Cub 1 in Mesa Wins First Half Title!!!

By Todd Johnson

News coming from the Arizona Rookie League this year has been sporadic. Occasionally, Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter will post an article here or there and Phrake Photography/27 Outs Baseball will post a series of pictures, but the pickings are rather slim. Box scores and the occasional tweet just have to do. It has been pretty a pretty intriguing first half for the Cubs two Arizona Rookie League teams.Then yesterday, the Cubs 1 team finished off the first half in style by winning the division championship.

Usually the rosters in short season baseball are like a revolving door. Players come in and out quickly as many of them are draft picks or guys that are just on a rehab assignment. This has been the case this year as the 1 team suited up 61 different players including key hitters Clayton Daniel and Grant Fennell who left the team a week ago. However, some players were the core of the team throughout their five week season.

At the Plate

Alexander Guerra: The Cubs signed the 20-year-old catcher last fall. He had some experience in the Series Nacional in Cuba and was thought he could start his Cubs career all the way to Myrtle Beach. He wound up in Mesa and has been taking off in July. In June, he played in seven games and hit .220 with a .281 OBP. In July in 14 games, he’s cranked out two home runs to go along with 11 RBI and is hitting .286 with an astonishing .444 on-base percentage. His OPS of 1.040 is outstanding and he’s killing lefties with an OPS of 1.265.

Yonathan Perlaza: Perlaza was signed in 2015 as part of the great international free-agent signing class. Originally a shortstop, Perlaza has been manning second base and third-base this year. He hit .286 in June and cruising along at .302 in July. He did get some experience last year in Arizona but he will surpass that experience in terms of games and at-bats by the end of this week.

Rafael Mejia: He began this year with Eugene but was squeezed out by recent draft picks. At Mesa, he’s only hit .240, but he’s also cranked out three home runs and 12 runs driven in over just 15 games.

On the Mound

Didier Vargas: The young 19-year-old lefty had a 0.99 ERA in 2017 in the Dominican. At 6’0″ and 175 pounds, Vargas is working on being more consistent this year. He gave up five runs in his first outing and has not given up more than two rus since. His ERA is down to 2.89 and probably will continue to drop throughout the rest of 2018.

Jesus Tejada: In August 2017, Tejada was probably the hottest Cubs’ pitcher in the Dominican with an ERA under 2 that included a no-hitter. I thought he might have a chance to start this year at Eugene. It didn’t happen form but it doesn’t seem to be phasing him. He has a 2.70 ERA over four starts in July which included two 6 inning starts.

Justin Steele: To be honest, I didn’t think he would throw more than one inning at any time in a game this year coming off TJS. The Cubs are still keeping him on a short leash, to be honest, but Steele is pushing the limits of those starts. He’s thrown 18.1 innings in 5 starts in July with a 1.47 ERA and struck out 27 batters in those 18.1 innings while only walking 4. I wonder if he will stay in Mesa throughout August or move up the ladder to do more rehab work?

Maikel Aguiar: Sometimes luck happens for the weirdest reasons. When the Cubs went to two teams in the Arizona Rookie League, they thought they would have their draft picks signed and ready to go when the season began. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Cubs had to call up a few pitchers from the Dominican Summer League Teams. One was Aguiar. At 21, the 6’0″ and 185 pound righty from Venezuela has been devastating in a variety of relief roles. Sometimes he’s a short relieverer, and sometimes he’s a long reliever. In July, he has a 0.40 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 15 innings and opponents are hitting a measly .103 against him and his WHIP is an ungodly 0.55.

With a playoff berth in their backpack, it should be interesting to see how this mix of international players and recent draft picks shakes down in the second half.

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Too Early to Breakout, but Not to Be a Surprise in the 2nd Half – Part 1

By Todd Johnson

The second half of the minor league season has been going for a month now. Players in Mesa, Eugene, and the Dominican have been grinding away and developing their craft at the plate, in the field, and on the mound. It is usually in the second half that some players break out and surprise us with their performance and development. Still it’s still a little early to declare a break out prospect after just one month, but there are a few players who are off to good starts here in the second half. Today’s post looks at players from Eugene on down while tomorrow’s looks at prospects from South Bend on up.

DSL 1

Fabian Pertuz was signed last summer as an International Free Agent is doing very well in the DSL. At 17, he’s hitting .323 with an amazing .463 OBP and he’s stolen 18 bags while missing two weeks. He should be in Arizona at some point for instructs this fall.

