By Todd Johnson
The second half of the minor-league season begins today. With Myrtle Beach already in the playoffs, Tennessee and South Bend will both be trying to get in after barely missing in the first half. Both of those teams will have to improve and infusion of talent could help. For the Iowa Cubs, they are going to need a lot to go right just to get back to .500. But then again, their main gig is to have players developed and ready to play in Chicago.
Iowa: 31-41 – Record is cumulative for the year (last place in Northern Division)
This team needs some starting pitching. They ranked 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Starter Zach Hedges joined Iowa a week ago, but they need one more arm in the rotation and maybe one or two in the pen. Dave Berg is turning out to be a pleasant surprise at this level. When it comes to hitting, who knew that Jake Hannemann would be profoundly better at AAA than at AA. He’s hitting .311 in 16 games. Expect to see Jen-Ho Tseng make it to Iowa after the All-Star Break. I don’t expect to see any promotions to Chicago except a bullpen arm like Zac Rosscup or Jack Leathersich.
Key Hitting Prospect: Victor Caratini – His bat has nothing left to accomplish in Iowa. It is all about his glove and arm the rest of the year.
Key Pitching Prospect: Jack Leathersich – After missing a year and a half, he looks to be in shape and ready to help out at the MLB level. In 6 June appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and has struck out 13 in 7.1 IP while opponents are only hitting .154 against him.
Tennessee: 36-33 First Half – 5.5 GB
This team had a nice stretch in May and then fell apart the past two weeks. They will be fine. I wonder how long Burks and Vosler stay at this level? They have been outstanding hitters along with Andrew Ely. Ian Rice has been streaky as has David Bote. But the key to their season is the bullpen. If Ryan McNeil gets it figured out, look out because Torrez and Pugliese have given up nothing in front of him all year and David Garner was having a good June. Dillon Maples and his MLB ready curveball have been excellent so far. Also, I am hoping that Jake Stinnett makes it back to pitch this year. If he does not, look for some starter from Myrtle Beach to move up to Tennessee soon.
Eloy Jimenez is coming…it is not a question of if, but when. He is being pitched around quite a bit in the Carolina League. I don’t expect this promotion to take long, though. When he does come, his bat will really change the lineup for those in front of him, and those behind, especially Jason Vosler.
Key Pitching Prospect: Trevor Clifton – Just 22, Clifton has gone a level a year. He had a good April and May and slumped a little in June. He should be back to normal after the break. He has been a stud in July and August the past two summers.
Key Hitting Prospect: Eloy – He better be.
Myrtle Beach: 43-27 First Half; Southern Division Champions
They won 20 out of 24 to close out the first half. All parts of the team clicked to make it happen – starting pitching, hitting, defense, and the bullpen. In the second half, Manager Buddy Bailey will surely have some roles to figure out as some players head to Tennessee and others come in from South Bend and the draft. Adbert Alzolay made a case to be promoted as he went deep into games most every night. It should be interesting to see who is on this roster come the first of July. Even then, this team will have plenty of starting pitching and a shut down bullpen to possibly win the second half title as well.
Key Hitting Prospect – Trent Giambrone – He is coming on strong. After barely hitting .220 in the first half, he is hitting almost .300 in June
Key Pitching Prospect – Thomas Hatch – He has yet to give up a run this month and looks to have his command and control down perfectly.
South Bend: 39-30 First Half – 1.5 GB of a Wild Card Spot
They were blowing the doors of teams in May and then they hit a wall. The 18-20 year-old hitters just looked tired at the end of late May and they began slumping at the worst possible time. Wladimir Galindo broke his leg and some key bullpen arms were promoted, not to mention Dylan Cease’s ankle injury. Still, there’s a lot of hope for the second half. They’re a very young team but they can hit. Zack Short seems an old man at 21. Duncan Robinson was a nice first half surprise along with Short, Vimael Machin, and Albert Mineo. I think several college picks could arrive to help the bullpen and to offset any losses for position players – remember the name Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State.
Key Hitting Prospect: Isaac Paredes – He is already hitting over .300 for June. It took a while, but I think he is beginning to live up to the faith the Cubs brass had in him skipping Eugene.
