By Todd Johnson
*Friday was the final day underclassmen and high school players drafted by the Cubs’ this year could sign a pro contract. The Cubs had around $85,000 in extra bonus pool money and they stunned everyone by getting 35th round pick OF Edmond Americaan from Chipola JC in Florida for just over $200,000. The Cubs also signed 27th round pick Niels Stone from Indian River State College, a junior college. He is right-handed pitcher. Even though the deadline has passed, the Cubs still can sign Catcher Hunter Taylor from South Carolina, who was a senior. They own Taylor’s rights until next June.
So, in total, the Cubs signed 32 drafted players (the most in the Theo era) and 3 non-drafted players. That will be a lot of new Cubs to keep track of the next two months.
*Nico Hoerner, the Cubs’ first round pick last month, just continues to get on base at an unreal clip in Eugene. After missing four games from jamming his pinky finger sliding into third base, Hoerner came back on Friday and did not skip a beat going 2/4 with a BB, a run, and 2 SBs. Then, last night, he cranked his first HR as a Cub.
*In a bit of perplexing and sad/bad news, the oft-injured pitcher Oscar de la Cruz received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Furosemide, a masking agent. Although he was struggling a bit at AA Tennessee, this was also the first year he had stayed healthy since his breakthrough at Eugene. It will be interesting to see how the Smokies replace Oscar in the rotation and how the Cubs deal with Oscar on a personal level in the future.He will not be eligible to play until mid-May of 2018.
*In good news, South Bend 1B/OF Jared Young (who was promoted to Myrtle Beach yesterday) and Tennessee pitcher Duncan Robinson were named the Cubs’ minor league player and pitcher of the month, respectively. In what is becoming an annoying trend this year, I am picking the hitter correctly in my monthly All-Star teams. My pitchers are not usually close. For June, I had South Bend’s Rollie Lacy while in April I had Javier Assad to the Cubs’ Matt Swarmer. I will get it right someday (as I did in May with Cory Abbott).
*I also went a little bit nuts on making my baseball cards the past two weeks. I finished my June cards of the month post a few days early. As a result, I had a weekend’s worth of cards to add into July’s album. With addition of Eugene now playing along with 3 new photographers contributing pics, I had plenty to do. Right now, I have an amazing 76 cards just one week into the month. Here’s an amazing tidbit to that number…I still have an album of Eugene pics from their last homestand to sort through and turn into cards. You can see all of July’s cards here.
*I am beginning to have some thoughts about who the Cubs might protect on the 40 man roster to avoid losing in the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Cubs have until November to make their declarations. Usually at the end of July/early August, Cub fans get a sneak peak when 7 players are usually selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League. Justin Steele is no-brainer selection for Arizona. The young lefty missed most of this season after TJS last August. He came back this week and pitched three scoreless in Mesa. I am excited for him as he worked hard to get back. As for who else might be on the list, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played before that is figured out.
*Because of Trent Giambrone’s massive 3 HR and 9 RBI outburst, he is going to get the hitter of the week award, and deservedly so. Coming in second was Grant Fennell of Mesa 2. The IF/OF from Nevada was signed as an non-drafted free agent and is doing very well in the AZL. He hit over .500 this week and drove in 5. He’s going to be a bat worth watching the rest of the summer. I am thinking of doing a profile on him later this week. We’ll see.
*In addition, several young Cubs made their debuts this week including Cole Roederer, Zach Mort, Paul Richan, Ethan Roberts, and Jimmy Herron. To see how all the draft picks are doing this year, click here.
Players of the Week
By Todd Johnson
June was a rough month at times. It began with three affiliates in contention for a playoff spot for the first half. None of them made it. In the meantime, five additional teams began play this month. Two teams in the DSL started in early June while Eugene and two Mesa teams began June 15th and 18th respectively.
In selecting players for this month’s all-star team, the hitting definitely took a downturn except for second basemen. Pitching, meanwhile, continues to be the strength of the system. There were four arms in contention for pitcher of the month up until Wednesday this week. Not surprisingly, most of them were at South Bend. The relief corps dominated at almost every level with the largest contingent of players on the list.
