2019 Draft Grades – Still Waiting for the Second Wave of Prospects

It is hard to believe that this is the sixth year that I have been handing out draft grades. Every year things change as players come and go, especially earlier in the Theo era. While some of those first classes produced bats, no class since 2014 has a player currently on the 25 man roster. However, a year from now, that all could change.

2011 – Previous Grades – B, B+
Baez and Maples are all that is left. Last year there were 4 guys, but attrition happens quicker than you think in the minors. Still, this class is far from done. With the Vogelbach trade bringing Mike Montgomery, that adds a little more to the class. Javy amd Monty are going to be around for a at least 2 more seasons.
2019 Grade – A.

2012 Previous Grades – B+, A-, B, B-, B-
I used to think this class was going to be really special but it just did not pan out. Albert Almora still is the headliner, but David Bote really seems to be stealing the show. Duane Underwood is still hanging around the minors, but I don’t know for how long.
2019 Grade – B.

2013 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A, A, A+, A+, A+
This draft class brought a MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a World Series title. And that’s just Kris Bryant. Down in the minors, Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door while Jake Hannemann and Charcer Burks are still plugging away at AAA and AA respectively.
2019 Grade – A+

2014 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A-, A, A, B
There are still nine guys in the system left from this draft. That’s quite a bit for 5 years, but just two are currently on the 25 man roster. Both Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis play in the OF in Chicago, but most of the others are still hanging on at AA and AAA hoping for a chance.
2019 Grade – B-.

2015 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B, B, C
12 guys remaining from this class are still in the game for the Cubs. However, the impact at the MLB level is nil this year. While Ian Happ struggled in April, May has seen some improvement by him. Meanwhile, PJ Higgins and Craig Brooks are off to great starts this year. While there is still hope for this class, they are stuck in the logjam that is the Cubs’ system now.
2019 Grade – C-

2016 Draft ClassPrevious Grades – B-, B+
16 guys still remain with many of them having a legitimate shot at Chicago in the next two years. Tyson Miller looks to be at the head of the line as a pitcher and could be the first Cubs’ draft pick in the Theo era to stick in the rotation in the next two years. Zack Short leads the hitting side, but he is probably slated more for a utility role in the future. Dakota Mekkes, Duncan Robinson, and Matt Swarmer are at AAA and the top pick, a third rounder at that, Thomas Hatch is at AA with Bailey Clark and a few others. Eventually, there could be 3-4 guys make it from this class which outpaces any class on this list.
2019 Grade – B+

2017 Draft Class  – Previous Grades – B-
In just two years, this class is all over the place. There were several cuts already, some surprises, some injuries, some trades, and some players who look close to being Chicago-ready just two years after signing. Cory Abbott, right now at least, has the makings of a rotation guy in the next two years. Some of the other big arms the Cubs took in this draft are not having their best year or a year at all in some cases. Jeremiah Estrada hopefully will be ready to go for Eugene in a few weeks and Nelson Velazquez is off to a great start at South Bend to begin this season. I am still waiting for Keegan Thompson and Erich Uelmen to start it back up this year.
2019 Grade – B-.

2018 Draft ClassThey will get their own post and grade next Tuesday. And it’s a good and very hopeful one that involves some hitting, for a change, and some surprising pitching.


Affiliate Update – Iowa Cruising in First Place

Photo By Dylan Heuer

For several years now, the Iowa Cubs have more or less been a transient home for AAAA type players and a bed-and-breakfast stay for some of their own elite prospects. This year looks to be different as the roster contained mostly homegrown players to begin the year, especially in the starting rotation. But injuries and attrition have taken their toll and some of the more common AAAA guys are helping Iowa succeed. Manager Marty Pevey has been able to expertly handle the disparate collection of journeyman and prospects and turn them into a winning squad as they were Cubs Central’s team of the month for April.

The Surprises
Well, the surprises at Iowa all began when Ian Happ was assigned to AAA and Mark Zagunis made the big league club out of spring training. That assignment sent shockwaves through the system and created opportunities for other players. Add in an injury to SS Zack Short after the first week and next thing you know Dixon Machado was getting plenty of time to play shortstop Trent Giambrone has always been known for his approach but only has had a couple of walks all month long while hitting six dingers in April and one so far in May.

