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
Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.
I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.
I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.
I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.
Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.
10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.
9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.
8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.
7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!
6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.
5. Trevor Clifton – SP
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.
4. Tom Hatch – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.
2. Dylan Cease – SP
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.
1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.
By Todd Johnson
You can thank the rain storms that covered much of the Midwest for me being able to finish this month’s all-star team on schedule. There were no yards to mow, no weeds to pull, and no dogs to walk in the rain. In addition, there were no minor league games except for Myrtle Beach and South Bend on Sunday.
It was a strange month for trying to pick a few spots on the All-Star team. First base was a difficult choice as most of the organization struggled at that position. I wound up going with a player who only played a few games there. When it came to starting pitching, I had a couple players drop off after poor starts in the last week. When it came time to select the hitter of the month, all I had to do was look at only one team who was rained out for the weekend.
I think the May All-Star team will be much different. For one, I think Yasiel Balaguert has started to find his stroke at first base. In the outfield, there will be much more competition as Jake Hannemann, Kevonte Mitchell, and Mark Zagunis all had strong final weeks in April. Trey Martin could return as well. I also think that some of the starting pitching will start to stabilize in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Duncan Robinson will be one pitcher to watch in May as to whether he starts or relieves in South Bend.
So, without further adieu, here is the April All-Star team.
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4
By Todd Johnson
An interesting thing began developing about two years ago. People began realizing that this Cubs team was very good. That if the Cubs didn’t win today, there was still a good chance they could win tomorrow. They began to level out their emotions and to take things in stride. I think this year, with a World Series ring In tow, Cubs fans are a lot more relaxed about the regular season. In fact, they are extremely confident and are looking forward to the postseason. One close loss in April does not seem so damning anymore.
It was a pretty busy week in the Cubs’ universe as they raised four banners on Monday night and on Wednesday, the players got their rings. Both nights were very emotional and I think the Cubs put on two very classy ceremonies. I shed a few tears when Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins got their rings. I even shed a few more when they announced that Ernie and Ron’s rings would be stored in the Cubs archives for all to see. In fact, I am welling up now just thinking about it.
With the arrival of Brian Duensing back from the DL, a decision will have to be made in the next few days about Tommy La Stella and/or Matt Szczur as Carl Edwards will likely be back from bereavement leave early next week. Odds are La Stella will head down to AAA Iowa.
It should be a good week for Cubs’ hitting as they play Milwaukee Monday through Wednesday. Thursday, they are off and then head to Cincinnati for the weekend where the Cubs tend to hit very well. Let’s hope the bats begin to wake up some more.
Around the System
Iowa: 2-5; 5-5 overall -third place
The young Cubs had a good week as Ian Happ, Victor Caratini, and Jeimer Candelario continued to punish baseballs in the Pacific Coast League. Alec Mills and Eddie Butler were both outstanding in each of their outings this week.
Tennessee: 2-5; 4-6 overall – fourth place
It was a rough week, especially for the bullpen which seems to be falling apart early. The only bright spot was an 8 run ninth-inning as the Smokies came from 7 down to defeat the Mississippi Braves. David Bote and Trey Martin continue to hit well. Trevor Clifton is having “that one big inning issue” again this year, but at least they have only been 2 and 3 runs. Otherwise, he hasn’t given up a run in 8 of his 10 IP.
Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 5-4 overall – fourth place
The Pelicans seem to have trouble getting a lot of runs. The pitching seems to be the strength of this team. Oscar de la Cruz had 10 Ks in 9.2 innings of work this week. Thomas Hatch looked very good except for one inning and Justin Steele looks to be pitching like Justin Steele of 2015.
South Bend: 5-2; 5-5 – fifth place
After being frozen the first three games, the bats started to come around quickly. Isaac Paredes, Yeiler Peguero, and Wladimir Galindo all broke out in a big way this week. The pitching, meanwhile, continues to be otherworldly led by Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, and my new favorite pitcher, who is the breakout pitcher of the year so far, Tyson Miller.
Extended Spring Training
EXST began this week as the Cubs played two intrasquad games and one game against the Angels.. Bryan Hudson threw six scoreless innings with 10 ground ball outs and 6 Ks. Here is Arizona Phil’s take:
“The 6’8 Hudson (Cubs 2015 3rd round draft pick – Alton HS – Alton, IL) was an absolute ground-ball machine, mixing an 87-89 MPH sinker, a plus-curve, and an occasional change-up to keep the A’s hitters off-balance and constantly beating pitches into the ground. He also threw 70% strikes and averaged only 11.5 pitches-per-inning. Hudson’s outing was simply one of the best performances by a starting pitcher in a Cactus League Extended Spring Training game I have ever witnessed (and I have seen many good ones over the last 40 years).”
