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
There is a lot of big news to get to this week…
First, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half Southern Division title in the Carolina League, The Pelicans will now have an opportunity to win their third Mills Cup Championship in a row! Sadly, Tennessee and South Bend fell short in their aspirations to make it to the playoffs when both were eliminated on Friday night.
The MLB Draft took place this week and the Cubs selected 41 players including two pitchers in the first round in lefty Brendon Little and Alex Lange. The key now will be to sign between 25-30 of those picks. The deadline looks to be July 15.
EUGENE EMERALDS DEBUT
The Eugene Emeralds opened up their season on Thursday night. They have a couple of elite prospects in catcher Miguel Amaya, who threw out three runners in his first game, and Aramis Ademan, a shortstop who is a defensive stalwart. In addition, 2016 5th round pick Bailey Clark is also on board to anchor the rotation. He had a rough first inning last night before settling in. He should be in South Bend before too long.
This is an extremely young team that needs game experience. I watched most of the first half of each game this week and it is clear that Miguel Amaya is going to be a star. The kid has it all ready to go on defense. On offense, he has a nice inside-out swing that reminds me of Gleyber Torres. In the next two weeks, this roster will change quite a bit as the draft picks come in. Look to see 2B Jared Young, 3B Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, 1B Austin Young, and OFs Brandon Hughes and Chris Singleton, to name a few. There will be several pitchers who arrive in early July.
DILLON MAPLES AND HIS CURVE
I saw one of the best performances all season on Thursday night. Reliever Dillon Maples came into the game for the Smokies in the top of the ninth to close the game. From pitch one, it was evident he did not have command of his fastball. He hit the first batter. The, on cue, Maples began relying almost exclusively on his curve. It is a deadly MLB ready pitch for him. He struck out the next two batters in humiliating fashion, went back to the fastball again and walked a batter. Up came Nick Gordon, one of the top prospects in the game. Maples struck him and made Gordon like silly trying to hit the curve. It was a breathtaking display that showed me that Maples could make it to the majors sooner than we think.
After the All-Star games on Tuesday, get ready for several promotions. Zach Hedges was sent from AA to AAA this week. His debut was a bit rough as he gave up 6 runs in 2 innings before settling down. Expect to see a few names move up in the next ten days. It won’t be a lot, just a few.
- I finally decided to keep the baseball cards housed on Facebook. It is just easier and faster to load over there. On the Cards page above, I will be putting just the Cards of the Month.
- Tomorrow, the first half All-Star Team will be published
- Over at BP Wrigleyville, I have an update on Thomas Hatch’s amazing June
- On Tuesday, I have some breakout prospects to watch for in the second half
- Then, on Wednesday, I will be publishing a profile on Jesse Hodges.
- I will have a second half preview of the major affiliates on Thursday
- Friday’s post examines the DSL teams
- On Saturday, I have a preview of the Mesa team
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
It is getting to be that time of the year. MiLB rosters change as May gets a little warmer and the draft gets a little closer. Injuries play a part as well as major league promotions. We have only seen a few promotions so far. Pitchers Kyle Miller and Marc Huberman moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny were yo-yos over last weekend. In addition, some prospects came off the DL like Todd Glaesmann and Chris Dominguez.
Today, Eddie Butler gets a crack starting in the show.
Here are six prospects I think will get the call to move up a level in the next month.
1. Michael Cruz
He is just punishing balls in the desert in Extended Spring Training. While he is there to work on his defense, Cruz has taken the time to make impressions with his bat. I think he could be in South Bend by the MiLB All-Star Break
2. Dakota Mekkes
He finally gave up another run the other day. It was his second one in 17.2 IP this year. His ERA is now a sparkling 1.02. Another great stat he has going for him is that he has struck out 24 batters in those same 17.2 innings. A 0.79 WHIP screams promotion. His deceptive delivery allows his fastball to sneak up on a hitter. I think he could skip Myrtle Beach, but he likely won’t.
3. Craig Brooks
While Mekkes has been outstanding, Brooks has been better. He’s thrown 17.1 IP with only 1 ER for an ERA of 0.52. He’s struck out 26 and only walked five while throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s. At 24-years-old, Brooks might be the first prospect to move.
