MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs Actually Has Power

By Todd Johnson

MLB Pipeline’s All-Star Team for Cubs’ prospects actually has some pretty good power and power potential. You would think that a system ranked in the bottom five of farm systems by several sources (Baseball America, Keith Law, Pipeline) would not have a lot of power potential. Au contraire, my friend.

Piepline’s All-Star Team begins with their #87 prospect Miguel Amaya, who cranked out 12 HRs. 1B Jared Young hammered out 17 as did 2B Trent Giambrone and SS Zack Short. Jason Vosler rounded out the infield with 23 dingers. That’s 86 infield HRs. That’s not too shabby for minor league guys.

When I make MiLB all-star teams, I normally just do them on a monthly basis, by the half, or a preseason team. This is a pretty good list for what my 2019 preseason team will look like on the infield except for maybe Nico Hoerner.

When it comes to the outfield this year, MLB Pipeline went with Mark Zagunis, Roberto Caro, and Zach Davis. All three hit well enough to deserve their spots this year with Caro and Davis doing it across two levels. What is missing, though, is power. None of three hit many extra base hits but they did get on base at a pretty good clip. Davis had a wRC+ of 111, Caro was at 186 (wow!) in 38 games at South Bend and 113 in 41 games at Myrtle Beach. Zagunis was also at 111 with just 24 XBHs on the year.

However, come next year, there could be some different names in the outfield including Nelson Velazquez along with 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis.

As for pitching, Pipeline acknowledged Cory Abbott (Cubs Central POTY) as the top right-handed starter. Eugene’s Faustino Carrera was named the top lefty this year over Brailyn Marquez and Brian Glowicki got the reliever nod over Dakota Mekkes. Those are three very different arms.

It’s an eclectic mix of players that were given the accolades. A year from now, things could change quite a bit in pitching as well. A few players will be coming back from injuries, a few could be traded this winter, and some guys might just breakout. You never know what will happen.

For this year’s group, though, their plaudits are well deserved through a mixture of performance, talent, and grinding it out.


2018 Affiliate Reviews: South Bend’s Deep Starting Staff Was the Highlight

By Todd Johnson

2018 Record

Strengths and Highlights
Starting Pitching – From the beginning of 2018, South Bend was supposed to be most exciting franchise/affiliate to watch because of its starting pitching. It didn’t start out that way as elite prospect Jose Albertos began a struggle that lasted all year. But Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, Cory Abbott, Brendon Little, Javier Assad, and Ricky Tyler Thomas did do very well for the Cubs Midwest League affiliate on the mound. Later, Jesus Camargo, and Brailyn Marquez were two more solid pitching prospects to grace the bump for the Cubs. About half of the starting pitchers went on to have success at Myrtle Beach while two (Lacy and Thomas) wound up being traded in the Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez trades.

South Bend also produced one of the top closers in the system in Brian Glowicki who turned into a bulldog on the mound in the last month of the year. He did not allow an earned run in August. Add in the success of Brendan King, Enrique de los Rios, and Garrett Kelly and it was a pretty good year for pitching for the Cubs.

At the plate, most, but not all, of the Cubs struggled. In the beginning of the year, first baseman Jared Young and catcher Miguel Amaya were a nice back-to-back power duo. Young wound up in Myrtle Beach in July while Amaya caught almost every day in July and August but still showed a burgeoning bat with 12 HRs on the year and a wRC+ of 114.. In addition, Christian Donahue and Delvin Zinn displayed they can be successful role players. Austin Filiere struggled at times in the first half of the year but seemed to rebound and was very good at the plate the last six weeks of the season.

2019 Roster
A few players who ended the season in South Bend could be back to begin the 2019 season in the Midwest League. Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is the most obvious. Outfielder Jimmy Herron, the Cubs third round pick in 2018, could return for a short stint or he could even start the year in Myrtle Beach.

