Oscar De la Cruz
By Todd Johnson
Last week, in part one, I talked about the depth of right-handed starting pitching in the system. That depth also could make my job harder to pick just six arms each month for all-star teams. If I was to rank all 34 right-handed starters, there would not be much of a difference between number 30 and 13. However, in this article, the top six arms in the system set themselves apart from the pack with their talent.
6. Jen-Ho Tseng – For the second time in four years, he was named the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year. There probably won’t be a third. He’s pretty much ready. With a plus curve and a plus change, he can baffle hitters as long as he can command his fastball. It will be interesting to see what role he gets in spring training. If he doesn’t make the 25 man in the pen, he will begin 2018 at Iowa as a starter.
5. Oscar De la Cruz – He did not pitch 50 innings last year. That’s a concern. In fact, he hasn’t pitched a 100 innings combined over the last two years. That is a huge concern. As a result, it is easy to question whether he is built to be a starter. He definitely has starter stuff, but he keeps breaking down. Last year, it was a shoulder strain, the year before, a forearm strain. He was all set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 and the Cubs yanked him from there. For 2018, there are a lot of questions that only his performance and health can answer. Spring training will give us the first look.
4. Thomas Hatch – Year two should go much better. Maybe he was thrown to wolves a bit last year, but he did dominate as much as he struggled. At AA, his four pitch mix should play well if he can find the zone. After a 0.98 ERA in five June starts, I thought he was headed to Tennessee. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, he stayed healthy for the entire year, pitched 124 innings, and struck out 126. An interesting tidbit is that he only pitched beyond five innings just five times. AA will be a huge test to improve that efficiency.
3. Alex Lange – I love to watch him pitch. He has an amazing curve and when his fastball command is on, he is almost unhittable. The problem is he needs a third pitch if he dreams of being a starter in Chicago. He got in 9 innings of work last summer to acclimate himself a bit to the minors. As for where he will begin 2017, part of me hopes it is South Bend to get a taste of a Great Lakes spring. The other part of me hopes for Myrtle Beach to challenge him. Right now, I am leaning toward the former. This is one thing I would like to find out this weekend at the Convention.
2. Adbert Alzolay – He needs to refine his secondaries some more this year. He should begin 2018 at AAA Iowa and if he ever gets a changeup figured out, he could be in Chicago quickly. He should make several starts with the big league club in Chicago during spring training. That should be fun.
1. Jose Albertos – I love everything about this kid. Ever since Eloy left, I labeled him as the Cubs top prospect. His 18-year-old-floor contains a 91-96 mph fastball, a wicked plus changeup, and a curve that still has some grip issues. If he gets the curve figured out, the sky’s the limit for his ceiling. He just needs to keep building innings and arm strength. In 2016, he only got 4 in. Last year, he put in 60+ if you include extended spring training. This year, 100 should be the goal and 120-130 in 2019 making him ready for 160 big league innings in 2020.
More names to watch
Jesus Camargo – I love his changeup. He had a good 2017 coming off of TJS and was one of my favorites to watch last year. Plus changeup.
Alec Mills – I need to see more. Several lists have him as a top 10 prospect, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Jeremiah Estrada – He’s young, moldable, and was a stud in 2016 on the summer circuit. His 2017 high school season was a downer but the Cubs took the talented flamethrower in the 6th round and dissuaded him from going to UCLA. There’s no rush with him.
Bailey Clark – 2018 should be a good year for him as it sounds like he is working hard this offseason and building up strength to get back into the mid 90s. In August, he destroyed the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA.
Erick Leal – After missing all of 2017, he should be back at Tennessee and the long, lanky righty will get his first crack at AA.
Erling Moreno – If he could only stay healthy. He missed the better part of two months in 2017 after missing most of 2014-15. When he and his plus curve are on, he’s very good. When he’s not, it is not pretty.
Keegan Thompson – Last year was a comeback year for the 2017 draft pick from Auburn and now he should be set free from day one with no restrictions. The former flamethrower said surgery turned him into more of a pitcher. I look forward to seeing him in South Bend.
