By Todd Johnson
One of the things the Cubs management has shown a proclivity to do is to promote their top prospects in the waning weeks of the season to participate in the MiLB playoffs. This year, Myrtle Beach clinched a spot back in June by winning the first half. Eugene is just one game behind Boise for another spot while Tennessee is 3 1/2 back. Iowa is nowhere near a spot and South Bend is 10 games back despite having the best record of any Cubs affiliate this year.
No one is going to move up from Myrtle Beach to help Tennessee win. There are few players in the Arizona Rookie League who could wind up in Eugene to give the Emeralds a little push. But the biggest transition of talent is likely to come from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans were brilliant in the first half. Promotions, trades, and injuries remade the roster as they have limped to the worst record in the Carolina League in the second half.
Myrtle Beach is in need of some offense from the outfield, a starting pitcher, and some bullpen help. Here are a few players who could matriculate their way to Myrtle Beach to help the Pelicans win their third straight Mills Cup Championship.
DJ Wilson – The Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Month for July is the most likely prospect to head east. A natural center fielder, Wilson could slide right into the Pelicans’ lineup and provide some much needed punch from the left side. After spending the better part of June on the DL, Wilson returned and has been drawing more walks than before. He would fit right in as a Pelican.
Kevonte Mitchell – Another outfielder, Mitchell would provide some serious right handed power. In the second half, Mitchell is putting together a nice stretch of baseball showing patience and power at the same time. Just this month, he’s hitting .303 with a .425 OBP.
Bryan Hudson – The tall lefty starting pitcher has put together a good second half. In August, he has made two starts with a 0.90 ERA and has allowed only 2 ERs in his last 4 starts. For the year, he has a 3.00 ground ball to air out rate.
Jose Paulino – While he currently is a starter, Myrtle Beach needs bullpen help and that is what Paulino could provide. After struggling as a starter in April, Paulino worked his way back to the rotation over the course of May and June. In July, he had 2.20 ERA in 4 starts.
Wyatt Short – As the lefty closer at Eugene in 2016, he did not allow a run all season. This year has been a bit of a struggle at times. He has looked much better as of late with a 3.48 ERA in the second half of the year.
Mark Malave – The former catcher looks to be adjusting fine in his third year since switching to pitching. He’s struck out 20 in 20 IP since being promoted to South Bend to go along with a 2.70 ERA.
While it might be nice for the Pelicans to get all six players, odds are it will only be a couple of players arriving. I think Wilson will be get the call for sure. As for who the pitcher could be, I will be just as surprised as you.
Today is a fun day! It’s opening day for four of the Cubs’ minor-league affiliates! Weather permitting, Iowa, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend will take the field for the first time in 2017. It is not looking good for South Bend today as three to six inches are called for in West Michigan. As usual, I will be watching all the happenings. Then, starting this Sunday, “The Weekly” will have the players of the week. But today, it’s our annual preseason All-Star team for the first half.
What is happening today is I am picking out several players who I think will be the best at their position in the Cubs’ system through the middle of June.
I think that Victor Caratini is locked and loaded and has his eyes set on Chicago. He will be at AAA this year and more than likely, come 2018, he will be the backup catcher to Wilson Contreras. He might even see some time this summer depending on his defense.
Even though he is currently on the DL, I think Yasiel Balaguert has this position sewn up. Last year, he had 19 home run the 96 RBIs and I think he will improve upon that this year as he has been working on hitting up the middle and to the right.
There is some stiff competition for this position with Carlos Sepulveda and Yeiler Peguero competing to get their name on the Internet. However, Ian Happ wins in a landslide. It is so self-evident, that I’m not even going to explain my thinking process for selecting him.
At the age of 17, Isaac Paredes made his class A debut at South Bend in late August of 2017. This year, the Cubs will get the full effect of what this man-child can do. He earned the starting spot and hopefully some power will go along with an outstanding batting average and on-base percentage… I’ll from an 18-year-old kid.