DSL 2

17-year-old SS Pedro Martinez (Yes, that is his name) is leading the squad in hitting at .336 with a .424 OBP. He’s also swiped 22 bags and seems to be a pretty consistent player the last six weeks.

At 6’6”, 19-year-old Pitcher Johan Lopez is an intriguing prospect. He’s struck out 32 in 31 innings while posting a 2.87 ERA. His WHIP of 1.20 is a bit of a head scratcher, but at this level, it’s OK. This is his first year as a pro and, as such, is a late bloomer.

Mesa 1

Two hitters caught my eye in Arizona. 2B Clayton Daniel, a 31st round pick this year, can get on base with his bat or by walking. When I started writing this article on Saturday, he was in Mesa. He moved up to Eugene for a couple of days and I saw him arrive last night in Davenport about an hour before game time as he was promoted to South Bend. Not too shabby for a 31st round pick. Daniel is hitting .344 with a .408 OBP. 3B Yonathan Perlaza is part of that vaunted 2015 international free agent class. It looks like things are starting to click for him this year as he nears .300 after a rough start.

Reliever Maikel Aguiar is a strikeout machine whiffing 23 in 18 innings to go with a 0.48 ERA. Starters Didier Vargas and Jesus Tejada both had rough starts their first times out. Since, they have been turning it around. Tejada looks to be the more stable arm right now with his WHIP of just over 1.

Mesa 2

3B Fidel Mejia is closing in on .400 for the season. Over his last ten games, he’s hitting on all cylinders at a .500 pace. In addition, 2nd round compensation pick Cole Roederer is showing a propensity to get on base at a steady clip as a top of the order bat. He’s batted first and third for the rookie league team. He’s hitting .371 with a .488 OBP in just nine games. I’m a little excited about that pick. After yesterday’s 3/5 performance, I am beginning to wonder if he belongs in Rookie League.

The player no one saw coming is non-drafted free agent Grant Fennell. The utility player was the Mountain West Player of the Year as a senior at the University of Nevada. Every time I check the box score he’s going 2-for-5 with an RBI. He’s hitting .355 with a team leading 20 RBI.  In addition, that RBI total leads the Arizona League. He made his Eugene debut on Tuesday this week.

Eugene

Over the past month, Cubs Central already profiled two top young prospects in Brailyn Marquez and Luis Vazquez. But in the bullpen, reliever Dalton Geekie has thrown 11.2 innings without allowing a run and struck out 16 while only walking 4. His WHIP is fantastic at 0.86. At 23, he’s a reclamation project who should be at South Bend very, very soon.

Which Prospects Could Breakout for the Cubs in the 2nd Half?

By Todd Johnson

Yesterday, I wrote about who  broke out in the first half for Cubs Insider. But trying to predict breakouts prospects for the second half of the minor league season is a bit tougher. Most of the players one would expect to breakout will be playing for Mesa, Eugene, or South Bend. Some of them are 18 to 20-year-old kids while others are recent draft picks.

If I was to pick one hitter, one pitcher, and one reliever to break out in the second half, I would more than likely be wrong come the end of August. So, to hedge my bets, what I’m going to do is to pick three hitters, four starting pitchers, and three relievers who might make some waves in the Cubs’ system the next two months. Hopefully, one or more in each category will make it.  

On with the prospects.

Hitters

Everyone is going to be watching Nico Hoerner once he signs. The fans will watch his bat, his glove, his arm, and his speed, grit, and hustle. That kind of takes the pressure off of everyone else.

The batter that will impress everyone is Luke Reynolds, the Cubs tenth round pick out of Southern Mississippi. I would expect him to be a fast mover. He, like Hoerner, will probably start at Eugene, but neither will be there long as their approaches and skills will be too dominant.

Another hitter that could break out this summer is Fernando Kelli. While we know some about Kelli after his 58 stolen bases last season in the DSL, it is different playing in the US, especially skipping Mesa. The hardest adjustments for an 18-19 year old prospect from the DSL to make are just playing against quality competition. Kelli will need to adapt to quality changeups and curves; and guys trying to get him out in the batter’s box and also on the basepaths. In just 5 games, he has caused some havoc between the bases. His defense, on the other hand, might be better than we thought.

My third selection is Jonathan Sierra. Originally, he looked like Daryl Strawberry clone when the Cubs signed him in 2015 at 16 years-old. Now, he is getting his physique into something resembling Jorge Soler. What I really like about him so far is his approach. He shows to have a pretty good knowledge of the zone at 19 and he is not afraid to walk to this early in his career. The issue he has now is that his swing is a bit long. He needs to shorten that up or he will be eaten alive as he moves up the ladder. For now, though, game experience and seeing as many pitches as possible will be the goals for 2018.

