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
Tomorrow, Cubs Central will publish it’s June Minor-League All-Star team. There will be a lot of new faces on the team, but there could’ve been more. There are several players from Eugene and Arizona who could’ve easily made the team but they have only played half a month. In fact, one of Eugene’s hitters could’ve been “The Hitter of the Month.”
Today, the Six Pack looks at six Eugene hitters who have been doing really well in their first two weeks for the Cubs’ short season class A affiliate.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3″ and 240 pounds, you would think that Martarano would be some sort of big bulking hitter. He’s not. In fact, he’s far from it. He’s very patient at the plate. He likes to wait for a pitch that he can do something with. I initially thought that he would be up and down this year after not playing basically for two years. He’s shown me that he can hit for average, hit for power, and work a walk better than anyone in the Northwest League. Today, he is hitting .385 with one homerun and an on-base percentage of .478.
Miguel Amaya – He is only 18 years old and is easily the best defensive catcher in the entire system. He’s thrown out 7 out of 12 base stealers. And, he is also starting to swing a good bat. I watched him crank his first home run down the left-field line the other night. His natural swing path takes the ball to right center and right field. That’s a nice swing to have for a young player.
Gustavo Polanco – As we profiled on Tuesday, Polanco is off to a great start as a hitter. In his first game, as a catcher, he gave up seven stolen bases. I didn’t think he would catch again, but he caught an excellent game on Wednesday night. I really like him as a hitter, but I’m still not sold his him on a catcher. Then again that’s what short season ball is for.
Rafael Narea – He looks like a little wisp of a guy. There’s not much to him, but he’s already played three positions and when he moved to the leadoff spot, the Emeralds took off winning seven in a row. I think he’s aggressive as a hitter and he can spray the ball all over the field. For the future, I like his ability to also take walk. He’s hitting .326 with an excellent OBP of .436
Jhonny Bethencourt – I didn’t really see this kid coming either and man do I like him. He’s played a little third and a little second base. He hits right behind Martarano in the lineup. He’s been pretty consistent at getting on base all month (.400 OBP) which leads me to believe he is likely to continue to do so.
Aramis Ademan – Nobody got off to a worse start than Ademan. But lately, he’s been turning it on. Since manager Jesus Feliciano moved him from the leadoff into the number two spot, Ademan has been hitting .375 the past six games. He’s had a couple homeruns which I found extremely surprising because because he’s only 5’8″ and 160 pounds soaking wet. He’s pretty smooth in the field, though, but he does make little mistakes by getting a little lackadaisical throwing over to first. He’s going to need to clean that up
The pitching staff for Eugene is relatively young. I think we could be having the same conversation in a couple more weeks about their starting rotation’s talent.
By Todd Johnson
As I have said before, it is hard for a prospect to break out anymore. There is press coverage almost everywhere in addition to photographers and people who can take video. With Mesa and Eugene ready to begin play, here are some names of prospects who I think will grab a few headlines in the second half and propel themselves up several prospect lists.
I did not include top prospects Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan on this list. Technically, they should break out, but most people already know about them. For me, it’s just a matter of seeing them do it this summer on him MiLB.TV.
Joe Martarano – At 6’3” and close to 240 pounds, Joe is quite the presence in the batters box. I saw him for the first time on opening night at Eugene. The thing I took away from his performance was that he does have a really good eye at plate. He might be a little “roller-coastery” this summer as he gets used to playing every day after not playing for two years.
Delvin Zinn – He is beginning this year in Mesa after missing most of spring training. He’s a great athlete and it looks like he’s gonna play second base. With college draft picks coming, I think he’ll be at Mesa most of the summer.
Bailey Clark – I love this kid. While technically a bearded monster, he also has a 95 to 98 mph fastball. He is starting out at Eugene and should eventually spend most of his time this summer playing at South Bend.
Brailyn Marquez – At 6’6” and only 18 years of age, I look forward to seeing what this young left handed pitcher can do. Last year in the DSL he put up an ERA of 1.48. He struck out 48 in 54 IP in the DSL, I doubt he does that in Mesa. I am intrigued to see how he does stateside.
Faustino Carrera – He’s a bit small, so I don’t think he’s destined to be a starter, but for right now he is. He put up a 1.06 ERA in the DSL last year and, like Marquez, I wonder if he if he can do that in Mesa with the same success.
