Cubs Pick Up 3 Prospects in the Rule 5 and 1 More in a Trade

By Todd Johnson


Sometimes, no news is good news.

The 2018 Winter Meetings culminated today with the Rule 5 Draft in Las Vegas. The Cubs passed in the major league part of the draft and no team selected a Cub prospect. Trevor Clifton, Erick Leal, Jordan Minch, Jhonny Pereda, and many more will still be Cubs when spring training opens in late February.

However, the Cubs’ minor league system was not so lucky in the MiLB phase. Relief pitchers David Garner and Yapson Gomez were taken respectively by the Blue Jays and Indians. In addition, former Cub Jeffrey Baez was taken by Arizona.

The Cubs took three players in this portion of the draft.

Luis Lugo – LHSP – Royals – 24-years-old

Rafelin Lorenzo – C – Pirates – 21-years-old

Alexander Vargas – RHSP – Yankees – 21-years-old

  

The trio is an odd mix of picks to be taken as only one of them has played beyond high A. Vargas will probably be assigned to AA Tennessee to start next year while Lugo and Lorenzo should be at Myrtle Beach to begin the year.

Considering the strength of the Cub system is starting pitching, it was a bit weird for the Cubs to select two arms this year. Maybe the Cubs are just adding to their depth, or the Cubs could be converting the two to the bullpen. It’s a bit early to tell.

As for Lorenzo, he only played 33 games in 2018 behind the plate. That’s not a lot of ABs or experience. However, the Cubs did have a bit of a shortage last summer after the draft at the position.

We’ll see what happens.

In Other News…

The Tommy La Stella trade was completed today as the Cubs received lefty reliever Conor Lillis-White. He’s 6’4” and 220 lbs. with some good experience at AAA where he struck out 12.54/9 last year and he has an XFIP of 3.59. Then again, he has a propensity to give up the long ball. He gave up 5 in 37.1 IP at AAA. His future, though, is probably as a loogy. He is deadly against lefties who only hit .179 off him at AAA. That’s outstanding.

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Winter Meetings Conclude Today with the Rule 5 Draft

By Todd Johnson

The Winter Meetings in Las Vegas will conclude today and the culminating event will be the Rule Five Draft. It is highly unlikely that the Cubs will make a selection in this year’s draft, considering their World series aspirations. However, the Cubs could lose a few prospects in the draft. And, they could build some depth at Iowa in the MiLB phase of the draft.

Who Could Be Taken
Considering that you have to keep the player you select on the 25 man roster, relief pitchers and catchers tend to be the players taken the most. You could also take a starting arm and stash them in the bullpen and let them develop there. Based on those criteria, four Cubs could be taken today in the major league phase.

Catchers Jhonny Pereda and Ian Rice have characteristics other teams want. Rice is a very patient hitter at the plate with power [potential but has yet to play at AAA. Pereda broke out a little bit last year at Myrtle Beach as a hitter and d fender but has yet to play above A+.

I definitely could also see a team taking lefty reliever Jordan Minch. Developing a left-handed bullpen guy is something most teams need. Minch could be a gamble somebody takes. He was excellent in the second half of 2018 at Tennessee and could be a guy that you bring in for a couple of left-handed hitters.

I would be sad to see the very next player go, but Trevor Clifton is an arm somebody might see as a good gamble. They could stash him in the bullpen or bring him along slowly as either a fifth starter, long reliever, or even a piggyback starter. Any team that takes him is going to have to finish his development, which is basically getting him to be more efficient so he can go deeper into games. Clifton is very, very close and I still don’t know why the Cubs did not protect him.

As for the minor league portion of the draft, anything could happen as the Cubs try and build some depth for position players at AA and AAA. They let 17 guys go in minor league free agency and have some positions to fill, especially at Iowa as not everybody at AA Tennessee earned a promotion.

I’ll be back tonight somewhere around 5 p.m. with the breakdown of any activity that happens with the Cubs.

In other news..
*Baseball America is about set to release their top 10 Cubs Prospect List in the next week.
*I am not expecting Bryce Harper news anytime soon. Any news is probably put out there by Boras to build up his client and get the contract bidding as high as possible.

Position Breakdown Series: Miguel Amaya Leads Off the Catchers

By Todd Johnson

 A year ago, I had Victor Caratini atop the Cubs catching prospects followed by Miguel Amaya, Ian Rice, PJ Higgins, and Will Remillard. The Cubs’ catching corps is still pretty deep this year. Only a few changes were made to the list since Victor now has a big league job.

