Iowa Cubs Preview – Sometimes, All You Need Is a Chance

By Todd Johnson

Manager Marty Pevey has done a very good job the past five years of getting players ready for the daily grind of major league baseball. He will continue to do that again this year with several new prospects coming to Iowa. The difference this year is that very few of them will get an opportunity to make it to Chicago.

They are basically two scenarios in which an Iowa Cub could help the big league club this year. One is, of course, an injury to a position player or pitcher. And the second one is if somebody in the bullpen is just throwing lights out or a position player tearing the cover off the ball at Iowa.

First, the Cubs bullpen is not solidified. There are several arms who could possibly help at some point during the year. Dillon Maples leads that list. His stuff is phenomenal, he just has trouble controlling it. The 6’5″ lefty Kyle Ryan, who spent most of spring training with the big league club, is another specialist for manager Joe Maddon to call upon depending how Ryan does in Iowa.

While Mike Montgomery is currently slated as the sixth starter, and Eddie Butler, the seventh, the Cubs are going to need a spot starter or two throughout the course of the year. They always do. Iowa will have Jen-Ho Tseng along with Luke Farrell and Duane Underwood who could possibly fill that spot if need be. In addition, Alec Mills could be a name who might be given a chance this year. He missed most of last year and resurfaced in August. I’m interested to see how he does once he gets stretched out.

A 162 game schedule can wear down players and so it is likely that a position player is going to be needed at either catcher or as an infielder or outfielder. Infielders Ryan Court, Stephen Bruno, Chesny Young, Mike Freeman, and David Bote all saw substantial time in spring training with Chicago and could help out at a moment’s notice. Chris Gimenez, Ali Solis, and Taylor Davis can do the same behind the plate.

In the outfield, plus hitters Mark Zagunis and Bijan Rademacher could make an outstanding fifth outfielder in Chicago, if need be. While Rademacher can place all three outfield positions, Zagunis is best suited to left. The speedy Jacob Hannemann should be patrolling centerfield most days and it will be interesting to see how his bat improves from last year.

Most Likely to Make It to Chicago First
Bote’s ability to play 5-6 positions moves him to the front of the line. However, Mark Zagunis is the most experienced prospect and has earned the right to get another crack first. Even though Zagunis is an outfielder, the rest of the big league Cubs are versatile enough to play all over. If it is a catcher injury, Gimenez gets the call.

The First Prospect Promoted to Iowa
It should be reliever Dakota Mekkes who will start the season at Tennessee. The 6’7” reliever dominated two levels of full season A ball last year. He went almost 2 and 1/2 months without giving up an earned run. His ERA for the year was just under 1.

Overall, the Iowa Cubs have a lot of depth. They just don’t have that player that everyone concedes to be an elite prospect. They have several guys who can help the big league club if needed. And to be honest, that’s fine for right now. It would be nice if they had another top prospect, but the ones they have will help when called upon.

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The Weekly – Magic Numbers, MiLB News, and Fall Instructs Begin

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs magic number is now at four. With a 4.5 game lead with eight to play, the odds are ever in the Cubs favor. The Cubs play Milwaukee today and then travel to St. Louis for four games and will most likely clinch there. The Cubs finish the season against Cincinnati at home next weekend. 

It is pretty clear-cut that the Cubs are going to be playing the Washington Nationals. With the high-powered arms of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs will have their work cut out for them. Washington will have home-field advantage in the best-of-five series. To win, the Cubs are going to have to be patient and get into the Washington bullpen, which has been revamped since the Cubs last played them. The Cubs went 3-4 against them this year.

And just in case of emergency to get in the playoffs, the Cubs also hold a 3.5 game lead over Colorado in the Wild Card. The Rockies have 6 home games left against the Marlins and Dodgers. Colorado currently holds a 1 game over Milwaukee and 1.5 over St. Louis.

MiLB News
Baseball America began releasing their top 20 prospects in each level of the minor leagues. Victor Caratini came in at number 18 in the Pacific Coast League. The rest of the leagues should come out in the next week.

Minor League Baseball also released their Gold Glove Awards this week. Only one Cub received the honor this year and that was former Tennessee and Iowa outfielder Jacob Hannemann.

Oscar de la Cruz was also removed from the Arizona Fall League roster before play begins. The Cubs, nor the league, went into detail as to why. It’s a little disconcerting as to what is happening with Oscar. He’s barely pitched 100 innings combined the past two seasons. As a result, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s cut out as a long term starter. He will turn 23 in spring training and one has to consider if he might be better suited as a reliever.