If I was to come up with a theme to this month’s team, it would have to be something about finding consistency and adapting. I was really pleased to see Michael Cruz of South Bend make the team as he finally hit for average at this level. He has always hit for power at every stop, but his willingness to go the other way is really changing his profile.
in addition, another pleasant surprise included the play of outfielder Brandon Hughes. I detailed his changes and adaptations earlier in the week at Cubs Central.
The hitter and pitcher of the month both had dominant performances. 1B Jared Young of South Bend drove in 27 runs in 27 games while teammate Rollie Lacy owned the mound in every start striking out more than 10 per nine innings with an ERA at 0.78. Dillon Maples is the reliever of the month as he was just overpowering with his immense K/9 inning ratio of 17.61 this month. Not allowing an earned run helped.
When the July All-Star team rolls around, there will be lots of new faces to consider and statistics for nine teams to sort through. I expect to see the pitching continue to dominate throughout the system and the newly promoted arms to adjust. As well, the hitters taken in the draft should begin to display their talents from Mesa on up to South Bend in the coming weeks. It should be very exciting.
As usual, this month’s team is once again on film, the digital kind.
By Todd Johnson
I always find that the three days of the All-Star break is always quite strange. First, you have two teams in the Dominican that play very early in the morning, and then you have four teams playing at night, three of them who just began their season. It’s a bit hard to go from 6 PM to 9 PM without either checking in on a game, watching Gameday, or MiLB.TV. When play resumes on Thursday, then it’s like a massive rush as there are games going anywhere from 9:30 in the morning to 11:30/12 at night. That’s a whole lot of baseball.
All the minor league affiliates began playing at once for the first time on Thursday, pitching was still stealing the show. Tyler Thomas truck at 11 for South Bend, Alex Lange of Myrtle Beach went six strong and struck out seven, and Erling Moreno, who was on a rehab start in Mesa, threw 4.2 no hit innings. And last night, Didier Vargas, all of 19 years old, struck out 11 in 7 for Mesa 1.
In addition to action returning, there was also some player movement. Cam BeLago and early Marino were assigned to South Bend on Friday. On Thursday, Eric Hillman was promoted to Myrtle Beach and Keegan Thompson was promoted to AA Tennessee, and infielder Christian Donahue is going to be filling in at Iowa for a week or two for Stephen Bruno.
Debuts for Draft Picks and Undrafted Free Agents
On Friday night, the first 2018 draft picks debuted down in Mesa. By the end of next week and several of them should be in Eugene. For Mesa 1, second baseman Clayton Daniel and outfielder Jamie Galazin both went two for three in their debut. Over at Mesa 2, outfielders Grant Frennel, Drew Wharton, and DJ Artis all went hitless. There will be a lot more debuts this coming week that will hopefully include some pitchers getting on the mound for the first time.
One interesting thing that’s been happening since about the middle of May is the statistic of who is leading the Cubs system in runs created and batted in. For a long while, Jason Vossler had sole possession. Then, starting in early June Jared Young started creating runs in bunches. At the All-Star break, they were tied with 42 RBI while Young had a wRC+ of 141 compared to Vosler’s 129. On Friday night Vosler drove in three runs to retake the RBI as Young only drove in one. It may not mean much in the big scheme of things, but it’s a fun stat to track. I don’t see Young giving up the wRC+ stat anytime soon with his .300 average helping to keep his numbers high.
Draft picks only have about a week and a half left for them to sign their pro contracts. Several picks signed their contracts this week including first round pick Nico Hoerner. I expect him to begin play very shortly at Eugene and by this time next week the Cubs should have 30-32 of their draft picks signed. Not that that would be a coup, but it would be pretty close to one.
End of June Schedule
As June wraps up, I’ve begun assembling statistics for this month’s all star team. The issue is that the month ends on Saturday. Usually in that instance, I move the Weekly ahead a day. However, I think I am going to put out two posts that day. The Weekly will roll out at it’s usual time. The June All-Star Team will come out in the late afternoon and the Cards of the Month will come out on Tuesday.
Getting My Trips in Order
With only staining the rails and new steps left to do on my deck, my yard work list will probably be done by the end of the week. After that, I can begin my road trips to watch some baseball and break in my new camera. Right now, I plan on heading to South Bend for a couple of days and then follow the team most of the week as they play Quad Cities and Kane County. That will be nice as my house is located in between them.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Now that the first half of the MiLB season and accompanying all-star games are complete, expect to see some promotions coming. However, don’t expect to see too many of them. There are two reasons for that. One is that there were not that many dominating hitting performances when it comes to position players. And, while pitchers were great in the first half, there are not too many pitching positions open. The same can be said for catching. Still, there are several players who are worthy of moving up a level.
