Spring Training New and Notes #5 – A “Quotable” Week

By Todd Johnson

It was another exciting week out in Mesa. Pitchers started their third time through the rotation. Jose Quintana probably had the most impressive start and Tyler Chatwood also continued his good spring. In addition to regular games, the Cubs stretched out their pitchers out in sim games out on the backfields. Most pitchers are now starting to crank it up to about 75 pitches or four innings on this turn through the rotation.

Photo by Todd Johnson

Some of the most exciting news came on Thursday when Nico Horner made a start and went three for three with an RBI or two in the designated hitter role. Nico also had a good day on Saturday with a HR and 3 RBI but his average dropped to .833…..ba-dump-bump. Here’s what Joe had to say about Nico’s swing on MLB.com.

As well, Jared Young continues to impress. On Saturday, he played the whole game in RF against the Giants. He went 2/4 with a RBI. He’s batting .385 with an OPS of 1.305.

In addition, Jim Callis weighed in on with his thoughts on Dakota Mekkes, which look to be pretty positive. Mekkes has been very impressive in 4 outings without allowing an earned run in 4 IP.

And finally, there was Joe on Yu

Down on the Farm…
It looks as though MiLB roster construction is going to be one hot mess this spring. Then again, I have said that all winter. On Thursday, Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter
published the current spring training rosters for each affiliate. Those are going to change quite a bit in the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.

Before the cuts on Saturday, Iowa had 43 players, Tennessee 38, Myrtle Beach 41, and South 47. With more cuts coming, those numbers will creep higher.

The Cubs also signed non-drafted free agent outfielder Brandon Vincens out of the University of Maine. He played football there as well. He’s a pretty stocky guy.

The minor-league season doesn’t begin until April 5. That’s 3 and 1/2 weeks away. In the meantime, they began playing intersquad games on Friday. Robel Garcia and Michael Cruz had a good day with homers. Vincens drove in 3 while Derek Casey and Tyson Miller looked sharp on the mound according to Arizona Phil. Casey went 3 IP with 5 Ks.

On a Personal Note
My busy season at school will come to an abrupt halt on Thursday with the conference scholastic bowl tournament. We have two final regular season matches on Tuesday night and the team is currently 6-1 in conference play and tied for first. After that, all my attention will be on baseball for quite a while.

Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central
2018 Draft Pick Chris Allen gets his first profile on Tuesday. Later in the week I will pick up on something I touched on last Friday. I started talking about how 2019 is going to be a do or die year for some players. I will expand that paragraph into a full blown article later this week. I hope to finish something I got going on Bailey Clark as well as a draft profile on Glenallen Hill, Jr.

Card of the Week
Photo by Stephanie Lynn


MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Goes Big with Young Cubs

By Todd Johnson

When MLB Pipeline announced the release date of February 21 for their top 30 Cubs prospect list, I was not quite sure what to expect. Normally Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo are pretty conservative when it comes to player movement within a list. Considering Miguel Amaya was at #94 on their top 100 followed by Nico Hoerner at #100, they were going to be at the top of the list.

When last season ended, though, several young prospects had shot into their top 30. Brailyn Marquez was at #4 and Nico was at #6 while Cole Roederer and Brennen Davis were back-to-back at #14 and #15. Callis did state earlier that Tyson Miller and Richard Gallardo would be the two biggest movers on the list.

There were a few things I was interested in seeing about their list. Here’s the full list. Let’s get to the answers.

1. How much impact will the 2018 draft have on the list?
A total of 6 2018 draft picks made the list. While Nico naturally lead off the list soon followed by Cole Roeder at 5 and Brennen Davis at 7. I was still surprised to see Paul RIchan at 18 but I was ecstatic to see RHP Riley Thompson get on along with 2B/SS Andy Weber. Makybe Luke Reynolds can join them later this summer.

2. What would be the ratio of pitching to hitting be?
13 hitters made the list vs. 17 pitchers. It is still a bit lopsided, but most of the hitters haven’t seen South Bend yet. That should help the future perk up a bit. Even though he’s only played rookie ball, the insertion of Reivaj Garcia at 21 was cool to see. I wonder if he will be good enough to see South Bend at 17 years of age?

