Luis Ayala

Friday Six Pack – Dillon Maples Leads the Hot List

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By Todd Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July All-Star Team Filled with New Faces Including 4 Draft Picks

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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.

The Weekly – Closing In On Playoff Spots, Baseball Cards, and Traveling to Beloit

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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

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web
BP Wrigleyville:
Why Jose Albertos Should Take Over the Top Spot
Brandon Hughes Profile

Cubs Insider:
11 Cubs Pitching Prospects Taking Off in July
Baseball America’s Midseason List Spurs Debate
Trent Giambrone Interview

The Weekly: Theo Puts Out Some Flames, Draft Signing, Promotions

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By Todd Johnson

The first half of the major league season concludes today. With an underwhelming record of 43-44, the Cubs are not in a free fall, but Theo Epstein was everywhere this week commenting on the state of the Cubs. While not necessarily damage control, it sure came across as such. Whether it was a press junk Thursday or appearing on Speigel and Parkins on the Score on Friday, Theo put forth the company line.

Here are a few excerpts from the two days.

  • To pull ourselves out of it, we just need to play better.
  • Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will, but our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that’s largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years.
  • There’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.
  • Guys need to continue the growth they’ve shown in previous years and get ourselves out of some of the disappointing performances that we’ve had so far. It’s as simple as that. The answer is not going to be with some crazy trades.

What does bode well for the Cubs in the second half is the Strength of Schedule. The Cubs have 74 games left to play after today. It is not a very strong schedule. Iin fact, in the second half, the Cubs only play teams with a +.500 record 21 times. 6 vs D’Backs, 10 vs Brewers, 3 vs the Nats, and 2 against the Rays. That’s just 3 games in July, 9 in August, and 9 in September. That is hopeful that the Cubs can make a run at both the Brewers and the Rockies.

July Series: Orioles, Braves, Cardinals, White Sox, Brewers

August Series: D’Backs, Nationals, Giants, D’Backs, Reds, Blue Jays, Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Braves

September: Braves, Pirates, Brewers, Mets, Cardinals, Rays, Brewers, Cardinals, Reds


Promotions and Movement
There were several minor league roster changes this week and I expect there to be even more next week as draft picks are assigned to a club. By rule, after the ink has dried, the Cubs have only 15 days to put the new Cub with a team.

To Iowa – P Jen-Ho Tseng, reliever Justin Hancock

To Tennessee – P Adbert Alzolay, P Zach Hedges

To Myrtle Beach – P Duncan Robinson, 3B Adonis Paula

To South Bend – 3B/1B/OF Joe Martarano for a few days, IF Austin Upshaw, C Tyler Payne, DJ Wilson

To Eugene – RP Casey Ryan. RP Brian Glowicki, RP Jacob Steffens, OF Brandon Hughes, 3B Austin Filiere, C Michael Cruz, 2B Jared Young, and IF Joe Martarano is back after a few days

More happenings will be coming this week as draft picks finish mini-camp.


The Draft Signing Period Ends

The Cubs officially signed a staggering 29 picks, the most in the Theo Era. The Cubs were able to ink first rounder Alex Lange, 6th round pitcher Jeremiah Estrada, and young Puerto Rican OF Nelson Velazquez on the last day. Here is the official list and who they signed are in bold. Later this week, I will be back with a post about who is where and how they are doing.

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Other Posts Coming up this week on Cubs Central
Jose Albertos Debut in Eugene
Draft Pick Assignments
State of the Cubs Post: Dissecting Theo’s Remarks
Dylan Cease Review
A Top 21 List without Caratini

Around the Minors This Week
The Cubs named Thomas Hatch and Victor Caratini as the June Pitcher and Player of the Month. As a result, my streak of correctly matching with the Cubs ends. I had Bijan Rademacher as my hitter. 

Iowa: 3-4; 38-48 –  The bats went a bit silent this week. I did see the new guy, Carasiti, close. He looks like he could help as he throws in the mid-90s.  

Tennessee: 4-4; 9-7 – Preston Morrison had a great start this week and looks to have righted his ship. Can’t wait to see Adbert at this level.

Myrtle Beach: 3-4; 6-10 – Eddy Martinez and Matt Rose are having great months and Dakota Mekkes still has not allowed an earned run at high A. The starting pitching that was so dominant in June has fallen off this month.

South Bend: 5-2; 7-10 – They look to be turning it around. The bats are waking up and Tyson Miller had his best outing of the year in a spot start against Dayton when he K’d 7. Draft pick Austin Usphaw looks like the real deal. If they can improve their defense and get somee stability in the bullpen, they could go on a run.

Eugene: 2-5 ; 13-11 – Tied for First
Lots of new bodies in town and it could change things as players now compete for playing time. Jhonny Bethencourt is having a nice run now in the leadoff spot and Jared Young is much bigger and better that I thought. He has a nice smooth stroke. I got to see Jake Steffens make his debut on Saturday in relief. He throws downhill quite a bit. He will be tough to square up. 
Manuel Rodriguez came in throwing 96 last night in relief. He struck out 9 guys in two games in relief this week. A

Mesa: 2-3; 5-7 – Not a good week for the bats to quiet down. The starting pitching is still a work in progress. Carson Sands had another good start in his rehab. 