Jonathan Sierra – He looks like Darryl Strawberry, but does not have Darryl’s skills yet. Then again, Sierra is only 18. He hit .264 in the DSL last year with a .384 OBP. That shows me he has a good eye at the plate. He did not have the greatest spring training, but I am interested to see how he hits in Mesa and whether his power stroke begins to develop. Hopefully, he begins to breakout this year. If not, it could take him 2-3 years to do so.
Gustavo Polanco -Last year, he lead the Mesa Cubs in hitting at .322. He is already off to great start at Eugene. Although he started off as a catcher, the 20-year-old moved to first base and is also a designated hitter. At 6′ and 190 pounds, he is pretty much maxed out physically, but he has a great eye for the ball.
Under the Radar
I am sure there will be other players who do breakout. More than likely, most will be players the Cubs recently drafted. I wrote the following at BP Wrigleyville about two top hitters I think might fit the breakout bill.
3B Austin Filiere (eighth round pick) and OF Chris Carrier (ninth round) both have a lot of potential for power. Carrier comes from Memphis while Filiere comes from MIT—neither of which are powerhouse college programs. Carrier is a sculpted physical specimen at 6’2” and 225 pounds, while Filiere’s experience in the wooden bat Cape Cod League might give him an advantage as they begin their pro careers, most likely in Eugene.
2B Jared Young and OF Brandon Hughes are two other college names who could do the same as Filiere and Carrier.
When it comes to pitchers, the Cubs did pick some relievers. Most notable are Casey Ryan from Hawaii, Sean Barry from San Diego, and Brian Glowicki from Minnesota. The starting pitchers the Cubs draft pitch short stints (40-50 pitches) as they already have thrown a full season.
By Todd Johnson
There is a lot of big news to get to this week…
First, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half Southern Division title in the Carolina League, The Pelicans will now have an opportunity to win their third Mills Cup Championship in a row! Sadly, Tennessee and South Bend fell short in their aspirations to make it to the playoffs when both were eliminated on Friday night.
The MLB Draft took place this week and the Cubs selected 41 players including two pitchers in the first round in lefty Brendon Little and Alex Lange. The key now will be to sign between 25-30 of those picks. The deadline looks to be July 15.
EUGENE EMERALDS DEBUT
The Eugene Emeralds opened up their season on Thursday night. They have a couple of elite prospects in catcher Miguel Amaya, who threw out three runners in his first game, and Aramis Ademan, a shortstop who is a defensive stalwart. In addition, 2016 5th round pick Bailey Clark is also on board to anchor the rotation. He had a rough first inning last night before settling in. He should be in South Bend before too long.
This is an extremely young team that needs game experience. I watched most of the first half of each game this week and it is clear that Miguel Amaya is going to be a star. The kid has it all ready to go on defense. On offense, he has a nice inside-out swing that reminds me of Gleyber Torres. In the next two weeks, this roster will change quite a bit as the draft picks come in. Look to see 2B Jared Young, 3B Austin Filiere, OF Chris Carrier, 1B Austin Young, and OFs Brandon Hughes and Chris Singleton, to name a few. There will be several pitchers who arrive in early July.
DILLON MAPLES AND HIS CURVE
I saw one of the best performances all season on Thursday night. Reliever Dillon Maples came into the game for the Smokies in the top of the ninth to close the game. From pitch one, it was evident he did not have command of his fastball. He hit the first batter. The, on cue, Maples began relying almost exclusively on his curve. It is a deadly MLB ready pitch for him. He struck out the next two batters in humiliating fashion, went back to the fastball again and walked a batter. Up came Nick Gordon, one of the top prospects in the game. Maples struck him and made Gordon like silly trying to hit the curve. It was a breathtaking display that showed me that Maples could make it to the majors sooner than we think.
After the All-Star games on Tuesday, get ready for several promotions. Zach Hedges was sent from AA to AAA this week. His debut was a bit rough as he gave up 6 runs in 2 innings before settling down. Expect to see a few names move up in the next ten days. It won’t be a lot, just a few.
- I finally decided to keep the baseball cards housed on Facebook. It is just easier and faster to load over there. On the Cards page above, I will be putting just the Cards of the Month.