In roster news, Pierce Johnson was picked up off of waivers by the San Francisco Giants. I was happy to see someone give him a shot. I didn’t think anybody would make a trade for him when he was designated for assignment. However, I knew there was still value and optimism for him. I wish him the best.

The Cubs also re-signed reliever Jose Rosario to a 2018 minor league contract. 2017 was a year he’d like to forget as he was dropped from the 40 man roster and designated for assignment. At 27, he will give it one more go.

Fall Instructs
Finally, on Monday the 18th, fall instructs started in Arizona and the Cubs had 69 players getting in some extra work. Most of the players rostered are from South Bend, Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican. There are only a couple of players from Myrtle Beach.

According to Arizona Phil, the young Cubs will only be playing situational/simulation games this year in instructs. They will not play other franchises. This is quite different from past years.

Here are four attendees that intrigue me:

Luis Verdugo – The Cubs signed the young shortstop from Mexico this summer. He’s just 17 but I am interested in hearing about his defensive skills and his ability to put the bat on the ball at his young age.

Fernando Kelli – When you steal 58 bases and have a .437 OBP, you are going to draw a lot of attention and that’s what Fernando Kelli has done. I’m wondering just how good he has become. He’s only 18 and was the best prospect the Cubs had in the DSL this summer.

Jesus Tejada – Mr. No-Hitter looks like he’s going to stay stateside next year after an excellent 2017 campaign in the Dominican. I’m wondering how his excellent season translates into confidence as struck out 26 in August in 23 IP.

Carlos Pacheco – When you start looking at the stats and the pure power numbers, he seems a bit of a free swinger at 18-years-old. I don’t think that’s the case. Once you get past the DSL batting average (.232) and start looking at his on base percentage (.366), he shows a better approach than one would first thing. Like many young Cub prospects, he’s just 18. 40% of his hits this year were for extra bases including 9 dingers.

Meanwhile… at Cubs Central
Yesterday, after spending an hour inputting lesson plans online for the next three weeks, I decided to play around on the computer and design some possible infographics for my off-season series called “Leveling Up.” Here is a sample possible style I might use for the series. I’m gonna play with it some more and see what I can come up with, but I like the direction I’m heading with a card, two graphs or charts, and the picture that’s semi-transparent in the background.

My Other Writing on the Web
Cubs Insider
2nd Half Breakout Prospects
Ian Happ

BP Wrigleyville
A New Type of Farmhand

Cubs Add Four to the 40 Man Roster and Claim One More

underwood 79 2016 tennFriday night was the deadline for the Cubs to fill their 40 man roster before December’s Rule V Draft. As expected, the Cubs selected the contracts of Duane Underwood, Victor Caratini, and Jack Leathersich. Additionally, there were two surprises on the day. One, the Cubs also selected OF Jacob Hannemann. I thought he would not be selected. He is an outstanding defender and baserunner but his bat lags far behind. Two, the Cubs also claimed left-handed pitcher  David Rollins.

One, the Cubs selected OF Jacob Hannemann and placed him on the 40 man. I thought he would not be selected. He is an outstanding defender and baserunner but his bat lags far behind. Two, the Cubs also claimed left-handed pitcher David Rollins.

Out of these five, I only see Leathersich with any shot of making the opening day roster, but I think Caratini might get a sneak peak late in the year.

The Cubs stand a chance of losing several prospects in the Rule V Draft including relief pitchers Armando Rivero, Jose Paulino, and Stephen Perakslis, SP Jordan Pries, OFs Bijan Rademacher and John Andreoli, and IF Stephen Bruno.

One surprising move on Friday was that the Yankees DFA’d pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi will miss all of 2017 after TJS. I would not be surprised to the Cubs do something to acquire the young starter considering two starting pitchers’ contracts expire at the end of 2017 (Arrieta and Lackey).

The Cubs’ brass seems to be retooling the bullpen and building depth, probably stashing a few relievers in the minors. I think this will continue off and on throughout the winter.

 

 

What Kind of Player Will the Cubs Get at 104?

draft 2016

When the Cubs select at #104 on Friday afternoon, their selection will most likely be a solid pick. Being that it’s at the end of the third round, the Cubs are still likely to get a very good player. If you look back at who the Cubs selected the past four years, the odds are the selection will have a decent chance to make it to the major leagues.

2012 – Ryan McNeil was selected in the third round coming out of Nipomo, California. He had a mid 90s fastball but after a series of injuries and surgeries, he missed the better part of two years. He reappeared in Boise for the first time in 2014 and was limited due to his recovery. The 2015 season got off to a rough start out of the bullpen in South Bend. He recovered  in the second half to post a 2.21 ERA in 19 appearances. His fastball last year increased from a high of 88 at the beginning of the year to 92 in August. At Myrtle Beach this year McNeil has been up-and-down, but he still continuing to improve as a reliever. He got off to a rocky start in April. In May, he made 9 appearances with a 2.00 ERA and struck out 11 in 9 innings. He has yet to allow a run this month in 2 games.

