By Todd Johnson
I did not see this post coming…at all.
When the offseason began, I made an album on the Facebook account for offseason cards. I often get several new pics over the offseason as I come across assorted local articles and search results begin to include other pictures. I thought maybe, just maybe, that I might make 20-25 new baseball cards this winter.
To make a short story long, at the end of last season I thought that I would recreate Topps’ 2017 design. I liked how extremely close I came without using an editor. I made a few cards. As some Arizona Fall League (AFL) pictures came in from MiLB and the AFL, I began exclusively making 2017 cards for about 6 weeks until the AFL season ended.
Then I got a little bit ambitious about a week before Christmas. I showed some of my students how I used PIXLR, an online photo editor, to help make the templates for each year. Up through this past fall, the templates I made cards from were from my card collecting years. There were a couple of years in the 1950s, most of the 60s, and then my peak card collecting years, 1970-1986. I do have a 1990 template but that was where the fun ended.
Anyway, I got a lot accomplished for school stuff the last week of the semester. As a result, I had little or no work to do over break. In other words, I was free to fart around, something I haven’t had time for the past couple of years. So, I began to try making more modern cards from the past 30 years. In the end, I added over 16 templates from 1990 onward and two more from the 1950s. I really like most of the templates, but there are 3 or 4 I am still working on.
Yesterday, I found some more pics to make cards for the leveling up profiles and the position breaking. I uploaded them to the Facebook album and I was stunned I had made over 70+ cards this offseason. I knew then it was time for a post.
So, with further adieu…
Normally, I don’t make a lot of big league players unless it is from their debut or rookie season. I just love the light and shadow on Dillon Maples in his debut last year. It also looks good in one of my favorite new templates, the 1953 Topps. Dillon also looks stunning in a mixture of red, white, and Cub blue in a 2003 template.
Coming in at number 10, Jake Stinnett pops in this picture by Clubhouse Corner from the Arizona Fall League. I love this 2008 template but the popout Topps tab is sometimes hard to work around. Larry Kave’s capture of Zack Short meshes well with many shades of blue contained in another 2003 card. Rikk Carlson’s closeup of DJ Wilson just jumps off the page in the 2017 frame.
As I looked at the large number of cards, each tier became harder and harder to pick. International Free Agent Florencio Serrano looks great in a 1999 frame at number 7. I haven’t decided what affiliate’s uniform will blend with the color in this template best. At number 6, Dylan Heuer captures the “Popeye” arms of Mark Zagunis perfectly in a 1953 frame. Larry Kave returns at number 5 with Thomas Hatch in a 2007 frame which I beginning to like more and more. What I love about this picture, though, is the yellow line at the top of the outfield wall blends with Hatch’s cap and the lettering on the card.
Getting to the top four took a lot of thought. I found this rare picture of pitcher Brendan King, a 2017 draftee of the Cubs. He pitched in Mesa this past after signing and I found the pic on the Twitter account of Holy Cross Baseball. I used a filter to make the blue pop and I liked it a lot. Coming in at #3, Duane Underwoods closeup from the former CSN-Chicago gets some love in a 2017 frame. At number 2, this was one of my favorite cards of the entire and it is of Adbert Alzolay in the Arizona Fall League. The lighting of the game makes the card along with his gray Mesa Solar Sox hat being similar in color to the gray 2017 frame and his glove.
I had this list all done and then about 9 P.M. last night I was looking for pics in a Twitter search. Lo and behold, there was a picture of Wladimir Galindo by Jared Ravitch from 2016. The black of uniform fits perfectly with the black of the card and gray outline and the blue fencing provides a backdrop for Wladimir’s face. It’s a great closeup of Wladimir in a 1953 classic frame.
Only 6 more weeks until spring training!
By Todd Johnson
I am not quite sure of what is going on at third base in the Cubs system. There has been a lot of player movement in and out of the position. While versatility may be of value to the Cubs’ brass, it is wreaking havoc on these rankings. I do know that there are most definitely four prospects who see most of their time at third base. All four also happen to be some of the most prolific home run hitters in the system. So, while it may be the hot corner, it is also power central.
Last year’s rankings had Matt Rose at number five, Jason Vosler was fourth, David Bote came in at number three while Wladimir Galindo was ranked second to Jeimer Candelario. Rose is now with the White Sox and Jeimer should be playing almost every day for the Tigers at third base in 2018.
As a result, there’s a new number one.
1. I had no qualms putting Wladimir Galindo at number one. There was no hesitation and no second-guessing. The potential that he has to hit for power and average far outpaces anyone else on this list. What makes the ranking more emphatic is that he only played 44 games last year. His presence, despite the injury, was impactful as he hit .290, showed some power, and drove the ball with ease to the opposite field. That’s not something anyone else on this list can do.
