By Todd Johnson
Welcome to episode two of the offseason minor league mailbag. Last week, I answered questions about Ian Rice, Bryan Hudson, and the 40 man roster. This week gets a little bit more specific with questions about players that I have not seen play yet.
How many prospects in the system are worth trading for top pitching? Or is it going to be flat out cash deals?
It is not going to be cash deals,. If the Cubs are going to acquire some starting pitching and reliever help, they can get by with prospects in exchange for a reliever. If the Cubs try to get a starter in a trade, they are going to have to throw in major league talent to get major league talent.
If I was a GM for another team, there is no sure thing in the Cubs minor-league system right now. There are some prospects that could turn into something, but the Cubs don’t have a top 100 prospect right now to bring in a top flight starter on their own. On the other hand, while the Cubs may have a bottom five ranked system, they also have a lot of depth and redundancy in order to make a trade or two. Their issue is the lack of current elite talent.
Early expectations for Estrada?
He did pitch some in the Arizona Rookie League last August. However, he had two wacky stats. While his ERA was good at 1.42 in 6.1 IP, his WHIP was all over the place at 1.74 as he walked 6 and gave up 5 hits in a small sample size. In 2016, he was one of the top young prep arms on the summer circuit. He did not have a good senior season in 2017.
Still, the Cubs talked him out of his commitment to UCLA. I would bet the Cubs saw something that they could fix or tweak to get him back on track. Honestly, I did not expect to see him pitch last year. With just one month of pro experience, he should be at Eugene to begin 2018. He needs to build up arm strength this year up to about 75 innings. It would not surprise me to see him take the ball every sixth day at Eugene.
It would be safe to say that he might be a little inconsistent this year as he begins to develop and adjust to pitching professionally. My advice would be to not get too high as a fan and not get too low. He is going to have to work through some things.
Will Velaquez fill our Eloy-sized hole in our hearts?
I sure hope so. Part of me is hoping that he has a monster spring and starts in South Bend rather than extended spring training followed by Eugene. I’d be ecstatic if he actually did extended spring training and then filled in in South Bend in late May/early June. However, that is not realistic and might not be good for his development in the long run. The Cubs, more than likely, are going to take their time with him as he does have a few holes in his swing. However, 11 home runs in six weeks shows that there’s a lot right about his swing, too. By the middle of July, we should know if he is going to be the new Cubs phenom in place of Eloy. Currently, that is the direction I am also leaning along with Albertos.
Can Stinnett & Maples be an answer for CHC bullpen?
They can be part of the answer, but the Cubs are probably looking for an additional left-hander. Maples should have a legit shot at making the team in the spring. Considering that Stinnett has only thrown one month as a reliever, plus his time in the Arizona fall league, he should be at AAA Iowa to gain a little more seasoning before he is called upon in that role. Spring training should tell a lot for both pitchers: for Maples, it is about whether he makes the team. For Stinnett, it’s about whether they see him as part of the team in the future, a.k.a., later this summer.
I have enough questions for another post next week. You can send your questions to me on Twitter @cubscentral08, or you can just email me at email@example.com.
By Todd Johnson
Looking ahead to next year’s minor league season, there are several storylines which I am sure most outlets will cover. They include the pitching of the most recent draft picks, the ascension of Nelson Velazquez, and how Duane Underwood, Trevor Clifton, and Oscar de la Cruz bounce back next season. For me, I don’t always like to do whatever everybody else does.
On Monday, I wrote an article at BP Wrigleyville about several storylines that would be interesting to follow in the Cubs’ minor-league system in 2018. I could not fit them all in one post. So, here is part two which includes several interesting storylines for next season.
Coming Back from Injuries – After missing the better part of two years, I wonder if Ryan Williams will be back in full effect in 2018. Coming off rotator cuff issues, I wonder if the Cubs will move him back to the bullpen where he pitched in college. I like his mentality wherever he pitches as he is just, plain, tenacious. In addition, Carlos Sepulveda missed most of 2017 before reappearing in the Arizona Rookie League in August. I wonder if he will resume his career at Tennessee or in Myrtle Beach?