DSL 1: 5-2; 15-16 – They are finally getting some good starting pitching and had a good week.

DSL 2: 4-2; 16-15 – Alonso Gaitan continues to rake as this squad is now putting up some crooked numbers every day.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web
BP Wrigleyville:
Trent Giambrone Interview Part One
Last Sunday’s Game Recap

Cubs Insider:
Arizona Fall League and Rule V Draft
June Affiliate Review
Isaac Paredes

 

The Weekly: A Sweet Two Days and It Is MiLB Playoff Crunch Time

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By Todd Johnson

There are 108 games left in the Cubs’ season. They are currently 1 game out of first place. That’s a lot of time to make up 1 game. Even if this was July 1 or August 1, I still would be OK with where they are at. Even being 1 GB on September 1st would still be fine. For me, the ultimate goal is to get back to October by October.

The past two days have been pretty sweet, though. With two victories against the Cardinals, the atmosphere is beginning to feel a lot like last year and 2015. The Cubs have a chance to sweep tonight and I like those chances with Kyle Hendricks on the mound.

More Mock Drafts
Yesterday, I read a two round mock draft from John Sickels who had a community of baseball executives select picks. The person representing the Cubs selected #27 Alex Lange – LSU Pitcher; #30 Logan Warmoth – SS North Carolina; and #67 high school pitcher Steven Jennings. I liked the pic of Lange a lot. He has a bit higher floor than other pitchers and I think with some professional coaching he could be a quick riser in the system. I would slide him in the top 10 prospects almost immediately. Like Hatch, Lange would not pitch until next year as he has already pitched a full season for LSU.

No heavy hitting Chad Spanberger of Arkansas was anywhere to be seen in the two rounds. I will have more information tomorrow about six players rising and falling.

Minor League Happenings
There are now exactly two weeks left in the first half of the minor league season. Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend are all in the hunt for a spot. It’s hard to believe that half the season is almost over. For Tennessee, they are the only team that holds their destiny in their own hands as the only 1st place Cubs affiliate.

Iowa: 2-4; 24-30
Seth Frankoff is starting to make a name for himself at Iowa. After two solid starts this week, his ERA has dropped all the way down to 2.79. Should there be a need for a spot starter, he would get the call. Also, Stephen Bruno and Taylor Davis are two of the hottest hitters in the Cubs’ system. While Davis did make last month’s All-Star team, I wonder how long he and Bruno will stay much past this year. Both are 26 and have not gotten a shot in Chicago.

Tennessee: 1-5; 30-25
Despite losing five of six this week, they are still in first place by ½ a game over Chattanooga and Montgomery. They ran into some bad luck this week and had some bad pitching themselves. To finish the first half, they have three five-game sets against Jackson, who are a game and a half out, Chattanooga who are one-half a games out, and Birmingham, who are not in contention in the other division. The only good news this week was Trevor Clifton’s six inning start. On the other hand Zack Hedges, Preston Morrison, and Duane Underwood all gave up more than seven runs apiece. I think they’re happy to forget about last week.

Myrtle Beach: 4-2;  31-25
Thomas Hatch looks like he has finally arrived. He had two starts in the past week. In the first one he went 5 and 2/3 innings pitched and struck out 13. Last night he went 6 and 1/3 while striking out 5. He has put together three really good starts in a row. Matt Rose hit two home runs this week, and Eloy finished the week strong after and 0-9 skump.

South Bend: 4-3; 32-21
Duncan Robinson head two seven-innings starts and struck out a combined 15 batters. Luis Ayala continues to terrorize baseballs had over a .400 to clip the past two weeks. Along with new South Bend Cub Roberto Caro, the two have made a formidable bottom of the order. The problem for the Cubs is getting some consistent starting pitching from Tyson Miller, Jose Paulino, and Manny Rondon. They are four games out of first place and one behind Dayton for the wild-card position. Last year the playoff race came down to the final game of the first half before the Cubs clinched a playoff spot. It’s déjà vu all over again.

DSL 1:

DSL 2: 0-1; 0-1

Extended Spring Training per “The Cub Reporter”
Trey Martin’s rehab is going exceedingly well as he has been bashing the ball around a lot. Two names are emerging as possible breakout candidates, too. Shortstop Rafael Narea is putting himself into the SS competition with his daily hitting performance. His glove may not be as good as Aramis Ademan’s, but Narea’s hitting sure is. Rafael Mejia is another hitter who has been hitting well lately. The catcher/first baseman also has a bit of power.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

Coming Up

I am pretty sure the next week will be consumed with two things: the draft and pitching prospects. While the draft is eight days away, there is a lot of volatility as players move up and down the list, some based on performance, some based on projections, and some based on signability. I am sure there will be a profile of a prospect and maybe an update on a pitcher or two.

