James Pugliese

First Half Cubs MiLB All-Star Team Has Some New Faces

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This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.

If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.

Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.

Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.

I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.

The May All-Star Team Breaks Precedence with 8 Starting Pitchers

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By Todd Johnson

April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.

Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive  I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.

I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.

Let’s get right to this month’s list…

Team Breakdown
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)

For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.

Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.

The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.

The Cubs MiLB April All-Star Team Is Pitching Heavy

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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.

Team Breakdown
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4

Myrtle Beach: 2016 Report – Pelicans Plow through the Carolina League

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Record: 82-57; 2nd Half Southern Division Champions; Carolina League Champions

After squeaking by the first half with a 36 and 34 record, the Pelicans looked like they were destined to go on a run. They led the league in pitching ERA but they’re hitting just had not clicked. Yasiel Balaguert was clearly the MVP in the first half as he hit nine home runs and drove in 46 to lead the team. Top prospects Gleyber Torres and Ian Happ struggled to hit in the middle of the lineup. In June, Happ began to turn it on and hit .600 over a two week period to end the month. He was quickly shipped off to AA Tennessee.

bote 71 2016 mbThe Pelicans did well in July, but when Gleyber Torres and Rashad Crawford were traded in the Aroldis Chapman deal, some wondered where the Pelicans we’re going to get runs. Well, David Bote stepped right up and became the man for the second half of the year hitting over .350. Yasiel Balaguert, who hit .223 in the first half, hit .300 in the second half with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Promotions from South Bend helped settle the lineup with Donnie Dewees, Bryant Flete, and Ian Rice. Rice’s power, along with Bote, provided some protection for Yasiel. The second half saw the Pelicans go 46-23.

All year long, the Pelicans had the best starting staff in the Carolina League. Zach Hedges and Trevor Clifton were both outstanding in the first half. Hedges would be promoted to AA Tennessee in July. Clifton stayed after a rough June, but righted the ship and had a dominant August and was the Pitcher of the Month in the Cubs’ system in August.

The bullpen took a while to round itself out. James Farris was promoted early, but Ryan McNeil stepped in and, in July and August, was almost unhittable. He wound up leading the Carolina League in saves. At one point in late August, Tommy Thorpe, Daury Torrez, Ryan McNeil, Daniel Lewis, and Tommy Nance had not given up a run for the month until the last week. That is some dominant pitching

In the playoffs, Trevor Clifton pitched a great game in game one to defeat Salem in a blowout. Although the Red Sox won game two, the Pelicans rebounded to win game three behind the pitching of Duane Underwood and the hitting of David Bote, who hit 556 for the 3 game series. A sad note was that MVP Yasiel Balaguert was injured. For the Mills Cup Championship series, the Pelicans called up Eloy Jimenez from South Bend after game one to take Yasiel’s place. James Pugliese’s 4.1 IP with 7 Ks held off the Hillcats in game 4 and the Pelicans earned their second Mills Cup in a row!

Team Leaders – Offense

Average HR RBIs SB OBP

David Bote


Yasiel Balaguert


Yasiel Balaguert


Jeffrey Baez


David Bote

Team Leaders – Pitching

ERA (50 IP min) Strikeouts WHIP Saves Innings

Ryan McNeil


Trevor Clifton


Zach Hedges


Ryan McNeil




Team MVP

Yasiel Balaguert – 19 HRs, 96 RBIs, that’ll do, Yasiel, that’ll do.

Team Cy Young

clifton-81Trevor Clifton – He led the team in strikeouts and was a dominant force in May and then again in August. At times, he was unhittable for long stretches. His changeup has really developed into a 2nd plus pitch over the course of the year. Throwing in the mid-90s, Clifton is beginning to look like a middle of the rotation starter. At worst, he’s going to be a high-powered arm out of the pen.  I cannot wait to see what he can do at Tennessee in 2017

Breakout Prospect

David Bote – He began the year as an organizational player and then turned into a star hitting over .350 in the second half. In the playoffs, he came up big including a 4 hit night in game one of the Mills Cup Championship Series.

Looking Ahead to 2017:

The Carolina League changes quite a bit next year. They go from an eight-team league into a ten team league. It is still a bit unsettled, but it looks like Kinston and Fayetteville will be the two affiliates for teams to be determined. This will change the number of times the Pelicans play every team in their division. So, instead of playing Carolina, Salem, and Winston-Salem 30+ times, that number shrinks to the mid-20s.

eloy-77-2016-mbI’m not quite sure how long Eloy Jimenez is going to stay at Myrtle Beach next year. I have a feeling that the reigns will be off of him fairly quickly and that he could move up to Tennessee, say by June or July. But while he is there in Myrtle Beach, I am sure Pelicans fans will come to adore him the way that South Bend fans have come to adore him. I am not quite sure if Eddy Martinez is ready for that same kind of fast track. I think missing two years of playing ball or at least a year has affected his approach. There’s no doubt he’s excellent in the field and that he may have the best arm in the Cubs minor-league system. The second half at South Bend for him in 2016 was pretty good as he hit almost .280. I think it is his power that needs to improve. Once it does, he’s going to be just fine.

