By Todd Johnson
What a week!
Between the Cubs attempted signing of Shohei Ohtani, the possibility that Giancarlo Stanton briefly wanted to come to the Cubs, and the signing of Tyler Chatwood, I am worn out. It was nice to sleep in on Saturday morning, if only to get some rest. Starting tomorrow, the General Manager meetings will take place in Orlando, Florida. As a result, there will be no respite next week.
From trade rumors to free agents, the internet has been a buzz of activity and speculation now that Ohtani and Stanton have cleared the marketplace.
Later, on Thursday the 14th, the Rule Five Draft will take place. There will be two parts – a minor-league phase and a major-league phase. The Cubs have 48 players eligible to be selected in the major league phase. However, most teams are not gonna want to take a chance on the Cubs’ talent except for maybe a few players like reliever Pedro Araujo and utility man Chesny Young. Then again, Araujo has never pitched above Class A Myrtle Beach while Young had an up and down season at AAA. Jacob Hannemann, who got a cup of coffee last year with Seattle, could be selected as well.
The Cubs could take a chance and select a pitcher like Kohl Stewart from Minnesota who they could put in the bullpen and develop him into a starter. The former 2013 first round pick (#4) of the Twins is someone the Cubs could take a gamble on in hopes of future performance. If it doesn’t work out, the Cubs return him back to Minnesota at the end of spring training. Ideally, the Cubs would hope to find a left-handed strike thrower and hope they get lucky like they did with Hector Rondon in 2012.
When it comes to the minor-league phase of the draft on Thursday, the Cubs only have 24 players eligible to be selected by other minor league systems. Any of the Cubs eligible prospects could be selected. Most likely, other organizations could select one of the Cubs eligible catchers that include Ali Solis, Cael Brockmeyer, Erick Costello, Alberto Mineo, and Will Remillard. The Cubs might try to stockpile some AAA and AA bullpen arms.
On Tuesday this past week, many of the prospects that were released in the Braves international free agent scandal began signing with other teams. Going into the weekend, there were still six players left. The Cubs currently have $930,000 left in their 2017-18 international free agent bonus pool per Arizona Phil. It looks like the bidding has been pretty high as the first six prospects all signed for bonuses over $1 million. The Cubs could be shutout on getting one inked.
In addition to the meetings next week, Baseball Prospectus will be releasing their top 10 Cubs Prospect List at some point. It was originally scheduled for Monday the 11th, but it looks like it’s going to be backed up to later in the week. I will be analyzing that list for this site, Cubs Insider, and BP Wrigleyville.
I last redid the Top 21 Prospect list shortly after the end of the minor league season. While I see no reason to currently change it, events could take place this week that might necessitate said change. I don’t foresee a lot of movement up my list except for Nelson Velazquez and Alex Lange. However, there’s gonna be a lot of movement in the list next summer. I originally planned on redoing the list in late March, just prior to the regular season beginning. Let’s play it by ear this week. The earliest I could redo it would be Saturday.
It’s hard to believe that we are closer to the draft than we are away from it. MLB Pipeline released their top 50 draft prospects last week and it looks like there will be a lot of good bats for the Cubs to pick from at #24. Pipeline has Florida high school pitcher Carter Stewart ranked #24. What I am intrigued by is the plethora of bats coming right after Stewart that include Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm of Wichita State, thee Seth Beer, Luken Baker, and possible 5 tool sensation Tristan Pompey of Kentucky. A lot can happen between now and June. The player I am intrigued most with right now is Shortstop Xavier Edwards, a high school shortstop from Florida, who is ranked #38 by Pipeline.
Tomorrow, the Mailbag returns as I answer just one question on South Bend’s possible rotation for 2018. On Wednesday, the “Leveling Up” series is back and looks at pitcher Jose Albertos while the shortstops in the system get ranked on Friday in the position breakdown series.
Baseball Card of the Week
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
Beginning tomorrow, and running through Friday, baseball’s general managers hold their annual meeting in Orlando Florida. Something could shake down this week. In their search for two starting pitchers, the Cubs could come home with hopefully one. While I would like to see something get done this week, I am also not holding my breath. Ideally, the Cubs could make a trade for a #1 starter this week, get a closer, and then sign a free agent starting pitcher and their major offseason acquisitions would be done.
Right now, signing 23-year-old pitcher Shohei Ohtani from Japan is my number one preference. Considering that he just got a new agent this week, all signs now point to him coming after some things are worked out between MLB, the Player’s Association, and the NPB (Japanese League). He has not officially been posted yet. That could take a while.
As a result, no deal will get done this week.
