Prospect Update: Jhonny Pereda’s 2018 Puts Him on the Map for 2019

By Todd Johnson

“Call me when they get to AA.”

That saying has multiple meanings. For me, AA is the level where prospects meet the ultimate challenge. AA contains the best collection of pure prospect talent. AA is where most of the current MLB Cub players dominated or performed at a very high level. AA is also the place where prospects peak in recent years in the Cubs’ system as AAA contains more MLB retreads than actual prospects.

In 2019, 22-year-old catcher Jhonny Pereda is scheduled to go to AA.

After a blistering first half in 2018 at Myrtle Beach, Pereda was one of the breakout players in the Cubs system. Originally, Pereda was slated to head back to South Bend to start the year. However, then Pelican manager Buddy Bailey insisted that Pereda break camp and head to the Carolina League. It was one of the better stories of the year.

Pereda excelled under the tutelage of Bailey in the first half and hit .284 with 5 HRs and 36 RBIs with a .368 OBP. He slipped a little in the second half as Pereda almost doubled his career high of games caught in a season with 83. He also saw action at DH in 39 more. And to top off the year, Pereda played in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. While he only saw action in 8 games, he held his own hitting .276 with a .344 OBP.

Here’s a great up close look at his swing

His swing is short and to the point. He is not going to hit for a lot of power, but he could hit for a decent average. He shows a great eye at the plate as he does not swing at a lot of bad pitches. Last year, his K rate was at 13.7% while his walk rate was a solid 10+. Both those stats bode well for 2019.

The fact that Pereda went to the Fall League is a good harbinger for how he is valued in the system. While his bat was the star of the first half of the system, don’t sleep on his defense. He showed excellent poise behind the plate last year in handling some of the Cubs’ top prospects at Myrtle Beach. He also has an excellent arm. He caught almost 40% of base runners who tried to steal off him last summer. That is just outstanding!!!

Marc Hulet of Fangraphs said the following about Pereda’s potential:

I think he’s going to continue to hit. He has a quiet set-up at the plate, a controlled swing and a great base for balance. I’m not sure he’s going to grow into much more power unless he changes his stance and/or swing. But his current approach allows him to make a lot of contact and he has a good eye so he doesn’t strike out much and he gets on base at a good clip via the free pass. Defensively, he has a good reputation and does an excellent job throwing out base runners. I see a big league back-up here with the potential to be a second-division starter if the bat continues to develop.

As for just 2019, AA is going to be a challenge for Pereda. He’s going to face competition similar to what he saw last fall. He should get in some MLB action in spring training the next few weeks. While he does profile as a backup catcher, the Cubs will have to make a decision on him by November 20. He will have to be added to the 40 man roster or he will become a 6 year MiLB free agent. Odds are, if he has a good season at Tennessee, he will have one of those coveted 40 man spots.

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Which Prospects Will Get Looks in Big League Camp?

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs are going to issue a press release here in a few days. That release will contain a few names that the team is going to invite to spring training. These players are known as NRIs or non-roster invitees. I keep thinking what that list might look like more and more these days, especially since the convention. The White Sox and a few other organizations have already put out their lists. The Cubs will follow suit any day.

All current prospects on the 40 man will be in camp. So, Adbert, Justin Steele, and Mark Zagunis will be there. In looking at other possibilities, the Cubs are going to basically fill out 2 teams for spring training and slowly whittle about 60-70 players down to 25 by the end of March. In the big scheme of things, the Cubs don’t have to send out invites to players. For some prospects, it’s a reward, for other players it might be a contractual thing if they don’t stick with the Cubs when spring training is over. That way, many AAAA-type guys can get seen playing in the spring.

As for Cub prospects, there are several who should be playing in a packed house at Sloan Park throughout March.

Starting Pitchers
Trevor Clifton, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, Keegan Thompson, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Michael Rucker, and Matt Swarmer are some definite names who should get the call. They could all be piggyback starters as the big league Cubs get stretched out. As well, the Cubs could also get to see how the pitchers fare against big league hitters in those crucial first two or three innings or in split squad games.

Relief Guys
The bullpen arm I want to see most in the big league camp this spring is Dakota Mekkes. The 6’7” righty has a deceptive delivery to go with an elongated stride thanks in part to his large frame. It has worked with great results at every level in the minors so far. I want to see how he does against MLB hitters.

