By Todd Johnson
I did not see this post coming…at all.
When the offseason began, I made an album on the Facebook account for offseason cards. I often get several new pics over the offseason as I come across assorted local articles and search results begin to include other pictures. I thought maybe, just maybe, that I might make 20-25 new baseball cards this winter.
To make a short story long, at the end of last season I thought that I would recreate Topps’ 2017 design. I liked how extremely close I came without using an editor. I made a few cards. As some Arizona Fall League (AFL) pictures came in from MiLB and the AFL, I began exclusively making 2017 cards for about 6 weeks until the AFL season ended.
Then I got a little bit ambitious about a week before Christmas. I showed some of my students how I used PIXLR, an online photo editor, to help make the templates for each year. Up through this past fall, the templates I made cards from were from my card collecting years. There were a couple of years in the 1950s, most of the 60s, and then my peak card collecting years, 1970-1986. I do have a 1990 template but that was where the fun ended.
Anyway, I got a lot accomplished for school stuff the last week of the semester. As a result, I had little or no work to do over break. In other words, I was free to fart around, something I haven’t had time for the past couple of years. So, I began to try making more modern cards from the past 30 years. In the end, I added over 16 templates from 1990 onward and two more from the 1950s. I really like most of the templates, but there are 3 or 4 I am still working on.
Yesterday, I found some more pics to make cards for the leveling up profiles and the position breaking. I uploaded them to the Facebook album and I was stunned I had made over 70+ cards this offseason. I knew then it was time for a post.
So, with further adieu…
Normally, I don’t make a lot of big league players unless it is from their debut or rookie season. I just love the light and shadow on Dillon Maples in his debut last year. It also looks good in one of my favorite new templates, the 1953 Topps. Dillon also looks stunning in a mixture of red, white, and Cub blue in a 2003 template.
Coming in at number 10, Jake Stinnett pops in this picture by Clubhouse Corner from the Arizona Fall League. I love this 2008 template but the popout Topps tab is sometimes hard to work around. Larry Kave’s capture of Zack Short meshes well with many shades of blue contained in another 2003 card. Rikk Carlson’s closeup of DJ Wilson just jumps off the page in the 2017 frame.
As I looked at the large number of cards, each tier became harder and harder to pick. International Free Agent Florencio Serrano looks great in a 1999 frame at number 7. I haven’t decided what affiliate’s uniform will blend with the color in this template best. At number 6, Dylan Heuer captures the “Popeye” arms of Mark Zagunis perfectly in a 1953 frame. Larry Kave returns at number 5 with Thomas Hatch in a 2007 frame which I beginning to like more and more. What I love about this picture, though, is the yellow line at the top of the outfield wall blends with Hatch’s cap and the lettering on the card.
Getting to the top four took a lot of thought. I found this rare picture of pitcher Brendan King, a 2017 draftee of the Cubs. He pitched in Mesa this past after signing and I found the pic on the Twitter account of Holy Cross Baseball. I used a filter to make the blue pop and I liked it a lot. Coming in at #3, Duane Underwoods closeup from the former CSN-Chicago gets some love in a 2017 frame. At number 2, this was one of my favorite cards of the entire and it is of Adbert Alzolay in the Arizona Fall League. The lighting of the game makes the card along with his gray Mesa Solar Sox hat being similar in color to the gray 2017 frame and his glove.
I had this list all done and then about 9 P.M. last night I was looking for pics in a Twitter search. Lo and behold, there was a picture of Wladimir Galindo by Jared Ravitch from 2016. The black of uniform fits perfectly with the black of the card and gray outline and the blue fencing provides a backdrop for Wladimir’s face. It’s a great closeup of Wladimir in a 1953 classic frame.
Only 6 more weeks until spring training!
By Todd Johnson
This is easily the hardest position to rank. Eloy Jimenez anchored the rankings for two years and I am just not quite sure how to arrange this year’s crop. Do I put them in tiers, number them, or do I arrange them into categories? I decided to be old fashioned up to 7.
A year ago, Eloy was at the top of the Cub outfielders followed by Mark Zagunis, Eddy Martinez, Donnie Dewees, and DJ Wilson. Two of those five prospects are gone. Although Zagunis did have a pretty good season in 2018, Burks and Wilson didn’t exactly light the minor leagues on fire for a whole year.