Erich Uelmen – He didn’t get a lot of work in after being drafted last year, but he should be in a rotation somewhere in 2018. He can throw in the low to mid 90s in somewhat of a sidearm style.
Jesus Tejada – He was the hottest Cub pitcher in August but that was down in the Dominican. He should be stateside this year. I think he will probably start out in Eugene.
Brendan King – He was the ace of the Mesa staff after being drafted last summer. The kid from Holy Cross should get a crack at South Bend to start 2018. He struck out 28 in 22 innings and made 4 starts for the Rookie League champs.
Next week’s breakdown post returns on Friday as I examine left-handed starters.
By Todd Johnson
This series is beginning to stretch out longer than I thought it would. Originally, the plan was to do one mailbag, maybe two this offseason. Yet, this is the fourth and I have enough questions for two more after this. Considering there’s no rush to get to spring training, if you’d like to send me a question, go ahead and tweet at me (@CubsCentral08) or you can send me an email to CubsCentral email@example.com.
Does Wladimir Galindo start 2018 in South Bend?
I sure hope not. On Wednesday, Galindo gets centerstage in the “Leveling Up” series. In that piece, I am going to talk about how despite his injuries, he keeps moving up a level every year. A lot of that attributes to his natural power stroke. But the strange thing for me is that he gets better every year. Last year he hit .290 in just 44 games and had 36.9% of batted balls go to right field – that’s very Sammy-esque. As a result, I feel pretty confident in saying that he’s going to begin 2018 in Myrtle Beach.
Coming off a broken leg cannot be easy, but Galindo is already soft hitting off a tee and looks to be on track to be ready.
Should the Cubs promote Buddy Bailey to bench coach in the next couple of years?
While Buddy does have a wealth of experience and a great mind, it’s obvious that he is best suited to teaching prospects. He has done a much better job of getting AA prospects ready to play for AA while he has been in Class A Myrtle Beach the past two seasons. I am excited to see how his work this year with Eddy Martinez, Jesse Hodges, Zack Short, and Tyler Alamo pays off next year in Tennessee. Even though he won’t be there, you can see his fingerprints all over David Bote and Charcer Burks from this past year. I think Buddy is right where he needs to be to help the Cubs organization the most.
Is De La Cruz’s future/projection as a starter or a closer?
This is a great question, Shawn. I have been thinking about this a lot over the past two summers. In that timeframe, Oscar has only pitched 95 innings. He’s look good in doing so, but if he’s going to need a lot of work to be a MLB starter. Consider this – the highest amount of innings he’s pitched in one season is 73. That’s not very many. Ideally, when starters get to the MLB level, they should have pitched between 130-140 innings the previous year at AA/AAA. With Oscar, I am really struggling to keep him a starter if beyond this year if he cannot stay healthy because of his lack of innings.
If you watch Oscar throw, it doesn’t look like there’s any kind of over-exertion. He comes across as throwing free and easy in the low to mid 90s. It doesn’t look like he puts much effort into throwing a curve or change. It is easy to see why so many people are so high on him. But if you can’t stay healthy, you can’t stay healthy.
The best thing about Oscar is that he still 23. The Cubs still have about three more years to work with him if they envision him as a starter. I would wager that he gets a crack at starting again this year and next.
As for his assignment in 2018, I don’t know if that’s going to be at Myrtle Beach or Tennessee. I’d like to think it would be Tennessee, but I think how he looks in spring training will determine everything.
Next Week’s mailbag will be devoted to just one question – How does the system now compare to when Theo took over in 2011?
By Todd Johnson
Three weeks of next to nothing. The hot stove is very cold as nothing is happening anywhere. The only transactions the Cubs made were taking a couple of flyers on relievers Randy Rosario and Cory Mazzoni. I don’t think there’s going to be any difference this next week.
The Cubs shopping list is pretty short this off-season. They need two starters, maybe two relievers – preferably left-handed, a backup catcher, and maybe a fifth outfielder.
