Jonathan Sierra

Friday Six Pack – Dillon Maples Leads the Hot List

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By Todd Johnson

The topic for every six pack changes throughout the week. When I woke up this morning I didn’t think that I was going to do a six pack. Since it’s the 11th August, I thought I’d take a look at ten-day splits to see how prospects are doing in preparation for our monthly All-Star team. As a result, the topic for today’s six pack is who’s hot and who’s not.

1. Dillon Maples – In 11.2 innings at Iowa, it looks as though he started to figure things out at this level, too. His K/9 rate is astronomical (15.43) and he’s only walked one batter. I am starting to get the inkling that he might make it to Chicago before the end of the month. Adding a guy in the bullpen who throws 98 to 100 with a wipeout slider is not going to hurt anything.

2. Mark Zagunis – In addition to hitting over .300 the past 6 weeks, he is still a walking machine. I feel pretty good about his chances of being in Chicago in September. But beyond that, he’s not going to be anything other than a fourth/fifth outfielder with who is in front of him. I really hope he gets an extended shot sometime in the next year whether it’s with the Cubs or another team.

3. The South Bend Outfield – Kevonte Mitchell, DJ Wilson, Luis Ayala, and Chris Pieters – Every single one of them is hitting above .321 this month and they are killing it in all phases of the game. Last night, Mitchell hit a grand slam while DJ Wilson tracked ball after ball down in centerfield. The other night, Kevonte threw out a guy at the plate. It has been nice to see them perform so well and it’s almost as if they are trying to one up each other.

4. Four Hitters in Rookie League – First, Luis Vasquez has peaked my interest since the Cubs signed him this summer. The fact that he is hitting .300+ as a 17-year-old tall and rangy shortstop helps as well. The same is true of Delvin Zinn’s athleticism and he seems to be back on track this month hitting over .300. International free-agent Jonathan Sierra seems to have found a groove (still no power) while Jose Gutierrez seems to have done the same hitting over .450 this month. I could also add in pitchers Rollie Lacy, Brendan King, Jeffrey Passantino, and reliever Mitch Stophel for another four.

5. Zack Short – The 23-year-old shortstop has transversed three levels in the past year since he was signed by the Cubs. He seems to be getting better at every level. In the past ten games, he has been on a tear hitting over .400 with 3 home runs. Combined, between Myrtle Beach.and South Bend, the leadoff hitter has 12 dingers this year with an OBP of .391 and this morning was named as having the best strike zone control in the Midwest League by Baseball America.

6. Who is not hot? The Eugene Defense
Once Aramis Ademan was promoted to South Bend, this team has been in a tailspin defensively. It’s a struggle for pitchers Alex Lange, Jose Albertos, and Brendon Little to get through an inning. In the past week, routine grounders have been misplayed, balls to first have been airmailed, and assignments and coverages have been blown. Instead of a pitcher getting out of an inning, those mistakes lead to two or three runs being scored, sometimes more.

Honorable Mentions – Yasiel Balaguert, Taylor Davis, James Norwood, Craig Brooks, Tyler Alamo, Bryan Hudson, Tyler Peyton, Brian Glowicki, Chris Singleton, Marcus Mastrobuoni, Cam Balego, Fernando Kelli, Emilio Ferrebus, and Erich Uelmen.

Position Breakdown Series – Outfielders Are On the Rise

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By Todd Johnson

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The Cubs’ outfield depth at the major-league level is pretty strong. Jason Heyward will be in right field for at least the next two years. Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber will be there for the next 5 to 6 years. John Jay is only signed for one year while Matt Szczur still has about four years left. That’s a pretty tight five and then you could throw in Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist and the Cubs have an embarrassment of riches in Chicago.

The Cubs minor league level outfielders are quite different from each other. There are five profiles below of the Cubs top outfield prospects. AAA outfielder Bijan Rademacher did not make the top five list but is someone who could make it to Chicago this year. He can play a utility role as he can play all three outfield spots very well. Charcer Burks is another outfielder who had an up and down season last year at Myrtle Beach. He will be at AA Tennessee in 2017. The youngest outfielder, Jonathan Sierra, will be making his stateside debut in rookie league at Mesa. Sierra will take a while to develop and reminds many physically of a young Darryl Strawberry.

