By Todd Johnson
In last Monday’s look at comeback players for 2018, I examined the walking wounded which consisted mostly of players who were injured for most of the year, if not all of it. Today, it’s all about players looking to get back some semblance of consistency in their production. Most of this group will be at either AA Tennessee or AAA Iowa.
When I examine how a prospect is doing, I have several things that run through my head. There is a part of me that wants to be an objective writer, then there’s part of me that’s a fan, and then there’s part of me that is a teacher, and it’s really hard to shake the last one. I always look for the good and then I try to pick out things that need to be worked on. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And like teachers, sometimes writers see the promise of a prospect and hopefully they don’t get blinded by it. I know that’s a flaw that I have.
Most of the Cubs’ current prospects have been in the system for several years. To be honest, it’s hard not to get attached when you watch them go from a scrawny 175 pound kid to a 225 pound man. We watch them grow up and we want them to succeed. It’s hard when they don’t.
This week’s comeback list is filled with a lot of prospects who fit the above description.
I really like watching Zach Hedges pitch. He’s got a plus slider, pretty decent fastball command, and he’s a likable kid. He’s done really well the past two summers at AA, but he’s only gotten one chance at AAA and it did not go well at all. I am hoping he begins 2018 at AAA Iowa as there really is not much left for him to prove in Tennessee. For him to succeed in AAA, Hedges is going to have to keep his fastball down and use his slider to set hitters up. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, he’s always been a ground ball machine. I hope he can be that in Iowa this year.
I have been a fan of Trevor Clifton ever since Mike Safford used to call his games online when Trevor was with the Boise Hawks. When Trevor came to South Bend, he got off to a rough start. But after he righted the ship in the second half, Clifton didn’t let up for the next two years through the middle of June 2017. Then it was like he had four flat tires at once. He struggled keeping the ball down, he struggled overthrowing, and he struggled to just find the zone. It was as if he was trying fix his release point, landing spot, and self-confidence all at once. I have no doubt Trevor is going to work hard to return to form in 2018. He’s a great young man with a plus curveball and a developing change. Getting back to knowing, and believing, in himself and his pitches will be the key.
A roller coaster season would be the best way to describe what Chesny Young went through in 2017. The 2014 14th round pick out of Mercer always seemed to just fall out of bed and lace a single to right for his Cub career. From his debut in South Bend through Myrtle Beach, Young showed no sign of the type of season he endured in 2017. April, bad. May, good. Rinse and repeat for a season and a .256 average. It was a bit of a shock for a player whose lowest season before was .303. While Young did play 7 different positions in the field last year, at times he looked clueless at the plate, And at other times, he looked…like Chesny Young. He did not walk as much last year when he struggled, and he did walk when he was hitting well in May and July. As a result, a consistent approach for 2018 should be the key to getting off to a good start in the batter’s box and is what could propel him to Chicago in a bench role.
Ryan Kellogg was near brilliant in the second half of 2016 (1.99 ERA in 11 starts) but he could not put it together except for August (his only monthly with a sub 4 ERA) at Myrtle Beach in 2017. I am not sure of what his role will be and where it will be in 2018. He could start, he could relieve. It probably all depends on how he looks this spring.
OF Jeffrey Baez had a horrible season at Tennessee last year as he fought off minor injuries and failed to adjust after a scintillating second half at Myrtle Beach in 2016. Hitting below the Mendoza line for a whole season is not a good way to get to Chicago. Still, Baez just turned 24 (I find that to be amazing) and can rebound if he can stay healthy to use his mix of power and speed.
PJ Higgins is currently the finest overall defensive catcher in the system. In 2016 at South Bend, he also showed a deft eye at the plate. In 2017, he threw out 33 runners for Myrtle Beach. However, his bat seemed to go missing as his walk rate plummeted along with his batting average (.237). To be quite frank, Higgins’ strength has always been his defense. The converted infielder is a natural behind the plate. I am sure the Cubs would like some improvement on offense. Prior to last season, he hit between .280-.300 at every stop. Hopefully, last year was an aberration.