This is a position that has a lot of names of players who COULD be elite talents someday. However, their tools have not clicked for some reason. In fact, that pretty much sums up the Cubs system in general. There’s a lot of depth, just not elite talent. However, in two years, that could all change greatly.
In spite of that, here are the current top seven outfielders the Cubs have in their system heading into the 2018 season.
7. Jonathan Sierra – I am just waiting for him to get it going. Hopefully, this year will be the year the homers start to flow. In reality, though, it is more likely to happen at South Bend for him. He might be at the bottom of this list again next year or he could be #1. He as all the tools and the right approach at the plate, it is just a matter of game experience and tapping into his 6’3” frame and beautiful swing.
6. Kevonte Mitchell – A physical specimen, he could be a beast. At times in 2017, he showed that he could carry a club for a week or two at a time. In 2018, he should be at Myrtle Beach and he could begin to fulfill his power potential. Watching him work hard in pre-game activities bodes well for him grinding it out at some point.
5. I could’ve easily written Eddy Martinez in at number two as well as number five. That’s what is hardest about this group – there’s depth but not much differentiation of talent. For Martinez, he was pretty good in the second half of last year hitting .276 with 7 home runs. Already a defensive stalwart, he just needs to walk more and strike out less. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It is another thing for it to happen.
4. DJ Wilson – He is an amazing athlete who I think should break out a little bit this year at Myrtle Beach. Now at 21 years of age, and in his fourth season as a Cub, the time has come for him to begin to put it together. The lack of a any kind of a sustained performance could be a concern very soon. He has all the skills he needs, it is just a matter of putting it together on a daily basis.
3. Charcer Burks had a great first half at AA Tennessee and I thought for sure he was going to get a promotion in late June to AAA. He got off to a great start in spring training with the big league club and never let up until the middle of June when he seemed to take a step back. He did alright in the Arizona Fall League but he didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off. It was a long year but it was also a huge step in the right direction that truly began the second half of 2016 at Myrtle Beach when Rashad Crawford was dealt. He should be fine at AAA. And to be honest, his power game might improve at AAA. Last year, he hit 10 at AA. I would not be surprised if he hit 15 this year in the PCL.
2. Mark Zagunis – Like Victor Caratini, I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at AAA. His power improved last year, his batting average improved, while his on base percentage is always spectacular. All he needs is a place to play every day. The problem it is not in Chicago. I was hoping that he might get a chance with another club to break through. That hasn’t happened yet this offseason.
1. Nelson Velasquez – His power potential is off the charts. In just a short six week span, He cranked out 11 home runs in Mesa between rookie league and the playoffs. He still has some swing and miss to his game (30% K rate in the Arizona Rookie League). As a result, I think the Cubs are going to be pretty patient with him and it will be interesting to see how he does in Eugene, which is not a place where home runs have been known to happen frequently. Still, there’s just too much talent to not rank him number 1 just based on potential.
Some Names to Watch for 2018
Out of all the position lists from this winter, the outfield list could change drastically in one year’s time. In fact, the Cubs could pick up another college outfielder or two in the top three to four rounds of the draft next summer that could totally reshape these rankings. Add in some amazing athletes who will be patrolling the green grass in Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend in 2018 who are young, unproven for a full season, and extremely athletic and the system becomes much more dynamic.
Fernando Kelli leads the list and should be making his stateside debut along with Carlos Pacheco. Both played in the Dominican last year and they could be playing anywhere from Mesa to South Bend. Meanwhile, Brandon Hughes begins his first full season after being drafted last summer. A switch-hitter, Hughes is an amazing athlete with the build to hit for power but has never been asked to do so. Chris Carrier, another 2017 draft pick, struggled at Eugene, but is a physical specimen.
Finally, Jose Gutierrez is another young and athletic outfielder who was the leadoff man on Mesa’s championship team. Down the stretch, he hit .354 in August helping to set the table for the rookie league Cubs.
One thing about this class of outfielders from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend is that they are not going to be dull.
By Todd Johnson
Last year, I quipped that Fangraphs produced the prospect list your mother warned you about. This year, Eric Longenhagen continued the tradition of creating a list different from the mainstream. The list, which came out today, contains analysis of upwards of 50 Cub prospects in detail. Although he only ranks 22, there is still plenty of information to go through and dissect. Overall, the list is a selection of young, athletic, and unproven prospects in the top 10.
