I swore I was going to slow down once school started, but that’s not been the case. Because of the playoffs the past two weeks, I feel like I have been as busy as ever covering Cubs 1 in Mesa and now Eugene. Eugene starts the Northwest League Championship Series tonight against Spokane, a Rangers affiliate. Even though all five games will take place in Eugene, Spokane will be the home team tonight and tomorrow due to a scheduling conflict in Spokane. It is a best-of-five series and the third year in a row the Ems have punched a ticket there. I will have a preview of the series later this afternoon.
Fangraphs Top 10 List Most major publications and websites start rolling out their top prospects for the coming year in November. But not Fangraphs. This week, in a major surprise, Fangraphs released their top 10 Cubs prospects. The list itself had a few interesting wrinkles. It had Miguel Amaya at #1 followed by Adbert Alzolay. Putting Justin Steele at #3 was a head turner as was Brendon Little at #6, ahead of Alex Lange, Erich Uelmen, and Duane Underwood. Nico Hoerner came in at #4 and Brailyn Marquez was right behind him at 5. Aramis Ademan, the former #1 SS, rounded out the top 10.
In their “just missed” category, Fangraphs went with Erling Moreno, Keegan Thompson, and Cole Roederer, whom I have not seen play. The omission of Zack Short is a bit of a head scratcher along with Jared Young, Trevor Clifton, and Nelson Velazquez. It’s a pretty fine line between Cubs prospects at #6 through #36 (if Fangraphs went that high). As soon as the MiLB playoffs are over, my new Top 21 will be released.
Tennessee PDC I am a little surprised that the Smokies and the Cubs have not been re-upped for four more years. Their Professional Development Contract (PDC) expired at the end of the 2018 season. Hopefully, the two sides are just ironing out a few details. All the other Cub affiliates are signed through 2020 except Eugene, whose PDC runs out in 2022. The pickings are slim if the Cubs need to go elsewhere. The Eastern League is all affiliated while the Southern League has just Chattanooga and Pensacola left. In the Texas League, San Antonio and Midland are the only unaffiliated teams for 2019.
AFL Pitching Spots Now that the minor league season regular season is officially over., the Cubs announced the rest of their Arizona Fall League roster this week.
5 #Cubs added to @mlbazfallleague roster: RHP Bailey Clark RHP Erick Leal LHP Manuel Rondon LHP Justin Steele C Jhonny Pereda
I am not surprised by any of these. It looks like Steele might be the taxi squad guy who only plays twice a week. Those Cubs join P.J. Higgins, Nico Hoerner, Trent Giambrone, and DJ Wilson. Play begins October 9 and lasts for six weeks.
Coming Up Next Week Lots of exciting posts are ready, they just keep getting pushed back by the playoffs. A new Top 21 list is ready. Then later, I will have the breakout players of the second half. These include a post on hitters, another on starting pitchers, and a third on relievers. This might be a ways away, but I also have a couple of posts on players making comebacks in 2019 – one is on injured guys and the other is about players who had down years in 2018.
August goes by the fastest of any month. Now that it’s done, there’s only three more days of the season. For most players from South Bend on up, it was a disappointing month. Not very many hitters made the all-star team from Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, or South Bend. Most of the hitting parade came courtesy of the Cubs’ two teams in the Arizona Rookie League.
First baseman Rafael Mejia of Cubs 1 dominated the league. He originally started his season in Eugene and was squeezed out by the influx of recent college draft picks. Mejia used that opportunity to have a blistering summer including a .355 average in August with a .394 OBP, 4 HRs, and 14 RBI.
When it comes to pitching, there are several players to pick from throughout the system. The most dominant arm was Cory Abbott of Myrtle Beach . Abbott struck out 29 in 27 innings to go along with his 0.67 ERA.
Jordan Minch of AA Tennessee had what was arguably his best month of his career. He did not allow an earned run and kept base runners to a minimum. With such a solid showing, Minch has put himself on the train to Iowa for next April.
The team of the month for August is easily Cubs 1 from Mesa. While they won their division in the first half, they did the exact same thing in the second half and put up the best record in the Arizona League. The shame about their success is that there is little media coverage except for a few photographers.
Today is a fun day! It’s opening day for four of the Cubs’ minor-league affiliates! Weather permitting, Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend will take the field for the first time in 2017. It is not looking good for South Bend today as three to six inches are called for in West Michigan. As usual, I will be watching all the happenings. Then, starting this Sunday, “The Weekly” will have the players of the week. But today, it’s our annual preseason All-Star team for the first half.
What is happening today is I am picking out several players who I think will be the best at their position in the Cubs’ system through the middle of June.
Catcher I think that Victor Caratini is locked and loaded and has his eyes set on Chicago. He will be at AAA this year and more than likely, come 2018, he will be the backup catcher to Wilson Contreras. He might even see some time this summer depending on his defense.
First Base Even though he is currently on the DL, I think Yasiel Balaguert has this position sewn up. Last year, he had 19 home run the 96 RBIs and I think he will improve upon that this year as he has been working on hitting up the middle and to the right.
Second Base There is some stiff competition for this position with Carlos Sepulveda and Yeiler Peguero competing to get their name on the Internet. However, Ian Happ wins in a landslide. It is so self-evident, that I’m not even going to explain my thinking process for selecting him.
Shortstop At the age of 17, Isaac Paredes made his class A debut at South Bend in late August of 2017. This year, the Cubs will get the full effect of what this man-child can do. He earned the starting spot and hopefully some power will go along with an outstanding batting average and on-base percentage… I’ll from an 18-year-old kid.
Third Base I am going to break the mold, and tradition, and go with Wladimir Galindo who I think will do extremely well as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League. Normally, I would pick Jeimer Candelario for the spot, but I think Wladimir is determined to succeed and show his worth.
