By Todd Johnson
40 Man Decisions
Monday should be a big newsday as every major league baseball team has to turn in their 40 man roster which will include prospects that will no longer be available for other teams to take in the Rule 5 Draft. it should be interesting to see which players the Cubs protect.
With six spots on the 40 man available, I have a pretty good inkling that the Cubs’ list will be pitching heavy with Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, Pedro Araujo, outfielder Charcer Burks, and infielder David Bote most likely to be added. I also think that Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett could make the 40 man cut as well. It would be a huge gamble to leave one of the two off. Then again, the team that selects a player has to put them on the 25 man roster. It is easier to hide a pitcher in the pen than a position player on the bench. Don’t be surprised if the Cubs only select pitchers to go on the 40 man.
Major League Baseball will supposedly be handing down their punishment to the Atlanta Braves tomorrow. I expect it will be harsh and result in several prospects being named free agents, including SS Kevin Maitan. It would be wise of Maitan to wait until July 2 to resign with a new team as most teams have already spent most of their 2017 IFA pool. The 6’2” 190 pound 17-year-old would look good in Eugene this summer!
Arizona Fall League Ends
It was an up and down 6 weeks for most of the Cubs’ prospects. David Bote came on like gangbusters hitting .333 with a .395 OBP to go with 4 HRs (most in the first week). Catcher Ian Rice was pretty steady hitting .311 with a .415 OBP in just 13 games. Outfielder Charcer Burks hit .236 while Jason Vosler hit .210 with a .323 OBP and 2 HRs.
Pitcher Alec Mills had his moments as a starter but then equally struggled at times. Adbert Alzolay was used frequently and was excelling before he gave up 6 runs in 0.2 innings. However, Jake Stinnett and Pedro Araujo shined all fall with ERAs under 2 and K rates of 14+/9 IP.
The Cubs brass probably learned what they wanted to know about each prospect this fall. Tomorrow, we shall see who they value most from this bunch when some will be protected and some will not.
While Baseball America did kick off the prospect list season this week, it will be about another month before Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs do theirs. In the meantime, John Sickles will probably have his prospect list released by the end of this week or early next week.
On Wednesday this week, the off-season prospect series debuts with a profile of outfielder DJ Wilson. The series is called “Leveling Up.” The emphasis of each article will be a 2017 review and a 2018 to do list. On Friday, the position breakdown series returns as I analyze each position by ranking the top Cub prospects at that position.
Mailbag Part 2 Coming Up
The first mailbag post this week was somewhat successful. I have enough questions left over for two more posts. The second one will be out tomorrow, the other on the 27th.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
MLB Roster Moves
8 Cubs declared for free agency after the World Series this week. On Tuesday, the offseason is all set to begin. The Cubs will be active but Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will drive the market. Once those two sign, then you will begin to see slots fill up around the league. I hope the Cubs can hang onto Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta, but the odds are slim.
After the declarations, the Cubs announced that they claimed left-handed reliever Randy Rosario off waivers from Minnesota. The newly converted reliever pitch mostly at AA in 2017 but did see an unforgettable 2.1 IP. This has all the markings of a flyer and a gamble. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90s with a 90 mph slider. That, my friends, is worth exploring.
MiLB Roster News
Catcher Alberto Mineo is back on board. However, there is still no word on Trey Martin, Matt Carasiti, or John Andreoli either signing or choosing free agency. The Cubs don’t necessarily have to sign Carasiti to retain his services if they automatically place him on the 40 man roster. It is doubtful, but there’s a small chance it could happen before Tuesday’s signing deadline. Other prospects, who are not free agents but who would but eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, have to be placed on the 40 man by November 20 to avoid the Rule 5 Draft.
Johnson Roster News
In the past year and a half, two of our old dogs passed after short illnesses. On Friday night, my wife and I drove up to Madison, Wisconsin to get a new member for our pack. Socrates is a 4-year-old Spaniel mix who seems to be fitting in nicely. He has some 80 grade deception on his left front paw. He’s a keeper! High floor on his cuteness!
