Mark Zagunis

Schwarber Goes Down, Zagunis Comes Up

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In a stunning turn of events this morning, OF Kyle Schwarber was sent down to AAA Iowa to work on getting back to being an excellent hitter. Schwarber’s struggles are well documented and I hope that he can figure things out. No one said that development is linear and Schwarber’s has definitely not been this season.

The Cubs also placed Jason Heyward on the 10 Day DL and recalled relief pitcher Dylan Floro. Joining Floro in Chicago will be OF Mark Zagunis. Zagunis is known for his eye at the plate and exceptional OBP. He does have some power and should see action in LF. I would think he would be perfect in a leadoff or number 9 hole role.

The Cubs are in Miami and play at 6 Central tonight.

Here is the article I wrote about Zagunis heading into the season.

 

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.

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 Weekly – The End of the First Month Is a Bit Crazy

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By Todd Johnson

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is May 1 and that a whole month of the 2017 season will be completed today. The major-league team is in first place while Myrtle Beach and Tennessee have climbed into second. And low A South Bend is now tied for first in the Midwest League. That’s a pretty good week for an organization.

Meanwhile, over here at Cubs Central, the Players of the Day Facebook feature has been going very well. At times, it’s been hard to pick only just one player for either a hitter, pitcher, or reliever of the day. We also put up a page on this site that just lists who won the award for that day.

Since today is the end of the month, that means tomorrow Cubs Central will release it’s April minor league All-Star team of Cubs prospects. To begin, the post will contain a video made with Google Slides. I think it might be better viewed on a computer or a tablet rather than a phone, unless you have a large phone. On Tuesday, we will publish the top 10 baseball cards I made from April.

Draft News
The MLB Draft takes place in less than six weeks. It will be here sooner than we think. The Cubs first four picks are at #27, #30, #67, and #105.  Some of the top draft evaluators began to publish their top 100 prospect lists. So far, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America both released their top 100. Which prospect could be sitting there waiting for the Cubs to select them?

MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis have the following players ranked where the Cubs are set to draft,

  1. Will Crowe – SP – South Carolina
  2. Evan White – 1B – Kentucky
  3. Greg Deichmann – OF – LSU

Similarly, Baseball America has:

  1. Nick Allen – High School SS
  2. Brian Miller – OF – North Carolina
  3. Taylor Walls – SS Florida State

I like Will Crowe being at number 27 and Deichman being at number 67 on MLB’s list. I don’t think the Cubs will select a first baseman, something that they haven’t done since 2012 in Jacob Rodgers. As for Baseball America’s list, they could be dead on with the Cubs taking shortstop Nick Allen, but I don’t think the Cubs would take either Miller or Walls.

Some of the names we profiled this offseason that made Pipeline’s top 100 include.

  1. Colton Hock; 91. Michael Gigliotti; 85. Tyler Johnson; 62. Mark Vientos; 53. Garrett Mitchell; 51. Alex Scherff; 48. Clarke Schmidt; 37. Hagan Danner; 35. Brendon Little; 31. David Peterson; 29. Nick Allen; 16. Jake Burger; and 10. Nick Pratto

On Friday night, David Peterson of Oregon struck out 20. I don’t think he’s going to stay at 31 and it is more than likely that the Cubs will not have a chance to select him.

Roster moves
Kyle Miller was promoted from South Bend up to Myrtle Beach on Friday. Ryan Kellogg also was activated after spending spring training playing for Canada in the WBC. To make room, Myrtle Beach released reliever John Williamson and Jeremy Null. Cubs Central wishes them both the best.

Around the System
Iowa: 1-4:; 10-12 overall – fourth place
Ian Happ keeps on hitting home runs. Outside of Eddie Butler, the starting pitching rotation is not doing very well at all. If it doesn’t improve soon, look for some changes to be made including the promotion of a couple of pitchers from Tennessee

Tennessee: 5-3; 13-10 overall – Second place
This team is starting to hit and now has Jacob Hannemann  back with the club. Clifton, Hedges, and Tseng have been outstanding in the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape as well.

Myrtle Beach: 5-1; 13-10 overall – Second place
Everything is clicking for the Pelicans. They are getting timely hitting to go along with an excellent bullpen and a solid starting rotation. Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Pedro Araujo, and James Norwood have been dynamite out of the pen

South Bend: 5-2: 14-9 Tied for first place
This team has been playing great at the plate for the past two weeks. One key in the last 10 games has been the resurgence of Kevonte Mitchell. He seems to be putting it all together hitting over .300 in his last 10 games and raising his average to .261 entering today’s game against Fort Wayne.