3. Would Pipeline still hold onto Duane Underwood and Oscar de la Cruz in the top 10?
They both wound up in the 20s. Trevor Clifton and DJ Wilson also fell off the list along with a couple of other pitchers and Mark Zagunis. Both Underwood and de la Cruz will likely end up in the bullpens this summer. Doing so could accelerate de la Cruz who has had injury after injury. As for Clifton and Duane, they are both still relatively young. I also was a bit surprised to not see Duncan Robinson and Matt Swarmer make the list. I think both of them could surprise some more this summer at AAA Iowa.

4. Who is going to be the biggest mover on the list?
Richard Gallardo shot up from 27 to 14 but Yovanny Cruz went from nothing to 15. It could be even more interesting to see who moves in the list they put out after the draft. RIley Thompson and Revaj Garcia are my picks to explode this spring.

I liked the turnover and emphasis on youth, but there are some players that Callis and Mayo are still struggling to let go off the list. That’s just me being picky. But since the departure of Eloy, Dylan Cease, and Isaac Paredes, things appear to be looking up with this collection of youth.

In other words, things appear to have bottomed out. The Cubs will still get more bodies this summer as things begin to move forward.

At the end of a separate article, Jim Callis graded out the best tools for Cubs Prospects.

Hit: 60 — Nico Hoerner
Power: 55 — Brennen Davis (Nelson Velazquez)
Run: 65 — Brennen Davis
Arm: 60 — Luis Verdugo (Jhonny Pereda, Andy Weber)
Defense: 60 — Miguel Amaya
Fastball: 70 — Riley Thompson
Curveball: 60 — Adbert Alzolay (Riley Thompson)
Slider: 55 — Yovanny Cruz (four others tied at 55)
Changeup: 60 — Jose Albertos
Control: 55 — Paul Richan (Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson)

10 Things I’d Like to See in Spring Training

By Todd Johnson

I thought I would share with you some things I would like to see happen in spring training. Aside from the usual health related takes, my thoughts run the gamut from MLB players to MiLB prospects to player movement. Now that the green grass of Arizona is being cut and the sprinklers are being shut off, it’s time for real things to happen in real time.

1. Dingers Early and Often – I want to see Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and others get into a groove and start damaging baseballs at a nice solid pace. I dig the home run. There are those who say the triple or the steal of home is the most exciting play in baseball. They are wrong, it’s the dinger. The Cubs ability is crank balls out of the yard is going to be influenced by the tutelage of new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. I am excited to see these young hitters just be themselves again in 2019.

2. Dakota Mekkes – I could add early and often to his tag. He’s ready for his shot at the bullpen. When it comes to spring training, he should get in games early in the first few innings to see how he does against MLB hitters. I don’t want to see him against other minor leaguers in a spring training game, I’ve seen that movie. Give me something new.

3. The Pentagon of Pitching – Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Darvish, and Hamels – That is easily the best five-man rotation I’ve seen the Cubs trot out there in my lifetime. I am looking forward to how hitters respond to being punished every day.

4. Split Squad Pitching – I am curious to see which Cub minor leaguers get starts in the split squad games. Adbert is one as will be Duncan Robinson and Alec Mills. Will Trevor Clifton get a few innings in along with Keegan Thompson, Matt Swarmer, and Thomas Hatch? It will fun to take in just exactly who the Cubs throw and value enough to test them out.

5. Arizona Phil Rosters – The man from the backfields is going to have to be my eyes and ears for a bit as he fills in who is playing with which squad this spring. It should be eye-opening to see who gets assigned where and for how long.

6. Nico at Second – This will be must see viewing when it occurs. It could take place on the backfields or at Sloan Park. I don’t care. I just want to examine how he does. I want to see how he pivots, what kind of zip is on his throws, how he tags, and how he sets up the shortstop. Strange that I didn’t even mention his bat.

7. Duncan Robinson and the Curious Case of the Scouting Reports – What most people don’t know about the minors is that pitchers don’t get MLB style scouting reports. I wonder how having a multitude of information will impact how Duncan Robinson performs. I’m pretty pumped to see how he pitches in late March rather than early March. The reason for that wish is to see him work through a MLB order a couple of times.

