By Todd Johnson
You can thank the rain storms that covered much of the Midwest for me being able to finish this month’s all-star team on schedule. There were no yards to mow, no weeds to pull, and no dogs to walk in the rain. In addition, there were no minor league games except for Myrtle Beach and South Bend on Sunday.
It was a strange month for trying to pick a few spots on the All-Star team. First base was a difficult choice as most of the organization struggled at that position. I wound up going with a player who only played a few games there. When it came to starting pitching, I had a couple players drop off after poor starts in the last week. When it came time to select the hitter of the month, all I had to do was look at only one team who was rained out for the weekend.
I think the May All-Star team will be much different. For one, I think Yasiel Balaguert has started to find his stroke at first base. In the outfield, there will be much more competition as Jake Hannemann, Kevonte Mitchell, and Mark Zagunis all had strong final weeks in April. Trey Martin could return as well. I also think that some of the starting pitching will start to stabilize in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Duncan Robinson will be one pitcher to watch in May as to whether he starts or relieves in South Bend.
So, without further adieu, here is the April All-Star team.
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4
By Todd Johnson
It is hard to believe that tomorrow is May 1 and that a whole month of the 2017 season will be completed today. The major-league team is in first place while Myrtle Beach and Tennessee have climbed into second. And low A South Bend is now tied for first in the Midwest League. That’s a pretty good week for an organization.
Meanwhile, over here at Cubs Central, the Players of the Day Facebook feature has been going very well. At times, it’s been hard to pick only just one player for either a hitter, pitcher, or reliever of the day. We also put up a page on this site that just lists who won the award for that day.
Since today is the end of the month, that means tomorrow Cubs Central will release it’s April minor league All-Star team of Cubs prospects. To begin, the post will contain a video made with Google Slides. I think it might be better viewed on a computer or a tablet rather than a phone, unless you have a large phone. On Tuesday, we will publish the top 10 baseball cards I made from April.
The MLB Draft takes place in less than six weeks. It will be here sooner than we think. The Cubs first four picks are at #27, #30, #67, and #105. Some of the top draft evaluators began to publish their top 100 prospect lists. So far, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America both released their top 100. Which prospect could be sitting there waiting for the Cubs to select them?
MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis have the following players ranked where the Cubs are set to draft,
- Will Crowe – SP – South Carolina
- Evan White – 1B – Kentucky
- Greg Deichmann – OF – LSU
Similarly, Baseball America has:
- Nick Allen – High School SS
- Brian Miller – OF – North Carolina
- Taylor Walls – SS Florida State
I like Will Crowe being at number 27 and Deichman being at number 67 on MLB’s list. I don’t think the Cubs will select a first baseman, something that they haven’t done since 2012 in Jacob Rodgers. As for Baseball America’s list, they could be dead on with the Cubs taking shortstop Nick Allen, but I don’t think the Cubs would take either Miller or Walls.
Some of the names we profiled this offseason that made Pipeline’s top 100 include.
- Colton Hock; 91. Michael Gigliotti; 85. Tyler Johnson; 62. Mark Vientos; 53. Garrett Mitchell; 51. Alex Scherff; 48. Clarke Schmidt; 37. Hagan Danner; 35. Brendon Little; 31. David Peterson; 29. Nick Allen; 16. Jake Burger; and 10. Nick Pratto
On Friday night, David Peterson of Oregon struck out 20. I don’t think he’s going to stay at 31 and it is more than likely that the Cubs will not have a chance to select him.
Kyle Miller was promoted from South Bend up to Myrtle Beach on Friday. Ryan Kellogg also was activated after spending spring training playing for Canada in the WBC. To make room, Myrtle Beach released reliever John Williamson and Jeremy Null. Cubs Central wishes them both the best.