However, most of the roster will be made up of players from the lower levels of the Cubs system. There are usually prerequisites to get to South Bend. First is Mesa, then Eugene. However, in recent years, some prospects have been skipping Eugene altogether and going straight from Mesa to Indiana with only a pit stop in extended spring training.

There will be no shortage of pitchers and hitters for Jaron Madison to select. There are over 100 rostered players between the two Mesa teams and Eugene to squeeze onto the 25 man roster in South Bend to begin 2019. And that’s pretty much the theme for the lower part of the system in 2019.  That competition will only benefit the Cubs in the long run and increased focus for each and every prospect.

Nelson Velazquez, Fernando Kelli, and Jonathan Sierra should be in South Bend manning the outfield on day one but will 2018 draft picks Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, and Edmond Americaan give them a run for their money?

The most interesting battles I see coming in 2019 will be over the starting rotation. Riley Thompson is the guy I want to see most next year. Armed with a 95 mph fastball, he’s going to be facing some stiff competition with Faustino Carrera, Yovanny Cruz, Didier Vargas, Jack Patterson, Eury Ramos, Brailyn Marquez, Jesus Tejada, Peyton Remy, Blake Whitney, and more to start every sixth day.

I am not going near the bullpen at this point or who might even be in the infield. There are lot of prospects to fit in and too many questions to answer.

2019 Sleeper
He didn’t see any action in 2018 after pitching for Arkansas in the College World Series. However, that might not stop reliever Jake Reindl from doing well in 2019 with his experience at such a high-level in a power conference.

The Weekly: Bryce Rumors Begin, AFL Starts This Week, Miguel Amaya News, and a Review Preview

By Todd Johnson

It only took a few hours after the Cubs lost to the Rockies for the Bryce Harper rumors to begin anew. The sports betting company Bovada put the Cubs at even money to sign Harper when free agency begins after the World Series ends. While the Cubs do have a good shot at signing the soon-to-be free agent, it is definitely not a sure thing. Although, I sure do like the Cubs chances. You can figure out who’s going to play where later.

And in other MiLB news, the Cubs will be back at Tennessee in 2019. Considering the PDC is only for two years means that the two sides are going to be working some things out between now and 2020 or the Cubs will have a new AA home in 2021.

BA League Top 20s
Baseball America continues to release it’s top 20 prospect lists in each of the minor leagues. The Cubs did not have a top 20 prospect  in either the Pacific Coast League, the Southern League, or the Carolina League. This week, the Cubs got off the schneid as catcher Miguel Amaya was named the number 12 Prospect in the Midwest League. BA described his offensive talents well:

“Amaya took a big step forward this year with his power, as he hit nine home runs and slugged .500 in the first half of the season before wearing down in the second half. Amaya does chase out of the strike zone too often and needs to improve his ability to recognize breaking balls, but he has future average or even above-average power.”

AFL Preview
The Arizona Fall League is set to begin on Wednesday Tuesday, October 9. The Cubs have a total of nine players who will be on the roster for the Mesa Solar Sox. Most of the players played their 2018 season at Myrtle Beach.

2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner looks to be the prospect to watch every day. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against such advanced competition after only getting in 49 at bats as a pro this summer before an elbow injury forced him to miss the last six weeks of the season at South Bend.

I’m excited to see how well several other prospects do in this advanced setting. Reliever Bailey Clark is going to be one player I will watch with great anticipation. As well, I’m curious as to how outfielder DJ Wilson will do and hopefully he can stay healthy.

According MLB Pipeline, pitcher Justin Steele might be the Cubs’ sleeper prospect. They said, 

“Steele was just starting to come into his own when he blew out his elbow in August 2017, but he returned to the mound earlier than expected (11 months later) after Tommy John surgery. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph, also can dodge bats with his curveball and has made encouraging progress with his control and command.”

Other Cubs prospects playing in the league include pitchers Erick Leal and Manny Rondon, catchers Jhonny Pereda and PJ Higgins, and 2B Trent Giambrone.