- Tomorrow, the first half All-Star Team will be published
- Over at BP Wrigleyville, I have an update on Thomas Hatch’s amazing June
- On Tuesday, I have some breakout prospects to watch for in the second half
- Then, on Wednesday, I will be publishing a profile on Jesse Hodges.
- I will have a second half preview of the major affiliates on Thursday
- Friday’s post examines the DSL teams
- On Saturday, I have a preview of the Mesa team
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
Over the past two months, I bet I made 10 different versions of this prospect list. I moved players up and down, in and out, and then I did it all over again. The last time I updated the list was at the end of spring training. A lot has happened in those 2.5 months. Ian Happ was promoted and made over 90 plate appearances in the majors, many prospects played a half a season in the minors, and extended spring training just ended.
I think the first thing you’ll notice in this list is that I did move a lot of players around. Some of that’s based on performance and some of it is based on projection. Players who have been on the list for four or five years are no longer there. Instead, there’s an infusion of young Latin players and a couple first-round picks.
I think it’s only natural that these changes are taking place. In 2015, the Cubs made a concerted effort to sign a substantial group of players in the international free-agent market. They were 16 and 17 at the time. Now they are 18 and 19 and a maturing physically, mentally, and developmentally. The game is beginning to slow down for them.
I did not include Mr. Happ in this list as I didn’t want to redo it in 10 more games.
Here are the top 10 of the Top 21. To see the full list click here.
10. Oscar de la Cruz – Pitcher
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – Commanding presence, fastball, curveball
ETA – 2018/2019
Sometimes, he makes it look so effortless. I often wonder how effortless it is for him. He could have been at AA Tennessee in early July. Things were going extremely well for him at Myrtle Beach before he skipped a start and went on the DL. He needs to stay healthy to build up that arm strength. Innings are what he needs.
9. Victor Caratini – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, hit almost .300 in 2016
ETA – 2017/18
I thought that 2016 was his best year as a Cub. Currently, he is blowing that season out of the water this year. He looks to be ready offensively to take over as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. On defense, I am not so sure. If he was ready defensively, he would probably be a top five prospect.
8. Aramis Ademan – Shortstop
Age – 17
2027 Affiliate – Eugene
Top skills – Defense, deft hands
ETA – 2021
He is going to skip rookie ball and play in short season Eugene in 2017. Defensively, he is leaps and bounds above every shortstop in the system.
7. Miguel Amaya – Catcher
2017 Affiliate – Eugene
Top Skills – Great receiver, great arm, and a developing power bat
ETA – 2020/2021
He is a great defender with a great arm. This spring in EXST, he showed he ‘s got some power in that bat. Premium skills at a premium position move him way up the board. I watched his debut in Eugene as he threw out three runners. Wow!
6. Adbert Alzolay – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 96/97 mph fastball that he can sustain and maintain deep in the game.
ETA – 2019
He’s really come on in 2017 by quickening his pace. He still needs work on his change, but his FB is c’est magnifique. His curve is improving with a nice 2-7 arc.
5. Trevor Clifton – SP
2017 Affiliate – Tennessee
Top Skills – 3 plus pitches, improving command, pick-off move, pitchability, work ethic
ETA – 2018
He has been pretty consistent in 2017. He has gone toe to toe with some big names and held his own. I still think efficiency should be the thing he works on most of the second-half. He needs to get to seven innings pretty consistently.
4. Tom Hatch – SP
2017 Affiliate – Myrtle Beach
Top Skills – 4 pitch repertoire, command and control, ridiculous armside run on his FB
ETA – 2019
He had a rough adjustment period in April through mid-May. After that, he’s been throwing darts including a 13 K affair. He could be amazing in the second half. Don’t look at his ERA before June.
3. Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
2017 Affiliate – Iowa
Top Skills – Switch hitting, can hit for power and average
ETA – 2017
I don’t know how much longer he is going to remain a Cub. I don’t think there’s much left for him to prove at Iowa, and I don’t think he’s going to get a fair shot to play every day in Chicago.
2. Dylan Cease – SP
2017 Affiliate – South Bend
Top Skills – 100 mph fastball, plus curve, improving changeup
ETA – 2019
He was having a pretty good season until he went down with an ankle injury in mid-May. The fastball and curves are there, the change is showing signs of being an average pitch. He still needs to be a lot more efficient to get into the sixth and seventh innings some more.
