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.


Spring Training Notes: Happ Stays Hot and MiLB Camp Gets Going

By Todd Johnson

There seems to be a lot of good things happening in spring training. Ian Happ has just been tearing it up and looks to be the leading candidate for CF and the leadoff spot. Meanwhile, Albert Almora had a pretty good week this week after getting off to a rough start. This week also saw most hitters getting three at bats a game and some starting pitchers were stretched out to about 50 pitches. For Jon Lester, that happened to be 5 innings in an excellent start on Friday.

After a rough first inning Tuesday, Yu Darvish settled down in his Cubs debut and was fantastic in the second inning which resulted in a “Wow!” description from Wilson Contreras to manager Joe Maddon. The Cubs also reassigned a few players back to minor league camp with Adbert Alzolay and Thomas Hatch going to Tennessee after neither saw any action in camp (by design).

There are just a little over 2 and 1/2 weeks until the season begins and I am still a little bit unsure about the two roster spots to be determined. Catcher Chris Gimenez got off to a blazing smart but it seems he has come back to Earth a bit. Fellow catcher Victor Caratini now looks to be catching fire after a homer yesterday. Meanwhile, Dillon Maples seemed poised to breakthrough after last year, but appears to need some a lot more seasoning to get to Chicago after giving up 3 runs last night to push his ERA to 12.60.

One of the highlights of spring for me has been the play of three players who could play utility roles in case of injury later this summer. Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, and David Bote have all put together excellent springs. While Court has the highest average, David Bote has shown to have the most power. Bote’s strength is a bit more than I thought he had at Tennessee. He seems to be evolving every year into a better and better hitter. What makes Bote more attractive as a utility player is that he can play three infield spots very well and he got in 13 games in the outfield last summer. That’s a pretty versatile player to plug in and play.

MiLB News
The minor-league camp now seems to be in full swing. A few things have come trickling back in including some positive news about certain pitchers. According to the message boards at The Cub Reporter, Trevor Clifton seems to be throwing, well, like 2016 Trevor Clifton. In addition, Oscar de la Cruz (who was sent down to Tennessee Thursday) was reaching the mid 90s in his last game with the major league club on Friday. It’s encouraging that Oscar was sitting 92 to 93 and touching 95 after being a couple clicks lower earlier this spring. 

Some prospects got in an exhibition game against the Chinatrust Brothers (from Taiwan) per Arizona Phil. Duncan Robinson got the start and gave up a run in two innings. Trevor Clifton and Michael Rucker also got in two innings apiece. Clifton whiffed 4 while Rucker allowed a 2 run homer. Austin Upshaw went yard and Chris Pieters drove in three runs while Zack Short went 2 for 3 while playing some 3B.

Also, Gioskar Amaya is back from TJS after missing all of 2017. This year, Amaya is not behind the plate and is back at his original position – second base. He switched to catcher after the 2014 season. Now 25, Amaya should be at AA Tennessee to begin the year.

Coming Up Next Week

Tomorrow’s article looks at some guys that are starting to pull away from the Cubs and head towards the top of the draft, some names moving up in range of the Cubs, and some names that are falling down. In addition, I have some info on 2015 draft pick John Cresto from Santa Clara.

Austin Filiere is the next to the last player to be profiled in the “Leveling Up” series this Wednesday. And on Thursday, I have an interesting article coming out on BP Wrigleyville about which affiliate might be the team to watch this summer. 

On a  Personal Note…
My Scholastic Bowl team went 12-6 this year and got the #2 seed for the Conference Tournament to be held Thursday. I will let you know how that goes.

Baseball Card of the Week

Spring Training Notes – Week 2: Lester, Happ, Gimenez, Underwood, and Some Draft Risers

By Todd Johnson

My busy season now has just a week left. After last Saturday’s history fair and two sets of Scholastic bowl matches, it is nice to get some rest this weekend and catch up on everything in the Cubs’ universe. This week will be my busiest week as I have the IHSA Scholastic Bowl regional on Monday and then five conference matches over two nights on Tuesday and Thursday. By Friday, my butt is going to be dragging.