2013 – Jacob Hannemann was a different pick. He was a two-way athlete at BYU and had just completed a Mormon mission. He basically only had one year of college experience when the Cubs drafted him. In the last three summers, you can see why the Cubs selected him, he is an outstanding athlete. He’s one of the best defenders in the Cubs’ system, and he’s shown great speed in the outfield and on the base paths. The problem is his bat has lagged behind. He has had moments in Tennessee that have shown glimpses of being able to hit for average for an extended period of time, but also there’s some power in that bat. At 24 years old, the Cubs are still going to hang onto him just to see where he could max out in the next couple years and if he will be a good fourth or fifth outfielder.

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2014 – Mark Zagunis – I think he is the best third round pick the Cubs made in the Theo era and I also think he’s one of the best picks they made overall. He has a commanding eye of the strike zone. His OBP is always well over .400. This year, he’s hitting over .300 and shown a little bit of pop in his is bat. On Wednesday, he was promoted to AAA Iowa. A year ago, I thought he was ready for a move to Tennessee at the All-Star break. I have not watched as many games of his this year at Tennessee as I did last year at Myrtle Beach, but he’s a fun hitter to watch. He has an amazing grasp of what pitches he can hit, what he cannot, as well as what pitches are a strike or a ball. His conversion from a catcher to an outfielder has been pretty seamless. I think within the next year he’s going to be in Chicago or some other major league city.

zagunis 67 2016 tenn

2015 – Bryan Hudson – The 6’7″ lefty did not pitch much last year after pitching a full year of high school baseball. This year at spring training, he wowed reporters and fans alike with an improved fastball of 90-92 and a curve that actually might be more of a slider. He’s also working on a changeup. He has struggled his last couple of starts in extended spring training. We will get to see more of him next week when the Eugene Emeralds begin playing. The Emeralds are only going to be on TV a couple of series this summer, and you can bet that I’ll be watching when they do.

Being that the big league club is doing so well, this year’s top pick, even though it’s in the third round, does not have a lot of expectations tied to it. Sure, everyone is going to know his name, but no one’s going to expect him to be Bryant, Almora, Schwarber, or Ian Happ. I think with the amount of press the major league club is getting, the expectations for this pic have really been tempered. I’m just hoping that the Cubs can make a selection of a player for whom there is no timetable or rush to get to Chicago. And, I think that might be true of the whole draft class that eventually signs. This pick will get to develop, which leads me to believe, it might be a high school pick.

Tomorrow, I will be back with my prediction of who I think the Cubs will take at #104.

The Cubs’ 10 Big Questions for the New Year: Scientifically Speaking

With Spring Training less than two months away, the Cubs have a lot of questions that need answered at both the major league and minor league levels. Some of the questions could be answered soon, others much later, but they will have to be answered.

Major League Level
1. The Adjustment Capitulation: How will four players, still in their first year of big league play, make adjustments to big league pitching?soler 65

Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant all have to learn to make adjustments. While Baez and Alcantara got a lot of playing time last year, pitchers quickly adjusted to them after fast starts. Soler was solid (.903 OPS) in his only one month of play. Bryant will likely be up in the beginning of May 2015. For Bryant, he has a hole near his hands on the inside plane of his swing. That was one reason he was alright with not coming up last fall. For Baez and Alcantara, they both are working on things in winter ball. For them, it is about approach and pitch selection. Can they both lay off pitches at any point in the count. What the Cubs are trying to get both of them to learn is when to be aggressive and what types of pitches to be aggressive towards. In other words, look for certain pitches in certain zones and hit those – lay off others, especially curveballs and sliders off the plate.

2. The Starting Pitcher Saturation: Who will be the number 5 starter in the Cubs rotation, and who might the Cubs trade of the ones who don’t make it?

It is pretty clear that as of today who the first four starters in the Cubs rotation are: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks. Currently there are six legitimate arms and one prospect competing for the fifth spot. Tsuyoshi Wada, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Dan Straily, Felix DuBront, and Jacob Turner along with AAA pitcher Dallas Beeler are all vying for that one position. For Wada, Wood, and DuBront, if they don’t make the rotation, they can easily slide to the bullpen as left handed relievers. Wood and Jackson are possible candidates to be traded. I think the Cubs will hang on to Straily, DuBront, and Turner because of their financial flexibility and years left. Most teams would kill to have eleven starters to pick from. I really like the high end talent that Turner possesses. However, I think the Cubs brass would like to have a second lefty in the rotation.

