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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
By Todd Johnson
It was a brutal week for the Cubs’ minor-league system. There were two days in which it did not have a starting pitcher do well enough to get a pitcher of the day award. I wound up going with two relievers each day instead. Three of the four affiliates are under .500. Only Tennessee is exactly at .500. Meanwhile, Iowa has only won two games the last two weeks.
In spite of that, there were several positives this week as Myrtle Beach seems to to have awoken from its early-season slump. Tyson Miller had a great start for the Pelicans earlier in the week going 7 innings with 7 Ks. Meanwhile in Iowa, Adbert Alzolay made his third start of the year and it was a dominant one going 7 innings with just 1 hit and 6 Ks. Then, last night, Adbert struggled. He only made it through 4.2 innings and threw 92 pitches in that time giving up 3 runs on 8 hits. And then there was Oscar de la Cruz who struck out ten last night while Matt Swarmer had another masterful performance going 6.2 IP with 7 Ks.
Some hitters seem to be waking up as well. David Bote is hitting close to .500 since his return from Chicago. Wladimir Galindo is finally getting back on track after his post-DL stint slump. Yasiel Balaguert seems to have a had a good week for Tennessee (7 for his last 18) and Connor Myers is hitting the best he’s ever done in his two years as a Cub. He’s at .282 for Myrtle Beach. Andruw Monasterio is also coming back (6 for his last 14) after a little slump in late April. And Zack Short snapped out of his slump a bit with 2 home runs the other night and 2 more RBI last night.
Reliever Bailey Clark was promoted to Myrtle Beach this past week and his debut week was very good going 5.2 innings in 2 appearances this week. He gave up a run but he struck out 9. Dakota Mekkes is just shutting teams down when he pitches. He still has some issues with walks, but Mekkes should be in Iowa soon.
While there is no team with the record above .500 right now, I would not get too hung up on the affiliates’ win/loss record in the minors. It may seem depressing, but the real focus should be on player development. The Cubs have a lot of starting pitchers that are moving their way up through the system, along with some relievers, who could help to big league club in the short term. Their development, to me, is going to be the key storyline for the month of May. Dillon Maples, along with Alzolay, are near ready. Maples was averaging over 20 Ks per nine innings pitched until he threw a scoreless ninth last night without any Ks. That is odd for him.
As for the hitters, the Cubs may not have any “elite” hitters, but they do have several who are worth paying attention to and to watch improve. Aramis Ademan and Miguel Amaya are two possible elite prospects and I am beginning to grow on Monasterio, who is only 20, and at high A, and doing well (.319). I really like watching Austin Filiere and Jared Young and their approaches to an at-bat for South Bend. Last night, Young went 3 for 5 with his third home HR in 13 games to go along with 3 RBI on the night. Filiere also cranked out his second of the year.
On Thursday, the Cubs announced their minor league players of the month. Like me, the Cubs selected Jeffrey Baez as the hitter of the month while the Cubs took Matt Swarmer, who I profiled earlier this week, as the pitcher of the month with a ridiculous 26/3 K/BB ratio in April. Last night, Swarmer improved that to 33/3 or 11 to 1. Wow!
Also, reliever Chad Hockin underwent TJS this week and is out for the next year. Best wishes to him. He was one of my favorite kids to talk to last year in South Bend.
This Week’s Records
Iowa (2-5, 6-21)
Tennessee (4-3, 14-14)
Myrtle Beach (4-2, 12-17)
South Bend (1-5, 10-15)
Extended Spring Training
The Cubs keep adding to their international free agent class. While most of the signees will play in the Dominican this summer, there are a few who could debut in Mesa including shortstops Luis Verdugo and Fabian Pertuz along with pitchers Florencio Serrano and Raidel Orta. Nelson Velazquez and Fernando Kelli are hitting well according the box scores from Arizona Phil. They begin regular season play in about 6 weeks in Eugene.
Players of the Week
What’s Ahead on Cubs Central
Tomorrow, I am going to take a look at the Draft that will be held four weeks from Monday. At some point, I will also profile the development of Brendon Little, Tyson Miller, and Andruw Monasterio this week. The Midweek Report returns this week and I am not sure what it will be about.
By Todd Johnson
Congratulations to David Bote who made his MLB debut last night in Colorado. Bote batted eighth and played third base. He went 1 for 3 with a double.
Here he is through the years at every level in the minors.
His story is a story of perseverance. Revisit his Leveling Up post from this winter.
Back to the Minors…
Now that the weather seems to have cleared, there’s a lot more baseball being played especially in the Midwest and the Pacific Coast Leagues. Cub prospects are beginning to get in grooves and improve their stock in the organization. It’s been fun watching most of the teams play and see how they are progressing. It is only April, but there are a few players who are all already worth watching and keeping an eye on.
Who To Watch for at Each Affiliate
Iowa – 2-4 on the week, overall 4-10
Mark Zagunis seems to be the only bat that was hot this week. Bijan Rademacher, who leads Iowa in batting average, missed a few games. As for the pitching, Adbert Alzolay made his first start and dazzled in a two-hitter. Otherwise, Rob Zastryzny, Michael Roth, and Randy Rosario have all been outstanding out of the pen. I’m really happy that Zastryzny seems to have righted the ship and is off to a good beginning – no runs in 8.2 IP with 8 Ks.