Outfield I think this was the toughest category to pick just three players. I think the deciding factor is how I project them to perform in the first half and the excitement that they will bring to the game. As a result, I am selecting DJ Wilson of South Bend, Eloy Jimenez of Tennessee, and I’m going to stun everybody and go with Bijan Rademacher of Iowa. I know I am leaving out Eddy Martinez and Mark Zagunis, but I think Bijan is going to hit more home runs than both the next two months.
Starting Pitchers I found it hard to just pick six because the Cubs development of pitchers is becoming more and more pronounced. I am going with Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, Eddie Butler, Erling Moreno, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, and I am picking Kyle Miller as a Darkhorse. I also thought about including Ryan Williams, Rob Zastryzny, and Zach Hedges. What used to be the weakness of the organization is now turning into a strength. I would not be surprised to see a couple of these pitchers make it to Chicago this year.
Relief Pitchers Last year, relievers were the strength of the organization. They helped out the big league club down the stretch and Rob Zastryzny even made it to the World Series. This year, Pierce Johnson leads a group of arms who are still a ways off from helping the big league club. Ryan McNeil, Jordan Mnch, Wyatt Short, Dakota Mekkes, and Chad Hockin are just a few of the names who will be excellent bullpen arms the spring. I know there are other bullpen arms, especially in South Bend, who could’ve been added to this list.
Last year’s preseason All-Star team played a significant role in two ways. Some of them wound up on the major-league roster and were key players in the World Series victory. Other prospects were parts of packages used to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery who helped to win the World Series.
I don’t quite know what will happen this year with some of these prospects, but that’s the fun of it. In four weeks, the April All-Star team should give us a glimpse into how well this package of players listed above did on the road to Wrigley.
Trying to figure out who is going to be on what minor league roster is quite contentious at times. This spring is no different. On Sunday, April 2, the minor-league spring training camp ended and most players were sent to their affiliate for the 2017 season. There are still a few tweaks left to be made before Wednesday when most rosters are released and Thursday when play begins.
Thanks go out to Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter who assembled the rosters below (actually across several comment sections). If you click on the link it will take it to the first comment from which I began culling the rosters.
Pitchers: Frank Batista, Dallas Beeler, Aaron Brooks, Jake Buchanan, Eddie Butler, Gerardo Concepcion, Daniel Corcino, Dylan Floro, Seth Frankoff, Pierce Johnson, Casey Kelly, Jhondaniel Medina, Miguel Mejia, Alec Mills, Tommy Nance, Felix Pena, Williams Perez, Jordan Pries, David Rollins, Jose Rosario, Zac Rosscup, Ryan Williams, and Rob Zastryzny Catchers: Victor Caratini, Carlos Corporan, Taylor Davis, and Ali Solis Infielders: Stephen Bruno, Jeimer Candelario, Kevin Cornelius, Chris Dominguez, Ian Happ, Elliot Soto, and Chesny Young Outfielders: John Andreoli, Todd Glaesmann, Jacob Hannemann, Bijan Rademacher, and Mark Zagunis
Surprises: I would say there about 7 more cuts to be made. Currently, there are 37 players on this roster. Most of the cuts will be from the pitching staff and may flow downwards. The big surprise that I see so far is the inclusion of Tommy Nance. While he does throw hard, I found it surprising that he would skip AA Tennessee completely. I also expect to see some position player changes because I don’t think they’re going to carry four catchers all year, even if Davis plays first base.
Pitchers: Andury Acevedo, Dave Berg, Trevor Clifton, David Garner, Zach Hedges, Daniel Lewis, Brad Markey, Jonathan Martinez, Ryan McNeil, Preston Morrison, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Stephen Perakslis, James Pugliese, Tyler Skulina, Jake Stinnett, Daury Torrez, Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood, Jr., and Michael Wagner Catchers: Cael Brockmeyer, Ian Rice, and Erick Castillo Infielders: Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Andrew Ely, Vimael Machin, Carlos Penalver, and Jason Vosler Outfielders: Jeffrey Baez, Charcer Burks, Trey Martin
Surprises: There are several pitchers who did not make it to AAA including most of the relief and starting staff. Clifton, Morrison, Lewis, McNeil, Stinnett, and Pugliese were promoted from Myrtle Beach. There are a few players likely to be added to the position player part of the roster as they are only carrying three outfielders.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Pitchers: Adbert Alzolay, Pedro Araujo, Casey Bloomquist, Craig Brooks, Oscar de la Cruz, Scott Effross, Greyfer Eregua, Thomas Hatch, Chad Hockin, Ryan Kellogg, Dillon Maples, Kyle Miller, Jordan Minch, James Norwood, Jeremy Null, Michael Rucker, Justin Steele, Tommy Thorpe, and John Williamson Catchers: Tyler Alamo, P. J. Higgins, Tyler Pearson, and Ian Rice Infielders: Bryant Flete, Trent Giambrone, Jesse Hodges, Matt Rose, and Carlos Sepulveda Outfielders: Robert Garcia, Eloy Jimenez (INACTIVE – bruised shoulder), Connor Myers, and Daniel Spingola
Surprises: I was surprised to see a lot of the relief pitchers from last year’s Myrtle Beach team not make it to Tennessee. I would think that, as a lefty, Tommy Thorpe would be a natural as would Jordan Minch. I was pleased to see that Trent Giambrone and Chad Hockin skipped South Bend and will be Pelicans to start the year. Oscar de la Cruz got a late start this spring but threw 75 pitches in Mesa on Monday and appears ready to go.