Around the System
Iowa: 1-4:; 10-12 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ keeps on hitting home runs. Outside of Eddie Butler, the starting pitching rotation is not doing very well at all. If it doesn’t improve soon, look for some changes to be made including the promotion of a couple of pitchers from Tennessee
Tennessee: 5-3; 13-10 overall – Second place
This team is starting to hit and now has Jacob Hannemann back with the club. Clifton, Hedges, and Tseng have been outstanding in the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape as well.
Myrtle Beach: 5-1; 13-10 overall – Second place
Everything is clicking for the Pelicans. They are getting timely hitting to go along with an excellent bullpen and a solid starting rotation. Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Pedro Araujo, and James Norwood have been dynamite out of the pen
South Bend: 5-2: 14-9 Tied for first place
This team has been playing great at the plate for the past two weeks. One key in the last 10 games has been the resurgence of Kevonte Mitchell. He seems to be putting it all together hitting over .300 in his last 10 games and raising his average to .261 entering today’s game against Fort Wayne.
Extended Spring Training
Michael Cruz should destroy short season pitching. He may not make it to Eugene in six weeks. He could be at South Bend by then. Eloy has not played in over a week. That is a little concerning. However, Aramis Ademan has been outstanding on offense and defense. I sometimes wonder if he is going to skip Mesa and go right to Eugene this year at 18 years old.
Card of the Week
Sometimes, I make cards just to go with a specific post. Such was the case on Saturday when I put out a 1985 Topps Reproduction with Adbert Alzolay.
April MILB All-Star team
Cards of the Month
When it comes to picking the All-Star team each month, it’s usually clear and dry. The players pretty much decide it for you. Whether it is average, home runs, runs batted in, earned run average, or strikeout, all I have to do is look at their splits for the month and I am done. For hitters this month, that was the case. Even the hitter of the month was a no brainer. However, when it came to pitching, I had to make some tough choices for both starters and relievers.
I take it as a good thing that the choices were hard this month. That means there is a lot of good pitching taking place in the Cub system. Usually, I like the starting pitchers on the All-Star team to have an ERA under 3. That was easy this month as there were six. Paul Blackburn just missed out at 3.00. For relievers, I like them to be under 2.00 for their ERA. And closers take precedence. This month, there were so many studly performances that I included 11 relievers on the team. They were two others who came close in Ryan McNeil and Casey Bloomquist. I am sure than next month that James Farris will return as well. I may have to readjust my standards a little bit to keep it down to six.
The pitcher of the month was the hardest to choose. Was an ERA difference of .005 going to decide it? It came down to Carson Sands of South Bend (1.24 ERA) and Trevor Clifton of Myrtle Beach (1.29). Had it not been a short start of 1.2 innings and 5 ER, Zach Hedges would have had a 1.00 ERA and been in the discussion. So, I had to do to my due diligence.
Additional stats like WHIP, BBs, Ks, and some advanced stats over Fangraphs, like BABIP and FIP, all came into play. However, it was old fashioned stats that swayed my decision. One pitcher walked half of what the other player did and struck out twice as many hitters. I like that both pitchers are in the lower levels and will be in the hunt for this award again the next couple of years. In fact, I think both are just beginning their breakout seasons.
Without further adieu, here is this month’s Cubs MiLB Monthly All-Star Team.
I think several players who’ve been in a bit of a slump will be back next month including Donnie Dewees, Billy McKinney, and Chesny Young. With Pierce Johnson, Jen-Ho Tseng and Dallas Beeler now throwing, the starting pitching could change drastically, especially at Iowa.
I will have a first half All-Star Team on the 23rd and the regular monthly one on July 1. They should be quite different.
The June All-Star Team will be much more of a challenge as 4 more teams enter the fray in Eugene, Arizona, and two Dominican teams (who start Saturday). Add in some draft picks into the minor league system and it will be a whole new ballgame.
This might have been the fastest week of the year. Between the rainouts, school events, mowing, and more mowing, I was not sure if I was coming or going. I did get to see Myrtle Beach play several times when they were on MiLB.TV. It was fun watching their pitchers work, especially Clifton, Null, and Stinnett. There were also several bats who caught on fire this week, some of them are the top prospects in the system.