156 official at-bats is a very small sample size. That’s what Joe Martarano got in last year. Before last year, he only had 69 trips to the plate in 2015. To go two full years without seeing live hitting, let alone moving up to class A from rookie league, is a bit of a culture shock.
In 2018, I expect Martarano to do much better. For one, he cut out a high leg kick and turned that into a toe tap for a better timing mechanism. The result was an August where he hit .273 with 1 HR in 13 games. His K rate needs to come down. Except for July at South Bend, where he hit only .161 for the month, he crushed the rest of the year at EXST (.324) and Eugene (.385). I was impressed watching him work hard in batting practice to drive the ball up the middle. The ball just jumps off his bat with “that sound.” There’s not many Cub prospects who have “that sound” now, but Martarano does.
By Todd Johnson
With Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base for a while, there’s really been no need to draft or develop a first baseman. Last year, I only listed four first baseman in the position breakdown. I had Yasiel Balaguert, Matt Rose, Chris Pieters, and Gustavo Polanco ranked. This year is slightly different.
A lot changed at the position in one year…Matt Rose was traded in the Eloy deal. Yasiel played 25% of his season in the outfield and Chris Pieters almost exclusively played on the green grass as well. However, three players in 2017 began to emerge as possible bats at the first base position. Like their fellow brethren before them, they are not exclusive to first base. Although, some soon could be.
1. Yasiel Balaguert – For the second year in a row, he had a great second half at AA Tennessee hitting .285 with 10 HRs and 40 RBI. That’s a pretty productive half a year. However, for the second year in a row, he had a poor first half. If he ever gots hot in the first half, he’d be in the majors quickly. Now that he’ll be at Iowa in 2018, the environs of the Pacific Coast League should play to his power game.
2. Joe Martarano – I really dig his bat and his potential. While his July at South Bend was just plain horrid (.167), he had a pretty good year otherwise. He was good in extended spring (.324), great at Eugene (.385), and he quietly rebounded at South Bend hitting .273 in August. I love the sound the ball makes when he squares it up live. Losing a leg kick and going with a toe tap will help him in 2018, especially with curveballs. He might start out at South Bend, but don’t expect him to be there long if he gets off to a fast start. Myrtle Beach will come calling soon enough.
3. Luis Hidalgo – He might be the most unheralded player on any list I have this winter. After one good season in the Venezuelan Summer League and 2 mediocre stints in the Dominican, Hidalgo, a righty, put it together last year at the age of 21. He hit .353/.419/.521 in the DSL before coming stateside in August. In 17 games in the Arizona Rookie League, he hit .339 with a .516 slugging percentage. He should continue to feast this year in Eugene, if he plays there. He might be talented enough to skip that level if he has a good spring training and extended spring training. Watch him.
4. Tyler Alamo – His offseason has already been tragic as a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting. Hopefully, he will be ready to go when 2018 begins. Despite the tragedy, his baseball season was somewhat of a breakout. After the Eloy trade, Alamo’s playing time increased and his place in the order moved up. In the second half, he hit .306 with a .345 OBP, and 5 HRs. I think the right-handed hitter has the plate discipline, work ethic, and maturity to improve again next year.
5. Gustavo Polanco – He is a prospect of extremes right now. First off, he has a beautiful inside-out swing that takes the ball naturally to right field. He hit .281 for the year but his OBP was only .322 as he only walked 4% of the time. Second, he has the potential for great power but hasn’t shown it yet. On the other hand, he has shown the ability to hit the ball hard. Then again, he lacks some discipline at the plate. With a 27.5% K rate, he at least has something to work on next year at South Bend. He has no trouble with a pitch that starts with an F, he just needs to recognize pitches that don’t.
Second base is on deck for next week.
By Todd Johnson
Overall Record: 75-64
South Bend had the best record of any affiliate in the Cubs system in 2017 but they did not make the playoffs. Most of that was due to a poor six week stretch from late May to early July that bookended the tail end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Before and after that stretch, this team displayed the ability to get on base and showed glimpses of the ability to pitch well in pressure situations.
South Bend had a pretty gritty performance this year. They showed a lot of resolve coming back in the second half to almost nab a playoff spot before losing on the second last day of the year. Most of the team should find their way to Myrtle Beach next year but a couple players will likely begin the year back in South Bend for some more seasoning.
