Trevor Clifton

The Weekly – Bote Promoted and Several Other Prospects Off to Good Starts

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By Todd Johnson

Congratulations to David Bote who made his MLB debut last night in Colorado. Bote batted eighth and played third base. He went 1 for 3 with a double.

Here he is through the years at every level in the minors.

  

His story is a story of perseverance. Revisit his Leveling Up post from this winter.

Back to the Minors…

Now that the weather seems to have cleared, there’s a lot more baseball being played especially in the Midwest and the Pacific Coast Leagues. Cub prospects are beginning to get in grooves and improve their stock in the organization. It’s been fun watching most of the teams play and see how they are progressing. It is only April, but there are a few players who are all already worth watching and keeping an eye on.

Who To Watch for at Each Affiliate
Iowa – 2-4 on the week, overall 4-10
Mark Zagunis seems to be the only bat that was hot this week. Bijan Rademacher, who leads Iowa in batting average, missed a few games. As for the pitching, Adbert Alzolay made his first start and dazzled in a two-hitter. Otherwise, Rob Zastryzny, Michael Roth, and Randy Rosario have all been outstanding out of the pen. I’m really happy that Zastryzny seems to have righted the ship and is off to a good beginning – no runs in 8.2 IP with 8 Ks.

Tennessee – 5-1 on the week, overall 8-7
The Smokies are turning into my “go-to” team every day, mainly because every team in the Southern League has MiLB.TV. Still, there’s a lot here to watch. The starting pitching of Trevor Clifton, Michael Rucker, Duncan Robinson, Thomas Hatch, and now Oscar de la Cruz are all pitching well. Both Clifton and de la Cruz did not allow a run in their first starts of the week. Outfielders Trey Martin and Jeffrey Baez lead the team in average. Zack Short is making an impact at the plate despite an average just above .200 because his OBP is almost .400. As for the bullpen, Dakota Mekkes has yet to give up a run, even though he is still walking almost a batter an inning. If he could eliminate his walks, he could be in Iowa before June.

Myrtle Beach– 3-4 on the week, overall 5-12
It has been just a horrible, horrible start for the Pelicans. All three facets of the game have not been working. However, there have been a couple of bright spots. Kevonte Mitchell, who is now injured, had been outstanding at the plate (.306).  Andruw Monasterio is having the quietest season of any Cub prospect as he keeps his average over .300. On the mound, Alex Lange was impressive in his first two starts and Keegan Thompson showed signs of massive improvement this week as he went 5 innings with no runs and 4 Ks. Another glimmer of hope took place this week as Bryan Hudson had an excellent start this week going 5 IP with 7 Ks and only allowing 1 run. Jhon Romero and Tyler Peyton are both throwing great out of the pen along with Wyatt Short, who has yet to allow a run in 4 appearances. That effort is reminiscent of when Short did not allow a run the entire season at Eugene in 2016.

South Bend – 1-4 on the week, overall 7-6
The Cubs have been up-and-down. They got off to a good start at 6-2 and their bats hit a rough patch. At the same time, the young Cubs are struggling to field the ball properly and make plays in the infield. Meanwhile, Jared Young (who just went on the DL), Austin Filiere, and  Yeiler Peguero have been impressive at the plate. Javier Assad, Bailey Clark, Rollie Lacy, Tyler Thomas and Cory Abbott are all starting to round in shape. If Jose Albertos can get his fastball command down, this team could really take off. The bullpen has been lights out and rarely surrenders a run.

Players of the Week

There were a lot of performances to pick from this week, especially starting pitching. 

Things I Wrote for Other Sites This Week
BP Wrigleyville
Latin Infusion Coming North – The Pitchers

Cubs Insider
Austin Filiere
Lefty Shortage
Adbert’s First Start

Coming Up Next Week
I’m going to start a new feature for Wednesdays called “The Mid Weekly.” It will sum up MiLB action for Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. I am still checking out draft stuff on the side, but I won’t return with a “Draft Prep” post until May 7. Several mock drafts came out in the past two weeks. Players are all over the place – there’s not a lot of consensus.

Baseball Card of the Week
I made a lot of new baseball cards you can see in an album over on the Facebook account. I am closing in on 130 cards made just this April. I have a problem…I think…Yes, I do.

Made from a photo by Dylan Heuer

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A Few Mid-Weekly Random Notes

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By Todd Johnson

I had a big ole post written about 10 things that I am thinking about. When I was done editing it, I got so mad at myself because it was pretty close to what I wrote on Sunday for the weekly. So, I decided to scrap it.