Like Baseball America, Fangraphs placed shortstop Aramis Ademan at number one followed by pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos. While I would probably have them in inverse order as a top three, I really can’t quibble with Longenhagen’s reasoning. For the next 18 picks, though, it is all about potential. Longenhagen states:
Trades and graduations have sliced off the head of this system, but I remain fond of its “fruit on the bottom” composition. It features a wide swath of young talent at the lower levels, mostly from Latin America. The Cubs have cast a wide net in Latin America, adding a slew of good-bodied athletes with middling tools and then just kicking back to see what the player-development staff can do with them.
Pitcher Oscar de la Cruz is still held in esteem at number four and is soon followed by Brendon Little and Alex Lange, both of whom seem to have incomplete projections about whether they will be starters or relievers if, and when, they get to Chicago
The biggest shockers in the list came in the middle with the inclusion of several young 18 to 19-year-olds. Catcher Miguel Amaya is a favorite of mine and he is situated at number nine. Pitcher Alec Mills was next at ten, even though he missed most of 2017 with bone spurs. Mills was praised for his baseball command and plus changeup.
At number 11, 2017 sixth round pick pitcher Jeremiah Estrada got a lot of love from Longenhagen for his potential despite only pitching six innings of professional ball in 2017. One of my favorite young Cub prospects, outfielder Nelson Velazquez, came in at number 13 while unheralded lefty starter Brailyn Marquez surfaced at number 14 after an up-and-down year in Mesa.
The more I got through the list, the more and more the emphasis is on potential. Former top prospect Mark Zagunis wound up at number 20 while several more established Cub prospects did not make the top 22 cut like Trevor Clifton, Chesny Young, and Duane Underwood. Even the Cubs’ reigning MiLB Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng did not make it. It is not as if Fangraphs have tossed the old guard to the side of the road, they made way for more prospects with a higher upside. DJ Wilson, for example, is one young and athletic prospect I profiled just last week who made the top 10.
In the end, this list is just going to be one of many this offseason that could have a totally different view of the Cubs system from every other list. In the next two weeks, Baseball Prospectus is set to release their Top 10 Cubs list either late next week or the week of the 11th.
The more lists that come out, the greater the variance is going to be. It’s pretty evident that the era of consensus on who the Cubs top prospects are is over. Even though Ademan has gotten the top nod in both major lists so far, don’t expect him to get top billing in every one.
By Todd Johnson
When it comes to prospect lists this winter, beauty is definitely going to be in the eye of the beholder. As prospect lists begin to come out over the course of the next three months, you could see 20 different Cubs make a top 10 list. And you could see four or five different Cubs atop each of those lists. In a post-Eloy world, it’s going to take a long time for those lists to settle down. With the possibility that the Cubs might make another trade this offseason, more chaos could soon enter those lists.
Baseball America is getting ready to drop their latest Top 10 Cubs Prospects List on Monday or Tuesday, in addition to their top tools in the system. I thought I might beat them to the punch at their own game and come out with my prediction of their list of top MiLB tools and try to guess who they will select as their top 10 Cubs prospects.
🔸Best Hitter for Average: Victor Caratini – No one else is even close.
🔸Best Power Hitter: Nelson Velazquez – 10 HRs in 6 weeks ought to get him the title.
🔸Fastest Baserunner: DJ Wilson – Watch him hit a triple and you will see how fast he flies.
🔸Best Athlete: Jacob Hannemann is now but might not be for long. Nelson Velazquez could overtake him in a year.
🔸Best Fastball: Adbert Alzolay – Sitting at 96 in the sixth and seventh innings is pretty impressive.
🔸Best Curveball: Dillon Maples – To him, this is his fastball as he commands it and throws it in fastball counts.
🔸Best Slider: Dillon Maples – This will be the pitch that makes him a killer pro.
🔸Best Changeup: Jose Albertos barely gets the nod over Eugene teammate Jesus Camargo. Both are excellent and get some ugly, ugly swings.
🔸Best Control: Adbert Alzolay – It begins and ends with the ability to put his fastball where and when he wants. Jen-Ho Tseng comes in a close second.
🔸Best Defensive Catcher: Miguel Amaya – While blocking might be a small issue, his arm is clearly not. PJ Higgins is next. It will be interesting to watch Will Remillard come back and to see what recent international signee Alexander Guerra can do
🔸Best Defensive INF and Best INF Arm: You might think that Aramis Ademan would get the nod. However, Luis Vazquez is better and more consistent. I’ve only seen him make a few plays, but he shows much more range, fluidity, and athleticism than Ademan.