I am going to break the mold, and tradition, and go with Wladimir Galindo who I think will do extremely well as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League. Normally, I would pick Jeimer Candelario for the spot, but I think Wladimir is determined to succeed and show his worth.
I think this was the toughest category to pick just three players. I think the deciding factor is how I project them to perform in the first half and the excitement that they will bring to the game. As a result, I am selecting DJ Wilson of South Bend, Eloy Jimenez of Tennessee, and I’m going to stun everybody and go with Bijan Rademacher of Iowa. I know I am leaving out Eddy Martinez and Mark Zagunis, but I think Bijan is going to hit more home runs than both the next two months.
I found it hard to just pick six because the Cubs development of pitchers is becoming more and more pronounced. I am going with Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, Eddie Butler, Erling Moreno, Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, and I am picking Kyle Miller as a Darkhorse. I also thought about including Ryan Williams, Rob Zastryzny, and Zach Hedges. What used to be the weakness of the organization is now turning into a strength. I would not be surprised to see a couple of these pitchers make it to Chicago this year.
Last year, relievers were the strength of the organization. They helped out the big league club down the stretch and Rob Zastryzny even made it to the World Series. This year, Pierce Johnson leads a group of arms who are still a ways off from helping the big league club. Ryan McNeil, Jordan Mnch, Wyatt Short, Dakota Mekkes, and Chad Hockin are just a few of the names who will be excellent bullpen arms the spring. I know there are other bullpen arms, especially in South Bend, who could’ve been added to this list.
Last year’s preseason All-Star team played a significant role in two ways. Some of them wound up on the major-league roster and were key players in the World Series victory. Other prospects were parts of packages used to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery who helped to win the World Series.
I don’t quite know what will happen this year with some of these prospects, but that’s the fun of it. In four weeks, the April All-Star team should give us a glimpse into how well this package of players listed above did on the road to Wrigley.
By Todd Johnson
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the position in the minors that will bear the most help in Chicago this year will be relief pitching. With Zastryzny, Felix Pena, and Jose Rosario on the doorstep, the Cubs will not have to go out looking for a reliever for quite some time. And still, there are other prospects who are in play to help the bullpen this year including Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, Ryan McNeil, and maybe even Duane Underwood (if all goes well).
Last year, the bullpen at AAA Iowa was the strength of that team. This year, the same is true. In addition to the aforementioned pitchers, Stephen Perakslis and James Farris could work their way into the current conversation.
One thing the Cubs did last year in the draft was select 27 pitchers, 16 of which signed. Most of them will be in South Bend this year, but a couple could make their way to Tennessee and maybe even Iowa.
As it stands, Jason McLeod has been throwing a lot of draft picks towards arms in the bullpen. Some used to be starters, but they seem to thrive as relievers in the minor leagues. Today’s post will rank the bullpen prospects in the Cubs minor-league organization
There are several bullpen arms from last year’s draft that will get their first chance in full season ball this year. They include Dakota Mekkes, Marc Huberman, Michael Rucker, Chad Hockin, and Duncan Robinson. My pick to click this year is Marc Huberman, a lefty out of USC,
Huberman came in and only pitched at Eugene last year. In a setup role, Huberman had a 1.72 ERA in 15 innings. As I watched him pitch a few times, most hitters struggle to find the ball coming out of his hand. It’s not that he was trying to be highly deceptive, rather he just hides the ball naturally. I think he might not be around South Bend very long. After pitching a full season in college,
Chad Hockin out of Cal State Fullerton might be one pitcher who benefits from professional coaching. Throwing in the mid-90s, Hockin has closer type stuff and closer experience.
Top five to watch this year
5. Kyle Twomey – Originally, Twomey was slated to be a starter. It didn’t necessarily work out that way. However, after a couple of minor injuries, he seemed to blossom in a relief role. I saw him a couple of time live in 2016 and his curveball devastated hitters in the Midwest League. Out of the pen, he had an ERA of under 1.