Despite not having a good week (3-3), the South Bend Cubs moved into first place. Eloy Jimenez hit 3 HRs, all on the road. Andrew Ely and Matt Rose added to the power display Friday and Saturday. At Iowa, the starting pitching, which once seemed stabilized, now is not. Conversely, Myrtle Beach continues to pitch well, but the hitting is starting to come around. Gleyber Torres is now at .255, after his average was a scant .179 three weeks ago. Tennessee, after two weeks at 1-4, now are showing some signs of life as Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini are on rolls. On the other hand, Duane Underwood is still struggling since coming off the DL.
On Saturday night, a lot of fireworks took place as Andrew Ely went for 4-5 with a HR and 4 RBIs. Jeimer Candelario went nuts with a grand slam and 7 RBIs. Candelario went 9/24 (.375) on the week with 1 HR and 9 RBIs on the week while Ely went 12/26 (.462) with 2 HR and 7 RBIs.
Arizona and Eugene are now less than a month away from opening day. Add in the fact that the draft is less than three weeks from beginning, the season is moving along at breakneck speed.
Record: 18-22; 6.0 GB
Last Ten: 3-7
Weekly: 0-6, lost 6 in a row
Record: 20 – 22; 5 GB
Last Ten: 5-5
Record: 23-18; 5.5 GB
Last Ten: 7-3
Record: 24 – 16; +1.0 GB
Last Ten: 6-4
Extended Spring Training
Dylan Cease had a fabulous start Monday going 4 IP with 5 Ks. Aramis Ademan, Isaac Paredes, Jonathan Sierra, and Jonathan Perlaza (all 2015 IFAs) all had big weeks at the plate. Bryan Hudson and one of my favorite prospects, Erling Moreno, also had good starts this week.
Players of the Week
Hitter of the Week – Andrew Ely – South Bend.
I thought for sure this was going to be Eloy Jimenez who went 11/27 (407) with 3 HRs and 5 RBIs. But Ely out did him while hitting leadoff for the Cubs. Ely saw his average rise from .282 to .327 on the week.
Starting Pitcher of the Week – Trevor Clifton – Myrtle Beach
This was a tough choice but Trevor did not allow a run in 5.1 innings while striking out 7 and lowering his ERA to 2.62 on the year and 1.10 for the month. Runner up was Rob Zastryzny who went 7.2 innings with 2 ERs and 8 Ks.
Reliever of the Week – James Norwood – South Bend
Since mid-April, he’s been quietly going about his business. Now he’s racking up some saves, 5 in his last five outings. I really like his fastball, which sits at 95-96, His secondary pitches still need some work. Runner up – James Farris had been on a roll until a blown save on Friday night.
Team of the Week – Myrtle Beach Pelicans
If this team ever gets to hitting, they could really take off. Now that Salem’s Andrew Benintendi has been promoted, the Pelicans could have a chance to catch Salem in the playoff chase.
Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
A series preview with the Cardinals
The Six Pack Peaks at the Phillies Series
And maybe some draft stuff, maybe
It is still a little early in the year to say a prospect has broken out. There are prospects, however, who seem to be having solid starts that might be considered to be breaking out. Some of the prospects were foreseen, some were not. Over the next six weeks, these prospects have a chance to show that their great starts are not just that, but rather performances that can be sustained because of developments in their game.
The Foreseen: Adbert Alzolay, Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, James Norwood, and Eloy Jimenez.
Back in early April, I predicted four of these five to have a breakout year. Others predicted Norwood to do so. Alzolay and Clifton are using fastball command to get ahead of hitters. Alzolay (2.52 ERA) still has some work to do on his secondaries and could be even better later this summer. His ERA in April was 2.82 and in May he has a 1.64. He doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters (18 in 33 innings), but they don’t hit off him either (.183). Clifton has a similar trajectory this year. In May he has 25 Ks in 16.1 innings with a 1.10 ERA in 3 starts. Like last year, he still needs to work on his efficiency to pitch deeper into games.