Bonus Hitters – Kevin Moreno from Cuba (who is only 17) and Reivaj Garcia are two young hitters who have been tearing up EXST. They will both be in Mesa to begin the year. I love Luis Vazquez’s defense already. The fact that he got experience at SS in a major league spring training game says how highly the Cubs already think of him. He is in Eugene to start 2018. Focus on his defense, not the bat.

Starting Pitchers

One of the more interesting stories in August last year was the maturation of Jesus Tejada in the DSL. He was a stud with an ERA just under 2 for that month and he also threw a no-hitter. Now, the 19 year old will be stateside. This spring, one of the more interesting reports over time from Arizona Phil has been the growth in each performance of lefty Brailyn Marquez, who is really dialing it up as the spring goes along. Now that summer is here, the young 19-year-old pitcher is in Eugene as the ace of the staff. He can dial it up in the mid-90s. The issue has always been his command.

I liked the Cubs taking Derek Casey of Virginia in the ninth round of the 2018 draft a lot. He’s experienced, a senior, and he should be a valuable arm next year. This year, he will more than likely just pitch 2 or 3 innings a game in Eugene or South Bend. He should do well in those spots.

Faustino Carrera is not going to blow you away with his fastball, but he can make you swing wildly at his changeup. The 19-year-old lefty (I am noticing a theme here) has good command and can get hitters to do what he wants when he can control his upper 80s to low 90s heater. He also has a curve that comes in around 82 and he seems to hide the ball well to make it appear to have more zip than it does.

Bonus – In what is his third season as a Cub, Nathan Sweeney is back in the Arizona Rookie League. But here’s the thing, he’s still just 20 and, if he had gone to college, he would just be finishing his sophomore year. After two years of instruction from the college of pitching coaches in Mesa, he should start to put it together this year. His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s consistently.

Relievers

All three of my breakout reliever choices were taken in the draft this year. Ethan Roberts, Riley Thompson, and Layne Looney all had excellent careers in college in the bullpen. I would not be surprised to see any or all 3 get a chance at starting next year. But this year, they are just going to relieve. Thompson, who can bring it at 95, will need the most time to develop. Roberts might need to rest a bit after Tennessee Tech almost made it to Omaha for the College World Series. And Looney should be good to go as he was already playing summer ball. Expect to see Thompson to get in a game first and it should be at Mesa.

Here are a few other names who could break out as legitimate prospects this summer.

DSL
Alexander Ovalles – OF; Carlos Morfa – OF; Fabian Pertuz – SS; Carlos Paula – SP

Mesa
Luis Verdugo – SS; Carlos Pacheco – OF (who is injured to start the year); Raidel Orta – SP; Eduarniel Nunez – SP; and Luis Hidalgo 1B/OF

Eugene
Luis Diaz – 2B and Jonathan Soto – C

The Annual Preview of a Preview: The Ems Are Just Loaded for 2018

By Todd Johnson

 

Every year, I look forward to the Eugene Emeralds’ season with great anticipation. This year is no different. And, like every year, I do a preview of the team two months before they begin play. It’s kind of my thing. What is different about this year is the number of elite prospects that could be headed Eugene’s way.

Normally, the Eugene roster is a mix of young international players and recent college draft picks. This year’s team has some highly anticipated players who won a championship in Mesa and who dominated in the Dominican Summer League in 2017. A few of the players were selected in the draft out of high school; they’ve been the exception rather than the norm the last few years.

Let’s take a sneak peek at who might be playing in PK Park this summer.

The Rockstar Outfield
19-year-old Fernando Kelli made a sensation last summer in the Dominican Summer League when he stole 58 bases and had an on base percentage of .437. He has mad speed and will be fun to watch once he gets on base. Another 19-year-old outfielder for Eugene should be Nelson Velasquez. In just a six week span in 2017, he hit eight home runs over six weeks last summer at Mesa in helping to lead Mesa to an Arizona Rookie League championship. While he does need to cut down on the strikeouts, Velasquez is pure power.

Two other outfielders that could see plenty of time in the field and at DH are Jonathan Sierra and Jose Gutierrez. Both played with Velasquez last year in Mesa. Sierra looked like Darryl Strawberry when the Cubs signed him in 2015 as a 16-year-old. He’s filled out quite a bit since but is still working on his hitting after two full seasons between the Dominican and at Mesa. He’s an outstanding defender with the potential for immense power. As for Gutierrez, he really turned it on in the second half of 2017 as the leadoff man for Mesa and was one of the reasons they were able to score a lot of runs down the stretch to win the title.