4. Wyatt Short – Wyatt surprised everyone at Eugene last summer as he dominated the Northwest League as the Emeralds’ closer. Pretty simply, he did not give up 1 run in 2016. He was efficient, to the point, and devastating out of the pen. He should begin this year at South Bend. Like Huberman, Short is a lefty who could advance quickly in 2017.
3. James Farris – In 2015, Farris went from a bullpen arm to the closer at South Bend and seemed to thrive in the role. At Myrtle Beach, he had an up and down season, but more up than down. Last year at Tennessee, he started to figure things out in July and August. The Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he dominated in a setup role. I think this year he’ll be at AAA and I think he could be in line for a promotion to Chicago at some point later in the year.
2. Stephen Perakslis – He’s always had mid-90s heat, and he’s always been a second-half player. I don’t know what it is about him that he seems to struggle the first half of the year and then turns it on once July 1 hits. In 2016, Stephen got some action starting for Iowa and Tennessee and seemed to thrive a bit in the role. I don’t expect him to return to that role in 2017. Instead, he will likely return to the bullpen better because of his experience as a starter.
1. Jose Rosario – Rosario has been around for a while and was off of most people’s radar after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2015. But that was as a starter. Now that he’s in the pen, his velocity has increased to the mid to upper 90s and he’s perched himself as a prospect who could actually make the 25 man roster. I doubt that he does, but he could become prospect number one to be called up to Chicago this spring or summer.
What I like most about this collection of arms is that they are a mixture of arms. They all have different arsenals and speeds at which they pitch. It’s not a cookie-cutter set of pitchers as it is a mixture of lefties and righties.
Record: 54-22 – 1st and 2nd Half Division Champions, Northwest League Champions
From start to finish they were the best team in the Northwest League in 2016. They were a team built on starting pitching, defense, and team speed. They had two highly touted pitchers to begin the year in Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson. Although Cease would suffer a forearm strain, he still showed off the magic of his arm in the second half. The first half saw pitcher Jose Paulino post an ERA under one and was promptly promoted to South Bend. In the second half, Manny Rondon became somewhat the ace pro tempore of the staff with his ERA of 1.10.
At the plate, five different players took turns carrying the team throughout the year. First, it was Matt Rose, second, Chris Pieters took over when Rose was promoted to South Bend, and then Wladimir Galindo took over for a short time in late July. In August, DJ Wilson, Trent Giambrone, and Zack Short each had their moments. Robert Garcia showed he can handle a stick, too, and Kevonte Mitchell flashed some potential and had a much better 2016 than 2015.
In the playoffs, the Emeralds won their first series over Hillsboro with some dominating pitching from Pedro Silverio, who struck out 8 in his start. Erling Moreno did excellent in the deciding game holding the Hops to one run while striking out 7 in five innings.
Like the rest of the year, the Emeralds used good starting pitching, defense, and an excellent job from the bullpen to defeat Everett 2 games to 1 to win the Northwest League Championship! In game 3, Starter Manny Rondon scattered six hits and two walks with 3 strikeouts to only allow one run. The key play came in the top of the fifth inning when a single by Everett’s Kristian Brito plated a run but Kevonte Mitchell threw out Bryson Brigman at the plate on the same play to keep the game at 1-1. In the bottom of the inning, Yeiler Peguero singled home Robert Garcia to give the Ems a 2-1 lead. The bullpen of Duncan Robinson, Michael Knighton, and Wyatt Short did what they have done all year and shut down the opposition for the next four innings.
The championship is the first for the affiliate in the Cubs organization and the first since 1980. Congratulations to Manager Jesus Felciano, the players and the Ems organization on a job well done!!!
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
|ERA (50 IP)||Strikeouts||WHIP||Saves||Innings|
It was hard to pick just one. There were five players who seemed to carry the team at distinct points in the season. Matt Rose, Chris Pieters, Wladimir Galindo, DJ Wilson, and Trent Giambrone all put the team on their backs and carried them for two weeks at a time.