I have always thought that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta would set the market and everything would fall in place after those two signed. Now that the Ohtani roller coaster looks to be heading to America, I wonder how much the market is going to be driven by him as teams try to acquire his talents. Considering that the max he can sign for is $3.5 million ($300,000 with the Cubs), his ability to drive the market will clearly be the coveted roster spot he takes at the top of the rotation.
The name of Alex Cobb has also been bandied about a lot the past few days. While many Cubs fans want to see the Cubs sign him, I would see that signing in a different light. Sure, Cobb is a nice pitcher and a quality guy, but he is not a top of the rotation arm. If the Cubs are trying to win a world championship, Cobb would be a nice back end of the rotation piece who will help get the Cubs to the playoffs but might not even start in the playoffs. The Cubs need a number one starter for the World Series to pitch alongside Hendricks, Lester, and Quintana. That is not Alex Cobb.
Currently, there is a four year window through 2021 for the Cubs’ young position player core to win another World Series. The Cub brass has to acquire two top of the rotation starters to make that happen. Ohtani makes that scenario much more likely than does Cobb.
Jason McLeod on the Score
For 20 minutes Saturday morning, the Cubs Executive Vice-President and Director of Scouting espoused on a number of topics from young pitching to Eloy and Gleyber to Schwarber and development at the MLB level.
What caught my ear during the interview were some quick evaluations by McLeod of the Cubs minor league starting pitchers. He eloquently praised Adbert Alzolay as a future starter. In addition, he talked about the potential of Thomas Hatch and his ability to miss bats despite a “blip” in his development.
What I really enjoyed was how effusive McLeod was about Michael Rucker and Duncan Robinson. He praised Rucker’s ability to throw strikes at a high velocity and he was just as excited about Robinson’s ability to throw a variety of pitches. McLeod went on to discuss and issue plaudits for the talents of Jose Albertos and Javier Assad. I am excited to see who is going to be pitching for each affiliate next spring. It is going to be quite competitive in the lower parts of the system.
Arizona Fall League Ends Next Week
With just one week left in the season, it is been an up-and-down year for many of the Cub prospects who are taking part in the six week fall league. Both David Bote and Adbert Alzolay came on strong to begin the fall league, but they have faded somewhat. To be fair, Alzolay had one bad outing where he gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning. Meanwhile, Charcer Burks has been up-and-down and Pedro Araujo has been consistent throughout the six weeks season with an ERA under 2.00. Jake Stinnett has not thrown a lot of innings, but his thrown enough striking out 1.5 batters per inning.
In looking at Jason Vosler, his batting average at .229 does not inspire confidence, but his OBP is quite good at .349. Teammate Ian Rice has an OBP of .422. I’d say it’s been a good 2017 for Mr. Rice.
10 Days Away
I am just 10 days away from beginning my off-season series and I’m not ready yet. Right now, there is nothing planned to be published this week. If I do put out something, it’s going to be “incidental” news. That’ll give me time to get started on examining DJ Wilson and breaking down the catchers in the minor-league system for the position breakdown series.
By Todd Johnson
MLB Roster Moves
8 Cubs declared for free agency after the World Series this week. On Tuesday, the offseason is all set to begin. The Cubs will be active but Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will drive the market. Once those two sign, then you will begin to see slots fill up around the league. I hope the Cubs can hang onto Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta, but the odds are slim.
After the declarations, the Cubs announced that they claimed left-handed reliever Randy Rosario off waivers from Minnesota. The newly converted reliever pitch mostly at AA in 2017 but did see an unforgettable 2.1 IP. This has all the markings of a flyer and a gamble. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90s with a 90 mph slider. That, my friends, is worth exploring.
MiLB Roster News
Catcher Alberto Mineo is back on board. However, there is still no word on Trey Martin, Matt Carasiti, or John Andreoli either signing or choosing free agency. The Cubs don’t necessarily have to sign Carasiti to retain his services if they automatically place him on the 40 man roster. It is doubtful, but there’s a small chance it could happen before Tuesday’s signing deadline. Other prospects, who are not free agents but who would but eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, have to be placed on the 40 man by November 20 to avoid the Rule 5 Draft.
Johnson Roster News
In the past year and a half, two of our old dogs passed after short illnesses. On Friday night, my wife and I drove up to Madison, Wisconsin to get a new member for our pack. Socrates is a 4-year-old Spaniel mix who seems to be fitting in nicely. He has some 80 grade deception on his left front paw. He’s a keeper! High floor on his cuteness!