A Young and Athletic Infield
The Cubs liked Delvin Zinn so much, they selected him twice; once in 2015 and then again in 2016. Zinn is one of the most athletic players in the system and should be at second base. Playing beside him will be one of my favorite young players to watch this year in Luis Vazquez. The first thing you notice about Luis is he is a tall, rangy shortstop who patrols the left side of the diamond like a panther. Not much gets by him. His bat is going to need some work. So, Emeralds’ fans need to be a bit patient with him. 2B Christian Donahue, who attended Oregon State, but was not drafted, could be a part of the Ems squad this year as well.

Any number of players could fill in at first including Fidel Mejia and if 1B Luis Hidalgo does not make it to South Bend, and is healthy, he could destroy NWL pitching just as he did in the AZL and DSL last summer. 18-year-old shortstop Luis Diaz could also could back up Vazquez and Zinn.  The powerful Christopher Morel should be at 3B. He has immense power but is still working on hitting offspeed stuff.

Very Young Pitching
Like last year, Eugene is going to have a lot of 18 to 19-year-old pitchers. The most prominent name on the list is Jeremiah Estrada, who the Cubs picked up in the 2017 draft after they talked him out of going to UCLA. He can throw in the low to mid 90s and has a plus-plus changeup.

In addition, youngsters Danis Correa, Brailyn Marquez, Emilio Ferrebus, and Didier Vargas will be competing for spots in extended spring training.

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

Correa, 18, is from Columbia and can throw in the mid to upper 90s. He saw a little time in the states last year at Mesa and seemed to hold his own. Marquez, also 19, is a 6’5″ lefty who misses a lot of bats and at times, the strike zone. Marquez played at Mesa last summer and drew raves at times for his talent; and other times he struggled to find the plate. Ferrebus, who just turned 20, held his own last year in two leagues and started in the playoffs for Mesa. Didier Vargas is another 19-year-old who did very well in the Dominican Summer League with an ERA of under one for the summer.

One player who I cannot wait to see pitch is Jesus Tejada. The 6’2″ righty had a ERA of under two in August in the Dominican, and he also threw a no-hitter. He is one of the top pitchers on the rise in the Cubs system. My hope is that he makes the squad.

Faustino Carrera is another 19-year-old lefty who does have command and can put the ball where he wants it. Unlike Marquez, Carrera sits in the low 90s.

One pitcher that will be hard to miss is 6’8″ Stephen Ridings, a 2016 draft pick out of Haverford.  Last year was his first as a Cub and he improved as the season progressed at Mesa. He can start or relieve.

Add in 5 draft picks from the top 98 picks in this year’s draft and that’s a ton of talent.

It’ll be interesting to see how this extremely young group of players develops in extended spring training the next two months. Most of them should make the Emeralds, a few might make it to South Bend, and a few might stay in Mesa. No matter who makes it, it’s gonna be very exciting to watch them grow and develop every night.

In addition, here are two things to take note of this summer:
1. For every Tuesday home game this summer, the Ems will transform into the Monarcas de Eugene as part of MLB’s Copa de la Diversion.

2. The Cubs now have two teams in the Arizona Rookie League. This will create a lot of playing time for a lot of young players. It will also make it harder to get to Eugene as there will be a lot of competition to do so.

Position Breakdown Series – RHSP Part Two: The Top of the Heap

By Todd Johnson


Last week, in part one, I talked about the depth of right-handed starting pitching in the system. That depth also could make my job harder to pick just six arms each month for all-star teams. If I was to rank all 34 right-handed starters, there would not be much of a difference between number 30 and 13.  However, in this article, the top six arms in the system set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.

6. Jen-Ho Tseng – For the second time in four years, he was named the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year. There probably won’t be a third. He’s pretty much ready. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. It will be interesting to see what role he gets in spring training. If he doesn’t make the 25 man in the pen, he will begin 2018 at Iowa as a starter.

5. Oscar De la Cruz – He did not pitch 50 innings last year. That’s a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched a 100 innings combined over the last two years. That is a huge concern. As a result, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has starter stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year, it was a shoulder strain, the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 and the Cubs yanked him from there. For 2018, there are a lot of questions that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.