Out of all the positions previewed for the minor-league system, the outfielders are the only position who could push for a spot on the major-league team in the next 2 to 5 years. I don’t think there’s any question in my mind that the five below have major league talent.

wilson 64 2016 eug5. Darryl Wilson – If he had not signed a pro contract, Wilson would just be getting ready to play his second season at Vanderbilt. Luckily, for the Cubs, he’s a five-tool player who will be in South Bend this summer. He has an amazing range in the outfield, A solid arm, great speed, and he’s beginning to show that he can hit for average and power. He’s one of the more exciting players in the system and I think he could break out in a big way this summer in the Midwest League.

4. Donnie Dewees – Donnie is another exciting player who showed the great ability to adjust to 2 levels in one season. Dewees also showed the ability to improve in 2 areas of his game. He is improving his throwing arm from the outfield and the greatest area of improvement comes in his pitch recognition skills through the use of software the Cubs provide. I expect him to do great things at Tennessee in 2017.

3. Eddy Martinez – Right no, he is the readiest defender in the Cub’s system. He has an outstanding arm and decent coverage skills. It took him a couple months to kind of figure things out before he went on a nice run in June and July last year. He did slip a little in August, but I think he will be stronger for it this year at Myrtle Beach. I also think he’s going to show power in a place that is known for not giving up many home runs.

2. Mark Zagunis – I think we might see Mark in Chicago sometime this summer. I think his 2016 season was probably the most unheralded in the system. He destroyed pitching at AA and at AAA. Yet, he did not get much publicity for his efforts, largely due to him missing the last month of the season with a broken foot. I think in 2017, his bat will do most of the talking for him.

jimenez-85-2016-mb1. Eloy Jimenez – I have a lot of mixed emotions about Eloy in 2017. Part of me wants him to skip Myrtle Beach to go to Tennessee. The other part of me wants him to go to Myrtle Beach and destroy everything before going to Tennessee in the middle of June. He has become the number one prospect in the system and 2017 should validate that. By the end of next summer, he will probably become a top 10 prospect in all of MLB. Out of all the Cubs’ prospects, he is the one with the most power and the highest ceiling when it comes to talent at the plate. His energetic personality wins fans wherever he plays. Hopefully, he can be in Chicago within the next two years. And I think he is the only position prospect who could make a space for himself in Chicago.

Although the Cubs can’t keep all of them and have them play in the Chicago, I think a couple of the top five will make it. Depth has always been the key to the Cubs system and the outfield depth listed above will allow them to make deals while still keeping valuable talent.

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Cubs Top MiLB Hitting Storylines for 2017

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By Todd Johnson

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For the past five summers, the strength of the Cubs’ minor-league system was always their hitters. The sheer talent level of prospects to make it Chicago has been amazing with Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, and Kyle Schwarber. Add in the fact that Jeimer Candelario and Albert Almora are just waiting for their chance. After Candelario and Almora make it, the herd thins away for elite hitters. However, there are still some good hitting prospects to keep an eye on. Some are more well-known than others. Here are what I think should be the top storylines to follow for position players in the Cubs minor league system in 2017.

eloy-79-2016-aflEloy Jimenez – I was quite surprised to see that Eloy assigned to the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2016. It is very rare that a class A player, in fact, low class A, would be given such a task. On the other hand, I think it was a way to speed up his development. Eloy hit for a higher average than anyone thought he could at .329 in 2016. As future pitchers will have more control than what he saw in the Midwest League, he could be even better. The power profile is still there, and he is my number one prospect in the system, but he still has a lot of room to improve. 14 home runs are nothing to sneeze at, but I think the magic number for his rapid development lies somewhere between a 20 and 25 HR pace.

Ian Happ – In the last three weeks of June, the 2015 number one draft pick of the Cubs hit close to .600 at Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. Then, things began to cool off quickly as he hit under .240 for July and August. Most recently, he played in the Arizona Fall League where I imagine the Cubs were going to take a look at how he did against advanced competition. My feeling is that the better the pitching he faces, the better he will hit. He’s been a pretty streaky player for the Cubs. He’ll hit around .230 to .240 for a couple weeks and then goes on a tear and then he will rinse and repeat. I’d like to see him be more consistent when it comes to hitting. However, you cannot overlook his approach at the plate and his ability to draw walks. It should be interesting to see what he will do next season. He will likely return to Tennessee.

