Oscar De la Cruz

New Top 21 Prospect List Is Aggressive and Infused with Draft Picks and a Latin Feel

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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
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Age: 21
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
Age: 23
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
Age: 18
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
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Age: 22
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
Age: 21
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.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and baseball4. Tom Hatch – SP
Age: 21
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
Age 23
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
Age: 21
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
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Age: 20
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.

The May All-Star Team Breaks Precedence with 8 Starting Pitchers

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By Todd Johnson

April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.

Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive  I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.

I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.

Let’s get right to this month’s list…

Team Breakdown
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)

For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.

Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.

The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.

The Friday Six Pack – It’s Been a Great Month for Pitching

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By Todd Johnson

The trade talk for the Cubs right now surrounds the acquisition of a starting pitcher, preferably one who is signed beyond this year. Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article yesterday that listed some possible candidates who might be available this summer. Names included Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer and every Tampa Ray known to man. The price will be steep if the Cubs decide to go that route.

On the other hand, I was watching/listening to the Myrtle Beach game last night and I started to work on a post for next week. My monthly minor league All-Star team for May has some intriguing options. Usually, for a starting pitcher to be considered to make the team, the ERA is most often near or below three. This month four players who met that standard would not make the team. Zach Hedges is at 3.23, Adbert Alzolay, 2.91, Seth Frankoff, 2.76, and Jen-Ho Tsen, 2.70.

Granted, the month is not over. With six days to go, all of the pitchers listed in this post have one start left. So, it is technically still in a state of flux. That being said, today’s six pack shows just how deep and rich the Cubs starting pitching has been this month at AA Tennessee and high A Myrtle Beach.

Here are the six leading candidates to make Cubs Central’s May All-Star Team. They also could be considered to move up a level here in the next month around the draft. None of them should come as a surprise if you have been reading as I have written about all of them but one this month.

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Oscar de la Cruz 2.63 ERA
What impresses me most is that he works fast. He gets in a rhythm and just throws. He doesn’t necessarily rely on the strikeout, but he can if needed. Last night he struck out ten.

Preston Morrison 2.50 ERA
As usual, he had a crappy April and has had three quality starts in May. I wrote about him earlier this week. He gets great movement on all his pitches and he combines that with great strategy to baffle hitters.

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Trevor Clifton 1.85 ERA
He might be my favorite pitcher to watch. When he is on, it looks like his arm is made of rubber as to how effortless he throws. He also has the best pickoff move in the organization. It’s a bit of an under reported weapon for him. He is off to his best start as a Cubs prospect.

Bryan Hudson 1.23 ERA
He stayed in EXST to begin the year. He made 2 starts in April and his ERA was 10.13. In May, he’s been a ground ball machine averaging over 10 a game. In four starts, his 1.23 ERA is more indicative of the type of pitcher he’s becoming. The 6’8” lefty is moving up lists this summer. He just keeps gaining more and more confidence.

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Justin Steele 1.19 ERA
Good for him! He is the kind of kid you can root for. He is still working on some things, but his stuff this year has been compared to Lester’s. However, he still needs to get his command down. Even though opponents are hitting .250 against him, he’s stranding them on base this year.

Duncan Robinson 0.90 ERA
At the beginning of the month, he was one of the best relievers in the system. Now, the 6’6” righty from Dartmouth has been one of the best starters. He’s gone 13 innings in his two starts and only allowed one run. For the month, he pitched 20 innings combined.I don’t think he is going back to being a reliever. He is the biggest surprise/breakout of the 2017 season.

The next week should be fun to see who makes the All-Star team.

Cubs Central’s Preseason 1st Half All-Star Team Has Some Powerful Names

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Today is a fun day! It’s opening day for four of the Cubs’ minor-league affiliates! Weather permitting, Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend will take the field for the first time in 2017. It is not looking good for South Bend today as three to six inches are called for in West Michigan. As usual, I will be watching all the happenings. Then, starting this Sunday, “The Weekly” will have the players of the week. But today, it’s our annual preseason All-Star team for the first half.

What is happening today is I am picking out several players who I think will be the best at their position in the Cubs’ system through the middle of June. 

