The Weekly – Pitching Dominates the Week and Some Draft Tidbits

By Todd Johnson

It was an interesting week in the minors. Everyday saw a great pitching performance or two. On Sunday, Erich Uelmen went six scoreless while Jen-Ho Tseng had the first of two good starts on the week going 7 innings with 9 Ks and 2 runs. On Monday, Michael Rucker went 6 innings with 8 Ks while allowing 2 runs. Javier Assad struck out 7 on Tuesday.

Photo by John Conover

Wednesday was the big day as Brendon Little went 7 scoreless while fellow first rounder Alex Lange went six scoreless with 10 Ks. Duane Underwood also did well on Wednesday along with Trevor Clifton, whose start was cut short due to rain.

On Thursday, the pitching parade continued as Matt Swarmer went 6 scoreless with 7 Ks before leaving in the 7th with a tired arm. He should not miss a start. On Friday, Bailey Clark went from piggyback starter to a full-fledged rotation piece at Myrtle Beach with 4 innings of 1 run ball. That same night, Cory Abbott went 6 strong with 5 Ks and 1 run.

Last night, all four starters were magnificent as well. Keegan Thompson got things started off with 6 scoreless and 8 Ks for Myrtle Beach. South Bend’s Erich Uelmen went 5 scoreless and 8 Ks, too. The only difference between the two was that Thompson gave up just one hit while Uelmen allowed three. Alec Mills continued the night with 6 innings of 1 run ball. Oscar de la Cruz looked very strong for Tennessee, even taking a liner off his knee and staying in the game. He went 7 innings with no runs allowed while striking out 7 and scattering 5 hits.

As the temperature warms up, so has some hitting. 

Christian Donahue is an infielder who currently plays for South Bend. After coming off the DL on the 16th, Donahue’s bat has taken off with steady playing time. He’s hitting .400 for the month. He seems to be a doubles machine as he has a .964 OPS despite not having a home run. But what I like the most is Donahue’s hustle. He plays the game hard. Being an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State might have something to do with that. I will flesh out his bio a little later this week.

Some Good News

Ryan Williams returned to action for the first time in 2 years yesterday. The “Big Lumberjack” threw 46 pitches (3.2 IP) yesterday in an EXST game. He didn’t light up the radar gun, but he was effective the first two innings. In addition, Erling Moreno came on in relief throwing harder than usual at 96-98. Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter wondered if Erling is being transitioned into a reliever.

Roster Changes

Victor Caratini is back in Iowa while Chris Gimenez is now in Chicago. Victor really needs to play everyday. I am sure the experience was good, but Victor’s future is not as a backup to Willson, Victor, more than likely, will be his own catcher at some point. Efren Navarro of iowa, who was on track to make this month’s All-Star team at 1B, was designated for assignment yesterday.

Jim Callis Draft Interview

On Saturday, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline was on 670 The Score’s “Inside the Clubhouse” talking about the draft. Callis said the Cubs have to let the draft come to them picking at #24. Callis talked about how the Cubs may have a strategy of looking for a college bat, but players drop or fall for various reasons. Callis used Alex Lange dropping last year as an example. Callis brought up some college arms who could fall to the Cubs including lefty Shane McClanahan of Central Florida, Logan Gilbert of Stetson, and Jackson Kowar of Florida as guys who could be bypassed earlier in the draft in favor of college bats.

One interesting name that came up as possible bats at that position, aside from Callis’ pick of Trevor Larnach, was Indiana high school outfielder Nick Schnell. The Louisville commit has a nice 6’2” 180 lb. frame and bats left while throwing right. Callis called him an all-around player.

