By Todd Johnson
Back in the spring, I wrote an article for BP Wrigleyville about which affiliate would be the team to watch in the first half. I wound up picking South Bend mainly because of their pitching. And that turned out to be a good pick as they also had exciting players to watch. Now that the second half is here, who is the affiliate to keep an eye on for the next two months.?
Considering that Iowa has really produced a lot of help for the big league club the spring with David Bodie, Anthony Bass, Victor Caratini, and other assorted relievers, one could make an argument that Iowa should be the team to watch in case the Cubs need more starting pitching. Casey Coleman, Duane Underwood, and Trevor Clifton are three to watch. Meanwhile, Dakota Mekkes and Kyle Ryan are two relievers to examine. At the plate, Mark Zagunis could fill a hole if needed and Chesney Young appears to fully have his groove back again in July. Finally, Taylor Davis could provide a backup catcher if needed.
Myrtle Beach’s Case
Right now, the Pelicans’ hitting is not doing very well. Outside of Andruw Monasterio, PJ Higgins, and Jhonny Pereda, most of prospects are hitting in the .220s or below. But when it comes to pitching, especially the starting variety, Myrtle Beach has several arms to watch. Erich Uelmen didn’t miss a beat when he was promoted to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. 2017 First Round pick Alex Lange is definitely an arm to watch. His changeup seems to be rounding into form as it fades away from right-handed hitters. If he can maintain the current arm slot as his fastball, he becomes deadly. In addition, pitcher Tyson Miller looks to be strong at this point in the season and is getting better every month as his season ERA continues to drop near 3.00. I also look forward to the return of Bailey Clark who missed most of June. Reliever Jhon Romero might be headed for Tennessee very soon at the rate he is striking out batters.
When I first thought of doing this article 2 months ago, I would’ve said that Eugene would be the team to watch with all the young players. It’s still is, but some of those players are going through a lot of growing pains. Right now, the star attraction is number one draft pick shortstop Nico Hoerner. Then again, he’s missed the last five days after injuring his pinky finger sliding into third base. Hopefully he will return soon, and stay there a while before he gets shipped off to South Bend. Otherwise, Fernando Kelli is never dull on the basepaths as he leads the Northwest League in stolen bases. Fireballin’ Pitcher Brailyn Marquez is must see TV. And in good news, Nelson Velasquez and Luis Vazquez seem to be finding in their strokes after a rough first two weeks. Both are hitting well over .300 this month. Luis Diaz has been a nice surprise. Jonathan Sierra has a great eye at the plate but has yet to get the bat going, although he went 4-for-4 last night . The 2018 draft picks have been a little slow to head to Eugene and they seem to be dispersed throughout the system rather than Eugene.
South Bend’s Case
They could easily make a strong case to be the team to watch this half, too. Pitchers Rollie Lacy, Tyler Thomas, and Jesus Camargo are something else. Every time they go out, they seem to just give up zero or one run in 5 to 7 innings with 8 to 10 Ks. First baseman Jared Young is destroying the ball and was just named the Cubs’ minor league player of the month for June. Miguel Amaya slipped a little bit last month but he is still a very exciting young prospect and was just named to the World roster at the Future’s Game. Brandon Hughes looks to be in a groove since adjusting his stance. Michael Cruz also adjusted his approach and hit over .300 in June. This gives South Bend Cubs, arguably, the top 1-9 batting order in the system.
Over the first two-plus weeks of the second half, the Smokies have been the hottest team in the system. They are currently in first place as their hitters seemed to have woken up from a two month slumber. Leading the charge are shortstop Zack Short, second baseman Trent Giambrone, and outfielder Charcer Burks. As soon as the All-Star break ended, those three begin to take off and haven’t stop hitting for the past two weeks. In addition, new pitchers Matt Swarmer and Keegan Thompson are beginning to adjust to AA as the Smokies have gone to a six-man rotation. Thomas Hatch is always a fun watch. I love to see Duncan Robinson pitch whenever he starts and the same is true of Michael Rucker. The two 2016 draft picks just throw strikes. With Jake Stinnett now entrenched as the closer, this team has a lot going on as they sit firmly in first place.
