By Todd Johnson
While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.
Breakout Hitter of the Second Half
This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.
But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.
Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half
This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.
But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.
Breakout Reliever of the Second Half
I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball. Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.
But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.
When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.
More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.
By Todd Johnson
Last week, Baseball America released its new top 100 prospect list that included draft picks from the 2017 MLB Draft. There was not a Cub to be seen. There were three former Cubs, but no one who is currently in the system. Over the next year, I tend to believe that one or two Cubs prospects might make it onto either MLB.com’s Top 100 list or Baseball America’s Top 100. If I was to invest money into who those prospects might be, I would have a wide array of choices in which to invest.
The Cubs have a lot of prospects who are on their way up. By that I mean, they are ascending players as their skills and tools begin to improve. There are other prospects who have shown glimpses of immense talent but have not put it all together yet. They are still developing.
At first I tried to organize my investment choices into categories based on risk and reward. There were players who I thought were a high-risk vs. investing in others who were a low risk. I scrapped that idea pretty quickly.
I narrowed the categories down to three. The first one would be long-term investments. These could be recent high school pics like Luis Vazquez and Nelson Velasquez to go along with several young international free agents who are currently in the Dominican Summer League or in Mesa. It’s going to take awhile for them to approach Top 100 status.
The second category is players who could take a couple years to develop before they hit the top 100. Miguel Amaya is one player whose defensive attributes garner attention but the bat still lags behind a little bit. First-round pick Brendon Little is a perfect example of someone who is going to take a couple years to develop and a lot of that is because of his age and lack of experience. Then again, his curveball could accelerate his development.
The final category is players who I think have a decent shot at being included on a top 100 list by the middle of next summer. I call these these One Year Bets.
Jose Albertos – Currently at short season Eugene, I think the 18-year-old pitcher is the top prospect in the Cubs’ system. He should be a top 100 prospect by the middle of next year if he continues to pile up innings and gain experience. I think he’s getting that experience this year, but next year will really propel him up a list. If things go well the last month, he could make a list this winter.
Adbert Alzolay – I am extremely impressed that he has been able to maintain his velocity and health over the course of this year as a starter. He doesn’t have the biggest frame which makes his ability to sustain a 96/97 mile an hour fastball into the sixth and seventh innings that much more impressive.
Duane Underwood – Over the past month, something is happening for the 23-year-old right-hander. I don’t know what it is specifically. But I do know that he is able to command his pitches better, get more strikeouts, and work deep into games. Over the past month he has a 1.33 ERA in five starts. If he can do that at the beginning of next year for AAA Iowa, he may find himself in Chicago by the middle of the summer. He just turned 23.
Aramis Ademan – I think he has the most tools of any position player currently in the system. He’s yet to put everything together. We see have seen brief glimpses and runs of greatness as well as stretches of inconsistency. I think his bat is further along at this point then many people thought it would be and his defense has not peaked where others may have thought it should be.
Alex Lange – I really like what he brings to the table and I think once he gets going as a full-time pitcher next year, he is going to shoot up the rankings. Even though he was drafted behind Little, Lange’s experience in the SEC will move him along at a much faster rate. I would not be surprised to see him be on the list before anybody else.
Mark Zagunis – Right now, I don’t think there’s a better pure hitter and a better eye at the plate in the organization than Zagunis. He’s going to be close to a 20 home run pace this year in spite of starting the year somewhat injured. I don’t really know if he fits the mold is a top prospect, but his performance and his exceptional approach at the plate raise him high above any other prospects. The problem is not his floor, it’s his ceiling.
Kevonte Mitchell – We have seen glimpses of Kevonte busting out this season. Of the five months that make up the 2017 season, he’s had one good one, two mediocre ones, and two excellent ones. He’s been very impressive in the second half especially in August. I think if he comes into camp ready to go, he could take the Carolina League by storm next year. Physically gifted, he is an imposing figure as anyone in the Cubs system. It’s just a matter of him putting it together which he has started to do this year with better pitch recognition and approach.
Oscar de la Cruz – Injuries look they put his career in slow motion. It was a shoulder strain this season, forearm tightness last year. But when healthy, he throws 93-95 with ease. He can command a curve and a change along with his fastball. For him to make any list, he has to get healthy and put in some innings.
By Todd Johnson
One of the things the Cubs management has shown a proclivity to do is to promote their top prospects in the waning weeks of the season to participate in the MiLB playoffs. This year, Myrtle Beach clinched a spot back in June by winning the first half. Eugene is just one game behind Boise for another spot while Tennessee is 3 1/2 back. Iowa is nowhere near a spot and South Bend is 10 games back despite having the best record of any Cubs affiliate this year.