I have been suffering through a bit of a case of writer’s block and everything I write feels like I have written it before. Instead, for today, I decided to just do a few random notes about the week so far – almost a mid-week kind of post about a few observations.

1. The defense in the minors has been brutal at all four levels. I know it is early in the season, and it has been very cold and wet, but every ground ball and popup is an adventure. I cannot wait until warms up. The pitchers have to be struggling watching it take place behind them.

2. Mark Zagunis – It took a bit, but he has started to come around. He had a spell where he went 1 for 19 but has rebounded and his average is closing in on .300 and he hit his first home run. By the end of the month, he should be clicking on all cylinders. Too bad there is no place for him in Chicago.

3. The start for Trevor Clifton this year is a mixed bag. He is trending towards the good side. He has 14 innings of work so far where he’s given up one hit and not allowed a run. The other inning, a combined 1/3 and 2/3 of an inning, saw him give up 8 earned. He told MiLB.com he has since worked on strengthening his legs after each outing. What happened was that in his first two starts, he sailed through the first few innings in each start without giving up any hits or runs. Then he got hammered in that 1/3 or 2/3 of an inning. On Monday, in his third start that didn’t happen. Trevor needs to continue to improve each start and to have a short memory about the last outing. That looks to be the case.

4. I love to watch Duncan Robinson pitch all around the zone. He pitches up down, in, and out. Eye levels are always changing. Last night, he threw 6 innings while striking out four. He gave up an earned run, but that was the worst of it. For the year, his ERA is 1.93 over 15 innings at AA Tennessee. He’s had one heck of a quick ride as a starter in the minors.

5. Adbert Alzolay is coming east from Mesa. He was called up after throwing 75 pitches in extended spring training. He will be assigned to AAA Iowa and debut tomorrow in Iowa. That assignment signals some serious confidence in the young pitcher. Part of me wants to see him in the bullpen in Chicago come August. Who knows, he could be starting there, instead.

6. Iowa’s red alternate jerseys take some getting used to. However, I am beginning to like them. Now, if I could just get a clear picture of them.

I will be back on Friday with the return of the “Friday 6 Pack” as I look at six ways the system will change in June and July.

 

MiLB Opening Night – Errors and Defensive Miscues Abound

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By Todd Johnson


It was a rough night in the Cubs’ system as the minor league season began. Only the Iowa Cubs came away with a victory. Errors and defensive miscues plagued Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend while all four failed to push across runs in key situations.

Iowa
Loss to Oklahoma City 2-1; Win vs Oklahoma City 3-2
Jen-Ho Tseng pitched well, but one mistake resulted in a home run for the AAA Dodgers’ affiliate in the openener. In the nightcap, David Bote’s solo home run looked like it would hold up as the game winning RBI until Anthony Bass struggled to find the zone and gave up two runs. The Cubs gained a split of the opening day double-header thanks to the new extra inning rule. Pitcher Duane Underwood got some base running in and scored the game winner on a single by Efren Navarro.

Tennessee
Loss to Mississippi 3-0
Trevor Clifton looked very good through five innings and 67 pitches. In the 7th, the wheels fell off and he wound up being charged with three runs. Still, there was a lot to like about his start as he was very efficient for five innings. The Smokies struggled to put the bat on the ball with men in scoring position, a common theme from last night. The Smokies actually out hit the Braves 5-4 but were shutout. Jake Stinnett looked very good in relief despite giving up a hit that lead to two runs, both charged to Clifton. He struck out 2 in 1.2 IP.

Myrtle Beach
Loss to Frederick 6-2
Initially, the Pelicans made three errors in the first inning leading to three runs by Frederick. Two of them were later changed to hits but the Keys scored three runs off Pelicans’ starter Keegan Thompson in the first and three runs later. The birds also had trouble hitting. PJ Higgins went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI in the 6-2 loss. Andruw Monasterio also did well going 2 for 3.

South Bend
Loss to West Michigan 6-2
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first, South Bend struggled to keep up with the Whitecaps. Tyler Thomas (formerly Ricky Tyler Thomas) gave up 2 unearned runs and an earned run. Bailey Clark came on in relief later and struggled mightily in his first inning with 2 WPs and 3 runs, 1 of them earned. Outfielder Brandon Hughes was the only offensive highlight of the night. He went 2 for 2 with 2 walks, a stolen base, and he also scored a run.