Should be heading to Iowa
There’s a pitching spot open since Adbert is out for the year.
Top of the List
Duncan Robinson is really putting together a good season at AA. He’s being pretty quiet about it, too. He had a 3.36 ERA in the first half. And in June, he’s hotter than a firecracker with a 1.59 ERA. What I like is that his batting average against has decreased every month. The fact that he has only walked 10 batters in 75 innings should give you the first clue that he is clearly in control on the mound.
Heading to Tennessee
If Robinson goes to Iowa, that creates a spot in the rotation for the Smokies.
Top Candidate #1
Keegan Thompson is the hottest pitcher at Myrtle Beach. He has four pitches he can throw for strikes and he recently pitched 7 perfect innings in his last start. He’s extremely polished and I don’t see high A Myrtle Beach holding much of a challenge for him at 23 years of age. He’s been named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week twice. In June, his dominance was highlighted by his WHIP of 0.54! He doesn’t look to be challenged much and there are no new pitches for him to polish – that being his strongest point for promotion.
Top Candidate #2
Alex Lange might not be the hottest pitcher in the system, but he has a lot of potential as a pro. Already armed with a plus curve, he’s been working on two things this year – fastball command and a changeup. Sometimes, he takes his lumps, other times, he dominates. From May 17 to June 11, he allowed 1 earned run while striking out 21 in 22 innings over 4 starts. Lange’s 2.83 season long FIP is much better than Thompson’s 3.42, it would be an interesting discussion on who would move to AA.
The Cubs would have several arms from which to pick at South Bend. Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, Tyler Thomas, and Jesus Camargo are all having excellent seasons for the Cubs’ Midwest League affiliate. On the other hand, Lacy and Uelmen are two of the hottest pitchers in the system. In June, Ulemen has a 1.40 ERA while Lacy has a very nice 0.69 ERA. Lacy’s curve is pretty hard to hit while Uelmen’s natural sinking fastball that bottoms out gets some of the ugliest swings one sees in Class A baseball.
Lacy started out in the pen this year and has been pretty consistent since he moved to the rotation on May 6. He just keeps refining himself every outing and has shown incredible growth through the pitches he throws in certain counts which keeps hitters guessing. His ERA for the year is 2.40.
Uelmen was rocked around pretty hard in April as a starter. His 9.75 ERA and 1.92 WHIP were pretty discouraging. Despite those two stats, Uelmen was still striking out a batter an inning. In May, he figured things out. It was as if he warmed up with the weather in northern Indiana. Back-to-back monthly ERAs of 2.16 and 1.40 point to his growth as well. Even though his ERA is 3.51 for the year, his FIP is a robust 2.47.
It would be a tough choice.
When It Comes to Hitting…
Sadly, no hitter at either Myrtle Beach or Tennessee is just completely dominating. However, I could see Jason Vosler moving to AAA Iowa. Sure, he’s put up good power and walk numbers, and has been hitting well the past month, but there’s not really a spot for him unless someone is cut, or, God forbid, moved to Chicago because of an injury. Who knows what the summer will bring to open up a spot? Maybe a trade will clear some space at AA or AAA.
Then again, there is only one hitter I can see being promoted and I am pretty sure you know who that is. I feel like all I have done is write about him this year.
Jared Young should be in Myrtle Beach as soon as possible. He can go there, play multiple positions, and, in general, scuff up some more baseballs.
What I see driving promotions later this summer is going to be the play of this year’s draft picks. Players like Nico Hoerner and Luke Reynolds could result in more movement than we have seen so far this year. Outside of Cory Abbott, Matt Swarmer, and Trevor Clifton, there’s just not much movement, or, should I say, big names moving.
That’s about to change.
By Todd Johnson
In compiling the stats and possible prospects who might make the First Half All-Star Team, I started with a spreadsheet to get a head start. The 20 something players who made the list did not change much, but who would become the hitter and pitcher of the first half changed from week to week. The reliever of the first half was pretty much set in stone since the first month of the season.
