By Todd Johnson
This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.
On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.
As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.
By Todd Johnson
The Tennessee Smokies are right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently they hold a half a game lead over Montgomery for the second playoff spot in their division in the Southern League North Division. They were in contention with Chattanooga most of the first half before falling apart the last 10 days in a head-to-head series against the Lookouts. When the second half began, the Smokies hit the skids in late June. Now, they righted the ship thanks in large part to a shutdown bullpen in July.
Even though Dillon Maples was recently promoted (he was only at Tennessee for a month), there have been six relievers who have been the stalwarts of the pen in July. They have put together outstanding performances with most of them having ERAs under 1.00. Surprisingly, there is not a left-hander in the bunch. Yet, the Smokies relievers have been able to thrive.
For today’s six-pack, here are six relievers coming up big in the Smokies bullpen.
1. James Pugliese – Right now I’m a little perplexed as to why he is still at AA. For the year, he has a blank 0.82. In July, he’s been solid with a 1.00 ERA in six appearances. On the year , he has 37 strikeouts in 53 innings while only walking 22.
2. Daury Torrez – After converting to reliever, he seems to have found major success this year. Like Pugliese, he’s just been amazing out of the pen. For the year he has a 1.62 and, in July, he has been pretty solid as well with a 2.92 ERA in 7 appearances. His control has been phenomenal as he has only walked 8 batters all year.
3. David Garner – He is easily the most improved reliever this year at Tennessee. While it is his second year at the level, he has made dramatic improvements in his command. He’s learned that he can’t get away with mistakes. He has yet to allow an earned run all month and a strikeout totals have been outstanding all year at 25 in 25 innings. In July, he has a 0.71 WHIP and opponents are only batting .136 against him.
4. Jose Rosario – He just came off the disabled list and on Wednesday night, he looked like the old Jose Rosario striking out three in one inning of work. While he has only made a few appearances, his time in Tennessee might be short-lived for someone who is on the 40 man roster.
5. Craig Brooks – Brooks came out of the gate this year firing bullets for Myrtle Beach with an ERA under 0.5. When he got to Tennessee, he struggled for the first month and a half before he figured things out. In July, he looks exactly like the pitcher who was at Myrtle Beach in April and May throwing upper 90s heat. This month has struck out 19 in 10.2 IP and has yet to allow a run.
6. Steve Perakslis – In 13.1 IP, he has allowed only 1 run in July while striking out 13. Normally, he’s been a slow starter in the first half and typically turns it on with the summer heat. He does throw in the mid 90s and is an interesting arm at age 26.
Fellow relievers Ryan McNeil and Brad Markey have been up and down this year with Markey sometimes doing some spots starts along with Pugliese. I do think that there will be some promotions coming in the next couple of weeks. One pitcher who could be coming to Tennessee is Dakota Mekkes, who has yet to allow an earned run at Myrtle Beach. Who knows, there might even be a lefty coming along with him.
With several doubleheaders in June and early July, it is a wonder this pen and these relievers are not burnt out. Somehow, their hard work has set the Smokies up for success in July. I’d like to think that some of them will get a shot at going to Iowa at the end of the month. Then again, Manager Mark Johnson may need them for his first short at making the playoffs at AA and winning a Southern League title.
*Thank you to Charlie Walter and Sumner Gilliam of the Smokies for the photographs
By Todd Johnson
I think the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching this month’s presentation is the amount of new names who made the All-Star team in June. In fact, there are only ten holdovers from last month. That means there are 10 new names and one returning name from April. That’s a lot.
June was a rough month in the Cubs’ system. Going into Thursday and Friday, I only had five starting pitchers on my list and only four of them met the usual requirement of an ERA below 3.00 for a month. I do like the fact that there are a lot of new names as it shows the depth of the system, and it also shows that they are all performing at a high-level.
July is usually when we see a lot of new names make the list. Arizona and Eugene players will make their names heard. For me, this is when I really I get to know a prospect. I begin to keep track of their stats almost on a daily basis. I am always excited to see new prospects do well, whether it’s the ones I think will or the ones who surprise me. To be honest, I always enjoy being surprised more.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
The 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
Team Leaders – Pitching
|ERA (50 IP min)||Strikeouts||WHIP||Saves||Innings|
Yasiel Balaguert – 19 HRs, 96 RBIs, that’ll do, Yasiel, that’ll do.
Team Cy Young
Trevor 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
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.
I’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.