Team Cy Young
Manny Rondon – 49 Ks in 57.1 IP, 1.10 ERA, 1.26 WHIP. Had Cease not been injured and missed three starts, I think this would’ve been his. One thing that concerns me about Rondon right now is his 1.26 WHIP and high walk rate. He does struggle sometimes, but he’s come a long way from rookie ball where he was horrible in 2015 for the Angels (8+ ERA). This year, he was able to work out of jams and relied on his defense as hitters hit .233 against him.
Breakout Prospects in 2016
To me, Manny Rondon appears to be the breakout prospect on the surface. However, I was totally stunned at the tools of Giambrone and Zack Short, both of whom are excellent on defense and had OBPs of over .400. I find that amazing, especially since Short only hit .236.
Looking Ahead to 2017
I am not quite sure what to expect for this team next year. Between fall instructs, spring training, and extended spring training,a lot of development can take place over those nine months. I think Gustavo Polanco is the one certain hitter who should be at Eugene and entrenched in the middle of the lineup come next June.
The big name for 2017 might be Jose Albertos, a young 17-year-old pitcher who spent most of 2016 on the DL but should be at fall instructs. When healthy, the youngster can top out in the upper 90s. He only made one start at Mesa where he struck out 7 in 4 innings before being put on the shelf for precautionary reasons.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Delvin Zinn – First, I was surprised the 19-year-old signed after being drafted by the Cubs a second time in 2016. He is extremely athletic and started playing well at the end of Rookie League.
There are eight and a half months before the next season of Emeralds baseball. A lot can happen with developing prospects in that big of a time frame, especially when many of them might only be 18-20 years old. It should be exciting to see next year’s crop of prospects in the great Northwest.
In Eugene, it was a black and white world Tuesday night. Win and you get a championship, lose and the season is over with a bitter taste in the mouth for all of the winter. Like the rest of the year, the Emeralds used good starting pitching, defense, and an excellent job from the bullpen to defeat Everett 2-1 to win the Northwest League Championship!
Starter Manny Rondon scattered six hits and two walks with 3 strikeouts to only allow one run. The key play came in the top of the fifth inning when a single by Everett’s Kristian Brito plated a run but Kevonte Mitchell threw out Bryson Brigman at the plate on the same play to keep the game at 1-1. In the bottom of the inning, Yeiler Peguero singled home Robert Garcia to give the Ems a 2-1 lead. The bullpen of Duncan Robinson, Michael Knighton, and Wyatt Short did what they have done all year and shut down the opposition for the next four innings.
The championship is the first for the affiliate in the Cubs organization and the first since 1980. Congratulations to Manager Jesus Felciano, the players and the Ems organization on a job well done!!! We will have a season wrap-up on the team a bit later this week!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent…
Trevor Clifton was not the star of the night. Although, he could have been. The big right-hander from Tennessee finished off his high A career at Myrtle Beach with a beautiful game over the Lynchburg Hillcats. Clifton went six innings, gave up three hits, did not allow a run or walk, and struck out five. The Pelicans rattled off 10 hits and scored seven runs en route to a 7-0 shut out. David Bote is showing why he is the most valuable bat currently at Myrtle Beach as he went two for four with two doubles and two RBIs. The Pelicans now lead the best of five series 2 games to 1.
Preston Morrison heads to the mound on Wednesday. If the Pelicans win, it will be their second straight Mills Cup Championship Series trophy! The action starts at 5:30 Central.
The Cubs MiLB All-Star Team for the second half was dominated by the lower levels. Only two position players and one pitcher above high A made it. This collection of players includes two 2016 draft picks. This is not an all-star team that encompasses the whole year, rather it’s from late June through Labor Day.
C – 1B – 2B
Gustavo Polanco had a very solid year hitting above .350 for most of the season down in Mesa before slipping the last two weeks to .322. Although he does lack power at this point, the young slugger played catcher, first base, and DH for the rookie league Cubs. I look forward to seeing him at Eugene in 2017. Yasiel Balaguert had quite the second half. He hit 10 home runs and drove in over 50 runs while hitting .300 for Myrtle Beach. One of two draft picks to make this list, Trent Giambrone played all four positions in the infield for Eugene. Primarily a second baseman, Giambrone also showed that he has the potential for power and also has a good eye at the plate with an OBP of .404.