1. Eloy Jimenez – OF
2017 Affiliate: Myrtle Beach/Tennessee
Top Skills: Hit for average and power, great pitch recognition, contagious smile
ETA – 2018
People laughed in the spring when he said he was trying to make ball club. He pretty much proved everyone wrong when he showed he belonged as a hitter. I think he’s about as close to being ready as he can be. Once he proves he we can make it at AA, I don’t even see the need for him to go to AAA. The question becomes where he is going to play.
By Todd Johnson
The Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs’ short season Class A team, opens up at home tonight to begin defense of its Northwest League title. The roster was released on Tuesday to oohs and ahs throughout the Internet (Well, actually, it was just me and another guy in Louisiana). Still, I find it very exciting as they usually play at 9 Central when most Cub affiliates have just ended their games. They have my sole attention every summer.
This year’s team, for now, is a mixture of international players and some of last year’s draft picks. Most of the players played in Mesa in Rookie League last year where they made it the AZL playoffs. There are a few players who played in the Dominican Summer League and skipped Mesa this year. There is a lot of talent on this roster. The Emeralds begin their title defense with the following players.
Pitchers: Luis Aquino, Javier Assad, Jesus Camargo, Holden Cammack, Bailey Clark, Enrique de los Rios, Andin Diaz. Elvis Diaz, Hector Alonso Garcia, Yapson Gomez, John Michael Knighton, Mark Malave, Junior Marte, Manuel Rodriguez, Jhon Romero, Andry Rondon, Matt Swarmer
Catchers: Miguel Amaya and Gustavo Polanco
Infield: Aramis Ademan, Jhonny Bethencourt, Joe Martarano, Rafael Narea, Edgar Rondon
Outfield: Zach Davis, Jose A. Gonzalez, Kwang-Min Kwon, and Connor Myers
It is worth noting that short season rosters can contain up to 35 players with 25 active per night. Most of those inactive for a game are pitchers.
Here are a few key players to keep an eye on over the the next 70 games.
1. Bailey Clark – I don’t know how long he will be at this level. He missed spring training finishing up his degree at Duke. He showed up in EXST in May and has been getting ready for the season. To be honest, his upper 90s fastball should be too dominant for this league. I wrote about him last year and I expect to see him in South Bend quickly.
2. Javier Assad – He was the ace of the 2016 Cubs rookie league team that made the playoffs. He struck out 42 in 37.1 IP last year with a 2.87 ERA. John Arguello said that he is more physically mature this year. His unofficial stats from EXST (courtesy of the Cub Reporter) were impressive. He had a 2.55 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 24.2 IP. He struck out 26 and batters hit only .229 versus him. At the tender age of 19, expect him to be an Em all season.
3. Miguel Amaya – He’s just 18 and he drew rave reviews this spring for his catching abilities and his developing power. Amaya was signed by the Cubs in 2015 as a 16-year-old and he also is still growing. In EXST this year, he unofficially hit .350 with 4 HRs and was on fire as camp ended hitting .531 with a .600 OBP over his last ten games. I am extremely excited to see him play!
4. Aramis Ademan – Aramis is also a member of the 2015 IFA class and he is already considered the top defensive SS in the Cubs system. He will be skipping rookie ball and going right to Eugene. This spring, he proved he his bat is more advanced than previously thought. He hit .270 over 28 games with 1 HR. He’s not going to be a power guy. It is all about defense for him.
5. Joe Martarano – The former Boise State linebacker is now 100% committed to baseball. I like that. I like that he is 6’3” and 235-240 lbs. I like that he can hit for average as well as power. He did play some for the Cubs in the summer after being drafted in 2013. He did not play at all in 2016. He showed no signs of rust in EXST hitting .324 with a .448 OBP. I find that plate discipline to be amazing with how little he’s played after focusing on football for so long. The kid can hit.
6. Rafael Narea – Another IFA, he came on strong this spring. The 19 year-old-shortstop hit .290 and showed a deft bat and plate discipline as he only struck out a 4% rate.