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Wladimir Galindo – The young third baseman stayed healthy for the first time in 2016. What we did see was a bat that produced a lot of doubles, triples, and home runs for Eugene. We also saw a bat that was not very selective. During the first part of August, he had a nice run over two weeks where he hit for a good average, he drew some walks, and he hit some home runs. I think South Bend is in for a treat in 2017. Manager Jimmy Gonzalez has done an excellent job of teaching plate discipline for the prospects at South Bend the last two years. I am really excited to see how Wladimir takes to Jimmy!

Eddy Martinez – in the second half of 2016, his approach was much improved and he displayed that he could hit for a decent average with decent power. He has an awesome cannon for an arm on the defensive side of the ball. Now that he has his first year of development in, I expect to see an improvement across the board as he becomes acclimated to playing baseball every day in the US. Like his compadre, Eloy, I don’t think he will be long at Myrtle Beach.

Donnie Dewees – Like a fish to water, Dewees came on strong last year in his first full year of baseball, especially at Myrtle Beach. While the power was not as proficient as first thought, the speed was advertised and he showed he could go get a ball in the outfield. I think he could start the year at AA Tennessee and will likely spend the whole year there. I would like to see him hit for more power this year, but I would also like to see more walks.

Yasiel Balaguert – He’s only got one issue. He has trouble hitting the curve. However, there’s not a lot that he can’t do with a fastball. Last year at Myrtle Beach, he led the entire Cubs’ system in RBIs and home runs. At AA Tennessee I think those numbers are only going to increase because he’s not playing in the stadium where the wind blows in most every day. I’m hoping he can get his average consistently above .250 and take a few more walks. Right now, his power profile and performance are above where I think anyone thought they would be.

rose 84 2015 SBMatt Rose  – I think I’m gonna find it really interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off at the end of 2016. He hit seven home runs just in August. I don’t think he can do that every month, but it would be nice to see that power in some form continue at Myrtle Beach in 2017. In addition, he showed the ability to hit for average in his second go-around at South Bend.

Jonathan Sierra – This tall left-handed hitting outfielder debuted in 2016 in the Dominican Summer League. He did not get off to the greatest start hitting only .194 in June. But as the summer wore on, Sierra begin to do something that most normal 17-year-olds don’t do. He began to walk. For most prospects, they begin to develop their plate approach somewhere around low class A. It is quite surprising that he started to develop discipline this early and that well. I think he will debut stateside at Mesa in 2017.

DJ Wilson – DJ had a good August after a poor June and July at Eugene. It’ll be interesting to see the start that he gets off to in 2017. I think his defense is going to be exciting to watch for many Cub fans in South Bend, but I think they’re also to be surprised by the pop he showed at Eugene. While he can hit home runs for power, he can hit a lot of doubles and those doubles can easily turn into triples at some of the bigger Midwest League parks.

zinn-85-2016-fallDelvin Zinn – He is 100% pure athlete, maybe the best in the system. The 2015 and 2016 draft pick signed and got some work in at Mesa in 2016. Zinn also showed much development in a short time at fall instructs. I think that in two years, he could become one of the top prospects in the system. He should begin 2017 in Eugene.

David Bote – I don’t think there was a more valuable player to a Cubs team than Bote was the last two months at Myrtle Beach in 2016. He hit close to .400 after August 1 and he did it easily. He started off the year as an organizational guy in 2016. Once he settled into an everyday role at Myrtle Beach, his bat really took off. I’m hoping next year at AA Tennessee that he can continue this trend. He’s already major league ready when it comes to his defense. I could see that when he was at Kane County 2014 and South Bend in 2015.

PJ Higgins – In his first full year as a pro, Higgins showed immense plate discipline that reminded many of Mark Zagunis. He did not display much power but he did show the ability to hit for average. I think he is the best catcher in the system as his defense and arm are far superior to anyone else.  If he develops any power I think you can add the words fast track to your vocabulary.

