Justin Steele

The Weekly: Good News Around the System and Draft Signings

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By Todd Johnson

Even though there are now eight minor league games a day, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. The draft is complete, the second half began, and all the rookie and short season leagues are in high gear. Yet, here I sit wondering what to write about for the next week. There are, however, good things happening throughout the Cubs system. Here are 14 of them.

1. Trent Giambrone is on fire. He’s hitting .361 with 4 HRs and 8 RBI over his last ten games.
2. Thomas Hatch has allowed one earned run all month. That calculates to a 0.33 ERA.
3. Isaac Paredes, all of 18-years-old, has figured it out at South Bend. He’s hitting .316 and slugging .526 as a shortstop this month.
4. Catcher Alberto Mineo looks to have mastered South Bend. He’s hitting at .323 clip this month.
5. I thought Vimael Machin was going to be a utility/organizational player this year. He has proved me wrong. He is hitting .311 in June and .289 on the year.
6. Justin Steele’s ERA for just May was 1.63. In June, it is 1.62.
7. Charcer Burks is the most unheralded Cub prospect going. He’s hitting .353 for the month and .309 on the year. And, he is a gold glove defender.
8. Victor Caratini’s monthly averages this year are .312, .366, and .333.
9. Bijan Radmacher is on a tear this month. He’s hitting .375 with a .455 OBP
10. Eugene’s Gustavo Polanco has everyone beat in his first 9 games. He’s crushing it at a .486 clip. His OPS is a staggering 1.311.
11. Joe Martarano might be better than I thought. After missing most of 2 years while focusing on football, he’s going at it. He has a .385 average and a .455 OBP. I really like his at-bats. Even when he makes an out, he works counts and lays off stuff out of the zone.
12. Yapson Gomez is the bomb out of the pen for Eugene. He threw 6.1 IP this week and struckout 8.
13. I watched Alex Lange pitch for LSU on Friday. He’s the real deal. He’s not a MLB #1 starter, but he and his curve will do just fine.
14. Carson Sands made his first start of the year in Mesa last night. He had elbow surgery in the off-season to remove elbow splints. He went three scoreless with 6 GB outs.

Draft Signings: 17 to date
The MLB Draft was moved back a bit this year. As a result, draft picks who had normally signed and started playing short season ball are just now getting their physicals. It looks like the Cubs could sign as many as 28-30 players this year.

Rounds 1-10: LHP Brendon Little, RHP Cory Abbott, RHP Keegan Thompson, RHP Erich Uelmen, LHP Ricky Tyler Thomas, 3B/1B/OF Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, and RHP Brian Glowicki

Rounds 11-20: RHP Casey Ryan, RHP Brendan King, RHP Peyton Remy,

Rounds 21-30: RHP Sean Barry, RHP Mitch Stophel, RHP Jake Steffens, RHP Braxton Light, and 2B Cam Balego

Rounds 31-40: IF Ramsey Romano

They should game begin action later this week, most likely in Mesa. The more advanced college players will go to Eugene. There are a few others rumored to be signed, but their physicals must be completed before the signing becomes official. The deadline day to sign is July 15 at 4 PM,  CDST.

Promotion Commotion
Daniel Spingola made his way to Tennessee this week. Conor Myers is back with Myrtle Beach after being with Eugene for the past week.

Around the Minors


Iowa: 3-3; 32-43 – This starting pitching thing will hopefully straighten itself out in the next couple of weeks. Zach Hedges was much better in his second start. He will adjust.

Tennessee: 0-3; 0-3 – The second half got off to a rough start with a tropical storm and then losing both ends of a double header. Trevor Clifton was roughed up in his worst start of the year.

Myrtle Beach: 1-2; 1-2 – Going into Friday’s start, all five starting pitchers had ERAs under 3.18 for the month. Then Ryan Kellogg was uncharacteristically shelled by Down East. Michael Rucker was dominant last night in 5 IP before a rain delay ended his start after only 56 pitches.

South Bend: 1-2; 1-2 – First game back and Zack Short hit a HR. Manny Rondon thn had his best start of the year Thursday and Jose Paulino moved to the bullpen this half. I will have to keep an eye on that rotation. Bryan Hudson was excellent last night. Dylan Cease should be coming up.

Eugene – 3-3; 5-5 – Gustavo Polanco es en fuego and Yapson Gomez has been money in the pen. And who is Jhon Romero (Yes, that’s how he spells it)? 2B Rafael Narea seems to have taken off since he was moved to the leadoff spot. He went 3 for 4 with 2 BBs last night. He’s batting .344 with a .488 OBP.