Catchers
As is the case in every spring training, the Cubs are going to need lots of catchers. Miguel Amaya is one guy I want to see get some MLB time in Mesa along with Jhonny Pereda. Both guys have very different hitting profiles but are both very solid defensively. Ian Rice and PJ Higgins should also get the call for the first couple of weeks.

Infielders
I am pretty sure Nico Hoerner is going to get a lot of looks this spring at both second base and shortstop. The Cubs are going to give Nico a preview of what he could be seeing quickly. In addition, Zack Short could be a guy the Cubs want to get more ABs against MLB arms to see how Short’s amazing approach works against big league pitching. As well, Jared Young,Trent Giambrone, and Luis Vazquez will see action, but whether they get invites is up in the air. I would also love to see Luke Reynolds get some swings in as well. However they get in the games doesn’t matter. They should all get into games to show what they can do.

Outfielders
As we saw last year, the Cubs had several young guys get looks from time-to-time throughout the spring. Fernando Kelli played in two games despite not being a NRI. I would love to see Nelson Velazquez get in a few games to practice laying off breaking balls out of the zone.

Considering the quantity of AAAA players the Cubs signed this year, the list of NRI should be somewhere around 20 and be pitching and catching heavy. I don’t expect to see a lot of position players except middle infielders. Hopefully, the list should be out today or tomorrow.

Coming Up on Cubs Central
Friday – Organization Breakdown – Relief Pitching
Sunday – Prospect List Frenzy and other Random MiLB Notes and Signings
Next Week – Podcast #2 – If you have topics you want me to talk about, send me a tweet.

MiLB Questions Abound for Next Sunday’s “Down on the Farm” Session

By Todd Johnson


With the Convention coming up, I  have a lot of questions about the minor leagues. A few of those will get answered next Sunday morning by Jaron Madison, the Cubs Director of Player Development. The session known as “Down on the Farm” is usually the last of the Convention and I doubt they would let me stand there and ask questions for 15 minutes. They include a lot of players specific queries. But what if they did let me just ask away?

Here are just a few things I would ask:.

Nico Hoerner – Where is Nico going to start 2019? Is there a timetable or a performance level before he moves up? Would it be wrong to suggest that he should move faster than normal? Can we expect to see him in Chicago by the end of the summer, or the beginning of next year?

Cole and Brennen – Just how good are these two kids? What can we expect to see from both in 2019? Where are both going to start out in 2019? Are you going to make them stay in low class A for a whole year?

Pitching Assignments – Who is going to be where to start 2019? Who gets left behind at AA? Were the Augusts of Alex Lange and Thomas Hatch a foreshadowing of what they could be in 2019? If Trevor Clifton is lights out at AAA, does he jump ahead of Alec Mills?

Jose Albertos – Just exactly what went wrong with Jose Albertos last year? Was it more mental or more physical? What did he work on this off-season? What’s the prognosis for him for 2019? Where is he going to return?

AAA – It seems like only a few prospects get to AAA anymore. Even after a successful stint at AA, not many make it. Why is that? How come you keep filling Iowa up with guys who are basically AAAA players that don’t even have a shot? Are those players that much better than the Cubs’ prospects?

Miguel Amaya – Just how good do you think this kid can be? Is he a guy that is just going to sit at Myrtle Beach all day regardless of how he does in 2019? What are the odds on him moving to Tennessee midsummer? Do you think he’s destined to be a starter at the major-league level? Is he going to get some reps in spring training with the big league club?

Jhonny Pereda – After his breakout year, what are the expectations for him for 2019? Just how good can he be offensively? Could he be a guy that’s a backup at the next level or could he be a starter?

Tennessee Smokies – What’s up with that video feed? Can you get that looked at or fixed?

Matt Swarmer – Even though he was a big breakout last year, even bigger things could be in store for 2019. How do you think his stuff is going to play at AAA? And will he get to log some innings in spring training with the big league club?

Rookie League – Give us the name of somebody, other than Pedro Martinez, who might surprise in Arizona this year?

Of course, in the real world, I only get to ask one question. But, I have a week to decide!

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.

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!

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