With this year’s rankings, the top spot has to make everyone feel good. At number one, Miguel Amaya is quickly developing a potent bat to go along with his ability to be a defensive stalwart behind the plate. To have a power arm and a power bat as a catcher is a rare commodity for most organizations. The great thing about him is that he’s just going to be 20 this year and his bat is far from complete. This year‘s goal at the plate will be to continue to improve his pitch recognition skills and walk a bit more as well smack some more balls over the wall.

Jhonny Pereda had an excellent first half at Myrtle Beach and was one of the surprises of the year in the Cubs’ system. In that first half, he hit .284 with a .368 OBP and 5 HRs. As the year wore on, he kept on catching most games and slipped about 20 points in average and on-base percentage. Still, Pereda was given a ticket to the Arizona Fall League where he was decent at .276/.344. Like Rice and Higgins, he is also Rule V eligible. If he does not get taken, he should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. 

For now, catcher Ian Rice is firmly implanted at number three. With an on-base percentage of close to .400 year last year, Rice worked mainly on his defense while also playing first and third base a bit. While his power numbers were down, Rice also did an excellent job of managing a pitching staff at Tennessee. I am very excited to see what he can do in the Pacific Coast League while at Iowa. He could be a Cub or he could not. It all depends on whether he is taken as a Rule V pick on December 13. Some other team is going to get a guy with the potential for 20 home runs with a smooth uppercut bat path and a good eye at the plate.

At #4, PJ Higgins tore it up at Myrtle Beach in the first half of 2018. At Tennessee, he kept his head above water and was fine behind the plate as he worked with a staff that he was quite familiar with. As for his experience in the Arizona Fall League, it did not go as planned as he struggled to hit most days. Then again, his AFL experience should shape his future. It should propel him to improve in the batter’s box. More than likely, he begins 2019 back at AA Tennessee.

In his first year as a Cub, Alexander Guerra put up some nice numbers in helping to lead the Cubs 1 team in Arizona to the best record in the league. He hit .267, had an OBP of .355 with 3 HRs, and drove in a team leading 30 RBI in 46 games. Based on that successful experience, he should be at South Bend to begin 2019. 

As for Michael Cruz, he looked like he figured some things out last summer at South Bend. He hit .322 in June and .286 in July to go with 27 RBI over the two months. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach and saw action in just 12 games in August and September. Cruz should be at Myrtle Beach to start 2019.

Still a Bit Unsure
A year ago, I had Will Remillard at number five. I thought he was going to be ready after missing 2.5 years. He got some work in at Tennessee and Iowa, but 29 games is not a lot. I hope he is back healthy and ready to go in 2019.

Sleepers for 2019
Henderson Perez – He’s listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs. Those were his 16-year-old traits. He is ripped now and did well in the second half for Mesa 2 hitting .311/.386/.411 with 15 RBI in 24 games. He will be just 19 when he starts next year at Eugene.

Marcus Mastrobuoni – After leading Mesa to an AZL title in 2017, Marcus missed all of 2018 with a knee injury. After hitting .308 with a .390 OBP and 6 dingers, Mastrobuoni looked prime to break out last year for South Bend. It didn’t happen for him but it could in 2019 even at 24 years of age. 

And I Wonder…
The Cubs signed two non-drafted free agent catchers in Caleb Knight and Brennon Kaleiwahea. I wonder what kind of roles they will have this year and with whom. And in a weird twist of fate, the Cubs can still sign 2018 23rd round pick Hunter Taylor of South Carolina up until 2 weeks before the 2019 draft. Because Taylor was a senior last year, the Cubs still have that strange right.

After the Rule V Draft, we shall see if this list is still the same.

The Weekly: 40 Man Spots, Jhonny Pereda, and Upcoming News

By Todd Johnson

Monday is a big day. On the 19th, the Cubs’ 40-man roster could contain  a few new names to protect them from being taken in the Rule V Draft slated for December 13. Expect to see Trevor Clifton, Justin Steele, and Jason Vosler get added. PJ Higgins, Erick Leal, and Jhonny Pereda are longshots to be put on the roster. The Cubs will likely roll the dice by leaving the last three off. A year from now, Pereda probably will get added and the same for Leal, if 2019 goes well.

