By Todd Johnson
Nelson Velazquez Gets Some McLeod Love
Over the past few weeks, I’ve written several posts and have them ready to go. As I begin to publish them, I am starting to notice a few trends. One is that I am writing a lot about Nelson Velasquez. And the second trend is that I am also focusing more on Jose Albertos. I think when I redo the top 21 list in a few months, Nelson could fly up a few more spots.
Mark Gonzalez of the Tribune talked with Cubs director of Scouting Jason McLeod about Nelson’s potential. Here is what McLeod said:
“He’s got power, speed and physical tools, and we can’t be more excited about how the rest of summer went. It’s inherent upon us and him to develop those skills. He’s going to end up being 6-2, 215 (pounds) and really strong and physical.”
I didn’t expect that last sentence as I thought he was already physically maxed out.
Arizona Fall League
Play began on Tuesday with Alec Mills getting the start for the Mesa Solar Sox. He got beat around pretty good in a little over two innings of work. He gave up four runs in his short stint. However, there was good news that night. Adbert Alzolay was phenomenal in relief. He pitched two innings and struck out four batters. On Saturday, he went two more innings and whiffed three more. I hope he continues to do well as 60% of the players in the league in the past have gone on to play professional baseball. I know if Adbert is going to start next year at AAA Iowa. Adbert has taken a huge step in his development this year and I could see him pitching in Wrigley at some point next summer. He could start or he could relieve, but I think he might be best suited to relief role.
On Wednesday, David Bote went 3/4 with a HR and 3 RBI in his debut. He played 2B. Things are really looking up for him. Bote also had a good day Thursday, this time at third base. He went 2/4 with and 1 RBI. he continued doing well on Friday and Saturday he hit another HR, his third in 5 days. For the week, he hit .500 with 6 RBI. It is a very impressive showing for the 24-year-old.
Ian Rice went 1/3 with a double and a walk on Wednesday. He also drove in one run. Jason Vosler has struggled band has been playing mostly at 1B. He has yet to get a hit in 4 games while Charcer Burks has yet to play. Jake Stinnett struggled in his lone appearance (2 IP, 4 H, 2Ks) while Pedro Araújo picked up a save on Friday in one of his two games (2 IP, 3 Ks).
The Seven Series
Starting on Monday, there will be three posts this week that look back at each affiliate’s 2017 season. Each posts examines seven issues about the affiliate and/or the prospects and the year they had. Monday, Iowa gets their due followed by Tennessee on Wednesday, and then Myrtle Beach’s season is relived on Thursday or Friday.
Baseball Card of the Week
I began my off-season card work this week. I have about 15 new cards uploaded to the Facebook page. You can see them right here. This one is my favorite…so far.
By Todd Johnson
Last week I looked at some big picture ideas in part one of my state of the Cubs minor-league system. Today’s analytical activities involve breaking down what the Cubs are doing well in their minor-league structure and where they need to improve.
Young toolsy outfielders, plethora of catchers, long and lean physically projectable Latin starting pitching, no rush, or need, on getting anyone to the majors soon.
There are probably more strengths that I could list but these are the biggest strengths. Sometimes I look at what’s left of the Cubs’ system and I get a little scared. It’s not a fear of failure. I know that not every prospect is going to make it. The anxiety that I have is that when the current minor-league talent is ready in 3 to 4 years, it is nowhere near the talent level of the players they’re going to be replacing. Yes, the Cubs have until 2021 to start producing more position players. But the Cubs don’t have anyone even projected to be even close an Addison Russell or a Javier Baez or Kris Bryant. There is no one that could even be as good as Albert Almora right now. However, that could all change by 2020/21.
To me, Nelson Velasquez holds the most promise. No one else has his power but he’s only played rookie ball. In another year, he could be the one. If he can start producing at full season A ball, then the Cubs will have something. But that’s just one player. The Cubs need several more high value position prospects.
Areas of Concern
Underdeveloped pitchers, stagnation of several prospects at the upper levels in AA and AAA, few top of the rotation starters in the pipeline, lack of overall power
The fact that the Cubs have not produced any MLB starting pitchers that they drafted or signed in the last five years is raising several questions. Are they doing something developmentally wrong? Are the Cubs taking too big of risks with the pitchers they select? Or could it be that the Cubs are not willing to pay big money to sign bigger named arms in the draft?
I’m going to answer the last question because I think the Cubs statistically know that selecting a pitcher is a big gamble and a huge risk over time. In the last two years they have tried to remedy the lack of pitching by over drafting and compensating with two high picks in the 2017 draft. The fruits of those two drafts will be at AA next year and also filling up South Bend and Myrtle Beach’s rotations. Add in several arms that should be coming stateside from the Dominican Summer League, the Cubs could have a ton of pitching coming ashore. Remember the names of Jesus Tejada, Danis Correa, Emilio Ferrebus, and Didier Vargas. Correa and Ferrebus actually helped Mesa win the Arizona Rookie League title.