Meanwhile, the Cubs starting pitching rotation looks to be set. Manager Joe Maddon coronated veteran Jon Lester to be the Cubs’ opening day starting pitcher. While Lester is clearly not at the peak of his performance in terms of velocity anymore, I think he’s going to have a much better year under new pitching coach Jim Hickey than he did in a conflicted 2017 with Chris Bosio. After Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, Quintana, and Chatwood will follow. I thought that was an interesting way to break up the lefty-righty combos. And it also looks like a way to take pressure off of Darvish and Quintana in the three and four spots. It’s almost as if the Cubs have four number two pitchers and a number five.

As for the action on the field, Ian Happ has been the center of attention the first week plus. Cranking out three home runs from the leadoff spot will do that.  Theo Epstein even called him his breakout player for 2018 on 670 The Score the other day. In addition, Happ has been flashing the leather and looks a little bit leaner as a center fielder.

Most pitchers that have seen any action have only gone one inning. As a result, it’s really hard to evaluate what is happening as the Cubs have mainly relied on arms that should be at AAA Iowa in 2018. Still, Zach Hedges and Duane Underwood, Jr. have each been impressive in their two outings. The Cubs starters really haven’t gotten much work in other than an inning or two apiece. Yu Darvish has yet to pitch.

Catcher Chris Gimenez has destroyed the baseball in the first week of camp. Then again, he is not exactly been facing major league pitching. It’ll be interesting to see how he does over the next 3 and 1/2 weeks. I think as he sees more major league arms in spring training games, Gimenez might struggle more than he is right now.

In an article on the Cubs website, Carrie Muskat did a great job talking about Duane Underwood and his new physique and mental outlook this spring. Even Joe Maddon chimed in on the new Duane:

“His body is better, he’s leaner. When he came into camp this year, he had a different look about him. This is a guy with a high ceiling, and he hasn’t realized it. There’s a lot of conversation from the front office, coaches, etc. I think this winter he went home and did a little soul searching. He’s much more assertive, he’s attacking the zone.”

The Allen Webster signing on Friday made little sense to me as it could possibly take a AAA roster spot from a prospect the Cubs drafted and developed. The Cubs are taking a lot of gambles on some former big names this spring like Webster and Danny Hultzen in hopes that the player can either salvage their career or catch lightning in a bottle. Odds are that most of them will be cut in early April. The low risk/high reward flyer has been part of the Cubs’ modus operandi since 2012 with little effect other than Hector Rondon.

Draft News

Baseball America beefed up their top 200 draft prospects to a top 300 list. As usual, they redid some of the rankings near the top just based on how some of the college players are doing. The biggest riser so far has been Stanford pitcher Tristan Beck. The big right-hander is skyrocketing up their list and might soon be out of reach of the Cubs. In addition, Wichita State third baseman Alec Bohm has gone from the late 20s to the low 20s. Considering that most high school teams, especially in the north, don’t start for a couple more weeks, these moves up could be temporary or they could be permanent. But both players bear watching. Missouri State Shortstop Jeremy Eierman and Duke OF Griffin Conine could be on the Cubs radar now along with Kentucky pitcher Sean Hjelle. 

Topps Heritage

As an avid fan of baseball cards, and not so much a collector anymore, I have been checking out the Topps Heritage Series as it kind of resembles what I have been doing for the past six summers. Topps, however, has been doing it since 2001. It takes old cards and puts current players in them. Over the course of the past week, I downloaded a few cards and made a couple adjustments to some players the Cubs picked up over the winter. While Topps only does one season per year in the series, they do change the throwback card every year. 

What I am Working On

Once I survive this week, I have a couple things that I have been quietly assembling. The first one is my preseason minor league All-Star team. So far, I just added pictures/cards of who I think will be the top Cubs players in the first half. Because Eugene does not start until the second half, a few of the Cubs’ top prospects won’t be on that list. I am also adding two breakout players who I think will really shine at either South Bend, Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, or Iowa.

And as for the affiliate previews, I have done a little more than to assemble the position players. With minor-league camp just starting, I think it’s too early to try and figure out just exactly which prospects are going to be pitching where. With as many arms that they have selected in the draft and signed internationally the past two summers, there is going to be a ton of competition for what amounts to be 22 spots from AAA down to low class A. 

Coming Up Next Week

Because of my schedule, I already have this week’s posts pre-written and uploaded, it’s just a matter of clicking the publish button. On Monday, I take a look at a few high school bats that the Cubs could be interested in following this spring. On Wednesday, Austin Upshaw returns. This time I will profile him in the “Leveling Up” series. And on Friday, if all goes well, I return with a post about the Latin infusion of talent coming north of the border at some point this summer.