Here are 7 key takes about the 2017 South Bend Cubs.
1. Bryan Hudson – I really like how he is developing. It might not all be coming at once, but Hudson was a far better pitcher in 2017 than 2016. His ground ball rate skyrocketed this year and, at times, he was one of the best pitchers in the Cubs’ system. In the second half, he made 13 starts with a 3.69 ERA and a 3-1 GB ratio. He is still rather young at 20 and I hope that he gained a lot of confidence from this season. Going to Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher’s league, Hudson and his ground ball approach are going to play extremely well.
2. DJ Wilson – Wilson is slowly getting better. He had a great July and was the Cubs’ minor league player of the month. He is an outstanding defender and covers as much ground as anybody in the system in the outfield. But his weakness has always been at the plate. Next year, at Myrtle Beach, will not be the easiest place for a hitter to thrive. However, he still can work on his approach and on spraying the ball around the field. Look for him to continue to work on his power game. Had he been healthy, he could have hit close to 20 HRs. That is excellent for a center fielder. He is going to be the first player profiled in the off-season series called “Leveling Up.”
3. Kevonte Mitchell – When I spent three days watching South Bend play in Beloit this summer, I came away extremely impressed with Mitchell’s work ethic. Nobody on the team worked harder than he did. Whether it was the tee, soft toss, or batting practice, Mitchell attacked the ball at every opportunity trying to drive it up the middle. In games, Mitchell hit much better this season and in May and July was one of the best hitters in the system. I think next year is the year that he begins to break out and I think it begins with the fact that he can clearly pick up a curveball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. He still has to decide either to lay off it or go the other way. I think that happens for him in 2018
4. Luis Ayala – He hit .366 in July and .293 in August and was promoted to the Pelicans’ playoff roster. I really like what he can do with the bat. He’s not going to hit a lot of homeruns and he is going to get on base at a regular clip. So far, he has done all of this at the bottom of the order. I wonder how he would do at the top? At fall instructs, he began to tinker with switch-hitting.
5. Andruw Monasterio – In 2016 at Eugene, he began the season on fire and was promoted to South Bend and then cooled off quite a bit. He began 2017 at Myrtle Beach and was just starting to heat up when he was returned to South Bend. He didn’t stop hitting all summer in the Midwest League. He hit .281 with a .351 OBP in 58 second half games. The fact that he played three positions this past summer only enhances his profile for 2018.
6. Jose Paulino – The first half of the season was a bit of a disappointment for him as a starter. He was demoted to the bullpen in late May and returned to have an outstanding July with an ERA of under two. In August, he looked like he was beginning to wear down in his first full season a pro ball. All his pitches are still there, but he still needs to command them better. One way for him to do that would be to attack hitters with his excellent arsenal, including his plus curve, rather than try and dance around the edge of the strike zone.
7. Aramis Ademan – Overall, it was an outstanding year for the young 18-year-old shortstop. He played two levels and showed that his bat was much further along than anyone possibly thought it could project to be. Defensively, he showed that he can make all the plays, but needs to do so on a consistent basis. When next year begins, he will be 19 and I would not be surprised to see him start at Myrtle Beach.
Bonus Sleeper Prospect – Jhon Romero – The young reliever went through three levels in 2017 based on his ability to spin a curveball. At 22, the right hander used a two pitch mix to strike out 53 batters in 41.2 IP. He put up a 0.62 WHIP and batters only managed to hit .109 against him. He quietly went about his business and he could move quickly in 2018.
South Bend Cubs to Watch in 2018
Jose Albertos – I consider him to be the number one prospect in the Cubs’ system. He will be just 19 when the 2018 season begins and I don’t envision him being in South Bend a long time. Armed with a mid to upper 90s fastball and a killer changeup, Albertos is working on developing a curveball that at times can be a wild pitch or a hammer. It just depends. I think the goal for him next year is to get to 100 innings. Whether that’s in South Bend or South Bend and Myrtle Beach, it doesn’t matter. He is going to light it up no matter where he goes.