Otani Fever Is Getting Cold
Earlier in the week, the Posting Fee agreement between MLB and NPB (Japanese Professional League) expired without a new agreement in place. As a result, that fact could definitely hamper the career aspirations of P/OF Shohei Otani. Until a new agreement is in place redone, Otani will not likely come to the states unless his home team in Nippon financially benefits in a big way.
Since Otani could only sign a MiLB deal because of his age, the fee would be minimal. As a result, he is staying put for the time being unlike he gets an exception in the new deal.
I could have sworn I wrote a post about possible breakout players for 2018. I went back and looked to see who I picked and I could not find it or anything resembling it. Yes, I had some storylines I wanted to follow, but no posts exist about breakouts or sleepers for 2018. So, this week, that is what I am going to write about.
In three different posts, I will breakdown some players I will think will break out next year and shoot up the Cubs system or prospect lists. This will be in three parts. I will do hitters first, then starting pitchers, and I will close it out with relievers.
Arizona Fall League
Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett are still going strong. David Bote, Charcer Burks, and Ian Rice have all come back to the pack a bit. Even though Adbert Alzolay had a horrible outing this week (3 HRs and 6 runs in 0.2 IP), he was still in the AFL All-Star Game last night as were Bote and Stinnett. There are only just 2 weeks left in the AFL season. It has been an eye-opening experience as Bote and Rice have done really well against some of the best prospects in all of baseball.
There are still about three weeks left before I start posting my two off-season series – the usual MiLB system position breakdown series starts around Thanksgiving as does this year’s prospect series called “Leveling Up.”
Rule 5 Draft and the 40 Man Roster Choices
Expansion and Realignment are not so easy.
By Todd Johnson
Of the three parts of the Cubs team, this is the most volatile and unpredictable aspect of the organization. While the Cubs may have to replace two starters in the rotation and a couple of position players, the idea of selecting or finding relievers to hold a win is a bit frightening. Ideally, the Cubs would want to hold onto Wade Davis. I don’t think the odds of that are too good.
As a result, the Cubs could be in search of a closer this winter and a couple setup men. In addition to losing Davis, Brian Duensing could walk as a free agent. On the other hand, Joe was not on very good terms with many relievers other than Strop, Edwards, and Montgomery. Pitching Coach Jim Hickey has his work cut out with rebuilding the confidence and strike throwing capabilities of Rondon, Justin Wilson, and Justin Grimm. Add in newly signed Luke Farrell and Hickey has a lot to do at the MLB level.
Dillon Maples is going to get a shot at making the 25 man roster next spring. He is just one of many arms who are close to the major league level. I think we can add Iowa closer Matt Carasiti to that list if he re-signs a MiLB deal and is added to the 40 man. Corey Black, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, might be one to watch for later in the summer as he gets stronger. In addition, flamethrowers Justin Hancock and Tommy Nance are two to look for as well later in the year. Hancock has control issues but throws in the upper 90s, while Nance can really pound the mitt but was injured all of 2017. The best way I can describe how hard Nance throws is the catchers feel like their are catching bricks instead of baseballs.
A long shot to make the pen could be Adbert Alzolay. And by longshot, I mean his odds are between slim and none. However, what Alzolay does have is a fastball that closes in on 100 miles an hour. As a starter, he usually throws between 95 and 96. He is not a pitcher blessed with a big frame to sustain 200 innings a year. As a result, his frame leans more toward relieving than it does starting. After a successful 2017 as a starter at Myrtle Beach and Tennessee, I can see Adbert making a push to get to Chicago as a reliever fairly quickly if all he has to do is make it one level, considering that two years ago he was a reliever at Eugene.
Three other possible longshots to make the pen next season are Jake Stinnett, Pedro Araujo, and Dakota Mekkes. Stinnett and Araujo who have been outstanding this fall in the AFL. Stinnett missed most of the year but came back reborn as a reliever. Araujo was the closer at Myrtle Beach. Of the three, Stinnett would have the inside track and it would be strange if he skipped AAA. As a result, he is an option to think about next spring.
As for Mekkes, he dominated two levels in 2017 at South Bend and Myrtle Beach. He will have his work cut out for him at AA Tennessee in 2018. His deceptive delivery is his greatest weapon as it makes a 91-93 mph fastball appear to be 96-98. The odds are long for him to get to Chicago, but he is not that far away in reality. He will be a lot of fun to watch as a Smokie in 2018.
The Free Agent Market
It is not like closers and setup men grow on trees. Watching the Cubs go through the postseason with basically a five-man bullpen was a bit strenuous to watch on a nightly basis. Now, the Cubs can go and rebuild with what will hopefully be a couple of lefties and a couple of righties. I don’t think the Cubs are going to spend big but they will take their chances if someone is available that they really like.