2017 #1 Draft Pick – With a poor free agent class coming up this winter, I don’t think the Cubs will be in the market to acquire any player from free agency who has a compensation pick tied to them. As a result, the Cubs will actually have a first round pick in 2017. I don’t think the Cubs will break the trend and pick a starting pitcher. I think they’re going to stay with the talented hitter. Jason McLeod should be able to get a pretty good one at that position. The question is whether it’s going to be a high school player or a college player? If Dexter Fowler signs elsewhere, the Cubs would have two picks in the top 35-40.

AAA Iowa – There are five bats that I’m gonna find very interesting to watch in the early part of 2017. Chesny Young, Mark Zagunis, Victor Caratini, Bijan Rademacher, and Jeimer Candelario should all start the season at AAA Iowa. Hopefully, none of them gets traded this winter. So, when they arrive in Iowa I wonder how long their bats keep them down. Young, I think, is the one I’m most interested in watching to see how his that plays at the AAA level. We’ve already got a good glimpse of what Zagunis and Jeimer can do at that level. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeimer spend the shortest amount of time and AAA. Caratini, a switch-hitting catcher, is now extremely close to the show after hitting close to .300 at AA Tennessee.

2015-16 IFA Class Makes It to Mesa and Begins to Impress

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ademan-69-1Without much fanfare, most of the Cubs’ 2015-2016 International Free Agent class arrived in Arizona to begin fall instructs two weeks ago. Mostly 17 to 18 years old, the young phenoms seem to have acclimated very well to Mesa and its environs. Some, more than others, are showing glimpses of why the Cubs signed the 34 international free agents that summer and fall. There are a plethora of pitchers and a myriad of minors who can flat out play baseball. The Cubs may have hit the motherlode of pitching with these free agents. While it is still too early to see how these players will pan out the next five years, they clearly look ready to play now in instructs and Mesa next summer.

This past summer, the majority of players signed were assigned to two Dominican Summer League Teams where they gained experience. Others made it to Mesa, Eugene, and Eddy Martinez was the big boy playing at low-Class A South Bend. Next year, the players will be spread out mostly between Arizona and Eugene.

Here are some players, currently in Mesa, who could cause a ruckus stateside next summer.

Aramis Ademan – The young 17-year-old got off to a rough start in the Dominican this summer, but had a solid second-half showing a good approach at the plate. So far in instructs, he’s shown to be one of the better hitters in the entire complex according to John Arguello and Arizona Phil. Ademan also is easily the top defender at the shortstop position in instructs. Depending on how much he develops over the course of the next six months, he could be at Mesa or Eugene in 2017.

Yonathan Perlaza – This young 17-year-old shows advanced bat to ball skills. As of now, he’s a second baseman. That could change as he sees time at third base. Next year he could be at Mesa, but his position is still yet to be defined.

Yonathan Sierra – All summer long, Sierra was one of the top on-base percentage guys in the Dominican. Physically, he still looks like a Darryl Strawberry clone, but he has yet to develop the power the Cubs foresaw when they signed him a year and four months  ago. I expect him to be in Mesa just based on his plate discipline. What impresses me most, so far, is that that plate discipline could lead to power as he is showing to be a very selective hitter.

arod-60-2016-fallAbraham Rodriguez – At just 17, Rodriguez will likely be in Mesa after a very good summer in the Dominican. He can play multiple positions in the outfield, and he is still developing as a hitter and has shown a good approach.

Faustino Carrera – This 17-year-old lefty out of Mexico had the lowest ERA of any starter on either of the Cubs 2 Dominican summer league teams. He will be in Mesa next year with a chance to go to Eugene by the end of the season if he continues to show great command and control.

Jose Albertos – He is another 17-year-old. Albertos impressed many last year at extended spring training. A shoulder injury sidelined him the rest of the year as he only pitched four innings at Mesa in rookie ball. It was hoped that he would be able to pitch in instructs this fall, but he has yet to do so. If healthy next year, I am not sure what the Cubs are going to do with his 95 to 97 mile an hour heat. They could take it easy with him at Mesa to make sure he is healthy, or he could go to Eugene and start 2 to 3 innings à la with the Cubs have done with other pitchers in the past.