That’s pretty high praise.
Michael Cruz, his bat, and approach look to be no match at either Mesa or Eugene. I cannot wait to see him play in the next couple of months.
Yesterday, Joe Martarano return to playing minor-league baseball. It is been two years and a horrific knee injury since we last saw Martarano. He will play some first base, some third-base, and even somehow outfield this summer, most likely for Eugene. To shake off the rust, He belted a triple in his first game back.
Card of the Week
Made from a photo by Larry Kave
Players of the Week
Let the Games Begin!
It is going be 70 degrees today in northern Illinois! So, with five games happening this afternoon, it will be great to feel the breeze come in my office as I watch one game on the TV and four on MiLB.TV.
Last night was a good night to watch three games the same time. I had the Cubs and Milwaukee on the TV, South Bend on the computer, and Tennessee on my phone. I got to see great pitching performances by Dylan Cease and Trevor Clifton, a resurgent offense as Kris Bryant got his first hits of the year, and later, Jeimer Candelario and Ian Happ both hit home runs for the second night in a row.
Here are a few things I have liked just after three games:
1. Iowa is going to win a lot of games. They have a potent offense from 1 to 9 and a talented bullpen.
2. Tennessee has a mixture of excellent defense, starting pitching, and a couple of guys who I think can really play and David Bote and Trey Martin.
3. Jen-Ho Tseng was fairly decent in his debut on Friday night. He looked more like The pitcher at Kane County than he did like the pitcher of the last two years.
3. South Bend is an extremely young team. They only have a couple of position players with college experience. Their bats could take a while to warm up.
4. Oscar de la Cruz will be the pitcher I look forward to seeing most today. In fact, just the first three days showed how good pitching now is in the Cubs’ system.
5. Pitchers Tyson Miller and Duncan Robinson both looked very good for South Bend as they only gave up one earned run between them.
Around the System
Iowa: 3-0; This team is going to win a lot of games. They did well this week by taking down some of the Dodgers’ top prospects
Tennessee: 2-1; They are sneaky good!
Myrtle Beach: 2-1; The starting pitching and bullpen look very good!
South Bend: 0-3; It takes a while for the young bats to warm up in the chilly air of a Midwestern spring.
New Features for Cubs Central on the Facebook page
There are three new daily features that will be posted there. They are – Hitter of the Day, Pitcher of the Day, and Reliever of the Day. For the past couple of years, we have done “The Weekly” awards every Sunday. I wanted to reward the daily efforts as well this year. Here are the winners from this week.
Thursday – Eddy Martinez, Eddie Butler, Scott Effross
Friday – Jeimer Candelario, Thomas Hatch, Rob Zastryzny
Saturday – Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, and David Rollins
Draft Update News
Oregon’s David Peterson (77 Ks in 52.1 IP) continues to roll as does Brendon Little (86 Ks in 55 IP) The two lefty starters have to be on the Cubs radar for the
The Cubs signed shortstop Vincente King last summer as an international free agent. The 16-year-old was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Dominican Republic. He was set to begin to play in the Dominican Summer League later this year. Our prayers go out to his family and friends.
Opening day in Chicago – Rain needs to stay away
From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come
10 Things I Think
By Clark Lorensen and Todd Johnson
Clark and I got together to take a look at the first month of the season to make a few predictions.
Most home runs in April
Todd – I really like how well Addison Russell has played since the middle of last year and that he picked up where he left off in spring training. I think he’s going to hit about seven home runs in April.
Clark – Kyle Schwarber- The legend continues to build. Schwarber will lead the team in April Homeruns from the leadoff spot.
Most pitching wins in April
Todd – What gets lost about Kyle Hendrix is that he is extremely competitive and that gets lost in his expressionless face. I think he comes in with five.
Clark – Arrieta.
I would go with Hendricks here, but it looks like Arrieta could get more opportunities with the way the rotation is set up.
Todd – Wade Davis is supposed to be the closer. Therefore, I am going to roll with him, but I don’t think he’s going to have that many because I don’t think he’s going to pitch on back to back days in the month.
Clark – Davis
Most blown saves
Todd – Before he went on the DL, Brian Duensing was my pick. Now, I am going to adjust that to Hector Rondon. I will go with four for the month.
Clark – Davis. I believe Davis will get most of April to work out the issues of spring training.
Most stolen bases
Todd – While the Cubs are excellent baserunners, they don’t steal a lot of bases. I am going to go with Javy and five swipes.
Clark – Javy Baez. He’s going to continue to take chances on the base path.
Team won-loss record for April
Todd – 16-7 sounds pretty good for the defending champs. That leaves one game for a rainout.
Clark – 16-8.
Todd – He is actually pretty decent out there and his flash a strong arm to new runners on the base paths.