Preview of Affiliate Reviews
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be releasing the 2018 season reviews for each of the Cubs’ stateside affiliates. I’m going to start with AAA Iowa and work my way down to South Bend this week. Next week, I will cover Eugene and the two Mesa clubs.

While the first half of each article is technically a review of the 2018 season, The second half looks at which prospects should be promoted to the next level and which prospects should be arriving from the level below. The hardest part of projecting next season squads came down to who is going to be in the rotation at each affiliate. A lot of that still has to be determined come spring training.

Card of the Week

A New Top 21 List Drops Today With a New #1

By Todd Johnson

The last time I redid the top 21 list was back in June, shortly after the draft. I waited to do the list again because I want to see how the regular season played out. I wanted to see the newest draft picks play over longer periods of time and I wanted to see some of the Cubs’ younger players in the lower minors get longer looks. I got everything I wanted, so there are no more excuses.

At one point in the last month, I thought about having a tie atop the list at number one. While I really like Miguel Amaya, he wound up catching about 80% of South Bend’s games and was just completely worn out in August and some warts in his game began to show.

I really like SS Nico Hoerner a lot, too. Watching him play at Eugene and seeing him play in person for South Bend, and on TV, I came away extremely impressed with his size, his physicality, his athleticism, and most importantly, his potential.

The differences between Amaya and Hoerner are not big. For a while, it was going to be a straight up tie.

And then all that changed.

When the Cubs announced that Nico was going to the Arizona Fall League, I perked up quite a bit. He originally could have be ready to play somewhere at the end of August/early September. I didn’t think there was a rush to send him to play in even more games in October and November. His assignment is a clear indication of the amount of faith and trust the Cubs have in this young guy. 

Miguel Amaya will slide into number two while Adbert Alzolay drops down to number three after missing most of the 2018 season.

I thought that there would be a lot of moving and shaking this year on the list and there was. Today’s list will be completely different a year from now. This past summer’s international class will get some action. Many of this year’s draft class will get to full season ball, and a lot more action will take place.

Here is the latest incarnation of the Top 21 List.

The Weekly: Draft Picks Impress and Miguel Amaya Makes 2 Lists

By Todd Johnson

The good news for the week is that Miguel Amaya became the first Cub prospect in over a year to make onto a Top 100 list. Miguel did so at 97 for MLB Pipeline and again over on Baseball America at 100. That’s kind of exciting for a system on the rebuild. The bad news is he’s been in a slump for about two weeks. For a few days this week, Miguel was the only active catcher at South Bend. The 19-year-old has been going non-stop for two weeks since the Futures Game. He needs a little breather.

Meanwhile, Down in Mesa

The Cubs 1 team in the Arizona League brought home a first half division title and a playoff berth this week. That’s pretty exciting. The team is a mix of recent draft picks, some juco players from 2017, and several international guys. 

Draft Pick Play

Tomorrow, I am publishing my interview with 31st round pick Clayton Daniel. Daniel, who is currently at South Bend is doing fairly well through great bat-to-ball skills. But Daniel is not the only draft prospect beginning to make a name for himself.

This week, Eugene’s Zach Mort and Riley Thompson both had good starts on the mound for the Emeralds. Mort went 3 IP with 7 Ks while Thomson flashed a 95-97 mph fastball in two scoreless frames as he converts from being a reliever into a starter.

Jimmy Herron, a former Duke OF and the Cubs current 3rd Round pick, was promoted to South Bend Monday and immediately inserted in CF for the Cubs. I was there for his debut on Monday and he looked a little nervous at the plate. He calmed down over the course of the week. What I like most about Herron is that he can go get a ball in CF and he has an amazing eye at the plate. In his first three games, he was able to draw four walks by laying off pitches out of the zone. The bat should come around quickly.