Infielder Dixon Machado has been the star for most of April. The former Tigers’ farmhand came out strong and wound up hitting .294 for the month with 14 RBI and and an amazing OBP of .455. His wRC+ was equally impressive at 139.

Outfielders Johnny Field and Donnie Dewees both made Cubs Central’s April All-Star team as their were the only other players to hit above .260 for the month that played an everyday basis. However, there were a lot of contributions across the board from Jim Adduci’s power to Francisco Arcia to Ian Happ at times.

As for the Pitching
Things didn’t quite turn out the way on the field as they did on paper. There are a lot of changes as to who was starting and who was relieving and that even flip-flopped at the end of the month. The Pacific Coast League is usually known as a hitter’s league and that held true even in the cold of April. Iowa’s starters kept their team in the game, but most of them had an ERA of over 4 except for Trevor Clifton, who had 4 short starts as he was being stretched out.

Instead,, It’s been the bullpen and its ever-changing personnel that seem to be holding the fort down. Whether it was James Norwood, Dakota Mekkes, Rowan Wick, or Matt Carasiti, there was always somebody to shut teams down for a couple of innings to seal the win.

As for me, I hope to see Zack Short return and now that Trevor Clifton is starting for awhile, I am not sure what’s going to happen. Some roster manipulations are going to be driven by the major league club, especially when it comes to the bullpen. I wonder just how much the longer the AAAA players are going to continue to get when it comes to playing time as some prospects arrive from Tennessee in early June.

And that’s the thing about Iowa this year, even though they are doing very well in games and in the standings, its main job is to develop players and provide depth for the big league club. When Nico Hoerner is ready to come to Iowa, who’s spot on the roster is he going to take? It’s a good question and one that is going to have to be answered in a month or two.

As for May, Adbert Alzolay is getting close to being ready to come back. He threw 3 innings on Thursday in Mesa and should be back after two more outings. I would expect to see him in an Iowa uniform by the 20th of May. That will be exciting as well.

A Recap of Opening Night – Lots of Takeaways

I am not putting too much stock into what I saw on opening night in the minors. There were some.things that I liked, somethings I questioned, and some things about which I am concerned. Then again, it is just  one game in April. Come May, it could all be a different story.

Be sure to check out the Awards Page for the Players of the Day.

The Big Takeaways
The Approach Guys – I really liked how several batters approached each and every plate appearance. Even though he didn’t get a hit, Nico Horner drew two walks and his teammate Robel Garcia went three for five on the night. At Iowa, I really enjoyed every at-bat by Zack Short who wound up going one for three with a hit by a pitch. Charcer Burks also had some good ABs for Tennessee that don’t show up in the box score. At Myrtle Beach, Luke Reynolds milked every pitch along with outfielder Jimmy Herron, even though Herron did not get a base hit. Fidel Mejia showed good plate discipline for South Bend from both sides of the dish last night. For a 20-year-old kid, I was pretty impressed.

The AB of the night went to Delvin Zinn of South Bend who saw 13 pitches and was able to coax a walk as he went one for three on the night. Teammate Cole Roederer went one for four on the night with two strikeouts but he also drove in 2 runs with a single. He’s going to have a big learning curve but you can clearly see he has great skills.

The most professional looking hitter of the night was 1B Tyler Durna from South Bend. He looked to have a plan each and every pitch. One of those was a 2 strike single going the opposite way. He wound up going 2/4 on the evening.

Wood on the Ball
Jared Young hit the ball hard in three of his bats came away with a two for four night  including a mammoth home run. Ian Happ also had a bases clearing double that drove in three runs but he also struck out twice in a 2/5 night. Trent Giambrone had a HR and double and he looked good against left-handed pitching, which is his nemesis. DJ Wilson went 2/4 as Myrtle Beach struggled in their opener against Lynchburg.