Another player I hear gaining traction, and not just for the Cubs, is Georgia prep catcher Anthony Seigler. Though decent behind the plate, his bat is his true calling card. He also has the experience of playing USA Baseball, a box that scouting director Jason McLeod like to check. If he shoots into the first round, he could mess up a lot of draft boards.

https://twitter.com/j_nyy/status/1000145385535373312

Around the System
Iowa – 5-2 (18-29)
Tennessee – 3-3 (25-23)
Myrtle Beach – 4-4 (21-28)
South Bend – 4-3 (21-26)

Players of the Week

 

 

Card of the Week

Coming Up Next Week on Cubs Central
Monday – Draft Questions
Tuesday – Christian Donahue
Wednesday – Pitching in the MiLB
Thursday – ???
Friday – May MiLB All-Star Team
Saturday – May Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday the 4th – Draft Day #1

As for Me…

I wrapped up another year of teaching on Thursday afternoon. That, to me, means the beginning of summer. When I am not checking in on baseball the next few weeks, I am going to do a lot of little things around the house and yard while trying to figure whether I am going to South Bend or Des Moines for a trip the week of June 11th.

 

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Promotion Commotion Is on the Horizon – Who’s Up First?

By Todd Johnson

One good month does not a promotion make. Two months, … maybe.

So far, there has not been a lot of movement up and down in the Cubs’ system this year. However, Bailey Clark moving from South Bend to Myrtle Beach was one of domination at South Bend. But most other promotions that took place were related to injury.

In the next few weeks, there will be a lot of movement as the MLB Draft takes place and 20+ new Cubs begin their careers. In addition, the first half will come to a close. I don’t expect a lot of movement when it comes to hitters, but there should be plenty of pitching movement – especially when it comes to relievers. In addition, there could even be a few players released at the higher levels.

Look for the following players to get bumped up a level fairly soon.

Tennessee to Iowa
Dakota Mekkes has been impressive since the beginning of the 2017 season. He has dominated three levels in the last 14 months. And the only reason to keep him in Tennessee would be to work on his walks. In 17.1 innings, he has walked 12. However, in the past, that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from promoting Carl Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Dillon Maples. Mekkes is ready for the next level and could be in Chicago fairly quickly this summer if needed.

Thomas Hatch has looked much better this year. He looks pretty comfortable on the mound and with what he’s throwing. What I like most is that he is gone deep in the games this year And with solid results as he’s posted a 3.06 ERA in 9 starts. His WHIP might be a little high, but I like his ability to get out of jams. He’s also pitched 89 pitches or more in 5 of his last 6 starts. That’s big fo him as the Cubs kept him on a short leash and a 5 inning limit in 2017. He gets bumped around every once in a while, but when you start breaking down his starts, he looks to be fairly consistent. He’s more of a candidate to go at the All-Star break then he is in the first week in June.

Myrtle Beach to Tennessee
Tyler Peyton has been an eye-opener for some at Myrtle Beach. I saw this coming last summer at South Bend as he was pretty dominant the last six weeks of the season. Part of me hopes he would get a chance to start, but as a reliever he is throwing 96 mph consistently out of the pen. Add in a killer ERA of 1.29, and he should find his way to Tennessee shortly after Dakota Mekkes heads to Iowa.

South Bend to Myrtle Beach
2017 second round pick Cory Abbott is missing a lot of bats in the Midwest league, 44 Ks in 36.1 IP. He should be on the first plane to South Carolina fairly quickly at the rate he is going. His slider and fastball command are just wiping out hitters as he has posted a 2.72 ERA in 7 starts. His WHIP is 1.06 and opponents are hitting only .206 against him.

On the Edge

The main problem in promoting prospects is that there is nowhere to go for many of them. For the following list of prospects, they still need some more time to simmer in their respective affiliates before being promoted. While they may not be promoted in the next two weeks, look for their names to be bumped up in late June at the end of the first half.

Tennessee: Zack Short, Charcer Burks, and Jeffrey Baez – All three would need a place to play. Right now, there are no spots in Iowa.

Myrtle Beach: Jhonny Pereda, Wyatt Short, Casey Bloomquist, Bailey Clark, Connor Myers, and Tyler Alamo – Bloomquist has been a nice surprise out of the pen this year, along with Short, while Alamo and Pereda are part of the logjam at first and catcher in the system. Bailey Clark has been a stud throwing between 95-97. He had a couple of adjustments to make at high A but looks to have righted the ship. If Baez and Burks go to Iowa, look for Connor Myers to head west to Tennessee.