I think everything’s going to come down to Ohtani. He gets posted by his Japanese club next weekend and then it’s a matter of time until he signs. Once he makes his decision, then everything is going to start to fall in place. Then Darvish will sign, then Arietta. Those three will set the market.
With the Winter Meetings scheduled for the week of December 11, look for a lot to happen then.
Atlanta Braves Penalized
Commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Braves and their former GM John Coppolella was banned for life and one scout for a year. They also set free 13 young international players including shortstop Kevin Maitan. The Cubs are eligible to go sign any of these players under this year’s bonus pool, or if they choose, next year’s bonus pool. Those players officially become free agents on December 5. I will have a full fledged post on this topic later this week.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler also reported the Cubs are in the lead to sign 15 -year-old SS Rafael Morel this summer during International Free Agency.
MLB and MiLB Rule 5 Lists
The Cubs finalized their 40 man roster earlier this week. They protected Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, and David Bote from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40 man roster. Below is the list for the major league portion of the draft and the other is for the minor-league portion of the draft. Both come from The Cub Reporter.
Rule 5 MLB Selection Only
Any of the following players selected will have to be placed on the 25 man MLB roster or returned to the Cubs. The odds are slim that any of the following players are taken on December 14. However, I could see Hanneman, Araujo, and Hancock as possibilities. Maybe Chesny Young or Bijan Rademacher have an outside chance.
C-1B Tyler Alamo, RHP Pedro Araujo, OF Luis Ayala OF Jeffrey Baez, 1B-OF Yasiel Balaguert, RHP Corey Black, OF Charcer Burks, RHP Trevor Clifton, RHP Elvis Diaz, INF Mike Freeman, RHP David Garner, LHP Yapson Gomez, RHP Justin Hancock, OF Jacob Hannemann, RHP Zach Hedges, INF Jesse Hodges, RHP Erick Leal, RHP Brad Markey, 1B-OF Joe Martarano, RHP Ryan McNeil, LHP Jordan Minch, RHP Erling Moreno, RHP James Norwood, LHP Jose Paulino, INF Carlos Penalver, C-1B Jhonny Pereda, RHP Williams Perez, OF-1B Chris Pieters, OF Bijan Rademacher, LHP Manuel Rondon, RHP Jose Rosario, LHP Carson Sands, RHP Pedro Silverio, RHP Jake Stinnett, RHP Daury Torrez, INF Jason Vosler, RHP Ryan Williams, and INF Chesny Young.
MiLB Rule 5 Only
The minor-league portion of the rule draft is a bit different. I could see anyone of these prospects being taken by another team. To be honest, the catchers are most likely to be selected. While the Cubs do have some depth there, you still hate to lose anyone.
INF Gioskar Amaya, RHP Luis Aquino, C-1B Cael Brockmeyer, INF Stephen Bruno, OF Roberto Caro, C Erick Castillo, INF Kevin Cornelius, RHP Yan de la Cruz, RHP Enrique de los Rios, INF Andrew Ely, RHP Luiz Escanio, RHP Miguel Estevez, OF Robert Garcia, RHP Mark Malave, C-1B Alberto Mineo, LHP Chris Nunn, INF Adonis Paula, C Tyler Pearson, INF Henry Pedra, RHP Stephen Perakslis, RHP James Pugliese, C Will Remillard, C Ali Solis, and LHP Tommy Thorpe.
40 man Roster Analysis
By Todd Johnson
Heading into today, the Cubs had six spots open on their 40 man roster. They could have used all six spots to protect six prospects from the Rule 5 Draft or they could have used less if they wanted. They could also release a couple guys and protect more than six.. But whatever they did, I was pretty sure the Cubs would protect their pitching assets. Namely, Adbert Alzolay and Oscar de la Cruz would be added so as not to fall into the enemy’s hands. In the end, the Cubs picked players they currently value who they think could help the team in the very near future.
Adbert Alzolay – He’s been pretty much a given since the end of the season and his standing in the organization has reached a level not seen for a Cub starting pitcher in a long time. He is far from a finished product as he still has work to do on his curve and changeup. He could make an appearance at some point this summer. Although, he hasn’t pitched over 120 innings in one season yet.
