Why Cubs Central Is Not Making a New Prospect List Until the End of the Season

By Todd Johnson

Early Wednesday afternoon, MLB Pipeline released this bit of news.

“With David Bote graduating from the ‘ Top 30 Prospects list, 19-year-old RHP Jeremiah Estrada enters: http://atmlb.com/2GSeHiE “

Normally, when a prospect is certified as no longer being a prospect due to service time or at-bats, I redo my Top 21 List. Normally.

This year, every time I think about my prospect list, I tend to just stare at all the names in the spreadsheet. It is not that the names of the players are not good. The Cubs have several good prospects who can most certainly help the major league club in the near future. But that’s not the issue of why I have only redone the list once this season.

After spring training, I touched up the list a bit and then again after the draft. Those are excellent points in time to redo a list. Normally, I also touch it up during the summer after the International Free Agency signing period begins as well as after a trade.

I decided against doing the list at any and all occasions this summer. Here’s why.

1. As a teacher, I teach US History every day and one of the questions I always get asked every year is, “Why do Supreme Court Justices get to serve for life?” I tell them that the Court System is set up that way to take popular opinion about the Constitution out of the equation. A justice can’t be looking over their shoulder about a decision worrying about re-election or when their term ends. They cannot think about a decision based on political means to get elected or re-appointed. The justice has to base their ruling on how it fits the framework of the Constitution and not on a whim. I am sort of the same way. I would rather the Top 21 list reflect talent evaluation rather than performance. If I was to do the list every month or so, it wouldn’t mean as much as performance would have way more influence on a monthly list rather than on talent evaluation.

2. The Cubs’ minor league system is very deep. While the Cubs lack the elite talent they once had in 2015, I have almost 50 names on my list to ponder when it comes to picking just 21. However, there is not a lot of separation between them. Once I start getting out of the top 10, I could have 40 prospects in contention for the next ten spots. Arguments could be made for 20-30 guys for the #17 spot. It is a bit mind blowing, but it is true.

3. Change comes quickly in the minors in the second half. With all the draft picks now signed and playing, I want to see how they do over a larger sample size. This year, though, I cannot see several of them play as they are going at it in the Arizona Rookie League. I am hearing great things about Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis, but I have yet to set my own eyes on them. The shame is I probably won’t get to see them until they get to Eugene next summer or if they miraculously make it to South Bend beforehand. It is hard for me to evaluate someone very well if I haven’t seen them. I did get to see top pick Nico Hoerner for about a couple of weeks and in person. He’s very poised and polished. If not for an injury, he could have been my #1 prospect (and he still might be).

4. Doing well at the lower levels of the minors is nice for a prospect to hang their hat on, but it is not a precursor of future success nor is it a prerequisite. Some lines a friend of mine and I have been saying this summer go like this: “See me when they get to Tennessee,” and/or “Let me know when they are at Myrtle Beach.” Those levels are much more reliable in predicting a player’s ability to help the organization and in assessing their talent. I don’t want to have a list filled with 18-19 year old kids who have never seen the quality of pitchers and bats at a higher level.

5. The eye test is the best test. Just last month, I saw Brendon Little of South Bend in person just mow down guys in the Quad Cities with an ungodly breaking ball. Seeing his pitch live and the effect it has on a swing changes a lot of things. He’s making guys at low A look sick against that pitch. Just on the quality and depth he gets on one pitch, he is a top ten-ish prospect. Who cares about his 4+ ERA right now. That pitch is amazing! It could take a while for the rest of his arsenal to catch up to the quality of that one pitch. Stop scouting a stat line. Scout a player.

With all those things in mind, I am just going to wait a while to replace Bote in my list. I am just going to let the list ride until the end of the season (3+weeks). Then I will see where the prospects are at and that list will hold for quite a few months…I hope!

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The Weekly: Spending a Week with South Bend and Some Random Notes

by Todd Johnson

This has been a fun week! I have been following the South Bend Cubs around the Midwest League. It started last Sunday in South Bend, continued over to the Quad Cities, and it will conclude today and tomorrow as South Bend plays at Kane County in nearby Geneva.