I will let you in on a little secret: in July, there will be three more arms in Corey Black, CJ Edwards, and Pierce Johnson to add to the mix – although Edwards and Johnson have never pitched over 130 innings so they will be relegated to the bullpen for this year if they advance. For Edwards and Johnson, they have a legitimate chance to compete for a spot in 2016. Black has a better chance at sticking at reliever with his smaller frame. And if Black does make it as a reliever, he could easily add a couple of ticks and his mid 90s heater becomes an upper 90s heater.

turner

3. The Castillo Crystallization: What is going to happen with Wellington Castillo?

Wellington Castillo is bound to be traded. The question for me is when. However, there is no rush to do so. I think the Cubs will use time to get the best deal they can for Castillo and whatever pitcher they decide to keep. Castillo could play all through Spring Training before he is traded to maximize his value. I cannot foresee any scenario in which the Cubs keep 3 catchers on the 25 man roster.

Minor League Level
1. The Advancement Acceleration: With 4 top prospects coming up to the big league club from Iowa in the past year, who will be filling the void at AAA Iowa this year?

The Golden Ticket, Addison Russell will be there and he will be the only top 10 hitting prospect. I think Stephen Bruno will be there too after a decent year last year at Tennessee. 3B and gold glove caliber 3B Christian Villanueva will be there too. For Villanueva, his glove is ready, but the former doubles machine did not have a good first half of the year at Iowa hitting .211 in 64 games. Upon his return to Tennessee where had great success in 2013, he only managed to hit .248 in 62 games. Villanueva is easily the best defender in the Cubs system at 3B far outpacing Bryant. It will be interesting to see how he does to start off the year. Dustin Geiger had an off year in AA (.223 average) after two good years at low A and high A where he jacked 17 HRs each year. He will likely get the bump to Iowa to start off the year. Geiger’s problem is strikeouts. He had over 100 last year. On the other hand, Geiger is being pushed from behind by Dan Vogelbach, and if Geiger does do well, the road ahead is blocked by Rizzo. There is literally no one else who might be on the roster at Iowa who could help. This might one reason why Theo and Jed tried to sneak Lavernway and Pederson through waivers this week. It might be another reason that Kyle Schwarber could advance quickly to Iowa because of his bat. Schwarber will likely be at AA Tennessee to start the year. And with Montero and Ross ahead of him, there is absolutely no reason to rush him now. He could play the outfield, but if he caught, he would be taking away from Montero. I don’t think that is something the Cubs want to do…yet. With Bijan Rademacher, Jacob Hannemann, and Billy McKinney coming on strong as outfielders at Daytona last year, they will start out at Tennessee this year. A lot of players are coming, and they are coming quickly.

2. The Albert Almora Algorithm: What will happen with Albert Almora this year?
Almora 65
The thing to understand about Albert Almora is this – he is only 20 and there is no one blocking his path to the big leagues. The problem for him in 2013 was he couldn’t stay healthy. In 2014, he was working on some swing adjustments to generate more power. Almora can already field the CF position better than anyone in the organization. The problem for him is he just doesn’t walk. When I saw him in 2013 at Kane County, his ability as a hitter was outstanding, However, he is such a good hitter that he tries to do stuff with every pitch. He could get by with that at low A. He could not do that at AA where he hit only .243 but in a limited stint (36 games). If he can return to the .283 form he hit at Daytona, he could be a top of the order hitter who hits .280 and clubs 20 HRs and plays gold glove centerfield. I’d be OK with that.

3. The Vogelbach Uncertainty: Will Dan Vogelbach be traded by the middle of the summer?

The odds of Dan Vogelbach being traded are high. With Anthony Rizzo ahead of him and playing at an all-star level, there is little room for Vogelbach in the system. I like his bat. I like his bat a lot. At Kane County, he spent most of June and July of 2013 just toying with pitchers. He did not hit for as much power as I thought he would, but he hit .268 after a rough start in 2014. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and did OK. He hit .261 with no home runs. Here’s the thing about Vogelbach most people don’t understand. He lost a lot of weight between 2013 and 2014. His swing took some time to adjust. If he can regain his 2013 form, I think he could be part of a deal to help the Cubs go forward. If the NL only had a DH, he would be perfect in the role. Maybe Theo can get the DH in the National League by 2017 because that is likely when Vogelbach will be ready if he isn’t traded. I doubt the NL will get the DH, but you never know.