4. Thomas Hatch – Year two should go much better. Maybe he was thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he did dominate as much as he struggled. At AA, his four pitch mix should play well if he can find the zone. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, he stayed healthy for the entire year, pitched 124 innings, and struck out 126. An interesting tidbit is that he only pitched beyond five innings just five times. AA will be a huge test to improve that efficiency.

3. Alex Lange – I love to watch him pitch. He has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. The problem is he needs a third pitch if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got in 9 innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors. As for where he will begin 2017, part of me hopes it is South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring. The other part of me hopes for Myrtle Beach to challenge him. Right now, I am leaning toward the former. This is one thing I would like to find out this weekend at the Convention.

2. Adbert Alzolay – He needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and if he ever gets a changeup figured out, he could be in Chicago quickly. He should make several starts with the big league club in Chicago during spring training. That should be fun.

1. Jose Albertos – I love everything about this kid. Ever since Eloy left, I labeled him as the Cubs top prospect. His 18-year-old-floor contains a 91-96 mph fastball, a wicked plus changeup, and a curve that still has some grip issues. If he gets the curve figured out, the sky’s the limit for his ceiling. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength. In 2016, he only got 4 in. Last year, he put in 60+ if you include extended spring training. This year, 100 should be the goal and 120-130 in 2019 making him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.

More names to watch
Jesus Camargo – I love his changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year. Plus changeup.
Alec Mills – I need to see more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada – He’s young, moldable, and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the 6th round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark – 2018 should be a good year for him as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid 90s. In August, he destroyed the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal – After missing all of 2017, he should be back at Tennessee and the long, lanky righty will get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno – If he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When he and his plus curve are on, he’s very good. When he’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson – Last year was a comeback year for the 2017 draft pick from Auburn and now he should be set free from day one with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen – He didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low to mid 90s in somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada – He was the hottest Cub pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year. I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King – He was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend to start 2018. He struck out 28 in 22 innings and made 4 starts for the Rookie League champs.

Next week’s breakdown post returns on Friday as I examine left-handed starters.

State of the Cubs’ MiLB System – Part 2: Strengths and Areas of Concern

By Todd Johnson

Last week I looked at some big picture ideas in part one of my state of the Cubs minor-league system. Today’s analytical activities involve breaking down what the Cubs are doing well in their minor-league structure and where they need to improve.

Strengths

Young toolsy outfielders, plethora of catchers, long and lean physically projectable Latin starting pitching, no rush, or need, on getting anyone to the majors soon.  

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

There are probably more strengths that I could list but these are the biggest strengths. Sometimes I look at what’s left of the Cubs’ system and I get a little scared. It’s not a fear of failure. I know that not every prospect is going to make it. The anxiety that I have is that when the current minor-league talent is ready in 3 to 4 years, it is nowhere near the talent level of the players they’re going to be replacing. Yes, the Cubs have until 2021 to start producing more position players. But the Cubs don’t have anyone even projected to be even close an Addison Russell or a Javier Baez or Kris Bryant. There is no one that could even be as good as Albert Almora right now. However, that could all change by 2020/21.

To me, Nelson Velasquez holds the most promise. No one else has his power but he’s only played rookie ball. In another year, he could be the one. If he can start producing at full season A ball, then the Cubs will have something. But that’s just one player. The Cubs need several more high value position prospects.

Areas of Concern

Underdeveloped pitchers, stagnation of several prospects at the upper levels in AA and AAA, few top of the rotation starters in the pipeline, lack of overall power

The fact that the Cubs have not produced any MLB starting pitchers that they drafted or signed in the last five years is raising several questions. Are they doing something developmentally wrong? Are the Cubs taking too big of risks with the pitchers they select? Or could it be that the Cubs are not willing to pay big money to sign bigger named arms in the draft?

I’m going to answer the last question because I think the Cubs statistically know that selecting a pitcher is a big gamble and a huge risk over time. In the last two years they have tried to remedy the lack of pitching by over drafting and compensating with two high picks in the 2017 draft. The fruits of those two drafts will be at AA next year and also filling up South Bend and Myrtle Beach’s rotations. Add in several arms that should be coming stateside from the Dominican Summer League, the Cubs could have a ton of pitching coming ashore. Remember the names of Jesus Tejada, Danis Correa, Emilio Ferrebus, and Didier Vargas. Correa and Ferrebus actually helped Mesa win the Arizona Rookie League title.

Next year is going to be another transformative season in the minors. It’s going to be a season in which there’s a lot of movement up-and-down prospect lists. While prospects should be judged on talent and projection, performance is going to have a huge impact on how some people see the Cubs prospects in the post Eloy world. Doing well in low A ball is not a prerequisite for MLB stardom, but it doesn’t hurt.