2. Jason Vosler – Out of nowhere, he cranked out 21 home runs at AA Tennessee in 2017. Through 2016, he had hit only 15 HRs total. So, 21 was quite a pleasant surprise. However, in the second half, his batting average took a major tumble as he fell below the Mendoza line at .211. In the Arizona Fall League, he did see a lot of action at first base. He also hit .210 there but walked 12 times in 23 games for an OBP of .323. It will be interesting to see how he does at Iowa in 2018. Will the power return? Will he hit for average? Which Jason Vosler will we see?
3. Sometimes a hitter’s development can coincide with an increase in power. Such was the case for Jesse Hodges last year at Myrtle Beach. His daily approach and maturity finally began to pay off as he was one of the best hitters in the Carolina League. Prior to last year, he had always been known as somewhat of a swinger who wanted to get the big home run. Last year, the home runs came but as a result of working counts with a solid approach at the plate. His K rate shrank down to 20.8% and his walk rate improved to 8.9%. Look for that to continue at Tennessee. I am pretty excited to see what he can do at AA in 2018.
4. When it comes to maturity at the plate, 2017 8th round pick up Austin Filiere is pretty advanced. While his average was in the .260s, his on base percentage was at or near .400 all year long. In addition, he cranked out six home runs in 49 games. That’s a pretty good number for PK Park in Eugene, which is usually pretty stingy when it comes to giving up the long ball. I would love to see him continue to build on the foundation he established in 2017. Who knows, maybe we could see the Cubs’ first 20 home run hitter at South Bend next year. He has that potential. With a good year at South Bend and other environs, he could ascend to number 2 on this list quickly.
There is really no exclusivity to this position anymore. For instance, Ian Rice saw action at third in the Arizona Fall League and Andrew Monasterio moved over to third to make room for shortstop Aramis Ademan. Jhonny Bethancourt, for example, saw a lot of action at third but struggled there defensively. It’ll be interesting to see who else plays the position in 2018. David Bote and Chesny Young have both seen a lot of action at that position in the past but both are better suited to second base.
It will also be interesting to see who plays the position in the Dominican in early June and then later that month in Mesa and Eugene.
By Todd Johnson
There have been many times over the past two summers where I have referred to Wladimir Galindo as “my guy.” I still feel that way despite his inability to stay healthy. What Galindo has is a large frame and the potential for power similar to previous prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ. It’s a pretty fancy comparison, and I don’t really think it’s hyperbole to put him in with those two names. The only issue is whether he can stay healthy enough to fulfill that potential.
After staying healthy for most of 2016 at Eugene, I was really excited to see what Galindo could do in his first year in full season baseball at South Bend. I liked the fact that when he sees the ball, he hits the ball. In just 44 games, he hit .290 with four home runs and 19 RBIs at 20 years of age. There is a natural inclination for him to go up to the plate swinging. Although, in 2017. his K percentage shrunk to an all time low of 20.9%. Considering his injury history, you should not find this approach surprising.
Despite being signed in 2013, he only has 787 at bats for his total career. There’s not very many. In addition, he has not seen that many pitches in his four years of playing baseball in Venezuela, Mesa, Eugene, and South Bend. He has seen just a total of 2106 pitches as a professional. For your average player, that is not very many. Most full season minor leaguers will see between 1600 to 1800 pitches in just one season (120-140 games).
In his brief stint at South Bend, Galindo came across as an experienced hitter despite his lack of game experience. One thing that impressed me was how often and how easily he went to right field. at South Bend. 36.9% of batted ball by Galindo wound up in the opposite field. That is an extremely high rate that reminds me of another Cub who loved to go oppo in his prime in the 1990s.
Fangraphs said this last week,
Reports concerning Galindo’s approach indicate that his bat-to-ball profile is still pretty volatile despite the slight reduction in K% (over just a 44-game sample, mind you). Still, it’s an improvement when compared to Galindo’s previous two seasons. He’s a potential everyday player if he can stay at third and get to most of his power.
What needs to happen in 2018.
Wladimir has been posting updates on Twitter (@galindowladi38) about his rehab since his surgery to repair his broken leg in June. In early November, he began hitting off the tee and I think he’s going to be primed and ready to go when 2018 begins.
Thank you God I’m here again 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽 pic.twitter.com/dZ6VduERiq
— Wladimir Galindo (@galindowladi38) November 11, 2017
A few of you have asked me if I think he will start at South Bend or at Myrtle Beach in 2018. To be honest, he’s hit at every level and, despite a lack of plate appearances and pitches seen at each level, he has done extremely well. If he begins 2018 in the Carolina League, I expect him to do well. For him, it’s not gonna be that big of a jump.
What I would like to see most from him next year is to stay healthy. I’d like to see him get in 120 games at the plate. He could get 400 at-bats and see 1600 to 1700 pitches while hitting 15 to 20 home runs and driving in 70 to 80 runs. He could get in 80 games at third base and 20 at first while being the DH every once in awhile to rest his leg.