South Bend Cubs
Pitchers: Dylan Cease, Jared Cheek, Marc Huberman, John Michael Knighton, Mark Malave, Dakota Mekkes, Tyson Miller, Erling Moreno, Jose Paulino, Tyler Peyton, Duncan Robinson, Manuel Rondon, Wyatt Short, and Pedro Silverio Catchers: Marcus Mastrobuoni, Alberto Mineo, Tyler Payne, Jhonny Pereda Infielders: Wladimir Galindo, Andruw Monasterio, Yeiler Peguero, Isaac Paredes, Chris Pieters, and Zack Short. Outfielders: Luis Ayala, Kevonte Mitchell, and D. J. Wilson
Surprises: This roster is the most incomplete. Currently, they’re only 24 players listed. Normally, they’re around 30 prospects on the roster. There are a few mild surprises on the roster. 2016 draftee Tyler Peyton will debut at South Bend and Jose Paulino will be in the bullpen to begin the year. In addition, Isaac Paredes will start the year as a Cub at just 18 years old. The young man can hit and I think South Bend will really appreciate his talents. It will be interesting to see who they add to the outfield. Maybe someone like Jose Gutierrez might skip two levels to debut. Also, Bryan Hudson did not make the squad, even as a reliever. In addition, Andruw Monasterio will go back to Eugene to begin the year.
I am sure there will be some minor tweaking the next week.
*This is the first in a three part series evaluating the draft classes of Theo, Jed, and Jason (2012, 2013)
Grading is what I do for a living. So, I have no qualms in giving out some letters for the job the Cubs did in the 2014 draft. However, the true grades on these prospects won’t come for several years (4-5) later. However, an initial grade at one year gives us an idea of how a prospect has exceeded their draft position or failed to live up to it. Here is a full list of 2014 picks, their 2014 assignments, and 2015 assignments.
Boise, Kane County, Daytona
AZL, Boise, Kane County
Tommy John Surgery
AZL, Boise, Kane County
South Bend, Myrtle Beach
As you can tell, some of the hitters move faster in the system. When a pitcher is selected, they already have 70-110 innings on the arm already. As a result, their play is sparse once they signed. It is really their second year in the system that will give us a glimpse of who they are and what they can be. Hitters, once signed, get right in there and mix it up.
Incomplete GradesJoey Martarano, Tyler Pearson, Michael Knighton, Tanner Griggs, and Jordan Brink All five of these players saw limited action in Arizona last summer. Pearson and Martarano both have some power while Knighton, Griggs, and Brinks were all relievers. All five should be at Eugene this summer where we will get a longer look. Martarano, who plays football from September through May, is an intriguing prospect at 6’3″ and 235 pounds. The Boise State linebacker may still end up playing pro football and baseball appears to be Plan B.
F – FailingCharles White, Alex Tomasovich – both released. I was not surprised to see White leave the system, but Tomasovich hit over .300 last year in an everyday utility role for Boise. Whether his release was for injury reasons or for personal reasons has not been divulged.
D – PoorBrad Markey, Tommy Thorpe, James Norwood, and Jake Stinnett
Markey, Thorpe, and Norwood all have struggled in relief at South Bend. There is still plenty of time to turn it around. I really like Thorpe’s curve and that may be something he can build around.
As for Stinnett, he is having huge control problems. On one hand, he does have electric stuff. He has a fastball with late movement on the arm side and a wipe out slider. However, it looks like he has no idea how to take a little off, still have the movement, and gain some control. Currently, he was on the DL for 7 days and the 6+ ERA might be more a related to his injury which could be the reason for his command problems.
C – AverageJordan Minch, Andrew Ely, Calvin Graves, and Jason Vosler
Minch has shown some promise in a lefty power relief role in South Bend. After a rough start, he is coming around. Andrew Ely is a plus defender at second base for the South Bend Cubs. Just a few games into his season, he is improving daily and is hitting .300 in his last three games after a rough first four. Calvin Graves could be Charcer Burks’ twin. He will get his shot at Eugene in a powerful outfield with Kevonte Mitchell and Eloy Jimenez. Jason Vosler provides a left handed bat and has played all four infield positions at South Bend. I find him to be someone to keep an eye on. I think he could develop into a decent hitter and solid bench player.
B – GoodZach Hedges and James Farris Hedges came on strong to start the year and has solid control down in the zone with some late movement. A ground ball pitcher, Hedges has had two poor starts in a row. But in the 27th round, the Cubs got good value in Hedges. If he can keep the ball down in his next start in the first two innings, he will be back on the B list, otherwise, he could drop down to a C. I would like to see him improve his command.
Farris has close to the same arsenal as Hedges and has been solid this month in a closer’s role in South Bend. He is the most improved player on the list from the beginning of the year. Like Hedges, Farris also has late movement on his pitches and has been striking out over 1.5 hitters per inning. I think if he continues to shine as a closer, he could move up to an A by year’s end and maybe end up in Myrtle Beach.
A – ExcellentAustyn Willis, Chesny Young, Kevonte Mitchell, Ryan Williams, Jeremy Null, Dylan Cease, Justin Steele, Carson Sands, Mark Zagunis, and Kyle Schwarber
The Cubs got a lot of high quality players in last year’s draft. The thing is outside of Sands and Cease, many feel the Cubs over picked the players in each round. However, the jokes on them as all 10 of these picks are replenishing the farm system.
Schwarber’s selection and elite bat are the highlight of the draft. I don’t think I need to explain how great he is and looks to be. Zagunis and Young are both elite hitters and have moved quickly through the system. Zagunis has shed the catcher’s gear and now takes his daily place in left field. He is likely the next prospect to move except there is no place for him to go in Tennessee.Young, recently promoted, had a nine game hit streak to begin his tenure at the Beach. Null and Williams have been exceptional as starters in South Bend. While Sands, Willis, and Steele will get their first prolonged exposure in Eugene in less than a month. They will be joined by another surprise pick in Kevonte Mitchell who was outstanding in the AZL last summer (.294 with 19 SBs in 34). Mitchell is a 6’4″ converted 3B now in the outfield. Cease, who appeared in extended spring training games the past week, has hit 99 on the gun already in his recovery. <swoon!>
Overall Grade: A –
I think Stinnett’s stinted development might bring down the draft a bit, but the fact that players drafted in rounds 21-27 and 36 are producing at low A already is a stunning development and a testament to the Cubs scouting system and player development. In five years, I think the following things will be remembered about this draft:
1. Schwarber and his bat
2. The high school arms of Sands, Steele, Cease, and Willis. I think Willis is going to break out this year. At 6’6″, the big right hander had on off senior year, but has recaptured some of the hype he had as a junior in HS this spring training and in an extended spring training.