4. Dillon Maples
It’s all about the curve, the curve, the curve… Maples is spinning his breaking ball with great success in 2017. He’s a reliever now The only difference between Brooks and Maple at Myrtle Beach is Maples has given up 1 more this year and his groundout/air out ratio is 1.56, triple that of either Brooks or even Mekkes. He turned 25 on Tuesday and could move quickly this year…finally!
5. Jed Carter
Carter has been out in EST and has been doing well. The 22-year-old righty out of Auburn-Montgomery has been putting together shutout inning after shutout inning. If he does make it to Eugene, he likely won’t be there for long.
6. Dylan Cease
I see him making it through May at South Bend. After that, all bets are off. He still needs that changeup to come around before going to Tennessee.
There could be a few others, but I think relievers are on a faster track. Two other position player names you might hear would be Jason Vosler and Daniel Spingola.
By Todd Johnson
Lots of things have been happening this week. I spent most of the week in heart of Cardinal Country in Springfield, Illinois participating in Illinois History Day with my students. The big boys won three in a row against the Phillies. Rain destroyed schedules all over the minors. It seemed like there were only 1-2 games a day from which to pick the players of the day.
Today’s six picks is an amalgamation of six players who are on pace to be breakout candidates so far. Some I have profiled on this, Cubs Insider, or BP Wrigleyville.
1. Jason Vosler – He is second in homers in the organization to Ian Happ. He is only 1 behind and closing fast. Now at AA, Vosler is showing a knack for driven the ball in the gaps. I really like that he just plain barrels up the ball. Rather than trying to kill the ball, he just puts a good, quick swing on and the ball just leaves the yard. He also is hitting .291 with an OBP of .400 at AA. He is making himself a force to be dealt with by the Cubs organization.
2. Zack Short – I have profiled him on two sites and I love watching him work an a bat. He can coax a walk just as well as he can hit a home run or lay down a bunt.
3. Marc Huberman – The lefty reliever was moved up to Myrtle Beach today because he’s been outstanding out of the pen for South Bend. He struck 18 in 12.1 IP and only had one outing where he allowed any runs.
4. Kevonte Mitchell – I am putting together a piece on Kevonte’s season for BP Wrigleyville this Sunday. He has been amazing the past ten games hitting .375 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs. One of those home runs traveled an estimated 501 feet.
5. Dillon Maples – By jove, I think he’s got it. He throwing his curve with deadly precision now and pitching with a confidence unseen. It seems as if he has been around forever, but he is still only 24.
6. Craig Brooks is also putting together an amazing season at Myrtle Beach. His ERA is down to 0.55. I think he has adjusted to high A ball well. His first attempt last summer did not go well. This year, the flamethrower has 23 Ks in 16.1 IP.
I will be back on Sunday, unless I can sneak in a little prospect profile on Saturday morning or afternoon. I think I will do that. How does Craig Brooks sound?
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
By Todd Johnson
In spite of all the turmoil, the blown saves, and the missed hitting opportunities, we wake up this morning with the Chicago Cubs in first place for the second day in a row. We also wake up today with Tommy La Stella optioned to AAA. That pretty much answers the Szczur/La Stella issue for now. As a result, I hope that people can just relax and let the games play out instead of fixating on every mistake or loss. There are still 140+ games to go.
Meanwhile in the minors…
Pitching was the name of the game this week. All across the system starting pitching dominated the headlines. Eddie Butler, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton, Jen-Ho Tseng, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, Dylan Cease, and Manny Rondon were the feature stories from Iowa on down to South Bend. All pitched at least five innings and only gave up two runs or less. Cease did not give up a hit in his six innings while Alzolay struck out 7.
Every night it is a hard decision on what game to watch on MILB TV. I usually like to watch South Bend, especially if Cease is pitching. I also like to watch Trevor Clifton if I can at Tennessee, and Oscar de la Cruz is another pitcher I really enjoy getting a look at. However, when they all pitch at the same time, it’s a bit nerve-racking trying to watch.
Extended Spring Training News per The Cub Reporter:
In extended spring training, Eloy began playing the outfield this week. He had not made a throw into the infield as of Friday. Jake Hanneman finally returned to Tennessee just after Trey Martin was injured. In addition, Jose Albertos began throwing batting practice. Former Boise State football player Joe Martarano has gone from smashing running backs to smashing baseballs pretty easily. He has also been seeing playing the outfield, although not too well. That will take time.