Latin Relief – Pitcher Jhon Romero is a reliever who should move quickly next year. He pitched stateside for the first time in 2018 and dominated in the month of August at South Bend. In 9 games, he struck out 24 with a 0.53 ERA. He has a devastatingly tight curve that works off of a mid 90s fastball.
Jonathan Sierra – Physically gifted and only 18 years old, the 6’2″ outfielder is getting close to a breakout year. In 2017, he had a good season for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League. In 2018, I expect him to continue to improve. The question will be, how much? While he only hit one home run this past season, he will get better as he gets more game experience. He should be in Eugene next year.
Young Guns – There are going to be a lot of interesting names to watch in the lower parts of the system next summer. Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend will have a lot of the 18 to 19-year-old variety. Most of them are brimming with talent in need of a little polish. Jeremiah Estrada turns 19 on Wednesday. The young right-handed pitcher the Cubs got in the sixth round of the 2017 draft could be special. He did get some work in but had an unstable 1.76 WHIP despite a 1.42 ERA in just 4 games.
The DSL Invasion – In part 1, I talked about Fernando Kelli arriving in the US to play next year. Kelli is one of many DSL players looking to make an impact in 2018. Some pitchers arrived in August and played a large role in the Mesa Cubs Championship run. Pitchers Jesus Tejada, Emilio Ferrebus, Didier Vargas, Danis Correa, and hitter Luis Hidalgo should lead a wave of 10-12 DSL players who could be assigned anywhere from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend.
The New IFA System – The new money structure places a hard cap on all international spending. Everyone is going to be competing with fixed dollars and can’t go over the amount given to them by major-league baseball. I don’t know if teams will start to figure out some strategies quickly like blowing all their money on one player or trading established prospects or major-league players for pool money. I am sure teams are going to try and find any possible loophole that they can, including the Cubs.
The 2018 Draft – The Cubs pick at #24 in each round next year. If Arrieta and Davis leave, the Cubs will have two compensation picks between the second and third round. Next year’s draft will be a bit deeper than 2017. And like 2017, it is pitching heavy, especially at the college level.
By Todd Johnson
With just a little over a week to go, two teams are still in the playoff hunt. Myrtle Beach is already in but Eugene has a slight two game lead over Boise for a wild-card spot and Mesa is one game out of first after winning five in a row. Eugene’s final game is on Labor Day while Mesa’s is next Saturday.
Two players I was most impressed with this week were reliever Jhon Romero, now at South Bend, and Jesus Tejada of DSL 2. Romero throws a mid 90s fastball with a 12 to 6 curve that has a sharp downward break. He’s been at South Bend for the past couple weeks and has been dominating. This week, Tejada pitched a seven inning no-hitter for DSL 2. He also struck out nine in the game after having striking out ten in his previous start. He’s a certain lock for this month’s All-Star team and he could be the August pitcher of the month.
In addition, it looks like Joe Martarano has dropped his high leg kick in favor or something much quieter and he is taking off hitting .344 in his last ten games. Miguel Amaya is hitting over .300 this month while Jonathan Sierra is raking at a .290+ clip and recent draft pick is hitting .259 with 4 HRs in August.
Bailey Clark made his way to South Bend and will hopefully get 2 starts in this year as a South Bend Cub. Reliever Manuel Rodriguez arrived before him from Eugene and already has a save. Pitcher Alex Lange was transferred back to Mesa as he is at 9.1 innings of his 10 inning limit this year. Pitchers Matt Swarmer and Tommy Thorpe continued their tour around the organization this week. On Friday night, they both pitched for Tennessee.
Carlos Sepulveda – After missing most of the year, Sepulveda went three for four on Friday night and will likely be back to help Myrtle Beach go for its third straight Mills Cup Championship.