Clark – Schwarber will hit a triple, scaring all of us as he rounds second.
First player on the DL
Todd – Lackey
Clark – Montero
First call up
Todd – I think it’s going to be a reliever and I also think it’s going to be either Zastryzny or Concepcion. Then again, it could be Rosscup or Leathersich. Either way, it’s going to be a lefty.
Clark – Jeimer Candelario
First to be Traded
Todd – I think with the emergence of Ian Happ, La Stella has drawn the short end of the stick.
Clark – Szczur. He’s out of options.
From small things, big things one day come
Final MiLB Rosters and Surprises
MiLB weekly awards
By Todd Johnson
There are currently 30 pitchers on the Iowa roster. 15 of them should be cut by opening day. As for who those 15 who make the roster will be, it’s a crapshoot right now. However, I do think there are certain pitchers who could be of value to the major league club later this summer. In fact, there are upwards of 10-12 prospects who could help the big league Cubs at some point in 2017.
Last year the Cubs went 67-76. I consider that to be a miraculous record because of a number of injuries sustained in the first month of the year that decimated the starting rotation. It seemed as though the Cubs were always playing catch-up. On the other hand, Iowa produced several prospects who helped the Cubs win the World Series including catcher Wilson Contreras, outfielder Albert Almora, pitcher Carl Edwards, and pitcher Rob Zastryzny. This year there could be as many as ten players who could help the big league club in some form or fashion.
Ryan Williams has had an outstanding spring. After missing almost all of 2016, the big lumberjack his back and his command of pictures down in the zone was evident in his time with the big league club in spring training. Throw in Alec Mills and Eddie Butler and you have three arms who could fit nicely at the back of the rotation if needed. However next year, all three could be in a position with some AA pitchers to replace John Lackey and Jake Arrieta. Keep close eyes on Mills and Butler as they could be key replacements in case of injury this spring, especially if Brett Anderson or John Lackey goes down.
Former starter Pierce Johnson has had an outstanding spring and has reinvented himself as a reliever. I think he gets the first call up and Cub fans plans will love his arsenal of pitches. The fans will also love his laid-back personality and sense of humor. Jose Rosario is another reliever who could help this year, but I think the key one is going to be lefty Jack Leathersich who is going to be fully healthy after coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago.
Jeimer Candelario’s retention as a Cub has been surprising. I thought for sure he might get traded during the off-season for starting pitching. Right now, Jeimer picked up where he left off last spring. The switch-hitting first baseman and third baseman is showing why the Cubs are still hanging onto him as he sprays the ball from both sides of the plate.
There was no doubt that Ian Happ was the star of spring training. Word came late tonight that Happ would be assigned to Iowa. For Happ, the only thing he needs to work on is hitting consistently. While his OBP is always near .400, his batting average fluctuates greatly throughout the season. The streak he has been on this spring is pretty much standing operating procedure for him. In the past, a slump would eventually come. I am hoping that this year it does not.
Catcher Victor Caratini displayed his bat that many have been waiting for since he was traded to the Cubs from the Braves. Now that he has two years of catching in the Cubs system, I am hoping he improves his defense some more as it appears his bat his major league ready. In the case of an injury to Montero, Caratini could get the call this year. However, his bat is still far ahead of his defense. That should be the goal for him as he projects to be the backup in 2018.
Another prospect who could help this summer is Chesny Young. Young has turned into a utility player getting time in at 6 positions last summer in Tennessee. In addition to being a hitting and walking machine, Young has shown some power lately. He hit a four last year in Tennessee and has two this spring with the Cubs. With a .313 career MiLB average, it won’t be long until we see him in Chicago. I think he will feast on PCL pitching this spring and summer.
I think Bijan Rademacher and Mark Zagunis are very close to making it to Chicago as bench players. Rademacher can play all three outfield positions, hits left-handed, and is actually getting much better every year, especially when it comes to power (see yesterday’s grand slam for an example). Zagunis has the best plate discipline in the organization and his ability to draw a walk is going to get him to Chicago this year.
Sleeper – I don’t think he’s a sleeper anymore, but Pierce Johnson looks to be the breakout prospect of the year in Iowa. It took a few months, but he looks great coming out of the pen.
Probable Daily Lineup
LF – Zagunis/Happ
CF – Andreoli/Happ
RF – Rademacher/Happ
3B – Candelario/Young
SS – Kawasaki/Young
2B – Bruno/Happ
1B – Candelario/Dominguez
C – Davis/Caratini
DH – Young/Happ
First to be Promoted – Johnson has to be close as the Cubs big league bullpen is a little long in the tooth, especially in the back end with Davis, Uehara, and Duensing all over 30 and Rondon and Strop coming off injuries. It is not a question of if now, but when for Pierce.