8. Out of the Pen – Two arms I would love to see get some MLB licks in on the mound this spring after Mekkes are Alzolay and Michael Rucker. Both are quite different pitchers on the surface. But they do share one thing in common, they both attack hitters. Neither is going to make the big league squad, but that doesn’t mean they can’t audition for a role later in the year.

9. Where Trent Giambrone and Zack Short Play – Both are very close to being ready for their shot in the majors. Both could be a utility type of bench player, but both should playing all over the infield this spring. 3B, SS, and 2B will be their spots, but with how much frequency will they get in games throughout the spring?

10. Pictures – Yeah, I am ready to make some baseball cards. In fact, I am pretty pumped about it. I have one new template this year, but that’s not going to stop me.

Spring Training News and Notes – Part 1: A Preview

By Todd Johnson

In just three days, the Chicago Cubs open spring training when pitchers and catchers officially report. I say “officially” because many players have been in Mesa since mid-January getting in shape and working out.

On Wednesday, the Cubs officially announced they invited 27 non-rostered players to camp. Here is the official list. Notice, there’s a glaring SS missing. Don’t worry, Nico will be there. The Cubs are well known for having their top prospects play on the MLB split squads. Expect Miguel Amaya to be there, too.

This might be one of the more interesting camps in recent years. There are a couple of roster spots still open and there is plenty of room, and time, for a trade to take place, or even to sign your basic $300 million free agent.

Here are the big storylines heading into camp.

The Elephant in the Room
The only major talent acquisition this winter was free agent infielder Daniel Descalso. However, the player who shall be nameless has yet to sign with anyone and may not for a couple more weeks. The only clue that something could be happening is if the Cubs make a major trade and shed $20-$30 million worth of payroll. Right now, I just don’t see that happening. I don’t see a team willing to take on that much money in today’s marketplace.

The Bullpen Spots
With Brandon Morrow on the shelf for the first month of the season, there should be one available spot in the bullpen. Preferably, that spot should go to a lefty. Right now, the Cubs only have Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing to fill that capacity. Then again, Joe could head north with his eight best relievers regardless of their preferential throwing arm. I like that Dakota Mekkes is in the major league camp and I can’t wait to see how he does.

The Bench Spots
As it stands now, the bench spots from the left-handed side of the plate belong to switch hitters Victor Caratini, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist. David Bote is the only hitter who hits solely from the right. The question is not who is going to be a bench bat at the end of spring training, it’s who’s going to be a bench bat when a certain SS is eligible to come back in May.

Minor League News
With the big leaguers rolling in, winter instructs are now officially over. Arizona Phil had a few comments throughout the last couple of weeks about what was taking place. Top prospect Nico Hoerner was smacking the ball all over the park but was not throwing overhand in defensive drills. Two interesting names that Phil dropped to watch this year are Alexander Guerra, a soon to be 22-year-old catcher from Cuba who displayed good power in BP and should be at South Bend this year. As well, outfielder Carlos Morfa, who played some last year in the Dominican, also impressed Phil with his power.

In addition, the Cubs keep adding to their collection of relievers at AAA Iowa by re-signing former first round pick Luke Hagerty. At 37, Hagerty’s story is an interesting one chronicled by ESPN and other outlets this week. The Cubs also signed pitcher Robert Robbins. So far, the Cubs have signed three pitchers who improved their velocity at Driveline this winter.

I’m pretty pumped to see some pictures coming in of the guys getting ready and we know that means they’ll be some new cards heading your way. I do store them over on Cub Central’s Facebook page. Here is the link to the current album.

Coming up This Week
I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at who the Cubs might redraft this summer. The Five Series continues on Wednesday with Jonathan Sierra and maybe I will record a podcast for later in the week… or it could be a video.

