I still can’t believe that the Cubs got pitcher Jose Quintana this morning from the crosstown White Sox. The surprise deal stunned me as I was driving home from an appointment. The Cubs get a young, left-handed, cost-controlled starting pitcher through 2020. The deal strengthens the Cubs rotation this summer and, if need be, the postseason. Quintana is owed just $3M this year, $8.8M next year, and has two team options of $10.5M per year ($1M buyouts on each). This saves money now and frees up money in the future.
At first I was a little sad in hearing that the Cubs sent Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox along with Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, and Bryant Flete. The trade sent the two top prospects in the Cubs system and gives the White Sox a veritable army of top young talent. However, you don’t run a franchise to get your name at the top of a list, you run it to win. Theo has always said that prospects should replenish and sustain the major league club while at the same time acting as currency.
Today, they may have helped buy another arm to make a run at a second championship.
Get ready for a flurry of promotions later today in the minor leagues as Myrtle Beach now has three spots open on the roster.
I will be back later today and tomorrow with some more analysis of how this trade will impact the minor leagues.
By Todd Johnson
Earlier this week, I thought I had run out of ideas for next week. I just finished assembling the All-Star team video and concluded the cards of the month post, which will be out tomorrow. It had been a pretty hectic two weeks of writing from the draft, the end of the first half, and now the end of the month. Sometimes, it is a struggle to write something every day in the summer and then, out of the blue, things happen.
Dylan Cease had another magical start on Friday night. The Cubs top pitching prospect flashed his changeup more often than usual including getting Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on the pitch. Cease went five innings on 68 pitches and struck out six in arguably his most efficient start of the year.
As soon as he finished pitching, I opened up the schedule and started marking off his scheduled starts for the month. He throws on Wednesday this next week for which I will report back on Thursday.
That got me thinking about if he was going to start when I go see South Bend for three days in nearby Beloit in three weeks. As of now, he is scheduled to start on that Saturday night. I’m pretty excited about that possibility.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to interview Trent Giambrone of Myrtle Beach. It was supposed to be just a short five minute interview. Instead, it turned into a 10 minute discussion on hitting. You can read some of that interview today over on Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville. I will be coming out with another portion of it this week here and on Cubs insider. Trent was so forthcoming that I think there’s even room for a third post at a later date.
Today, the 2017-18 International Free Agency signing begins. The Cubs have $4.75 million to spend, but they cannot sign and he one player for more than $300,000. However there is one caveat to that penalty the Cubs received after the 2015-16 spending spree. In Mexico the Cubs can sign a player for up to $1.2 million as 75% of that bonus goes to the club. As a result, the Cubs can stay under $300,000 cap.
The Cubs inked four players this morning, two of which we have previously discussed on here. One is Florencio Serrano – a 6’1” pitcher who is 17 years old and originally from Texas. He was ranked #29 by Baseball America. The other young player is shortstop Luis Verdugo (Ranked 47 by Baseball America and 29 by MLB.com). The two new players are Fabian Pertuz is a young SS from Colombia and Alexander Ovalles is an OF from the Dominican Republic.
The following tidbits were also announced this week
*Zack Short was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach and went three for three in his first game.
*Joe Martarano was promoted Saturday from Eugene to South Bend along with relievers John Michael Knighton and Mark Malave. Martarano got into last night’s game and played a little third base.
*More draft picks arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Cam Balego, and Austin Filiere arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Can Belago, and Austin Filiere.
*I do find it a little strange that only three players of the almost 25 who have signed are playing.
*The Cubs also released pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua this week.
*Former Cubs farmhand and pitcher Paul Blackburn got called up by the Oakland A’s. Congratulations to Paul! He went six innings and gave up 1 unearned run in his debut.
Around the Minors
Iowa: 4-1 ; 36-44 – Mr. Schwarber showed up and put a little excitement into Des Moines. However, some stable starting pitching helped lead them to a nice week.
Tennessee: 5-0; 5-3 – The bats are back leading to an excellent week. It is nice to see Trey Martin do well along with Yasiel Balaguert, who hit three home runs this week.
Myrtle Beach: 2-4; 3-5 – It looks like they hit the doldrums to start the second half. The offense, defense, and pitching hit the skids all at once.
South Bend: 1-6; 2-7 – The pitching staff continues to struggle, especially the bullpen which seems to implode every other night. However, Isaac Paredes is showing why he skipped short season Eugene. He hit .289 for the month with an OBP over .400 and an .898 OPS for an 18-year-old shortstop in Class A!
Eugene: 5-1 ; 10-6 – First Place – The starting pitching is coming around as Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Enrique de los Rios, Jesus Camargo, and Alonso Garcia all had excellent starts this past week.