South Bend: Tyler Thomas, Javier Assad, Rollie Lacy, and Austin Filiere – All four have shown flashes of potential and have put together some impressive performances along with some befuddling ones. The pitchers probably move before Filiere does.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes down in a couple of weeks both before and after the draft.

The Midweek Report: Remillard Begins 2018, Pitcher Injuries, and Top 21 Thoughts

By Todd Johnson

It is good to see catcher Will Remillard back in action and playing all the way up at AA Tennessee. The former Midwest League All-Star missed 2.5 years due to two Tommy John surgeries. He saw his first action since 2014 last August doing some catching for the Eugene Emeralds. He spent most of this spring in extended spring training and he began playing last week in Tennessee.

His bat has acted like he never left and skipped high A baseball. Heading into Wednesday’s game, he was 5 for 11 (.455) in 3 games at AA and I am extremely happy to see him play. I love his catching skills and his leadership skills. He brings a lot of intensity to any team he is on.

In Other Injury News…
Manny Rondon made his debut last night in South Bend. He did so in relief giving up 1 unearned run and striking out 1 in 1.2 innings.

Meanwhile, Justin Steele, who was outstanding at Myrtle Beach last year before TJS in August, is back throwing after surgery.

Also, reliever Chad Hockin showed off his scar work from his Tommy John Surgery last month.

In addition…

For some weird reason, I am also thinking about June when I plan on redoing my Top 21 prospect list. At the beginning of the year, I knew that players would move up and down the list this year depending on performance. The lack of elite talent and separation between the talent in the system would cause that movement as players heated up or cooled off.

There are a few prospects who are putting together nice seasons and could be promoted at the All-Star break in mid June.

Hitters
Zack Short – After a poor July, he’s pounding the ball in May with a .698 slugging percentage and hitting above .300 this month with an OBP well over .500.
Jared Young – He did have a brief injury after hitting .400+ the first two weeks of the season. He struggled a bit after coming off the DL, but seems to have found his stroke the past four or five games.
Austin Filiere – The 2016 draft pick out of MIT hit for more power last year, but this year finds him hitting for a high average (.313)) and his usual .400+ OBP.

Pitchers
Duane Underwood was doing this best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation for a few starts and now looks to be using all his pitches in a variety of counts to keep a batter guessing. When he’s been on, he is is amazing. When he’s off, yeesh!

I really enjoy watching Keegan Thompson pitch. I like how he works hitters and uses all of the zone and throws a variety of pitches. He’s really been impressive in May with a 2.65 in 3 starts.

Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott, Tyler Thomas, and Javier Assad have all been impressive in spurts, but I need more data on them. Of the four, Abbott could be the most consistent and he could sneak into the back end of the list. Although, Matt Swarmer’s K totals are amazing (42 in 32.1 IP).

I don’t know how it will all shake down, but there will be an even greater number of prospects this June to add into the Top 21 mix when Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican begin play. Jeremiah Estrada is one player pitching I am looking forward to seeing along with Outfielder Fernando Kelli and Shortstop Luis Vazquez as well as the new draft picks.

I will be writing about Adbert Alzolay in anticipation of his supposed start on Saturday. The issue is whether I will be posting it in the Six Pack on Friday or its own post on Saturday.

April’s MiLB All-Star Team Is Pitching Heavy

By Todd Johnson

This month’s All-Star team was pretty fluid right up through yesterday’s games. There were prospects who stayed consistent all month. There were those who got hot early and faded late. And then there are those who got off to a rough start but turned it on later in the month. At one point, before last Thursday, they were only five pitchers who met the usual pre-requisite 3.00 ERA. Somehow, two more pulled through

As for position players, no one but Jeffrey Baez really set the system on fire. Baez, who, in the past, has dominated levels in spurts. In April, Baez hit .411 with 3 HR and 15 RBI to earn Hitter of the Month honor. They were not that many players who hit above or near .300. While that is not required to get on the team, there were clear demarcations in the levels of production across the system about who should be on the team. I did not have to leave anyone off who was on a par with current crop of all-stars.