Matt Rose hit under 200 for the first month and a half at South Bend and was reassigned to Eugene. It was there that he rebuilt his game and his confidence and finished second in home runs in the system to only Yasiel Balaguert in 2016. I think Rose will spend the whole year at Myrtle Beach and I think Pelicans fans are like him too.

As for pitching, I’m not sure quite sure how it’s all going to shake down. I am not sure, either, who all is going to end up at Myrtle Beach. I think Ryan Kellogg makes it along with Casey Bloomquist, Oscar de la Cruz, and likely Adbert Alzolay, but after that, I am not quite sure. South Bend pitching kind of fell apart in the last month, especially the bullpen. Some of the pitchers mentioned above could start or relieve. Justin Steele, who improved much in the second half, could do both as well as Kyle Miller and Kyle Twomey. That’s a lot of versatile arms and lefties to boot.

Sleeper Prospect for 2017

As the Cubs third round pick in the 2016 draft, Tom Hatch did not pitch after he signed. Considering he already threw upwards of 130+ innings, that was a wise choice. With four pitches that he can throw for strikes, I am not quite sure where Hatch will play in 2017. I know it’s not going be Arizona or Eugene, and I don’t really think South Bend will be much of a test for him. I tend to lean towards Myrtle Beach. He is currently at fall instructs.

I think the people of Myrtle Beach have to be ecstatic with the product on the field for the Pelicans the last two years. And I think they’re gonna be ecstatic again next year, at least for the first half of the year. I don’t know how long some of the top position players will remain. While they are there, they should put on a fireworks show every night. The current players who will be at Tennessee next year should do well with the experience and develop that they made this year. They are an exciting group that I’ve been watching and listening to for the past three years at Boise, South Bend, and Myrtle Beach. Next year will be four at Tennessee. I look forward to it and the players I watched at South Bend this year will succeed at Myrtle Beach.

The Weekly – Two Championships and Some Serious Awards

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It’s done. The minor league post-season is now complete. And what a week it was! Both Myrtle Beach and Eugene brought home championship trophies in their respective leagues! In doing so, the talent in the organization might be looked at a little differently. Both teams should reload with plenty of talent next year. The odds to get back to the playoffs looks extremely good for both teams. With South Bend and Mesa in the playoffs, too, that meant that 4 of the 6 stateside teams made the playoffs, albeit at the lower levels. Still, that is an amazing accomplishment!

The Chicago Cubs also announced that they selected Eloy Jimenez and Trevor Clifton as Hitter and Pitcher of the Year in the Cub system. Earlier in the week, Jimenez was named the top hitter in all of low Class A by Baseball America! Clifton was named the top pitcher in all of high Class A! Congratulations to both players!

eloy 85 futuresI think next year will be an exciting year for both players. Jimenez will turn 20. After his first full season of 140+ games, I think the Cubs are going to let him loose. Unlike this year where he was kept at South Bend all year, I think Eloy will move fairly quickly in 2017 up to AA. He should spend most of the year there, say from June on.

As for Trevor, he will start the year at AA Tennessee, just 35 miles from home. I think he really improved a lot in 2016 by doing the little things. However, the biggest change was his control and a changeup. He only walked 41 hitters in 129 IP, his lowest rate to date as a Cub. In addition, he kept runners close at first, got out of the first inning unscathed most nights, and he became fearless and confident. His last ten starts from the middle of July were amazing with an ERA of 1.90. If you break it down even further, from August 1 to the end of the postseason, he had a 0.82 ERA in 43.2 IP. In other words, he allowed only 4 total runs in 6 weeks.

Just because the minor league season is over does not mean Cubs Central will stop writing about the Cubs system for the remainder of the MLB season. In fact, all next week there will be yearly reports of each affiliate from Eugene on up to Iowa. One post will run a day starting with Iowa on Monday.

Once the playoffs get here, “The Weekly” post on Sunday will still continue to discuss happenings and random notes including fall instructs, the Arizona Fall League, the 40 man roster, and the Rule V draft. More than likely, due to the lack of quality free agents, I am sure the Cubs will use some of their prospect stash to acquire a young and controllable starting pitcher.

At some point, a new top 21 list will roll out, I am not just sure when. It will require a lot of thinking.