Mesa: 2-3; 3-3 – Carson Sands is making progress in 2 rehab starts of three innings apiece. He has allowed 1 run so far. Sands had some splints removed from his elbow this past offseason.
DSL 1: 5-1; 10-14 – The pitching improved this week to go along with the already potent offense. SS Christopher Morel is coming around. He’s hitting over .300 in his last ten games. He got off to a rough start after barely missing the Mesa roster.
DSL 2: 4-2; 12-13 – OF Alonso Gaitan joined the team and he put some pop in the top of the order. Jeinser Brete (Jeimer’s 17-year-old cousin) continues to rake.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
My Other Stuff on the Web
Trent Giambrone: Part One
By Todd Johnson
I think the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching this month’s presentation is the amount of new names who made the All-Star team in June. In fact, there are only ten holdovers from last month. That means there are 10 new names and one returning name from April. That’s a lot.
June was a rough month in the Cubs’ system. Going into Thursday and Friday, I only had five starting pitchers on my list and only four of them met the usual requirement of an ERA below 3.00 for a month. I do like the fact that there are a lot of new names as it shows the depth of the system, and it also shows that they are all performing at a high-level.
July is usually when we see a lot of new names make the list. Arizona and Eugene players will make their names heard. For me, this is when I really I get to know a prospect. I begin to keep track of their stats almost on a daily basis. I am always excited to see new prospects do well, whether it’s the ones I think will or the ones who surprise me. To be honest, I always enjoy being surprised more.
By Todd Johnson
It has been a strange year for Dylan Cease. Coming into the year, he was the most highly touted Cubs pitching prospect. Armed with an upper 90s fastball and a mid-70s curve, Cease wasted no time annihilating most of the Midwest League in April. In 5 starts, he pitched 23.2 innings with a 1.90 ERA while striking out 37. Opponents hit a measly .177 against him. The only issue Cease had was he issued 15 walks.
For his efforts, Cease was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month and he earned Midwest League Pitcher of the Week after he no hit Great Lakes for 6 innings.
However, come May, things were not as rosy as April. His first start was his normal 5 inning affair as he struck out 6 and allowed one run on three hits. His second start saw him struggle. In only 3.2 IP, he threw 89 pitches. He struck out 7, but gave up 6 hits. On May 18, his season changed quickly when he rolled his ankle covering third base. He tried to pitch again but was removed from the game after only 1.2 IP and 36 pitches. Cease would not return to pitch for almost a month.
To miss a month cannot be easy for a pitcher. It’s almost as if you would be starting spring training over when you returned. And that is how the Cubs have handled Cease in his return. He only threw 36 pitches in 1.2 IP when he came back on June 11. On June 16th, he went two innings and threw just 28 pitches. I thought they maybe the Cubs could have stretched him out a bit more, but there could have been other factors that night that I might not now, or maybe two innings was his agreed upon limit to build him back up. The next time he pitched was in the MWL All-Star Game on the 20th as he got in 1 inning of work.
Yesterday, I looked forward to seeing how long of a leash Cease would be given. A rain delay before the game did not help matters any. I just hoped he would not be scratched when play began.
Cease came on in the bottom of the first and looked, well, like Dylan Cease. Being a strikeout pitcher, he sometimes has a tendency to throw a lot of pitches in an inning, especially the first. Such was the case last year in the first half at Eugene, and such was the case in the first inning. His fastball sat 94-96. He struck out 2, 1 of them looking, but walked one. In all, 22 pitches was a pretty high count. He would not come close to that in an inning the rest of the day.
Right now, Cease is pretty much a two pitch pitcher. His fastball looked much better in innings 2-4. He was efficient as he was able to command it better than in the first. When his curve comes in at 74, that has to be extremely head shaking for the opposing hitters. But that’s what he does. That’s who he is. When Cease can get ahead of hitters, as he did in the second, third, and fourth, he has a 1.74 ERA. When he falls behind hitters, his ERA jumps to 6.23.
Consequently, Cease went 10 pitches, 12 pitches, and finally 8 pitches to finish his day. He did not allow a hit. He did walk 2, but he struck out 5, picked off a runner off of second, and touched 97 in the fourth.
I thought he pitched really well after the first. That is what he needs to do going forward. If he can be efficient, strike guys out, and go deep into the 7th inning, look out! I tend to think that 100 innings pitched at this level is a good solid amount to build up arm strength. Right now, Cease is at 42.1 IP with about 12- 13 starts left. It can be done without taxing his arm. 5-6 IP a night would be perfect.
Today was only four innings, but it showed that he is slowly being built back up to be let loose in July. It also reaffirmed the promise of that arm.
Cease’s next start will likely be Friday the 30th against Lansing.