Baseball Card of the Week


Theo Speaks Again: 10 Things I Think About His Latest Interview

By Todd Johnson

I think that commercial pretty much sums up my feelings whenever Theo speaks. Over the past six summers, Theo’s been pretty transparent about what the Cubs plans are. And whether it’s a conversation in spring training, the convention, or his post-mortem at the end of the year, he comes across very honest to a point. Sure, there are some things he won’t discuss and I don’t have a problem with that. Cub fans are not entitled to know everything. But when he does speak, it’s always an interesting listen.

This week was no different as Theo sat in on the Spiegel and Parkins show on 670 The Score. I was at school when this occurred but I was able to catch up and give it a listen a little bit later.

Here are ten key things that I think stuck with me from the discussion.

1. On His Sitting in the Scout Seats at Away Games – “There to watch pitching.” It was interesting to hear him talk about just exactly what he sees when he sits back behind home plate in an away game. In addition, I found it fascinating to hear him discuss that he actually is watching the game on TV when he is in a suite at Wrigley.

2. Jon Lester – “He has a lot of different ways to get guys out. There’s a lot of good pitching left.” It was quite clear from that statement that Jon Lester doesn’t have his best stuff anymore. Then again, it was also quite evident that Theo knows Lester can still pitch and find ways to set hitters up and be a leader in the clubhouse.

3. The Influence of the late Kevin Towers – Theo gushed in explaining how Towers taught him how to scout and how to evaluate players. What I was most taken with, in somewhat of a eulogy, was how Theo explained how makeup is probably the most important aspect of a player. Mr. Epstein went into great detail on detailing Tower’s influence in determining how to figure out a player’s makeup.

4. Insight into Kyle Hendricks – When referring to Hendricks, Theo said, “If I was starting a company, I’d hire him.” When I heard Theo gush about Hendricks’ makeup, personality and intelligence, I wondered how long before the Cubs might extend him. Based upon who is going to be a free agent next year, and the fact that Hendricks is signed for two more seasons, we will just have to wait until 2019.

5. Developing Pitching on a Regular Basis – “It just doesn’t happen. There’s so much attrition.” […] You have to allocate your resources.” This was one of the more interesting aspects of the conversation. In it, Theo espoused his theory of assembling a pitching staff at the major league level. He said that no team has shown the ability to develop their own pitching consistently. At first, it came across as a condemnation. But as I begin to think about it, he’s right. If a team did do this, they would be in the playoffs year in and year out. Instead, the teams that are get their arms in variety of ways including trades, free agency, and reclamation projects. That is exactly how the Cubs and Astros have done it most recently.

6. Neuro Scouting – Theo has talked about this topic before. So, it was no surprise to hear him mention it again. Epstein did explain its uses at the major league level and in the draft, but he didn’t explain how it is being used in the minors. I would have liked to hear some more about that.

7. Comparative Advantage – While he didn’t mention Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Epstein did reiterate why the Cubs have been able to build this team from the hitting on up. And by having a surplus of hitters, that allows the Cubs to be very picky on they use those assets to acquire pitching. Theo doesn’t have to trade anyone he doesn’t want to. And right now, Theo doesn’t want to, nor does he need to.

8. Ian Happ Reshaping His Body – Epstein went to great lengths to describe his conversations with Ian Happ at the end of last year about “Getting in the most athletic shape possible” for the 2018 season. Epstein said that Happ “Got really twitchy” over the winter. Three HRs in one week of spring training show that. The most interesting aspect of the whole interview occured when Theo explained that no one in the front office saw Happ’s ability to play center, and improve at it so quickly, coming. That was very refreshing.

9. Didn’t Get That Close on a Trade for a Frontline Starter Deal – “Getting 50 cents back on the dollar.” “Never really got that close.” It was interesting to hear Theo basically say that other teams lowballed the Cubs. He didn’t say it in so many words, but Theo clearly felt that if the Cubs were going to trade for a starting pitcher this past offseason, they were clearly not getting what the Cubs’ brass thought was equal value for one of their young position players.

10. Effusiveness – When Theo wants to speak, he does. And in doing so, it is always insightful as he gives everyone a sneak peak into the processes of running a major league ballclub. Whether he is describing a player’s makeup, development, a trade, an acquisition strategy, or just an overall ambience of the team and marketplace, it is an exciting listen. I do find myself leaning in like the commercial at the top of the article. Whether it’s on the radio, on TV, or the Internet, I don’t remember that sort of insight so well eloquated as Theo does it.