No one is going to move up from Myrtle Beach to help Tennessee win. There are few players in the Arizona Rookie League who could wind up in Eugene to give the Emeralds a little push. But the biggest transition of talent is likely to come from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans were brilliant in the first half. Promotions, trades, and injuries remade the roster as they have limped to the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half.
Myrtle Beach is in need of some offense from the outfield, a starting pitcher, and some bullpen help. Here are a few players who could matriculate their way to Myrtle Beach to help the Pelicans win their third straight Mills Cup Championship.
DJ Wilson – The Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Month for July is the most likely prospect to head east. A natural center fielder, Wilson could slide right into the Pelicans’ lineup and provide some much needed punch from the left side. After spending the better part of June on the DL, Wilson returned and has been drawing more walks than before. He would fit right in as a Pelican.
Kevonte Mitchell – Another outfielder, Mitchell would provide some serious right handed power. In the second half, Mitchell is putting together a nice stretch of baseball showing patience and power at the same time. Just this month, he’s hitting .303 with a .425 OBP.
Bryan Hudson – The tall lefty starting pitcher has put together a good second half. In August, he has made two starts with a 0.90 ERA and has allowed only 2 ERs in his last 4 starts. For the year, he has a 3.00 ground ball to air out rate.
Jose Paulino – While he currently is a starter, Myrtle Beach needs bullpen help and that is what Paulino could provide. After struggling as a starter in April, Paulino worked his way back to the rotation over the course of May and June. In July, he had 2.20 ERA in 4 starts.
Wyatt Short – As the lefty closer at Eugene in 2016, he did not allow a run all season. This year has been a bit of a struggle at times. He has looked much better as of late with a 3.48 ERA in the second half of the year.
Mark Malave – The former catcher looks to be adjusting fine in his third year since switching to pitching. He’s struck out 20 in 20 IP since being promoted to South Bend to go along with a 2.70 ERA.
While it might be nice for the Pelicans to get all six players, odds are it will only be a couple of players arriving. I think Wilson will be get the call for sure. As for who the pitcher could be, I will be just as surprised as you.
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.
By Todd Johnson
This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.
On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.
As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.
By Todd Johnson
The big league club went 4-1 at home this week and has won 7 out of 8 since the break. They now sit one game behind Milwaukee and are 5.5 games behind both Arizona and Colorado for a wild card spot. There are 66 games to go.That’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Jose Quintana goes tonight against the Cardinals on ESPN at 7.
That late start time for the Sunday game works great for me as I will be back in Beloit at 2 p.m. today watching South Bend play the Snappers, the A’s class A affiliate in the Midwest League. Yesterday, I got to interview reliever Wyatt Short and recent draft pick Austin Upshaw. I hope to talk to hitting coach Jeremy Farrell today about Kevonte Mitchell and Isaac Paredes. I will be going back to Beloit Monday night, but probably just as a normal fan.
I posted several pics I took last night on the Pics/Video page. You can see close up at-bats on video of Kevonte Mitchell, Isaac Paredes, Austin Upshaw, and Luis Ayala. I will add some more pics/video from today when I got home and there could be a few more on Monday.
For the month of July, I have made almost 150 baseball cards. The pictures have just been so good that I cannot stop. They are all stored on our Facebook account. It will be hard to pick just ten for the Cards of the Month.
Around the Minors This Week
Iowa: 3-5; 45-53 – Pitching still seems to be a big issue except for Jen-Ho Tseng. He went 7 IP last night and now has a 1.40 ERA in 3 starts at AAA. In a weird set of circumstances on Friday, John Andreoli was injured on one play, replaced by Bijan Radmacher, who was then injured on the very next play.
Tennessee: 2-3; 16-12 – Between the raindrops along the Gulf, the Smokies have run into some starting pitching issues. Hopefully, those can be resolved quickly as they are now tied with Montgomery for a playoff spot.
Myrtle Beach: 4-4; 12-16 – The bats have not woken up since the Eloy trade. Pitcher Michael Rucker has been amazing and Duncan Robinson had his best start since being promoted. Vimael Machin continues to hit since moving to high A.
South Bend: 3-3; 15-14 – It looks like they have their bullpen issues resolved, now they need to solidify the starting pitching. Carson Sands had 2 rough starts on his way back from having bone spurs removed this past winter. On the other hand, I have been impressed with Tyson Miller the last few starts. I will get to see his slider Monday.