It is rare for me to do a nightly recap. However, on most nights, I usually just focus in on one or two games or key performances. Everyday, though, I do pick the best performances of the day. Opening Day is no exception.

Players of the Day
Hitter – Brandon Hughes – reached base four times for South Bend, 2-2 with 2 BBs
Pitcher – Jen-Ho Tseng – 5 IP, 2 ERs, 7 Ks
Reliever – Casey Bloomquist – 2 IP, 3 Ks

Hopefully, day two brings some better results in the Cubs’ system. Iowa is off due to inclement weather. Meanwhile, in the rest of the system, Duncan Robinson will be on the hill for the Smokies, Jose Paulino gets the nod for the Pelicans, and Javier Assad goes for South Bend.

Come back on Sunday for “The Weekly” as I recap the beginning weekend of MiLB baseball and select the Players of the Week along with the Baseball Card of the Week and the Team of the Week.

Tennessee Smokies Preview – 10 Things About This Year’s Very Talented Team

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By Todd Johnson

Last year’s Tennessee Smokies looked to be on the verge of a trip to the playoffs in late May before a collapse in early June. This year’s team should be comprised of talented prospects who could help the Smokies return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. An elite pitching rotation will set the foundation and a couple of possible power bats could put them over the edge.

Here are 10 things I think will help the Smokies get back to the playoffs:

1. Starting Pitching – With Thomas Hatch, Adbert Alzolay, Trevor Clifton, Duncan Robinson, Oscar de la Cruz, and Michael Rucker, the Smokies have some guys who have the potential to get a lot of outs. Five of the six were teammates last year at Myrtle Beach for a short time.

I’m looking forward to see how well Trevor Clifton begins the year along with Thomas Hatch. I still think that Robinson is going to surprise even more people along with Rucker this year – They can really put the ball where they want in the zone.

As for Oscar de la Cruz, he just needs to stay healthy.

2. Time – This is going to be a team that’s going to have to have plenty of time to play at this level. The fact that there are very few prospects at Iowa who could make their way to Chicago this year, there’s really no place for the Smokies to go, at least in the first half.

3. Staying Healthy – It is said all the time, but it’s really an understatement of how much health plays a factor in a prospect’s career. For Oscar, he has not topped 73 IP in a season the past three summers.

4. Bouncing Back – For some of these players, a poor second half in 2017 was hopefully just an aberration on their road to the majors. While Trevor Clifton stands out as a prospect who needs to bounce back, Jake Stinnett is another arm whose career might take off in the bullpen. Zach Hedges even looks like he will be in Kodak again. Hedges just needs to get over the AAA hump as he does do well in AA (2.47 ERA in 2016, 3.49 in 2017) in a starting role. He pitched in relief in big league games this spring.

5. Who Comes Up – Alex Lange is going to be knocking on the door fairly quickly to come to Tennessee. The right hander’s curve might be a little overpowering for the class A Carolina League. The only issue is whether he can develop a third pitch. If he can, he could be in Kodak by the end of May.

6. Impact Bats – It looks like Ian Rice is going to begin the year Tennessee. If he does, I feel sorry for Southern League pitchers. Shortstop Zack Short is another bat who has power and plate discipline. I think this is the year that Eddy Martinez really takes off. Eddy had a great second half at Myrtle Beach hitting over .270 with 6 home runs. The Southern League is a bit more hitter friendly and should be for Martinez. Jason Vosler, Charcer Burks, and Yasiel Balaguert return as a result of a roster pinch at Iowa and they could all provide a lot of power.

7. Defense – The players that were Pelicans last year had some defensive issues down the stretch. Those need to be improved if some of the players plan on moving on to Iowa. Then again, Trey Martin is back and, when he plays, he can get most everything hit his way in the outfield.

8. Bullpen – This is really the strength of the team. There are a lot of power arms and a lot of guys who have wiffleball repertoires. They could turn every Southern League game into a five or six inning affair. With Jake Stinnett, Scott Effross, Preston Morrison, James Norwood, Dakota Mekkes, and Tommy Nance, they’re going to be a lot of disappointed bats at the end of games.

9. Beat Chattanooga – The Twins AA affiliate will be the team to beat. For the Smokies to make it to the postseason, they have to get past Chattanooga.