Extended Spring Training
Michael Cruz should destroy short season pitching. He may not make it to Eugene in six weeks. He could be at South Bend by then. Eloy has not played in over a week. That is a little concerning. However, Aramis Ademan has been outstanding on offense and defense. I sometimes wonder if he is going to skip Mesa and go right to Eugene this year at 18 years old.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week
Sometimes, I make cards just to go with a specific post. Such was the case on Saturday when I put out a 1985 Topps Reproduction with Adbert Alzolay.

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Upcoming posts
April MILB All-Star team
Cards of the Month
The Weekly

My Posts on other sites this week
Cubs Insider
Myrtle Beach Update
Nick Allen Profile
Tyson Miller Profile

BP Wrigleyville
Game 18 Recap Reds 7, Cubs 5
The Reincarnation of Justin Steele

Iowa Cubs Preview – Helping to Win Championships

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By Todd Johnson

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There are currently 30 pitchers on the Iowa roster. 15 of them should be cut by opening day. As for who those 15 who make the roster will be, it’s a crapshoot right now. However, I do think there are certain pitchers who could be of value to the major league club later this summer. In fact, there are upwards of 10-12 prospects who could help the big league Cubs at some point in 2017.

2016 Review
Last year the Cubs went 67-76. I consider that to be a miraculous record because of a number of injuries sustained in the first month of the year that decimated the starting rotation. It seemed as though the Cubs were always playing catch-up. On the other hand, Iowa produced several prospects who helped the Cubs win the World Series including catcher Wilson Contreras, outfielder Albert Almora, pitcher Carl Edwards, and pitcher Rob Zastryzny. This year there could be as many as ten players who could help the big league club in some form or fashion.

Starting Pitching
Ryan Williams has had an outstanding spring. After missing almost all of 2016, the big lumberjack his back and his command of pictures down in the zone was evident in his time with the big league club in spring training. Throw in Alec Mills and Eddie Butler and you have three arms who could fit nicely at the back of the rotation if needed. However next year, all three could be in a position with some AA pitchers to replace John Lackey and Jake Arrieta. Keep close eyes on Mills and Butler as they could be key replacements in case of injury this spring, especially if Brett Anderson or John Lackey goes down.

Relief pitching
Former starter Pierce Johnson has had an outstanding spring and has reinvented himself as a reliever. I think he gets the first call up and Cub fans plans will love his arsenal of pitches. The fans will also love his laid-back personality and sense of humor. Jose Rosario is another reliever who could help this year, but I think the key one is going to be lefty Jack Leathersich who is going to be fully healthy after coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago.

Position Players
Jeimer Candelario’s retention as a Cub has been surprising. I thought for sure he might get traded during the off-season for starting pitching. Right now, Jeimer picked up where he left off last spring. The switch-hitting first baseman and third baseman is showing why the Cubs are still hanging onto him as he sprays the ball from both sides of the plate.

There was no doubt that Ian Happ was the star of spring training. Word came late tonight that Happ would be assigned to Iowa. For Happ, the only thing he needs to work on is hitting consistently. While his OBP is always near .400, his batting average fluctuates greatly throughout the season. The streak he has been on this spring is pretty much standing operating procedure for him. In the past, a slump would eventually come. I am hoping that this year it does not.

Catcher Victor Caratini displayed his bat that many have been waiting for since he was traded to the Cubs from the Braves. Now that he has two years of catching in the Cubs system, I am hoping he improves his defense some more as it appears his bat his major league ready. In the case of an injury to Montero, Caratini could get the call this year. However, his bat is still far ahead of his defense. That should be the goal for him as he projects to be the backup in 2018.

Another prospect who could help this summer is Chesny Young. Young has turned into a utility player getting time in at 6 positions last summer in Tennessee. In addition to being a hitting and walking machine, Young has shown some power lately. He hit a four last year in Tennessee and has two this spring with the Cubs. With a .313 career MiLB average, it won’t be long until we see him in Chicago. I think he will feast on PCL pitching this spring and summer.

I think Bijan Rademacher and Mark Zagunis are very close to making it to Chicago as bench players. Rademacher can play all three outfield positions, hits left-handed, and is actually getting much better every year, especially when it comes to power (see yesterday’s grand slam for an example). Zagunis has the best plate discipline in the organization and his ability to draw a walk is going to get him to Chicago this year.