Next year is going to be another transformative season in the minors. It’s going to be a season in which there’s a lot of movement up-and-down prospect lists. While prospects should be judged on talent and projection, performance is going to have a huge impact on how some people see the Cubs prospects in the post Eloy world. Doing well in low A ball is not a prerequisite for MLB stardom, but it doesn’t hurt.
Usually, a President says in the State of the Union address that the state of the nation is strong. I don’t think I can attach those kind of adjectives to the Cubs’ system right now. I think if I could attach one word it would be rebuilding. Promising would be another good word to throw in, too.
I do feel good about that since the current regime did it once before starting in late 2011.
By Todd Johnson
I am thinking I had this list done about three weeks ago. I wanted to put it out almost immediately after the minor league season ended. After thinking about it, I thought I would just let it settle and edit it before I put it out. To be honest, it has changed much from when I wrote it to today. In fact, I was reconsidering re-ordering 5-9 all night.
There are really only two major changes in this list from the summer. They are the inclusion of outfielders Jonathan Sierra and Nelson Velazquez. In fact, I had Velasquez shoot all the way into the top 10. The Cubs don’t have anybody like him in the system with his home run power and production.
I still think this list is pretty volatile. After the Arizona Fall League, I will think about mixing it up a bit. But with who is going to Arizona, I think only one prospect might improve their lot on the list.
The list could change quite a bit later this off-season as trades are made and injuries are revealed. I think the biggest risers and fallers next year will be at AA Tennessee. The Smokies will have pitchers Thomas Hatch, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Duncan Robinson, Michael Rucker and position players Zack Short and Eddy Martinez. Those seven will determine how the rest of the list looks because production at AA signals that the product could be productive in Chicago.
South Bend’s rotation next year will also have a huge impact on the list as recent draft picks will be unleashed without any restrictions. Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson are two pitchers who could make some waves in 2018 with some excellent performances next summer.
So, without further adieu, here is the current Top 21 list in video form.
By Todd Johnson
Originally, I did not plan on putting together a second half all star team. However, after looking at some of the performances of several prospects over the last 2 and 1/2 months, I thought they deserved to be honored for their performances.
I always like putting together a second-half team because they usually contain a few recent draft picks and some players from the lower parts of the system. Last year, I started including a couple players from the Dominican Summer League. That holds true for this year as well.
What started with the July All-Star team continued with the August All-Star team and this team. That is, in this list, you can definitely see a shift in the system. Younger players are starting to rise to the top and perform at a high-level. This is true of a couple of draft picks in Austin Upshaw and Nelson Velazquez along with several pitchers from the Dominican Summer League..
So, without further adieu, here is the All-Star team for the second half of the 2017 minor league season.
When I sit down to make my preseason All-Star team in 2018, a lot of the players listed in the video above will get a lot of merit for inclusion. One name not included that I am interested in seeing more of next year is Jose Gutierrez. The 18-year-old outfielder from Venezuela hit .354 in August and was a key cog in helping the Mesa Cubs win a title.
By Todd Johnson
Looking back at the coverage by Cubs Central this year, I don’t think I have written enough about several prospects. They include hitters Ian Rice, Luis Ayala, and Andruw Monasterio. Eddy Martinez hit almost .280 in the second half for Myrtle Beach and I haven’t written a peep about it. Add in pitcher Tyler Peyton who was one of the best pitchers in August for South Bend. Pitcher Jesus Camargo of Eugene, along with his 2.36 summer ERA and changeup, was overshadowed by top draft picks Brendon Little, Alex Lange, and Cory Abbott, not to mention Jose Albertos. Luis Aquino had an ERA of under 1 at one point for Eugene and I didn’t talk about him much even though he was a Northwest League All-Star.
When it comes to 2018, I am sure there will be several new names to talk about next summer. Here are a few names who I think will get more press next season and that I should have covered more this year.
1. Nelson Velasquez
Any Cubs prospect who can hit home runs at a regular rate is going to draw attention. He is just 18-years-old and just completed rookie ball. He is cranking a HR every 12.2 at-bats. After August 1, he hit 8 HRs and drove in 25, 9 of those in 5 playoff games. He was named the Cubs August Minor League Player of the Month. I can’t wait to see him next year in Eugene.
2. Javier Assad
He has shown the proclivity to miss bats as an alarming rate. He has also shown the ability to be inconsistent. I think making 25 to 30 starts at South Bend could lead to more consistent efforts on the mound. I just finished a profile on him yesterday that will come out next month. He has some interesting stats including how opponents are hitting him. He struck out 72 in 66 innings at Eugene this year.