If Oscar de la Cruz ever gets healthy, he can move quickly. Then again, I have been saying that for two years. And in that timeframe, he’s barely pitched 95 innings. Still, his protection shows value. I wonder how long the Cubs are going to try to keep him as a starter if he continues to miss time.
David Bote – He tore the cover off the ball from July of 2016 to June 2017 before a minor slump in July. Still, he rebounded to do well in the Arizona Fall League to hit .333 with a .395 OBP and 4 HRs in 19 games. It helps that he played all over the field in 2017 including 12 games in the outfield. When I first saw him play in 2014, he was playing SS. His versatility is a key.
With only six spots, and some 50+ players eligible for Rule 5 selection, the Cubs cannot protect everyone. Then again if selected, the team making the choice has to keep the player on the 25 man roster or return them to the original team. The Cubs only have a few players eligible for rule five selection who could be at best bench players in the majors. To be honest, I did not see much of a gamble in whom the Cubs left off. The gamble will come by another team if they select a Cub.
Outfielder Bijan Rademacher, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, and 3B Jason Vosler were the most notable position players left off. Trevor Clifton, Pedro Araujo, Jose Paulino, Erling Moreno, and Jake Stinnett are some of the better known pitchers.
A year ago, I said that Clifton and Young should be locks for the 40 man. In 2018, things still can change for both of them as they will make some adjustments for the upcoming season. Just because a player was not selected does not mean the Cubs are down on that prospect. Instead, it is more about 2018 than anything else. In a year from now, the Cubs will do this all over again.
In addition, the Cubs also sent Jacob Hannemann down to AAA Iowa. The roster now stands at 36.
By Todd Johnson
40 Man Decisions
Monday should be a big newsday as every major league baseball team has to turn in their 40 man roster which will include prospects that will no longer be available for other teams to take in the Rule 5 Draft. it should be interesting to see which players the Cubs protect.
With six spots on the 40 man available, I have a pretty good inkling that the Cubs’ list will be pitching heavy with Adbert Alzolay, Oscar de la Cruz, Pedro Araujo, outfielder Charcer Burks, and infielder David Bote most likely to be added. I also think that Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett could make the 40 man cut as well. It would be a huge gamble to leave one of the two off. Then again, the team that selects a player has to put them on the 25 man roster. It is easier to hide a pitcher in the pen than a position player on the bench. Don’t be surprised if the Cubs only select pitchers to go on the 40 man.
Major League Baseball will supposedly be handing down their punishment to the Atlanta Braves tomorrow. I expect it will be harsh and result in several prospects being named free agents, including SS Kevin Maitan. It would be wise of Maitan to wait until July 2 to resign with a new team as most teams have already spent most of their 2017 IFA pool. The 6’2” 190 pound 17-year-old would look good in Eugene this summer!
Arizona Fall League Ends
It was an up and down 6 weeks for most of the Cubs’ prospects. David Bote came on like gangbusters hitting .333 with a .395 OBP to go with 4 HRs (most in the first week). Catcher Ian Rice was pretty steady hitting .311 with a .415 OBP in just 13 games. Outfielder Charcer Burks hit .236 while Jason Vosler hit .210 with a .323 OBP and 2 HRs.
Pitcher Alec Mills had his moments as a starter but then equally struggled at times. Adbert Alzolay was used frequently and was excelling before he gave up 6 runs in 0.2 innings. However, Jake Stinnett and Pedro Araujo shined all fall with ERAs under 2 and K rates of 14+/9 IP.
The Cubs brass probably learned what they wanted to know about each prospect this fall. Tomorrow, we shall see who they value most from this bunch when some will be protected and some will not.
While Baseball America did kick off the prospect list season this week, it will be about another month before Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs do theirs. In the meantime, John Sickles will probably have his prospect list released by the end of this week or early next week.