Sleeper – I don’t think he’s a sleeper anymore, but Pierce Johnson looks to be the breakout prospect of the year in Iowa. It took a few months, but he looks great coming out of the pen.

Probable Daily Lineup
LF – Zagunis/Happ
CF – Andreoli/Happ
RF – Rademacher/Happ
3B – Candelario/Young
SS – Kawasaki/Young
2B – Bruno/Happ
1B – Candelario/Dominguez
C – Davis/Caratini
DH – Young/Happ

First to be Promoted – Johnson has to be close as the Cubs big league bullpen is a little long in the tooth, especially in the back end with Davis, Uehara, and Duensing all over 30 and Rondon and Strop coming off injuries. It is not a question of if now, but when for Pierce.

Next Up Series: Mark Zagunis Is Just a Walk Away from Chicago

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By Todd Johnson

zagunis 85 2016 iowa

Let’s be clear about one thing, Mark Zagunis is one of my favorite Cubs prospects.  His 2016 season is proof why. To begin the year, he was assigned to AA Tennessee. He displayed excellent pitch recognition skills and an approach that is major-league ready. He went on to have his best season in Tennessee (.308/.406/.453) along with a couple months at AAA Iowa (.274/.360/.486). I thought that at the beginning of August that he was hitting so well, and driving the ball into the gaps, that he would make an appearance in September in Chicago. However, an injury to an ankle sidelined him for the rest of August. Now that 2017 is here, I am excited to see what happens this year.

zagunis 65 2016 iowaCurrent Info
Mark Zagunis
6’ 205 lbs.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Strengths
Pitch recognition
Amazing on-base percentage
Developing power

Areas of Concern
Defensive skills

Next Up in 2017
He will be at AAA Iowa to begin the year and could be the first outfield prospect called up to Chicago.

What I would like to see
I see Mark Zagunis as an elite hitting prospect. He may not have as much power as some people want him to, but I don’t think that he really has to, either. I see him more as a leadoff hitter in the major leagues or a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order.

He has shown the ability time and time again to get on base throughout his career. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be able to do that at the major league level. Sure, there will be sometimes he gets caught watching the paint dry, but even the best hitters have them happen occasionally. I see him hitting ninth for the Cubs occasionally this summer and fall. Imagine the runs he could score with Kyle Schwarber, Bryant, and Rizzo behind him and all he has to do is get a walk, which is his natural proclivity.

He’s never going to be at 30 home run guy, but he doesn’t need to be to be successful. It is extremely rare to find someone with a natural eye like Zagunis.

MLB.com’s Prospect list has close to the same analysis. They say: 

While he’s an on-base machine, Zagunis doesn’t do anything else better than average and likely is more of a fourth outfielder than a regular. He has played some center field as a pro but fits better on the corners with his average speed, range and arm strength.

I don’t agree with that entire statement. If he gets on base with an OBP of .400, he’s playing every day somewhere.

A New Prospect List for a New Year

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mission-2017

There are times where I don’t want to do my Top 21 Prospect List. The longer I continue with the list being on the site, the more I want to shave it down to about 10 prospects. The main reason is after about 13 or 14 prospects, I’m splitting hairs to find the differences between prospects. About a month ago, I told myself I wasn’t going to do one this winter. I would just let the list “ride” and only change it if there was a big trade.

That lasted until I get bored on Sunday night. Even though it is still technically listed as a top 21 list, it’s more like a smattering of prospects. What I’ve done this time for 15-21 is just put a bunch of names out there for the reader to either pick from and to see how ridiculously deep the system is. It’s an ala carte where the reader would pick the six they like to be on their list. I don’t really place that much emphasis on who is #21. I’d rather focus on who could be #21.

From 11-15, I broke them down with mini-stat biographies. I also included one of my wonderful homemade cards along with an ETA. As for my top 10 prospects, I put what I did for them down below. To see the whole list, go here


10. Jose Albertos – Pitcher
albertos 64 2016 az
Age: 17
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – 97 mph fastball, command
ETA – ?
The young 17-year-old out of Mexico throws between 95-97. He was outstanding in extended spring striking out 20 in 12 innings. Then in his first start in Arizona, He struck out 7 in 4 innings before leaving and being placed on the 60-day DL. He was supposed to be at fall instructs. He will be one of the most interesting storylines in 2017.