But the overriding goal is to stay healthy to do all of these things. I firmly believe that if he stays healthy, he could easily be the top power hitter in the Cubs’ system without much effort.
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
Today’s post concludes the 7 Series. While I cannot include every prospect in every affiliate review, I can add an extra post that discusses 7 players I think will take off in 2018. Some names will be very familiar. Others may not be household names as Cubs prospects. Many of their seasons were truncated because of either injury or just being drafted.
Austin Upshaw – His time at South Bend was brief but impactful. He ended the season in a hail of batted balls as he hit .290 in 52 games at South Bend. The 13th round pick out of Kennesaw State was my favorite in-person interview of the year and I really like what he can do at the plate. He shows a solid knowledge of the strike zone. While he only hit 2 HRs for South Bend, I would not be surprised to see those numbers increase as he moves up the system. He played 1B, 2B, and 3B, but his bat is best suited to 2B. He should be at Myrtle Beach to begin next year.
Scott Effross – Since being drafted out of Indiana in 2015, his career has been steady but slow going. This year, however, Effross displayed some potential in spurts. In both relief and starting roles, he grew into something of a possible piece for the future. His ERA dropped every month as his control increased. In the second half, he had 44 Ks in 20.1 IP with a 2.03 ERA. He will begin 2018 at AA Tennessee
Vimael Machin – Now 24, Machin went from what appeared to be an organizational guy into a legitimate prospect. He can play all 4 infield positions and he can definitely handle a stick. He did it at both South Bend and Myrtle Beach this season. For the season, he hit .303 with 11 HRs and an OBP of .360 while displaying a knack for key hits. He should begin 2018 at Tennessee.
Bailey Clark – At times in 2017, he was magical. And at other times, he was frustrating to watch. The 2016 draft pick finished up his degree at Duke in the offseason and arrived late in spring training. As a result, he was playing catch up, especially when it came to conditioning. I expect that he will be much better in 2018, especially if he comes to camp in great shape. He did strike out 44 in 44.2 IP at Eugene in 2017 but he also walked 28 leading to an unsustainable 1.63 WHIP. As the season went on, he got better. In 3 August starts at Eugene, he had a 1.69 ERA before he was promoted and thrown into a pennant race at South Bend. If all goes well this offseason, you should see him throwing 95-ish from the get go in the spring.
Erick Leal – In 2016, the 6’3 righty had an outstanding season at Myrtle Beach. He had a 3.23 ERA in 19 games for the Pelicans. His fastball was sitting 91-93 most nights and he threw strikes. I was saddened to hear last spring that he would miss all of 2017 due to injury. I don’t know if he will be limited in 2018, but he is still only 22 despite being around for what seems like forever. I like forward to seeing what his role will be in 2018 coming off a missing year.
Jared Young – I really like his approach at the plate. At 6’2”, he’s a bit huge for a second baseman, but that’s OK. Even we hit .131 in July, his approach was excellent, balls were just not dropping. In August, he hit .323 with a .371 OBP that is more indicative of his eye at the plate. He should start at South Bend to begin the year. I would like to see him get some work in at 1B in addition to his normal second.
Wladimir Galindo – He’s just 20. And at that age, he is one of the top 3 power hitters in the Cubs MiLB system and maybe my favorite hitter. This past year, he played at South Bend and displayed an ability to hit for average that he had not shown before. A broken ankle/leg ended his season early. Before it ended after 44 games, he was hitting .290 with 4 HRs and a .350 OBP. He will be 21 when 2018 begins and he should be at Myrtle Beach. What I look forward to most is seeing if he stays healthy what kind of numbers he can put up in a full season.
Bonus – Erling Moreno – For the first time in his short Cubs career, he was relatively healthy and finished a season on an active roster. I am not worried about his stats right now just his ability to get in innings and throw his plus curve for strikes.
By Todd Johnson
I am thinking I had this list done about three weeks ago. I wanted to put it out almost immediately after the minor league season ended. After thinking about it, I thought I would just let it settle and edit it before I put it out. To be honest, it has changed much from when I wrote it to today. In fact, I was reconsidering re-ordering 5-9 all night.
There are really only two major changes in this list from the summer. They are the inclusion of outfielders Jonathan Sierra and Nelson Velazquez. In fact, I had Velasquez shoot all the way into the top 10. The Cubs don’t have anybody like him in the system with his home run power and production.
I still think this list is pretty volatile. After the Arizona Fall League, I will think about mixing it up a bit. But with who is going to Arizona, I think only one prospect might improve their lot on the list.
