Dylan Cease

Second Half Affiliate Previews – It’s About Getting Back on Track

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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)

One Word First Half Summary: Ouch

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

One Word First Half Summary: Close

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

One Word First Half Summary: Yes!!!!!!!

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

One Word First Half Summary: Young

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.

First Half Cubs MiLB All-Star Team Has Some New Faces

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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.

New Top 21 Prospect List Is Aggressive and Infused with Draft Picks and a Latin Feel

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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
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Age: 21
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
Age: 23
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
Age: 18
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
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Age: 22
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
Age: 21
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.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball4. Tom Hatch – SP
Age: 21
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
Age 23
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
Age: 21
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
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Age: 20
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.

A Saturday Six Pack – Things to Look Forward to in June

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By Todd Johnson

The six pack moved to Saturday this week to make room for some end of the month stuff. Now that May is done, it is time to look forward to June. The first half of the minor league season ends in two weeks while the major league season just begins to crank into gear.

Here are 6 things I am going to look forward to in June.

1. Starting Pitching
When I think of the troubles of the Cubs first third of the season, starting pitching stands out to me. Yes, it’s true, the hitting needs to improve, but when you’re giving up 5-6 runs a game, that is hard to overcome. I think handling this issue has to be done in a very deft manner. I say that because you have to balance winning this season and winning beyond this season. I am OK with Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks. I am not a fan of John Lackey. While Eddie Butler has caught my eye, he is more an answer to the second question than the first. Where does that leave the Cubs? Do they need to go out and get two starters for this season? Do they need to get just one for this season and the postseason? Or, do they just think about acquiring long term starters who they hope will work out for just this year? Hopefully, we will have the answer in less than four weeks.

2. Trades
I have never been one to be big on speculating trades. While I am sure one is coming for a pitcher, I am pretty sure that the Cubs are going to be rely on their own prospects to fill position player roles. But here’s the thing – if Theo and Jed see a player they think can help them win the championship, they are going to go out and get that player regardless of whether he is a pitcher or a position player. Keep that in the back of your mind.

3. Trey Martin/Dylan Cease
I really like Trey Martin. I think he is an underrated prospect, maybe the most underrated in the Cubs system. He is an outstanding defender who covers as much ground as anyone in all of baseball in the outfield. As a hitter, while his growth has been slow, he has improved at every level. He got off to a sizzling start at Tennessee in April before a hamstring injury sidelined him after 8 games. He should be back this week and be a key cog in helping Tennessee get to the first half title. I hope to see Dylan Cease very soon, too. It’s been about 10 days since his ankle injury and I am ready for him to come back and anchor the staff at South Bend as they try to capture a spot in the postseason.

4. Eugene and Mesa
While the Dominican Summer League begins today, Eugene and Mesa are less than two weeks away. I love the late-night action that Eugene provides as usually they’re the only game going past 9 o’clock central. I am also looking forward to watching the Mexican connection of Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, and Jesus Camargo pitching for the Emeralds. In addition, I am excited about seeing Joe Martarano debut as a full-time Cub. And, throw in one of my favorite prospects, Delvin Zinn, who should be ready to go after an injury in extended spring training. Then there’s Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan, two 2015 international free agents, who will be making their stateside debuts. It should be an exciting beginning as Eugene tries to capture back-to-back championships.

5. The Draft
There are nine days to go. On Monday I’ll have a post about some risers and fallers. There will be six more names for you to know. I will have wall-to-wall coverage for you each day of the draft. After the draft is complete, I will, with the help of @WesSaver, have when each draftee signs.

6. Cubs Still in Play for IFA Despite Penalties
Ben Badler of Baseball America published an article this week that talked about how the Cubs are in on another top young player from Mexico, pitcher Florencio Serrano. The Cubs can only spend $300,000 max for a signing bonus this year. But because a portion of a bonus for a Mexican player goes to the team, the Cubs can technically spend a little bit more than their limit. A few weeks ago the Cubs were also said to be in the running Luis Verdugo, a young Mexican shortstop.

Check back tomorrow morning for “The Weekly.” I’ll have a recap of  2/3 of the Cubs/Cards series, some news on the DSL, and our players of the week!

Friday Six-Pack: Promotion Commotion Preview

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By Todd Johnson

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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

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball2. 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.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball6. 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.

The Cubs MiLB April All-Star Team Is Pitching Heavy

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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.