Key Pitching Prospect: Dylan Cease – He really needs innings and developing efficiency is the key to him strengthening that arm. Right now, he has 38.1 IP. He has about 13-14 starts left. Hopefully, he can get over 100 IP in this year. That would be great!
Overall, I don’t see a lot of promotions taking place this month. Maybe one starting pitcher/reliever per team and maybe one position player as well. I think most of the movement is going to come with draft picks. As a result, the lower levels will have the most impact, specifically South Bend and Eugene.
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
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.
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
When I first saw Jason Vosler it was in 2015 at South Bend, all I could think of was Mark Grace. That was not a comp for his swing, rather it was the fact that Vosler originally did not wear batting gloves his first couple of years in the system. This year, he has them on and is having his best start as a Cubs prospect.
Fangraphs is one site that loves Vosler. Carson Cistulli stated:
Over the first month of his 2017 campaign, Vosler has continued producing his characteristically strong contact rates. He’s also recorded his typical marks at third base. As for the power, however, it has been something much better than “non-negligible.” After recording only three homers over 483 plate appearances last year while splitting time between High-A and Double-A, Vosler has already hit seven home runs in 2017. The result? The absolute highest isolated-power figure among qualified Double-A batters.
Great Feel for the Zone
Short, quick stroke
Power to all fields
Areas of Concern
Hitting for Average
Heading into 2017
For the better part of three seasons, Vosler had flashed the ability to hit for power at certain times. I was surprised in 2015 when he was promoted mid season from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. At the time, I did not think he had done anything to warrant a promotion. He proved me wrong by slugging .441 the rest of that summer.
In 2016, he returned to Myrtle Beach for half of summer and moved up at the same time as Jeimer Candelario did from Tennessee to Iowa. Vosler flashed powered from time to time but his batting average was still stuck between .240 and .250 most months. The 10 home runs he hit in 2015 dwindled to just three for the entire 2016 season.
In May, Vosler is hitting over .329 with a slugging percentage of .481. For the year he is hitting .305 with seven homeruns and 29 RBI.
Right now, I am cautiously optimistic about his season. While he did hit five home runs in April, he has only hit two so far in May, but his batting average increased by over 100 points this month. His on base percentage is now over .400. For three of the four previous seasons, it was usually in the mid-.300s.
Along with Daniel Spingola, Vosler has improved greatly at the plate. He will more than likely make the Cubs Central All-Star team and end up as a runner-up for Hitter of the Month to Victor Caratini or Chesny Young. That is nothing to sneeze at but I would like to see Vosler replicate those stats in June before I fully jump on his bandwagon. I don’t see any reason why he should not be able to do so. He is well known as a student of the game. I am really looking forward to his June.
I see some future for Vosler as a Cub. However, he does play a position where he is blocked by two people already. In order to move up, Vosler is going to have to make himself stand out even more. That could include becoming more versatile and a consistent force at the plate.
By Todd Johnson
The days of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber tearing up the minors with gigantic home runs are gone. That power has not been replaced. Still, there are a few Cubs prospects who have the potential for power. Most notable on the horizon are Ian Happ., Eloy Jimenez, Yasiel Balaguert, and Jeimer Candelario. They could, at any time, drive the ball over the fence. However, there other prospects who have the potential to do so, yet they have not done so with any regularity. Here are six prospects who could become the next power Cubs prospect.
6’4” 195 pounds
Somewhat hobbled by an injury this year, Rose only has 6 HRs in 95 ABs this year. However, a low average has kept him down in the past. Since returning from his injury, he’s been on a nice 10 game tear hitting .314 with 2 HRs. He has the potential to do very well. Last August, he had 7 HRs at South Bend. He has great balance with his feet during his swing, I think he just needs to be a little more selective as a hitter and look for certain pitches in certain zones to maximize his power potential.
6’4” 245 pounds
The former Boise State Linebacker is now playing baseball full-time. He will likely be assigned to Eugene this summer. He has been playing some outfield in extended spring versus 1st and 3rd where he played before. Originally drafted by the Phillies and then by the Cubs in 2014, he last played for the Cubs in 2015 where he only played 18 games ut hit .305. In high school, Martarano was known for his hitting skills before committing to Boise State to play football. A broken leg has changed his career plans. Football is out and baseball is in now. His bat has been drawing rave reviews from Arizona Phil in his EXST game reports.