Spring Training News and Notes: Baseball Is Back and Glorious!

By Todd Johnson

Big things are happening…sort of. Games are now being played. College baseball is in full swing and international players are doing showcases. The sights and sounds of spring are everywhere. With that, I enter into my so-called busy season at school. Yesterday, I had 62 students participate in the regional history fair at NIU in DeKalb. 28 of them received a superior rating and now advance to Illinois History Day in Springfield in early May. It was a good day! 

Yesterday, the Cubs announced that they signed pitcher Danny Hultzen. The former first round of Seattle is now 28 but has not pitched since a second arm surgery in 2016. In fact, the left-handed Hultzen has only pitched 10 innings since his first surgery in 2013. The deal is for a minor league contract only.

Back to spring training…

On Friday, the Cubs began playing games. Most of the players came from Iowa’s roster except for Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber. On Saturday, most of the everyday position players got some work in with Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras hitting home runs. Luke Farrell was most impressive with 2 scoreless innings and 3 strikeouts in relief. It was also good to see Duane Underwood and Oscar de la Cruz each work a scoreless inning.

They’re only three things that need to be decided in Mesa. The first one is whether the Cubs are going to go with Chris Gimenez or Victor Caratini as the backup catcher. If it’s Gimenez, I am not so sure I like that decision. I know what Victor can do and I know that Victor is improving on the defensive side of the ball.

The second decision will be about whether Justin Grimm makes the roster or Dillon Maples. Farrell could even work his way into the conversation. Part of me wants to see Maples make it just because he has incredible nasty stuff. Even though Grimm makes $2.5 million a year, his contract is no longer guaranteed after losing his arbitration case a couple of weeks ago.

As for the “Leadoff Question,” that is not going to be solved for a while. And in all reality, it might be a yearlong thing with a variety of leadoff hitters. Ian Happ got the nod on Friday and Albert Almora stepped up first on Saturday.

International free agency

While the July 2 signing date is still three months away, there was an international showcase held in the Dominican Republic earlier in the week. With new rules in place beginning this year, every team is pretty much on a level playing field as a team cannot go over their bonus pool at all. The Cubs have been linked to a couple of high profile prospects so far.

One is a pitcher and the other is a shortstop and both have been profiled by Ben Badler of Baseball America. Due to proprietary restrictions, I can’t really go into a lot of detail because they are both subscription articles. Still, the Cubs have never really been linked to a high profile pitcher since Jen-Ho Tseng back in 2013. This might be an interesting IFA season, even if the kids are 16.

Earlier this week…

Sometimes I am perplexed by certain prospects rankings and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. That held true this week when’s Pipeline released their top 30 Cubs prospect listI was pleased to see Michael Rucker move all the way up to number 21. He made the backend of the top 30 list near the end of the season in 2017. What I like most about Michael is that he throws strikes. The former BYU standout started out 2017 as a reliever at South Bend and morphed into a starter at Myrtle Beach when Oscar de la Cruz went on the DL. He should be at Tennessee in 2018.

At some point in the next week, John Sickles of Minor League Ball will release his top 175 MiLB prospects. I feel pretty comfortable in saying there will be at least two Cubs on that list. If there’s more, that would be great. However, I just don’t see it happening this spring. Next year that’ll be a different story.

Coming Up on Cubs Central

With History Fair over for a while, I now have 5 Scholastic Bowl meets over the next ten days. So, I have pre written a few profiles and draft pieces. All I have to do is hit the “publish” button. Once the 8th of March gets here, my schedule becomes free and clear to keep up with the everyday happenings in the system.  Tomorrow, I have a draft piece about possible high school pitching prospects. The “Leveling Up” series continues with a look at Jonathan Sierra on Wednesday and Jared Young on Friday. And as usual, “Spring Training News and Notes” will be back next Sunday.

Baseball Card of the Week

State of the Cubs for 2018 – Part 1: A Few Position Players Are in Flux

By Todd Johnson

When I originally came up with the idea for this post, it was in the middle of September when the Cubs had a 2 game lead over the Cardinals and a 3 game lead over the Brewers. A lot happened since it’s inception.

