By Todd Johnson
In compiling the stats and possible prospects who might make the First Half All-Star Team, I started with a spreadsheet to get a head start. The 20 something players who made the list did not change much, but who would become the hitter and pitcher of the first half changed from week to week. The reliever of the first half was pretty much set in stone since the first month of the season.
It’s been interesting to watch players shoot up, down, or stay steady throughout the past 2.5 months. Still, it came down to the weekend to see who would make the team when it came to starting pitching (I had 12 at one point and it didn’t end up too far from that).
The biggest surprise the past two weeks has been the surge of Jhonny Bethencourt. Bethencourt is a 21-year-old infielder who plays 3B, SS, and 2B for South Bend. He can definitely handle a stick. He’s hitting almost .350 in June alone to bring his average up to .280. His issue, though, is his defense. He tends to rush plays with his arm. He can get to and field the grounder, it’s just the quality of his throws. However, as long as he hits, he is going to play somewhere.
I really like Jared Young and have been on the “Jared Young Train” since before he began to take off last August. His approach is too good. Not only can he hit for average, he can hit for power. Most teams in the Midwest League already employ a shift against him every night and it is not stopping him from going off. He is the hitter of the first half. I am ready for him to add 10-15 pounds of muscle this winter to add even more power to his game. He cranked out 8 HRs and lead the system in RBI this spring and also lead with a wRC+ of 146 while hitting .302.
Pitcher Matt Swarmer has been pretty steady. He’s had a couple of tough starts, but that is it. The lean and lanky starter already got promoted to Tennessee after being named the April Pitcher of the Month with a 1.72 ERA and 26 Ks in 20.2 IP. In May, he had a 2.92 ERA. In his first start at Tennessee, he got touched, but in his second start, he was scoreless through 3 before the rains came and delayed the game. For the first half, between the two levels, the pitcher of the first half put up a 2.47 ERA and had 65 Ks in 59.1 IP with a WHIP of 0.95.
Dakota Mekkes is the reliever of the first half. He had a 0.98 ERA between Iowa and Tennessee along with 36 Ks in 26.2 IP. His only issue is walks. He’s given out 15 free passes this year, but only 3 in Iowa (5+ BBs/9). Expect to see him in Chicago shortly.
Without further adieu, here is Cub Central’s First Half All-Star team.
By Todd Johnson
A year ago, I thought second base might have been the deepest position in the system. The rankings had Ian Happ followed by Chesny Young, Carlos Sepulveda, Trent Giambrone, Yeiler Peguero, and Jonathan Perlaza. Things did not work out well for anybody on that list except for Happ. Part of that disappointment was based on performance and part of that was because of Injury.
Sepulveda was injured early but did finish the year in the Arizona Rookie League. Chesny Young was up and down all year (more down than up). It took Trent Giambrone some time to adjust to high A after skipping South Bend and he took off in June and July before settling back to Earth in August.
Here are this year’s compilation of second baseman.
1. Carlos Sepulveda – He played in 28 games for Myrtle Beach at the beginning of the year before an injury robbed him of most of his season. He came back at the end of August and played nine games, plus the playoffs, for Mesa. After watching him hit .310 at South Bend in 2016, I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do and how much he could improve at Myrtle Beach. That didn’t happen, but he is still ahead of everybody else at the position when it comes to a hit tool. For 2018, I am not sure where he will begin the year but he should end it AA Tennessee.
2. David Bote – He begin to turn his career around in the middle of 2016 when Ian Happ left Myrtle Beach for Tennessee. Since then he has been a holy terror at the plate showing a mixture of power and the ability to hit for average. He can also play almost every position in the field, but most likely he will play second or third and some outfield in the future.
3 (tie). Jared Young – The 2017 draft pick got off to a rough start in Eugene. He hit .131 in 16 games in July. In spite of that average, I really liked his approach at the plate. It did not pay off that month. In August, it did. He hit .323 for the month and helped lead Eugene into the playoffs. I really like his size at 6’2″ and his smooth left-handed stroke. He will be at South Bend to begin 2018.
3 (tie). Austin Upshaw – Another 2017 draft pick, Upshaw hit from the get-go in Arizona, he skipped Eugene, and then he landed in South Bend where he hit almost .300 for a two month span. He was also one of my favorite interviews of the year and I wonder what position he will have going forward – first or second base. What I really like most about him is that he seems cool under pressure as he hit .293 with runners in scoring position. In just 52 games, he drove in 29. He also bats left-handed and showed a solid approach with a .339 on base percentage. That should improve more in 2018.