Hector Garcia – Garcia is a young 17-year-old pitcher (there seems to be a theme here) who did really well this summer in the Dominican and should also be in Mesa next summer.

marquez-82-2016-instructsBrailyn Marquez – One of two tall lefties that are 17 years old, Marquez came to instructs and flashed some potential with his low 90s arsenal. His 6’6” and 190-pound frame still has a lot of projection left.

Alfredo Colorado – Colorado had a good summer but faded a bit going down the stretch. However, he has shown up in a big way and instructs and his been in the top picture on the mound in Mesa. An old man at 20, the young Venezuelan RHP should develop well enough to pitch in Mesa next summer

Andres Bonalde – The final 17-year-old lefty starting pitchers came on like gangbusters in the second half in the Dominican this summer. Although he’s not at fall instructs, he’s a candidate to make it to Mesa and spring training. Like Marquez, Bonalde is still growing into his 6’6” body.

What I like most is that the Cubs were able to sign so many pitchers in this 2015-16 international free agent class who they could project as possible starters. The Cubs didn’t just scout one country. They scouted most of the Caribbean and it looks like it will pay some dividends in 2017 in Mesa and Eugene.

*All cards made from pics by John Arguello

The Weekly: A New Top 21 Prospect List Is Ready While Clifton and Jimenez Get Awards

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The big league club clinched home field advantage Friday night for the National League Playoffs! The Cubs won their day game against the Cardinals, and then later that night, Pittsburgh defeated Washington. As a result of the Cubs owning the tiebreaker, the Cubs clinched a day early. Now, 100 wins would be nice to conclude the regular season.

It also appears that with a week to go, Chris Coghlan has moved ahead of Tommy La Stella for one of the final playoff roster spots. Albert Almora should make it as well, although the race between Almora and Matt Szczur is a lot closer.


In a small ceremony held before the Cubs game on Friday, Trevor Clifton and Eloy Jimenez were presented with their awards as Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year. The awards were announced the week before and congratulations are still in order.

Photo by Rikk Carlson

In fall instructs, Tom Hatch made his pro debut pitching BP and impressed Cubs Den’s John Arguello. The Cubs 3rd round pick from 2016 did not pitch in the Cubs system this summer after throwing 130 IP in college ball this spring.


When it comes to the Cubs Convention, I haven’t decided if I am going. Unfortunately for me, it begins on a school improvement day. I don’t know if I will be able to get out of that commitment. I really enjoy going to the Saturday and Sunday sessions the following days.


I have a new Top 21 List up.
hatch-65-2016-afiThere are several changes throughout the list. It keeps getting younger and younger. And those younger players keep moving higher and higher. After graduating a lot of high profile bats, the list now has a majority of pitchers for the first time ever. Moving up the list quickly in the past two months are Zach Hedges and Trevor Clifton. Dylan Cease is still entrenched in the top 3. I almost put him at #2.

And like previous lists, this one, too, will only be temporary. I could change it after fall instructs, but I would rather wait until early January. The main reason is I think the Cubs are going to move some top prospects to acquire a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher.

Come 2017, I think a lot of the International Free Agent Class of 2015-2016 will be knocking on the doors of the US to get in and play some rookie ball in Mesa, and/or short season ball in Eugene. There’s a lot of talent in that group led by Jonathan Sierra, Aramis Ademan, and Yonathan Perlaza.


Upcoming Posts
Cards of the Year
The Pitching Urgency
A Year Without Schwarber
Top Cub Moments of 2016


*Thomas Hatch card made from a photo by John Arguello

Weekly Cubs MiLB News and Awards: A Wave of Pitchers Dominate the Week

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Rondon 76 2016 eugThis week was a week of prominent pitchers propelling their teams to wins. At three levels of Class A, the three team has a combined record of 17-2. It was very hard to pick the pitcher of the week as so many starters had great outings this week. In the mix for the award were Trevor Clifton, Zach Hedges, Manny Rondon, and Adbert Alzolay, all who did not give up a run. Add in Dylan Cease, Bailey Clark, Jeremy Null, and Ryan Kellogg and you have a wave of pitching excellence this week. No wonder the three teams went 17-2.

