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.

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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.

 

Several Cubs Prospects Coming Off a Rough 2017: Part 2 – Trying to Bounce Back

By Todd Johnson


In last Monday’s look at comeback players for 2018, I examined the walking wounded which consisted mostly of players who were injured for most of the year, if not all of it. Today, it’s all about players looking to get back some semblance of consistency in their production. Most of this group will be at either AA Tennessee or AAA Iowa.

When I examine how a prospect is doing, I have several things that run through my head. There is a part of me that wants to be an objective writer, then there’s part of me that’s a fan, and then there’s part of me that is a teacher, and it’s really hard to shake the last one. I always look for the good and then I try to pick out things that need to be worked on. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And like teachers, sometimes writers see the promise of a prospect and hopefully they don’t get blinded by it. I know that’s a flaw that I have.

Most of the Cubs’ current prospects have been in the system for several years. To be honest, it’s hard not to get attached when you watch them go from a scrawny 175 pound kid to a 225 pound man. We watch them grow up and we want them to succeed. It’s hard when they don’t.

This week’s comeback list is filled with a lot of prospects who fit the above description.

I really like watching Zach Hedges pitch. He’s got a plus slider, pretty decent fastball command, and he’s a likable kid. He’s done really well the past two summers at AA, but he’s only gotten one chance at AAA and it did not go well at all. I am hoping he begins 2018 at AAA Iowa as there really is not much left for him to prove in Tennessee. For him to succeed in AAA, Hedges is going to have to keep his fastball down and use his slider to set hitters up. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, he’s always been a ground ball machine. I hope he can be that in Iowa this year.

I have been a fan of Trevor Clifton ever since Mike Safford used to call his games online when Trevor was with the Boise Hawks. When Trevor came to South Bend, he got off to a rough start. But after he righted the ship in the second half, Clifton didn’t let up for the next two years through the middle of June 2017. Then it was like he had four flat tires at once. He struggled keeping the ball down, he struggled overthrowing, and he struggled to just find the zone. It was as if he was trying fix his release point, landing spot, and self-confidence all at once. I have no doubt Trevor is going to work hard to return to form in 2018. He’s a great young man with a plus curveball and a developing change. Getting back to knowing, and believing, in himself and his pitches will be the key.

A roller coaster season would be the best way to describe what Chesny Young went through in 2017. The 2014 14th round pick out of Mercer always seemed to just fall out of bed and lace a single to right for his Cub career. From his debut in South Bend through Myrtle Beach, Young showed no sign of the type of season he endured in 2017. April, bad. May, good. Rinse and repeat for a season and a .256 average. It was a bit of a shock for a player whose lowest season before was .303. While Young did play 7 different positions in the field last year, at times he looked clueless at the plate, And at other times, he looked…like Chesny Young. He did not walk as much last year when he struggled, and he did walk when he was hitting well in May and July. As a result, a consistent approach for 2018 should be the key to getting off to a good start in the batter’s box and is what could propel him to Chicago in a bench role.

Ryan Kellogg was near brilliant in the second half of 2016 (1.99 ERA in 11 starts) but he could not put it together except for August (his only monthly with a sub 4 ERA) at Myrtle Beach in 2017. I am not sure of what his role will be and where it will be in 2018. He could start, he could relieve. It probably all depends on how he looks this spring.

OF Jeffrey Baez had a horrible season at Tennessee last year as he fought off minor injuries and failed to adjust after a scintillating second half at Myrtle Beach in 2016. Hitting below the Mendoza line for a whole season is not a good way to get to Chicago. Still, Baez just turned 24 (I find that to be amazing) and can rebound if he can stay healthy to use his mix of power and speed.

PJ Higgins is currently the finest overall defensive catcher in the system. In 2016 at South Bend, he also showed a deft eye at the plate. In 2017, he threw out 33 runners for Myrtle Beach. However, his bat seemed to go missing as his walk rate plummeted along with his batting average (.237). To be quite frank, Higgins’ strength has always been his defense. The converted infielder is a natural behind the plate. I am sure the Cubs would like some improvement on offense. Prior to last season, he hit between .280-.300 at every stop. Hopefully, last year was an aberration.