Tennessee – 5-1 on the week, overall 8-7
The Smokies are turning into my “go-to” team every day, mainly because every team in the Southern League has MiLB.TV. Still, there’s a lot here to watch. The starting pitching of Trevor Clifton, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, and now Oscar de la Cruz are all pitching well. Both Clifton and de la Cruz did not allow a run in their first starts of the week. Outfielders Trey Martin and Jeffrey Baez lead the team in average. Zack Short is making an impact at the plate despite an average just above .200 because his OBP is almost .400. As for the bullpen, Dakota Mekkes has yet to give up a run, even though he is still walking almost a batter an inning. If he could eliminate his walks, he could be in Iowa before June.
Myrtle Beach– 3-4 on the week, overall 5-12
It has been just a horrible, horrible start for the Pelicans. All three facets of the game have not been working. However, there have been a couple of bright spots. Kevonte Mitchell, who is now injured, had been outstanding at the plate (.306). Andruw Monasterio is having the quietest season of any Cub prospect as he keeps his average over .300. On the mound, Alex Lange was impressive in his first two starts and Keegan Thompson showed signs of massive improvement this week as he went 5 innings with no runs and 4 Ks. Another glimmer of hope took place this week as Bryan Hudson had an excellent start this week going 5 IP with 7 Ks and only allowing 1 run. Jhon Romero and Tyler Peyton are both throwing great out of the pen along with Wyatt Short, who has yet to allow a run in 4 appearances. That effort is reminiscent of when Short did not allow a run the entire season at Eugene in 2016.
South Bend – 1-4 on the week, overall 7-6
The Cubs have been up-and-down. They got off to a good start at 6-2 and their bats hit a rough patch. At the same time, the young Cubs are struggling to field the ball properly and make plays in the infield. Meanwhile, Jared Young (who just went on the DL), Austin Filiere, and Yeiler Peguero have been impressive at the plate. Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Rollie Lacy, Tyler Thomas and Cory Abbott are all starting to round in shape. If Jose Albertos can get his fastball command down, this team could really take off. The bullpen has been lights out and rarely surrenders a run.
Players of the Week
There were a lot of performances to pick from this week, especially starting pitching.
Things I Wrote for Other Sites This Week
Latin Infusion Coming North – The Pitchers
Coming Up Next Week
I’m going to start a new feature for Wednesdays called “The Mid Weekly.” It will sum up MiLB action for Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. I am still checking out draft stuff on the side, but I won’t return with a “Draft Prep” post until May 7. Several mock drafts came out in the past two weeks. Players are all over the place – there’s not a lot of consensus.
Baseball Card of the Week
I made a lot of new baseball cards you can see in an album over on the Facebook account. I am closing in on 130 cards made just this April. I have a problem…I think…Yes, I do.
Made from a photo by Dylan Heuer
By Todd Johnson
Manager Marty Pevey has done a very good job the past five years of getting players ready for the daily grind of major league baseball. He will continue to do that again this year with several new prospects coming to Iowa. The difference this year is that very few of them will get an opportunity to make it to Chicago.
They are basically two scenarios in which an Iowa Cub could help the big league club this year. One is, of course, an injury to a position player or pitcher. And the second one is if somebody in the bullpen is just throwing lights out or a position player tearing the cover off the ball at Iowa.
First, the Cubs bullpen is not solidified. There are several arms who could possibly help at some point during the year. Dillon Maples leads that list. His stuff is phenomenal, he just has trouble controlling it. The 6’5″ lefty Kyle Ryan, who spent most of spring training with the big league club, is another specialist for manager Joe Maddon to call upon depending how Ryan does in Iowa.
While Mike Montgomery is currently slated as the sixth starter, and Eddie Butler, the seventh, the Cubs are going to need a spot starter or two throughout the course of the year. They always do. Iowa will have Jen-Ho Tseng along with Luke Farrell and Duane Underwood who could possibly fill that spot if need be. In addition, Alec Mills could be a name who might be given a chance this year. He missed most of last year and resurfaced in August. I’m interested to see how he does once he gets stretched out.
A 162 game schedule can wear down players and so it is likely that a position player is going to be needed at either catcher or as an infielder or outfielder. Infielders Ryan Court, Stephen Bruno, Chesny Young, Mike Freeman, and David Bote all saw substantial time in spring training with Chicago and could help out at a moment’s notice. Chris Gimenez, Ali Solis, and Taylor Davis can do the same behind the plate.
In the outfield, plus hitters Mark Zagunis and Bijan Rademacher could make an outstanding fifth outfielder in Chicago, if need be. While Rademacher can place all three outfield positions, Zagunis is best suited to left. The speedy Jacob Hannemann should be patrolling centerfield most days and it will be interesting to see how his bat improves from last year.
Most Likely to Make It to Chicago First
Bote’s ability to play 5-6 positions moves him to the front of the line. However, Mark Zagunis is the most experienced prospect and has earned the right to get another crack first. Even though Zagunis is an outfielder, the rest of the big league Cubs are versatile enough to play all over. If it is a catcher injury, Gimenez gets the call.
The First Prospect Promoted to Iowa
It should be reliever Dakota Mekkes who will start the season at Tennessee. The 6’7” reliever dominated two levels of full season A ball last year. He went almost 2 and 1/2 months without giving up an earned run. His ERA for the year was just under 1.
Overall, the Iowa Cubs have a lot of depth. They just don’t have that player that everyone concedes to be an elite prospect. They have several guys who can help the big league club if needed. And to be honest, that’s fine for right now. It would be nice if they had another top prospect, but the ones they have will help when called upon.