David Bote: A History in Baseball Cards

By Todd Johnson

I have written about David Bote some since he began to take off in the summer of 2016 at Myrtle Beach. But today is not about writing down a bunch of words. Rather, it is about appreciation of what it takes to make it. Because every time I see David Bote, I still see the baseball cards I made the past 5 years. They show a young man grinding it out to fulfill his dream. Bote spent 4 summers at some level of A ball before getting to Tennessee in 2017. Let’s take a look back at his incredible journey via some Cubs Central Topp’s recreations.

It all started back in Boise, Idaho with a 1970 frame…

The actual first time I remember seeing him in person was in Clinton, Iowa in the summer of 2014 when he played for Kane County. He was at shortstop that day (but not in these pictures).
 

In 2015, the Cubs moved their low A affiliate to South Bend and Bote was there all year. This is where his transformation into power hitter began.

 

In 2016, he bounced around a bit in the first half before Ian Happ was promoted from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee. In that moment, Bote found a home to ply his craft for the rest of 2016 and he was amazing for the Pelicans. He hit .351 in the second half and lead them to their second straight league title.

 

The hitting continued in 2017, first at Tennessee and then for the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL. He was put on the 40 man roster late last fall.

And then, in 2018, he got off to a great start in spring training with the big league club and again at AAA Iowa.

 

And then there was last night…

Unbelievable! Just unbelievable!

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Why Cubs Central Is Not Making a New Prospect List Until the End of the Season

By Todd Johnson

Early Wednesday afternoon, MLB Pipeline released this bit of news.

“With David Bote graduating from the ‘ Top 30 Prospects list, 19-year-old RHP Jeremiah Estrada enters: http://atmlb.com/2GSeHiE “

Normally, when a prospect is certified as no longer being a prospect due to service time or at-bats, I redo my Top 21 List. Normally.

This year, every time I think about my prospect list, I tend to just stare at all the names in the spreadsheet. It is not that the names of the players are not good. The Cubs have several good prospects who can most certainly help the major league club in the near future. But that’s not the issue of why I have only redone the list once this season.

After spring training, I touched up the list a bit and then again after the draft. Those are excellent points in time to redo a list. Normally, I also touch it up during the summer after the International Free Agency signing period begins as well as after a trade.

I decided against doing the list at any and all occasions this summer. Here’s why.

1. As a teacher, I teach US History every day and one of the questions I always get asked every year is, “Why do Supreme Court Justices get to serve for life?” I tell them that the Court System is set up that way to take popular opinion about the Constitution out of the equation. A justice can’t be looking over their shoulder about a decision worrying about re-election or when their term ends. They cannot think about a decision based on political means to get elected or re-appointed. The justice has to base their ruling on how it fits the framework of the Constitution and not on a whim. I am sort of the same way. I would rather the Top 21 list reflect talent evaluation rather than performance. If I was to do the list every month or so, it wouldn’t mean as much as performance would have way more influence on a monthly list rather than on talent evaluation.

2. The Cubs’ minor league system is very deep. While the Cubs lack the elite talent they once had in 2015, I have almost 50 names on my list to ponder when it comes to picking just 21. However, there is not a lot of separation between them. Once I start getting out of the top 10, I could have 40 prospects in contention for the next ten spots. Arguments could be made for 20-30 guys for the #17 spot. It is a bit mind blowing, but it is true.

3. Change comes quickly in the minors in the second half. With all the draft picks now signed and playing, I want to see how they do over a larger sample size. This year, though, I cannot see several of them play as they are going at it in the Arizona Rookie League. I am hearing great things about Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis, but I have yet to set my own eyes on them. The shame is I probably won’t get to see them until they get to Eugene next summer or if they miraculously make it to South Bend beforehand. It is hard for me to evaluate someone very well if I haven’t seen them. I did get to see top pick Nico Hoerner for about a couple of weeks and in person. He’s very poised and polished. If not for an injury, he could have been my #1 prospect (and he still might be).