3. Jesus Tejada
The 20-year-old was the hottest pitcher in the Cubs’ system in August. He threw a no-hitter and struck out batters at an alarming rate in the Dominican Summer League. Opponents only hit .141 against him in August when he seemed to put it all together striking out 26 in 23 innings. I tend to think he will be at Eugene next summer.
4. Brendan King
The kid from Holy Cross may be next year’s sleeper pitcher. Like Duncan Robinson, the Ivy Leaguer’s arm has shown the ability to spin a ball in Mesa this summer. He had a 2.82 ERA in 22.1 IP and struck out an impressive 29 batters while walking only 5. Those are some good numbers.
5. Fernando Kelli
So, there’s this guy…an outfielder in the DSL and he stole 58 bases. It’s not like I didn’t mention him because he did make an All-Star Team in July. I just didn’t cover him in depth with a profile. I don’t know that much about him other than his stats page. He just turned 19 and hit .320 with an amazing .437 OBP this summer. Just in July, he had a .477 OBP! There’s not a lot of information on him otherwise.
I am sure there will be other prospects breakout in 2018 who I didn’t foresee. Luis Hidalgo, who spent four seasons in the Dominican Summer League, is one to keep an eye on next year. He arrived in Mesa in August and did not stop hitting (.339) while there. While he doesn’t really have a position, he does have a huge bat. Didier Vargas, Emilio Ferrebus, and Danis Correa are three pitchers to keep an eye on for next year along with 2017 international signing Florencio Serrano. Two young shortstops who could raise some eyebrows next year are international free-agent Luis Verdugo and recent draft pick Luis Vazquez.
You never know who will breakout and when.
By Todd Johnson
While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.
Breakout Hitter of the Second Half
This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.
But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.
Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half
This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.
But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.
Breakout Reliever of the Second Half
I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball. Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.
But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.
When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.
More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.
By Todd Johnson
It has been a “heckuva” ride this week as Mesa won four out of five games including the best-of-three championship series against the Giants. I was quite surprised to see Mesa go on the run winning 13 out of 15 games. In the first half, it was brutal to check their daily box score. They were 9-19 in the first half. There was no indication that this team could go on such a run. There were some roster moves made in early August that I thought could stabilize the team as a couple of pitchers came up from the DSL along with hitter Luis Hidalgo. I didn’t think they would be that stabilizing.
Needless to say, covering the lower minors next year is going to be very exciting. Nelson Velazquez pounded the ball in the playoffs with 2 HRs along with fellow 18-year-olds Jonathan Sierra and Luis Vazquez. 2B Delvin Zinn hit .500 for the playoffs with a .632 OBP. Most of the players on the Mesa team will be at Eugene next summer with a few at South Bend. I’m excited to watch them every day next year on MiLB.TV.
As for the Eugene Emeralds, they played the Vancouver Canadians in game one of a best-of-five series last night. Keegan Thompson got the start for the Ems and he gave up two runs in three innings. In the bottom of the third, the Ems took a 4-2 lead thanks in part to two walks and a HBP. After that, the Ems had 3 errors and a wild pitch just in the fifth inning that they could not overcome. Vancouver scored four to take a 6-4 lead. Each team would tack on one more run as the Canadians won 7-5. Brendon Little pitches tonight for Eugene at 7 Central.
I’m pretty hopeful that Eugene can get their back-to-back championship trophies. They now have their work cut out for them. They have the pitching, hitting, and the speed to do it. The questions this year have been their defense, especially up the middle, and their lack of consistency both on the mound and at the plate. I have no doubts about their talent, whatsoever. Some nights, they just struggle because that’s baseball and they are very young.
And finally, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ season ended in a strange set of circumstances. Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the Mills Cup championship. Two teams would be declared co-champions based on the division series. The Pelicans were supposed to play a best of five series against Down East, the Rangers affiliate in the Carolina League. That was shortened to a best of three series. Myrtle Beach only pushed two runs across the plate, and, as a result, they lost two games to none.
When it comes to Cubs Central…
I began to plan out what the off-season is going to involve on this site. Over the winter, I’m going to have a weekly series beginning after Thanksgiving. It is going to be called “Leveling Up.” It is going to look at several high-profile prospects moving up the system and what they need to do at the next level. DJ Wilson is going to be the first prospect profiled and will be followed by Zack Short and Eddy Martinez.
My Other Writing This Week on the Web
I did some year-end affiliate reviews this week and they are up and posted at Cubs Insider. Click on the links below.
South Bend Review
Jared Young Profile