I saw reliever James Norwood pitch the other night. His fastball looked great at 95-96. His other pitches did not. In May, his ERA is 0.00 in 7 appearances where has struck out ten. As his cutter improves, he could be a deadly relief arm. Jake Stinnett is having his best year as a Cub prospect. He had a 2.55 ERA in April and is currently at 3.38 in May. He’s stuck out 26 in 33.2 innings.
The 19 year old Eloy Jimenez is on fire right now. Currently at .329 with 5 HRs, Eloy is getting better as the temperature gets warmer. I see that continuing the rest of the year. His weakness has always been gameplay – he just had not had enough game experience. Now that he is getting it, it is amazing to watch his pitch recognition skills. The problem is he also strikes out a lot (27%). I think that will improve as he ages.
The Surprised Return From Injury: Jose Rosario
After missing all of 2015 to TJS, the former starter is now a reliever and doing very well. He has a 1.88 in 14 innings. I saw Rosario pitch for Peoria in 2013. He had good stuff and got a lot of bad swings. When I saw him pitch last night, not much changed in 3 years.
Didn’t See Them Coming: Paul Blackburn, James Farris, Jason Vosler, Gerardo Concepcion, Daniel Lockhart, Zach Hedges, and Andrew Ely
Every year, there are always prospects not foreseen early in the year who breakout. While Paul Blackburn has always been a well thought of prospect, his ERA in 3 years in the system never got below 3. This year, Blackburn is putting his control to work as he has a 1.08 ERA in 8 starts. Using precise command, Blackburn is getting weak ground ball outs every night.
James Farris was very good in 2015 as the closer for the South Bend Cubs. He struggled in a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach. This year, he was assigned to Myrtle Beach again and has pitched with a mission this season. He had 27 Ks in 20.1 innings and 6 saves with a 1.33 ERA before blowing his first save Friday..
Jason Vosler began to surprise me last year when he was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. He showed some power I didn’t know he had. This year, because of depth above him, he came back to high A and has been outstanding this season. He hit .311 in April and is at .328 for May. Like Zagunis, Vosler does not use batting gloves and has shown the ability for power, but only has 1 HR this year.
I looked up the other day and Andrew Ely and Daniel Lockhart both were closing in on .300. Both are excellent glove men, especially Lockhart, but neither has really hit. I think for Lockhart, this year has been special, considering he was not promoted to Myrtle Beach with his teammates of two championship teams.
Pitcher Zach Hedges has had an outstanding beginning this year except for one start. Heading into Wednesday’s start, his ERA was a low 1.89. After the start, 2.95. Hedges has added some zip to his fastball and still has a plus slider. At the beginning of the year, I did not know if Hedges would even be a starter. He’s been a workhorse going deep into games all year long.
I think what I like most about the players who are on the verge of breaking out is that some players could be seen improving last July and August.I also like the fact that many of these prospects are starting pitchers. Over the next month, some of these prospects will make their way onto the prospect lists. Their ascension is proof of the depth of the Cubs system.
Pitcher Oscar De La Cruz skipped a level (rookie league) to begin his 2015 season. After his assignment to short season Eugene, De la Cruz went out and struck out 73 hitters in 73 innings. The big 6’6″ righty out of the Dominican Republic was one of the Cubs’ breakout pitchers of the year in 2015. He could move even move faster in 2016 if he continues actually growing into his own body.
The key for De La Cruz breaking out was a series of adjustments he made in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League where no one was watching – that and growing from 6’3” to 6’5” to 6’6”. He now throws in the low to mid 90s and could even add a tick or two this year He will likely be at South Bend this spring and could go to Myrtle Beach quickly, depending on his performance.