On Wednesday this week, the off-season prospect series debuts with a profile of outfielder DJ Wilson. The series is called “Leveling Up.” The emphasis of each article will be a 2017 review and a 2018 to do list. On Friday, the position breakdown series returns as I analyze each position by ranking the top Cub prospects at that position.
Mailbag Part 2 Coming Up
The first mailbag post this week was somewhat successful. I have enough questions left over for two more posts. The second one will be out tomorrow, the other on the 27th.
Baseball Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
When it comes to prospect lists this winter, beauty is definitely going to be in the eye of the beholder. As prospect lists begin to come out over the course of the next three months, you could see 20 different Cubs make a top 10 list. And you could see four or five different Cubs atop each of those lists. In a post-Eloy world, it’s going to take a long time for those lists to settle down. With the possibility that the Cubs might make another trade this offseason, more chaos could soon enter those lists.
Baseball America is getting ready to drop their latest Top 10 Cubs Prospects List on Monday or Tuesday, in addition to their top tools in the system. I thought I might beat them to the punch at their own game and come out with my prediction of their list of top MiLB tools and try to guess who they will select as their top 10 Cubs prospects.
🔸Best Hitter for Average: Victor Caratini – No one else is even close.
🔸Best Power Hitter: Nelson Velazquez – 10 HRs in 6 weeks ought to get him the title.
🔸Fastest Baserunner: DJ Wilson – Watch him hit a triple and you will see how fast he flies.
🔸Best Athlete: Jacob Hannemann is now but might not be for long. Nelson Velazquez could overtake him in a year.
🔸Best Fastball: Adbert Alzolay – Sitting at 96 in the sixth and seventh innings is pretty impressive.
🔸Best Curveball: Dillon Maples – To him, this is his fastball as he commands it and throws it in fastball counts.
🔸Best Slider: Dillon Maples – This will be the pitch that makes him a killer pro.
🔸Best Changeup: Jose Albertos barely gets the nod over Eugene teammate Jesus Camargo. Both are excellent and get some ugly, ugly swings.
🔸Best Control: Adbert Alzolay – It begins and ends with the ability to put his fastball where and when he wants. Jen-Ho Tseng comes in a close second.
🔸Best Defensive Catcher: Miguel Amaya – While blocking might be a small issue, his arm is clearly not. PJ Higgins is next. It will be interesting to watch Will Remillard come back and to see what recent international signee Alexander Guerra can do
🔸Best Defensive INF and Best INF Arm: You might think that Aramis Ademan would get the nod. However, Luis Vazquez is better and more consistent. I’ve only seen him make a few plays, but he shows much more range, fluidity, and athleticism than Ademan.
🔸Best Defensive OF: Now that Trey Martin is gone and Jake Hannemann is back, Hannemann barely gets the nod over Charcer Burks, DJ Wilson, and Nelson Velazquez. In a year, Velazquez could win almost every hitting and outfield award.
🔸Best OF Arm: Eddy Martinez – 2018 is going to be his year. Don’t be shocked to see him get a chance in Chicago later this summer.
Baseball America’s top 10 list is going to be a little bit different than mine as I do not consider Victor Caratini to still be a prospect. While he technically is, he has spent enough time in the majors to not be, just not the prerequisite 130 at-bats. After Caratini, it could be a free-for-all. It just depends on what value one sees in a prospect.
Where all these prospects are going to be ranked is a complete mystery to me. I’m having trouble reconciling whether to put Ademan in the top five and whether to include Dillon Maples in the top 10. I know other people like pitcher Adbert Alzolay a lot (as do I), but I think that Jose Albertos is a better high-end and prospect and would be my top prospect overall. I would expect the two young pitchers to be 2A and 2B.
Then, all bets are off.
In thinking of how I would do my own list, I’m half tempted to put Nelson Velasquez at number four. Just based on his little six week stint of 10 home runs in Mesa, you have to love the praise he garnered from evaluators and Jason McLeod in the Mark Gonzalez article.