Otani Fever Is Getting Cold
Earlier in the week, the Posting Fee agreement between MLB and NPB (Japanese Professional League) expired without a new agreement in place. As a result, that fact could definitely hamper the career aspirations of P/OF Shohei Otani. Until a new agreement is in place redone, Otani will not likely come to the states unless his home team in Nippon financially benefits in a big way.
Since Otani could only sign a MiLB deal because of his age, the fee would be minimal. As a result, he is staying put for the time being unlike he gets an exception in the new deal.
I could have sworn I wrote a post about possible breakout players for 2018. I went back and looked to see who I picked and I could not find it or anything resembling it. Yes, I had some storylines I wanted to follow, but no posts exist about breakouts or sleepers for 2018. So, this week, that is what I am going to write about.
In three different posts, I will breakdown some players I will think will break out next year and shoot up the Cubs system or prospect lists. This will be in three parts. I will do hitters first, then starting pitchers, and I will close it out with relievers.
Arizona Fall League
Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett are still going strong. David Bote, Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice have all come back to the pack a bit. Even though Adbert Alzolay had a horrible outing this week (3 HRs and 6 runs in 0.2 IP), he was still in the AFL All-Star Game last night as were Bote and Stinnett. There are only just 2 weeks left in the AFL season. It has been an eye-opening experience as Bote and Rice have done really well against some of the best prospects in all of baseball.
There are still about three weeks left before I start posting my two off-season series – the usual MiLB system position breakdown series starts around Thanksgiving as does this year’s prospect series called “Leveling Up.”
Rule 5 Draft and the 40 Man Roster Choices
Expansion and Realignment are not so easy.
The Weekly: MiLB Roster Moves, International Free Agent List, and the 40 Man and Rule V List is Coming
By Todd Johnson
MiLB Roster News
The Cubs claimed outfielder Jake Hannemann off waivers from Seattle who previously acquired Hannemann from the Cubs back in September. With the pending free agency of John Jay, and the possibility of the Cubs trading one of their young outfielders, Hanneman provides some depth along with current Iowa Cub Mark Zagunis.
The Cubs re-signed Minor League free agent James Pugliese on Friday. In the past week, fellow Cubs prospects Gioskar Amaya and Erick Castillo also re-upped. Trey Martin, John Andreoli, Chris Nunn, and Matt Carasiti still remain unsigned for next year.
The Cubs also released the names and ages of 21 more international free agents they signed. Arizona Phil, as usual, of The Cub Reporter had the full list. He spent most of the article talking about 20-year-old Cuban catcher Alexander Guerra who I found out is nicknamed “El Tanque!” The Cubs previously announced they had signed shortstops Luis Verdugo and Fabian Pertuz, pitcher Florencio Serrano, and OF Alexander Ovalles back in July.
40 Man and Rule V Deadline Approaching
By November 20, The Cubs have to turn in their 40 man roster prior to the Rule V Draft. When I looked at possible prospects back in the middle of the summer, a lot has changed in those four months. Certain locks are not so certain anymore. I think the Cubs might even gamble I’m leaving a few touted prospects off the list.
I think there are four prospects that definitely will get added. They are Oscar de la Cruz, Adbert Alzolay, David Bote, and Pedro Araujo. Reliever Matt Carasiti could be in the discussion as he has had success at AAA in the Rockies’ system and again at Iowa. Carasiti has yet to sign a contract for next year.
Pitchers Trevor Clifton and and Jake Stinnett are borderline candidates to be added to the 40 man roster along with infielders Chesny Young and Jason Vosler.
2017 was such a strange year for Trevor Clifton. He looked like a certain 40 man candidate at the end of May and again at the All-Star break where he was a Southern League All-Star. Things fell apart in the second half. For Stinnett, he did not see any action until late in the summer and that was in a relief role. I think a team could take a huge gamble and select him. The Cubs could/should end up protecting both.
Arizona Fall League
What I am enjoying most about performances by the Cubs’ prospects this fall is the job that relievers Jake Stinnett and Adbert Alzolay are doing. On Friday, they each pitched two innings and struck out three and neither allowed a run. As for Stinnett, he did not allow a hit as his ERA is now down to 2.45 in 7.1 IP. Alzolay is at 0.90 in 20 IP.