A Saturday Surprise – Keith Law Drops His Top Cubs List

By Todd Johnson

I got up today just like any other Saturday enjoying the fact that I got to sleep in and that my dogs let me. I booted around for a little bit, fed the dogs, and decided I would head to DeKalb get my medicine. When I stopped to eat breakfast on the way home, I took my phone out and I got a nice little Saturday surprise when I saw that Keith Law published his top Cubs prospect listUsually, these kinds of things don’t happen on the weekend. So, let’s take a look. The link does require a subscription. 

About a week ago, Law ranked the Cubs as having the number 29 farm system in the minors. It’s not that he doesn’t have a high regard for the Cubs, rather it’s that he doesn’t see a lot of high-end prospects right now. The Cubs currently don’t have a lot of prospects who contain that star quality that Law wants to see in a system. That could change over the next two summers. Still, I was looking forward to seeing just exactly who he put in his list.

It’s not a surprise who was at number one as Miguel Amaya made Law’s top 100 at 91 a couple weeks ago. And it’s no surprise that Nico Hoerner was at number two as he was included in Law‘s next 10 prospects.

A lot of the usual suspects filled up positions three through ten. The list included Brailyn Marquez, Adbert, Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, and Aramis Ademan. I was mildly surprised to see Oscar de la Cruz still in the top 10 along with Erich Uelmen, who had a rough second half at Myrtle Beach.

The two biggest surprises were the inclusion of Matt Swarmer on the list and the fact that Law ranked Brennen Davis ahead of Cole Roederer. I can easily see why Law did that. Roederer does have a much higher floor while Davis’ talents are just being tapped into now that he plays baseball full time. Scouts do rave about Davis’ athleticism.

Law did go on to discuss a myriad number of pitchers in the system including Alex Lange, Tyson Miller, Yovanny Cruz, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Brendon Little, Duncan Robinson, and Michael Rucker. He also professed to the talents of outfielder Nelson Velazquez, but held off on coronating the young outfielder as a prospect of the future.

There’s only one major prospect list remaining and that is MLB Pipeline’s. According to the schedule, it’ll be published the 21st February.

I’ve been keeping track of all the major prospect list rankings and it’s interesting to see the variance of where people are slotted. Here are the point totals so far with just one list left.

Prospect List Frenzy: Hoerner and Amaya Get Some Love This Week

By Todd Johnson

It has been extremely cold and snowy in northern Illinois this week. However, that didn’t stop things from happening when it came to prospect lists. Four lists were published this week and just a few remain before spring. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America published their lists early in the week. In addition, MLB Pipeline generated their position top 10 lists over the past two weeks. Pipeline capped the prospect frenzy off last night by announcing their top 100 prospect list.

The prospect evaluation season began in December when Fangraphs and Prospects Live published their top Cubs posts. Baseball America put out their top 10 Cubs a while back, too. I published my Top 21 list back at the beginning of the year.

This week’s frenzy all began when Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus published their top 100 and top 101 list on January 23. Not one prospect from the Cubs made Baseball America’s list. That was a bit surprising. It seemed that either Miguel Amaya or Nico Hoerner could have made it. For Baseball Prospectus, Nico came in at 86 on their top 101 and Miguel came in unofficially at 102 as he lead off their next 13 list. Yes, those lists might have been disappointing, but things should change greatly for both lists by the end of 2019. 

As for Prospects Live, I have been following Jason Pennini for a while on Twitter. He did an excellent write up on the Cubs top prospects back in December. On Friday, Pennini was part of the staff that wound up placing Nico Hoerner at #55 on their top 100 list. That was a bit shocking to me considering Nico hasn’t seen much action outside of the prestigious Arizona Fall League, which I think is the reason for his placement. I like that he is on the list. However, it might seem a bit presumptuous at first, but it might also be a solid projection of his skills.

As for MLB Pipeline…
It all began on Monday the 14th with the release of their top 10 catching prospects. Miguel Amaya cracked the list at #7. That bodes well for his future. I found their evaluation of his potential to be quite positive. They said,

Amaya’s offensive potential also has grown and he has the upside of a solid hitter with power to match. He has nice feel for the barrel, is getting better at managing the strike zone and makes repeated contact from the right side of the plate. He’s developing a better understanding of how to tap into his raw power, though he’ll need to get stronger after wearing down toward the end of his first year in full-season ball.