🔸Best Defensive OF: Now that Trey Martin is gone and Jake Hannemann is back, Hannemann barely gets the nod over Charcer Burks, DJ Wilson, and Nelson Velazquez. In a year, Velazquez could win almost every hitting and outfield award.
🔸Best OF Arm: Eddy Martinez – 2018 is going to be his year. Don’t be shocked to see him get a chance in Chicago later this summer.
Baseball America’s top 10 list is going to be a little bit different than mine as I do not consider Victor Caratini to still be a prospect. While he technically is, he has spent enough time in the majors to not be, just not the prerequisite 130 at-bats. After Caratini, it could be a free-for-all. It just depends on what value one sees in a prospect.
Where all these prospects are going to be ranked is a complete mystery to me. I’m having trouble reconciling whether to put Ademan in the top five and whether to include Dillon Maples in the top 10. I know other people like pitcher Adbert Alzolay a lot (as do I), but I think that Jose Albertos is a better high-end and prospect and would be my top prospect overall. I would expect the two young pitchers to be 2A and 2B.
Then, all bets are off.
In thinking of how I would do my own list, I’m half tempted to put Nelson Velasquez at number four. Just based on his little six week stint of 10 home runs in Mesa, you have to love the praise he garnered from evaluators and Jason McLeod in the Mark Gonzalez article.
There at least a dozen players who could make their way into Baseball America’s top 10. Mark Zagunis might be the most ready for the majors after Caratini. Thomas Hatch could more than likely be in the top 10 along with the Cubs two first round picks from 2017, Brendon Little and Alex Lange. MLB.com’s number one prospect, the oft-injured Oscar de la Cruz, should be in the top 10 as well as shortstop Aramis Ademan. Cases could also be made for Dillon Maples, Jen-Ho Tseng, Trevor Clifton, Duane Underwood, Jr., D.J. Wilson, and Justin Steele as top 10 prospects this winter.
Their analysis should make for some very interesting discussions in the coming week.
By Todd Johnson
This gets harder and harder to do every year. There’s so much information available that it is rare for a prospect to sneak up and have a good year. I don’t like to rely totally on statistics, although I do think they are a valuable tool. When it comes to identifying players who I think could break out or be identified as sleepers in an organization, I prefer seeing them play live. I get a better sense for their approach at the plate, their swing plane, the ability to see the ball into the zone, and the sound of the ball coming off the bat. I also like watching the fluidity of their athleticism.
In 2017, there were a few key prospects who broke out in some form or fashion. Shortstop Zack Short comes to mind along with catcher Ian Rice, third baseman Jason Vosler, outfielder Charcer Burks, and shortstop Aramis Ademan. The biggest breakout was fifth round pick Nelson Velasquez who destroyed Arizona Rookie League pitching in his short tenure as he pummeled 10 HRs in a 7 week span after being drafted.
When it comes to 2018, there are several prospects who could show a marked improvement in their performance. There are several players who, at times in 2017, showed that there might be more there than the level at which they were currently performing. Then there were other players who seemed to come on strong in the second half of the season, or at the very least, in the month of August.
Here are several names of hitting prospects who I think could break out in 2018 to make their way onto a top prospect list.
At AA Tennessee
I really think that 2018 will be the summer of Eddy Martinez. In the second half of 2017 he hit .276 with seven home runs and I think he is finally acclimated to playing professional baseball and living in the United States. He is still young as he will just be 23 in January.
At Class A Myrtle Beach
DJ Wilson – I think this is the year where his physical maturity along with his baseball maturity mesh to produce his best year. I don’t know if he’s going to hit a lot of home runs this year because the Carolina League is just not a hitter’s league. However, I do think his batting average will improve as well as his approach. The one thing I don’t have to worry about is his defense.
Kevonte Mitchell – I think his time has come. He has grown into a physical specimen at 6’5″ and probably about 240 pounds. He is just a beast. But what impressed me most about his performance in 2017 was the way that he was able to track the ball into the catcher’s mitt. He did have an up-and-down year but behind the scenes he was putting in a lot of work to make himself more consistent. It would not surprise me to see him hit 20 home runs at this level and to begin to carry a team for games at a time.