SS – 3B
Isaac Paredes is now the clear cut top hitting shortstop in the Cubs system. The 17-year-old hit over .300 in Mesa and received a promotion at the end of the year to South Bend, skipping short-season Eugene. It will be interesting to see how he does in the upcoming playoffs. Jeimer had nine home runs and 52 RBIs in the second half at AAA Iowa. He hit 333 and had an OBP of .403. It was an amazing second half for him!
OF – OF – OF
I don’t think there’s anything I can add about Eloy that hasn’t already been said this year. Next year, I don’t think the Cubs are going to hold him back like they did at South Bend. He could be in Tennessee by mid-summer. I’d like to see him hit 20 home runs next year. He could even add about ten pounds of muscle to do so. I really like the all-around game of DJ Wilson. He is not quite fully developed, but glimpses were seen after the Eugene All-Star break in late July of the type of player he could be. He hid over 280 the last seven weeks of the season and showed some SB potential. I think his defense is amazing as he can cover some serious ground to get a ball. Bijan Rademacher hit well at two levels this year in Tennessee to Iowa. He’s a nice sleeper prospect to make it to Chicago at some point next year. He won’t start, but he could be a nice bat off the bench and he could as a defensive replacement as he can play all three outfield positions well with a plus arm.
Matt Rose had a massive return to South Bend in the second half. After being reassigned to Eugene, the young 2015 draft pick put it all together and became a central part of the South Bend lineup. He wound up second in the Cubs system in home runs with 17 and third on the team in RBIs.with 42 after being reassigned for two months. David Bote was unbelievable in the second half at Myrtle Beach. He hit .351 with 5 HRs and 38 RBIs. After being an organizational player for much of the first half, the utility player found a home with the Pelicans and was a key cog in their title run in August.
I don’t think there’s any question that the pitching is getting closer to Chicago. I think there was some disappointment in Tennessee this year, but you can’t say that about Myrtle Beach where Trevor Clifton, Zach Hedges, and Preston Morrison each starred at points throughout the season. Clifton was a pitcher of the month twice, Morrison once, and Hedges, despite an all-around great year, never got the accolade. However. with all three pitchers ERAs being under three, I feel pretty good about them heading forward. In 2017, if all goes well, all three pitchers could be in Iowa to end the year. Hedges might have an outside shot of getting to Chicago as he should start the year at Iowa. To say that sounds really strange to me. A year and a half ago, I was thinking of Hedges had an outside shot in a bullpen role just because of his slider. A lot can happen in one year of development.
As a season has gone on, I am more and more surprised with how Manny Rondon has been able to sustain his success. For him to keep his ERA under one for the month of August was extremely impressive. Last year, he struggled coming over to the Cubs from the Angels. For Erling Moreno, this year at Eugene was a thing of beauty. His plus-plus curveball just defiled hitters. It was a thing of nastiness that it’s hard to believe until you see it. He’s really developed that pitch throughout the course of the summer. Ryan Kellogg really came into his own in August with an ERA of 1.93 and 1.99 for the second half. I was extremely surprised to see him do so well. And by that I mean to sustain a certain level of excellence over the course of several weeks and months. Good for him!.
Dylan Cease wound up with an ERA of 2.22 for this year in just 12 starts. In his last four starts, he was just a fluid strikeout machine and fluidity. With 33 in 17.2 IP. The ball came out of his hand easily and he seemed to find his release point and improve the action on his curveball. Earlier in the year, it was hard for him to throw his curve without slowing down the motion with his arm. That’s not the case anymore. His striking out of 10 hitters in five innings on Monday night was probably one of the most impressive starts I’ve seen this year by any pitcher in the Cubs organization. Next year, the chains come off. It would not surprise me to see him move two levels next year.