It has also been nice to see Adbert Alzolay get a lot of traction online as a possible pitcher for next summer. While his fastball and approach are close to major-league ready, he still needs some work on his curve and changeup. I think the earliest we could see Adbert in Chicago would be in July. That could be in relief or it could be as a starter. At AAA Iowa, he is definitely going to be a starter for now. It is best to take a wait and see attitude. He is sure to get some looks at doing both in the major league camp.
In exactly one week, free agency will begin and trades will start happening. It doesn’t take long after the World Series ends. I will have a three-part look this week at the “State of the Cubs for 2018.” I will look at position players first, then I take a peek at the starting pitching, and finally, I examine what is needed in the bullpen.
After Friday, I am all out of prewritten material. The “Leveling Up” and “Position Breakdown” Series begin the week of Thanksgiving.
Top MiLB Storylines for 2018: Part 1
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
There is no hotter player in the Cubs’ system right now than David Bote. Earlier this week, he was named the Arizona Fall League’s player of the week. He hit .500 for the week with three home runs and eight RBI for the Mesa Solar Sox. He is not stopping in the second week either. It’s almost as if he is toying with playing in such a prestigious league.
For Bote, his journey has not been an easy one. At the beginning of 2016, he looked to be just another journeyman organizational player who had no home. But in the last two seasons, he is now a legitimate prospect set to become a Chicago Cub.
Bats – Right
Throws – Right
Age – 24 (will turn 25 at the beginning of 2018 season)
I first saw Bote playing for the Kane County Cougars in Clinton, Iowa in 2014. That day he played shortstop and showed a decent glove at the position. He had played a little second base before, but this was the first time I really took notice of him. The bat, at that time, seemed to be lacking as to what he was supposed to do with it. That is not the case anymore.
Bote was drafted by the Cubs in the 18th round in 2012 out of Neosho Community College in Kansas. He made his debut that summer in the Arizona Rookie League where he hit a nondescript .231. In 2013, he spent most of the season at short season Boise where he hit .250. He did have a couple of short stints filling in at Kane County and Daytona. In 2014, Bote was all over the system playing at Boise for 37 games where he hit .260 in 37 games. He played 58 games for Kane County and barely got above the Mendoza Line with a .210 average.
2015 was the turning point.
He was not good in the first half for South Bend. In 41 games, he was still struggling to put the ball in play. However, you could see he was getting stronger over time. In the second half, he put together his best stretch as a Cub hitting .270 with 4 HRs. You could see him maturing before your eyes both physically and mentally.
However, where 2016 began, the Cubs did not see things the same way. David was shuffled around between Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, and AAA Iowa the first part of the year. Then again, when one door opened for Ian Happ to go to Tennessee, it created a spot for an everyday position for Bote at high A Myrtle Beach. Since Happ’s ascension, Bote has taken off as well.
Bote hit over 360 in .July last summer and over .300 in August and was clearly the most valuable player for the Pelicans as they won their second consecutive milk cup championship series.
The confidence David gained from 2016 carried over into 2017. He made three monthly minor league all-star teams at Cubs Central. For the year he hit .270, but his monthly splits or more intriguing as he had adjusted several times to the league adjusting to him. In April, he hit .293, in May .250, and in July he was back up to .294. In July, he slipped to .255 but was back up to .273. In addition, he cranked out a career high 14 HRs in 2017. It was an impressive hitting display.
Right now, Bote is in a serious groove. Where that groove takes him in 2018 is going to be exciting. At AAA Iowa, he should play a mixture of positions. Then again, his bat in the Arizona Fall League is dictating that he might have more power than previously thought. Even though his bio has him at 185 pounds, he’s a little bit thicker than that now. That maturity from a 19-year-old kid to a 24-year-old man has been slow and steady.
I am of the mind that if you can make it at AA, you can make it anywhere. That is the toughest league with the best raw talent. What I really liked was that he did struggle and he did adjust…twice! Both are key elements in being a good professional baseball player. I don’t know if he will get a shot in the next two years but he has at least earned a shot to play with the big league club in spring training.
When you sit back and take a look at his journey, it is pretty inspiring that he’s never given up on his dream and himself.