5. Chesny Young – 2017 was a series of adjustments for the young utility player. He played all over the field for Iowa and had a roller coaster season. That may be a cause of concern for some, but when you start to dig deeper you see that the approach is there, just not the results. His monthly batting average splits went .224/.357/.220/.300/.188. When he was ahead in the count in 2017, he hit over .500. When he was behind, he hit under .200. Those are some alarming differences that he is going to have to correct next season.
6. The fact that I did not include Trent Giambrone near the top of the list is not a knock against him as I love to watch him play and hit. I think he could have a great year at AA. To do so, he needs to be more consistent at the plate. He had an up and down year at Myrtle Beach after skipping South Bend. I think he will adjust back in 2018. There’s a lot to like about his game, his leadership, his intensity, and his potential for power.
Ones to Watch – Delvin Zinn, Jhonny Bethencourt, and Christian Donahue
Zinn played a mixture of shortstop and second base last year for Mesa while Bethencourt played all over the infield for Eugene. Both have the potential for outstanding bats. However, I think their positions need to be a little bit more settled. Zinn should be at Eugene playing a mixture of second and shortstop while Bethencourt should be at South Bend. The problem is where Bethencourt is going to play as he is not very solid defensively. I think he fits best at second base versus third base and especially over short.
At the end of the season, the Cubs signed undrafted free agent second baseman Christian Donahue from Oregon State. He was dismissed from the team right before the College World Series. It should be interesting to see how he does and where he does it at. In addition to playing second base for the Beavers, he played some outfield. He is known for having a high motor and being an excellent base runner.
By Todd Johnson
Nelson Velazquez is turning into a world beater, however it wasn’t enough last night. Velazquez had a triple and drove in three runs to give the Mesa Cubs a brief lead in Game 2 of the best of three AZL Championship Series. However, the Cubs lost in Game 2 to the Giants 6-5. It was a seesaw game with the Cubs scoring two in the first, thanks in part to a Jose Gutierrez home run. The Giants came back and scored four in the fourth before Nelson’s fifth inning triple gave the Cubs the lead 5-4. The Giants came back and tied it and then went on to win it in the ninth on an error. Tonight is the final game as it looks like Emilio Ferrebus should take the mound for the Cubs.
Meanwhile in Eugene…
Smoke from the wildfires finally lifted enough for the Ems and the Hillsboro Hops to get game 1 in. Jose Albertos started for Eugene and went 5.2 innings. He gave up two runs, one on a homer, but looked sharp after the first inning. He didn’t throw his curve much, but his change was a thing of beauty.
Relievers Elvis Diaz and Jake Steffens shut down the Hops after Albertos left the game. Jhonny Bethencourt scored scored two runs and Gustavo Polanco drove in Michael Cruz with the winning run in the eighth inning for a 3-2 victory.
The Ems travel To Hillsboro to finish out the best-of-three series. Jesus Camargo is slated to start game 2.
Pelicans Rained Out
Myrtle Beach was rained out and they will resume their semi-final Mills Cup series tonight, weather permitting. Michael Rucker is still slated to pitch for the Pelicans against Down East, a Rangers’ affiliate.
By Todd Johnson
With the promotion of Aramis Ademan to South Bend, the Eugene Emeralds’ lineup takes on a whole different mix now. Ademan was one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs organization in July. Then again, his first two weeks at Eugene were a disaster when he hit leadoff. Ademan did not start hitting until he went into the number two spot thanks in part to the guy who took over the leadoff spot and that is Jhonny Bethencourt.
Bethencourt had been hitting .400 down in the six spot behind Joe Martarano and Gustavo Polanco. Once Bethencourt moved into the leadoff spot, the Eugene offense started to coalesce. They missed the first half division title by just one game. With a .375 on base percentage, Bethancourt has shown a sharp eye at the plate and is a hitter to keep an eye on despite a mini slump in July that saw his average drop from .317.
Birthplace: Pampatar, Venezuela
Ht: 5′ 11″ Wt: 160
Hands, walks consistently, ability to hit to all fields, defense at 2B
Areas of Concern
Defense at 3B, lack of power, physical projection, consistency hitting
Signed by the Cubs as an international free agent in 2014, he’s had a somewhat steady rise through the system. It hasn’t been meteoric nor has he knocked anybody socks off, but he has put together a couple good seasons, including this year.
Bethencourt’s Cubs career began in Venezuela in 2015. In 61 games, he had .319 with a .410 on base percentage. He played second base and outfield but did not display any power. In 2016, he came stateside and played 38 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Even though he hit only .235, his approach at the plate stayed the same as he put up on base percentage of .353. He played second and third and spent a little bit of time in the outfield.