Jitters and Weather
South Bend players did not look comfortable playing in the rain but they fought their way through it. Derek Casey seemed to have trouble gripping the ball and finding the strike zone in the second inning after a quick first. Over at Myrtle Beach, Wladimir Galindo made three errors on the night as the Pelicans got destroyed 14 to 5. In addition, Andy Weber, who is usually very solid, made an uncharacteristically bad throw throw with two outs in the ninth, though South Bend was still able to hang on and win. As for Alex Lange, I did not get a good look to see what all went wrong in the second and third innings for him. Dillon Maples looked like Dillon Maples loading the bases with none out before getting 2 Ks and walking in one. Dakota Mekkes finished off Nashville for the save and win for Iowa.

Iowa looks to be an exciting team as do South Bend and Tennessee. Myrtle Beach, on the other hand, has several things they need to work on.

The clear-cut player of the day was Thomas Hatch of Tennessee who threw five scoreless innings on 68 pitches and struck out seven. His delivery was quick and smooth and he was getting good movement on the night.

Also, Tennessee’s video feed is now HD and it is glorious!!!

Tonight, I’m only going to watch one game. I went a little bit nuts trying to watch all four. With Tennessee’s new feed, they look to be the team to watch. But then again, I always love watching South Bend.

Happ Send Down Sends Out Some Serious Shock Waves

By Todd Johnson

Some years, you just never know about anything. 2019 could be one of those years for the Cubs’ system, especially when it comes to roster construction..

I sat down about 6 p.m. tonight to eat my fish sticks and tots. I about spit one of each out when I saw Sahadev Sharma’s simple tweet that Ian Happ will begin the year at Iowa instead of with the big league club. Before tonight’s game, Happ was hitting .135.

I understand he’s having a bad spring, but sometimes that happens. When the season begins, professionals have been known to turn it on. I thought he would make the roster and be given a chance to figure things out at the MLB level.

Well apparently not.

Joe Maddon said that Happ did not take it well. I don’t blame him.

At the end of last year, Theo said 2019 would be all about performance. I did not think he meant in spring training. Happ’s send down looks to be the first shot across the bow by management. 2 summers ago, Kyle Schwarber revisited Iowa after a horrible start.

Happ will be playing mostly in the outfield in Iowa and that demotion looks to open a door for Mark Zagunis to earn a job as the 4th outfielder and also allow Albert Almore more of an everyday role in CF along with Kyle Schwarber in left.

Some other moves were alluded to be happening. Reliever Junichi Tazawa was rumored to be released but no official word was announced until I posted this. Yesterday, pitcher Alec Mills was sent down to AAA Iowa. I expect some more announcements later tonight or on Sunday as the Cubs need to get down to their 25 man roster. Of most interest will be whether David Bote or Cristhian Adames (or both) make the squad as bench guys with Zagunis and Caratini.

The bullpen should be the last decisions made as the Cubs are likely waiting to see who is going to actually be healthy come opening day in 5 days. Right now, Dillon Maples, Allen Webster, Kyle Ryan, and Jordan Minch are still on the roster. Webster looks to be as close to a spot as anyone.

There are approximately 12 more days until the MiLB season begins on April 4. And yet, here I am, with a somewhat cursory look at the possible rosters. All winter I have said that trying to figure out the rosters for this year would be a hot mess. Even with less than two weeks, that sentiment still holds true.

When it comes to MiLB Rosters, three things are making the rosters a mess right now:
1. Injuries, and the prevention thereof, in the pitching department are turning things on their heads a bit. The following arms have either been shut down or are seeing limited action: Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Erich Uelmen, Brendon Little, Erling Moreno, Paul Richan, and Brailyn Marquez. They have been pulled from the mound because of concerns/injuries.
2. Outfield Spots – While the infield and catcher spots look to be pretty much sewn up, who is going to be playing in the grass is a giant question mark. From Iowa to South Bend, there’s a lot of uncertainty and it begins in Iowa and flows downhill.
3. Relievers – On overage, most affiliates carry 12-13 pitchers. Of those 7 or 8 are relievers. In their current construct, there about 10-12 relievers on each roster. That means 4-5 guys are not going to be playing comes that matter in April. That’s a lot. And like the outfielders, Iowa will set the trend and it goes from there.

Here are the current roster totals and predictions to be on the roster (so far) for each affiliate per Arizona Phil. A lot can still change between now and the start of the MiLB season on April 4..