Honorable Mention – Joe Martarano – I really dig this prospect…a lot! After watching him take BP and other assorted pregame hitting rituals, I came away extremely impressed at the sound the ball makes coming off his bat. He began the year by pounding the ball with regularity in extended spring training and that carried over to Eugene where he hit just shy of .400 in July. After a promotion to South Bend, he got off to a rough start, was sent back to Eugene, returned to South Bend and just struggled to get it going. In August, he improved greatly hitting almost .280 but it was only in 13 games. However he did lose a giant leg kick and replaced it with a toe tap and he began squaring up the ball, including his first homer for South Bend. I think he begins the year in South Bend in 2018 and I think it’s OK to cut him a little slack. The reason I say that is it has to be hard to basically miss 3 to 4 years of playing baseball. Now that it will be his full-time gig, I expect bigger things from him next year.
By Todd Johnson
While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.
Breakout Hitter of the Second Half
This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.
But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.
Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half
This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.
But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.
Breakout Reliever of the Second Half
I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball. Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.
But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.
When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.
More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.
By Todd Johnson
With just a little over a week to go, two teams are still in the playoff hunt. Myrtle Beach is already in but Eugene has a slight two game lead over Boise for a wild-card spot and Mesa is one game out of first after winning five in a row. Eugene’s final game is on Labor Day while Mesa’s is next Saturday.
Two players I was most impressed with this week were reliever Jhon Romero, now at South Bend, and Jesus Tejada of DSL 2. Romero throws a mid 90s fastball with a 12 to 6 curve that has a sharp downward break. He’s been at South Bend for the past couple weeks and has been dominating. This week, Tejada pitched a seven inning no-hitter for DSL 2. He also struck out nine in the game after having striking out ten in his previous start. He’s a certain lock for this month’s All-Star team and he could be the August pitcher of the month.
In addition, it looks like Joe Martarano has dropped his high leg kick in favor or something much quieter and he is taking off hitting .344 in his last ten games. Miguel Amaya is hitting over .300 this month while Jonathan Sierra is raking at a .290+ clip and recent draft pick is hitting .259 with 4 HRs in August.
Bailey Clark made his way to South Bend and will hopefully get 2 starts in this year as a South Bend Cub. Reliever Manuel Rodriguez arrived before him from Eugene and already has a save. Pitcher Alex Lange was transferred back to Mesa as he is at 9.1 innings of his 10 inning limit this year. Pitchers Matt Swarmer and Tommy Thorpe continued their tour around the organization this week. On Friday night, they both pitched for Tennessee.
Carlos Sepulveda – After missing most of the year, Sepulveda went three for four on Friday night and will likely be back to help Myrtle Beach go for its third straight Mills Cup Championship.
Will Remillard – He went 5 for 7 (.714) in his return at Eugene this week. He also threw out a baserunner by a good 10 feet at third base. It’s so nice to see him back and I wonder if he’s going to get a sneak peek at another level this week, even if it is just for a couple of games.
Oscar de la Cruz – After making an appearance at Mesa last week, Oscar returned to Myrtle Beach to go just a couple of innings. He still looked a bit rusty and still has not let it loose. I don’t know if that’s on purpose, but he doesn’t have the velocity that he did two years ago. His quality pitches are still there, it’s just a matter of him commanding them.
Alec Mills – He made his second start for Mesa this week and looks to be rebounding nicely. I don’t know if he’ll make it back to Iowa this next week or if he’ll stay and help Mesa and their playoff push. It’s likely the Cubs will just keep an eye on him in Mesa.
The August All-Star Team selection post that will come out on Friday is nearing completion. This month’s post will be a little different. Rather than have a prospect in every position, I am going with just whoever had the best month regardless of their position. I should have upwards of five catchers making the All-Star team this month and all would be deserving. It’s going to be quite the different All-Star team. There are some familiar names of prospects who have appeared at one point during this season. There are also a lot of young players who are beginning to figure things out in the lower minor leagues.
This offseason, the profile series will be entitled “Levelling Up.” In the past, the prospect profile updates were called “Making the Jump” and “Next Up.” These will appear once a week. The players to be profiled will only be players moving up a level for 2018. Players that I expect to stay at a level will not be covered.