It’s been interesting to watch players shoot up, down, or stay steady throughout the past 2.5 months. Still, it came down to the weekend to see who would make the team when it came to starting pitching (I had 12 at one point and it didn’t end up too far from that).
The biggest surprise the past two weeks has been the surge of Jhonny Bethencourt. Bethencourt is a 21-year-old infielder who plays 3B, SS, and 2B for South Bend. He can definitely handle a stick. He’s hitting almost .350 in June alone to bring his average up to .280. His issue, though, is his defense. He tends to rush plays with his arm. He can get to and field the grounder, it’s just the quality of his throws. However, as long as he hits, he is going to play somewhere.
I really like Jared Young and have been on the “Jared Young Train” since before he began to take off last August. His approach is too good. Not only can he hit for average, he can hit for power. Most teams in the Midwest League already employ a shift against him every night and it is not stopping him from going off. He is the hitter of the first half. I am ready for him to add 10-15 pounds of muscle this winter to add even more power to his game. He cranked out 8 HRs and lead the system in RBI this spring and also lead with a wRC+ of 146 while hitting .302.
Pitcher Matt Swarmer has been pretty steady. He’s had a couple of tough starts, but that is it. The lean and lanky starter already got promoted to Tennessee after being named the April Pitcher of the Month with a 1.72 ERA and 26 Ks in 20.2 IP. In May, he had a 2.92 ERA. In his first start at Tennessee, he got touched, but in his second start, he was scoreless through 3 before the rains came and delayed the game. For the first half, between the two levels, the pitcher of the first half put up a 2.47 ERA and had 65 Ks in 59.1 IP with a WHIP of 0.95.
Dakota Mekkes is the reliever of the first half. He had a 0.98 ERA between Iowa and Tennessee along with 36 Ks in 26.2 IP. His only issue is walks. He’s given out 15 free passes this year, but only 3 in Iowa (5+ BBs/9). Expect to see him in Chicago shortly.
Without further adieu, here is Cub Central’s First Half All-Star team.
By Todd Johnson
This is the final weekend of the first half of the minor league season. Only the Tennessee Smokies are still in contention but three teams have a chance to have a winning record for the first half. In addition, the Eugene Emeralds begin their season tonight. The Arizona Rookie League also begins on Monday.
Here are six other things I have been keeping an eye on lately.
1. Keegan Thompson – The Myrtle Beach starting pitcher threw seven perfect innings of no-hit ball. He uses a four pitch mix to get eight strikeouts while not allowing a baserunner of any kind. The no-hitter and perfect game were lost in the eighth, as well as the game. Still, Thompson might be the most polished right now of last year’s draft class. His pitchability is off the charts.
2. Erich Uelmen – Over the last two months, there has been no better pitcher in the Cubs system. He had a 2.16 ERA in May and has a 1.40 ERA in 3 June starts. Currently, his sinker is one of the best pitches of any Cubs’ pitching prospect. If he can command all three pitches, he is going to be unstoppable. I can’t wait to see how his stuff plays at the next level.
3. Jared Young – in April, he was hitting over .400 before an injury. When he came back in May, it took him a couple weeks to get back in the swing of things. He only hit .229 for the month. He’s back to destroying the ball and hitting .298 for the first half as well as 39 RBI, second only to Jason Vosler in the system.
4. David Bote – He definitely has power as he hit another home run last night. His bat to ball skills clearly put him at the top of the Cubs’ call up from AAA list.
5. Jason Vosler – He should find his way to AAA soon. For the past six weeks, he’s been hitting for average and power while leading the system in home runs and RBIs. He’s been taking his walks all year, now balls just seem to be falling in for him at a much higher rate. He should be fine at AAA as long as he can hit somewhere between .250 and .270 to go along with his power.
6. Jake Hannemann – He’s never been a hitting machine until this year. At 27-years-old, things are really beginning to click for him. In May, he hit .313 and, so far in June, he cruising along at a .400 clip.
Bonus – I have not been spending as much time on Twitter since the draft. That will probably continue as I seem to be enjoying doing other things like getting the back yard fixed up. If you send me a message on Twitter, I will get a notification on my phone and I can message you back. Other than that I think I’m enjoying cutting back the amount of time I spend there.