I took a lot of pictures and some video that I put on the Facebook account, and I have done a couple of formal interviews, one of which was published earlier in the week. However, my favorite part has just been watching the players interact with each other during warmups and the games. For the most part, I have been situated in the camera wells and the end of each dugout. Being so close, I really appreciate the day in-day out grind and work that they put in to try and accomplish their dream.

What made it more interesting is that over the course of time was that the Cubs took over the lead for a playoff spot in the Eastern Division. South Bend has plenty of good pitching, a lot of team speed, but they are only going to go as far as their hitting and their defense take them. I also got to see new players Clayton Daniel and Jake Steffens arrive about an hour before Wednesday’s game. 

Tomorrow, I will publish a prospect interview with pitcher Brendan King, who might start on the mound tomorrow night. He would be replacing Tyler Thomas in the rotation at South Bend. Later in the week I might have another interview and an article about how Cubs’ prospects are using technology to improve their performance.

As for the rest of the system…

Come Monday, short season leagues end their first half. The Mesa 1 team is going to come down to the last game tomorrow to see if they make the playoffs. They currently have a 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Mesa 2 team has crawled back close to .500 but is showing signs of life, which portends well for the second half.

In Eugene, things changed greatly last week as most of the college draft picks made their way on the Ems’ roster. There are still a few draft picks in Mesa, but a lot of the 18 to 19-year-old kids that were playing for Eugene a month ago were shuffled back to Mesa. However, Luis Vazquez, Nelson Velasquez, Jonathan Sierra, Luis Diaz, Brailyn Marquez, and Fernando Kelli are still with the Emeralds. It’ll be interesting to see how the college dominated roster will do for Eugene in the second half which starts Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the Smokies fell out of first place and are now two games back after going through some bullpen issues. In Myrtle Beach, they’ve been playing in between the raindrops only getting a few games in. Jared Young seems to be settling in and is looking more and more like a guy who could be a guy. He hit another home run this week and is now at 12 for the year. I hope that he can add about 10 pounds each of the next two years (that would put him at 200) to increase his power potential.

While Iowa has been out of the playoff hunt for a long time, it looks like Trevor Clifton is knocking on the door to Chicago very loudly. He’s been at Iowa since the first week of June. In that span, he’s put up a 3.29 ERA, and just in July, it is a minuscule 2.11. It is getting harder and harder for anyone to not see what Trevor is up to in Des Moines.

Trades

The Cubs traded South Bend pitcher Tyler Thomas this week to Texas in the Jesse Chavez deal. Thomas displayed a plus changeup and an ERA under 3.00 ERA at South Bend. While probably a reliever long term, Thomas should still get a chance to start in the Rangers’ system

Back in Action

2018 second round draft pick Brennen Davis returned to action in Arizona for Mesa 2 after missing a few weeks and was playing right alongside fellow pick Cole Roederer. Roederer is pushing the limits at Mesa and giving the Cubs a hard decision about whether to promote him to Eugene as he hitting almost .400 with an OBP over .500 and 3 dingers in 12 games.

The sad news of the week was that number one draft pick Nico Hoerner is going on the shelf for 4-6 weeks with an elbow injury that occurred last Sunday diving to make a play in South Bend. This pretty much means Hoerner is going to be out for the season. He did make a pit stop in Chicago to visit Wrigley before heading out to Mesa to begin his rehab. More than likely, Hoerner will conclude his maiden season at fall instructs in October. He should begin next year at high A Myrtle Beach.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

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.

Random Notes from Sunday’s Action – Clifton, Hoerner, and King Impress

By Todd Johnson

Yesterday was an exciting day throughout the Cubs’ system – From the Cubs playing in San Diego all the way down to Arizona. I traveled from my home to Indiana to see South Bend play and to hang out with my friend Rikk and take some pictures. Here are some random thoughts about yesterday’s action across the system.