10. Attrition – Last year, manager Mark Johnson had to deal with a lot of attrition from players moving up, players getting injured, and players who were burnt out. This year, there’s a little bit more depth in the bullpen and position players in the system that should stave that off. WIth 7 or 8 guys who can start on the mound, the Smokies should be good to go.

Bonus: First Prospect to Iowa
It has to be Mekkes. He’s just a stud and so hard to hit. If he can keep his walks down, he’s not going to be around the minors very long. Considering the strength of the bullpen at Tennessee, they will be just fine.

It should be an exciting year to watch these Smokies develop.

Spring Training Notes: Happ Stays Hot and MiLB Camp Gets Going

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By Todd Johnson

There seems to be a lot of good things happening in spring training. Ian Happ has just been tearing it up and looks to be the leading candidate for CF and the leadoff spot. Meanwhile, Albert Almora had a pretty good week this week after getting off to a rough start. This week also saw most hitters getting three at bats a game and some starting pitchers were stretched out to about 50 pitches. For Jon Lester, that happened to be 5 innings in an excellent start on Friday.

After a rough first inning Tuesday, Yu Darvish settled down in his Cubs debut and was fantastic in the second inning which resulted in a “Wow!” description from Wilson Contreras to manager Joe Maddon. The Cubs also reassigned a few players back to minor league camp with Adbert Alzolay and Thomas Hatch going to Tennessee after neither saw any action in camp (by design).

There are just a little over 2 and 1/2 weeks until the season begins and I am still a little bit unsure about the two roster spots to be determined. Catcher Chris Gimenez got off to a blazing smart but it seems he has come back to Earth a bit. Fellow catcher Victor Caratini now looks to be catching fire after a homer yesterday. Meanwhile, Dillon Maples seemed poised to breakthrough after last year, but appears to need some a lot more seasoning to get to Chicago after giving up 3 runs last night to push his ERA to 12.60.

One of the highlights of spring for me has been the play of three players who could play utility roles in case of injury later this summer. Ryan Court, Mike Freeman, and David Bote have all put together excellent springs. While Court has the highest average, David Bote has shown to have the most power. Bote’s strength is a bit more than I thought he had at Tennessee. He seems to be evolving every year into a better and better hitter. What makes Bote more attractive as a utility player is that he can play three infield spots very well and he got in 13 games in the outfield last summer. That’s a pretty versatile player to plug in and play.

MiLB News
The minor-league camp now seems to be in full swing. A few things have come trickling back in including some positive news about certain pitchers. According to the message boards at The Cub Reporter, Trevor Clifton seems to be throwing, well, like 2016 Trevor Clifton. In addition, Oscar de la Cruz (who was sent down to Tennessee Thursday) was reaching the mid 90s in his last game with the major league club on Friday. It’s encouraging that Oscar was sitting 92 to 93 and touching 95 after being a couple clicks lower earlier this spring. 

Some prospects got in an exhibition game against the Chinatrust Brothers (from Taiwan) per Arizona Phil. Duncan Robinson got the start and gave up a run in two innings. Trevor Clifton and Michael Rucker also got in two innings apiece. Clifton whiffed 4 while Rucker allowed a 2 run homer. Austin Upshaw went yard and Chris Pieters drove in three runs while Zack Short went 2 for 3 while playing some 3B.

Also, Gioskar Amaya is back from TJS after missing all of 2017. This year, Amaya is not behind the plate and is back at his original position – second base. He switched to catcher after the 2014 season. Now 25, Amaya should be at AA Tennessee to begin the year.

Coming Up Next Week

Tomorrow’s article looks at some guys that are starting to pull away from the Cubs and head towards the top of the draft, some names moving up in range of the Cubs, and some names that are falling down. In addition, I have some info on 2015 draft pick John Cresto from Santa Clara.

Austin Filiere is the next to the last player to be profiled in the “Leveling Up” series this Wednesday. And on Thursday, I have an interesting article coming out on BP Wrigleyville about which affiliate might be the team to watch this summer. 

On a  Personal Note…
My Scholastic Bowl team went 12-6 this year and got the #2 seed for the Conference Tournament to be held Thursday. I will let you know how that goes.

Baseball Card of the Week

10 Things I Think – Minor League Spring Training Edition

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By Todd Johnson

This is like the fourth different incarnation of this post. Some of that was influenced by what talent evaluators reported on, some came from ideas some of you piqued in me, and last but not least, some ideas came from trends about certain players that I am interested or curious to see play out.