4. Doing well at the lower levels of the minors is nice for a prospect to hang their hat on, but it is not a precursor of future success nor is it a prerequisite. Some lines a friend of mine and I have been saying this summer go like this: “See me when they get to Tennessee,” and/or “Let me know when they are at Myrtle Beach.” Those levels are much more reliable in predicting a player’s ability to help the organization and in assessing their talent. I don’t want to have a list filled with 18-19 year old kids who have never seen the quality of pitchers and bats at a higher level.

5. The eye test is the best test. Just last month, I saw Brendon Little of South Bend in person just mow down guys in the Quad Cities with an ungodly breaking ball. Seeing his pitch live and the effect it has on a swing changes a lot of things. He’s making guys at low A look sick against that pitch. Just on the quality and depth he gets on one pitch, he is a top ten-ish prospect. Who cares about his 4+ ERA right now. That pitch is amazing! It could take a while for the rest of his arsenal to catch up to the quality of that one pitch. Stop scouting a stat line. Scout a player.

With all those things in mind, I am just going to wait a while to replace Bote in my list. I am just going to let the list ride until the end of the season (3+weeks). Then I will see where the prospects are at and that list will hold for quite a few months…I hope!

The Trade Deadline Cometh

By Todd Johnson

When 3 P.M. comes today, the non-waiver trade season ends.

The Cubs are currently in the market for a pitcher…or two. There are just a few questions about what could go down today.

1. Will It be a Starter, a Reliever, or Both? 

The issue is who can the Cubs get that fits what they want. I am one who is tired of the Chris Archer talk. I don’t want to hear James Shields either. Matt Harvey is a name who is in the process of trying to reform himself and has been good in Cincinnati. But do you want to trade players with another team in your division? It’s an interesting thought, but unlikely.

The name I drool over is Jacob deGrom. He’s an ace who has been fairly healthy. He’s fairly young and you would have control over him through 2020. The problem with trying to acquire deGrom is twofold. One, the cost is going to be too high. Second, he might not be available right now. However, he could be this winter.

While Cub fans watched the pitchers struggle this past month, the club did go out and get reliever Jesse Chavez and starter Cole Hamels, both from Texas. There are other reliever options in San Diego, Toronto, Anaheim, and Florida, four teams who look to be adding assets of the both the major and minor league variety. Based on the demand, they could be holding some teams over a barrel to get what they want.

In the end, the Cubs are most likely to add one more reliever by the end of the day at a moderately low cost. Acquiring a starting pitcher is a pipe dream for now.

2. Do the Cubs Have Enough to Get What They Want?

That depends.

If the prized player is a top of the rotation starter, the Cubs don’t have the MiLB prospects to match up. They do, however, have controllable MLB assets that they can use. Some of you may not want to part with one of Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Victor Caratini, or Addison Russell. Some of you do. That positional player depth is the Cubs’ greatest strength.

With the ascendance of David Bote this year, that creates a player who could step in and fill a variety of roles should the Cubs trade one player of their young position core that is controllable through 2021 or 2022. It’s a good problem to have and the Cubs’ bench would still be very, very strong. The other team gets an everyday MLB asset and prospects galore while the Cubs get a top of the rotation guy for two plus years.

When it comes to minor leaguers, the Cubs have amazing depth, just not amazing talent. I am sure that Miguel Amaya is at the top of every GM’s list. There are plenty of other players who are MLB ready like Mark Zagunis and Dillon Maples who are just awaiting their turn. As well, the Cubs have half a dozen starters or more at high A and AA from the last two draft classes that are rising through the system at two levels a year. I don’t buy that the Cubs don’t have talent. They do.

3. Are the Cubs Going to Be In On Bryce Harper?

In the winter, most definitely. Now, not so much. All it is going to take to get him in the winter is money and the Cubs brand. If the Cubs were to acquire him today, the cost would be substantial in terms of prospects and maybe some major league talent. In addition, other teams can offer better talent packages right now, it is not happening for the Cubs.