It will be interesting to see which players get promoted here in the coming weeks. I expect some of the players in the video below to move up a level. Most of the promoted prospects will probably be relievers and maybe one of the starting pitchers.

So, without further adieu, here is this month’s minor league All-Star team.

The Weekly – Things Warming Up for Cub Affiliates as Well as the Draft

By Todd Johnson

It warmed up a little this week. There were still some raindrops to play through as all four affiliates got six games in. There were some exciting daily performances from Jeffrey Baez, Cory Abbott, Rollie Lacy, and Bailey Clark. Still, as a whole, it seems most teams can’t get in a groove. It might be the weather, or it might not. It’s also time to see some promotions coming down the pike. Most likely, relievers might be moving around the system.

Iowa (0-6, 4-16)
They are struggling to put runs on the board and to hold leads in the bullpen. Zagunis, Davis, and Rademacher are all hitting well, but that’s it. Duane Underwood has a great start this week and Dillon Maples was just plain deadly on Friday as he struck out all four batters he faced. And they all looked silly trying to hit his slider.

Tennessee (2-4, 10-11)
Jeffrey Baez played like his hair was on fire this week going 8 for 16 with 2 HRs and 7 RBI. Trevor Clifton looked good again on Friday and rebounded nicely to go five strong after a rough first inning. Thomas Hatch continues to get better every start and Daury Torrez should be at Iowa as he is unhittable. The same holds true for Dakota Mekkes who has yet to allow a run all month. Trent Giambrone and Trey Martin were pretty handy with the stick, too, as they pushed their averages over .300. Duncan Robinson also had a very good outing last night, too. He went 6 innings, 0 ER, and struck out 6.`

Myrtle Beach (3-3, 8-15)
They are starting to show some signs of life. Alex Lange, Matt Swarmer, and Keegan Thompson all put together some great starts this week. Lange just overpowered Salem last night.  The Pelicans just need some consistency at the plate. No one seems to be clicking right now in the batter’s box.

South Bend (2-4, 9-10)
At home, they are almost invincible. On the road, not so much. On Wednesday, they put up 17 runs in a hit fest at Bowling Green. However, it is the pitching that is just outstanding. Cory Abbott,  Tyler Thomas, and Javier Assad were all great this week and Rollie Lacy and Bailey Clark were just stupendous out of the pen. Austin Filiere is now over .300 and Brendon Little made it past the third inning in his last outing. I am really digging Little’s improvement from start to start. Kudos go out to him and pitching coach Brian Lawrence for the noticeable differences in pitchability.

Extended Spring Training
Nelson Velazquez is back and he went 2 for 3 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI in his return. Cannot wait to see him in Eugene in six weeks. Pitchers Jeremiah Estrada and Brailyn Marquez, who both should anchor Eugene’s rotation, threw 2 scoreless innings apiece this week. In addition, Cuban catcher Alexander Guerra seems to be rounding into shape as he is now hitting with regularity including some power. This week he did go yard. And one of my favorite draft picks from last year, Luis Vazquez, is doing very well with the bat. Yesterday, he went 2 for 3.

Draft News
The MLB draft is 5 weeks from tomorrow. This week, MLB Pipeline released its top 100 draft prospects. At first, I wanted to write a full blown article about the rankings. I decided against that as I am off to the State History Fair in Springfield this week and there’s no time or space to do so. Here is who Pipeline ranked at each of the five spots the Cubs pick in the top 100. That doesn’t mean they will be there when the Cubs pick, but the rankings are interesting for value perception of who could possible be there.

24 – Trevor Lanarch – I like the 6’4” lefty OF from OSU. He has dramatically improved this year.  two or three years down the road, he could be a power bat that hits 20-25 HRs a year.

62  – Zach Watson – OF – LSU -A speedster, he covers good ground at a premium position. At 6’1” and 165 lbs, he has a lot of filling in to do.

77 – Kyle Isbel – OF/2B – UNLV – His versatility is interesting. He can definitely hit. If he’s a 2B, his value skyrockets as he does have some power.

78 – Jeremiah Jackson – SS – A high school player from Alabama, he has good size (and is not done growing) and he could have some power down the road. He already has a good feel for the zone and that bodes well for the MIssissippi State commit.