Team Breakdown
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4

The Weekly – The End of the First Month Is a Bit Crazy

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By Todd Johnson

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is May 1 and that a whole month of the 2017 season will be completed today. The major-league team is in first place while Myrtle Beach and Tennessee have climbed into second. And low A South Bend is now tied for first in the Midwest League. That’s a pretty good week for an organization.

Meanwhile, over here at Cubs Central, the Players of the Day Facebook feature has been going very well. At times, it’s been hard to pick only just one player for either a hitter, pitcher, or reliever of the day. We also put up a page on this site that just lists who won the award for that day.

Since today is the end of the month, that means tomorrow Cubs Central will release it’s April minor league All-Star team of Cubs prospects. To begin, the post will contain a video made with Google Slides. I think it might be better viewed on a computer or a tablet rather than a phone, unless you have a large phone. On Tuesday, we will publish the top 10 baseball cards I made from April.

Draft News
The MLB Draft takes place in less than six weeks. It will be here sooner than we think. The Cubs first four picks are at #27, #30, #67, and #105.  Some of the top draft evaluators began to publish their top 100 prospect lists. So far, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America both released their top 100. Which prospect could be sitting there waiting for the Cubs to select them?

MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis have the following players ranked where the Cubs are set to draft,

  1. Will Crowe – SP – South Carolina
  2. Evan White – 1B – Kentucky
  3. Greg Deichmann – OF – LSU

Similarly, Baseball America has:

  1. Nick Allen – High School SS
  2. Brian Miller – OF – North Carolina
  3. Taylor Walls – SS Florida State

I like Will Crowe being at number 27 and Deichman being at number 67 on MLB’s list. I don’t think the Cubs will select a first baseman, something that they haven’t done since 2012 in Jacob Rodgers. As for Baseball America’s list, they could be dead on with the Cubs taking shortstop Nick Allen, but I don’t think the Cubs would take either Miller or Walls.

Some of the names we profiled this offseason that made Pipeline’s top 100 include.

  1. Colton Hock; 91. Michael Gigliotti; 85. Tyler Johnson; 62. Mark Vientos; 53. Garrett Mitchell; 51. Alex Scherff; 48. Clarke Schmidt; 37. Hagan Danner; 35. Brendon Little; 31. David Peterson; 29. Nick Allen; 16. Jake Burger; and 10. Nick Pratto

On Friday night, David Peterson of Oregon struck out 20. I don’t think he’s going to stay at 31 and it is more than likely that the Cubs will not have a chance to select him.

Roster moves
Kyle Miller was promoted from South Bend up to Myrtle Beach on Friday. Ryan Kellogg also was activated after spending spring training playing for Canada in the WBC. To make room, Myrtle Beach released reliever John Williamson and Jeremy Null. Cubs Central wishes them both the best.

Around the System
Iowa: 1-4:; 10-12 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ keeps on hitting home runs. Outside of Eddie Butler, the starting pitching rotation is not doing very well at all. If it doesn’t improve soon, look for some changes to be made including the promotion of a couple of pitchers from Tennessee

Tennessee: 5-3; 13-10 overall – Second place
This team is starting to hit and now has Jacob Hannemann  back with the club. Clifton, Hedges, and Tseng have been outstanding in the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape as well.

Myrtle Beach: 5-1; 13-10 overall – Second place
Everything is clicking for the Pelicans. They are getting timely hitting to go along with an excellent bullpen and a solid starting rotation. Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Pedro Araujo, and James Norwood have been dynamite out of the pen

South Bend: 5-2: 14-9 Tied for first place
This team has been playing great at the plate for the past two weeks. One key in the last 10 games has been the resurgence of Kevonte Mitchell. He seems to be putting it all together hitting over .300 in his last 10 games and raising his average to .261 entering today’s game against Fort Wayne.

Extended Spring Training
Michael Cruz should destroy short season pitching. He may not make it to Eugene in six weeks. He could be at South Bend by then. Eloy has not played in over a week. That is a little concerning. However, Aramis Ademan has been outstanding on offense and defense. I sometimes wonder if he is going to skip Mesa and go right to Eugene this year at 18 years old.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
Sometimes, I make cards just to go with a specific post. Such was the case on Saturday when I put out a 1985 Topps Reproduction with Adbert Alzolay.

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Upcoming posts
April MILB All-Star team
Cards of the Month
The Weekly

My Posts on other sites this week
Cubs Insider
Myrtle Beach Update
Nick Allen Profile
Tyson Miller Profile

BP Wrigleyville
Game 18 Recap Reds 7, Cubs 5
The Reincarnation of Justin Steele