At Class A South Bend
Miguel Amaya – Once you see him, you tend to fall in love with his arm behind the plate. However, his bat was sorely lacking to begin 2017. When he was moved to the seventh spot in the lineup, he did much better hitting almost .300 in the month of August. This leads me to believe that he is going to come into 2018 with a much better approach than he had at short season Eugene. I would not be surprised to see him hit 12 to 15 home runs in the Midwest League.
Jared Young – He is the perfect example of don’t scout the stat line. After being drafted, he began his pro career at Eugene last summer as he got off to a terrible start batting average wise hitting .131 in July. However, if you watched his at-bats, you saw an outstanding approach that saw him work counts to see a lot of pitches, but the balls just were not dropping in for hits. My friend John and I would comment to each other about what bad luck he was having. Then, in the last two weeks of August, he tore the cover off the ball hitting .323 for the month.
In August, one of the highlights of watching the Eugene Emeralds play was to watch Austin Filiere hit on a nightly basis. The 2017 draft pick out of MIT still has some work to do on defense, but his approach at the plate is top notch. He hit .261 with a .392 OBP. Add in his short quick stroke and he has the potential for 20 home run power next season. I’m not saying he’s going to hit 20 homeruns, but he could.
In June and early July, my favorite hitter at Eugene was none other than Joe Martarano who hit .340 for the Emeralds. When he went to South Bend, the poor guy just got off to a horrible start. When I saw him play in Beloit, he had a super high leg kick that didn’t necessarily show up on video. Thankfully, that turned into a toe tap a bit later and he hit much better in August (.273) including his first Midwest League home run. He should start out at South Bend unless he completely terrorizes spring training pitching. I just love the way the ball jumps off his bat and the sound is immense.
Jonathan Sierra is long and lean at 6’3″ and a physical replica of Darryl Strawberry. He just turned 19 in October and should be better next year than last. His approach comes across as fine. He hit .259 in rookie ball with a .332 OBP. His power is what will determine his breakout. He only hit two in 48 games and needs to do better. Hopefully, he breaks out in 2018 but it is more likely to bust out at South Bend in 2019.
He is just 20 years old, but Delvin Zinn is one player I think everyone should watch in 2018. He played in Mesa last summer and played mainly at short and second. He is an extremely athletic player who did have an up and down season. If he can learn to be more consistent, he is going to be a force on the base paths.
Others to Watch
Brandon Hughes is a switch hitting speedy outfielder who has the perfect size (6’2″) to develop a power stroke. Whether he will or not, I don’t know, but it’s not all going to happen next year. Improving his approach next year at South Bend should help.
Cam Balego – He played all over the infield in 2017 for Mesa and converted to catcher this fall at instructs. He was extremely consistent at the plate as he hit .286. I’m interested to see what he can do in a larger sample size.
Marcus Mastrobuoni – He led Mesa in almost every hitting category until Nelson Velasquez passed him up late in the season. The young catcher should be at Eugene in 2018. The problem for him is that there is nowhere to go in the now catching rich system.
By Todd Johnson
Overall Record: 75-64
South Bend had the best record of any affiliate in the Cubs system in 2017 but they did not make the playoffs. Most of that was due to a poor six week stretch from late May to early July that bookended the tail end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Before and after that stretch, this team displayed the ability to get on base and showed glimpses of the ability to pitch well in pressure situations.
South Bend had a pretty gritty performance this year. They showed a lot of resolve coming back in the second half to almost nab a playoff spot before losing on the second last day of the year. Most of the team should find their way to Myrtle Beach next year but a couple players will likely begin the year back in South Bend for some more seasoning.
Here are 7 key takes about the 2017 South Bend Cubs.
1. Bryan Hudson – I really like how he is developing. It might not all be coming at once, but Hudson was a far better pitcher in 2017 than 2016. His ground ball rate skyrocketed this year and, at times, he was one of the best pitchers in the Cubs’ system. In the second half, he made 13 starts with a 3.69 ERA and a 3-1 GB ratio. He is still rather young at 20 and I hope that he gained a lot of confidence from this season. Going to Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher’s league, Hudson and his ground ball approach are going to play extremely well.