The MLB draft is just six weeks away, which I find hard to believe. I am still fascinated with David Peterson from Oregon, high school player Mark Vientos, and pitcher Brendon Little. Baseball America came out with their first mock draft through the first round. They had the Cubs selecting Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck. That would’ve been a good selection a year ago, but Houck has had a lot of issues this year. I don’t think the Cubs are going to select a descending player unless they know something everyone else does not. For the 30th pick, Baseball America had the Cubs selecting a junior college picture and they also mentioned Little. I tend to think they’re going to go with one high school bat and one college pitcher.
Around the System
Iowa: 4-3; 9-8 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ continues to hit dingers (7) but his average has started to slip below .250. It’s just how he is. He’ll go up, he’ll go down, he’ll come back up. Felix Pena is putting together a nice little resume as a reliever. I expect him to be the first to get called up when that time happens.
Tennessee: 4-1; 8-7 overall – fourth place
I really hope that Jen-Ho Tseng has recaptured the essence of who he is as a pitcher. Through three starts he has been outstanding and looks like 2014 Jen-Ho.
Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 8-9 overall – third place
Justin Steele continues to look better with every start. He is attacking the zone and looks extremely confident on the mound and in throwing any of these three pitches for strikes. Matt Rose is also starting to come around with the bat. Hopefully, he can continue hitting home runs as well as increasing his average at the plate.
South Bend: 4-2; 9-7 second place
When the bats woke up so did this team. They are 9-4 in their last 13 games. Their bullpen is nearly unhittable. I cannot wait to see how they continue to improve over the next month. The only thing this team lacks is a power bat. However, I don’t think they need it. Jhonny Pereda has really turned it on after skipping Eugene. He’s hitting .313 on the season.
Extended Spring Training
Bryan Hudson continues to shine as a starter. This week he did not allow run in a start and has struck out 12 in 11 innings the past two weeks along with getting 15 ground ball outs. Odds are that he will not make it to Eugene. Instead, he will likely fill-in at South Bend at the first opportunity. Good for him!
April MILB All-Star team
For July, there are lots of new faces on the All-Star team. In fact, 16 players who have not appeared made the list. A lot of players under 21 made the list. What prompted this change? Performance combined with opportunity opened a lot of doors for most of these players. Some just took a while to warm up, but with Eugene and Arizona playing their first full month of baseball, that accounted for 9 players on the list.
There were a lot of great months, but not everyone made the list. Both Trey Martin and Robert Garcia had excellent months, but the outfielders in the Cubs system are quite fantastic right now. Not one position player from Iowa made it on the team and only one made it from Tennessee. Arizona and Myrtle Beach each put two on the list, while South Bend and Eugene dominated the rest.
I struggled to find 6 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3. It was a not a good month in the organization for starting pitching. I was all set to put Jesus Castillo on the list, but then he got shelled in his last start. As a result, I dipped down to pick out someone who has been amazing in the Dominican Summer League all year with an ERA under 1.00.
Press play and use the arrow to guide or you can just watch
Next month, a couple of Dominican position players could sneak onto the list. Infielder Yonathan Perlaza and Outfielder Jonathan Sierra are two of the hottest players in the system the last 10 days. Then again I don’t know how Sierra could squeeze in between the outfielders in this list.
Other Players to watch for August
Albert Almora – now that he is back in Iowa, he makes the outfield much more interesting.
Trevor Clifton – he did OK this month, but I think in August he puts it back together again
Oscar de la Cruz – he debuted at South Bend with 7K’s in 4 2/3 innings
DJ Wilson – his average has risen 80 points in the last 10 days. He seems a little more patient and not trying to kill every pitch he sees. He’s actually quite good in the field and has been taking his walks all year.
Recent Draftees Michael Cruz, Duncan Robinson, and Zach Short are starting to figure it out as well.
Coming up with next month’s list should be equally challenging.
PHOTO CREDITS for Cards in the Film
Rikk Carlson, Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs, Larry Kave, Mr. John Arguello, MiLB, Janet Blackmon Morgan, Michael Caterina, Dustin Smith , Ryan Kang, Eugene Emeralds, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Tennessee Smokies, and myself.