  

Catcher
I think that Victor Caratini is locked and loaded and has his eyes set on Chicago. He will be at AAA this year and more than likely, come 2018, he will be the backup catcher to Wilson Contreras. He might even see some time this summer depending on his defense.

First Base
Even though he is currently on the DL, I think Yasiel Balaguert has this position sewn up. Last year, he had 19 home run the 96 RBIs and I think he will improve upon that this year as he has been working on hitting up the middle and to the right.

Second Base
There is some stiff competition for this position with Carlos Sepulveda and Yeiler Peguero competing to get their name on the Internet. However, Ian Happ wins in a landslide. It is so self-evident, that I’m not even going to explain my thinking process for selecting him.

 

Shortstop
At the age of 17, Isaac Paredes made his class A debut at South Bend in late August of 2017. This year, the Cubs will get the full effect of what this man-child can do. He earned the starting spot and hopefully some power will go along with an outstanding batting average and on-base percentage… I’ll from an 18-year-old kid.

Third Base
I am going to break the mold, and tradition, and go with Wladimir Galindo who I think will do extremely well as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League. Normally, I would pick Jeimer Candelario for the spot, but I think Wladimir is determined to succeed and show his worth.

  

Outfield
I think this was the toughest category to pick just three players. I think the deciding factor is how I project them to perform in the first half and the excitement that they will bring to the game. As a result, I am selecting DJ Wilson of South Bend, Eloy Jimenez of Tennessee, and I’m going to stun everybody and go with Bijan Rademacher of Iowa. I know I am leaving out Eddy Martinez and Mark Zagunis, but I think Bijan is going to hit more home runs than both the next two months.

  

Starting Pitchers
I found it hard to just pick six because the Cubs development of pitchers is becoming more and more pronounced. I am going with Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, Eddie Butler, Erling Moreno, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, and I am picking Kyle Miller as a Darkhorse. I also thought about including Ryan Williams, Rob Zastryzny, and Zach Hedges. What used to be the weakness of the organization is now turning into a strength. I would not be surprised to see a couple of these pitchers make it to Chicago this year.

Relief Pitchers
Last year, relievers were the strength of the organization. They helped out the big league club down the stretch and Rob Zastryzny even made it to the World Series. This year, Pierce Johnson leads a group of arms who are still a ways off from helping the big league club. Ryan McNeil, Jordan Mnch, Wyatt Short, Dakota Mekkes, and Chad Hockin are just a few of the names who will be excellent bullpen arms the spring. I know there are other bullpen arms, especially in South Bend, who could’ve been added to this list.

Last year’s preseason All-Star team played a significant role in two ways. Some of them wound up on the major-league roster and were key players in the World Series victory. Other prospects were parts of packages used to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery who helped to win the World Series.

I don’t quite know what will happen this year with some of these prospects, but that’s the fun of it. In four weeks, the April All-Star team should give us a glimpse into how well this package of players listed above did on the road to Wrigley.

Myrtle Beach Preview – 3 In a Row Sounds Great!

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By Todd Johnson

Back-to-back-to-back has a nice ring to it. I am sure manager Buddy Bailey would enjoy doing the honors and earning his second consecutive ring and the third in a row for the Cubs’ high class A affiliate.

2016 Review – 82-57 second straight Mills Cup Championship
The 2016 Pelicans was a tale of two teams. The first half saw a team struggle to get to .500 even with the Cubs top two prospects, Gleyber Torres and Ian Happ. Near the break, Torres, along with Rashad Crawford, were traded to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade. Happ was promoted to Tennessee along with Zach Hedges, the Pelicans’ best first half starting pitcher. It appeared as though the affiliate was left for dead. What happened next was a team pulling together.

On offense, the promotions of Donnie Dewees and Ian Rice from South Bend helped solidify the lineup along with the emergence of Charcer Burks, David Bote, and Yasiel Balaguert made the offense a run-scoring machine. On the mound, Trevor Clifton got his groove going and became the Cubs minor-league pitcher of the Year. Righties Eric Leal and Preston Morrison had great seasons as starters while the bullpen, anchored by Ryan McNeil, shut down the opposition on their way to their second Mills cup championship.