1. I haven’t done a lot of writing about the major league club this year, I am pretty excited about the record and standings at the All-Star break. While the Cubs are playing decent ball , Milwaukee was not as the Brewers went 2-8 over their last 10. As a result, the Cubs have a 2.5 game lead over the Brew Crew and the best record in the NL heading into the second half. If they get their starting pitching figured out, it could be a magical 10 weeks.

2. Trevor Clifton had his best start of his tenure at AAA Iowa yesterday. He only gave up two hits and walked to, but struck out six and did not allow her run in five innings. His ERA for the month is a clean 2.30. I’m excited to see him do well at this level so quickly! Should be interesting to see what happens in September if he continues this trajectory.

3. This year my wife and I broke down and bought a camera with part of our income tax refund. Yesterday, the camera made its maiden voyage to South Bend to break it in with baseball pictures. I still have a lot to learn about the settings, but I got some cool pictures of the young Cubs in action. Here is a link to the folder of all the decent pictures I took yesterday.

4. In the late morning, I had a great interview with South Bend reliever Garrett Kelly. When I get back home, I’m going to have to transcribe the interview because it was really good about how he went from being non-drafted to the Twins to Independent ball and then back to the minor leagues. That should be out Wednesday or Thursday. It might even be in two parts.

5. I tend to get a better feel for a pitcher when I see them in person. It’s hard to pick up on TV the depth that breaking pitches get and to get the full effect of how batters swing against said pitches. Yesterday, South Bend Cub pitcher Brendan King impressed me with his off speed arsenal. He was getting a lot of ugly swings as his pitches dive bombed out of the zone in the last 10 to 15 feet. Yes, he did give up a run, but those breaking pitches are very promising. I hope to interview him later this week and see what all he is throwing and how he is throwing them.

6. The main object of my attention yesterday was shortstop and first round pick Nico Hoerner. You have to be impressed by his play so far. On Sunday, he hit a home run to left center field as he went 2-for-4 on the day. In using the camera, I began to pick up or some little idiosyncrasies that showed up. One of them is, as he’s getting ready on defense for the pitch, he does this little hop to get himself ready. I also picked up that he does not use his lower half to its fullest effect yet as a hitter. That will come in due time. He is doing very well at South Bend and he should be there for this month.

I was in such a rush to get on the road to head to South Bend yesterday that I forget to post the players of the week in Sunday’s “The Weekly.” So, here they are in all of their glory.

The Weekly – Nico at South Bend, Debuts and Promotions, and a Busy Week Ahead

By Todd Johnson

Around the System
Tennessee and Mesa Cubs 1 continue to do well as both were in first place heading into last night’s games. South Bend is still looking to put together a streak or two as they are just three games out of first. If Myrtle Beach can get their bats going, the Pelicans now have enough pitching to get them back in the hunt for a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive year.

But the Big News…
It was all about Nico this week. The Cubs’ #1 draft pick was promoted to South Bend on Wednesday and made his debut on Thursday where he made this spectacular catch. Hoerner went 2-for-4 in his first game for South Bend. On night number two, he went 1-for-3 with a walk. Having watched him now for the better part of two weeks, his athleticism is the attribute that stands out. Yes, he can hit. Yes, he can field, throw, and run. But he is a far, far better athlete than we were initially lead to believe by the Cubs. When I first saw him at Eugene, I remarked about his size and musculature. In fact, with his size and skill sets, he could play almost anywhere you want him. The only question I have about Nico is this: How much power will he have?

With all that being said, don’t get in a rush to get him to Chicago as fast as possible. Yes, he’s advanced as a college hitter. Yes, he should do well at South Bend. Sure, he could end up in Myrtle Beach this August depending on playoff races. He will not be in the Arizona Fall League. He’s going to instructs in Mesa. The Cubs hitting instructors will tinker with his swing mechanics a bit to generate some more power.

Nico’s got a lot to learn, let him learn it first. He should be better next year because of how he goes through this year.