I am not quite sure what went down in Kodak, Tennessee this summer. In April and May, they were close to being the best team in the system and were competing for a playoff spot against Chattanooga. Then, in one series, they were swept by Chattanooga and that doused any first half playoff hopes. Several prospects struggled in June and July and yet the Smokies were still in the thick of the playoff hunt again until mid August when the Montgomery Biscuits put some distance between themselves and the Smokies. Pitcher Jake Stinnett, who missed most of the year, returned in late July as a reliever and shined in his new role (0.61 ERA in 9 games). There could be something there.
Still, there was a lot of development that took place in 2017 for a team that was not considered to have a lot of elite prospects. Here are seven things about the Smokies talented roster.
1. Outfielder Charcer Burks was one of the prospects who came out of the gate extremely well in spring training playing with the big league club. That carried over into April and May as Burks made his way onto MLB Pipeline’s top 30 cubs prospect list after hitting .293 and .286 and then .333 in June. Then July happened. He hit .135 for the month but he did rebound some in August. For the year, he hit .270 with a .370 OBP.
2. Trey Martin – He has been around for a while and he has improved at every level. It is not been a rapid ascent, though, but a slow steady climb. Along the way, he’s won two gold gloves and struggled with minor issues like this year’s hamstring strain that caused him to miss two months. Upon his return, his bat showed a marked improvement and I am really excited about what he might be doing at Iowa next year.
3. David Bote exploded in the second half of 2016 and that carried over into April and May 2017. Like Burks, he went down a little bit in the summer but rebounded well in August hitting over .280. I like the fact that he can play multiple positions in the infield. He has shown some power, but I prefer the fact that he is hitting the ball up the middle on a consistent basis.
4. Jason Vosler – He led the Cubs’ system in home runs this year with 21 but he also hit less than .200 in August. He came on like gangbusters this spring and then faded over the course of the rest of the summer. I am looking forward to seeing his batting average/OBP bounce back in 2018. It seems the more home runs he hit in July and August the lower his batting average got. Considering the fact that he never had more than 10 home runs in a season before 2017, it was interesting to see him produce at such a prodigious rate.
5. Yasiel Balaguert – We should just rename him Mr. Second Half. If he ever had a good first half, he would hit over 25 homers and drive in100 every year. That’s basically his second half pace when prorated out to a 162 game schedule. Maybe he’s just one of those guys it does better when it’s warmer. I look forward to him playing first base and the outfield next year for Iowa in a hitter’s league.
6. Ian Rice – You have to be picky when looking at his stats. You can hone in on the on-base percentage, the power numbers, and games played behind the plate that all point to him being one of the most improved prospects the past year. He played in 114 games this year with a .353 OBP and hit 17 homeruns. Considering that he was a last-minute addition to the Tennessee roster, he did an outstanding job transitioning over to catching almost full-time. I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do in Arizona Fall League this October and November.
7 – Which starting pitchers will get promoted to Iowa with Duane Underwood? I don’t know who that’s going to be. I honestly don’t. It should be determined in spring training. I think Zach Hedges will get a crack at Iowa again if I was to make a bet. If Adbert Alzolay and Trevor Clifton shine in spring training, they could also find their way there. I think a lot of it depends on who the Cubs sign, or trade for, in the offseason to replace Arrieta and Lackey. Right now, Alzolay, who is pitching well in relief in Arizona, might have the inside shot. Clifton, who was brilliant in the first half of the year and struggled in the second, could turn his career around quickly with a good spring. I would not be surprised to see all four get a shot in spring training to make a start with the big league club.
Smokies to Watch in 2018
Now 22, Eddy Martinez will be the player to watch in 2018. He’s finally acclimated to playing baseball again and playing baseball in the United States. It’s been a huge cultural shift for him and he is now able to relax and just play. In the second half of 2017, he hit .276 with 7 HRs and an OBP of .333. I imagine that the Eloy trade was tough for him as they were inseparable as teammates. The trade also may have helped him realize he is on his own now. I am looking forward to seeing him do his own thing in AA in 2018.
SS Zack Short, Pitchers Dakota Mekkes, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, Pedro Araujo, C Tyler Alamo, and 3B Jesse Hodges also bear watching in Tennessee. All will be at critical junctures in their development.