Will Remillard – He went 5 for 7 (.714) in his return at Eugene this week. He also threw out a baserunner by a good 10 feet at third base. It’s so nice to see him back and I wonder if he’s going to get a sneak peek at another level this week, even if it is just for a couple of games.
Oscar de la Cruz – After making an appearance at Mesa last week, Oscar returned to Myrtle Beach to go just a couple of innings. He still looked a bit rusty and still has not let it loose. I don’t know if that’s on purpose, but he doesn’t have the velocity that he did two years ago. His quality pitches are still there, it’s just a matter of him commanding them.
Alec Mills – He made his second start for Mesa this week and looks to be rebounding nicely. I don’t know if he’ll make it back to Iowa this next week or if he’ll stay and help Mesa and their playoff push. It’s likely the Cubs will just keep an eye on him in Mesa.
The August All-Star Team selection post that will come out on Friday is nearing completion. This month’s post will be a little different. Rather than have a prospect in every position, I am going with just whoever had the best month regardless of their position. I should have upwards of five catchers making the All-Star team this month and all would be deserving. It’s going to be quite the different All-Star team. There are some familiar names of prospects who have appeared at one point during this season. There are also a lot of young players who are beginning to figure things out in the lower minor leagues.
This offseason, the profile series will be entitled “Levelling Up.” In the past, the prospect profile updates were called “Making the Jump” and “Next Up.” These will appear once a week. The players to be profiled will only be players moving up a level for 2018. Players that I expect to stay at a level will not be covered.
I am hoping to travel more next summer. I would love to make it down to Tennessee to see a couple of games. As for the Midwest League, my scheduled trips will be to Clinton, Kane County, the Quad Cities, and Cedar Rapids. Although the schedule has not come out yet, it looks like all I can just drive back and forth the day of a game except for Cedar Rapids. However, Kane County might fall on school nights based on this year’s schedule.
Players of the Week
Around the Minors This Week:
Iowa – 3-2; I tend to think when this season is over that the Cubs will be clearing house this winter. Some of the players contracts will just expire while other prospects will be just given their outright release to have an opportunity to play elsewhere. The Cubs did this exact same thing a couple years ago. A lot of the players on the Iowa roster are not long-term Cubs.
Tennessee – 2-5: When it comes to promotions next spring, I think about half this team will make its way to Iowa. There are a few more who could join them depending upon their performance in spring training. Don’t expect all the Smokies to head to Des Moines.
Myrtle Beach – 3-3: Over the past two weeks, the Pelicans won 10 out of 12 at one point looking like the Pelicans of May and June. That’s a good sign heading into the playoffs.
South Bend – 7-0: If not for a six week stretch in late May through early July, they would be the team of the year in the Cubs organization. I don’t know what happened during that stretch but everything stopped working. Over the past month they have come from the bottom of the division to compete for a playoff spot that seemed hopeless after starting the second half so poorly.
Eugene – 5-2: In order to get in the playoffs, their last stretch of the season is all on the road. Luckily for the Emerald, those games are against the teams with the two worst record in the Northwest League. Hopefully, the hitting will come around as it appears the starting pitching has solidified.
Mesa – 5-1: This team struggled all season and in the last two weeks they have turned it on. The nice thing about the Arizona Rookie League as it has two short halves. At 11-11 in the second half, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt with just six days to go. Thanks to some recent draft picks, the starting pitching is decent given the bats a chance. There could even be two DSL pitchers coming up to join them this week. Recent draftee Jeremiah Estrada has thrown 3 scoreless IP with 3 Ks so far.
DSL 1 – 3-3: Final Record 37-33.
DSL 2 – 5-2; Final Record 34-37.
I will have a post out this week about some players from both teams who should be heading north soon.
