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.
By Todd Johnson
Eloy Jimenez, the Cubs 20-year old #1 prospect, now has 15 games under his belt at Advanced A Myrtle Beach. He played 6 games in left, 3 in right, and 6 games as the DH or a PH. His stats look good as he is hitting .273 with an OBP over .400 while cranking out 4 HRs and driving in 13. His strikeout rate is 14.5% while he is walking at 16.5%, 10% above normal for him. He is a little pull happy with 59% of hits to left, 19.1% to center, and 21.4% to right. I could go on and on about every stat of his in this short sample size and they would be amazing stats. Every one of them signals that he is the top prospect in the Cubs system. That only leaves one question to ask: “What is he still doing in Myrtle Beach?”
My initial answer is, “I don’t know.”
His throwing shoulder, which he injured in late spring training, looks to be fine. He doesn’t seem to be challenged. He tracks most pitches well. He is able to easily identify the type of pitch. He rarely gets fooled. I did notice in the past week, that he was swinging with more gusto than normal. Rather than putting a good stroke on the ball, he was trying to kill it. Those at-bats didn’t last too long after going 0-5 and 0-4 on back-t0-back nights. Last night, he looked back in control with a a HR and a double in the same game.
How He Is Being Pitched?
When other writers like Tommy Meyers (@FullCountTommy) look at Eloy’s stats, the first thing to pop out is the BB%.
Eloy Jimenez is walking 17.5% of the time in A+ after he walked just 5.4% of the time in A ball. Are they just not pitching to him??
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) June 3, 2017
As a result of this tweet, I started going back to get a good look at how Eloy was being pitched. I opened his game logs on MiLB.com. Then, using the Calendar function on MilB Scoreboard, I was able to go to those dates he took a base on balls and I was able to use the “plays” function on Gameday to get a look at where pitchers threw to him and the sequence. I was looking, hopefully, to find a pattern of approach against Eloy.
One thing I kept in mind was that three of the teams in the Carolina League also have affiliates in the Midwest League where Eloy played in 2016 in South Bend. Buies Creek, Carolina, and Lynchburg pitchers have seen what Eloy can do with a bat.
The Bottom Line: How much longer will Eloy have to stay in Myrtle Beach?
Considering he just went through an 0-9 streak, he is learning how to adapt to how he is being pitched. Let’s look at how he adjusting. Here is the graphic from Gameday on his HR in the bottom of the 8th.
The pattern looks the same for the balls. The pitcher tried to come up and in on his hands and Jimenez destroyed it. It’s hard to describe, but Eloy has amazing pitch recognition skills. He can pick up the ball very quickly out of the pitcher’s hand and be able to pick up the spin and rotation as well.
Here is the home run in real time.
.@Lamantha21: (n) /la-man-tha/
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) June 3, 2017
One other thing consider about promoting Eloy is that Myrtle Beach is also in the middle of a chase for a playoff berth as is AA Tennessee. I don’t think there is any rush to get him to AA. I tend to think it will happen over the All-Star break between the 19th and 21st of June. While Eloy’s talent is undeniable, he still has some work to do. Will that work be best served in Myrtle Beach or in Tennessee?
I tend to think Eloy would be better off in Tennessee where he could snuggle in front of or behind Jason Vosler in the batting order. Then, there would be no one to pitch around. He would see more consistent balls in/around the strike zone.
Eloy showed this spring that he can hit major league pitching. Where will his development best be served the rest of this year?
By Todd Johnson
It did not take Eloy Jimenez very long to make an impression for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. On Sunday, the 20-year-old made his first two starts of the season for the Cubs high A affiliate. In game one, he went two for three with an RBI single. I’m game two, he went one for four with three walks, including the walk-off walk in the 13th inning. The two wins helped bring Myrtle Beach within one game first place Buies Creek.
The heavens did not open up when Eloy hit, but his presence did affect the outcome of the game several times. His first two walks in the second game were intentional as first base was open with a man on second both times. Surprisingly in the 13th, Daniel Spingola was walked ahead of him to load the bases. Eloy promptly walked on four pitches, his third free pass of the day.