By Todd Johnson
The second half of the minor-league season begins today. With Myrtle Beach already in the playoffs, Tennessee and South Bend will both be trying to get in after barely missing in the first half. Both of those teams will have to improve and infusion of talent could help. For the Iowa Cubs, they are going to need a lot to go right just to get back to .500. But then again, their main gig is to have players developed and ready to play in Chicago.
Iowa: 31-41 – Record is cumulative for the year (last place in Northern Division)
This team needs some starting pitching. They ranked 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Starter Zach Hedges joined Iowa a week ago, but they need one more arm in the rotation and maybe one or two in the pen. Dave Berg is turning out to be a pleasant surprise at this level. When it comes to hitting, who knew that Jake Hannemann would be profoundly better at AAA than at AA. He’s hitting .311 in 16 games. Expect to see Jen-Ho Tseng make it to Iowa after the All-Star Break. I don’t expect to see any promotions to Chicago except a bullpen arm like Zac Rosscup or Jack Leathersich.
Key Hitting Prospect: Victor Caratini – His bat has nothing left to accomplish in Iowa. It is all about his glove and arm the rest of the year.
Key Pitching Prospect: Jack Leathersich – After missing a year and a half, he looks to be in shape and ready to help out at the MLB level. In 6 June appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and has struck out 13 in 7.1 IP while opponents are only hitting .154 against him.
Tennessee: 36-33 First Half – 5.5 GB
This team had a nice stretch in May and then fell apart the past two weeks. They will be fine. I wonder how long Burks and Vosler stay at this level? They have been outstanding hitters along with Andrew Ely. Ian Rice has been streaky as has David Bote. But the key to their season is the bullpen. If Ryan McNeil gets it figured out, look out because Torrez and Pugliese have given up nothing in front of him all year and David Garner was having a good June. Dillon Maples and his MLB ready curveball have been excellent so far. Also, I am hoping that Jake Stinnett makes it back to pitch this year. If he does not, look for some starter from Myrtle Beach to move up to Tennessee soon.
Eloy Jimenez is coming…it is not a question of if, but when. He is being pitched around quite a bit in the Carolina League. I don’t expect this promotion to take long, though. When he does come, his bat will really change the lineup for those in front of him, and those behind, especially Jason Vosler.
Key Pitching Prospect: Trevor Clifton – Just 22, Clifton has gone a level a year. He had a good April and May and slumped a little in June. He should be back to normal after the break. He has been a stud in July and August the past two summers.
Key Hitting Prospect: Eloy – He better be.
Myrtle Beach: 43-27 First Half; Southern Division Champions
They won 20 out of 24 to close out the first half. All parts of the team clicked to make it happen – starting pitching, hitting, defense, and the bullpen. In the second half, Manager Buddy Bailey will surely have some roles to figure out as some players head to Tennessee and others come in from South Bend and the draft. Adbert Alzolay made a case to be promoted as he went deep into games most every night. It should be interesting to see who is on this roster come the first of July. Even then, this team will have plenty of starting pitching and a shut down bullpen to possibly win the second half title as well.
Key Hitting Prospect – Trent Giambrone – He is coming on strong. After barely hitting .220 in the first half, he is hitting almost .300 in June
Key Pitching Prospect – Thomas Hatch – He has yet to give up a run this month and looks to have his command and control down perfectly.
South Bend: 39-30 First Half – 1.5 GB of a Wild Card Spot
They were blowing the doors of teams in May and then they hit a wall. The 18-20 year-old hitters just looked tired at the end of late May and they began slumping at the worst possible time. Wladimir Galindo broke his leg and some key bullpen arms were promoted, not to mention Dylan Cease’s ankle injury. Still, there’s a lot of hope for the second half. They’re a very young team but they can hit. Zack Short seems an old man at 21. Duncan Robinson was a nice first half surprise along with Short, Vimael Machin, and Albert Mineo. I think several college picks could arrive to help the bullpen and to offset any losses for position players – remember the name Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State.
Key Hitting Prospect: Isaac Paredes – He is already hitting over .300 for June. It took a while, but I think he is beginning to live up to the faith the Cubs brass had in him skipping Eugene.
Key Pitching Prospect: Dylan Cease – He really needs innings and developing efficiency is the key to him strengthening that arm. Right now, he has 38.1 IP. He has about 13-14 starts left. Hopefully, he can get over 100 IP in this year. That would be great!
Overall, I don’t see a lot of promotions taking place this month. Maybe one starting pitcher/reliever per team and maybe one position player as well. I think most of the movement is going to come with draft picks. As a result, the lower levels will have the most impact, specifically South Bend and Eugene.
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
Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.
I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.
I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.
I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.
Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.
10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.
9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.
8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.
7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!
6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.
5. Trevor Clifton – SP
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.
4. Tom Hatch – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.
2. Dylan Cease – SP
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.
1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.