I am hoping to travel more next summer. I would love to make it down to Tennessee to see a couple of games. As for the Midwest League, my scheduled trips will be to Clinton, Kane County, the Quad Cities, and Cedar Rapids. Although the schedule has not come out yet, it looks like all I can just drive back and forth the day of a game except for Cedar Rapids. However, Kane County might fall on school nights based on this year’s schedule.
Players of the Week
Around the Minors This Week:
Iowa – 3-2; I tend to think when this season is over that the Cubs will be clearing house this winter. Some of the players contracts will just expire while other prospects will be just given their outright release to have an opportunity to play elsewhere. The Cubs did this exact same thing a couple years ago. A lot of the players on the Iowa roster are not long-term Cubs.
Tennessee – 2-5: When it comes to promotions next spring, I think about half this team will make its way to Iowa. There are a few more who could join them depending upon their performance in spring training. Don’t expect all the Smokies to head to Des Moines.
Myrtle Beach – 3-3: Over the past two weeks, the Pelicans won 10 out of 12 at one point looking like the Pelicans of May and June. That’s a good sign heading into the playoffs.
South Bend – 7-0: If not for a six week stretch in late May through early July, they would be the team of the year in the Cubs organization. I don’t know what happened during that stretch but everything stopped working. Over the past month they have come from the bottom of the division to compete for a playoff spot that seemed hopeless after starting the second half so poorly.
Eugene – 5-2: In order to get in the playoffs, their last stretch of the season is all on the road. Luckily for the Emerald, those games are against the teams with the two worst record in the Northwest League. Hopefully, the hitting will come around as it appears the starting pitching has solidified.
Mesa – 5-1: This team struggled all season and in the last two weeks they have turned it on. The nice thing about the Arizona Rookie League as it has two short halves. At 11-11 in the second half, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt with just six days to go. Thanks to some recent draft picks, the starting pitching is decent given the bats a chance. There could even be two DSL pitchers coming up to join them this week. Recent draftee Jeremiah Estrada has thrown 3 scoreless IP with 3 Ks so far.
DSL 1 – 3-3: Final Record 37-33.
DSL 2 – 5-2; Final Record 34-37.
I will have a post out this week about some players from both teams who should be heading north soon.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
The first half of the week was rather dull in the Cubs universe due to the MLB All-Star Game. Then, things exploded on Thursday with the Jose Quintana trade. The trade was soon followed with promotions from Eugene to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. I changed my Top 21 List and wondered who was left that the Cubs could trade for other needs for this year and beyond. I christened a new number one prospect in Jose Albertos (for now). Meanwhile, Dillon Maples and Jen-Ho Tseng made their way onto MLB.com’s Top 30 Prospect list in place of Eloy and Dylan Cease.
Then, on Friday night, Sonny Gray was reported to be scratched for his start, and then he went out and pitched a great game against the Indians raising his stock and the likely asking price. There are just 15 days left of the trade deadline left and I am pretty sure the Cubs are going to go out and get a few more players, but I don’t know if they will be big names.
On Saturday morning, Cubs V-P Jason McLeod was on 670 the Score’s “Hit and Run” for about 20 minutes. It was interesting listening to him talk about rebuilding the farm system after the trade. He said he was having a conversation with someone and said that the Cubs needed to go out next year and “sign some position players.” McLeod used the word “ludicrous” to describe how he thought about his own statement after years of dominating that market.
McLeod said that he and his staff are pretty excited about some young Latin players in the lower parts of the system. He also talked at length about the pitching the Cubs have in the minors. While he didn’t mention a lot of names, McLeod is very encouraged by their performances. On Thursday, I wrote about these same things.
As a result of the trade, there was a lot of movement in the minors.