Looking ahead to 2018, I am most excited to see how new hitting coaches Chili Davis and Andy Haines work with these young hitters to help them adjust to both major trends and minor situations. I also look forward to personnel changes as Theo Epstein is not an executive who will sit still after how 2017 ended. He will do whatever it takes.

When I look back at the 2017 regular season, I’m going to remember a group of players that looked tired. From pitching to hitting, they appeared worn out after playing deep into October in 2015 and 2016, followed by a party that never seemed to stop from November 2 to Opening Day 2017. I think it’s just part of being a champion and the Cubs never got past it.

Now that the 2017 postseason is over, it’s time to look at the State of the Cubs for 2018. This is going be done in three parts. The first part examines the position players and the second part will analyze the current pitching staff and future needs/possibilities. The final part dissects the needs of the bullpen.

“The strength of this team for the next three to four years will be our young position players. “ – Theo Epstein…probably…

From Rizzo to Bryant to Russell to Contreras to Baez to Schwarber to Happ to Almora, it is an extremely young core that should be much improved, motivated, and rested as a result of how 2017 ended. The Cubs could trade one of them, if they needed, to help acquire another starting pitcher or even an outfielder.  That type of trade should probably be a last resort. The Cubs have plenty of prospects to deal and over $50 million in cap space to go get someone, or two, in free agency.

With Miami’s financial troubles, the Cubs could even add to their young core by using some of their assets to acquire one of Miami’s exciting young and proven outfielders (I prefer Yelich and Ozuna for defensive purposes).

There are, however, a couple of concerns for everyday players in Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Zobrist still has two years left on his contract while Heyward can opt out after 2018. I doubt if Heyward would unless he has a monster 2018 season. Based on the last two years, that idea does not look possible. Then again, maybe the Cubs can see if Chili Davis or Any Haines can make something happen. If Heyward was shipped out in a trade, the Cubs might have to send a substantial sum of cash to make that deal work, depending on where he goes.

As for Zobrist, I’m not sure how this is going to play out. I am of the mind that if Ben thought he couldn’t perform at a certain level, that he would retire. I think he reeks of that type of integrity, but he also might accept just a bench role which I think might be better for him. Playing two to three times a week and pinch hitting almost every day might be more productive than trying to play four or five. And I think he would succeed in being ready every day as a pinch-hitter. At some point, that transition has to be made and he has to be on board with it. Zobrist is not getting any younger.

Joe Maddon likes to carry three catchers. Victor Caratini could be one of them in 2018. Joe, however, would lean towards having veterans in those spots even if Caratini is ready. After his debut last year, though, Caratini is close to being ready. I see Caratini’s future tied to the two new starting pitchers the Cubs need for 2018 and where they come from. If it is through free agency or a trade, Caratini should begin the year in AAA. The problem is his bat might force the issue of bringing him up.

That leaves only 2 other bench players.

Tommy La Stella is one option and I don’t know if the Cubs can ask John Jay to come back. They might not be able to afford him after he proved  he can be a valuable asset to a team. The Cubs are not going to try and bring up any minor league hitting prospect at this stage either. Instead, they should go with a veteran in that role off the bench.

As I look back at the 2017 season, I think Ian Happ’s ascension messed things up in a good way. What most impressed me about Happ was the improvement he showed in the outfield. I didn’t foresee him playing centerfield at all in the majors. He looked a little rough the first month but it’s gotten better every month since. And, there still is plenty of room for growth.

In having a spectacular rookie season, probably a year early, Happ made other players expendable. The question becomes: Who do you trade? The answer is pretty simple on the surface – the one who does not have the most long-term potential to help the Cubs win a World Series. Then you can start throwing in defensive or offensive values/metrics and it becomes a mess of whether it’s Russell, Almora, Schwarber, or maybe even Happ that is used to acquire pitching.

The Cubs major-league position player portion of the roster is built for the long-haul. For now, the best option might be to fill-in with some veterans on a year-to-year basis although getting Yelich, Stanton, or Ozuna would be a coup.

Then again, The Cubs may just try to get one more year out of everyone before next year’s booming free agent crop, but I doubt it.

Ultimately, a few roster changes will coincide with the coaching changes. The changes could include just a couple of position players getting new addresses, but the results could be major.

Theo is not going to be complacent. He is not going to sit on his laurels. He is going to re-assemble another team to win it all. That’s his goal. It should be fun watching him go at it this winter.

So, as a result, be prepared for anything this offseason.