Usually, a President says in the State of the Union address that the state of the nation is strong. I don’t think I can attach those kind of adjectives to the Cubs’ system right now. I think if I could attach one word it would be rebuilding. Promising would be another good word to throw in, too.

I do feel good about that since the current regime did it once before starting in late 2011.

The Weekly – Magic Numbers, MiLB News, and Fall Instructs Begin

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs magic number is now at four. With a 4.5 game lead with eight to play, the odds are ever in the Cubs favor. The Cubs play Milwaukee today and then travel to St. Louis for four games and will most likely clinch there. The Cubs finish the season against Cincinnati at home next weekend. 

It is pretty clear-cut that the Cubs are going to be playing the Washington Nationals. With the high-powered arms of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs will have their work cut out for them. Washington will have home-field advantage in the best-of-five series. To win, the Cubs are going to have to be patient and get into the Washington bullpen, which has been revamped since the Cubs last played them. The Cubs went 3-4 against them this year.

And just in case of emergency to get in the playoffs, the Cubs also hold a 3.5 game lead over Colorado in the Wild Card. The Rockies have 6 home games left against the Marlins and Dodgers. Colorado currently holds a 1 game over Milwaukee and 1.5 over St. Louis.

MiLB News
Baseball America began releasing their top 20 prospects in each level of the minor leagues. Victor Caratini came in at number 18 in the Pacific Coast League. The rest of the leagues should come out in the next week.

Minor League Baseball also released their Gold Glove Awards this week. Only one Cub received the honor this year and that was former Tennessee and Iowa outfielder Jacob Hannemann.

Oscar de la Cruz was also removed from the Arizona Fall League roster before play begins. The Cubs, nor the league, went into detail as to why. It’s a little disconcerting as to what is happening with Oscar. He’s barely pitched 100 innings combined the past two seasons. As a result, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s cut out as a long term starter. He will turn 23 in spring training and one has to consider if he might be better suited as a reliever.

In roster news, Pierce Johnson was picked up off of waivers by the San Francisco Giants. I was happy to see someone give him a shot. I didn’t think anybody would make a trade for him when he was designated for assignment. However, I knew there was still value and optimism for him. I wish him the best.

The Cubs also re-signed reliever Jose Rosario to a 2018 minor league contract. 2017 was a year he’d like to forget as he was dropped from the 40 man roster and designated for assignment. At 27, he will give it one more go.

Fall Instructs
Finally, on Monday the 18th, fall instructs started in Arizona and the Cubs had 69 players getting in some extra work. Most of the players rostered are from South Bend, Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican. There are only a couple of players from Myrtle Beach.

According to Arizona Phil, the young Cubs will only be playing situational/simulation games this year in instructs. They will not play other franchises. This is quite different from past years.

Here are four attendees that intrigue me:

Luis Verdugo – The Cubs signed the young shortstop from Mexico this summer. He’s just 17 but I am interested in hearing about his defensive skills and his ability to put the bat on the ball at his young age.

Fernando Kelli – When you steal 58 bases and have a .437 OBP, you are going to draw a lot of attention and that’s what Fernando Kelli has done. I’m wondering just how good he has become. He’s only 18 and was the best prospect the Cubs had in the DSL this summer.

Jesus Tejada – Mr. No-Hitter looks like he’s going to stay stateside next year after an excellent 2017 campaign in the Dominican. I’m wondering how his excellent season translates into confidence as struck out 26 in August in 23 IP.

Carlos Pacheco – When you start looking at the stats and the pure power numbers, he seems a bit of a free swinger at 18-years-old. I don’t think that’s the case. Once you get past the DSL batting average (.232) and start looking at his on base percentage (.366), he shows a better approach than one would first thing. Like many young Cub prospects, he’s just 18. 40% of his hits this year were for extra bases including 9 dingers.

Meanwhile… at Cubs Central
Yesterday, after spending an hour inputting lesson plans online for the next three weeks, I decided to play around on the computer and design some possible infographics for my off-season series called “Leveling Up.” Here is a sample possible style I might use for the series. I’m gonna play with it some more and see what I can come up with, but I like the direction I’m heading with a card, two graphs or charts, and the picture that’s semi-transparent in the background.

My Other Writing on the Web
Cubs Insider
2nd Half Breakout Prospects
Ian Happ

BP Wrigleyville
A New Type of Farmhand