For the second straight year, manager Marty Pevey had to assemble a starting rotation made out of spare parts until August. Injuries and promotions at both the major and minor league levels cut his starting rotation short. The I-Cubs did have a potent offense led by the Cubs minor league player of the year, Victor Caratini. Starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng put together the best half by a pitcher in AAA since Kyle Hendricks was there.
The Iowa Cubs are still producing prospects to help Chicago every year. This year we saw, in addition to Caratini and Jen-Ho, Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Dillon Maples, and several relief pitchers help out the big club in some capacity. I expect more prospects will help out again in 2018, likely they will be just in bench roles. I don’t see anyone with the everyday playing career path of Ian Happ in the upper parts of the pipeline. Caratini looks to make the 25 man roster in Chicago next spring but just as the backup catcher. I am curious as to what the plans for Mark Zagunis are as he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA.
Here are seven things to know about the 2017 Iowa Cubs.
1. Bijan Rademacher had the quietest best second half of any prospect in the system. I was a little surprised he wasn’t named the July player of the month as he hit almost .400. He can play all three outfield positions and I think he has one of the best outfield arms after Eddy Martinez. The issue is that he doesn’t project to be anything other than a fourth outfielder. Then again, he hasn’t really been given the chance to show that he can be something else. He has begun to hit for more power and I like what he can do at the plate. He can hit for average and he knows how to work an at bat.
2. I would not be surprised to see the big league club continue to clean house again at Iowa. The 2017 roster at Iowa only had a few position players that might project to make it to Chicago. Most of the roster were journeyman players looking for one more opportunity to get back to the big leagues. With Tennessee sending anywhere between 6 and 9 position players to Iowa next year, I don’t think there are going to be too many roster spots available for any player or prospect nearing 27 years of age. Already, Jake Hannemann, Pierce Johnson, and Felix Pena have new homes for 2018. I don’t know if John Andreoli will be back again either.
3. I still believe in Chesny Young despite his up-and-down year. I think that he has some adjusting to do at this level and I’m confident that he will do well in his second go around at AAA in 2018.
4. Unless Eddie Butler can add some sort of out pitch, I don’t know if he’s going to be anything more than a fill-in at the major-league level. He had his moments this year in Chicago, but he never went much beyond five innings. He needs to be more efficient to get outs quickly and go deeper into games.
5. I am still pulling for Ryan Williams to make it. I just like the kid. He has a bulldog mentality that I love. However, after basically missing two full seasons, I wonder if returning to the bullpen might be best for his long term health. In 2018, we will see.
6. Dillon Maples is going to be close to making the Chicago Cubs 25 man roster next spring. I like the fact that he’s going to get more instruction from big league coaches that will only enhance his chances.
7. For me, the highlights of the year were the second halves of Jen-Ho Tseng (1.80 ERA) and Taylor Davis (.297 avg with 62 RBI). I am glad Davis got the call to make it to Chicago. His story is a tale of perseverance and he is an outstanding teammate and hitter that I think can play somewhere in the majors. I don’t know if Tseng will be given a true opportunity to pitch in the big leagues next year but he should get a few starts with the club in spring training. A lot of his future is tied to what the Cubs do to add starting pitching this offseason.
What to Watch for in 2018
There are going to be at least six position players from Tennessee who should start in Iowa next year. I think many will benefit from playing in the Pacific Coast League but none more than catcher Ian Rice. If you dismiss his batting average and just look at his power numbers and on base percentage, you begin to see his value and how much greater he is than his fellow prospects (17 HRs, .353 OBP). I think he is really going to benefit from playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League more than any other prospect in 2018.
Jason Vosler will also benefit from playing in such environs. After a poor second half, Vosler should look to recapture what made his first half so fantastic in 2017. In the first half, he hit at a .274/.375/.521 clip with 13 HRs and 49 RBI. In addition, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Trey Martin, and Charcer Burks should be starting everyday in Des Moines next summer.
Remember the name Adbert Alzolay. Out of all the prospects at Tennessee, I think he might be the most ready for Chicago. Even though he is currently a starting pitcher, I can see him coming out of the bullpen in Chicago as early as the middle of next summer. With a fastball that sits 95-97, there’s a lot to like.