And I mean anything.

The 7 Series – Iowa Cubs Produced Prospects in 2017 but Changes Are Coming

By Todd Johnson

Overall Record – 67-72

For the second straight year, manager Marty Pevey had to assemble a starting rotation made out of spare parts until August. Injuries and promotions at both the major and minor league levels cut his starting rotation short. The I-Cubs did have a potent offense led by the Cubs minor league player of the year, Victor Caratini. Starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng put together the best half by a pitcher in AAA since Kyle Hendricks was there.

The Iowa Cubs are still producing prospects to help Chicago every year. This year we saw, in addition to Caratini and Jen-Ho, Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Dillon Maples, and several relief pitchers help out the big club in some capacity. I expect more prospects will help out again in 2018, likely they will be just in bench roles. I don’t see anyone with the everyday playing career path of Ian Happ in the upper parts of the pipeline. Caratini looks to make the 25 man roster in Chicago next spring but just as the backup catcher. I am curious as to what the plans for Mark Zagunis are as he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA.

Here are seven things to know about the 2017 Iowa Cubs.

1. Bijan Rademacher had the quietest best second half of any prospect in the system. I was a little surprised he wasn’t named the July player of the month as he hit almost .400. He can play all three outfield positions and I think he has one of the best outfield arms after Eddy Martinez. The issue is that he doesn’t project to be anything other than a fourth outfielder. Then again, he hasn’t really been given the chance to show that he can be something else. He has begun to hit for more power and I like what he can do at the plate. He can hit for average and he knows how to work an at bat.

2. I would not be surprised to see the big league club continue to clean house again at Iowa. The 2017 roster at Iowa only had a few position players that might project to make it to Chicago. Most of the roster were journeyman players looking for one more opportunity to get back to the big leagues. With Tennessee sending anywhere between 6 and 9 position players to Iowa next year, I don’t think there are going to be too many roster spots available for any player or prospect nearing 27 years of age. Already, Jake Hannemann, Pierce Johnson, and Felix Pena have new homes for 2018. I don’t know if John Andreoli will be back again either.

3. I still believe in Chesny Young despite his up-and-down year. I think that he has some adjusting to do at this level and I’m confident that he will do well in his second go around at AAA in 2018.

4. Unless Eddie Butler can add some sort of out pitch, I don’t know if he’s going to be anything more than a fill-in at the major-league level. He had his moments this year in Chicago, but he never went much beyond five innings. He needs to be more efficient to get outs quickly and go deeper into games.

5. I am still pulling for Ryan Williams to make it. I just like the kid. He has a bulldog mentality that I love. However, after basically missing two full seasons, I wonder if returning to the bullpen might be best for his long term health. In 2018, we will see.

6. Dillon Maples is going to be close to making the Chicago Cubs 25 man roster next spring. I like the fact that he’s going to get more instruction from big league coaches that will only enhance his chances.

7. For me, the highlights of the year were the second halves of Jen-Ho Tseng (1.80 ERA) and Taylor Davis (.297 avg with 62 RBI). I am glad Davis got the call to make it to Chicago. His story is a tale of perseverance and he is an outstanding teammate and hitter that I think can play somewhere in the majors. I don’t know if Tseng will be given a true opportunity to pitch in the big leagues next year but he should get a few starts with the club in spring training. A lot of his future is tied to what the Cubs do to add starting pitching this offseason.

What to Watch for in 2018
There are going to be at least six position players from Tennessee who should start in Iowa next year. I think many will benefit from playing in the Pacific Coast League but none more than catcher Ian Rice. If you dismiss his batting average and just look at his power numbers and on base percentage, you begin to see his value and how much greater he is than his fellow prospects (17 HRs, .353 OBP). I think he is really going to benefit from playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League more than any other prospect in 2018.

Jason Vosler will also benefit from playing in such environs. After a poor second half, Vosler should look to recapture what made his first half so fantastic in 2017. In the first half, he hit at a .274/.375/.521 clip with 13 HRs and 49 RBI. In addition, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Trey Martin, and Charcer Burks should be starting everyday in Des Moines next summer.

Remember the name Adbert Alzolay. Out of all the prospects at Tennessee, I think he might be the most ready for Chicago. Even though he is currently a starting pitcher, I can see him coming out of the bullpen in Chicago as early as the middle of next summer. With a fastball that sits 95-97, there’s a lot to like.