I am really starting to dig Jhonny Pereda more and more. He had a great first half at Myrtle Beach this year. Like most catchers, he slipped a little in the second half as the grind begans to wear the catcher down. However, Pereda’s season wasn’t done as he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. Pereda only played in 8 games there but hit a reasonable .278 with a .354 OBP..

While some may be focusing on his bat, Pereda handles a pitching staff fairly well. He caught some of the Cubs’ best prospects in 2018 and managed their games in an excellent fashion. He also caught an outstanding 38% of base runners stealing this year.

Pereda will be at Tennessee in 2019. It should be interesting to see how he does at AA. Considering he held his own in the AFL, the odds are in his favor. Hopefully Pereda can stay strong all year and see some more time at first to keep him a little fresher down the stretch.

Prospects Lists Getting Closer – I saw where Baseball Prospectus will be publishing their top 10 Cubs prospects on December 11, Baseball America started releasing their lists this past week, and Minor League Baseball has 4 done and more to come. I don’t have any idea about Fangraphs while MLB Pipeline is going for January 1 for their top 30, the same date as my new Top 21.

As well, Baseball America released their Draft Grades for the Cubs. I did very well in my predictions. I only whiffed on a couple, but then again, I might be right.

MiLB Transactions – The Cubs did have two transactions this week of the minor league variety. The Cubs re-signed speedy outfielder Wynton Bernard and reliever Jose Rosario, who was injured most of the past two summers.

The Mailbag – Those posts are going well. I have one I am working on about the developmental process in the system based on a question from Rikk Carlson. Then, after that, I have questions about pitching in the last draft and a Zach Hedges query. Still, I could go for more questions to write about and more posts. Those questions help beat the doldrums of winter and writer’s block. They actually make me energized! The next mailbag will be the week of the 26th. It would not bother me in the slightest to answer them all winter long!!!

Position Breakdown Series – This popular yearly series returns with its debut on Friday, the day after Turkey Day. I am read to get the catchers out there first. 

Other Stuff on the Web – I am trying to write more original content for Cubs Insider this winter. This past week, I wrote about Erick Leal and Trent Giambrone. Over at BP Wrigleyville, my last two articles were on the Arizona Fall League and the 2015 International Free Agent Class.

The 5 Series – Originally, Levi Jordan was going to be the first player profiled in this off season series. Instead, I changed my mind and decided to go with Jimmy Herron, whom I have a lot of questions about. I haven’t written one word on Herron. Then again, on Saturday (yesterday), I was watching the snow come down and all I could think of was Jose Albertos. Who knows what I will do? The 5 Series debuts on the 27th. Stay tuned!

Card of the Week

The Weekly: Hot and Cold Stove, Fall Awards, AFL News, Lists, and Things to Come

By Todd Johnson

The “MLB Hot Stove” is just not very hot this week during the GM Meetings. The Cubs have not signed any free agents nor have they have made any trades. The only thing coming out of the meeting is that it appears pitching coach Jim Hickey will also not be returning in 2019. I thought he was outstanding in keeping the rotation afloat and the young bullpen arms productive last summer. Theo also said that he was not going to comment at this time as it was not appropriate. So, it looks like more information will be coming down the pike later.

On Friday, Buster Olney of ESPN floated that the Cubs were open to trading Kris Bryant based on comments Theo made that there were no untouchables. Buster made a bit of a stretch putting Kris Bryant on the block. Kris is going to be a Cubs through 2020 and into 2021 and hopefully beyond.

In the awards section, Anthony Rizzo won his second Gold Glove and Mr. Javier Baez won his first Silver Slugger award. I doubt if Javy wins MVP, but it was such a thrilling season to watch him day in and day out.

AFL Action
While Nico continues to hit well along with Trent Giambrone, pitcher Erick Leal is beginning to draw praise as he is the only starting pitcher in the Arizona Fall League who has yet to allow an earned run. Leal’s streak reached 17 innings this week and his curveball has been getting rave reviews for its ability to miss baseball bats. Erick should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. Unless the Cubs put them on the 40 man roster by November 20, he is eligible to be selected in the next month’s Rule V Draft. I will have a full fledged post on him for Tuesday.

In addition, catcher Johnny Pereda is trending upwards as this AFL season comes to a close. It’s hard to believe that next week is the sixth week and final week of the season. Pereda’s average at one point hit .273 this week. On the other hand, pitcher Bailey Clark has struggled a little bit in the second half. He gave up a monster home run to White Sox product Louis Robert the other day. However, he is still looking good sitting around 95 most days. Last night, he was in trouble as he gave up 4 hits in 2 innings but did not allow a run. This has been a great experience for him going up against some of the top talent in MILB. Bailey’s ERA is at 2.45 in 11 innings.