When it comes to fielding third base, ground balls sometimes eat him up. He has 7 errors in 14 games there. He seems a little more sure handed at second base with only 3 miscues in 17 games..
Even though he is just 20 years old, there’s just something I like about him. He’s not going to be a world beater as he’s not that big of a kid. But he’s going to be able to hit and he’s shown the proclivity to do so in two of his three seasons in addition to showing the ability to get on base every year.
In 2015, he struck out 11.2% of the time, in Mesa, 14.4% – both decent numbers. This year, his K rate is 23% which is a little alarming and bears watching.
Two stats that I like to keep an eye on at the lower levels are how a player sprays the ball around the field and the percentage of types of balls he hits. Combined, they give you an idea of how he is hitting the ball. Sometimes players can get a little too pull happy and sometimes ground balls overwhelm the types of batted balls. This year, Bethencourt is pulling 43% of his batted balls while his ground ball rate is up to 50%. He needs to hit more liners and use the whole field. Still, they are just a partial picture of him as a hitter. Here is a nice hit of his going to right field. Notice the smooth stroke he has.
That’s about as well as he is going to hit the ball.
Aaron Alter of the Daily Emerald wrote a wonderful article about how bethencourt is dealing with the turmoil back home in Venezuela. Also, in that same article, Bethencourt describes his daily approach.
“The preparation for the game, it’s the most important thing. My routine in the cages, the BP, I try to put my best there. If I can’t do that, then I can’t just go in the game and hit.” […] The routine itself starts out with a one-handed-swings with a short training bat, a tried and true way to improve control at the plate. He follows that with full bat swings, mainly focusing on hitting the ball down the middle, and then the routine is finished. “It’s more psychological,” he said. “It gets me in the zone.”
With just four weeks left in the season, Bethencourt should stay at Eugene as the Emeralds try to make a run for a playoff spot to defend their Northwest League Championship.
I will be interested to see how does in South Bend next year against more advanced pitching. With a 140 game season at that level, it is always more telling of a prospect’s skills and tools. I think Bethencourt should be someone to watch with intent in 2018.
By Todd Johnson
At the beginning of the second half of the minor league season, I picked 10 players I thought would break out and become better known prospects through their performance. Out of those 10, I’ve only got one right…so far. The key phrase there is so far. There are still six weeks left to go in the minor-league season.
But like usual, every year there are prospects who outperform expectations that we didn’t see coming. In the past month, several young players have stepped up their game and improved their stock in the system. .
Jesus Camargo – He missed all of 2016 but has come back with a vengeance in 2017. He has a beautiful changeup and a nice 1.69 ERA with 38 Ks in 32 IP for Eugene.
Austin Upshaw – I interviewed him Saturday afternoon, and he will get his own article later in the week. Upshaw has a smooth stroke from the left and he plays first and second for South Bend. He is the draft pick who has reached the highest level so far. Upshaw is hitting a tad north of .300 for the Cubs.
Brandon Hughes – He is very athletic and has some ultra quick hands through the zone. He is hitting almost .400 at Eugene. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the next year.
Jhonny Bethencourt – I really enjoy watching him hit for Eugene. He has now moved into the leadoff spot for the Emeralds and is hitting .315 this summer.
Manuel Rodriguez – Last year’s top International Free Agent attacks the zone as a reliever for Eugene. He gets it up to 93/94. He has a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 IP to go along with an amazing 25 Ks.
Ricky Tyler Thomas – He’s been pretty impressive in his brief relief appearances. I love his changeup. He’s only made three appearances since signing but the 7th round pick has struck out 8 in 6 innings without allowing a run.
Matt Swarmer – He began the year as a reliever at South Bend and has been starting at Eugene. His slider has been improving along with his fastball command. He has a pretty good data set for 6 starts with a 2.37 ERA and 31 Ks in 30.1 IP.
Close but No Cigar
There are still several players who I think are on the verge of busting out. They just lack the consistency in their performance. Most notable of these is Bailey Clark. When he is on, he is a joy to watch pitch. When he is not… Joe Martarano hit .385 at Eugene and has struggled at South Bend. It will take time for him after missing the better part of two years.
I have been surprised by the bat of Aramis Ademan which is a much more advanced bat than I first thought. As well, Miguel Amaya’s arm is something out of the Wild West. Then again, everyone knew those two 18-year old prospects would be coming.
Still Question Marks
I still need to see a bigger sample size from draft picks Ramsey Romano, Cam Balego, and Chris Singleton, as well as catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni, who are all doing well in the Arizona Rookie League.
