By Todd Johnson
It has been a “heckuva” ride this week as Mesa won four out of five games including the best-of-three championship series against the Giants. I was quite surprised to see Mesa go on the run winning 13 out of 15 games. In the first half, it was brutal to check their daily box score. They were 9-19 in the first half. There was no indication that this team could go on such a run. There were some roster moves made in early August that I thought could stabilize the team as a couple of pitchers came up from the DSL along with hitter Luis Hidalgo. I didn’t think they would be that stabilizing.
Needless to say, covering the lower minors next year is going to be very exciting. Nelson Velazquez pounded the ball in the playoffs with 2 HRs along with fellow 18-year-olds Jonathan Sierra and Luis Vazquez. 2B Delvin Zinn hit .500 for the playoffs with a .632 OBP. Most of the players on the Mesa team will be at Eugene next summer with a few at South Bend. I’m excited to watch them every day next year on MiLB.TV.
As for the Eugene Emeralds, they played the Vancouver Canadians in game one of a best-of-five series last night. Keegan Thompson got the start for the Ems and he gave up two runs in three innings. In the bottom of the third, the Ems took a 4-2 lead thanks in part to two walks and a HBP. After that, the Ems had 3 errors and a wild pitch just in the fifth inning that they could not overcome. Vancouver scored four to take a 6-4 lead. Each team would tack on one more run as the Canadians won 7-5. Brendon Little pitches tonight for Eugene at 7 Central.
I’m pretty hopeful that Eugene can get their back-to-back championship trophies. They now have their work cut out for them. They have the pitching, hitting, and the speed to do it. The questions this year have been their defense, especially up the middle, and their lack of consistency both on the mound and at the plate. I have no doubts about their talent, whatsoever. Some nights, they just struggle because that’s baseball and they are very young.
And finally, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ season ended in a strange set of circumstances. Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the Mills Cup championship. Two teams would be declared co-champions based on the division series. The Pelicans were supposed to play a best of five series against Down East, the Rangers affiliate in the Carolina League. That was shortened to a best of three series. Myrtle Beach only pushed two runs across the plate, and, as a result, they lost two games to none.
When it comes to Cubs Central…
I began to plan out what the off-season is going to involve on this site. Over the winter, I’m going to have a weekly series beginning after Thanksgiving. It is going to be called “Leveling Up.” It is going to look at several high-profile prospects moving up the system and what they need to do at the next level. DJ Wilson is going to be the first prospect profiled and will be followed by Zack Short and Eddy Martinez.
My Other Writing This Week on the Web
I did some year-end affiliate reviews this week and they are up and posted at Cubs Insider. Click on the links below.
South Bend Review
Jared Young Profile
by Todd Johnson
The Mesa Cubs won the Arizona Rookie League Championship last night with an awesome display of hitting! The first four hitters (Jose Gutierrez, Carlos Sepulveda, Jonathan Sierra, and Nelson Velazquez) in the lineup each drove in two runs as the Cubs scored runs in bunches to defeat the Giants 13-3 and win the series two games to one. Delvin Zinn scored three times and Luis Vazquez scored twice while going 4 for 5. Jeffrey Passantino, Eugenio Palma, and Ivan Medina held the Giants scoreless over the last five innings to secure the win! This is the Cubs’ first rookie league title since 2002.
Cubs win first AZL title since 2002. Final 13-3 pic.twitter.com/6pYkQhsE5W
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) September 8, 2017
Meanwhile in Hillsboro…
The Emeralds got on the board early against the Hops in game two of their series thanks in part to a Brandon Hughes home run to take a 3-0 lead. The Hops came right back to tie at three apiece. Each team would tack on another run with the Hops tying it in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the ninth, the Ems blew it open by scoring six runs to win 10-4. Chris Singleton had a bases clearing double that put the game out of reach. The Emeralds will now face Vancouver in the championship. No dates have been announced as of yet.
In the Carolina League
Things did not go well for Myrtle Beach in their quest to go back-to-back-to-back. The Wood Ducks scored three runs on 5 hits in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead and held on to defeat the Pelicans 4-1. The Pelicans only managed four hits. The Pelicans and Wood Ducks will play two tonight in order to avoid Hurricane Irma in the best of five series.
By Todd Johnson
Nelson Velazquez is turning into a world beater, however it wasn’t enough last night. Velazquez had a triple and drove in three runs to give the Mesa Cubs a brief lead in Game 2 of the best of three AZL Championship Series. However, the Cubs lost in Game 2 to the Giants 6-5. It was a seesaw game with the Cubs scoring two in the first, thanks in part to a Jose Gutierrez home run. The Giants came back and scored four in the fourth before Nelson’s fifth inning triple gave the Cubs the lead 5-4. The Giants came back and tied it and then went on to win it in the ninth on an error. Tonight is the final game as it looks like Emilio Ferrebus should take the mound for the Cubs.