Mesa OF Edmond Americaan went on a tear this past week. So far in 8 games, the former Chipola JC player, who hails from Curacao, hit .357 in that span with a .438 OBP. It will be interesting to see how fast he progresses. Americaan was signed by the Cubs on the last signing day with an overslot deal even though he was picked in the 35th round. The 6’1” lefty has room to grow and a good track record playing for one of the best JC programs in the country.

There is always a surprise. Every year. It never fails. This year, the pitching surprise goes to Blake Whitney. Whitney hails from an obscure college known as South Carolina-Upstate. But that does not matter. What does is his performance in July. He’s put up a 1.26 ERA in 5 starts for Mesa 2. In addition, Whitney has struck out 19. He has walked 8 which accounts for his 1.40 WHIP, but he is getting better every start. On Tuesday this week, he went 4.2 IP and struck out 9 in an outstanding performance.

It took him a few games, but non-drafted free agent Grant Fennell, who demolished balls in Mesa, is now in a groove for Eugene. I really like what I have seen from his bat this week along with his ability to play all over the field. He went 11 for 25 from the 22nd through the 29th. That’s pretty impressive! He earned the hitter of the week award for his efforts!

You can always check out how all the draft picks are doing here, which has their cumulative stats.

Coming This Week at Cubs Central
On Wednesday – The July All-Star Team
On Thursday – The Cards of the Month
On Friday – 40-Man Roster Considerations

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

MLB Pipeline’s New Top 30 Cubs Prospect List Reveals a New Young Base of Talent

By Todd Johnson

I figured this year would be a season where there would be a lot of variation of players moving up and down my own prospect list. Usually, MLB Pipeline is pretty conservative when it comes to adjusting their own list. They aren’t so herky-jerky and prospects take a lot of time to move around on the list. Today, MLB Pipeline released their new top 30 list that included recent draft picks and international free agents. Based on the year that several prospects are having, I thought there would be a lot of turnover throughout the list. There was.

What Was the Least Surprising Thing?

Everybody and their mother knew last week when Jim Callis answered my MLB Pipeline inbox question if Miguel Amaya would be “the cream of the Cubs’ crop.” Here is what MLB Pipeline said about Amaya’s growth in 2018:

Amaya is starting to make the same type of impact offensively, showing feel for the barrel and the ability to make consistent contact from the right side of the plate. He’s doing a better job of waiting for pitches he can do more damage against, allowing him to tap into his power. He moves decently for a catcher but isn’t a factor on the bases.

Another thing that was not very surprising to see the number of players moving up and down the list. There five new additions to the list and one player returned to the list. Otherwise, there was not a lot of separation between the prospects, but that will be changing as the 2016-2018 draft and international free agent classes make their way up the organization.

What Was the Most Surprising Thing on the List?

Seeing lefty pitcher Brailyn Marquez all the way up at number 4 was quite surprising. Then again, Marquez has the type of talent that has everyone picking their jaws up off the floor. Marquez, who is only 19, has gone from the low to mid 90s to the mid to upper 90s on his fastball.

On the other hand, Thomas Hatch fell all the way down to #20. I thought he would drop but not all that far. The 2016 third round pick has struggled at times this year at AA. MLB Pipeline said the following about his fall from grace: “He hasn’t missed as many bats this year in Double-A, leading to some thought that he might be better suited for middle relief than the back of Chicago’s rotation.

Who is New to the List?

Trent Giambrone, Richard Gallardo, Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, Erling Moreno, and James Norwood.

I was glad to see Giambrone make it along with Norwood. As for Moreno, he is not technically new, he is back on the list. Roederer, meanwhile, is off to a good start in Mesa and could rise fast next year along with fellow draft pick Brennan Davis. Both Roederer and Davis could easily make their way into the top 10.

Who is Missing?

I really like Jared Young as a hitting prospect. He dominated the Midwest League from April through June and is doing the same in July at Myrtle Beach. Young will more than likely be named the Cubs Hitter of the Year at the end of the season, Duncan Robinson has put together a good year at AA Tennessee. He’s had a rough patch in July, but for the year, he has been a steady force for the Smokies.