4. What If Nothing Happens?

If the Cubs don’t make a deal today, it is not the end of the world. They still have a month to find what they want. However, that player is going to have to clear waivers to come to the Cubs. In other words, it gets a bit harder.

The Cubs don’t need to reinvent the team for the home stretch. They just need to tweak it.

Stay tuned for any trades and analysis later today.

It could be all about nothing, or it might be all about something.

The Friday Six Pack – Things I’ve Been Keeping an Eye on Lately

By Todd Johnson

This is the final weekend of the first half of the minor league season. Only the Tennessee Smokies are still in contention but three teams have a chance to have a winning record for the first half. In addition, the Eugene Emeralds begin their season tonight. The Arizona Rookie League also begins on Monday.

Here are six other things I have been keeping an eye on lately.

1. Keegan Thompson – The Myrtle Beach starting pitcher threw seven perfect innings of no-hit ball. He uses a four pitch mix to get eight strikeouts while not allowing a baserunner of any kind. The no-hitter and perfect game were lost in the eighth, as well as the game. Still, Thompson might be the most polished right now of last year’s draft class. His pitchability is off the charts.

2. Erich Uelmen – Over the last two months, there has been no better pitcher in the Cubs system. He had a 2.16 ERA in May and has a 1.40 ERA in 3 June starts. Currently, his sinker is one of the best pitches of any Cubs’ pitching prospect. If he can command all three pitches, he is going to be unstoppable. I can’t wait to see how his stuff plays at the next level.

3. Jared Young – in April, he was hitting over .400 before an injury. When he came back in May, it took him a couple weeks to get back in the swing of things. He only hit .229 for the month. He’s back to destroying the ball and hitting .298 for the first half as well as 39 RBI, second only to Jason Vosler in the system.

4. David Bote – He definitely has power as he hit another home run last night. His bat to ball skills clearly put him at the top of the Cubs’ call up from AAA list.

Card made from a photo by Tiffany W. (@TiffW96)

5. Jason Vosler – He should find his way to AAA soon. For the past six weeks, he’s been hitting for average and power while leading the system in home runs and RBIs. He’s been taking his walks all year, now balls just seem to be falling in for him at a much higher rate. He should be fine at AAA as long as he can hit somewhere between .250 and .270 to go along with his power.

6. Jake Hannemann – He’s never been a hitting machine until this year. At 27-years-old, things are really beginning to click for him. In May, he hit .313 and, so far in June, he cruising along at a .400 clip.

Bonus – I have not been spending as much time on Twitter since the draft. That will probably continue as I seem to be enjoying doing other things like getting the back yard fixed up. If you send me a message on Twitter, I will get a notification on my phone and I can message you back. Other than that I think I’m enjoying cutting back the amount of time I spend there.

Coming up Sunday in The Weekly
Who’s Hot – Jhonny Bethencourt, Brandon Hughes, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, and Jacob Hannemann, to name a few. I will also check out how Eugene did and take a short look at trends in the DSL.

The May All-Star Team Has a Lot of New Faces

By Todd Johnson

It’s getting to be the busy season here at Cubs Central. While next week will be all about the draft, and redoing the top 21 list, this weekend will be about wrapping up what happened in May in the Cubs’ system. Tomorrow, I will rank the top 10 cards I made for the month. For today, it’s all about recognizing the top performers in the Cubs system the last 31 days.

Surprisingly, only 7 prospects made both the May and April All-Star teams. That’s not a lot. And of those 6, only 2 hitters did, catchers Jhonny Pereda and Miguel Amaya. This is going to be an interesting year as players search to find some consistency at the plate and on the mound.

This month’s All-Star team came right down to the wire. Several pitching spots were in play throughout the course of the last two nights, including the Pitcher of the Month and Hitter of the Month.