3. The bats of Zagunis, Young, and Mitchell These guys can just plain hit. Not much power, though Mitchell has the frame to develop some pop. But when you need guys to get on base, here are three that do it very well. If the Cubs get 5 players out of this draft to the majors, that will make it an excellent draft. And, it is looking like the first one could be there in 2016.
One of the best parts of last summer was listening to Mike Safford’s call of the Boise Hawks on the Internet. He is an exciting announcer! He made the games come alive twelve hundred miles away. I was saddened to hear that the Cubs were moving from Boise to Eugene because I would not be able to hear Safford’s enthusiasm for the games and his knowledge of the prospects on a daily basis. Then the killer stab through the heart came that same week when the Cubs announced they would be moving from Kane County to South Bend. I was devastated. My one hour trips through the corn to Geneva would end. I got over it after a while. This week helped a lot especially when I heard that South Bend could be joining the MiLB.TV network! That’s another 70 home games to see!
When looking at 2015 South Bend roster, the 2014 Boise Hawks made the playoffs because of a strong collection of pitchers and an influx of pitchers from the 2014 draft. In assembling who I think will be on the team, I am torn between players who will be, who should be, and who could be on the roster. Likely, I will be wrong on about 5 names. However, this year’s low A affiliate will be built around pitching just like last year’s Midwest League Champion. When it comes to hitting and defense, they might be putting that side of the roster together with very young players.
The Starting Pitching Approximation
I counted ten arms that have a shot at starting for South Bend in April. Likely six will be in the rotation, one will not be around long and two could be in the bullpen or in extended Spring Training waiting for Eugene to start up. They all have the potential to do well, and they all pitch very differently.
Won’t Be ‘Round for Long
1. Jake Stinnett – Last year’s second round pick won’t be around South Bend long if he even starts there. With an upper 90s fastball and a plus-plus slider, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him skip South Bend and go straight to Daytona.
2. Josh Conway – He finally got off the injury bug after two years to put in 13 starts with a 1.96 ERA. He was limited to 3 innings a start and he did wonderfully commanding his fastball. He struck 24 for a K/9 rate of 5.9 while allowing only 1 HR all season and walking 2.2/9 innings. This year, I expect him to extend his starts to 5 innings during the cold months and then they can unleash him when it gets warm. In end, the righty has earned the right to start at South Bend. At 23, he could move quickly to Daytona. Problem is, I don’t think there will be a spot there.
3. Trevor Clifton – I have chronicled Clifton’s strengths and weaknesses often the past year. He can let his fastball rip between 93-95 and it peaks around 97. Last year, he really began to command it better and he will work on that again this year. Also, the Cubs have rebuilt his motion since he signed in the summer of 2013. There is still one lingering issue – his curveball. When he commands it, he is almost unhittable. When he can’t, he gets pummeled. He has learned to work with men on base. His ERA of 3.69 was due in large part to excellent pitching by stranding runners the last four starts. His WHIP of 1.46 is extremely high due in large part to his lack of curveball command. I cannot wait to see his fastball in Burlington, Peoria, and/or Beloit this summer! His curve should be an interesting visual, too.
4. Erick Leal – Leal is the more successful of the two pitchers who came from Arizona in the Tony Campana trade. He might have been the most improved pitcher at Boise last summer. The 6’3” righty had a 1.53 ERA after the all star break and a total 2.36 ERA in the second half. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats (4.5/9) but he gets a lot of outs. His fastball, which he commands very well, is between 88 and 90 most days.
Who I would like to see Start
5A. Jeremy Null – The Nulldozer might be the best nickname in all of the organization. At 6’7+”, he throws a heavy slider on a downhill plane. He fell down in the draft because of some early season injuries, but the VCU prospect had no trouble disposing of some big name schools like North Carolina. As a pro in 2014, Null saw limited action due to a full college season, but he did strike out 11 in 15 innings and made 1 start in the Northwest League playoffs
Who Might Start
5B. James Norwood – The SLU product has been known to throw in the mid to upper 90s. Injury concerns last spring caused his stock to fall. He did get some time in at Arizona and Boise, but it was clear after a season of college ball that he was trying to make adjustments as his stats were not very good. However, stats are misleading at short season and rookie ball levels as most pitching prospects are working on something in their repertoire. When spring comes this year, Norwood might be in line to start at South Bend, if not, Eugene for sure.
5C. James Farris – The Arizona righty was the ace of his college team. He doesn’t knock you out with any one pitch, but he can control and command them all. That will play well in South Bend. However, it may not play much beyond South Bend as he needs a little zippity in his do-da. To show you how well he commands the ball, in 14 innings of relief at Boise, he struck out 21!!!!!!!!! That is 14.5/9 innings!!! Then again, he was playing against 19-20 years old kids. He won’t do that at South Bend, but he will put the ball where he wants it. He reminds me of Kyle Hendricks in how they approach pitching. He is not as physically big as Hendricks, but mentally and command wise, Farris is a miniature version of the big leaguer.
Who Could Start
5D. Carson Sands – Sands will be 20 in less than a month. In rookie ball, last year’s fourth round pick was deadly in his 19 innings of work at Arizona where pitchers are on strict counts and often piggyback with other starters (Each goes three innings back to back). Sands showed great control with a 1.89 ERA and striking out 20. He is pretty polished and likely could start at South Bend. Spring Training will tell but the odds are in his favor.