By next weekend, hopefully the rosters will be more fully formed.

2022 Not That Far Away…

By Todd Johnson

2022. It doesn’t seem like a big year. However, it is. Yesterday, Baseball America released a projection (Subscription Required) of what they think the Cubs lineup is going to look like in 2022. My friend Cory suggested that I do my own projection on what I think the Cubs could look like in just three years. In reality, that scenario is not that far away.

Catcher – Willson Contreras is still signed through the 2022 season. He should still be with the Cubs unless there’s some dramatic drop off between now and then. However, if Miguel Amaya puts it all together in the next couple years, he could be there before and Willson could end up at another position which might improve Mr. Contreras’ bat and sustainability.

First Base– I can’t see anyone in this position other than Anthony Rizzo. He will be a free agent after 2021, but I do see the Cubs re-signing him to a short-term deal.

Second Base – I only see one person playing this position and that is 2018 first round pick Nico Hoerner. Currently, he is moving quickly through the system and could be as ready as early as late this summer or early spring 2020.

Shortstop – I think the Cubs can re-sign Javy Baez so that he can continue his career in Chicago. The hope is that the player we saw in 2018 is going to be the same player in 2022 at the age of 29.

Third Base – Kris Bryant is going to test the free-agent market at the end of the 2021 season. Even if the Cubs do sign Bryce Harper, I just don’t see Bryant sticking with the club if he gets something that’s going to better his life and his family for generations. If the Cubs do not sign Bryce Harper this off-season, maybe the team will sign Nolan Arenado next winter and Kris would move to the outfield.

Outfield – This is the most unpredictable of the everyday positions three years out. Right now, the Cubs have Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Albert Almora signed through 2022 and 2023. I don’t know if two or three of them are even going to be on the team when Spring Training starts this year. I can see 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis pushing for two of the spots by then. Hopefully, Harper will be in the other spot. Kyle Schwarber could be around as well. My crystal ball is little foggy here.

Starting Pitching – Yu Darvish is the only Cubs starting pitcher signed through 2022, although he can opt out after 2019. Considering the depth of starting pitching they now have in the majors and minors, the Cubs are going to try and draw from that as much as possible. I would love to see Kyle Hendricks re-signed but even that will be somewhat costly. Then again, Adbert Alzolay could be penciled in as soon as 2020 and lefty Brailyn Marquez could arrive in a couple more years. Mike Montgomery could be an arm as could the Cubs number one international free-agent signing last year, Richard Gallardo, who is polished beyond his years. Justin Steele is a thought along with Trevor Clifton, Alec Mills, Duncan Robinson, Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott,….OK I need to stop as I could list ten more possibilities.

It was hard to project what the Cubs will look like in three years, but they will look a lot different, especially when it comes to pitching. The Cubs have shown a propensity to go out and purchase arms rather than wait for them to be developed. It’s a proven strategy considering you’re buying known quantities. But it’s also an expensive one that is curtailing their offseason efforts this year.

The Cubs still have three more drafts in which to  sign more young talent, hopefully position players who could have an impact at the major league level. Considering the Cubs don’t have much money budgeted for the roster in 2022, they can spend as much or as as little as they want to build up that roster. Right now, they have $62 million allocated for that season and 2/3 of that is Heyward and Darvish. They have a lot of money and time to budget that out.

Random Thoughts about the Costs of Signing Bryce Harper

By Todd Johnson

This winter is pretty slow when it comes to making moves at the MLB level. There have been plenty of MLB rumors though. From Bryce Harper to Jason Heyward, I try not to get sucked in about who might be going where.

Here are some random thoughts that keep going through my brain about this winter, specifically, acquiring Mr. Harper.

Several Levels of Cost

 If the Cubs sign Bryce Harper. The actual dollar cost is going to be substantial, but it is not going to be prohibitive. The Cubs payroll will only take a hit for a year. After 2019, things change greatly as the Cubs payroll drops dramatically for 2020. Zobrist, Hamels, and half of the bullpen become free agents.