Baseball Card of the Week
It was an interesting day as the Cubs selected 8 more players to join the organization. The day started off with a rapid selection of starting pitchers including a promising Keegan Thompson in the third round. As the day wore on, the Cubs drafted 5 pitchers and 3 position players.
I like what the Cubs collected. They took some chances by selecting OF Nelson Velazquez who is an extremely raw player from Puerto Rico. He could be a star or a bust. Uelmen might be a sneaky sign. Cal Poly -SLO is not a magnet for players, but the Cubs got Casey Bloomquist from there two years ago.
I think almost all of today’s picks will sign. 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada might go to UCLA rather than play for the Cubs.
I will be back tomorrow at 11 with a live blog of day 3. There will be no preview in the morning.
Here are some brief notes and video about each player taken by the Cubs today.
Keegan Thompson – SP – Auburn
6’2″ and 210 lbs.
Pitchability is a major plus
Came back with a very good season after having TJS. His stuff is still coming back. He appeared in 15 games as a starter with a 2.41 ERA. He struck out 75 in 93.1 IP while walking only 17. MLB.com said this of his stuff:
I like that he has overcome adversity with TJS and now focuses on getting batters out versus blowing everyone away. His CB is a plus pitch. Like Hatch, and likely Lange, he may be move a bit faster, or at the least, start higher at Myrtle Beach next year.
He was also a former teammate of Trevor Clifton and Tyler Alamo on USA Baseball.
Erich Uelmen – SP – Cal Poly SLO
6’3″ and 195 lbs.
Improving rapidly from year-to-year
Same school as Casey Bloomquist
He threw 98.1 innings this year. As a result, I doubt if he sees significant action this year. His stats are outstanding for his junior year. He struck out 100 with a 2.93 ERA. He only walked 23. Baseball America spoke highly of him (BA #273). He comes across as an ascending player.
Nelson Velazquez – OF – Puerto Rico
6’1″ and 200
Originally came to the US and went back. He is very much unrefined. I did find an article in Spanish where he crushed two home runs. He was the third ranked position player from Puerto Rico behind Heliot Ramos and Ricardo de la Torre (who went one pick behind in the 6th). Sounds like he is coming into his own.
He is likely destined for rookie ball in Mesa.
Jeremiah Estrada – P – Palm Desert HS
6’1″ and 185 lbs.
Has some room to fill in on his frame
In 2016, he was one of the top pitchers on the summer All-Star circuit. In his senior season, his stuff was not as good. However, MLB.com ranked him at #93 in their Top 200. They said of the young man:
It looks like he could be a hard sign.
#Cubs 6th round pick Jeremiah Estrada: “Most likely, I’ll choose UCLA… It’s longer, but I think it’s worth it.” 5/5
— Wes Saver (@Savermetrics) June 13, 2017
Ricky Tyler Thomas – P – Fresno State
I profiled him early in the season when he was going great.
I think he might get some rest in this summer. Then again, I think he profiles as a reliever. So, we could see him in Eugene out of the pen.
Austin Filiere – 3B – MIT
6’1″ 185 lbs.
Hit 13 HRs every year
MIT has a baseball team? Played well for Harwich in the Cape Cod League and played outfield there. He hit 7 HRs with 27 RBI in just over 30 games in 2016.
Per Brad (@ballwok), Peter Gammons did a nice write-up on him.
He should be in Eugene after he signs.
Chris Carrier – OF – Memphis
Good size at 6’2″ 204
Sculpted frame. still room for more.
He hit .330 with 16 HRs with 50 RBI and an OBP of .438 in his senior season. Like Filiere, Carrier will head to Eugene for most of the summer.
Brian Glowicki – RP – Minnesota
5’11” and 190
From Downers Grove
For his senior year, he recorded 16 saves with a 2.20 ERA. He struck out 39 in 32.2 IP. Opponents hit just .216 against him. A huge Red Sox growing up, Glowicki will have some adjusting to do.
Say hello to Eugene. He should love it there in the summer.