In the Dominican Summer League…
Even though they have been playing for two months, it will be interesting to see how they finish the last month and then who gets to come north for instructs will give us a better idea on their development. Here are some players having excellent seasons and it could be a precursor to them doing well stateside next year.
OF Alonso Gaitan, SP Didier Vargas, OF Alberto Hinirio, SS Orian Nunez, SP Jesus Tejada, SP Emilio Ferribus, OF Fernando Kelli, C Daniel Diaz, and P Yovanny Cruz.
By Todd Johnson
Tomorrow, Cubs Central will publish it’s June Minor-League All-Star team. There will be a lot of new faces on the team, but there could’ve been more. There are several players from Eugene and Arizona who could’ve easily made the team but they have only played half a month. In fact, one of Eugene’s hitters could’ve been “The Hitter of the Month.”
Today, the Six Pack looks at six Eugene hitters who have been doing really well in their first two weeks for the Cubs’ short season class A affiliate.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3″ and 240 pounds, you would think that Martarano would be some sort of big bulking hitter. He’s not. In fact, he’s far from it. He’s very patient at the plate. He likes to wait for a pitch that he can do something with. I initially thought that he would be up and down this year after not playing basically for two years. He’s shown me that he can hit for average, hit for power, and work a walk better than anyone in the Northwest League. Today, he is hitting .385 with one homerun and an on-base percentage of .478.
Miguel Amaya – He is only 18 years old and is easily the best defensive catcher in the entire system. He’s thrown out 7 out of 12 base stealers. And, he is also starting to swing a good bat. I watched him crank his first home run down the left-field line the other night. His natural swing path takes the ball to right center and right field. That’s a nice swing to have for a young player.
Gustavo Polanco – As we profiled on Tuesday, Polanco is off to a great start as a hitter. In his first game, as a catcher, he gave up seven stolen bases. I didn’t think he would catch again, but he caught an excellent game on Wednesday night. I really like him as a hitter, but I’m still not sold his him on a catcher. Then again that’s what short season ball is for.
Rafael Narea – He looks like a little wisp of a guy. There’s not much to him, but he’s already played three positions and when he moved to the leadoff spot, the Emeralds took off winning seven in a row. I think he’s aggressive as a hitter and he can spray the ball all over the field. For the future, I like his ability to also take walk. He’s hitting .326 with an excellent OBP of .436
Jhonny Bethencourt – I didn’t really see this kid coming either and man do I like him. He’s played a little third and a little second base. He hits right behind Martarano in the lineup. He’s been pretty consistent at getting on base all month (.400 OBP) which leads me to believe he is likely to continue to do so.
Aramis Ademan – Nobody got off to a worse start than Ademan. But lately, he’s been turning it on. Since manager Jesus Feliciano moved him from the leadoff into the number two spot, Ademan has been hitting .375 the past six games. He’s had a couple homeruns which I found extremely surprising because because he’s only 5’8″ and 160 pounds soaking wet. He’s pretty smooth in the field, though, but he does make little mistakes by getting a little lackadaisical throwing over to first. He’s going to need to clean that up
The pitching staff for Eugene is relatively young. I think we could be having the same conversation in a couple more weeks about their starting rotation’s talent.
It is getting to be the dog days of summer in northern Illinois. We had our first 90° day four days ago and today it is a nice and cool 77. But when it comes to the Cubs system there are lots of players who are heating it up. This includes both the major and the minor leagues.
Chicago: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Schwarber
It’s getting to be a little frustrating for me to watch games. This grows out of the fact that the Cubs have the wildcard lead. Another has to do with my blood pressure. I’m not used to games meaning something at the end of July since 2009 and I am getting a little worked up. Lester and Arietta have been lights out the past month. The offense has not. Even though Schwaber has only played five games in the past week, his bat is the clear presence in the lineup.Last night’s Cubs game was an amazing one to sit and enjoy, even if it did take five hours. Schwarber’s two dramatic home runs have turned him into a legend.
Iowa: Junior Lake, Carlos Pimentel, and Carl Edwards, Jr.
To be honest I didn’t think this team would have much at the beginning of the year. In the past two weeks they’ve been playing their best ball and are now eight games over 500. I tip my hat to them. Leading the charge has been Junior Lake, the Maddon cast off. Along with some good pitching, the Cubs are still 9 games out of first trailing the Dodgers Triple A affiliate. Lake could be playing his was into a trade if he keeps it up. In the last year, he has totally reshaped his approach at the plate. He takes walks. He hits for power. He is only 25. Also 25, Carlos Pimentel is having an outstanding season. At 7-5 with a 3.14 ERA, Pimentel is getting better in every start. In his last ten starts, he has a 1.95 ERA while striking out 45 in 55 innings. Carl Edwards in ramping it up, too. If only he didn’t walk people, he could be in Chicago in the bullpen. To be honest, all three could help the big league Cubs.