There at least a dozen players who could make their way into Baseball America’s top 10. Mark Zagunis might be the most ready for the majors after Caratini. Thomas Hatch could more than likely be in the top 10 along with the Cubs two first round picks from 2017, Brendon Little and Alex Lange. MLB.com’s number one prospect, the oft-injured Oscar de la Cruz, should be in the top 10 as well as shortstop Aramis Ademan. Cases could also be made for Dillon Maples, Jen-Ho Tseng, Trevor Clifton, Duane Underwood, Jr., D.J. Wilson, and Justin Steele as top 10 prospects this winter.
Their analysis should make for some very interesting discussions in the coming week.
The Weekly: MiLB Roster Moves, International Free Agent List, and the 40 Man and Rule V List is Coming
By Todd Johnson
MiLB Roster News
The Cubs claimed outfielder Jake Hannemann off waivers from Seattle who previously acquired Hannemann from the Cubs back in September. With the pending free agency of John Jay, and the possibility of the Cubs trading one of their young outfielders, Hanneman provides some depth along with current Iowa Cub Mark Zagunis.
The Cubs re-signed Minor League free agent James Pugliese on Friday. In the past week, fellow Cubs prospects Gioskar Amaya and Erick Castillo also re-upped. Trey Martin, John Andreoli, Chris Nunn, and Matt Carasiti still remain unsigned for next year.
The Cubs also released the names and ages of 21 more international free agents they signed. Arizona Phil, as usual, of The Cub Reporter had the full list. He spent most of the article talking about 20-year-old Cuban catcher Alexander Guerra who I found out is nicknamed “El Tanque!” The Cubs previously announced they had signed shortstops Luis Verdugo and Fabian Pertuz, pitcher Florencio Serrano, and OF Alexander Ovalles back in July.
40 Man and Rule V Deadline Approaching
By November 20, The Cubs have to turn in their 40 man roster prior to the Rule V Draft. When I looked at possible prospects back in the middle of the summer, a lot has changed in those four months. Certain locks are not so certain anymore. I think the Cubs might even gamble I’m leaving a few touted prospects off the list.
I think there are four prospects that definitely will get added. They are Oscar de la Cruz, Adbert Alzolay, David Bote, and Pedro Araujo. Reliever Matt Carasiti could be in the discussion as he has had success at AAA in the Rockies’ system and again at Iowa. Carasiti has yet to sign a contract for next year.
Pitchers Trevor Clifton and and Jake Stinnett are borderline candidates to be added to the 40 man roster along with infielders Chesny Young and Jason Vosler.
2017 was such a strange year for Trevor Clifton. He looked like a certain 40 man candidate at the end of May and again at the All-Star break where he was a Southern League All-Star. Things fell apart in the second half. For Stinnett, he did not see any action until late in the summer and that was in a relief role. I think a team could take a huge gamble and select him. The Cubs could/should end up protecting both.
Arizona Fall League
What I am enjoying most about performances by the Cubs’ prospects this fall is the job that relievers Jake Stinnett and Adbert Alzolay are doing. On Friday, they each pitched two innings and struck out three and neither allowed a run. As for Stinnett, he did not allow a hit as his ERA is now down to 2.45 in 7.1 IP. Alzolay is at 0.90 in 20 IP.
It has also been nice to see Adbert Alzolay get a lot of traction online as a possible pitcher for next summer. While his fastball and approach are close to major-league ready, he still needs some work on his curve and changeup. I think the earliest we could see Adbert in Chicago would be in July. That could be in relief or it could be as a starter. At AAA Iowa, he is definitely going to be a starter for now. It is best to take a wait and see attitude. He is sure to get some looks at doing both in the major league camp.
In exactly one week, free agency will begin and trades will start happening. It doesn’t take long after the World Series ends. I will have a three-part look this week at the “State of the Cubs for 2018.” I will look at position players first, then I take a peek at the starting pitching, and finally, I examine what is needed in the bullpen.
After Friday, I am all out of prewritten material. The “Leveling Up” and “Position Breakdown” Series begin the week of Thanksgiving.
Top MiLB Storylines for 2018: Part 1