To Myrtle Beach – Vimael Machin, Roberto Caro
To South Bend – Joe Martarano
Draft Pick Debuts This Week
Eugene – P Ricky Tyler Thomas, P Casey Ryan, P Jake Steffens, P Brian Glowicki, OF Brandon Hughes, and 2B Jared Young
Mesa – 3B Ramsey Romano, OF Chris Singleton, OF Chris Carrier, P Rollie Lacy, P Mitch Stophel, P Brendan King, P Ben Hecht, P Braxton Light, and P Jeffrey Passantino
Still Not Rostered – Pitchers Brendon Little, Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Erich Uelmen, Jeremiah Estrada, Peyton Remy, Sean Barry, Brady Miller, and OF Nelson Velazquez along with SS Luis Vazquez.
Coming Up on Cubs Central
My brain began to shift towards teaching this week. I usually start planning big idea stuff for the year shortly after July 4. As a result, my mind has been a little preoccupied. For a while, I did not have posts in the que for this next week. Thankfully, Jose Albertos made another start and I will be back with an article about that outing, hopefully tomorrow. On Monday, in the late afternoon, I will be doing a phone interview with Myrtle Beach pitcher Dakota Mekkes. I have some very exciting questions to ask him about his daily routine and the differences in levels.
I have also been busy making a lot of cards. It is going to be tough in a couple of weeks to just pick ten, and then one as the card of the month. You can find them on the Facebook page here.
Around the Minors This Week
I started assembling and culling statistics this week in preparation for the July All-Star team. It looks like there are going to be a lot of new faces this month. There are still 15 days left, but there are some interesting trends happening with Eddy Martinez, Luis Ayala, Zack Short, Vimael Machin, Isaac Paredes, and Yasiel Balaguert at the plate. On the mound, it is still a free-for-all as consistency from start to start seems to be an issue. Right now, Jose Paulino and Preston Morrison have been outstanding.
Iowa: 1-0; 42-48 – It was their All-Star Break this week and was soon followed by rain and more rain. For the second half, keep an eye on Matt Carasiti. The Cubs picked up the reliever in exchange for Zac Rosscup. He got the save in the AAA All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
Tennessee: 5-2; 14-9 – All of a sudden, the Smokies are in the lead for a playoff spot even though they aren’t in first. Since Chattanooga, who won the first half, is again in the lead, the Smokies have a 1.5 game lead for the second spot by virtue of having the second best record for the year.
Myrtle Beach: 2-3; 8-13 – They have gone from first to worst this half. Losing Alzolay to Tennessee will hurt, but so will losing Bryant Flete, Matt Rose, and Eloy. Still, they already have a spot wrapped up in the playoffs after winning the first half. Zack Short has responded well at this level, especially after being moved to the leadoff spot.
South Bend: 3-2; 10-12 – They can go only as far as the pitching will take them. Their hitting has been, for lack of a better phrase, “hit or miss” this half. They can score ten runs just as easily as two. They are extremely young and have a lot of potential on the roster. It is good to see Jose Paulino returning to starting and doing well.
Eugene: 4-2; 17-13 – They were on the road this week and getting some timely hits along with some help from what has turned into a college bullpen. Their first half ends next Sunday, the 23rd. Currently, they are in first place one game ahead of Hillsboro and Boise.
Mesa: 0-5, 5-12 – The bullpen on this team has been outstanding. The starting pitching has not which explains the rough week. Rob Zastryzny and Jake Stinnett made appearances last night as part of their rehab.
The DSL had their All-Star Game on Saturday. Three Cubs represented the organization. Pitchers Yovanny Cruz and Didier Vargas along with OF Fernando Kelli were in uniform yesterday for the National League.
DSL 1: 4-1; 19-17 – They are now getting some starting pitching to go with their heavy hitting lineup and are now just 4 games back in their division.
DSL 2: 3-2; 19-17 – Alonso Gaitan and Orian Nunez might be the best 1-2 punch in the system but they are not getting a lot of help hitting. This is still a team built with excellent starting pitching. Several of the starters should be in fall instructs and a couple might make it to Mesa before the end of August. Remember the names – Jesus Tejada, Didier Vargas, and Emilio Ferrebus.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Earlier this week, I thought I had run out of ideas for next week. I just finished assembling the All-Star team video and concluded the cards of the month post, which will be out tomorrow. It had been a pretty hectic two weeks of writing from the draft, the end of the first half, and now the end of the month. Sometimes, it is a struggle to write something every day in the summer and then, out of the blue, things happen.