Mesa:  1-0; 1-0 – Opening day went very well except for that one part where they batted out of order. However, Delvin Zinn did well (2-5) as did Rafael Mejia (3-4, HR). Carson Sands had 1 K in his 3 innings.

DSL 1: 1-4; 5-13 – It was a rough week. Let’s leave it at that.

DSL 2: 2-3; 8-10 – This team has some serious starting pitching but can’t score a lot of runs.


Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Cubs Articles on the Web from this Week

BP Wrigleyville: Thomas Hatch

Cubs Insider: Alex Lange

First Half Cubs MiLB All-Star Team Has Some New Faces

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This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.

If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.

Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.

Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.

I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.

Cubs Breakout Prospects for the First Half Flash MLB Potential

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By Todd Johnson

Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.

Hitters
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.

Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.

Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.

Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).

Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.

Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.

Pitchers

Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.

Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.

Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.

Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.

Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.

Breakout Player of the First Half


Adbert Alzolay
– He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.

Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.

On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.

The May All-Star Team Breaks Precedence with 8 Starting Pitchers

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By Todd Johnson

April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.

Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive  I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.

I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.

Let’s get right to this month’s list…

Team Breakdown
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)

For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.

Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.

The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.

The Friday Six Pack – It’s Been a Great Month for Pitching

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By Todd Johnson

The trade talk for the Cubs right now surrounds the acquisition of a starting pitcher, preferably one who is signed beyond this year. Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article yesterday that listed some possible candidates who might be available this summer. Names included Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer and every Tampa Ray known to man. The price will be steep if the Cubs decide to go that route.

On the other hand, I was watching/listening to the Myrtle Beach game last night and I started to work on a post for next week. My monthly minor league All-Star team for May has some intriguing options. Usually, for a starting pitcher to be considered to make the team, the ERA is most often near or below three. This month four players who met that standard would not make the team. Zach Hedges is at 3.23, Adbert Alzolay, 2.91, Seth Frankoff, 2.76, and Jen-Ho Tsen, 2.70.

Granted, the month is not over. With six days to go, all of the pitchers listed in this post have one start left. So, it is technically still in a state of flux. That being said, today’s six pack shows just how deep and rich the Cubs starting pitching has been this month at AA Tennessee and high A Myrtle Beach.

Here are the six leading candidates to make Cubs Central’s May All-Star Team. They also could be considered to move up a level here in the next month around the draft. None of them should come as a surprise if you have been reading as I have written about all of them but one this month.

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Oscar de la Cruz 2.63 ERA
What impresses me most is that he works fast. He gets in a rhythm and just throws. He doesn’t necessarily rely on the strikeout, but he can if needed. Last night he struck out ten.

Preston Morrison 2.50 ERA
As usual, he had a crappy April and has had three quality starts in May. I wrote about him earlier this week. He gets great movement on all his pitches and he combines that with great strategy to baffle hitters.

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Trevor Clifton 1.85 ERA
He might be my favorite pitcher to watch. When he is on, it looks like his arm is made of rubber as to how effortless he throws. He also has the best pickoff move in the organization. It’s a bit of an under reported weapon for him. He is off to his best start as a Cubs prospect.

Bryan Hudson 1.23 ERA
He stayed in EXST to begin the year. He made 2 starts in April and his ERA was 10.13. In May, he’s been a ground ball machine averaging over 10 a game. In four starts, his 1.23 ERA is more indicative of the type of pitcher he’s becoming. The 6’8” lefty is moving up lists this summer. He just keeps gaining more and more confidence.

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Justin Steele 1.19 ERA
Good for him! He is the kind of kid you can root for. He is still working on some things, but his stuff this year has been compared to Lester’s. However, he still needs to get his command down. Even though opponents are hitting .250 against him, he’s stranding them on base this year.

Duncan Robinson 0.90 ERA
At the beginning of the month, he was one of the best relievers in the system. Now, the 6’6” righty from Dartmouth has been one of the best starters. He’s gone 13 innings in his two starts and only allowed one run. For the month, he pitched 20 innings combined.I don’t think he is going back to being a reliever. He is the biggest surprise/breakout of the 2017 season.

The next week should be fun to see who makes the All-Star team.

The Friday Six Pack: Early Surprises All Around the System

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By Todd Johnson

It is hard to believe, but April is over in less than ten days! Minor league clubs have two full weeks in and the big league club is finishing its third full week on Sunday. However, this April has not been without some surprises.

Chicago: I am bit surprised to see Kyle Hendricks struggle AND give up dingers. His 6.19 ERA is a bit puzzling. However, I am not surprised to see Albert Almora do so well in the field. It is all he has ever done.

Iowa: I am not surprised to see Jeimer Candelario and Victor Caratini do so well in hitting in AAA. Caratini is having his best year ever as a Cubs prospect while Candelario already has driven in 18 in just 14 games.