Eugene: 4-3; 21-16 – Their first half ends today. If they win and Hillsboro loses, they make the playoffs. Hopefully the Emeralds can get it done. Miguel Amaya seems to have broken out of his slump the last four games and his average is up over .200 to .220. #1 draft pick Brendon Little debuts on Tuesday against Salem-Keiser. Also, Jesus Camargo looks a little too advanced for short season ball. His changeup is other wordly at this level.
Mesa: 2-4, 7-16 – It is becoming all about the draft picks. Chris Singleton seems to fit in the leadoff spot and Ramsey Romano and Cam Balego continue to rake at .400 clips. Pitcher Brendan King from Holy Cross made a start on Saturday and went 3 IP while allowing a run.
DSL 1: 2-3; 21-20
DSL 2: 2-4; 21-21 –
Draft Pick News
Alex Lange is the only draft pick that is left to be assigned to a team.
Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central
Another Jose Albertos Start
Dakota Mekkes Interview Part 2
South Bend Turning It Around
Second Half Surprises
Brendon Little’s First Start
Austin Upshaw Profile
By Todd Johnson
The days of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber tearing up the minors with gigantic home runs are gone. That power has not been replaced. Still, there are a few Cubs prospects who have the potential for power. Most notable on the horizon are Ian Happ., Eloy Jimenez, Yasiel Balaguert, and Jeimer Candelario. They could, at any time, drive the ball over the fence. However, there other prospects who have the potential to do so, yet they have not done so with any regularity. Here are six prospects who could become the next power Cubs prospect.
6’4” 195 pounds
Somewhat hobbled by an injury this year, Rose only has 6 HRs in 95 ABs this year. However, a low average has kept him down in the past. Since returning from his injury, he’s been on a nice 10 game tear hitting .314 with 2 HRs. He has the potential to do very well. Last August, he had 7 HRs at South Bend. He has great balance with his feet during his swing, I think he just needs to be a little more selective as a hitter and look for certain pitches in certain zones to maximize his power potential.
6’4” 245 pounds
The former Boise State Linebacker is now playing baseball full-time. He will likely be assigned to Eugene this summer. He has been playing some outfield in extended spring versus 1st and 3rd where he played before. Originally drafted by the Phillies and then by the Cubs in 2014, he last played for the Cubs in 2015 where he only played 18 games ut hit .305. In high school, Martarano was known for his hitting skills before committing to Boise State to play football. A broken leg has changed his career plans. Football is out and baseball is in now. His bat has been drawing rave reviews from Arizona Phil in his EXST game reports.
6’4” 185 pounds
He has been up and down this year. At one point, he had a nice ten game run with 3 mammoth home runs. The next two games saw him go 0-11 with 6 Ks. He is seeing the ball well. When he is on, he is very selective and does well. When he is in a rut, he is not.
The first thing I used to notice about Jason Vosler when he was at South Bend was that he did not use batting gloves. In 2017, he is now at AA Tennessee. The first thing I noticed is gloves are now present. What Vosler does do well is barrell up the ball. He hit 10 HRs between South Bend and Myrtle Beach in 2015 and only 3 between Myrtle and Tennessee in 2016. This year, the 23-year-old 3B has 7 HRs and 23 RBIS while hitting a robust .310 with a robust .421 OBP. I enjoy watching him hit as he is quick to the ball and uses all fields.
Rice is now at AA Tennessee and has punishing the baseball the last two weeks. In that span, he has 4 HRs and his average has gone .237 with a .338 OBP to .310 with a .421 OBP. Last year, he was second in HRs in the system with 15 to Yasiel Balaguert’s 19. I thought Rice could hit 20 in the mountains of Tennessee versus Myrtle Beach, a noted pitcher’s park.
I have yet to see Cruz hit live or on TV. Currently, he is the position player I want to see most in 2017. That will come to end soon. He will either be in South Bend soon or when Eugene starts its season in the middle of June. The 2016 7th round pick out of Bethune-Cookman has been held back a bit to work on his defense. Last year, he played in 40 games after being drafted and hit 2 dingers in 40 games while hitting .238 with a .370 OBP. The left-handed swinging Cruz has been tearing it up in EXST. I think his bat might be better than we think. The question, though, will his defense hold him back in spite of his bat? I cannot wait for June to get here just to see him.
With two picks, basically, in the first round, the Cubs have the opportunity to add a special bat or two. They are not going to get a Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber type of bat, but they can get a player who has the potential for power. This year’s draft is big on pitching and shortstops at the top of the draft. There are only a few power bats, most from the college ranks, available.