5E. Justin Steele – Picked one round behind Sands, the lefty might be better than Sands in the long run. Steele struck out 25 in 18 innings at Arizona last summer and still has to work on his command a lot more than Sands does. A 2.89 ERA is nothing to sneeze at but he did walk 8 in only 18 innings or 4 BB per 9 innings. I would like to see what he can do in South Bend by improving his command to lower that walk rate.
5F. Dillon Maples – I usually make excuses for Dillon Maples, but last year he was terrible. A rib injury derailed what was to be a promising season and he just got shelled at Boise when he came back. I think he came back too quickly (there is that excuse). The 2011 draft pick might be in his last year in a Cub uniform if the ship is not righted. But then again, he is still only 22 and he has yet to make it to a full season of low A ball. In 2013, he was flat out brilliant at Boise along with Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood. I thought he was really going to break out last year before the rib injury. Hopefully, he has made adjustments and is healthy and ready to go this year. It is hard to watch a kid with a fastball that gets up into the mid 90s and a plus curve just crash and burn in the organization.
I’d say that the first four pitchers listed above are shoe-ins and that Null, Farris, Sands, Maples, and Steele will duke it out for the final two spots. Once Stinnett is gone to Daytona, another spot opens up. If I was a betting man, I’d go with Sands and Steele. I think that would be the most exciting to see. But, here’s the thing; I am not a betting man. Therefore, I am going with Null and Sands. Steele will likely start out in Eugene and Farris and Norwood will go to the pen. Once Stinnett leaves, up comes Steele.
The Relief Recombination
South Bend will not be short of relievers; both lefties and righties. Brad Markey, Jordan Brink, Sam Wilson, Tommy Thorpe Tanner Griggs, Michael Knighton, and Zach Hedges headline a list of about 15 relievers who could be at South Bend but there are six who need elaboration.
1. Ryan Williams benefited a lot from scouts coming to see East Carolina starter Jeff Hoffman, a top pick in last year’s draft. Williams and his 6’4” and 235 lb. frame did well in relief last year at Boise. A 1.35 ERA in 26 innings is not a full measurement of his talent. Some bloggers do not like him, but I do. Here’s why: He’s a bulldog. He is just fierce on the mound. You want that big kind of imposition staring down a hitter in the last three innings. Just turned 23, he should do fine in the Midwest League as a setup man and a closer. Because of his age, he might move to Daytona a little faster than other players.
2. Daniel Lewis’s life story is like a Disney movie. The man from the Air Force via Pensacola JC who throws 100 mph came out of nowhere. Yes, I would like to see what he can do all year long. Surprisingly, last year, the undrafted free agent made it to Boise where he struck out 13 in 10 innings of relief with a 0.87 ERA. With that arm, he might not be long for South Bend.
3. There was no way I thought Jordan Minch would sign with Cubs last summer. He was drafted in the 35th round and I figured he would return to Purdue for his junior season. The 6’3” lefty signed and he gives the Cubs something they don’t have in the organization – a power left handed arm coming out of the bullpen. I think he will be at South Bend all season.
4. Trey Masek – Like Josh Conway, the 2013 draftee has spent most of his time in a Cubs uniform injured. This year he is healthy. This year the former Red Raider starter shifts to the bullpen to show off that toughness he epitomized on the mound at Texas Tech. Gone is the funky delivery and awkward landing and in its place is a more refined delivery. I look forward to seeing what he can do.
5. Brad Renner is another injury recluse like Trey Masek. Drafted in the 28th round in 2013, the 6’6” righty could make another imposing presence coming out of the pen. He just has to stay healthy.
6. Anthony Prieto – Still only 21, the lefty has had the injury bug like Renner and Masek. This year will be interesting to see if he can regain the mid 90s fastball he had coming out of high school in 2012. At only 5’11, he just may be a pitcher who might just be injury prone. 2015 will tell.
Now I don’t know if any of these six are going to light South Bend on fire but they are all interesting story lines to watch due to missed time.
There is one thing most talent evaluators have been missing when looking at the Cubs system is this: The Cubs are loading up on arms on the mound. In fact, they are overflowing with arms at short season A, low A, and high A. I expect McLeod and Epstein to draft another 15-20 arms this summer. The fact that I had 10 arms to select just for starters from at South Bend in 2015 is an indication of the depth now inherent in this organization.
The Hitting Transmogrification
After losing Schwarber, Zagunis, Chesny Young, and Jeffrey Baez, it sure seemed as if Boise was done for on offense. Yet, they found a way to make the playoffs in 2014. A big reason for that came from the leadership of Manager Gary Van Tol. In August, OF Charcer Burks and then 17 year old phenom SS Gleyber Torres lead the parade of hitters from Boise into the playoffs last year and now into South Bend for this year. Along with super sub Alex Tomasovich, 1B Danny Canela, C Justin Marra, and 3B Jesse Hodges, Boise came from back in the standings and their development was a key to that turnaround.
To me, there are two keys to this infield. One is shortstop Gleyber Torres, who just turned 18. He only played only 7 games plus the playoffs at Boise, but he showed Scouting Director Jason McLeod enough to declare that Torres will be in South Bend. Keith Law ranked him #4 on Cubs Top Prospect List. He has great skills with the bat and solid defensive skills. As he gets older, I think his skills might be better suited for second base. However, his bat plays either position.
The other player I like a lot is Alex Tomasovich. He was the Ben Zobrist of Idaho last summer while hitting .311. The 6’3” 2014 draftee out of Charleston Southern was a nice find by Cubs scouts. He is not going to wow you with his athleticism. However, he does a little bit of everything well, but nothing that stands out…except hitting. He still has some room to physically fill out. He did not hit any home runs, but the body is there to do so. He is a grinder and just a nice player to have on your team. Tomasovich is a sure handed defender who has moved off of shortstop and did not stop producing. He played 10 games at 2B, 18 at 1B, 3 at 3B, and 1 at SS. He will likely continue this trend in 2015.