Players of the Week

Pugs 66 bote-85-2016-mb mcneil-64-2016-mb

James Pugliese – He had 7 Ks in 4.1 IP of relief to clinch the series for Myrtle Beach. That gets you Pitcher of the Week.

David Bote – The dude has been on fire since mid-July. In the postseason, he hit .557 in the Mills Cup Championship Series. Can’t wait to watch that carry over to Tennessee.

Ryan McNeil – Two big outings this week. He was throwing straight gas including the save in the final game of the Mills Cup.

Upcoming Posts

Affiliate Season Reports

Top Cub Moments of 2016

Cards of the Year

Who to Re-sign This Winter?

Pelicans Win Second Mills Cup in a Row!

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Twice as nice.

I think that sums up the Pelicans second Mills Cup Championship in a row! The final game was touch and go but James Pugliese shut down the Lynchburg Hillcats with 4.1 IP with 7 Ks in relief of starter Preston Morrison. The Pelicans scratched and clawed their way back from a 3-2 deficit to win 5-3. David Bote was named series MVP as he should have been. The young 2B hit .577 in the series.

Congratulations go out to the Pelicans players and coaches who just had an unbelievable run in August and September. They used great starting pitching, a great bullpen, and some serious hitting the last month. I think Buddy Bailey and the coaches did an unbelievable job of keeping this team focused after all the trades and promotions of late July. After a series against Salem in early August, you could see that this team believed in itself and they weren’t afraid of anyone!

Starting in a few days, Cubs Central will have season wrap-ups for each affiliate. Keep a look out for them starting Monday.

Weekly News and Awards – Prospect Lists, Debuts, and Pelicans Are Rocking!

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The big news this week was the release of three prospect lists. Baseball Prospectus (BP) released their top 50 prospects, Baseball America (BA) released their top 100, and Baseball America also released each team’s top 10. Within the next 12 days, MLB Pipeline will also release the top 30 in each organization and their top 100 prospects.

eloy 70 2016 futuresBP placed Eloy Jimenez at number 28 in their top 50, Gleyber Torres at number 34, and Ian Happ at number 50. In Baseball America’s top 10 for the Cubs, they ranked the three as Torres 1, Happ 1A, and Eloy third. It would not surprise me to see MLB.com rank Eloy at number one. The interesting thing to me was they had both Contreras and Almora off the list even though they have not hit the prerequisite 150 MLB plate appearances to lose prospect status.

The rest of the BA top 10 filled out like this:
4 Mark Zagunis
5 Jeimer Candelario
6. Oscar de la Cruz
7. Dylan Cease
8. Trevor Clifton
9. Duane Underwood
10. Eddy Martinez

This is a substantial change from their winter list. Gone are Contreras and Almora, but also Billy McKinney. In are Clifton, Cease, and Martinez. I may see the ranking of Zagunis as a little high, but to be honest, you could switch around 4-10 and it wouldn’t make much difference. The falling of Duane Underwood to injury is expected, but Oscar de la Cruz has been injured all year and he rose two spots. Go figure.

I started updating my top 21 list offline but I’m going to wait until the trade deadline is over to publish it. Pretty safe to say, I’m going to have a new number one after only ranking Willson Contreras number one just after the draft and the minor league All-Star break a month ago. So far, eight of the names you see above will be in my top ten. I’m still open to change.

Debuts This Week – Zach Davis, Wyatt Short, Matt Swarmer, Duncan Robinson, and Chad Hockin
It would not surprise me to see Short and Hockin at South Bend very soon. Both were outstanding!

The deadline to sign draft picks ended on Friday at 4 P.M. The Cubs signed 24 of their 38 picks, which was above my estimation of 15-20. Late signings included 11th round pick Michael Rucker from BYU and 33rd round pick Nate Sweeney, a high school pitcher.

Around the System This Week

Iowa 1-3; 42-52
Tennessee 2-5; 9-13
Myrtle Beach 4-2; 12-11 1st Place
South Bend 3-3; 15-8
Eugene 3-3; 20-9 – 1st Place
Arizona 3-2; 11-10
Dominican Republic 1 1-4; 16-20
Dominican Republic 2 4-1; 24-11 – 1st Place

Players of the Week

Pitcher – Zach Hedges 6 IP, 8 Ks
Hitter – Isaac Paredes – 8 for 19 – In his last 3 games, he is 8 for 15 – He began the year injured, and now he’s coming on strong. He’s seen his average go from .182 to .286 in a week.
Reliever – James Pugliese 7.2 IP, 7 Ks, 0 Rs, 1 W
Team of the Week – Myrtle Beach – now in first place!

Here’s What’s Coming Up Next Week at Cubs Central
Interview with Eddy Martinez
A Day at Kane County
Pelicans on a Roll
Waiting for Vogelbach
The 24