2017 Preview
Most of the this year’s roster will be filtering in from last year’s South Bend team. Although it looks like top prospect Eloy Jimenez will miss the first month of the season, there is still plenty of optimism and plenty of prospects to watch.

Three Hitters to Watch
Second baseman Carlos Sepulveda will only be 19 when the season starts. But the young left-handed hitter might be one of the best pure hitters in the Cubs’ system. He has a short, quick stroke to the ball and is developing some gap power walk away.

I think Eddy Martinez will have a rejuvenating year after missing two years to become a free agent. I think now that he is accustomed to playing full season ball, he will be much better off in 2017. He’s already a plus defender and easily has the best outfield arm in the minors for the Cubs. The fact that he will be in centerfield this year will only make his bat better.

Catcher PJ Higgins has no equal as a defender in the system. He also has an excellent eye at the plate. I would like to see him hit for a little more power this year to go with his normal on-base percentage of almost .400.

Three Pitchers to Focus On
Oscar de la Cruz will be the top rated pitcher when he arrives from extended spring training in May. The Cubs are just being cautious with the big right-hander who can throw in the mid-90s with his fastball and also has a plus curve. Oscar’s goal for the year is to work on his changeup and turn it into at least an average offering to go along with excellent command he has with his other two pitches.

Last year, I loved to watch Kyle Miller pitch. He is very efficient in how he works quickly to control the tempo and rhythm of the game. It also helps that he has a wicked cutter. One of the few Cubs pitchers to throw one, Miller stands out for his command of the pitch already.

Ryan Kellogg had a sub 2.00 ERA in the second half of last year. His curveball might still be giving some batters nightmares just from the thought of seeing it. While it Acts more like a slow slider, it gets the results that Kellogg wants.

There are many other Pelicans to keep an eye on this year who could help lead them to a championship. Matt Rose is a player who I think could be a breakout prospect this year in Myrtle Beach. He finished 2016 strong as he hit seven home runs in August for South Bend. When it comes to pitching, I think Casey Bloomquist will surprise many, even in a relief role. He is beginning to throw a cutter in games. He began working on the pitch last summer with help from Cubs minor league pitching coordinator Jim Brower.

The Second Half
I think just like last year’s team, the 2017 version of the Pelicans should be pretty similar. I think a second-half infusion of talent could be just what propels them to their third straight Mills Cup championship.

Probable Lineup
LF – Eloy
CF – Martinez
RF -Daniel Spingola
3B – Jesse Hodges
SS – Andruw Monasterio
2B – Sepulveda
1B – Rose
C – Higgins
DH – Connor Myers
SP – de la Cruz, Kellogg, Alzolay, Kyle Miller, Bloomquist, Justin Steele

First to Be Promoted – Eloy Jimenez
I think he’s going to be a man among boys for a short time in the Carolina League. I could espouse for days on here about Eloy’s talent. Even with the spring training that he had this year, there is no doubt in my mind he is not that far away from Chicago. I expect him to spend most of the summer in Tennessee, but first, he needs to do a little damage in Myrtle Beach to get there. He just turned 20 years old. I think Chicago can wait one more year.

Other Previews
Iowa
Tennessee

Which Cubs could break onto a top 100 list this year?

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By Todd Johnson


Most prospect lists have between three and five Cub prospects in their top 100 lists. While Eloy and Ian Happ are the only usual picks, others filtering in the lists include Dylan Cease, Jeimer Candelario, Trevor Clifton, and Albert Almora. It just depends on the list.

This got me thinking what other Cubs could make it onto lists later this year. It is more than just looking at current rankings. It includes evaluating pure talent, performance, and projection.

I think 2017 begins with Jose Albertos bursting onto the scene. We might have to wait until June to see it, or it could happen at South Bend. Fangraphs describes why Albertos is so special:

Albertos was sitting 90-94 mph in extended spring training before his fastball ticked up in the summer. He was 93-98 in his only AZL outing, throwing strikes where he wanted to at 95, and still bumping 96-plus in his fourth inning of work.