4. The Catcher Conundrum: What are the Cubs going to do with all these catchers at South Bend and Myrtle Beach?

When Theo Epstein took over, the Cubs system was devoid of any kind of talent or depth at 3B and C. Now both positions are areas of strength. With addition of Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis, two of the top bats in the system now reside at C. I don’t know what is going to happen with them. Zagunis can play other positions as can Schwarber, but the best defensive receiver, Will Remillard, does not. Cael Brockmeyer saw some time at 1B and DH at Kane County last year. Throw in the recently acquired Victor Caratini and there really is a conundrum about who will play and what level they will play at.
Zagunis 78
5. The Draft Displacement: Will the Cubs really take a pitcher at #9 in the MLB draft?

The odds are in favor of the Cubs doing so this year, but don’t bet against Jason McLeod taking a hitter. The Cubs have shown a trend to take hitters in round one the last four years. The Cubs do so because hitters project better while a lot can happen to a pitcher taken in a high round (see Dillon Maples). However, a lot can happen between now and the draft. There might be somebody out there who makes it impossible for the Cubs not to take them. However, the same can be said if Virginia’s Joe McCarthy or Florida State’s DJ Stewart have great years or maybe Kyler Murray decides to play baseball instead of going to Texas Tech to play QB. You just never know this far out, and when draft night comes, you still don’t know.

When it comes to pitchers in the draft, right now there are two clear cut number one type starters in Brady Aiken and Mike Matuella. There are, however, a lot of pitchers who could develop into a #1 type starter. One of the other questions the Cubs have to consider is, “Do they feel comfortable in taking that risk with their first round pick?”

6. The Signing Ramification: How much will the Cubs blow by their international spending limits this summer?

Currently, Yoan Moncada is still out there waiting to be signed. The longer the Cuban Shortstop stays out there, the odds of the Cubs signing the International Free Agent (IFA) increases by the day. It will take $30-40 million to sign the young 19 year old. If the Cubs sign him after July 2, the price doubles with MLB penalties for going over their spending limit. With OF Starling Heredia available along with OF Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. available, the Cubs will be big spenders in the IFA market this summer. I can only imagine what would happen if the Cubs sign all three youngsters but the odds of that happening are slim. I am just saying… there’s a chance…

7. The Injury Juxtaposition: What will happen with all the pitchers coming off Tommy John Surgery and other injuries?
Conway
Anthony Prieto, Brad Renner, Marcello Carreno, Barret Loux, and Dillon Maples, to name a few, are all coming off injuries from 2013 and 2014. Additionally, Josh Conway will not have innings limit this year. Add in the fact that 2014 draftee Dylan Cease might be returning at the end of the year, the Cubs have a lot arms to nurture and get back to strength. I love Maples but it just hasn’t worked out for him. A broken rib was the just the start of a disastrous for him in 2014. He has seen his draft class ascend to the top of the prospect list while he languishes lower in the system. I feel for the kid, I really do.

Last year at Boise, Josh Conway was the ace of the staff but was limited to three innings an outing. He had a 1.96 ERA in 13 starts and 36.2 innings. Loux, who was part of the Geo Soto trade, spent all of last year on the DL after reaching AAA Iowa. Carreno, who came over in the Jeff Baker trade to Detroit, was an all-star at low Michigan in 2012. He did make a few appearances in rookie league in Arizona last year. Prieto, who is still only 21, has been in the organization for four years now but injuries have kept him down the past two. His starting days are over, but he can still be a valuable lefty out of the pen.

I expect Prieto to go to Boise, Carreno to Myrtle Beach or Tennessee, Loux to Iowa, and Maples and Renner to South Bend. I think it will be interesting to see the restrictions, if any, placed on them and whether they will start or be in the pen.


With all of these questions, the Cubs need to find answers. Some answers will come quickly; other questions may not be answered this year. In the end, these questions are important to answer for the growth of the organization this year and next year. For me, these questions are like dominoes. Starting with how Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, and Soler adjust, those four affect everything else up and down the line. While it may wise to consider those four the core of the prospects, I would say that they are the beginning of a new corps of players that will make the Cubs contenders year in and year out.

With the rebuild taking a new direction this winter with the signing of Jon Lester, I think the Cubs are a year ahead of where they thought they should be. I did not expect to see any of the prospects come up last year except for Baez. If you asked Kris Bryant where he thought he was, he would say he expected to be in Tennessee all last year. So with the Cubs ahead of schedule, these questions are the ones that need answered this year.