When it comes breakout prospects for the first half of 2016, there are several prospects who began to show a little something last season. The problem is there are more than one…wait, that’s not a problem. Trying to limit this list was a problem. I think the draft was so good in 2015, that the Cubs really stocked their lower system with arms that will compete against each other at a very high level.
- Casey Bloomquist – A quiet sign out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the 6’3” righty had a great, if limited, season at Eugene. In 20.2 innings he struck out 24 with an ERA of 2.18. At South Bend, I think he starts, and he will be a bulldog on the mound. Of all the pitchers signed by the Cubs last summer, Bloomquist could be the most competitive. He gets fired up to pitch every night.
- Craig Brooks – a two way player in college, Brooks throws in the mid 90s. As a reliever, Brooks has a chance to move quickly through the organization. It looks as though he will skip South Bend this year and go right to Myrtle Beach.
- Ryan Kellogg – John Sickels loves him. A lefty, Kellogg, according to Sickels, would benefit from tweaks made by the professional coaching staff. Sickels was not too pleased by the progress of Kellogg at ASU. Coming out of the gate last year, Kellogg struggled in making adjustments. His first full year could be a different story.
- Trevor Clifton – I think Trevor Clifton finally appeared comfortable the last six weeks of the season in sporting a 2.57 ERA last August. In addition, he struck out 24 in those last 30.2 innings. Even more impressive was opponents only hit .204 against him, but he did give up 12 walks in that time frame. If he can get some consistency on his curve and change, look out.
- Daniel Lewis – I love this guy! He is one of my favorite prospects from last year. After a couple of rough relief outings, he was deadly in the pen. In June, July and August, he made 20 appearances, he struck out 19 in 32 innings with an ERA of 2.53. Opponents hit only .189 against him, but he did have some trouble with 13 walks in August, but he pitched out of trouble well. He will need to cut down on walks. I think his second full year goes just as well, even better.
- Bryan Hudson – He is already pushing buttons in spring training as he is developing much faster than previously thought. His fastball is now in the low 90s, his curve is now more vicious than thought. He could actually start out in South Bend in late May.
- Dylan Cease – Can’t wait to see how does when he makes it to the fourth and fifth innings. He could be the top pitcher in the system by the end of June. He has been steadily between 95-100 all spring and is pushing whether he, too, should be at South Bend when it warms up in May.
- James Norwood – Rumors of a great arm – It has taken a year and a half to rebuild his motion and they still are not done yet. No clue as to where he goes and what he does in 2016. I am leaning towards the Myrtle Beach bullpen with Maples and Lewis and it looks like Craig Brooks and Scott Effross..
- Dillon Maples – He is part man, part myth, with a good mid 90s fastball. He came to camp healthy for the second year in a row. Then he promptly ditched his power curve and showed off a plus slider. That could be deadly to right handed hitters.
Scott Effross – Who ever heard of a reliever that throws four pitches? I have and Effross is the one who does. There was talk of turning him into a starter. He will likely skip South Bend and end up in Myrtle Beach. Will it be as a reliever or a starter? Looks like a reliever for now.
Come June, the second half list will be much different with names like Marte, Gomez, Lima, and Silverio. And there could be a few more names we don’t know from the draft and some international free agents.
Being a fan a Cubs fan the last five years has not been easy. That’s why the past two weeks have been very gratifying! The Cubs’ have reeled off wins in 12 out of their last 13 games. Currently, they have won eight in a row. Yesterday’s exciting 6 to 5 victory over the White Sox saw impressive performances by Chris Coghlan, Anthony Rizzo, Justin Grimm, Clayton Richard, and Hector Rondon. Today, I hope that Jake Arrieta has another impressive performance. For me, that’s what I have seen day after day in this streak, impressive performances. From the pitching to the hitting, all 25 players have contributed in one way or another.
The major league team is not the only team in the organization that put up some impressive performances this week. In the minor leagues, I got to see some impressive performances in person, some I saw on MiLB.TV, and some I just read about the next day.