MLB Players
Technically, the Cubs could keep both Heyward and Harper, but the odds are against that. The Cubs will need to move some payroll in order to sign Harper. However, Heyward cannot be traded just by himself. The Cubs would have to sweeten that deal with an MLB ready players. Ian Happ is the most controllable ready guy and any team that gets Happ thrown in the deal would have him through 2023. I doubt if any team would take Almora as Happ’s bat is much more potent. 

The Cubs could even throw in Jose Quintana and ride with Mike Montgomery this year and next. It’s very unlikely to happen, but it’s a thought considering the cost certainty of Quintana for 2019 and 2020. Trading Jose would really cut into the SP depth at the MLB level. That may not be a cost the Cubs would be willing to risk.

No team is going to take on Heyward’s contract along with Happ and that be the end of the deal. Some prospect is going to have to top off the deal., someone that a team could control for 6-7 years. Adbert Alzolay could be well liked by other teams as could Miguel Amaya. It will be interesting to see who the Cubs would be willing to part with in a such a transaction.

Outfield Depth
Let’s say that Heyward is traded along with Happ. Then the Cubs sign Harper. That leaves Harper, Schwarber, Almora, and Zobrist as the outfielders. Kris Bryant could play out there occasionally along with David Bote. My only concern is injuries. Mark Zagunis is deserving of a shot and he’s the only OF at Iowa who has the skills needed to come up. The issue is Zagunis is not a CF by trade, He can play CF, but not at a high level probably needed at the MLB level.

The Cubs would probably have to go out and get a veteran for either the bench or to store in Iowa. Jacob Hannemann  is very good defensively, but has barely hit his weight at AA and AAA and has never really put that offensive aspect of his game together. At AA, and likely Iowa next year, Charcer Burks could be a guy as could Eddy Martinez, but they are a long ways away due to consistency. A veteran guy would give the Cubs more certainty as a known commodity.

What Harper Adds to the Lineup
He is one of the top 3 players in the game and his addition would transform the lineup. I could see him batting second, third, or fourth and giving Manager Joe Maddon a lot versatility to mix and match lefties and righties in the lineup.

In addition Harper’s true talent hasn’t really blossomed. Once teams learned they could work around him because of the Nats’ lineup, it changed things. If Harper signs as a Cub, he’s going to see a lot more pitches in the zone with Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez behind him.

And that’s the key. He is going to cost something but he is going to be worth it. What the Cubs get for the cost will far outweigh what they give up.

Is There a Plan B?
The Cubs could begin to make moves here in the next two weeks. If Heyward is moved, that will be the sign. If not, the Cubs are going to have to go to “Plan B.” No one knows what that is. It could be using who they have now, or they could go and get AJ Pollock. I could go for that move, too.

Come Tomorrow
I will be profiling the top OFs in the Cubs’ system. Aside from Zagunis, the other 3 will all be in low A or short season A ball this year.

That’ll Do Cubs, That’ll Do

By Todd Johnson

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. The Cubs beat the Marlins 8-4 to win the first game of the year. There was a time where it was nip and tuck for a few innings, but the bullpen held the Marlins scoreless for over five innings and Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella gave the club some much-needed insurance in the late innings.

Stars of the Day
Ian Happ – He had a nice little leadoff home run.

Anthony Rizzo – A two-run dinger was gone quick.

Jason Heyward – He had an RBI, got on base a couple times, and made a couple nice plays in the field.

Kyle Schwarber – His home run gave the Cubs a little breathing room and it was a no doubter.

Tommy La Stella – His nickname has been changed to “Bounce House” per the Twitterverse (aka Randall Sanders). His 2 run double sealed things.

Steve Cishek – He came in and stopped the bleeding and even got out of his own trouble.

The rest of the bullpen – They were a lot of fun to watch as they did what Theo wanted – they threw strikes. 5.2 scoreless innings will do.

There are a couple things to take away from today’s game.

One – Although Miami is probably not very good, they came out and competed. They took advantage of Jon Lester not being able to control the strike zone and to score four runs. Teams are not going to lay down and die against the Cubs. The Cubs are going to have to keep the pedal pushed down.

Two – All in all, it was a good day. It was exciting. The Cubs hit three homeruns and they came away flying the W.