Top Left-Handed Relievers
Brian Duensing (35)
Boone Logan (33) — $7MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Mike Minor (30) — $10MM mutual option with a $1.5MM buyout
Out of all the free agents, Davis is still the best option with Morrow close behind. On the other hand, neither are going to come cheaply. I would not be surprised to see the Cubs get 2 starters for the same price that they will have to pay for their closer in 2018.
I think the best route might be in a trade. Hopefully, the Cubs can find a suitor.
Assembling a bullpen is going to be the most challenging aspect of this offseason. Don’t be surprised if this becomes an ongoing thing through next summer as the Cubs acquire the perfect pen piece by piece. As a result, spring training should be highly competitive.
By Todd Johnson
Overall Record – 73-67
I think the pressure of winning a third consecutive championship had to be overwhelming at times for many players on the Pelicans. And then everything changed in one day as one single trade saw three of the Pelicans switch dugouts. It was just a weird year.
In April and early May, the Pelicans played like a .500 team. Granted, they were without outfielder Eloy Jimenez, but he would soon join the team. In late May, the team caught fire and they won 20 out of 24 games to clinch a first half division title.
After the All-Star break, the Eloy trade, injuries, and a languishing offense began to catch up as the Pelicans finished last in their division in the second half.
In the playoffs, they bowed out quicklyin a hurricane-shortened playoff series. There were still some bright spots.
Heading into 2018, I think it could be a transformative year for several prospects. Some are position players, some of are pitchers, but regardless of their position, AA is the ultimate test for a prospect. Here are seven Pelicans from 2017 to watch who could raise their value in the organization in 2018.
1. Eddy Martinez – I think 2018 is when he takes off and breaks out as a prospect. He will have two years under his belt of living in the US and and playing minor-league baseball. He will turn 23 in January and I think he is ready to explode after hitting over .270 in the second half of 2017.
2. Zack Short – He was one of my favorite prospects to watch in 2017. He was a great lead off hitter and he succeeded at two levels. He can work a walk with the best Cub prospects. Add in his power at a premium position and he could be something special in AA. My only concern for him is he needs to improve his fielding and I really don’t see that as a major problem.
3. Duncan Robinson – Although he comes from Dartmouth, he is nothing like fellow Ivy Leaguer Kyle Hendricks. I think that Robinson is really going to surprise some people next year with his ability to adapt over the course of the season. This year, he added a cutter and he went from reliever to starter to Midwest League All-Star and then shined at Myrtle Beach in a two month span.
4. Michael Rucker – He was pressed into service as a starter this year and I don’t know if that’s his long-term future. As a reliever, he was a strike throwing machine that challenged hitters. He wore down a little bit as August as a starter. Still, he compiled an outstanding season and should be one to watch in Tennessee. I just don’t know what his role will be. He should start 2018 as a starter.
5. Thomas Hatch – He had a nice run in June when he was named the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the month. Other than that, I never knew what was gonna happen when he was on the mound. The only thing I could say with certainty was that his pitches were going to move quite a bit. The question always was could he control them. And I think that’s the next question for 2018 is how much command he can regain by next spring for his second pro season.
6. Pedro Araujo – What a great year he had as he started to put it together. He has always had a powerful arm, it just took a while for it to develop. He took off beginning in May and then even more so when he became the closer in early June. He has to be very confident heading into next season. Even though he is up for Rule V draft, I still think he’s a couple years away from making it and I don’t think any team is going to risk selecting him this winter.
7. Originally, I was going to put Jesse Hodges, but I really think Jesse’s gonna be just fine at AA. Instead, I have decided to go with Tyler Alamo, who is a prospect who is really beginning to put things together. It’s been a slow track since he was drafted out of high school, but the catcher/1st baseman was one of the best hitters the Cubs had in the second half of the season.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Oscar de la Cruz. Injuries made his year an almost wasted one. He just has not gotten a lot of innings and that is what will need to do so in order to become a major league starter.
Pelicans to Know for 2018
This was a hard one. There are a lot of players who were on South Bend in 2017 who can really hit well. But I don’t know if there’s anybody who really stands out as a possible elite player just yet. There are several prospects who flashed some serious talent over the course of their Cubs minor league career, but no one who seems to do it on a consistent basis. DJ Wilson is close and outfielder Luis Ayala is an emerging bat.
Still, I think the player who could really take off next year is Kevonte Mitchell. At times this year, he flashed the ability to carry a team for a week or so. He had outstanding May and another outstanding July. In between and afterwards, he was inconsistent. You can see him recognize a curveball, but he can’t hit it on a regular basis. Until he does that, he is going to mash fastballs whenever he can. He does that really well.