My Posts on Other Sites This Week

Cubs Insider
Draft Review
Myrtle Beach Update
South Bend Update
Thomas Hatch
Preston Morrison

BP Wrigleyville
Oscar de la Cruz

The Annual Eugene Emeralds Preview of a Preview

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By Todd Johnson

2016 could not have gone any better for the Eugene Emeralds. Manager Jesus Feliciano led the club to their first Northwest League title in over 30 years. In addition, the Emeralds broadcasted their home games on MiLB.TV which allowed for Cubs fans all over the country to watch.

The Emeralds were led by a devastating starting pitching rotation anchored by Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Bailey Clark, Pedro Silverio, and Bryan Hudson. They used team speed and timely hitting along with good defense en route to an amazing 54-22 record.

When it comes to the 2017 Emeralds, today’s preview is actually a preview of a possible preview in June. Once spring training camp breaks the first week of April, extended spring training begins. Over the course of those next 10 weeks, the roster for the Emeralds will begin to take shape. This year, it should be a mixture of players from last year’s Mesa team, last year’s Dominican summer league teams, and position players and relievers from the 2017 MLB draft. The roster is usually pretty fluid because of pitching limits for draft picks who already played a full season of college or high school baseball.

Who Can Emeralds’ Fans Expect to See in 2017?

The two names that come to the forefront the most at are pitcher Jose Albertos and shortstop Isaac Paredes. Both are 18 years old and were signed out of Mexico as international free agents.

Card made from a picture by Bill Mitchell/MiLB

Albertos only pitched for innings in 2016 but throws mid to upper 90s heat and commands his fastball at will. He was shut down for most of the season after straining his forearm in his only start in Rookie League for Mesa. However, the buzz and hype on Albertos is quite large and quite real. He entered most Cubs prospect lists as a top 10 prospect.

As for Isaac Paredes, the young shortstop is well-built and a hitting machine. He hit over .300 in rookie ball at 17-years-old and he got a little glimpse filling in at South Bend for a couple weeks at the end of 2016. He should be in Eugene to start the year where he will play shortstop and maybe see a little third-base.

Both Paredes and Albertos should advance quickly this year. They may only be in Eugene for the first half.

Pitching

Depending on who the Cubs draft, I think we’re going to see a decidedly Latin feel to the Emeralds starting rotation. Javier Assad was the ace of the Mesa staff last year. He comes with a low 90s fastball and is still working on his secondaries. 2016 draftee Matt Swarmer looks to have added some weight this spring and is an interesting pitcher who is very, very raw when it comes to professional skills but seems to be picking up things at a very fast rate.

Two pitchers who also missed all, or most, of 2016 include Jesus Camargo and 2016 draftee Stephen Ridings. In 2015, Camargo was the top starter for the Mesa team and last year Ridings missed all season after being drafted. Camargo has good control while Ridings throws in the mid-90s and has some issues he needs to work out when it comes to where the ball goes. 

Position players

Card is made from a picture by John Arguello

In addition to Paredes, Second baseman Delvin Zinn is one of the best athletes in the Cubs’ system.  The Cubs originally drafted Zinn in 2015 but he chose to go to Mississippi State. He never did play for the Bulldogs instead going to junior college. The Cubs redrafted Zinn last year and he saw a little time in Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League. In just a short tenure at Mesa, his skills improved dramatically. This showed how open he was to coaching. I expect him to be one of the most exciting players to watch for the Emeralds this summer as he has great speed and the 19-year-old should improve hitting over the course of the 74-game season

Catcher Michael Cruz brings some left-handed power to a position the Cubs normally don’t draft high. The 2016 draftee spent most of his time last year working on his defensive skills in Mesa. I think this year we will see his bat play more in short season ball. As a result, he may not be in Eugene long.

Another key hitter will be catcher Gustavo Polanco. The converted first baseman has a definite hit tool as he led Mesa in hitting in 2016. He has a short compact swing that has yet to translate into home runs. Outfielder Luis Ayala should provide a calming effect at the top of the order as a pure hitter and a player who can get on base and set the table for the lineup.

More than likely the Cubs will take prep bats with their first two picks in the 2017 draft. As a result, expect only college players to show up and to begin to play immediately in Eugene after being drafted. In fact, I expect the Cubs to have a lot of draft picks in the bullpen.

Depending on how they do in extended spring training, Emeralds’ fans might be getting some of the top 2015 international free agents. Shortstop Aramis Ademan and catcher Miguel Amaya are defensively ready to play short season ball. Extended spring will test whether their bats are. 18-year old pitchers Brailyn Marquez and Faustino Carrera are two other left-handed pitchers who could crack the rotation at Eugene with a solid spring.

There’s a lot to like here on the Eugene roster, but they will need some time to develop. Right now, the pitching may be a little bit of ahead of the hitting, but there will be a lot of 18 to 20-year-old kids who will be learning the art of professional baseball. 

The actual Eugene roster will be listed somewhere between the 15th and 17th of June. This will be just in time for the season to begin.

Sleeper Prospect

I really like Marquez to be the breakout pitcher of the year. At 6’6”, Marquez seemed to have a natural feel for pitching last year in the Dominican Summer League. As for hitters, I think Delvin Zinn hits the mark for his natural athletic ability that will help him transition at the plate and in the field.

First to Be Promoted – Paredes/Cruz/Albertos