Meanwhile in Eugene…
Smoke from the wildfires finally lifted enough for the Ems and the Hillsboro Hops to get game 1 in. Jose Albertos started for Eugene and went 5.2 innings. He gave up two runs, one on a homer, but looked sharp after the first inning. He didn’t throw his curve much, but his change was a thing of beauty.
Relievers Elvis Diaz and Jake Steffens shut down the Hops after Albertos left the game. Jhonny Bethencourt scored scored two runs and Gustavo Polanco drove in Michael Cruz with the winning run in the eighth inning for a 3-2 victory.
The Ems travel To Hillsboro to finish out the best-of-three series. Jesus Camargo is slated to start game 2.
Pelicans Rained Out
Myrtle Beach was rained out and they will resume their semi-final Mills Cup series tonight, weather permitting. Michael Rucker is still slated to pitch for the Pelicans against Down East, a Rangers’ affiliate.
By Todd Johnson
After being held to two hits through the first six innings, the Mesa Cubs erupted to score 9 runs in the last three frames to defeat the Giants 10-4 in Game 1 of the best of 3 series. Delvin Zinn went 3 for 4 with 3 RBI and Nelson Velazquez homered as the Cubs are now one step away from a championship! Game two is tonight.
9 strikeouts will decimate any offense and that is what the Giants’ Jose Marte did to the Cubs through 6 IP. The Cubs’ Alfredo Colorado ‘s best pitching effort kept the Cubs within striking distance at 2-1 when Marte left the game. The Cubs pushed across 1 run in the 7th to tie it, then exploded for 5 in the 8th and 3 more in the ninth. Cam Balego scored three times for the Cubs and the Cubs took advantage of four errors by the Giants to win.
In other Playoff News…
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans start their series vs the Down East Wood Ducks tonight with Michael Rucker on the mound.
The Eugene Emeralds, after being smoked out due to forest fires, host Hillsboro tonight with Jesus Camargo taking the ball.
By Todd Johnson
Falling behind 5-0 would be the death knell for most teams. However, when you have a potent offense, no lead is insurmountable. Such was the case last night as the Mesa Cubs rallied to win 7-6 over the Dodgers in the Arizona Rookie League semi-finals.
The Cubs used home runs by Jonathan Sierra, 2017 draft pick Cam Balego (his second in the playoffs), and 2016 draftee Delvin Zinn to tie it up. Carlos Sepulveda, on a rehab assignment, drove in Kwang-Min Kwon as the winning run in the eighth.
Another key to victory was that the bullpen pitched great in relief. Eugenio Palma, Jeffrey Passantino, and Ivan Medina scattered 8 hits and allowed 2 runs in 9 innings after Stephen Ridings was chased in the first after giving up four runs without getting an out.
The Cubs now move to the finals where they will face the Giants in a best of three series. 2017 Draft Pick, Brendan King from Holy Cross, probably gets the ball tonight and Brailyn Marquez could take the bump tomorrow.
The series starts tonight and runs through Thursday, if necessary. The Cubs went 5-3 against the Giants this year. I like the Cubs’ chances.
The topic for every six pack changes throughout the week. When I woke up this morning I didn’t think that I was going to do a six pack. Since it’s the 11th August, I thought I’d take a look at ten-day splits to see how prospects are doing in preparation for our monthly All-Star team. As a result, the topic for today’s six pack is who’s hot and who’s not.
1. Dillon Maples – In 11.2 innings at Iowa, it looks as though he started to figure things out at this level, too. His K/9 rate is astronomical (15.43) and he’s only walked one batter. I am starting to get the inkling that he might make it to Chicago before the end of the month. Adding a guy in the bullpen who throws 98 to 100 with a wipeout slider is not going to hurt anything.
2. Mark Zagunis – In addition to hitting over .300 the past 6 weeks, he is still a walking machine. I feel pretty good about his chances of being in Chicago in September. But beyond that, he’s not going to be anything other than a fourth/fifth outfielder with who is in front of him. I really hope he gets an extended shot sometime in the next year whether it’s with the Cubs or another team.
3. The South Bend Outfield – Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, Luis Ayala, and Chris Pieters – Every single one of them is hitting above .321 this month and they are killing it in all phases of the game. Last night, Mitchell hit a grand slam while DJ Wilson tracked ball after ball down in centerfield. The other night, Kevonte threw out a guy at the plate. It has been nice to see them perform so well and it’s almost as if they are trying to one up each other.