Coming up Sunday in The Weekly
Who’s Hot – Jhonny Bethencourt, Brandon Hughes, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, and Jacob Hannemann, to name a few. I will also check out how Eugene did and take a short look at trends in the DSL.
By Todd Johnson
Over the past two weeks, I wrote about the draft so much that I was a little burned out, even on the word. So what do I do on my first off day from writing in a while? That’s right, I go on the radio and talk about it. And tonight, I am talking with Sean Holland of Cubs Insider and Cubs Den on his podcast about it even more. Then….I am done. I swear!
So, today I wanted to write some random things down as June is usually a month of change in baseball in the majors and minors. Without anymore babbling, here are six things that have been coursing through my brain the past few days.
1. I originally wanted to do a full-fledged profile about Vimael Machin. Machin is currently killing it since his promotion to AA Tennessee. In 18 games for the Smokies, the somewhat organizational journeyman is hitting .375 with OBP near .500 in 19 games. Machin, drafted in 2015 from VCU after a messianic CWS run, has bounced around the system the past three years. His identity as a prospect vs. a journeyman was questioned as he moved around freely playing everywhere from Eugene to Iowa. He finally got a steady gig at South Bend in the spring of 2017 and hit .320 in the first half. Machin was then promoted to Myrtle Beach shortly after the All-Star Break. At Myrtle Beach, his walk rate was astounding in spite of his bat. Now at AA, Machin’s bat has returned and he is still walking more than he strikes out, a trait the Cubs covet. Keep an eye on Vimael the rest of this month. He’s looking like a future utility piece as he can play all four infield positions.
2. Promotions – When the 25-30 players from the “you-know-what” sign, several players will be moving to make room. A few pitchers already have gone up a level along with Machin. Next should be Jared Young from South Bend. He’s killing it right now. Over his last 10, he’s hitting .343 with 3 HRs and 10 RBI. For the year, he’s at .291. The problem is the promotions for position players will be scarce as the system is a little log jammed, especially at Catcher.
3. International Free Agency (IFA) – The Cubs are considered to be the favorites to sign pitcher Richard Gallardo, ranked as the #5 international player by MLB Pipeline. The Cubs should be able to sign some pretty good talent this year after two years of penalties. Now, a hard cap is in place for all teams. However, teams can trade bonus pool money. It would not surprise me to see the Cubs trade some prospects for some IFA money. If they do, the Cubs could easily outdo their talent haul from this week’s “event I refuse to call by its name.”
4. The Bullpen/Starter Conundrum in Chicago – While watching the game yesterday, I saw Joe Maddon trot out Cishek, Duensing, Wilson, Strop, and Morrow (not in that order) to seal the victory. It’s a scene I’ve witnessed far too often this year. A starter doesn’t make out of the fifth or into the sixth and the bullpen is used for the rest of the game. If this continues, there will be no bullpen left. I checked how many games these guys already pitched in and everyone was over 25 with 103 left. At the rate they are going, the five aforementioned guys will make between 70-75 appearances in the regular season. They will be gassed for the postseason. The starters have to go longer so the bullpen can pitch less.
As for help, Dillon Maples has been much better of late the past three weeks. He has not allowed a run over his last six games. Also, now that Dakota Mekkes is just a phone call away, expect that call to come to Chicago sometime later this summer.
5. The Art of a Deal – The Cubs, more than likely, are not going to be making a big deal this summer unless it’s for a bullpen arm or a bench player. There’s not going to be a big name guy coming to town. I just don’t see Theo giving up what’s left of the system this year. This is pretty much the team as it is. Help, if needed, is more than likely to come from Iowa.
6. Ryan Williams – He is getting very close to returning to playing in a game that matters. Yesterday, he threw 67 pitches in extended spring training. He’s one of my favorite Cubs to watch pitch. He’s such a bulldog out there. Still, he’s missed the past two plus years with shoulder issues. I was wondering if he was ever going to return. He’s not quite ready, but we could see him rehabbing up through the system in July. That would be a great sight to see.
I will be back tomorrow with a preview of Trevor Clifton’s AAA debut. On Sunday, “The Weekly” looks ahead at Theo’s latest interview and the last week of the first half of the MiLB season. And a peak at the Eugene and Mesa rosters is coming next week as they begin play a week from today.