There were a lot of other promotions this week 
James Norwood made his Chicago Cubs debut. Will Remillard was promoted to AAA Iowa. PJ Higgins got a much deserved promotion to AA Tennessee. Rollie Lacy made his way from South Bend to Myrtle Beach and had an outstanding debut. And finally, Clayton Daniel and Derek Casey became the latest draft picks to debut at Eugene while Andy Weber played in his first game down in Mesa.

The promotion craze is definitely not over. Usually, there’s a lot of player movement in July. Come August, the promotions settle down as the affiliates will play out the last month of the season. There might be a few changes to get Tennessee some extra help if it continues its winning ways in search of a Southern League championship.

More International Free Agents
The Cubs also signed a couple more international free agents. Not much is known about them other than their agent position. The two signees are 19-year-old pitcher Gabriel Jaramillo and 18-year-old switch-hitting infielder Ronny Simon. That brings the Cubs’ total to seven this year.

Coming Up
It is going to be an exciting week. As you’re probably reading this, I am in my car on my way over to South Bend for a couple of days. On Wednesday, I’ll also be traveling to the Quad Cities to see South Bend play a couple more times. Then next Sunday, I’ll be in Geneva to see the Cubs play the Kane County Cougars. So it’s gonna be a lot of baseball and a lot of driving.

When I’m done, I hope to have some interviews to transcribe. There will definitely be a whole lot of photographs which will be in an album over on the Facebook page. And I might make some cards from said photographs. All in all, it’s going to be a busy week.

Card of the Week

2018 Draft Class Signings and Assignments Update

By Todd Johnson

Now that a week has passed since the 2018 MLB draft signing deadline, it is a good time to take a look just to see what all the Cubs were able to get for their system. On the surface, they signed 32 players, the most in the Theo era. They also signed 3 non-drafted free agents.

Here they are in all their positional glory:
C (2): Brennon Kaleiwahea, Caleb Knight
1B (1): Tyler Durna
2B (2):Andy Weber, Clayton Daniel
SS (3):Nico Hoerner, Levi Jordan, Miguel Pablon
3B (3): Luke Reynolds, Jake Slaughter, Grant Fennell
OF (9): Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, Jimmy Herron, DJ Artis, Ezequiel Pagan, Jamie Galazin, Dalton Hurd, Drew Wharton, Edmond Americaan
P (15): Paul Richan (R), Ethan Roberts (R), Kohl Franklin (R), Zach Mort (R), Derek Casey (R), Riley Thompson (R), Cam Sanders (R), Riley McCauley (R), Josh Sawyer (R), Jake Reindl (R), Chris Allen (L), Carlos Vega (R), Blake Whitney (R), Niels Stone (R), Jack Patterson (L)

In the Theo era, the Cubs attacked college hitting in the draft from 2012-2015 and then college pitching in 2016-17. This year, it’s a bit of a mix. Of the 35 signees. 15 are pitchers and 9 outfielders lead the position player collection. This was also the first year since 2012 that the Cubs signed a first baseman.

When it comes to pitching, the Cubs mostly took arms that are not so established but the pitchers do contain at least one important attribute to build around just like most of the pitching projects the Cubs have taken the past two draft classes. Those past arms are now paying big dividends from South Bend all the way up to Iowa.

The one group that stands out to me is the age of many of the players the Cubs were able to sign – 8 players are 20-years-old and younger. In years past, the Cubs have gone with a large portion of college juniors and seniors interspersed with 4 or 5 high school and junior college picks. The signings of pitchers Kohl Franklin, Chris Allen, and Niels Stone gives the Cubs three young arms to develop. In addition, the Cubs hit the jackpot with young outfielders in Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, Ezequiel Pagan, and Edmond Americaan along with shortstop Miguel Pablon. The Cubs can take their time with them.

With most of the Cubs daily lineup and position players signed through 2021, there’s no rush to get any draft pick to the show. This is going to be a class that is going to take time to develop. There will be a couple of exceptions. And, it’s also going to be a class that has a bit higher ceiling, especially when it comes to position players as compared with the past two draft classes.