3B Jesse Hodges comes to the Cubs via Canada and he showed last summer he has some pop in that bat. He hit 7 HRs, second on the team to Marra’s 9, and drove in 47 runs second to Canela’s 48. While Hodges only hit .265, he does take his walks, but his average needs to come up. However, if he hits HRs and drives in runs, I don’t think it really matters. Hodges is just going to grind it out. He is not a typical 5 tool athlete, but he has a great attitude and that sought after power.
At 24, 1B Danny Canela is an organizational guy who provides some leadership and a steady force in the lineup. He hit .295 and should provide a nice depth and some veteran presence for the young team. However, I don’t know if there is much of a future for him. He and Jacob Rodgers of Myrtle Beach are in the same organizational boat.
When it comes to catcher, this is where things start to get ugly. Justin Marra can hit extremely well as seen by his .279 avg. with 9 HRs and 38 RBIs in short season A ball. However, the 5’10” 190 lb. dynamo is not the best defensive catcher. He spent the better part of three seasons trying to escape Boise and he finally figured it out. Only 21, he really needs to improve his battery skills or his only option would be as an undersized 1B/DH.
I think when it comes down to it, Will Remillard will be back in South Bend in order to play a full season of low A ball. Last year, he was a stud for the first half at Kane County hitting almost .320 and driving in 25 runs in 35 games. Then the back injury limited him to 14 games where he hit a weak .204. Putting Remillard here makes sense as it makes room for Caratini at Myrtle Beach and it gives this pitching staff a guy who I like a lot for his leadership behind the plate.
The player who will likely play second base is Andrew Ely. Ely played all over the organization after being drafted out of the University of Washington last year. Look for him to bring his exciting glove work and steady bat to be an outstanding double play man with Gleyber Torres. I think people are going to like how he goes about his business of being a ballplayer.
When it comes to the outfield of South Bend, I could be dead wrong or I could magically be right. Taken in the 9th round of the 2013 Draft, Charcer Burks was an athletic pick who struggled his first summer in 2013 at Arizona hitting only .269. Last year was a different story. He started out in Arizona where hit .309 and swiped 9 bases in 20 games. He then went to hit .313 at Boise with an outstanding OBP of .416! He should be in left field every day at South Bend.
Now comes the tricky part. Looking at depth charts and experience, Kevin Brown and Jeffery Baez should really be at Myrtle Beach. Rashad Crawford and Charlie White are not quite ready for the 140+ game seasons of low A ball. However, I do know two players who I think might be ready to play every day in the sun of northern Indiana. My boldest prediction of all the previews is that Kevonte Mitchell and Eloy Jimenez will begin the year at South Bend. I want to see it, I hope they do it, the odds are slim, but in the end, it is best for their development, and best for the team. There, I said it!
What Jimenez lacks is game experience. The former #1 International Free Agent of 2013 is physically ready. The 6’4” 205 lb. right handed hitter should play in South Bend all year. If Jimenez’s weakness is game experience, he could waste a year in Boise playing only 76 games. He can almost double that experience in the Midwest League playing for South Bend. I do get the argument that he is not baseball ready. After all, he only hit .227 with 3 HRs in 42 games in Arizona, but he also drove in 27 which is a 104 RBI pace for a 162 games. But stats can be misleading for a minor leaguer. For me, he simply needs to play games. He needs to improve his 6% walk rate, that .227 avg, and an abysmal .268 OBP have to change. I get that he should play in Eugene, but the competition at South Bend is a year older and he gets an additional 70 games, which is another season of short season ball. Plus, he is such a physical specimen, his body should hold up to the rigors of that long of a season.
For Kevonte Mitchell, it is a giant leap, too. A sensational athlete, Mitchell was outstanding moving from his 2014 drafted position of 3B to CF. The 6’4” 18 year old hit .294 in 42 games while stealing 19 bases. I heard great things all July and August about Mitchell. I cannot wait to see him play in South Bend. Mitchell would also provide some comfort for Jimenez having played beside him all last year.
Now, I could be dead wrong about these two kids skipping short season A. There is no rush for them to get to the big leagues, they are both just 18/19 year kids. But if I am correct, South Bend will be a great place to be this summer with the pitching and the young, athletic position players. And most importantly, the players will develop and play winning baseball.
If I am wrong, Kevin Brown and Rashad Crawford will likely man those spots this summer. Crawford brings some serious speed while Brown is more a disciplined hitter who saw time as high as Tennessee last summer filling in for a week here and there. I guess we will find out the second week of April who will be in the outfield.
CF – Mitchell
SS – Torres
1B – Canela
DH – Marra
LF – Burks
RF – Jimenez
3B – Hodges
C – Remillard
2B – Ely
This is not bad lineup. There is some speed at the top with Mitchell and Torres, some quality hitters in Canela and Marra, another leadoff hitter in Burks, more power, and two quality guys that can grind out at bats in Remillard and Ely. Throw in Tomasovich, who can play all over the field, and there is some length to this lineup. Sure, you have two big prospects in Torres and Jimenez, but you also have guys that take quality at bats. If there is one thing I have learned in the past two drafts is that the Cubs look for highly athletic players and players who can grind out at bats. This team is filled with both. I think that could be a mixture for even more success in 2015. It’s a big leap.
Prospect love comes in many forms. For the better part of the Theo Epstein regime that love and hope has come in the guise of hitters for Cubs fans. Fans have been dreaming of the day when Javy Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler would be banging the ball around the old ballpark. Well, that day will happen in 2015.
You know what else will happen when that happens? Pitchers will then begin flooding the top of the prospect lists – Duane Underwood, Jake Stinnett, CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Paul Blackburn, to name a few, have seen the top 20 in the last year with Underwood, Edwards, and Johnson in some lists’ top ten.