So, without further adieu, here are 10 things I am thinking about heading into the MiLB portion of Spring Training.

1. Danis Correa
First, I want a picture of him as I can’t seem to find a free one just yet. He’s 18, he’s right-handed, he’s from Colombia, and he throws in the upper 90s. Heading into camp, he’s my breakout pitcher of camp. The problem is he does have control issues, especially with his secondaries. The Cubs will probably take it slow with him in 2018. Eugene looks to be his destination after spending last year in the DSL and getting 2 games in with Mesa. What Jose Albertos was in 2016, Correa will be in 2018, without the injury or shutdown.

2. The Return of Erick Leal
The big right-hander will be returning to the system this year after missing all of 2017. He should be at AA Tennessee to begin the year. It’ll be interesting to see how surgery has affected his ability to pitch and how the Cubs handle his return back to action. Will it be in highly controlled starts? Will he relieve? Will he be a piggyback or have someone piggyback for him?

3. The Dream Outfield
Eugene’s amazing outfield will be filled, right now, with three 19-year-olds in Jonathan Sierra, Fernando Kelli, and Nelson Velazquez. Within a year, they could take over the position in the system and rush up some prospect lists. All three are extremely different but have a mixture of power, potential, and speed. There is currently no rush to move one of them along, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them just took off. When I do Eugene’s annual “Preview of their Preview” post, those three will be the focus of the article.

4. Trevor Clifton
When Trevor is pitching well, it is a thing of beauty. He looks fluid, even elastic, as if he and his muscles are not even thinking about what they are doing. “Rock and fire” would be an old school description of that type of delivery. He needs to get back to that in 2018.

5. The Mexican Pitching Connection
The Cubs will have several prospects at South Bend this year who hail from Mexico. Most notable are pitchers Jose Albertos, Javier Assad, and Jesus Camargo. When the Cubs started getting into the Mexican market a few years ago, they didn’t face much competition for prospects. Now, the Cubs dominate international signings in Mexico. This year will be a test of those prospects’ talent. Add in Faustino Carrera (Eugene) and Florencio Serrano (Mesa) and there should be a whole rotation-plus of Mexican arms in the lower part of the system.

6. Carlos Sepulveda
After a horrible first month at Myrtle Beach that was exacerbated by an injury, Sepulveda missed the next three months before showing up in the Arizona Rookie League for the final few weeks of the season. He looked pretty good in Mesa and hopefully he can return to being one of the best second baseman in all of the minors, not just in the Cubs’ system. I am hoping he goes to Tennessee, but I would imagine he begins the year in Myrtle Beach.

7. Bailey Clark
He’s my sleeper pitcher for this year. Word is he healthy, better, faster, stronger, and ready to go for 2018. At times over the past two summers, he flashed some major potential at Eugene. He should begin the year at South Bend or Myrtle Beach and don’t be surprised to see speeds on his fastball back over 95.

8. The Resurrection of Jose Paulino
For a lack of better phrase, 2017 was quite the learning experience for Paulino. After a dominant run in 2016, he had it handed to him at times last spring. After an attitude readjustment, he pitched well in the second half for South Bend and my expectation is that he is going to be more like 2016

9. The Other Pitching Draft Picks
Much has been written about Lange and Little, but that will change this season. The Cubs signed 19 pitchers from last year’s draft. Cory Abbott and Jeremiah Estrada have gotten some press along with Keegan Thompson. By the end of camp, or the end of April at the latest, there should be several other names that Cubs fans should get familiar with like Brendan King, Erich Uelmen, Rollie Lacy, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Ben Hecht, and Jake Steffens.

10. Just Picking Six Pitchers a Month
Every month for the past few years, I make a Cubs monthly minor league all-star team. How am I going to limit the starting pitchers to just six arms this year? It seems almost like an impossible task. Then again, it’s a good problem to have. I started making the Pre-Season team this past weekend and just doing the rotation put me in the frame of mind that it is going to be a very hard problem to deal with every month but one that I will enjoy.

Several Cubs Prospects Coming Off a Rough 2017: Part 2 – Trying to Bounce Back

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By Todd Johnson


In last Monday’s look at comeback players for 2018, I examined the walking wounded which consisted mostly of players who were injured for most of the year, if not all of it. Today, it’s all about players looking to get back some semblance of consistency in their production. Most of this group will be at either AA Tennessee or AAA Iowa.