I have been tracking the system on a month by month spreadsheet. One thing I noticed early in the month was the ascension of Pelican pitcher Casey Bloomquist as a setup man for Myrtle Beach. Like many arms in the system, Bloomquist has worked both as a starter and as a reliever. This year, he is thriving in his new role. All of his pitches are a little more polished this year. The cutter that he talked about two years ago with me, now is becoming a go-to pitch for him. Good for Casey!

So, without further adieu, here is this month’s all star team, once again in video form.

The June All-Star team will be a lot of fun to sort through. The Dominican Summer League begins play tomorrow.

Eugene and the two Mesa teams start on June 15th. Some names I look forward to seeing play in Eugene are OF Fernando Kelli, SS Luis Vazquez, and 3B Christopher Morel. Down in Mesa, pitcher Jesus Tejada is a must follow along with SS Luis Diaz and OF Carlos Pacheco, to name a few. It should be an exciting month of action.

The Weekly: May Flying By, A Few Promotions, and “The Jinx”

By Todd Johnson

It’s been a rough week in the minors. There were a lot of rainouts and doubleheaders in addition to night games followed by early morning affairs. It was enough to make a prospect’s head spin. As a result, the Cubs’ system did not have a good week.

As May comes to a close, the pitching that was dominating hitters in April took a downward turn as the weather warmed up. In April, the Cubs had eight starting pitchers with ERAs under three and several of those eight had ERAs under two. With just 11 days to go in May, the Cubs only have three pitchers with an ERA under 3.00 for just this month. They are Keegan Thompson at 2.65, Michael Rucker at 2.81, and Alec Mills at 2.89.

There have been plenty of outstanding starts by many pitchers just this week. Last night, Cory Abbott struck out 11 for South Bend while Thomas Hatch threw a 7 inning complete game shutout for Tennessee. Earlier in the week, Erich Uelmen went six shutout innings for South Bend as well, while Duncan Robinson tossed six innings of one run ball. There’s some great stuff happening on the mound. Maintaining that high level of success is easier said than done. We will see if more can get below that 3.00 threshold to make it onto the May All-Star Team.

As for hitting, one would think it would be improving as the weather warmed up. It has a little bit. In April, six Cub position players hit above .300 for the month and Jeffrey Baez posted a .411 average for the span. In May, those numbers increased to eight guys hitting over .300 lead by Tyler Alamo at .366. David Bote hit over .500 for Iowa but that was before his call-up 12 days ago. As a result, he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify (3.1 ABs per game). Still, Bote has been extremely impressive at AAA at .455 in just 33 ABs. If you include his 17 MLB plate appearances, he’s at 22 for 52 or .423.

Promotions and Releases
Reliever Ryan McNeil debuted for Tennessee this week. The 2012 draft pick missed most of the year down in extended spring training. However, McNeil’s debut saw the release of long time prospect James Pugliese. Drafted in 2011, Pugliese filled a variety of roles at Kane County, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee. Hopefully he can catch on with another system in a relief role.

Infielders Vimael Machin and Yeiler Peguero were also promoted from Myrtle Beach and South Bend, respectively. Their promotion saw the release of long time shortstop Carlos Penalver. Penalver was known more for his defense but had trouble hitting at the plate at Kane County, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee. Good luck to him in his MLB pursuit.

The Jinx
On Twitter, I have been known to tweet out live pitching stats during a game. Well, for about 3-4 days in a row, as soon as I tweeted something out, that pitcher then got knocked around the next inning. It happened to both relievers and starters. I am sure they were just coincidences, but it makes you wonder. Follow the thread on this tweet to see what happened with Dakota Mekkes.

Coming Up Next Week on Cubs Central
On Monday, I’m going to slap a grade on the 2017 draft class. It will be their first one. As for the rest of the week, I am going to let the action dictate the content. I don’t have anything planned for “The Midweek” or The Six Pack.” Although, I do have some thoughts banging around my brain. Maybe you will see a “10 Things I Think” post or a “Prospect Stock Watch.” You could even see an affiliate update.