The Hatch is Closed
It also looks like Tom Hatch will not be pitching this year. After 130 IP in NCAA action, the Cubs are going to protect their investment. For the year, Hatch had 112 Ks, 33 BBs, and a 2.14 ERA at the highest level of the college game.

Writer’s Block
At this time of year, it is hard to come up with topics to write about. Just three weeks remain in the season and I think I will wait one more week before rolling out some regular year-end posts like breakout prospects for this year; breakout prospects for next year; top things I have read this year; the thank you post; top moments in the MiLB; and the August and second half all-star teams. This week, there will be a player profile and a team update. With school starting tomorrow, let’s just see where the wind takes me.

 

South of the Border
I keep checking the box scores and stats of the Cubs’ two Dominican Summer League teams. It hasn’t been the best of years, but it looks like there will be 5-7 quality pitchers coming stateside next year along with 3-4 hitters. One of those, hitters Jonathan Sierra, continues to pile up the walks. He has a .268 average but his 30 walks in 55 games propel his OBP up to .385. That’s pretty impressive for a 17-year-old kid. It is highly likely that he will be stateside for fall instructs. When you look at him, he physically reminds me of a young Darryl Strawberry and at 6’3” and 190 pounds as he swings and throws left-handed.

Around the System This Week

Iowa 3-3 ; 50-66
Tennessee 1-5; 19-28
Myrtle Beach 5-1; 31-18 1st Place
South Bend 5-1; 32-16 1st Place 1st Half Winner
Eugene 7-0; 11-5 1st Place 1st Half Winner
Arizona 2-4; 21-20
Dominican Republic 1 1-5; 22-37
Dominican Republic 2 3-3; 33-27

Players of the Week

8.14.2016

Here’s What’s Coming Up Next Week at Cubs Central
Throwing Wrenches at a Prospect List
Player Profile: Bailey Clark – Off to a Good Start
Arizona Cubs Surviving the Heat: A Team Update
Breakout Players of the Year: Pitchers
Breakout Players of the Year: Hitters

Cubs MiLB All-Star Team for July: New Faces in New Places

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For July, there are lots of new faces on the All-Star team. In fact, 16 players who have not appeared made the list. A lot of players under 21 made the list. What prompted this change? Performance combined with opportunity opened a lot of doors for most of these players. Some just took a while to warm up, but with Eugene and Arizona playing their first full month of baseball, that accounted for 9 players on the list.

There were a lot of great months, but not everyone made the list. Both Trey Martin and Robert Garcia had excellent months, but the outfielders in the Cubs system are quite fantastic right now. Not one position player from Iowa made it on the team and only one made it from Tennessee. Arizona and Myrtle Beach each put two on the list, while South Bend and Eugene dominated the rest.

I struggled to find 6 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3. It was a not a good month in the organization for starting pitching. I was all set to put Jesus Castillo on the list, but then he got shelled in his last start. As a result, I dipped down to pick out someone who has been amazing in the Dominican Summer League all year with an ERA under 1.00.

Press play and use the arrow to guide or you can just watch

Next month, a couple of Dominican position players could sneak onto the list. Infielder Yonathan Perlaza and Outfielder Jonathan Sierra are two of the hottest players in the system the last 10 days. Then again I don’t know how Sierra could squeeze in between the outfielders in this list.

Other Players to watch for August

Albert Almora – now that he is back in Iowa, he makes the outfield much more interesting.

zack short 75 2016 eugChesny Young – he started to figure things out in AA and is slowly creeping towards .300 again

Trevor Clifton – he did OK this month, but I think in August he puts it back together again

Oscar de la Cruz – he debuted at South Bend with 7K’s in 4 2/3 innings

DJ Wilson – his average has risen 80 points in the last 10 days. He seems a little more patient and not trying to kill every pitch he sees. He’s actually quite good in the field and has been taking his walks all year.

Recent Draftees Michael Cruz, Duncan Robinson, and Zach Short are starting to figure it out as well.

Coming up with next month’s list should be equally challenging.

PHOTO CREDITS for Cards in the Film

Rikk Carlson, Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs, Larry Kave, Mr. John Arguello, MiLB, Janet Blackmon Morgan, Michael Caterina, Dustin Smith , Ryan Kang, Eugene Emeralds, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Tennessee Smokies, and myself.