When I examine how a prospect is doing, I have several things that run through my head. There is a part of me that wants to be an objective writer, then there’s part of me that’s a fan, and then there’s part of me that is a teacher, and it’s really hard to shake the last one. I always look for the good and then I try to pick out things that need to be worked on. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And like teachers, sometimes writers see the promise of a prospect and hopefully they don’t get blinded by it. I know that’s a flaw that I have.

Most of the Cubs’ current prospects have been in the system for several years. To be honest, it’s hard not to get attached when you watch them go from a scrawny 175 pound kid to a 225 pound man. We watch them grow up and we want them to succeed. It’s hard when they don’t.

This week’s comeback list is filled with a lot of prospects who fit the above description.

I really like watching Zach Hedges pitch. He’s got a plus slider, pretty decent fastball command, and he’s a likable kid. He’s done really well the past two summers at AA, but he’s only gotten one chance at AAA and it did not go well at all. I am hoping he begins 2018 at AAA Iowa as there really is not much left for him to prove in Tennessee. For him to succeed in AAA, Hedges is going to have to keep his fastball down and use his slider to set hitters up. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, he’s always been a ground ball machine. I hope he can be that in Iowa this year.

I have been a fan of Trevor Clifton ever since Mike Safford used to call his games online when Trevor was with the Boise Hawks. When Trevor came to South Bend, he got off to a rough start. But after he righted the ship in the second half, Clifton didn’t let up for the next two years through the middle of June 2017. Then it was like he had four flat tires at once. He struggled keeping the ball down, he struggled overthrowing, and he struggled to just find the zone. It was as if he was trying fix his release point, landing spot, and self-confidence all at once. I have no doubt Trevor is going to work hard to return to form in 2018. He’s a great young man with a plus curveball and a developing change. Getting back to knowing, and believing, in himself and his pitches will be the key.

A roller coaster season would be the best way to describe what Chesny Young went through in 2017. The 2014 14th round pick out of Mercer always seemed to just fall out of bed and lace a single to right for his Cub career. From his debut in South Bend through Myrtle Beach, Young showed no sign of the type of season he endured in 2017. April, bad. May, good. Rinse and repeat for a season and a .256 average. It was a bit of a shock for a player whose lowest season before was .303. While Young did play 7 different positions in the field last year, at times he looked clueless at the plate, And at other times, he looked…like Chesny Young. He did not walk as much last year when he struggled, and he did walk when he was hitting well in May and July. As a result, a consistent approach for 2018 should be the key to getting off to a good start in the batter’s box and is what could propel him to Chicago in a bench role.

Ryan Kellogg was near brilliant in the second half of 2016 (1.99 ERA in 11 starts) but he could not put it together except for August (his only monthly with a sub 4 ERA) at Myrtle Beach in 2017. I am not sure of what his role will be and where it will be in 2018. He could start, he could relieve. It probably all depends on how he looks this spring.

OF Jeffrey Baez had a horrible season at Tennessee last year as he fought off minor injuries and failed to adjust after a scintillating second half at Myrtle Beach in 2016. Hitting below the Mendoza line for a whole season is not a good way to get to Chicago. Still, Baez just turned 24 (I find that to be amazing) and can rebound if he can stay healthy to use his mix of power and speed.

PJ Higgins is currently the finest overall defensive catcher in the system. In 2016 at South Bend, he also showed a deft eye at the plate. In 2017, he threw out 33 runners for Myrtle Beach. However, his bat seemed to go missing as his walk rate plummeted along with his batting average (.237). To be quite frank, Higgins’ strength has always been his defense. The converted infielder is a natural behind the plate. I am sure the Cubs would like some improvement on offense. Prior to last season, he hit between .280-.300 at every stop. Hopefully, last year was an aberration.

156 official at-bats is a very small sample size. That’s what Joe Martarano got in last year. Before last year, he only had 69 trips to the plate in 2015. To go two full years without seeing live hitting, let alone moving up to class A from rookie league, is a bit of a culture shock.

In 2018, I expect Martarano to do much better. For one, he cut out a high leg kick and turned that into a toe tap for a better timing mechanism. The result was an August where he hit .273 with 1 HR in 13 games. His K rate needs to come down. Except for July at South Bend, where he hit only .161 for the month, he crushed the rest of the year at EXST (.324) and Eugene (.385). I was impressed watching him work hard in batting practice to drive the ball up the middle. The ball just jumps off his bat with “that sound.” There’s not many Cub prospects who have “that sound” now, but Martarano does.