After Memorial Day, I will be doing some phone interviews with a few Myrtle Beach Pelicans. I always look forward to talking to the players and reporting back on their career paths and stories. I don’t have a definite list of who I’m going to interview, but Pelicans announcer Scott Kornberg and I talked about a few players that fans might want to know more about.

With the MLB draft just two weeks away, I’ll be pouring through some mock drafts and rankings this week. Right now, there’s not a lot of consensus on where players will be falling after the first few pics.

This Week’s Records
Iowa 2-3 (13-26)
Tennessee 3-4 (22-20)
Myrtle Beach 3-2 (17-24)
South Bend 3-5 (17-23)

Players of the Week

Things I Wrote for Other Sites
BP Wrigleyville
Nelson Velazquez

Cubs Insider
Brendon Little

Baseball Card of the Week

A Few Website Changes
As a website, Cubs Central has never been static. I do make changes on what I hope are improvements from time to time. This week I removed the Prospect Pictures and Video Page that was filled with images I took myself. They are now placed in albums on the Facebook page. In addition, I am in the process of uploading any videos I took to my YouTube account (that could take awhile). I am hoping it just makes for a cleaner experience and as it created a lot more memory on the server.

The Midweek: Several Prospects Off to Good Starts to Begin May

By Todd Johnson

How quickly things can change. What happens in April doesn’t always happen in May and some players who got off to slow starts are now starting to turn it on. That includes hitters, starters, and relievers. Here are a few players who are off to sizzling starts in May.

Iowa – David Bote returned from Chicago and just killed it going 17 for 34 with a couple of home runs and 8 RBI. He was in Chicago yesterday and ripped a 2-run pinch hit double in the third for the Cubs. In addition, Randy Rosario still has not given up a run this year. And Duane Underwood again flashed his promise by going 7 innings with 7 Ks and not allowing a run. Underwood seems to have some sort of Jekyll and Hyde thing going on this year. Hopefully, his next start will be reminiscent of his last.

Tennessee – Charcer Burks did not have a good April hitting .151. However, his May has been scintillating. He’s gone 10 for 27 (.370) with one home run. His teammate, shortstop Zack Short, has displayed a bit more power. In 8 days, Short has posted an OPS of 1.386 and he has seen his batting average rise 34 points in 6 games. He’s hitting .333 this month, mostly in the second spot in the batting order.

Oscar de la Cruz also had a dominating first start in striking out 10 in 5.2 IP while Trevor Clifton rebounded from a poor start on the 2nd (2 ER in 0.2 IP on 40 pitches) to to strike out 9 in 6 IP on the 7th in 6 innings of 1 hit ball.

Myrtle Beach – Connor Myers has never really hit for average. What has allowed him to stay in the system has been an outstanding defensive and baserunning skill set. But to begin May, Myers has been fantastic and looks to be a different hitter as he is at .296 for the month. I asked Pelicans announcers Scott Kornberg what’s been the key to Myers ascension this month. Scott quipped:

It’s really amazing! He has talked a lot about more bat control and having a better plan at the plate. And his walk rate is double what it was last year, and also he’s swinging and missing about five percent less. And on that note about bat control, his line drive rate is actually the second-best mark in the league

On the mound, Matt Swarmer has been enlightening. After winning pitcher of the month for April, he began May in the same fashion going 6.2 innings with 7 Ks and no runs.

South Bend – It took Jared Young a couple of games to heat up once he returned from the DL. But once he started hitting, the South Bend Cubs started winning again. Add in the fact that leadoff man, Roberto Caro, seems to be playing with his hair on fire this month. The 24-year-old outfielder from the Dominican has bounced around the system the past three seasons between Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Caro could be putting a statement on this year as he is currently hitting over .400 from the leadoff spot in 16 games.

Tomorrow, I will be discussing the maturation of Brendon Little during his first month for South Bend. And, on Friday, the six pack looks at relievers around the minors who might get promoted in the next few weeks.

Days left to teach for me…now down to 11.