Who is is now off the list?

Jen-Ho Tseng, Alec Mills, Javier Assad, Bryan Hudson, Jeremiah Estrada, and Wladimir Galindo all fell off. In the future, I would not be surprised to see Assad, Hudson, Estrada, and/or Galindo back on the list.

In the offseason, MLB Pipeline will release another list at some point. It will be different, too. It might not have six players change, but there could be 3 or 4 of this year’s draft picks get some more action over the next 5 weeks of the MiLB season and more development in fall instructs. The system has a new breath of life and that should continue to improve with the majority of elite talent at 18-19 years of age.

For your information, here is the old list from the end of 2017.

Some New Cubs Prospect Lists Have Some New Names at the Top

By Todd Johnson

Now that the draft is complete and the big ticket international free agents have mostly been signed, it is that time of the year when prospect lists start flying out. Two came out this week along with a sneak peak of another. I originally was going to redo my top 21 list after international free agency, but I decided to postpone that until there is either a big trade or the end of the MiLB season. I thought there was too much happening in the Cubs’ system and I wanted to see how the draft picks performed, especially at the plate. That is turning out to be a wise choice.

Photo by Todd Johnson

However, that’s not stopping other sites, magazines, and evaluators from releasing their own.

2080 Baseball broke the ice with their own top 125 prospects. Lo and behold, there is a Cub on a list for the first time since Eloy was traded. Coming in at #120 is none other than Miguel Amaya. They projected Amaya to arrive in 2022. That’s not a bad time frame for a still 19-year-old backstop who is still maturing. 2080 description of Amaya was brief. They said: “High-end defensive backstop showing more advanced than expected offensive tools in first year of full-season ball.” Coming out of the prospect desert of the last year, I’ll take it.

Baseball America followed that list up on Thursday by releasing their top 10 midseason Cubs’ prospects on Friday. To not many’s surprise, Amaya was atop that list. I was surprised to see Oscar de la Cruz still on there after his suspension for a masking agent. As well, 16-year-old Richard Gallardo made the list at #10. That’s a pretty high ranking for someone who is still growing and won’t debut until fall instructs and play in real games until next June.

In addition, Nico Hoerner popped in at #4. I liked that Baseball America suggested Hoerner would fit at second base as that’s where I see him fit best in the long run. When he returns from his injury, though, I am sure the Cubs will keep him at short for the time being.

Earlier in the week, I asked Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline two questions about their upcoming Top 30 List, which should drop this next week or the week after. I asked, “How many Cubs’ 2018 draft picks will make their top 30 and is Miguel Amaya now the cream of the Cubs’ crop?” His answer looks like there is a solid consensus about the system’s top prospect.

Amaya, the starting catcher for the World team, will be the No. 1 prospect when we redo our Cubs Top 30. He’s very advanced for a 19-year-old catcher, displaying quality receiving and framing skills along with a quick transfer that enhances his average arm strength. He also makes consistent contact at the plate and could have 15-20 home run power.

Three of Chicago’s 2018 Draft choices will crack the Top 30. Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner (first round) will rank in the upper third, while high school outfielders Brennen Davis (second) and Cole Roederer (supplemental second) will fit in the middle of the list.

I am really excited to see how that whole list shakes down. It’s been a strange year in the Cubs’ system as there have been some breakouts, some falls from grace, some injuries, and some natural development along with the addition of 32 draft picks and several free agents, both foreign and domestic.

Right now, I am most interested in how the recent draft picks will fit on my list. They still have six weeks left in their debut seasons. I don’t want to to be too risky and place them too high, nor do I want to place them too low. But Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis might change perceptions about the lack of elite talent in the Cubs’ system along with Richard Gallardo and some of last year’s 2017 picks. I am excited to see some more evaluations.