6’4” 185 pounds
He has been up and down this year. At one point, he had a nice ten game run with 3 mammoth home runs. The next two games saw him go 0-11 with 6 Ks. He is seeing the ball well. When he is on, he is very selective and does well. When he is in a rut, he is not.
The first thing I used to notice about Jason Vosler when he was at South Bend was that he did not use batting gloves. In 2017, he is now at AA Tennessee. The first thing I noticed is gloves are now present. What Vosler does do well is barrell up the ball. He hit 10 HRs between South Bend and Myrtle Beach in 2015 and only 3 between Myrtle and Tennessee in 2016. This year, the 23-year-old 3B has 7 HRs and 23 RBIS while hitting a robust .310 with a robust .421 OBP. I enjoy watching him hit as he is quick to the ball and uses all fields.
Rice is now at AA Tennessee and has punishing the baseball the last two weeks. In that span, he has 4 HRs and his average has gone .237 with a .338 OBP to .310 with a .421 OBP. Last year, he was second in HRs in the system with 15 to Yasiel Balaguert’s 19. I thought Rice could hit 20 in the mountains of Tennessee versus Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher’s park.
I have yet to see Cruz hit live or on TV. Currently, he is the position player I want to see most in 2017. That will come to end soon. He will either be in South Bend soon or when Eugene starts its season in the middle of June. The 2016 7th round pick out of Bethune-Cookman has been held back a bit to work on his defense. Last year, he played in 40 games after being drafted and hit 2 dingers in 40 games while hitting .238 with a .370 OBP. The left-handed swinging Cruz has been tearing it up in EXST. I think his bat might be better than we think. The question, though, will his defense hold him back in spite of his bat? I cannot wait for June to get here just to see him.
With two picks, basically, in the first round, the Cubs have the opportunity to add a special bat or two. They are not going to get a Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber type of bat, but they can get a player who has the potential for power. This year’s draft is big on pitching and shortstops at the top of the draft. There are only a few power bats, most from the college ranks, available.
By Todd Johnson
Lots of things have been happening this week. I spent most of the week in heart of Cardinal Country in Springfield, Illinois participating in Illinois History Day with my students. The big boys won three in a row against the Phillies. Rain destroyed schedules all over the minors. It seemed like there were only 1-2 games a day from which to pick the players of the day.
Today’s six picks is an amalgamation of six players who are on pace to be breakout candidates so far. Some I have profiled on this, Cubs Insider, or BP Wrigleyville.
1. Jason Vosler – He is second in homers in the organization to Ian Happ. He is only 1 behind and closing fast. Now at AA, Vosler is showing a knack for driven the ball in the gaps. I really like that he just plain barrels up the ball. Rather than trying to kill the ball, he just puts a good, quick swing on and the ball just leaves the yard. He also is hitting .291 with an OBP of .400 at AA. He is making himself a force to be dealt with by the Cubs organization.
2. Zack Short – I have profiled him on two sites and I love watching him work an a bat. He can coax a walk just as well as he can hit a home run or lay down a bunt.
3. Marc Huberman – The lefty reliever was moved up to Myrtle Beach today because he’s been outstanding out of the pen for South Bend. He struck 18 in 12.1 IP and only had one outing where he allowed any runs.
4. Kevonte Mitchell – I am putting together a piece on Kevonte’s season for BP Wrigleyville this Sunday. He has been amazing the past ten games hitting .375 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs. One of those home runs traveled an estimated 501 feet.
5. Dillon Maples – By jove, I think he’s got it. He throwing his curve with deadly precision now and pitching with a confidence unseen. It seems as if he has been around forever, but he is still only 24.
6. Craig Brooks is also putting together an amazing season at Myrtle Beach. His ERA is down to 0.55. I think he has adjusted to high A ball well. His first attempt last summer did not go well. This year, the flamethrower has 23 Ks in 16.1 IP.
I will be back on Sunday, unless I can sneak in a little prospect profile on Saturday morning or afternoon. I think I will do that. How does Craig Brooks sound?