98 – Grant Lavigne – 1B – He has a big frame that already has big power. The only concern is that New Hampshire is not a baseball hotbed and that he has not faced elite competition.

I will be back with a full fledged draft post on Monday May 7th with my top 5 players to select at #24.

Players of the Week

Things I Wrote for Other Sites This Week
BP Wrigleyville
Latin Infusion: Part 2 – The Hitters

Cubs Insider
Draft Primer: College Pitchers

Coming Up Next Week
While I will be out of town for a few days in Springfield, I have two posts all ready to go. On Tuesday, the April All-Star team will be released. A few surprises made the list. There are a couple of things that still need to be determined. A couple of starting pitchers could make their way onto the list with good performances today and tomorrow. On Wednesday, the Cards of the Month make their way into the light. I could have easily done a top 15 list without much effort, the pics were so good this month!

Baseball Card of the Week
Check out the monthly album for April on our Facebook account.

*Photo by John Conover

Prospect Stock Watch – The April Edition

By Todd Johnson

Come next Tuesday, I will release my first monthly MiLB All-Star Team. This April was a little hard to judge due to the many rainouts (which are still happening), the cold (which is hopefully gone for good), and the snow (see the cold). It looks like most Cub affiliates will get in between 20 and 22 games for the month. That does not seem like a lot. Well, it is not.

There are some interesting trends taking place at the plate and the mound. Some players are off to great starts while some other well-known names are struggling, some mightily. Here is this month’s monthly stock watch.

Stock Going Up: Hitters
Jeffrey Baez,  Trey Martin, Jared Young, Andruw Monasterio, Yeiler Peguero, Mark Zagunis, and Jhonny Pereda

I don’t think any these guys are going to break into a prospect list right now. Zagunis is the only one listed on mine, but I think Jared Young might make the Top 21 List by the end of the summer. The problem for Young, though, is that he is currently on the DL after a good start hitting .406 in South Bend. Jeffrey Baez and Trey Martin are repeating AA but they are currently dominating in all facets of the game. Baez, who has always been a streaky hitter with 5 tool potential, has 3 HRs and is closing in on .400. Martin, meanwhile, looks like a veteran bat who is improving his lot in the system. He has 2 gold gloves to his credit, but this year is all about his bat which is currently in the mid .300s.

That fact that there are so few hitters gives you a clear indication of the lack of elite hitting in the system. However, come June, that will all change via the draft and 5 short-season rookie league and class A teams begin play.

Stock Going Up: Pitchers
Rob Zastryzny, Randy Rosario, Thomas Hatch, Dakota Mekkes, Matt Swarmer, Tyler Peyton, Wyatt Short, Jhon Romero, Brian Glowicki, Ben Hecht, Cory Abbott, Rollie Lacy, Bailey Clark, Javier Assad,  and Tyler Thomas

To be honest, I have never been very high on Rob Zastryzny until he started using a cutter and his career took off in 2016. Last year, he had a bunch of nagging little injuries. Now healthy, he’s been pretty dominant out of the bullpen this spring in Iowa. 8.2 IP, 0 runs allowed. If Dakota Mekkes of Tennessee cuts his walk rate in half, he is likely the first guy to be promoted because he’s not giving up hits or runs. Swarmer has been the most surprising prospect. In three starts, he has a 1.72 ERA. He can locate his fastball and his curve is a little tighter this year and has that classic 12-6 break. Hitters have trouble timing him up. With an over the top delivery and a freakishly high leg kick, there’s a lot going on in his delivery to distract even the best hitters.

The South Bend pitchers have been pretty impressive – Javier Assad especially. He did not have good stuff to start the day last Saturday. He made what he had work for a couple of innings and until got into a groove. He stranded seven in the first three innings. It was a master class in getting out of a jam you put yourself into.

In addition, Tyler Thomas will be one to watch in May. His 0.60 ERA over 3 starts leads all Cubs’ starters. Piggyback starters Bailey Clark and Rollie Lacy have been near dominant in their 7 opportunities.