The list could change quite a bit later this off-season as trades are made and injuries are revealed. I think the biggest risers and fallers next year will be at AA Tennessee. The Smokies will have pitchers Thomas Hatch, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Duncan Robinson, Michael Rucker and position players Zack Short and Eddy Martinez. Those seven will determine how the rest of the list looks because production at AA signals that the product could be productive in Chicago.
South Bend’s rotation next year will also have a huge impact on the list as recent draft picks will be unleashed without any restrictions. Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson are two pitchers who could make some waves in 2018 with some excellent performances next summer.
So, without further adieu, here is the current Top 21 list in video form.
By Todd Johnson
Usually most breakouts occur in the lower levels of the minor leagues. A prospect comes out and begins to let his talent shine for all to see. In the first half of 2017, this is mostly the case. This year, there are several prospects who are putting together some eye-popping performances, somewhat out of the blue. And many of them are showing that they could be assets at the MLB level.
Charcer Burks – He has just been outstanding as the lead off hitter for Tennessee. He is hitting .314 with a .412 OBP. I don’t think he is in Tennessee much after the All-Star break. If he can add some more power, I wonder if he’s closer to Chicago then anyone thinks, a lot closer. Add in a gold glove defense and he is becoming someone to think about at the next level.
Zack Short – He reminds me a lot of Mark Zagunis. He leads the Midwest league in walks (49) and put up an on-base percentage of over 400. Once he went into the leadoff spot, South Bend took off.
Wladimir Galindo – I have always been intrigued by Wladimir’s power potential. This year, he showed he can hit for average. He hit .290 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. He will be back next year.
Jason Vosler – Hitting 12 home runs will get anyone noticed. Add in a .400 OBP at AA and you have Jason Vossler in 2017. He already tripled his HR output from last year and needs 2 RBI to equal last year’s as well. He has a nice smooth, quick stroke to the ball and hits lefties (.305) better than righties (.257). That’s not a skill you see everyday (except Rizzo).
Daniel Spingola – He adjusted his swing a little bit to create a little more lift and that has made all the difference this year. Every month he has hit between .280 and .300. He’s been the model of consistency.
Bryant Flete – As the lead off hitter for the Pelicans, he has made the team go. He is proven this year that he is more than just an organizational defensive player. He can hit and his average is testament to his hard work. He is stronger than people give him credit as he has 6 HRs to date.
Dillon Maples – It looks like he finally has it altogether after 5 years. He carved up the Carolina League this spring as a setup man and then a closer. Now off he his Tennessee doing the same. I watched his curveball destroy several hitters’ will to live or even swing a bat. Maples confounded the Twins’ top prospect, Nick Gordon, so much that it looked Gordon screwed himself into the ground swinging. Combined, he’s struck out 50 batters in 34 IP. He’s basically become a fastball/curve reliever. His FB comes in at 96-98 and his curve is in the mid to upper 80s at over 2000 RPM per Scott Kornberg.
Duncan Robinson – He has a monster curveball and an upper 80s/lower 90s fastball that runs in on the hands of right-handed hitters. He dominated the Midwest League, first in relief, then as a starter. I don’t know how long he’s going to be at South Bend, but I would say not much longer.
Michael Rucker – I really like what he can do on the mound. He attacks hitters with a low to mid 90s fastball all in the zone. He rarely walks anyone. His ability to throw strikes constantly inside has been the key. I wonder how long he is going to start this year versus being a reliever? He consistently hits 95/96 in relief and that could change the conversation about his usefulness.
Dakota Mekkes – He has been ungodly for South Bend and his first two outings at Myrtle Beach followed suit. He still needs to cut down on some walks, but his deceptive delivery allows him to strike out batters at an alarming rate.
Justin Steele – It looks like he is finally putting it together. He’s made 13 starts and has a 2.32 ERA. For the last two months, his monthly ERAs are 1.63 and 1.62. Outstanding! He has MLB type stuff and it looks like his harnessing both the physical and mental aspects of the game. However, his WHIP is a little high (1.39) but that tells me he is able to pitch out of trouble now.
Breakout Player of the First Half
Adbert Alzolay – He has been fantastic this year at Myrtle Beach. His fastball has been hitting 96 to 97 regularly and he is able to keep that up throughout the game – 6 to 7 innings deep. He’s struck out 67 in 70 IP with an ERA of 2.83. The three keywords to his success are: tempo, tempo, and tempo. There are other breakout pitchers who have put up better ERAs than Adbert, but they lack the power fastball that Adbert has been able to control and use efficiently to pitch 7 innings like a major league starter needs to do.
Most of these players will be on Monday’s All-Star Team for the First Half. Their performances have been year long and not just a flash in the pan. Though some have worked their way onto a prospect list, others above have not and they may never do so. However, they still have something to offer and their play is speaking volumes.
On Tuesday, I will be back to talk about some prospects who I think could break out in the second half. Most of them are going to be draft picks and players in Eugene and Mesa.