Then there’s this guy…

Lists Are Coming
Baseball America it’s getting closer to putting out their draft grade on the Cubs and their latest top 10 prospect list. I will analyze that list as soon as it arrives sometime in the next two weeks. As well, John Sickel’s Minor League Ball began releasing their prospect lists this week but have yet to get to the Cubs.

The 5 Series
Starting the day after Turkey Day, my two offseason series will officially begin. As per usual, the position breakdown series will begin with catchers that day. And then I’m going to do something a little bit different this year in my offseason look at prospects. Rather than do a whole historical write up and talent evaluation of prospects, this year’s series is going to be brief and to the point. It is called the “Five Series” and each profile contains five things and the theme will change for each prospect.

In addition, it’s going to be class A centric. Not too many players above either Eugene, South Bend or Myrtle Beach are going to get examined. The first prospect on the clock is shortstop Levi Jordan, the Cubs 29th round pick out of the University of Washington in 2018 who played at Eugene after signing with the Cubs. After that, third round pick OF Jimmy Herron out of Duke has been piquing my interest.

Mailbag
I want to do a few mailbag posts like I did last year. So, send me your Cub MiLB questions you have this offseason about next year. It can be about any level, the draft, international free agency, the AFL, or trades. You can do it on Twitter or you can email me at CubsCentral2016@gmail.com. I advertised for some on Twitter yesterday and a few of the Qs I am thinking about actually turning into full fledged posts about Erick Leal, South Bend’s OF in 2019, Adbert Alzolay’s future (Probably at BPW), and Trent Giambrone’s amazing AFL experience (at Cubs Insider).

Acquisitions This Week
MiLB Free Agents – Corey Black
IFA – Edwin Castillo, INF , Darling Grullon, P,  Orlando Guzman, OF – That brings their 2018/19 total to 11.
MiLB Re-signed to 6th year/Successor contract (per Arizona Phil)– Erick Leal, Roberto Caro, Gioskar Amaya, Anderson Acevedo, James Buckelew, Yan de la Cruz, Dalton Geekie, Danny Hultzen, Ryan Lawlor, Yasiel Balaguert, Erick Castillo, and Chris Pieters

Card of the Week

2018 Affiliate Reviews: Myrtle Beach Pitching Dominated

By Todd Johnson

Team Record 61-78

What Worked in 2018
2018 was all about pitching. The rotation went six strong throughout the year and the bullpen was very sharp right up to the end. As a result, most of the pitching corps will be off to Tennessee. It’ll be exciting to see Alex Lange, Tyson Miller, and Cory Abbott ply their trade in AA.

Erich Uelmen and Bryan Hudson could start out next year in Myrtle Beach but move quickly to Tennessee if they do well.

As for the bullpen, Tyler Peyton, Manny Rondon, Bailey Clark, Garrett Kelly, and Erick Leal should all began 2019 at AA.

There wasn’t a lot to write home about the hitting.

Catcher Johnny Pereda was outstanding in the first half but slipped a little in the second half. Still, Pereda earned a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

First baseman Jared Young arrived in early July and was the Cubs minor league player of the year for Cubs Central and the Cubs themselves. Depending on how he does in the Arizona Fall League, outfielder DJ Wilson might be bound for AA along with Roberto Caro (if he re-signs as a MiLB free agent).

Returning Guys
Aramis Ademan and Wladimir Galindo should return to Myrtle Beach for a while. Both are still relatively young that repeating Myrtle Beach to begin the year might be a good thing for them. There could be a few others who’ll come back, but some familiar faces might be on their way out of the system Considering the depth of the Cubs have in the lower minors, it is a pretty logical course of action.

Christian Donahue should begin 2018 in Myrtle Beach along with Michael Cruz, who both spent most of 2017 in South Bend. Zach Davis should be back as well in the outfield. All three arrived late in the year.

Incoming Position Players
Delvin Zinn, Miguel Amaya, Austin Filiere

This might be the most interesting group to me. I’m wondering where they are going to play outside of Amaya. Zinn could play some third, some second, and, shortstop at times. I thought he could even play in the outfield but has yet to do so. This is where there’s going to be a bit of a log jam in the system. With only a few position players headed to Tennessee, there’s not going to be a lot of openings at Myrtle Beach either. As a result, that creates a bit of a quandry.