The Trade Deadline and My Surprise Prospects of the Year

IMartinez 75t has been a busy week in the Cubs organization. The Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront for a player to be named later and catcher/utility player Victor Caratini from the Braves for James Russell and Emilio Bonafacio. The sell offs, as one might say, looks like they are over. One reason, the Cubs have no short term assets left to sell. They are now all in for acquiring long term major league assets. In addition, the team won three out of four from the Rockies while Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara contribute. Currently, the Cubs would have the fifth pick in next year’s draft. I don’t expect that to fluctuate more than 1 or 2 spots, up or down, the rest of the summer.

On the minor league front, the Cubs teams are trying to make it to the playoffs in September. Kane County is already in, Daytona is playing like a team possessed, while Iowa clings to a small lead, Tennessee and Boise are fighting for their lives. Five players are hitting like their pants are on fire: Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Jacob Rodgers, and Danny Canela. CJ Edwards found his way back to Tennessee while Corey Black and Pierce Johnson continue to strikeout men in large numbers. Jose Paniagua and Tyler Skulina found their way from Kane County to Daytona. Tyler Ihrig and Ben Wells made it from Boise to Kane County. And surprisingly, Dae-Eun Rhee continues to impress in Iowa and may earn a shot sometime next summer.

On Sunday, I am off to Kane County where I hope to see Caratini along with the player to be named later in the Darwin Barney deal, Jonathon Martinez. I have heard good things about him from his time in the Midwest League. Check back on Sunday night/Monday morning for some prospect photos and report of my day at the park.


SURPRISE PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR LIST


While Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber get most of the headlines in Cub Blogs, the system of the Chicago Cubs is filled with many worthwhile prospects. Some were known at the beginning of the year, and some were not known. While many expected prospects like Paul Blackburn to step their game up a notch, there are other prospects that have surprised scouts, bloggers, and the fans to position themselves for a move into a prospect list. Most of the list will be at the lowers levels of Class A and rookie, hence the surprise. If a player turns in a surprising season at AA and AAA, it is likely the result of a change of scenery from another organization. Here are my top (17) surprises of 2015.

1. Kevin Brown – Outfielder – Boise, Kane County – in his first year in 2013, Brown did nothing to impress anyone in rookie ball in Arizona hitting only .235. This year, he has quickly moved around the system and is hitting for a high average wherever he goes. When he filled in at Tennessee for a few games in late June, his bat acted like he belonged, and I think that the confidence gained at Kodak is propelling him through the system. He takes pitches, waits for one he can handle, and then gets a hit. He is not going to hit for a lot of power, but he will get on base, and he drives in runs.

2. Will Remillard – Catcher – Kane County – he is, without a doubt, the best defensive catcher in the system –hands down. In April and May, his bat was on fire, too, before small injuries derailed his season. He still can hit, but the first full season of pro ball is wearing on him a little bit. Having seen him call three games for Skulina, he is the one in charge on the diamond as he rarely looks to the dugout to call a pitch. He has a nice arm behind the plate and has a good approach at the plate. I would not have guessed his progress based on the fact that he did not play after being drafted in 2013.

3. Jacob Rodgers – First Baseman – Kane County – the more I see him, the more I like him. A 40th round pick in 2012, Rodgers has slowly worked his way up the system. He has great size at 6’5”, and at times this year, has flashed some power. However, his strength has been his ability to work deep into counts. He is hitting .269 but has a .375 OBP because he can work a walk to go with his 13 home runs. He reminds me of Adam LaRoche but with more power.

4. Chesny Young – Second Baseman – Boise, Kane County – Just drafted in June, Young has progressed all the way to Kane County. He looks like a baseball rat – a kid who spends all his life at the diamond. He has a great approach at the plate. However, I did not see the 14th round pick on the radar at all. Listening to the Boise games on the radio, he was front and center of Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis driving them in. he hit .354 at Boise and is hitting .304 in Kane County. I think the scrappy player could make some prospect lists next year.

5. Kevonte Mitchell – Outfielder – Arizona – When I first read the scouting reports on this year’s 1th round pick, I thought, it will be a couple of years before he could produce because he needed to fill in. I was wrong, dead wrong. The 6’4” and 185 pound athlete from Missouri has settled in nicely in Arizona and moved off of third to center field where he does nothing but get on base. He is currently, at 18 years old, hitting .306 with a .375 OBP. The power is not there yet, that will come as he fills in.

6. James Pugliese, Jose Arias, and Andrew McKirahan – relief pitchers – Kane County, and Tennessee – These three pitchers have been flat out filthy. As starters last year, Pugliese and Arias did not flash that kind of potential. In a relief role, they both have been dominant thanks in part to a simplified approach and arsenal – in other words, they became two pitch pitchers and worked on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. For McKirahan, the Texas product came into his own at Daytona posting a 0.99 ERA in 36 innings! The lefty has show a propensity to miss bats and good control. He is now at AA Tennessee after a recent promotion.