The past three years have seen Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod attack the draft with waves of pitchers beginning in the second round. Those pitchers have slowly made their way through rookie ball, Boise, Kane County, and only a few made it to Daytona and Tennessee last year. This year, those draftees will begin reaching Iowa. While Pierce Johnson leads the way, there are others who will begin to reach the upper part of the Cubs minor league system at Tennessee and Iowa in 2015. Today’s post will examine the draft classes of the last three years. There have been some wonderful arms selected, some who haven’t figured it out just yet, some who may breakout this year, and a few misses.
When you begin to look at the type of pitchers the Cubs have selected the last three years, you get a variety of arms. There is no prototype build or pitching style the Cubs look for. However, the majority of pitchers they selected seem to have 3 common traits:
Coachibility/Makeup – They are able to take direction from coaches. Believe it or not, these are not prima donnas, these kids are known for being driven athletes who take direction because they have a desire to improve and win.
Athletic – At 6’4” and 235 pounds, Ryan Williams doesn’t appear athletic but his delivery is – he doesn’t have a lot of angst in trying to throw a baseball 93 mph. It comes easy to him. In selecting these “athletic pitchers”, the Cubs select someone who can repeat that delivery time after time without much strain to the body thereby reducing the amount of torque on the shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, hip, knee, and any other joint and tendon you can name. This lowers the risk for injury saving both the pitcher and the organization.
USA Baseball – there seems to be a theme here. The Cubs are going out and getting both hitters and pitchers who played for USA Baseball. That experience of playing all over the world is something special for a player as it shows pride, drive, and an experience and maturity that places them above their peers.
Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood were two high school arms taken in the compensation and second rounds respectively. Last year, the two were part of a dominant rotation at Kane County and both were flat out filthy in the playoffs as the Cougars went undefeated in the post season on their way to a Midwest League Championship. Underwood grew by leaps and bounds the last year and a half as he learned to take better care of his body. He routinely throws in the mid 90s with ease. Blackburn has flashed, at times, the ability to dominate games, especially in the postseason at both Boise and Geneva. Both will reunite at Myrtle Beach this year. Somewhat of a pitcher’s league, both should continue to develop and make great strides to middle to top of the rotation type starters with Underwood having the higher ceiling at this point.
Another 2012 draftee who showed massive growth last year was reliever Stephen Perakslis at Daytona. In sixteen second half appearances he has a 2.25 ERA and was topping out at 95-97 with his fastball. Add in often injured Josh Conway who finally debuted at Boise last year after missing a year and a half and the class is starting to look good. In thirteen three inning starts, Conway was near dominant with his 1.96 ERA and a .187 batting average against. He also averaged 6 Ks per nine innings. This year, Conway should be at South Bend where he should be bumped up to a five inning limit.
Jasvir Rakkar is another 2012 arm that will be infiltrating Myrtle Beach. Rakkar finally got it going last year and was a key cog as a reliever at Kane County in August and in the playoffs. After starting the year at Daytona, then going back to Boise then back to Daytona, the yo-yo pitching career finally settled in at Geneva where he was almost unhittable in his last twenty innings. In fact, he only gave up two. Hopefully, he can build on that success this year at Myrtle Beach.
Ahh….The Kris Bryant draft class – it might be impossible to top Bryant’s impact on the organization. However, much like Underwood and Blackburn broke out last year, the 2013 class hopes to do the same in 2015. Led by second round pick Rob Zastryzny, the lefty would love to throw away his 7+ ERA from April and May at Daytona and focus in on his .3.32 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break when looking back at 2014. Zastryzny will head to Tennessee this year and will focus on keeping the ball down in the zone. If he can do that, the 6’3” southpaw could be an asset going forward as the upper system of the Cubs does not have a lefty starter after Erick Jokisch.
While Zastryzny was the star of the 2013 pitching class for the Cubs, there are some names that could shine for the Cubs system in 2015. Tyler Ihrig is probably the most under the radar success story of 2014. He doesn’t have flashy stuff – he gets by with a low 90s fastball that he can command and he builds of that pitch with good command on his breaking pitches. After a poor start at Daytona, he went back to Boise where he was 4-2 in 8 starts, but it was at Kane County where he figured it all out. In four starts in August, he was 3-1 with a 2.30 ERA during the playoff stretch. It is something he can build on for 2015. However, I don’t if he will be a starter in 2015 at Myrtle Beach. He might be a better fit in the pen in the long run because of his 6’0” 190 pound frame.
The second most well known name from the class is Trevor Clifton. The 12th round pick skipped going to Kentucky to sign with the Cubs. The Cubs have taken his windup and rebuilt it into a work of efficiency. He throws in the mid 90s and has an excellent curve ball. The problem is he also has a terrible curve ball. When he gets it over, he is dominant. When he does not, all hell breaks loose. I am hoping that this year, his command takes a leap forward. He should be used to the new windup and mechanics this year and as a result, we will see more consistency in the curveball. Throw in a changeup and he could be something special at South Bend this year.
Tyler Skulina had an up and down year, too. Tendonitis, which was hidden from most fans, was revealed in mid-summer. Despite the location being his left knee, Skulina was able to have a good first half at Kane County. However, he was only throwing 88-91. In college, he was hitting mid 90s with his fastball regularly. In July, Skulina went to Daytona and the knee became too much. He made three starts and was shut down for the year. He should start 2015 at Myrtle Beach. The Cubs will know if the knee is healthy when the first curveball flies as that was the pitch he was having trouble with because of the knee. When I saw him twice, he was horribly tipping it through various arm angles to compensate for the knee. He never knew where it was going
Injured pitchers Brad Renner and Trey Masek hope to make it through more than a month this year. Both pitchers had promising relief careers already derailed by injuries. Other relief pitchers from the class will be at Daytona including Michael Wagner and Zak Hermans. Others will be at South Bend including Sam Wilson and David Garner. None of the four was dominant, but neither were they terrible. One, Scott Frazier, has the golf equivalent of the yips. The 6’7” righty out of Pepperdine is hopefully being mentally rebuilt this off season. He still holds promise, but whether he can actually pitch again is up in the air.