Tennessee: Sutton Whiting, Bijan Rademacher, and Pierce Johnson
Since Kyle Schwarber left and Dan Vogelbach went on the DL, this team has struggled. Add in the fact that Frank Bautista and Jefferey Antigua went to Iowa, the rotation is not on point either. The hitting is in a clear funk. Only Bijan Rademacher has shown some sign of life to complement Willson Contreras. Pierce Johnson and Ryan Williams have been doing their best with Johnson likely heading to Iowa very shortly. Surprisingly, recent draftee Sutton Whiting has been holding his own at AA. What was likely meant to be an organizational fill in, Whiting has hit .438 in 8 games with a .609 OBP. He may get more of a look in the next month as he is taking advantage of the opportunity. Help may also have arrived yesterday in the guise of Jacob Rodgers and Jeimer Candelario.
Myrtle Beach: Chesney Young, Daury Torrez, Brad Markey, Paul Blackburn, Josh Conway, Kevin Brown, and Jacob Rogers (now in Tennessee)
I came close to putting the whole team down. The Pelicans have won 7 in a row with two of their top starters, Duane Underwood and Trevor Skulina, on the DL. Solid started pitching from Jeremy Null and Brad Markey have stabilized the new ship and new bullpen arms David Garner and Dave Berg have found firm footing after a rough start. Jacob Rogers turned into an RBI machine for the second half and Chesny Young has now reached base in 40 straight games.
South Bend: Jeffrey Baez, Gleyber Torres, Rashad Crawford, and Ryan McNeil
Jeffrey Baez was named Midwest League Player of the Week by MiLB. The first half of the season he had seven RBIs. In the last seven days he’s had 11 RBIs. Once Charcer Burks went down with a minor injury, Baez stepped into the leadoff spot and saw his average rise almost 40 points in 10 days. Behind Baez, Gleyber Torres continues to hit and hit and hit and hit. Rashad Crawford seems to be rounding in shape. He is hitting .382 in his last ten games and on Sunday night he had four RBIs. In McNeil’s last ten appearances out of the pen, his ERA is a tiny 1.35.
Eugene: Ian Happ and Greyfer Eregua
This team got off to a great start and seems to be cooling off a lot. Carson Sands gave up eight runs in one third of an ending on Sunday night in the worst start of his career. Justin Steele then gave up 5 ERs in 5 innings on Monday. But there’s still hope. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Ian Happ is starting to get hot. He is hitting .366 in his last ten games with a .463 OBP. Pitcher Greyfer Eregua has been dazzling everyone (1.59 ERA) as a piggyback starter for Kyle Twomey and Ryan Kellogg.
Arizona: Robert Garcia, Dylan Cease, James Norwood, Scott Effross, and Mark Malave
This team is getting a lot of contributions from you guys we didn’t see on the radar. Robert Garcia is almost hitting .400 from the leadoff spot. James Norwood seems to have finally found his feet as a starting pitcher and had an excellent start on Sunday night. For over a year since he was drafted, we have heard about his mid to upper 90s fastball that he had trouble controlling. Looks like he is starting to get a grip on it. Reliever Mark Malave has transitioned from being a catcher to a reliever seamlessly. No one saw that he would not allow a run and become the team’s de facto closer. Effross, the former Indiana closer, might transition to a starter at a later point. Right now, the 2015 draftee has yet to allow a run. As for Dylan Cease, he has not cooled down one bit. His WHIP is an amazing 0.69!
Dominican and Venezuelan League
Young 17 year-old SS Yeiler Peguero was named MVP of the Dominican all-star game this past week. Also SP Junior Marte continues to get better with every start and Pitcher Wander Cabrera gets better with every outing. 1B Chris Pieters, a converted pitcher who saw time in extended spring training, has been putting his 6’3” and 185 lb. frame to good use hitting .425 with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs in his last ten games. 2B Jhonny Bethencourt (yes, that is how his name his spelled) just hits on a team that struggles to hit and pitcher Gabriel Lima (1.82 ERA in 8 starts) continues to do well along with recently returned Yapson Gomez (2.08 ERA in 13 innings in 4 appearances).
None of the International Free Agent signees have yet to make an appearance in either league. They will likely come to instructs stateside in September and October.