7. Lars Anderson – 1st Baseman/Outfielder – Tennessee – Anderson is more of a guy who has come into his own the last month after having missed most of the year due to a head injury. The 6’4” 215 pound lefty started out in Iowa and produced with 4 HRs at a .287 clip in just 34 games. When Mike Olt was “reassigned to Iowa,” Anderson, a castoff out of the Red Sox system, went to Tennessee and has shown he has regained the promise that the Red Sox saw in him. In 8 games at Tennessee, Anderson is batting .346 with a .471 OBP with 1 HR and 3RBIs and a stellar 1.009 OPS. He has shown the power the Red Sox saw him. This week, Anderson made his debut in left field as his bat could play there, likely in backup lefty off the bench role, in the majors. The key for Anderson has always been his self-confidence. With the Red Sox, he lost it. This year, he has found it, and that has made all the difference.

8. Duane Underwood – Pitcher – Kane County – I knew he had potential. That being said, I didn’t think he would harness it this quickly. In 78 innings, he has flashed a 2.52 ERA while striking out 64 and walking 28. Possessing good arm action, Underwood works low in the zone and from his 6’3” frame, it is hard for hitters to get good solid contact on that downhill plane. When he leaves it up, he gets hit. He is approaching a new innings high so I would not be surprised to see him handled with kid gloves as he approaches 100.

9. Marco Hernandez and Gioskar Amaya – Daytona – These two have been around for a while. In fact, Hernandez and Amaya could be rule 5 picks this winter but it is doubtful someone will select them as they are only in high A ball and it would be a big jump to the majors from there. But this June and July has seen these two get on base at a regular clip near .300 and help lead Daytona to a 4.5 game lead in the Florida State League. Hernandez has always been a good glove after spending a couple of season in Kane County. Amaya really came into his own after having shown flashes of the bat at Kane County. Honestly, I thought that this year would be Hernandez’s last as a Cub. Amaya, I thought would be given another chance. Now, I can easily see the two of them at Tennessee next summer along with most of the highly prized position player Daytona teammates like Vogelbach, Almora (already at Tennessee), McKinney, and Schwarber.

Hannemann 197010. Jacob Hannemann – Outfielder – Daytona – At the beginning of the year, I thought Hannemann would start at Daytona. He did not. And at Kane County it was a rough start. I thought he was going to be there all summer after his poor start and then he bumped and umpire and missed five games after he started to turn it on. I was surprised he was promoted and then even more surprised when he began smacking the crap out of the ball. In just 8 games he is batting .323 with 1 HR and 3 SBs. Above all else, Hannemann is a great atlete. He glides in the outfield, makes good reads, and takes good, smooth routes to the ball. His arm is average, but his bat is always going to be what moves him forward in the system. He has, at times, this year shown some power, and I think that skill needs to be developed. At Kane County, he stole32 bases in 88 games which projects out nicely to close to 60 for a season. Speed is something the big league club does not have in spades.

11.  Billy McKinney and Addison Russell have surprised me with how good they are. McKinney is driving in runs at 130+/162 game clip and Addison Russell has turned the power on at Tennessee with 6 HRs in 22 games. I did not think the Cubs could get this type of talent for Samardjiza, and it looks like a trade that will work out for both teams.

12. Dae-Eun Rhee – Pitcher – Tennessee and Iowa – He continues to surprise me at Iowa. Out of all the pitchers at Tennesssee this year, he was the least hyped and most seen as an afterthought. When he was promoted to Iowa after the Samardjiza trade, I was a little surprised. I watched a couple of games on MiLB.TV and he was impressive changing speed, changing location, and keeping hitters off balance. In 3 starts there, he has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings with 11 strikeouts. In his last 2 starts, he has not given up an earned run.

13. Josh Conway – Pitcher – Boise – After missing the last two years, he is being used in short spurts of 2-3 innings and he has been outstanding! In 8 starts, he has had two poor ones and six sparkling ones where he gave up zero or one run. As he builds his arm strength back up, look for the chains to be taking off next year and he could advance 2 levels through Kane County and Daytona.

Next year when I make this list, I expect it to be filled with more pitching as the Cubs did select a lot of them in the draft in 2014 and some are just getting the beak wet in Boise and Arizona now. James Norwood made his first start last night and James Farris threw his first inning. It should be a fun year to watch them progress and see who else can surprise me in 2015.