156 official at-bats is a very small sample size. That’s what Joe Martarano got in last year. Before last year, he only had 69 trips to the plate in 2015. To go two full years without seeing live hitting, let alone moving up to class A from rookie league, is a bit of a culture shock.

In 2018, I expect Martarano to do much better. For one, he cut out a high leg kick and turned that into a toe tap for a better timing mechanism. The result was an August where he hit .273 with 1 HR in 13 games. His K rate needs to come down. Except for July at South Bend, where he hit only .161 for the month, he crushed the rest of the year at EXST (.324) and Eugene (.385). I was impressed watching him work hard in batting practice to drive the ball up the middle. The ball just jumps off his bat with “that sound.” There’s not many Cub prospects who have “that sound” now, but Martarano does.

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

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.

For All the Marbles – Cubs Affiliates Doing Well in the Playoffs!

Things are looking good for some Cubs’ affiliates in the minor league playoffs. Both Eugene and Myrtle Beach clinched berths in their respective league championships. Meanwhile, in South Bend, they will complete their final opening round series today, weather permitting, starting at the top of the eighth inning. South Bend’s game was suspended due to rain.

clifton-70-2016-mbHere are some playoff heroes this week.

1. Trevor Clifton shut down the Salem Red Sox on Wednesday with a six inning, 3 hit, and one run gem. Clifton looked vicious attacking the zone early and used all three of his pitches to keep hitters off balance. He struck out 6 and only walked one on the night.

2. Duane Underwood was moved from South Bend to Myrtle Beach in his rehab and he made his second start for the Pelicans on Friday. He gave up one run over five innings and left the game trailing by one.

3. The Bullpens of all three team have been fantastic all week. In the Eugene series, Hillsboro had men on all night but the Emeralds pen was able to coax double plays and get out of it. The same is true in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. On Thursday night, Casey Bloomquist pitched three scoreless for South Bend while Duncan Robinson did not allow an earned run in four innings for Eugene.

4. Erling Moreno’s curveball was a thing of beauty on Friday as it baffled Hillsboro hitters all night long.

5. For most of the year, Pedro Silverio had an ERA of 6+ for Eugene. In August, it sank into the 4s. On Thursday, he pitched his best game of the year. He did not allow a run while walking four. The highlight stat of the night was that he struck out 8!

6. David Bote and Jeffrey Baez both went 2 for 5 with 2 RBIs on Tuesday.

7. Tyler Alamo’s bat woke up with a go-ahead home run on Thursday and 2 runs so far in the suspended game. Hopefully, when it his turn again today, his hot streak will continue.

galindo 66 2016 eug8. Connor Myers is an exciting player as you will ever see. Like Alamo, he is having a good game in the suspended game going 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs including a blazing triple.

9. The top of Ems’ lineup seems to be waking up. DJ Wilson, Yeiler Peguero, Chris Pieters and Wladimir Galindo, who drove in both runs last night, have regained their mid-season form.

10. Matt Rose just crushed a ball on Thursday putting the game out of reach with a 3 run shot that might be still going somewhere in Michigan.

South Bend will resume its suspended game at 3 central. The winner advances to the Midwest League semis to take on the winner of Great Lakes on Bowling Green starting tomorrow.

Myrtle Beach starts the Mills Cup at home tonight versus Lynchburg, a very good team in the Indians organization. It is a best of 5 series. Erick Leal will take the bump tonight for the Pelicans.

Eugene, meanwhile, begins their series (2 of 3) against Everett tomorrow at 8 central in Everett. The series concludes in Eugene on Monday, and if necessary, Tuesday in Eugene as well. Dylan Cease will likely start Sunday or Monday for Eugene. That should be very exciting.