Hitter of the Second Half: Jeimer Candelario – He had just an amazing second half at Iowa. I hope he is still a Cub when springtime gets here.
Pitcher of the Second Half: Manny Rondon – 1.10 ERA in 15 starts. In 57.1 IP, he struck out 49. My only concern, he only went past five innings one time.
Reliever of the Second Half: Wyatt Short – The Cubs 13th round pick in 2016 did not allow a run in 15 games. In his 15 IP, he accumulated 7 Saves and struck out 14 in 15 IP. Opponents hit just .104 off of him. Amazing!
Last year, I really didn’t have a breakout reliever of the year. I talked about several players and their progress such as Ryan McNeil turning into a setup man at South Bend and Josh Conway coming into his own as a reliever at Myrtle Beach after skipping South Bend. Then, I also Waxed poetic about the trio of Greyfer Eregua, Jose Paulino, and Adbert Alzolay dominating at Eugene in 2015. This year, though, the conditions were right to pick a breakout reliever of the year.
For the better part of the first half of 2015, the relievers saved the season for the Iowa Cubs. Carl Edwards, Spencer Patton, and Felix Pena were pitching copious amounts of innings in order to make up for the debilitating starts of a starting rotation besieged by injuries. Edwards would get the first call to Chicago early in the year and then would be recalled to stay in July. Pena, who also converted to relieving this year, seemed to have no trouble coming out of the bullpen versus starting, which he had done for the last three years.
When Dave Berg and James Faris were promoted to AA Tennessee, Myrtle Beach was in need of a closer. That turned out to be a right-handed reliever, Ryan McNeil. McNeil was a highly thought of prospect when he was drafted in 2012, but injuries caused him to miss two years. He returned as a starter in 2014 at Boise for just a few starts. In 2015 he was moved to the pen at South Bend and he slowly made the adjustment over the course of the year. In 2016, that adjustment continued as he neared 95 miles an hour out of the pen, a level at which he pitched at before Tommy John Surgery in 2012. He took to the closer role like a fish to water and has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the Cubs system.
Wyatt Short has also been a surprise at Eugene. The 5’8” lefty closer from Ole Miss has come in and just plain dominated the Northwest league in a closer role. He has yet to allow a run in 11 games. Jared Cheek, who struggled last year at Eugene, turned into the Emerald’s closer this year and is much improved. The rapping reliever, John Williamson, has been a nice surprise this second-half as he has added a pause to his delivery which is very deceptive.
All of these players have had nice seasons, but not one of them has come close to what Jose Rosario has done. After missing all of 2015, Rosario returned to the organization as a reliever. He began the year at Myrtle Beach where he quickly impressed everyone with his mid to upper 90s fastball. He did not throw that hard as a starter. No one saw his year coming at all.
He was promoted to Tennessee and eventually Iowa in July. Combined, he’s thrown 48 innings and struck out 44 with a 2.22 ERA. Based upon what he has done this year, and what he could do the rest of this year, he could even get a crack to be in consideration for a bullpen spot next year, provided he can still throw in the upper 90s.
Rosario has been so good this year, he made MLB.com’s Top 30 Cubs Prospect List. They said of him:
Though he isn’t very physical, Rosario has a big fastball and is throwing harder than ever since having his elbow reconstructed. He established his prospect bona fides when he started hitting 97 mph in short-season ball as a 20-year-old, and now he sits at 96-97 and can reach 99. He generates his velocity more with arm speed than effort and keeps his heater down in the strike zone, generating swings and misses as well as groundballs.
Rosario’s No. 2 pitch is a mid-80s slider that’s a plus offering at its best and morphs into more of a slurve at times. He’ll show signs of an average changeup too, though the Cubs have made him a full-time reliever since his return. Control never has been his strong suit, though he’s doing a better job of finding the strike zone and could contribute in the big leagues in the near future.
The thing that bodes well for him is that he has only walked 14 batters across three levels for all of 2016. In addition to being a breakout reliever of the year, Rosario’s story is also one of the feel-good stories of 2016 for the Cubs organization.