Remains to be Seen – Nico Hoerner
The Cubs are more than likely going to wait until after the Arizona Fall League to make a determination on where Nico plays in 2019. If it goes well in Mesa, he probably could be playing in AA. If it just goes OK, he will more than likely be in Myrtle Beach. It’s rare for someone to go from low A to the AFL with less than 100 MiLB at bats.

Big Jumps
I could see a couple guys that played for Eugene skip South Bend next year because of their advanced hitting profile. Andy Weber is one and Luke Reynolds is another bat who might skip.

Keep an Eye on for 2019
How quickly Erich Uelmen moves in the first half of the year is going to set the tone for the rest of the system as the AA and AAA starting rotations are pretty stacked.  Myrtle Beach should have Uelmen, Hudson, Erling Moreno, Brendon Little, and Javier Assad for sure. Who joins in the six spot should be interesting to see. Will it be Jesus Camargo, Ryan Lawlor, or even Brailyn Marquez? Could Derek Casey or fellow draft pick Paul Richan get a shot? It should be fun.

2018 Affiliate Reviews: Tennessee’s Rotation Stole the Show

By Todd Johnson

67-71 Record in 2018

Strengths and Highlights
The strength of this team all year was the starting pitching rotation. Beginning with Trevor Clifton, who quickly went to Iowa, and Duncan Robinson, who went to Iowa later, the Smokies had plenty of depth. So much so, they went to a six man rotation in the second half. Matt Swarmer, Michael Rucker, Thomas Hatch, Keegan Thompson, and Justin Steele all shined on the mound for the Smokies. Rucker, and Hatch will likely join Clifton and Robinson in Iowa in 2019. Thompson, Justin Steele, and Swarmer could begin the year in Tennessee after only pitching at Tennessee for just two months in 2018. Or anything could happen depending on spring training.

What Else Worked Well in 2018?
Short, Rice, and Giambrone

These three hitters displayed a patient approach at the plate which allowed them to get on base at high clips. Short and Giambrone both hit 17 home runs while Rice seemed to have a power outage but was still getting on base at over a .400 pace. Hopefully, Rice will be protected in the upcoming Rule Five Draft. Otherwise, some team is going to snap him up.

Returning for 2019
Aside from the aforementioned pitchers and position players mentioned above, there will be a few players returning to AA. Some players may have played their last days as a Cub and they might even be familiar names. The key for this team next year will be at the plate. They will have plenty of pitching, but it will all come down to the bats.

Expect to see Connor Myers return. The multi-talented defender was up and down at AA at the plate, but he was magnificent in centerfield. Eddy Martinez should be back along with catcher PJ Higgins, who had a short tenure at Tennessee in 2018. Charcer Burks’ assignment might be up in the air depending on his spring as well as he had an up and down year.

What Will Be Left in the Bullpen?
Lefty Jordan Minch will go to Iowa. But who else is going to make up the bullpen next year? Scott Effross should be back along with Wyatt Short to anchor the back end of the pen.

Incoming Position Players
Jared Young, Jhonny Pereda, Roberto Caro
These three guys have earned their promotions and DJ Wilson could be added depending on how he does in Arizona this fall. Then again, having to earn his way to Tennessee might be the best thing for Wilson. I’m excited to see how Young will do along with Pereda and Caro.

Remains to Be Seen – Wladimir Galindo could be a guy who also makes it to AA if he has a good spring training. Based on his 2018 stats, you wouldn’t think so. But then again, he has immense talent and is just waiting for it to click in at any level.

Aramis Ademan is likely to repeat Myrtle Beach. But if Nico Hoerner gets it done in the Arizona Fall League, Hoerner could be the Smokies’ starting shortstop bypassing Myrtle Beach..

Arms Aplenty Coming
Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Erick Leal, and Tyson Miller should headline a somewhat dominating group of starting pitchers heading to AA. There will not be  much of a drop off between the departing and the returning. Add in relievers Bailey Clark, Tyler Peyton, Manny Rondon, and Garrett Kelly, the Cubs’ AA affiliate should be stacked in the pen.

2019 Sleeper
If 2B Carlos Sepulveda can come back healthy, the young 21-year-old could be pleasant surprise for the Smokies at some point next year. He’s basically missed two full years now but he had elite bat-to-ball skills when healthy at South Bend in 2016.