Tennessee: I am surprised to see Yasiel Balaguert struggle to start this year. He is starting to come around. Last year, he drove in 95 runs. Last night, a seeing eye-single brought in two. I am not surprised to see Trevor Clifton come out and out work the other team. It’s early in his AA career, but he is off to his best start as a prospect.

Myrtle Beach: I am surprised by the sluggish start of Carlos Sepulveda. I thought he would hit every where he went. Two weeks in and he is just not getting close to .200. I am not surprised the bat of Tyler Alamo. He just works hard wherever he lands. I am very happy to see him get off to a good start as he is one of the nicest kids in the system.

South Bend: No surprise on Dylan Cease and the bullpen – they are both outstanding. I am surprised by the great start of Yeiler Peguero, I knew he would be at least decent this year. I did not see him dominating at-bats and hitting a home run (almost two in one game) this early in the year.

 Extended Spring Training: I was not surprised to see the 2015 IFA class playing with the Eugene team and thriving. I figured Ademan, Sierra, and Perez would hold their own. However, it is catcher Miguel Amaya who is dominating on both sides of the diamond. I am surprised how well Bryan Hudson is doing. He’s thrown 11 innings with 12 Ks and 15 GB outs.

The most surprising pitchers of the first two weeks are Justin Steele of Myrtle Beach and Eddie Butler of Iowa. I really like how Justin Steele is attacking the zone and hitters this year. There’s no more nibbling around the edge of the zone. With Butler, he just pitches well. He has quality stuff and gets people out. It seems as if he finally figured some things out.

When it comes to hitting, I am surprised to see Wladimir Galindo be a well rounded hitter. He goes the other way, often with two strikes and is hitting .327. Although he has one homer, we will see more as it warms up. Before a hamstring injury sidelined, Trey Martin was putting up some good numbers in Tennessee. Always a great fielder, Martin showed an offensive burst last summer for a bit. He was hitting .320 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs in 8 games.

 

Friday Six Pack – Six Prospects off to Sizzling Starts

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By Todd Johnson

The minor league season is now a week old. There have been plenty of fireworks from Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario, but it has been the starting pitching at most levels that has garnered the most headlines. Dylan Cease, Eddie Butler, and Duane Underwood were outstanding along with several other arms including most of the South Bend’s rotation. The hitting, on the other hand, as usual, lags behind to start the year.

Here are six other players who are off to sizzling starts.

1. Justin Steele
Last year was a disappointing one for Justin. He struggled with his command and confidence. This year, he is back on the track that he began with Eugene. He is throwing with confidence. He is attacking hitters and not wasting pitches by nibbling on the outside edges of the zone. His ERA after two starts is now under one.

2. David Bote
For most of July and August of last year, David hit over .400 in leading Myrtle Beach to its second consecutive Mills Cup Championship. Now at AA Tennessee, Bote began this year where he ended last year. Except, this year, he is now entrenched at second base for the Smokies.

3. Isaac Paredes
At just 18 years old, Paredes is the new hitting wunderkind in the Cubs parade of shortstops. After going hitless in two of his first three games, Paredes has begun to turn it on. I think as the weather gets warmer his hitting will improve and that is even scarier thought. It currently stands at .357.

4. Charcer Burks
He saw some time with the big league club in spring training and hit a home run. That has carried over to a great start for the young AA outfielder. With a .310 average and a .394 OBP, Burks has been setting the table for the Smokies’ offense.

5. Tyson Miller
I first saw him last year at Eugene. It was not pretty at times. He struggled to command his pitches and to get out of innings. But then again, that was after playing a full season, taking a month off, and starting up again. This year, he is a totally different pitcher. He’s throwing his fastball about 96/97. The baseball is going exactly where he wants it. Although I did not get to see his first start for South Bend, I really enjoyed watching him work quickly in his second start. I think as it gets warmer he is going to be a name we hear moving up the prospect charts. I really enjoyed watching him pitch. He has good athleticism and his delivery is a little deceptive.

6. Manny Rondon
When he first came over to the Cubs, he was terrible in rookie ball. Then last year, he was dominant in Eugene and was named Northwest League Pitcher of the Year. I did not know if his 2016 season was a fluke or an aberration. After watching him pitch this year, I’m convinced that it was neither of those. Pitching in the Midwest League is a lot different than pitching in the Northwest League. Hitters are much more disciplined at low A ball than at short-season ball. Rondon uses three pitch mix to perfection to baffle hitters. His curveball is not where it should be just yet, but I think it is an effective pitch that will get him to the majors.

There are other players who could’ve made this list but I think these are the six that have really stood out and their games are heads and shoulders above everyone else after the first week.