9. Eddy Martinez – Outfielder
eddy 85 2016 sb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills – Rocket Arm, power potential
ETA – 2019
He is the perfect case of not judging the stat line. When he arrived last year, he had a big swing and a big zone of pitches at which he liked to swing. The Cubs changed that. He started taking more walks each month. I am expecting a much-improved hitter in 2017. I think he has developed enough to turn into a RBI machine next year, especially if he hits behind Eloy again.


8. Mark Zagunis – Outfielder
zagunis 85 2016 iowa
2017 Affiliate – Iowa/Chicago
Top Skills: pitch recognition, power potential, on-base machine
ETA – 2017
He was the most improved hitter last year. He destroyed AA in May hitting .333 with 3 HRs and a .444 OBP. I was extremely excited to see him promoted. In June and July, he was equally as exciting at AAA. And then came the toe injury that ended his season at Iowa. In 2017, he should get a shot to see what he can do in Chicago. Expect to see him every day in spring training with the big league club.


7. Tom Hatch – pitcher
hatch-77-2016-instructs
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command, and control
ETA – 2019
In one draft of this list, I had him at #6. He is such a good pitcher, though, in that he has 4 very good pitches he can throw for strikes at any time. I like his command and his control as he mixes and matches to each hitter. He made his debut pitching BP in fall instructs. I can’t wait to see him pitch in a real game. He likely could be the first pitcher in the Theo Era to be fast-tracked.


6. Trevor Clifton – Pitcher
clifton 85 2016 mb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
If he can go deeper into games, he could become a #3 pitcher quickly. All three of his pitches are there this year and his K/BB totals are very good. I like that he is much more aggressive this year throwing any of his pitches in the count for a strike and throwing inside. While his walk rates plummeted, his pitch counts were high, which is normal for a strikeout pitcher. I think 2017 sees him being more efficient and getting to the 7th inning every game.


5. Oscar de la Cruz
oscar 82 2016 sb
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
He was in Arizona the first half of 2016 nursing a sore forearm. He was supposed to start the year in South Bend. He made a three-inning start in Arizona and then a five-inning start in Eugene. He made his debut for South Bend on 7/30. He looked sharp, topping out at 96 and showing a plus curve. He continued pitching for South Bend through the playoffs. Combined, he had a 2.80 at all three levels. Still, the velocity was not quite where it was in 2015. He will start 2017 at Myrtle Beach.


4. Jeimer Candelario
jeimer 69 2016 iowa
Age 23
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
He had a great spring training and I was taken aback when he was sent to AA. When he was promoted to Iowa in June, he took off hitting .333 with 9 HRs and 52 RBIs in the second half. Right now, there is no real place for him in Chicago. I think the young switch-hitter might be used in a deal this offseason. For now, though, he is being kept for depth.


3. Ian Happ
happ 85 2016 tenn
Age: 22
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee/Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting power, can play 4 positions
ETA – 2018
I am not quite sure what to make of him. In the first half, he had 7 HRs and 42 RBIs. Not bad for a second baseman. His second half was not so kind. He hit .262 with 8 HRs and 31 RBIs. In July, he hit .222, and in August, .232. He will back at Tennessee in 2017 to develop some more consistency. Still, hitting .279 with a .365 OBP along with 15 HRs with 73 RBIs is nothing to sneeze at in his first full season of pro ball for a second baseman.


2. Dylan Cease
cease 69 2016 eug
Age: 21
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
The Cubs controlled his outings after a forearm strain. It looked like the Northwest League challenged him to work on his secondaries and he responded well. That’s what he needed. His curve was more fluid coming out of his hand and his strikeout totals shot up after that adjustment. He still worked a lot of deep counts, something he needs to improve on in 2017.


1. Eloy Jimenez
jimenez-85-2016-mb
Age: 20
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
In 58 games in the first half, he hit .343 with 9 HRs and 49 RBIs. Those projected out to basically 20 HRs/100 RBIs at Low-Class at A ball. Injuries in the second half cut those short to just 14 HRs and 81 RBIs. He did have a great game at the Futures Game, stealing the show. He received several accolades such as MWL Prospect of the Year and MVP, Baseball America’s Low-Class A Player of the Year, and Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. But here’s the thing – He’s nowhere close to his power potential. I still think we don’t start to see that until he hits Tennessee.