Jason Vosler looks to have broken through as he had a walkoff triple on Friday night. Adbert Alzolay has been fantastic with a 0.17 WHIP and Pedro Araujo has lowered his ERA from 9.00 to 3.00 this past week. Alec Mills made his second start as he gave up 1 run in 4 IP with 1 K.
Baseball America Draft Grades
John Manuel of Baseball America gave out some superlatives to several 2017 Cubs draft picks this week. In the article (subscription required), Manuel gave several accolades to Austin Upshaw, Nelson Velazquez, Austin Filiere, and Alex Lange. I think some other prospects to watch from this draft class are starting pitchers Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson, reliever Jake Steffens, 2B Jared Young and SS Luis Vazquez as well as top pick Brendon Little. I really like the quality depth of position players and pitching the Cubs selected and signed this summer. It comes across that the Cubs selected much more athletic players this year than. Outfielders Brandon Hughes and Chris Singleton are just two of those type of players.
The Seven Series
The lower parts of the system conclude the series this week. South Bend is up first, followed by Eugene, and Mesa should be in the hole for Friday. The State of the MLB System series will follow next week.
Yesterday, I began putting together an article for BP Wrigleyville about possible expansion and realignment. I feel as though I was been born to write this article about MLB expansion and realignment. As a teacher, I think I have practiced doodling and outlining this article in many a faculty meeting and teacher institute over the last 30 years. It will be out next Saturday.
Baseball Card of the Week
I only added a few cards this week and I think that might be the pace I work at this off-season. You can see all them right here.
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
By Todd Johnson
The Tennessee Smokies are right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently they hold a half a game lead over Montgomery for the second playoff spot in their division in the Southern League North Division. They were in contention with Chattanooga most of the first half before falling apart the last 10 days in a head-to-head series against the Lookouts. When the second half began, the Smokies hit the skids in late June. Now, they righted the ship thanks in large part to a shutdown bullpen in July.
Even though Dillon Maples was recently promoted (he was only at Tennessee for a month), there have been six relievers who have been the stalwarts of the pen in July. They have put together outstanding performances with most of them having ERAs under 1.00. Surprisingly, there is not a left-hander in the bunch. Yet, the Smokies relievers have been able to thrive.
For today’s six-pack, here are six relievers coming up big in the Smokies bullpen.
1. James Pugliese – Right now I’m a little perplexed as to why he is still at AA. For the year, he has a blank 0.82. In July, he’s been solid with a 1.00 ERA in six appearances. On the year , he has 37 strikeouts in 53 innings while only walking 22.
2. Daury Torrez – After converting to reliever, he seems to have found major success this year. Like Pugliese, he’s just been amazing out of the pen. For the year he has a 1.62 and, in July, he has been pretty solid as well with a 2.92 ERA in 7 appearances. His control has been phenomenal as he has only walked 8 batters all year.
3. David Garner – He is easily the most improved reliever this year at Tennessee. While it is his second year at the level, he has made dramatic improvements in his command. He’s learned that he can’t get away with mistakes. He has yet to allow an earned run all month and a strikeout totals have been outstanding all year at 25 in 25 innings. In July, he has a 0.71 WHIP and opponents are only batting .136 against him.
4. Jose Rosario – He just came off the disabled list and on Wednesday night, he looked like the old Jose Rosario striking out three in one inning of work. While he has only made a few appearances, his time in Tennessee might be short-lived for someone who is on the 40 man roster.
5. Craig Brooks – Brooks came out of the gate this year firing bullets for Myrtle Beach with an ERA under 0.5. When he got to Tennessee, he struggled for the first month and a half before he figured things out. In July, he looks exactly like the pitcher who was at Myrtle Beach in April and May throwing upper 90s heat. This month has struck out 19 in 10.2 IP and has yet to allow a run.
6. Steve Perakslis – In 13.1 IP, he has allowed only 1 run in July while striking out 13. Normally, he’s been a slow starter in the first half and typically turns it on with the summer heat. He does throw in the mid 90s and is an interesting arm at age 26.
Fellow relievers Ryan McNeil and Brad Markey have been up and down this year with Markey sometimes doing some spots starts along with Pugliese. I do think that there will be some promotions coming in the next couple of weeks. One pitcher who could be coming to Tennessee is Dakota Mekkes, who has yet to allow an earned run at Myrtle Beach. Who knows, there might even be a lefty coming along with him.
With several doubleheaders in June and early July, it is a wonder this pen and these relievers are not burnt out. Somehow, their hard work has set the Smokies up for success in July. I’d like to think that some of them will get a shot at going to Iowa at the end of the month. Then again, Manager Mark Johnson may need them for his first short at making the playoffs at AA and winning a Southern League title.
*Thank you to Charlie Walter and Sumner Gilliam of the Smokies for the photographs
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
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
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
When it comes to picking the All-Star team each month, it’s usually clear and dry. The players pretty much decide it for you. Whether it is average, home runs, runs batted in, earned run average, or strikeout, all I have to do is look at their splits for the month and I am done. For hitters this month, that was the case. Even the hitter of the month was a no brainer. However, when it came to pitching, I had to make some tough choices for both starters and relievers.
I take it as a good thing that the choices were hard this month. That means there is a lot of good pitching taking place in the Cub system. Usually, I like the starting pitchers on the All-Star team to have an ERA under 3. That was easy this month as there were six. Paul Blackburn just missed out at 3.00. For relievers, I like them to be under 2.00 for their ERA. And closers take precedence. This month, there were so many studly performances that I included 11 relievers on the team. They were two others who came close in Ryan McNeil and Casey Bloomquist. I am sure than next month that James Farris will return as well. I may have to readjust my standards a little bit to keep it down to six.
The pitcher of the month was the hardest to choose. Was an ERA difference of .005 going to decide it? It came down to Carson Sands of South Bend (1.24 ERA) and Trevor Clifton of Myrtle Beach (1.29). Had it not been a short start of 1.2 innings and 5 ER, Zach Hedges would have had a 1.00 ERA and been in the discussion. So, I had to do to my due diligence.
Additional stats like WHIP, BBs, Ks, and some advanced stats over Fangraphs, like BABIP and FIP, all came into play. However, it was old fashioned stats that swayed my decision. One pitcher walked half of what the other player did and struck out twice as many hitters. I like that both pitchers are in the lower levels and will be in the hunt for this award again the next couple of years. In fact, I think both are just beginning their breakout seasons.
Without further adieu, here is this month’s Cubs MiLB Monthly All-Star Team.
I think several players who’ve been in a bit of a slump will be back next month including Donnie Dewees, Billy McKinney, and Chesny Young. With Pierce Johnson, Jen-Ho Tseng and Dallas Beeler now throwing, the starting pitching could change drastically, especially at Iowa.
I will have a first half All-Star Team on the 23rd and the regular monthly one on July 1. They should be quite different.
The June All-Star Team will be much more of a challenge as 4 more teams enter the fray in Eugene, Arizona, and two Dominican teams (who start Saturday). Add in some draft picks into the minor league system and it will be a whole new ballgame.