2. DJ Wilson – Wilson is slowly getting better. He had a great July and was the Cubs’ minor league player of the month. He is an outstanding defender and covers as much ground as anybody in the system in the outfield. But his weakness has always been at the plate. Next year, at Myrtle Beach, will not be the easiest place for a hitter to thrive. However, he still can work on his approach and on spraying the ball around the field. Look for him to continue to work on his power game. Had he been healthy, he could have hit close to 20 HRs. That is excellent for a center fielder. He is going to be the first player profiled in the off-season series called “Leveling Up.”
3. Kevonte Mitchell – When I spent three days watching South Bend play in Beloit this summer, I came away extremely impressed with Mitchell’s work ethic. Nobody on the team worked harder than he did. Whether it was the tee, soft toss, or batting practice, Mitchell attacked the ball at every opportunity trying to drive it up the middle. In games, Mitchell hit much better this season and in May and July was one of the best hitters in the system. I think next year is the year that he begins to break out and I think it begins with the fact that he can clearly pick up a curveball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. He still has to decide either to lay off it or go the other way. I think that happens for him in 2018
4. Luis Ayala – He hit .366 in July and .293 in August and was promoted to the Pelicans’ playoff roster. I really like what he can do with the bat. He’s not going to hit a lot of homeruns and he is going to get on base at a regular clip. So far, he has done all of this at the bottom of the order. I wonder how he would do at the top? At fall instructs, he began to tinker with switch-hitting.
5. Andruw Monasterio – In 2016 at Eugene, he began the season on fire and was promoted to South Bend and then cooled off quite a bit. He began 2017 at Myrtle Beach and was just starting to heat up when he was returned to South Bend. He didn’t stop hitting all summer in the Midwest League. He hit .281 with a .351 OBP in 58 second half games. The fact that he played three positions this past summer only enhances his profile for 2018.
6. Jose Paulino – The first half of the season was a bit of a disappointment for him as a starter. He was demoted to the bullpen in late May and returned to have an outstanding July with an ERA of under two. In August, he looked like he was beginning to wear down in his first full season a pro ball. All his pitches are still there, but he still needs to command them better. One way for him to do that would be to attack hitters with his excellent arsenal, including his plus curve, rather than try and dance around the edge of the strike zone.
7. Aramis Ademan – Overall, it was an outstanding year for the young 18-year-old shortstop. He played two levels and showed that his bat was much further along than anyone possibly thought it could project to be. Defensively, he showed that he can make all the plays, but needs to do so on a consistent basis. When next year begins, he will be 19 and I would not be surprised to see him start at Myrtle Beach.
Bonus Sleeper Prospect – Jhon Romero – The young reliever went through three levels in 2017 based on his ability to spin a curveball. At 22, the right hander used a two pitch mix to strike out 53 batters in 41.2 IP. He put up a 0.62 WHIP and batters only managed to hit .109 against him. He quietly went about his business and he could move quickly in 2018.
South Bend Cubs to Watch in 2018
Jose Albertos – I consider him to be the number one prospect in the Cubs’ system. He will be just 19 when the 2018 season begins and I don’t envision him being in South Bend a long time. Armed with a mid to upper 90s fastball and a killer changeup, Albertos is working on developing a curveball that at times can be a wild pitch or a hammer. It just depends. I think the goal for him next year is to get to 100 innings. Whether that’s in South Bend or South Bend and Myrtle Beach, it doesn’t matter. He is going to light it up no matter where he goes.
Honorable Mention – Joe Martarano – I really dig this prospect…a lot! After watching him take BP and other assorted pregame hitting rituals, I came away extremely impressed at the sound the ball makes coming off his bat. He began the year by pounding the ball with regularity in extended spring training and that carried over to Eugene where he hit just shy of .400 in July. After a promotion to South Bend, he got off to a rough start, was sent back to Eugene, returned to South Bend and just struggled to get it going. In August, he improved greatly hitting almost .280 but it was only in 13 games. However he did lose a giant leg kick and replaced it with a toe tap and he began squaring up the ball, including his first homer for South Bend. I think he begins the year in South Bend in 2018 and I think it’s OK to cut him a little slack. The reason I say that is it has to be hard to basically miss 3 to 4 years of playing baseball. Now that it will be his full-time gig, I expect bigger things from him next year.
By Todd Johnson
While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.
Breakout Hitter of the Second Half
This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.
But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.
Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half
This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.
But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.
Breakout Reliever of the Second Half
I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball. Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.
But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.
When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.
More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.