Hatch and Mekkes are the only pitchers listed from above that are on my Top 21 List. Assad could easily break on to a list this summer. I really like his FB and curve combo.

It is still a little early to start moving prospects around lists just based on a 20+ game set. However, that set gives a good indication of who is playing well to start the year and who is carrying over from the end of last year – a more interesting trend to me. The May Watch List might be more interesting because that will list will have a 40 game set of qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate.

Still, this list is a start to check out the talent in the system for 2018.

 

The Weekly – An Interesting Opening Week of Rain, Snow, Miscues, and New Cards

By Todd Johnson

I was all set to have a big shindig of a post for the first weekend of the minor-league baseball season. However, the weather seems to have taken the wind right out of those plans. First, South Bend had its Tuesday exhibition at home canceled along with Friday night’s contest at West Michigan. Tennessee got rained out on Friday night, but they did finish it last night in Mississippi with a doubleheader. The Iowa Cubs did not play Friday night nor are they playing today because of cold and snow. Then again, Iowa played a doubleheader on opening day. And Myrtle Beach was rained out last night.

As a result, it was as weird an opening week I can remember.

On opening day on Thursday, all four affiliates got games in. Iowa split a doubleheader with Oklahoma City while Tennessee lost to Mississippi. Myrtle Beach lost to Frederick, and South Bend rounded out with their loss to West Michigan. Going 1-4 on opening day is not conducive to having good feelings.

There were a couple of common themes to play across all levels on opening day.

There were a lot of defensive miscues and errors and a lot of baserunners that were left stranded. It was tough to watch at times. Add in fly balls that landed in between several players or a grounder that two players just watched go between them because they each thought the other would get it. Nobody got an error but the pitcher gets charged with an earned run. Those are mental errors that need to get worked out quickly. I am willing to chalk it up to first night jitters and just working the kinks out.

Saturday night was a different story.

All three affiliates played in frigid weather. Temps at game time ranged from the low 30s in Iowa and South Bend to 41 in Pearl, Mississippi for the Smokies’ double bill.

The first game I watched was South Bend. Pitchers Javier Assad, Rollie Lacy and Manuel Rodriguez looked great in shutting out West Michigan. Lacy had hitters flailing at changeups and curves as he struck out 7 in 3 IP. In Tennessee, the Smokies won the suspended game from Friday behind 4 innings of no run ball from Zach Hedges and Trent Giambrone’s 2 for 3 with 2 RBI game. The Smokies lost the nightcap, a 7 inning affair, 7-5. Thomas Hatch gave up 3 runs in his 4 innings on 77 pitches but struck out 6. When he left, the Smokies were up 4-3. For the day, Trent Giambrone had 4 RBI for Tennessee.

Iowa also got a great start from Luke Farrell who threw 5 and 2/3 scoreless and struck out 6. However, after a night of scoreless ball, each team scored 3 runs in the tenth thanks in part to the new extra inning rules. Oklahoma City won it 6-5 after scoring 3 more runs in the 11th. While the new rule of starting the tenth with a runner on second did make it exciting, it also came across as a bit ridiculous especially since it didn’t help end the game any sooner.

Coming Up Next Week

The Annual Preview of a Preview for Eugene comes out on Monday and that’s all I have planned for the week. I am going to let the baseball do most of the talking every day. It will be nice to write about what does happen rather than what could/should happen.

Players of the Week

Originally, I had planned on doing selecting a hitter, starting pitcher, reliever, and team of the week. Due to all the inclement weather, that’s not gonna happen. Rather, here is who got the players of the day on Thursday Friday and Saturday this week.

Thursday the 5th – Brandon Hughes, Jen-Ho Tseng, Casey Bloomquist

Friday the 6th – Wladimir Galindo, Tyler Peyton

Saturday the 7th – Trent Giambrone, Javier Assad, Rollie Lacy

Baseball Card of the Week

And the first “Card of the Week” in the minor-league season goes to none other than Larry Kave of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for his shot of Wladimir Galindo that I put into a 2007 frame. This morning, I will be uploading several cards using a variety of templates. Check the April Facebook album later today and throughout the week.