Dylan Cease had another magical start on Friday night. The Cubs top pitching prospect flashed his changeup more often than usual including getting Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on the pitch. Cease went five innings on 68 pitches and struck out six in arguably his most efficient start of the year.
As soon as he finished pitching, I opened up the schedule and started marking off his scheduled starts for the month. He throws on Wednesday this next week for which I will report back on Thursday.
That got me thinking about if he was going to start when I go see South Bend for three days in nearby Beloit in three weeks. As of now, he is scheduled to start on that Saturday night. I’m pretty excited about that possibility.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to interview Trent Giambrone of Myrtle Beach. It was supposed to be just a short five minute interview. Instead, it turned into a 10 minute discussion on hitting. You can read some of that interview today over on Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville. I will be coming out with another portion of it this week here and on Cubs insider. Trent was so forthcoming that I think there’s even room for a third post at a later date.
Today, the 2017-18 International Free Agency signing begins. The Cubs have $4.75 million to spend, but they cannot sign and he one player for more than $300,000. However there is one caveat to that penalty the Cubs received after the 2015-16 spending spree. In Mexico the Cubs can sign a player for up to $1.2 million as 75% of that bonus goes to the club. As a result, the Cubs can stay under $300,000 cap.
The Cubs inked four players this morning, two of which we have previously discussed on here. One is Florencio Serrano – a 6’1” pitcher who is 17 years old and originally from Texas. He was ranked #29 by Baseball America. The other young player is shortstop Luis Verdugo (Ranked 47 by Baseball America and 29 by MLB.com). The two new players are Fabian Pertuz is a young SS from Colombia and Alexander Ovalles is an OF from the Dominican Republic.
The following tidbits were also announced this week
*Zack Short was promoted from South Bend to Myrtle Beach and went three for three in his first game.
*Joe Martarano was promoted Saturday from Eugene to South Bend along with relievers John Michael Knighton and Mark Malave. Martarano got into last night’s game and played a little third base.
*More draft picks arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Cam Balego, and Austin Filiere arrived in Mesa and three began play – Austin Upshaw, Can Belago, and Austin Filiere.
*I do find it a little strange that only three players of the almost 25 who have signed are playing.
*The Cubs also released pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua this week.
*Former Cubs farmhand and pitcher Paul Blackburn got called up by the Oakland A’s. Congratulations to Paul! He went six innings and gave up 1 unearned run in his debut.
Around the Minors
Iowa: 4-1 ; 36-44 – Mr. Schwarber showed up and put a little excitement into Des Moines. However, some stable starting pitching helped lead them to a nice week.
Tennessee: 5-0; 5-3 – The bats are back leading to an excellent week. It is nice to see Trey Martin do well along with Yasiel Balaguert, who hit three home runs this week.
Myrtle Beach: 2-4; 3-5 – It looks like they hit the doldrums to start the second half. The offense, defense, and pitching hit the skids all at once.
South Bend: 1-6; 2-7 – The pitching staff continues to struggle, especially the bullpen which seems to implode every other night. However, Isaac Paredes is showing why he skipped short season Eugene. He hit .289 for the month with an OBP over .400 and an .898 OPS for an 18-year-old shortstop in Class A!
Eugene: 5-1 ; 10-6 – First Place – The starting pitching is coming around as Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Enrique de los Rios, Jesus Camargo, and Alonso Garcia all had excellent starts this past week.
Mesa: 2-3; 3-3 – Carson Sands is making progress in 2 rehab starts of three innings apiece. He has allowed 1 run so far. Sands had some splints removed from his elbow this past offseason.
DSL 1: 5-1; 10-14 – The pitching improved this week to go along with the already potent offense. SS Christopher Morel is coming around. He’s hitting over .300 in his last ten games. He got off to a rough start after barely missing the Mesa roster.
DSL 2: 4-2; 12-13 – OF Alonso Gaitan joined the team and he put some pop in the top of the order. Jeinser Brete (Jeimer’s 17-year-old cousin) continues to rake.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
My Other Stuff on the Web
Trent Giambrone: Part One