Another ascending prospect, Oscar de la Cruz, is a big, big man. He has such a dominating presence at close to 6’6″ on the mound. He can throw in the mid-90s and has a plus curve. He is still working on his change. If he can begin 2017 healthy, he could easily break onto most lists. MLB Pipeline placed him in their second 100. So, he’s close.

Depending on who you ask, evaluations very greatly on our next prospect at the plate. However, Eddy Martinez is very talented in the field. He has a great arm and, with Donnie Dewees now in Kansas City, Martinez could slide over to center this spring. I think his arm plays better in right. I think his bat will be better this after missing basically two seasons getting out of Cuba.

Wladimir Galindo and Erling Moreno are two members of the Cubs vaunted 2013 IFA class. Both missed the better part of two seasons and both were excellent in Eugene in 2016. Moreno throws in the low to mid-90s and has a devastating 12-6 curve. His WHIP was 0.70 last year. Galindo hit 9 HRs in a little over 60 games. He could hit 20+ this year at South Bend. That would put him in an elite status.

The Cubs 2016 third round pick, Thomas Hatch, did not pitch after putting in 131 IP at Oklahoma State in 2016 after missing all of 2015. It appears we will see his four-pitch mix at South Bend. And that four-pitch mix will likely overpower Midwest League hitters.

Sometimes prospects stumble, and for Duane Underwood, let’s just hope 2016 was a stumble after two years of pesky minor injuries. I am hoping he can return to form and shoot back onto most lists with a rebound season. It’s all about commanding his pitches down in the zone.

The Cubs have two first round picks and more than likely those picks will be on some top 100 lists at the end of the season, especially if they get a prep bat.

In the end, I think you have to give the best odds to de la Cruz and Albertos. With Trevor Clifton and Dylan Cease a little bit ahead on most lists, I truly think this is the year where Cubs pitchers begin to break out in a big way.

10 Things I Think As Cubs’ MiLB Camp Opens

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By Todd Johnson


The rites of Spring are upon us.The Cubs’ minor league camp will be in full gear this week. Normally, I would begin publishing minor league previews during the first week of March. But this year is different.

The main reason for the delay is that I have no idea of who is playing where when it comes to Tennessee and Iowa. A lot of that has to do with a number of minor-league signings this past winter. Most of them were pitchers, but there are a few position players like Chris Dominguez.

I could take a stab at who is going to be in Myrtle Beach and South Bend, but I think the added depth at AA and AAA will create a lot of competition throughout the minor-league portion of camp.

So, before things begin to play out in Mesa, here are 10 things I will be thinking about as the minor league camp begins.

One – Chesney Young – he got a nice write up in a profile by Carrie Muskat on MLB.com yesterday. I still think he will be in Chicago later this summer.

cease 76 2016 eugTwo – Dylan Cease – He’s added about 10 pounds of muscle and Jason McLeod said there are no restrictions on him. I think this is the year he dominates across two levels.

Three – Eloy – The man child is two for five this spring in two games with the big league club. I think he’s taking this “making the club thing” very, very seriously.

Four – Jose Albertos – I am extremely excited to see him make his spring training debut, even if it is in an intrasquad game.

Five – Ian Happ – I want to see how he does spending most of the camp with the major-league squad. Then, in his transition back to minor league ball, I think he takes a step forward in his development as a result of spending time with the big boys.

Six – Eddy Martinez – I am excited to see if he just begins to pound the ball the spring. Taking two years off probably had some effect on him just as much as the length of last season did.

Seven – Erling Moreno – as he gets ready to make his full-season debut, his performances this spring could dictate a short or a long stay at South Bend.

cruz 68 2016 sb

Eight – Oscar de la Cruz – I wonder if he’s fully recovered from missing the first half of 2016. If he comes out throwing around 95 to 97, he is not going to be in Myrtle Beach very long.

Nine – Thomas Hatch – The man no one has seen in game action will soon be seen in game action. I can’t wait!

Ten – Trades – at some point over the next 4 to 4 1/2 months, I am pretty sure the Cubs are going to make a trade to acquire either a starting pitcher or another bullpen alarm. With several players blocked in the minor leagues, it would not surprise me to see the Cubs pull the trigger as early as April if they get the right deal. To me, that right deal might be another prospect for prospect trade.