Day Three: Rambling, Gambling Men

The Cubs should be rolling the dice early in Round 11. There are no slot limits and they should be selecting players that could be persuaded to sign if the price was right. These include Jacob Bukauskas, Keith Weisnberg, Evan Skoug, David Peterson, and Tanner Houck who I all mentioned yesterday. The pace of today’s draft will be a little dizzying as teams pick one right after another for 30 rounds. It’s a little hard to keep up at times.

Here are some other random thoughts from within the organization this week:

Chicago: The Jose Veras era is over and the Cubs immediately go on a four game winning streak lead by good pitching, good defense, and timely hitting. Anthony Rizzo is turning into a gamer this year! Neil Ramirez made Giancarlo Stanton look like a minor leaguer yesterday, and Nate Scheirholtz has finally found his bat. In all honesty, this team is only 2-3 bats away from being a very competitive team.

Iowa: Javy Baez was hit on the hand and missed a few games. He came back yesterday and promptly went 2-4 with a HR and a double. He is still barely hitting above .220. Maybe Baez will go on a tear here this summer. Arismendy Alcantara is starting to warm up and Chris Rusin lowered his ERA to near 3. I don’t think anyone other than pitchers will get the call this June or July to come help the big league club. Rusin, Hendricks, Marcus Hatley, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jokisch, and Blake Parker are all ready with Parker, Rusin, and Jokisch at the front of the line. Dallas Beeler could work his way into a callup if he continues to pitch well in June and July. Catcher Rafael Lopez was promoted from Tennessee,

Tennessee: That Kris Bryant – yeah, he is still good. I expect after the AA All-Star game that he will find his way to Iowa and maybe be in the outfield there. The pitching injuries for this team have been incredible and yet they are still close to .500. Bryant and Bruno have been carrying the team and Anthony Giansanti is hitting .333 in his last 10 games. Dustin Geiger and John Andreoli have struggled the better part of six weeks and now both are hitting below .230. With four projected starters out in Arizona rehabbing (Edwards, Johnson, Pineyro, and Black), the Smokies have used a lot of duct tape to hold this staff together including cast-off Joe Gardner. Matt Loosen has returned and has struggled along with Dae-Eun Rhee. Joel Pineiro, who was signed about a month ago was released, and Zach Cates has arrived from Daytona to help out. The bullpen, led by Armando Rivera, Arodys Vizcaino, and Hunter Cervenka have been stellar! It wouldn’t surprise me to see all three promoted to Iowa at some point this summer.

Daytona: The sleeper has awakened!!! Dan Vogelbach has been on a tear the past two weeks. Hitting .333 with a slash line of 448/576/1.064, Daytona has found its groove behind Vogelbach. In addition, Albert Almora was moved from the three spot to the two and has been doing better. Bijan Rademacher, the only stalwart all season, slid into the three spot and provides some protection. With both men getting on bade, Daytona has been scoring runs in bunches like they did in Kane County. Felix Pena still is steady on the mound and Tayler Scott continues to show flashes of what he can do but still needs to stay away from the big inning. Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez still are steady at the plate. Last year’s second round pick Rob Zastrzny had his best start of the year the other night including four scoreless innings before a rough fifth. Relievers Michael Jenson and Andrew McKirahan continue to do well. It is something to build on.

Kane County: The Cougars clinched a playoff spot last night! Led by a 5-5 effort by mr. Clutch, Jordan Hankins, the Cougars overcame a rough pitching week. Both Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood had rough starts with Blackburn reaching his 35 pitch inning limit and was removed in the top of the first. Jose Arias left the mound last night holding his shoulder but Tyler Skulina still has been steadfast despite walking 3-4 every night. He is finding a way to get it done. In addition, Jacob Hannemann has a nice ten game run of hitting over .300 and 1B Jacob Rodgers has been doing the same along with hitting some home runs. Shawon Dunston, Jr. is proving to be a valuable piece and may have figured things out as his average is nearing .260 and he is making valuable contributions each night.

Boise: They start play next week and the roster should be forthcoming any day. It will be interesting to see how many draftees from this year make it there including Schwarber, Zunigas, and Stinnett along with maybe Farris, Williams, Thorpe and Norwood.I seriously doubt the high school pitchers taking yesterday will play anywhere but in Mesa, if at all this summer.

Minor League Player of the Week: Jordan Hankins aka Mr. Clutch had 5 for 5 night to push his average above .300. This kid is just money at the plate from the seventh inning on.
Minor League Pitcher of the Week: Chris Rusin and his gem from last night were hard to top.

Next Week:
*I will have a special post when the Boise Roster is posted including where Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jiminez end up.
*I will also have a post later today or early tomorrow on the picks from today.
*Next Saturday’s weekly post will about the Venezuela and Dominican Rookie League teams with a special focus on Wladimir Galindo.