Albert Almora has been a different player since his return from the Pan-Am games. In his last ten games, he is hitting .500!!! Jeimer Candelario is hitting around .300 after a month in Tennessee, that’s pretty impressive for a 21 year old. In fact, the Tennessee bats seemed to have awakened the past two weeks. Billy McKinney (up to .285) is one of several Smokies who have broken out of a slump.
Paul Blackburn, Johnathan Martinez, Brad Markey, and Jeremy Null continue to put zeroes on the board when they start. Last night, Null went five scoreless. Earlier this week Martinez went five scoreless, Blackburn went six scoreless, while Markey allowed one run in six. That’s some pretty good pitching! In addition, Jason Vosler has been impressive with the bat. Since his promotion from South Bend, the left handed hitter has cranked 5 HRs in 20 games for the Pelicans!
Since I went and saw the Cubs play two games in Beloit this week, and then watched last night’s game on MiLB.TV, the list will be a little bit longer. First, the pitching by James Norwood, who went last night, was just outstanding. Norwood went six strong, gave up 2 unearned runs and struck out seven. Trevor Clifton’s start was profiled on Thursday, and Tommy Thorpe’s start on Thursday was impressive as well. Thorpe went 5 and 2/3 innings, gave up a run, and struck out 5. He has been very impressive since his move to the starting rotation. The South Bend Cubs have now crept above .500 at 24-23 in the second half and have three weeks to earn a playoff spot.
In addition to those pitchers, I came away impressed by the performances of these South Bend hitters this week. David Bote has always had a good glove. I saw it last year at Kane County and I see it again this year at South Bend. At the plate, he has struggled some. Lately, he seems to be putting it together. In his last ten games Bote hit .389 with 8 RBIs. His average has gone from .227 to .251 in that period!
Two new players, who I also profiled on Wednesday’s post, Matt Rose and Ian Happ, both homered this week (Happ twice). Rose hasn’t gotten a lot of press but I really like his swing and the fact that he plays first and third base. Rose is currently hitting .300 in his first five games at South Bend.
The pitching continues to impress. Carson Sands has only allowed one run in his last two starts. Kyle Twomey, although on a pitch count and innings limit, has been equally impressive as Sands. But for my money, Preston Morrison looks like he could be a steal from this year’s draft. The Cubs’ eighth round pick has allowed only one run in five short appearances for an ERA of 0.82!!! I look forward to see what he can do next year in full season with no restrictions.
Eloy Jimenez returned from the missing in action list and hit like he never missed a game. His 6 for 18 in his return. Andrew Ely has been very impressive in his time at Eugene hitting .317 in 17 games.
In other news, MLB Pipeline released its updated farm system ranking this week. The Cubs have fallen from the top spot after graduating Bryant, Russell, Soler, and Schwarber to Chicago. However, the depth of the Cubs system gave them a number four ranking. That’s pretty impressive! You can read the article here.
It has been a lot of fun to cover the teams in the organization this summer, interview radio announcers Nathan Barnett in Myrtle Beach and Darrin Pritchett of South Bend, make some connections with really cool people (parents and players), and to continue to make the baseball cards. As well it has been a lot of fun to bring Clark (@ClarkInChicago) aboard the site as a contributor. It has been fun to watch this site’s readership expand and its coverage grow! Thank you for reading!
Coming down the stretch, it should also be very exciting to watch the big league club try to earn a playoff spot! And it will be just as exciting to watch Myrtle Beach in the playoffs and to see if Iowa, Tennessee, South Bend, Eugene, and Arizona can try and join them.
However, this is my last weekend of summer vacation before I start back to teaching on Monday. I will continue to write and post as best as I can the last 3 weeks in the minor league season and the next 6 weeks in the major league season. It might just be on the weekends or shorter posts during the week as it usually is during school year. I will be there watching every day with you and writing when I can! Go Cubs!