After a pick officially signs a contract, the Cubs have 15 days before they have to place them with an affiliate. 2B Andy Weber, one of the late signees, was assigned yesterday to Cubs 1 in Mesa. The following late picks have yet to be given an official assignment: P Chris Allen, P Riley Thompson, P Jake Reindl, P Josh Sawyer, P Niels Stone, and OF Edmond Americaan. They should all have a spot by a week from tomorrow.

Remember, you can keep track of how all the draft picks are doing on one web page by MLB here.

The Weekly – Notes on Debuts, Signings, Awards, Nico, Justin Steele, Cards, and Grant Fennell

By Todd Johnson

*Friday was the final day underclassmen and high school players drafted by the Cubs’ this year could sign a pro contract. The Cubs had around $85,000 in extra bonus pool money and they stunned everyone by getting 35th round pick OF Edmond Americaan from Chipola JC in Florida for just over $200,000. The Cubs also signed 27th round pick Niels Stone from Indian River State College, a junior college. He is right-handed pitcher. Even though the deadline has passed, the Cubs still can sign Catcher Hunter Taylor from South Carolina, who was a senior. They own Taylor’s rights until next June.

So, in total, the Cubs signed 32 drafted players (the most in the Theo era) and 3 non-drafted players. That will be a lot of new Cubs to keep track of the next two months.

*Nico Hoerner, the Cubs’ first round pick last month, just continues to get on base at an unreal clip in Eugene. After missing four games from jamming his pinky finger sliding into third base, Hoerner came back on Friday and did not skip a beat going 2/4 with a BB, a run, and 2 SBs. Then, last night, he cranked his first HR as a Cub.

*In a bit of perplexing and sad/bad news, the oft-injured pitcher Oscar de la Cruz received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Furosemide, a masking agent. Although he was struggling a bit at AA Tennessee, this was also the first year he had stayed healthy since his breakthrough at Eugene. It will be interesting to see how the Smokies replace Oscar in the rotation and how the Cubs deal with Oscar on a personal level in the future.He will not be eligible to play until mid-May of 2018.

*In good news, South Bend 1B/OF Jared Young (who was promoted to Myrtle Beach yesterday) and Tennessee pitcher Duncan Robinson were named the Cubs’ minor league player and pitcher of the month, respectively. In what is becoming an annoying trend this year, I am picking the hitter correctly in my monthly All-Star teams. My pitchers are not usually close. For June, I had South Bend’s Rollie Lacy while in April I had Javier Assad to the Cubs’ Matt Swarmer. I will get it right someday (as I did in May with Cory Abbott).

*I also went a little bit nuts on making my baseball cards the past two weeks. I finished my June cards of the month post a few days early. As a result, I had a weekend’s worth of cards to add into July’s album. With addition of Eugene now playing along with  3 new photographers contributing pics, I had plenty to do. Right now, I have an amazing 76 cards just one week into the month. Here’s an amazing tidbit to that number…I still have an album of Eugene pics from their last homestand to sort through and turn into cards. You can see all of July’s cards here.

*I am beginning to have some thoughts about who the Cubs might protect on the 40 man roster to avoid losing in the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Cubs have until November to make their declarations. Usually at the end of July/early August, Cub fans get a sneak peak when 7 players are usually selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League. Justin Steele is no-brainer selection for Arizona. The young lefty missed most of this season after TJS last August. He came back this week and pitched three scoreless in Mesa. I am excited for him as he worked hard to get back. As for who else might be on the list, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played before that is figured out.

*Because of Trent Giambrone’s massive 3 HR and 9 RBI outburst, he is going to get the hitter of the week award, and deservedly so. Coming in second was Grant Fennell of Mesa 2. The IF/OF from Nevada was signed as an non-drafted free agent and is doing very well in the AZL. He hit over .500 this week and drove in 5. He’s going to be a bat worth watching the rest of the summer. I am thinking of doing a profile on him later this week. We’ll see.

*In addition, several young Cubs made their debuts this week including Cole Roederer, Zach Mort, Paul Richan, Ethan Roberts, and Jimmy Herron. To see how all the draft picks are doing this year, click here.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week