The roster is also notable for the one player not on it. Pitcher, and top young prospect, Jose Albertos is staying behind in Mesa to work on his grip on his curve, which he keeps spiking in the dirt. Eventually, he will make his way to the great northwest.
Last year, over 50+ players flowed through Eugene. Once the draft picks sign, many more players will be coming. Expect to see the college position players arrive in late June. I doubt you will see first rounder Alex Lange as he is in the CWS for the next two weeks. However, top pick Brendon Little should be in the bullpen or making short starts of two innings. It will be exciting to see who all shows up!
Draft Picks Who Should Be in Eugene by July
The list could include OF Chris Carrier, 3B Austin Filiere, P Cory Abbott, P Erich Uelmen, P Ricky Tyler thomas, IF Austin Upshaw, OF Brandon Hughes, 2B Jared Young, P Brandon King, and closer Brian Glowicki. There might even be a few more.
By Todd Johnson
The six pack moved to Saturday this week to make room for some end of the month stuff. Now that May is done, it is time to look forward to June. The first half of the minor league season ends in two weeks while the major league season just begins to crank into gear.
Here are 6 things I am going to look forward to in June.
1. Starting Pitching
When I think of the troubles of the Cubs first third of the season, starting pitching stands out to me. Yes, it’s true, the hitting needs to improve, but when you’re giving up 5-6 runs a game, that is hard to overcome. I think handling this issue has to be done in a very deft manner. I say that because you have to balance winning this season and winning beyond this season. I am OK with Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks. I am not a fan of John Lackey. While Eddie Butler has caught my eye, he is more an answer to the second question than the first. Where does that leave the Cubs? Do they need to go out and get two starters for this season? Do they need to get just one for this season and the postseason? Or, do they just think about acquiring long term starters who they hope will work out for just this year? Hopefully, we will have the answer in less than four weeks.
I have never been one to be big on speculating trades. While I am sure one is coming for a pitcher, I am pretty sure that the Cubs are going to be rely on their own prospects to fill position player roles. But here’s the thing – if Theo and Jed see a player they think can help them win the championship, they are going to go out and get that player regardless of whether he is a pitcher or a position player. Keep that in the back of your mind.
3. Trey Martin/Dylan Cease
I really like Trey Martin. I think he is an underrated prospect, maybe the most underrated in the Cubs system. He is an outstanding defender who covers as much ground as anyone in all of baseball in the outfield. As a hitter, while his growth has been slow, he has improved at every level. He got off to a sizzling start at Tennessee in April before a hamstring injury sidelined him after 8 games. He should be back this week and be a key cog in helping Tennessee get to the first half title. I hope to see Dylan Cease very soon, too. It’s been about 10 days since his ankle injury and I am ready for him to come back and anchor the staff at South Bend as they try to capture a spot in the postseason.
4. Eugene and Mesa
While the Dominican Summer League begins today, Eugene and Mesa are less than two weeks away. I love the late-night action that Eugene provides as usually they’re the only game going past 9 o’clock central. I am also looking forward to watching the Mexican connection of Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, and Jesus Camargo pitching for the Emeralds. In addition, I am excited about seeing Joe Martarano debut as a full-time Cub. And, throw in one of my favorite prospects, Delvin Zinn, who should be ready to go after an injury in extended spring training. Then there’s Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan, two 2015 international free agents, who will be making their stateside debuts. It should be an exciting beginning as Eugene tries to capture back-to-back championships.
5. The Draft
There are nine days to go. On Monday I’ll have a post about some risers and fallers. There will be six more names for you to know. I will have wall-to-wall coverage for you each day of the draft. After the draft is complete, I will, with the help of @WesSaver, have when each draftee signs.
6. Cubs Still in Play for IFA Despite Penalties
Ben Badler of Baseball America published an article this week that talked about how the Cubs are in on another top young player from Mexico, pitcher Florencio Serrano. The Cubs can only spend $300,000 max for a signing bonus this year. But because a portion of a bonus for a Mexican player goes to the team, the Cubs can technically spend a little bit more than their limit. A few weeks ago the Cubs were also said to be in the running Luis Verdugo, a young Mexican shortstop.
Check back tomorrow morning for “The Weekly.” I’ll have a recap of 2/3 of the Cubs/Cards series, some news on the DSL, and our players of the week!