4. Four Hitters in Rookie League – First, Luis Vasquez has peaked my interest since the Cubs signed him this summer. The fact that he is hitting .300+ as a 17-year-old tall and rangy shortstop helps as well. The same is true of Delvin Zinn’s athleticism and he seems to be back on track this month hitting over .300. International free-agent Jonathan Sierra seems to have found a groove (still no power) while Jose Gutierrez seems to have done the same hitting over .450 this month. I could also add in pitchers Rollie Lacy, Brendan King, Jeffrey Passantino, and reliever Mitch Stophel for another four.
5. Zack Short – The 23-year-old shortstop has transversed three levels in the past year since he was signed by the Cubs. He seems to be getting better at every level. In the past ten games, he has been on a tear hitting over .400 with 3 home runs. Combined, between Myrtle Beach.and South Bend, the leadoff hitter has 12 dingers this year with an OBP of .391 and this morning was named as having the best strike zone control in the Midwest League by Baseball America.
6. Who is not hot? The Eugene Defense
Once Aramis Ademan was promoted to South Bend, this team has been in a tailspin defensively. It’s a struggle for pitchers Alex Lange, Jose Albertos, and Brendon Little to get through an inning. In the past week, routine grounders have been misplayed, balls to first have been airmailed, and assignments and coverages have been blown. Instead of a pitcher getting out of an inning, those mistakes lead to two or three runs being scored, sometimes more.
Honorable Mentions – Yasiel Balaguert, Taylor Davis, James Norwood, Craig Brooks, Tyler Alamo, Bryan Hudson, Tyler Peyton, Brian Glowicki, Chris Singleton, Marcus Mastrobuoni, Cam Balego, Fernando Kelli, Emilio Ferrebus, and Erich Uelmen.
By Todd Johnson
The Mesa Cubs now have two weeks under their belt. A few things are starting to emerge and the extremely young team is trying to adapt, Many of them are new to the United States. Currently, the club has a record of 5-6. At times, they struggle with hitting and, at other times, they struggle with pitching. Today’s six pack will examine a few things happening out in the Arizona Rookie League.
1. Yonathan Perlaza – Most days, the 18-year-old switch hitter seems to be hitting well. There are other days where is bat does not show up. Signed as part of the 2015 international free agent class, this is his first year playing in the States and it will continue to be an adjustment for him. He’s mainly been playing second, but I expect him to get his time at third. Currently, he is hitting .268 with on base percentage of .348.
2. Carson Sands – At South Bend last year, he was one of their best pitchers in the rotation in the first half. Then things fell apart in the second half. Part of that could’ve been due to elbow splints that he had removed over the winter. As a result, his full season has been delayed. However, in three inning rehab starts at Mesa, he has been excellent. He’s struck out 5 but he has handed out 8 walks – this is, basically, his spring training. Right now, it’s more about the process and strengthening the arm. I hope that he can return to a full season team by the end of July.
3. Delvin Zinn – This is my guy. I love his athleticism! Although, I am not entirely sold on him sticking at short or even second. I think he could play the outfield and do an excellent job. His bat, meanwhile, has been outstanding and consistent. If not for an injury in spring training, he would’ve started the season at Eugene. He should be there shortly as he is hitting .281 with an on-base percentage of .324.
4. Marco Mastrobuoni – This is his second go around in the Arizona Rookie League and his bat has been doing marvelous things. Not only is he heading for high average (.333) but he is also hitting for power. As of today, he has 3 HRs and 8 RBI in 9 games as a catcher and DH.
5. Cam Balego – I have been really surprised by the 31st round pick out of Mercyhurst. He’s played mostly second and third and is showing the ability to handle the stick as he is hitting .333, At that pace, I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be in Mesa. Then again there’s not really a place for him to move in Eugene.
6. Jed Carter -. Relievers in rookie league don’t get much pub. It’s not a glorified position at that level, but Carter is making it his. The 2016 draft pick seems to have found his groove in his first full season is a Cub. To date he’s pitched 5 innings, He has not allowed in earned run, and he has struck out 6 while only walking 2. I hope he gets to go to Eugene very soon.
7. Jonathan Sierra – Like Perlaza, this 18-year-old has been up and down. Batting cleanup most every day, he has shown the ability for timely hits but then not get one for three days. He is batting .250 with 5 RBIs and an OBP of .302. The tall lefty has yet to hit a homer.
The starting pitching has been pretty volatile. Jose Albertos is now in Eugene and more draft picks should be getting some action in over the weekend. One always has to keep their eyes on the Arizona roster as it is in flux daily. Between players making rehab appearances, draft picks coming and going, and later in the year, players from the Dominican coming north, it is always a test to report on. DJ Wilson of South Bend has played in 3 rehab games and is 4/8 with 3 HRs.
Only three draft picks saw action so far in Mesa. Two have moved on to Eugene. I will be back with a post on all where the draft picks are at and how they are doing early next week.