I took away three things about Eloy from the seven hour marathon doubleheader
1. His pitch recognition skills are sharp as can be after missing six weeks of baseball. While he did not hit a homerun, he did hit a single over 100 miles an hour. He scalded the ball to left field. If he only had a little lift the ball would have the exited the stadium in a quick manner. In the game’s most critical moment, he had the patience and skill not to swing at four balls out of the zone.
2. The TV cameras constantly showed Eloy’s smile in between it at-bats and in between innings. He is such a good teammate and so much fun to be around. He looked like he was having the time of his life talking with Carlos Sepulveda and Eddy Martinez. His spirit and energy should be a boost to the team.
3. He looked pretty decent out in left field in the first game and made several catches. However, not once was his injured throwing arm really tested. In the second game he was the designated hitter.
Myrtle Beach is now 21-16 and heading into a series with the first place team. Eloy’s arrival will change the lineup quite a bit. His presence in the middle today caused several discombobulations by the opposing manager.
As a hitter, he provided protection for those in front and behind him in the lineup. The top of the order should get better pitches to hit and those behind him should get the same as Eloy will be on base at a pretty good clip.
I don’t have an idea as to how long Eloy will be a Pelican, but while he is on the team, his effect will be immense. He is the type player everyone thinks he is. In just one day, the impact of his name written down twice in the lineup helped to win two games. And he didn’t have to hit a home run to do it.
By Todd Johnson
What I thought would be the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night debut of Eddie Butler for Chicago. He went six innings, gave up two hits and three walks, but struck out five and did not allow a run as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3 to 2. Butler displayed a nice collection of pitches that included a fastball with some nice arm side run. He should get one more start before the Cubs decide on whether to keep him as the fifth starter.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ made his MLB debut against the Cardinals. His first at-bat was not very auspicious as he struck out on four pitches. He later homered in the game – Not a bad first game. On the other hand, he will likely be back in Iowa in ten days.
We were not done yet.
Eloy Jimenez finally was scheduled to play in a game that mattered on Saturday night for Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the game was called because of rain. So, Myrtle Beach will play two today. I doubt if Eloy does.
Finally, Wladimir Galindo returned from the DL for South Bend. In his first at-bat, he drove in two. For the night, he went 1-4 with 3 Ks. His average is now .321.
While some prospects have made a lot of noise with their bats and arms this season, there are several other prospects who are quietly going about their business and putting together some very nice seasons.
- Duncan Robinson has gone back and forth between starting and piggybacking. He now looks like a starter after a 7 IP, 5 K performance where he lowered his ERA down to 1.52.
- Michael Rucker has been very hard to score on out of the bullpen for South Bend. Currently, his ERA is 1.42.
- Bryant Flete has been a go to guy for the pelicans. He is one of the team leaders in RBIs while playing a very good shortstop.
- Both David Bote and Charcer Burks go about their business quietly and have been essential cogs at the top of the lineup for Tennessee.
- Matt Rose missed two weeks but it has not stopped him from being one of the team leaders in homers and RBIs for Myrtle Beach. Since returning from his injury, his average is slowly creeping up towards .250. I think he could go on a tear once the weather warms up a little bit more. Last August, he hit seven dinners in August at South Bend.
Here at Cubs Central
The Facebook page is beginning to take off with the Players of the Day segment. Every day we select the best hitter, starting pitcher, and reliever in the minors and give them some props and put their baseball card on the Internet. There is also a page on this site that keeps a record of who we selected. AND another new page on this site keeps track of each monthly All-Star team. If you are on your phone, you can click the drop-down menu in the header. If you have a computer, there should be a tab at the top of the page to select.
Around the System This Week
Iowa: 1-6; 14-20 – 8.5 GB
The Cubs can score 11 runs in a game, but then they give up 12. With Butler now in Chicago, I think there will be a mostly new rotation the second half. Alec Mills could be the only remaining starter come July.
Tennessee: 5-3; 22-14- First Place
The Smokies moved into first place in the Southern League’s Northern Division. Using a combination of excellent starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen, and some ascending hitters, the Smokies are a team to watch this year. Hopefully, they can clinch a playoff spot for the first half next month.
Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 19-16 – 2.5 GB
They have not really gone on a winning streak this year. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be in a groove just yet. Right now, they seem to be susceptible to the big inning. Adbert Alzolay looks like he could be the real deal this year.
South Bend: 5-2; 23-12 – 1.5 GB
This team does not have a lot of power at the plate. Nevertheless, they can put up some crooked numbers in a hurry. From 1 to 9, they might have the best lineup in the system. Pitcher of Bryan Hudson also had an encouraging start this week. If Manny Rondon can get straightened out like he was last night (6IP, 0 Runs), this team could be unstoppable with some consistent starting pitching.
Extended Spring Training
There is less than a month left and some of the pitchers are starting to get stretched out a bit. Jose Albertos had a very good scoreless three inning start this week and I expect to see him hit four innings this next week.
Players of the Week
POWER! in the System
Friday Six Pack
Saturday Prospect Profile
Grading the Drafts
My Posts on Other Sites This Week
Today is a fun day! It’s opening day for four of the Cubs’ minor-league affiliates! Weather permitting, Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend will take the field for the first time in 2017. It is not looking good for South Bend today as three to six inches are called for in West Michigan. As usual, I will be watching all the happenings. Then, starting this Sunday, “The Weekly” will have the players of the week. But today, it’s our annual preseason All-Star team for the first half.
What is happening today is I am picking out several players who I think will be the best at their position in the Cubs’ system through the middle of June.
I think that Victor Caratini is locked and loaded and has his eyes set on Chicago. He will be at AAA this year and more than likely, come 2018, he will be the backup catcher to Wilson Contreras. He might even see some time this summer depending on his defense.
Even though he is currently on the DL, I think Yasiel Balaguert has this position sewn up. Last year, he had 19 home run the 96 RBIs and I think he will improve upon that this year as he has been working on hitting up the middle and to the right.
There is some stiff competition for this position with Carlos Sepulveda and Yeiler Peguero competing to get their name on the Internet. However, Ian Happ wins in a landslide. It is so self-evident, that I’m not even going to explain my thinking process for selecting him.
At the age of 17, Isaac Paredes made his class A debut at South Bend in late August of 2017. This year, the Cubs will get the full effect of what this man-child can do. He earned the starting spot and hopefully some power will go along with an outstanding batting average and on-base percentage… I’ll from an 18-year-old kid.
I am going to break the mold, and tradition, and go with Wladimir Galindo who I think will do extremely well as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League. Normally, I would pick Jeimer Candelario for the spot, but I think Wladimir is determined to succeed and show his worth.
I think this was the toughest category to pick just three players. I think the deciding factor is how I project them to perform in the first half and the excitement that they will bring to the game. As a result, I am selecting DJ Wilson of South Bend, Eloy Jimenez of Tennessee, and I’m going to stun everybody and go with Bijan Rademacher of Iowa. I know I am leaving out Eddy Martinez and Mark Zagunis, but I think Bijan is going to hit more home runs than both the next two months.
I found it hard to just pick six because the Cubs development of pitchers is becoming more and more pronounced. I am going with Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, Eddie Butler, Erling Moreno, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, and I am picking Kyle Miller as a Darkhorse. I also thought about including Ryan Williams, Rob Zastryzny, and Zach Hedges. What used to be the weakness of the organization is now turning into a strength. I would not be surprised to see a couple of these pitchers make it to Chicago this year.
Last year, relievers were the strength of the organization. They helped out the big league club down the stretch and Rob Zastryzny even made it to the World Series. This year, Pierce Johnson leads a group of arms who are still a ways off from helping the big league club. Ryan McNeil, Jordan Mnch, Wyatt Short, Dakota Mekkes, and Chad Hockin are just a few of the names who will be excellent bullpen arms the spring. I know there are other bullpen arms, especially in South Bend, who could’ve been added to this list.
Last year’s preseason All-Star team played a significant role in two ways. Some of them wound up on the major-league roster and were key players in the World Series victory. Other prospects were parts of packages used to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery who helped to win the World Series.
I don’t quite know what will happen this year with some of these prospects, but that’s the fun of it. In four weeks, the April All-Star team should give us a glimpse into how well this package of players listed above did on the road to Wrigley.