I get goose bumps thinking about the pitchers from this draft class. Most made their debut at Arizona Rookie League or at Boise last summer. The pitching starts with converted 3B Jake Stinnett out of Maryland. The second round pick has less than two years pitching experience but Baseball America already labels Stinnett’s slider the best in the organization. Because of inning concerns, he was slightly used in 2014, although he did pitch for Boise in the playoffs throwing 5 innings, he struck out 8, and allowed only 2 hits without a run. Myrtle Beach looks like the optimum place for him, but I think he is going to South Bend first and follow the Pierce Johnson model of advancement to Myrtle Beach by July. Who knows, he could sniff Tennessee in August if all goes well. The concern for him is this – last year was only his second year of pitching and he threw 100 innings as a starter after being a reliever in 2013. I think the Cubs will be cautious with him in 2015 and hopefully get him up to 120 innings which is not too big of an increase.
The high school pitching culled in this draft is ridiculous. Righty Dylan Cease, lefty Justin Steele, righty Austyn Willis (6’6”), and lefty Carson Sands were top high school arms who profile to be mid rotation to top of the rotation starters. And then add in the college pitchers that saw some action at Boise last year and I get downright giddy. Luckily for me, they will almost all be at South Bend.
My favorites from this draft class include the 6’7” Jeremy Null from Western Carolina, 6’4” 235 pound righty Ryan Williams, a reliever at East Carolina who should have a decent shot at starting this year, and Jordan Minch, a 6’6” lefty from Purdue who could revamp any bullpen. Others who saw limited action from last year’s class because of innings include Arizona righty James Farris, St. Louis’ James Norwood (who tops out in the upper 90s), Virginia Tech’s Brad Markey, righty Tanner Griggs (Angelina JC), righty Jordan Brink (Fresno State), lefty reliever Tommy Thorpe (Oregon), righty Michael Knighton (Central Alabama), and righty Zach Hedges (Azusa Pacific).
The key to these pitchers this year will be about development. Working with Cubs pitching coordinator Derek Johnson (formerly of Vanderbilt) saw Underwood and Clifton rebuild their motions, workouts, and mental approaches to the game. With a plethora of prospects, Johnson will have his hands full going between Eugene, South Bend, and likely Myrtle Beach to see some of these prospects pitch. I think Norwood, who struggled at times last year, could develop some consistency under Johnson’s guidance. Already, Norwood can throw 97 easily; he just can’t command it consistently. That is what Johnson does as pitching coordinator – he takes what someone does well and improves upon it. If Norwood can hit his spots, he will shoot up the charts in a hurry with his 97 mph heater.
Here is how the class of 2014 might be placed this year
South Bend – Starters: Clifton, Stinnett, Norwood, and Farris. I don’t expect Stinnett to stay long at South Bend. This could be a deadly rotation with Josh Conway. Clifton and Conway, along with Eric Leal, formed the better half of the Boise rotation that made the playoffs. Add in Stinnett, Norwood, and Farris and the rotation there could be very good with some high velocity arms.
South Bend – Relievers: Griggs, Thorpe, Markey, Minch, Brink, Hedges, Null (to start the year), and Williams (to start the year). To me, what the Cubs have done with this collection is build a unique variety of arms from the heavy fastball and sinker of Null to the hard throwing Williams and Minch. Add in Thorpe as a lefty and Brink and Hedges, and you have a variety of pitchers that can face a variety of situations.
Eugene – Starters: Sands, Steele, and Willis – There is no rush on these three. They could, possibly, make it to South Bend in August depending on performance. However, I would like them all to get in their thirteen to fourteen starts in short season A just to build up those arms and innings.
Eugene – Relievers: Knighton – still young at 19, Knighton was solid as reliever in rookie ball last year. He had a 3.38 ERA but only had 8 appearances. Eugene will increase that.
Dylan Cease, who is coming off Tommy John, may not see organized ball much this year. His Tommy John surgery was in the middle of July 2014. So, he should be throwing by mid July and he might see action in the Arizona Rookie League this year or instructs in September at worst.
If all goes well this year, the Theo and Jason McLeod drafted pitchers from last year should begin to skyrocket up the prospect charts. Like Duane Underwood did in 2014, I expect Trevor Clifton, Paul Blackburn, Jake Stinnett, and the high school arms from the 2014 draft to do so in 2015. When it comes to the college arms taken in 2014, I am not quite sure. They performed in limited action in 2014. It will be easier to see what they can do in a full season worth of work.
James Farris is one I think could surprise evaluators this year. He doesn’t have high end stuff, but he hits his spots. In the Midwest League, that could be deadly. It will be interesting to see what Tyler Ihrig can do as a reliever this year at Daytona. I guess you could say that about every pitcher that is promoted from last year.
When it comes down to it, this will be the fourth full year of the Theo Epstein regime. Along with Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and a revamped scouting and development system, they have rebuilt the Cubs system from the ground up. The thing most people don’t understand is that hitters develop quicker than pitchers. For pitchers, their development takes a little longer. At the lower levels, most starters top out at 100 innings. At Double A that figure gets bumped to 130-150 and Triple A hopefully finds a pitcher throwing 150-170 innings. Looking at Pierce Johnson and CJ Edwards, the Cubs top two pitching prospects, they have yet to top 120 innings in any one year.
When you ask a pitcher to throw 180-200 innings a year, it takes time to build up that strength. The Cubs are doing that. They have a nice collection of pitchers who are developing, some faster than others. At Class A Kane County in 2014, it resulted in a Midwest League Championship. Those arms, a mixture of draftees and international signings, are slowly creating a wave of pitching heading toward Chicago. It will still be a two years (2017) before that wave of pitchers currently at Myrtle Beach hits the shores of Chicago. Johnson could trickle in late this year and maybe Zastryzny and Perakslis next year, but in 2017, there will be several arms, ready, on the shores of Lake Michigan that came courtesy of the draft.