As for Nico, he did not crack the top 10 SS list. It wais a pretty solid list filled with several top 25 players in all the minors. At that point, I still held out hope that he could make their top 100 list.

The Actual List
Both Hoerner and Amaya made MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 coming in at #100 and #94 respectively. I was actually somewhat happy to see that. I expected Amaya to be there, but I didn’t expect Miguel to drop 7 slots. As for Hoerner, he could be the big mover on the list later this year. I see him jumping over Amaya pretty quickly as the spring moves along. Pipeline said the following about Nico’s potential:

He has the sneaky power to hit 15 homers per season, not to mention the patience to draw walks and the solid to plus speed to steal bases.

Though he has the quickness and athleticism for shortstop, scouts are mixed on his ability to stay there. His instincts and reliability stand out more than his range or arm at shortstop, so he may be better suited for second base and has drawn comparisons to Ian Kinsler. His tools also should allow him to play the outfield if needed.

In the long run, second base is where I envision him playing. While the Kinsler comp is nice, it might not be the most accurate. His ability to hit for average, get on base, and all while spraying it all over with occasional power. I think he shares more in common with Dustin Pedroia rather than Kinsler.

Hopefully, the Cubs will get a couple more names on the list in a year’s time. With Cole Roederer, Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez, and Richard Gallardo on the horizon, the Cubs have plenty of young talent that needs time to mature, perform, and produce.

Prospects Taking the Spotlight This Weekend

By Todd Johnson

I am a bit excited and anxious at the same time. I am excited to see MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect List get published tonight. I will sit down and watch it online tonight. Hopefully, a couple fo Cubs will make the list in Nico Hoerner and Miguel Amaya. However, you never know. The weather, on the other hand, is making me a bit anxious with the low temps and heavy snow forecasted…but I digress. Let’s get back to the prospects. They will keep me warm and busy for the next few days.

On Thursday, I got a question published in MLB Pipeline’s Inbox . I asked, “Which Cub prospect is going to move up the most on your Top 30 list next month?” The list is not due out until next month, but I thought I might try to get a sneak or a preview about the differences in their list. I really liked Jim Callis’ answer. He said,

In terms of prospects on our current Cubs Top 30, right-hander Richard Gallardo will jump from No. 27 to close to the Top 10. While Gallardo is 17 and has yet to appear in a pro game, he was the best pitcher on the international amateur market last summer and signed for $1 million out of Venezuela. He obviously has everything to prove, but he has the potential for three plus pitches and precocious feel for a teenager, so I like him more than most of Chicago’s muddled group of righties.

As for prospects not featured on the current list, right-handers Tyson Miller and Yovanny Cruz will push into the back of the Top 20. Both posted strikeout-to-walk ratios around 4/1 in 2018 with solid if not spectacular stuff. Cruz’s repertoire grades slightly better than Miller’s, though Miller starred in Class A Advanced last year and Cruz has yet to reach full-season ball.

I really liked his response. Tyson really grew a lot in terms of the quality of pitches he threw last year while still having good command. I also was excited to see Callis mention Yovanny Cruz, who I gushed about earlier this week.

While MLB Pipeline will publish their top 100 list tonight, their top 30 list for each team should be out in February. When it is released, I will be here to go over it.

In other upcoming news…
Baseball Prospectus is finally going to release their top 10 Cub prospects this week. After being pushed back and back and back, it will finally see the light of day. It is scheduled for Tuesday. I will go over the list at some point on Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

I have been tallying the Cubs prospect rankings so far. The #1 prospect in each list gets 10 points and so on down to #10 who gets 1. Here is the total so far. MLB Pipeline and Keith Law put theirs out next month, and hopefully John Sickels will publish his somewhere once he lands a gig.

Key: CC is Cubs Central, F is Fangraphs, PL is Prospects Live, BA is Baseball America, BP is Baseball Prospectus, and MLB is MLB Pipeline.

I will be back on Sunday (tomorrow) going over the prospect lists that have come out this week. There have been four of them. That’s a lot to digest and analyze.