As for the four rookie league teams, none of them are televised, although the Arizona Rookie League teams do get some press coverage with Arizona Phil. They also have 2/3 of this year’s class spread across the two teams.
Considering all of these things, it’s pretty close between Tennessee and South Bend. The deciding factor for my choice comes down to this: Which prospects are going to be at South Bend or Tennessee the whole two months. I can firmly say that most of Tennessee’s roster is going to stay in Kodak. I can’t say the same for South Bend. I could see Jared Young getting the call today as well as Lacy and Thomas. As a result, the first place Tennessee Smokies are going to get a lot more attention the rest of the way in. It should be fun.
By Todd Johnson
It has to be hard to be a position player in the Cubs’ minor league system. With most of the daily regulars signed through 2021, there’s not a lot of hope to make it onto the 25 man roster. However, things sometimes change. Ian Happ made the Cubs keep him on the roster. David Bote has been up twice this year as a utility player. If you perform, things will take care of themselves. You just have to go about your business and do the best you can while waiting for your shot.
In 2016, the Cubs selected SS Zack Short in the 17th round out of Sacred Heart. Over the last 2 years, Zack Short has quickly made his way through the Cubs system at the pace of a top prospect. Along the way, he’s shown a penchant for getting on base at a near .400 clip along with showing some power. Short spent 2016 mostly at Eugene. He split 2017 at South Bend in the first half, where he lead the league in walks. In the second half, he continued his fast rise at Myrtle Beach. As a result, he quickly made it to AA to begin this year.
2018 has been a strange year for Short.
For the first time in his pro career, he struggled in getting on base and producing his power game. In April, he hit .187 with a .322 OBP while only hitting .187. May was a little better. He hit .233 with a very good OBP of .365.
When June began, his hitting troubles bottomed out on June 8 when his average bottomed out at .198. The very next night, he went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI and he was off. Over the last three weeks of June and, so far, the first week of July, Short has been the hottest Cub minors hitting .380 with 3 HRs and 18 RBI. In addition, his OBP in that span is an amazing at .470.
In April and May, he was whiffing at almost a 33% rate. Over the last 4 weeks, he’s only striking out at a 22% rate. Take away two nights when he had the triple sombrero, his K rate goes down to 15%, which is very good.
What I like most about Short is that, despite his troubles hitting, his walk rate was consistent. His 14.7% rate is a bit above last year’s 15.4% but not as high as his 18.0% at South Bend. Still no matter his troubles, he still did not change his approach at the plate. His monthly walk counts of 13, 15, and 16 are still impressive and that bodes well for the future anytime he gets in a slump.
In Zack’s career, he has never hit for a high average. He’s always sat .240 to .260 and had OBP splits between .360 to .400. This current four week stretch is the highest stretch of his career, by far. It will be interesting to see how long Zack can keep this going.
Will his average remain high the rest of this month? If he can sustain it, does that earn him a ticket to Iowa one step from Chicago or the bigs? And when he gets there, what position will he be playing? He’s played some third in the minors, some second, too, but mostly short…pun intended.
Short’s performance has been exciting to track and watch this month. It will be equally exciting to see what he can do this month and the year.
By Todd Johnson
It has been an exciting week in the minors. There were several promotions, some draft signings, and lots of debuts of players in new uniforms. From Chicago to Mesa, new was the word. Then again, there will be several more in the weeks ahead as only 13 of the players the Cubs signed from this year’s draft debuted. More are coming.
Tomorrow, the 2018-2019 International Free Agency signing period begins. The Cubs are expected to sign a few top prospects in pitchers Richard Gallardo and Joel Machado along with outfielder Jose Lopez. The Cubs have almost $5 million to spend. It is also the first time since 2015 that they can sign a player for more than $300,000. They will not blow through all of their pool tomorrow. Only a few big names will be released tomorrow, most of the list will be released in October.
No New Top 21
Normally, I would do a new Top 21 list after International Free Agency begins, but not this year. All of the players the Cubs will sign will not play until 2019. So, I decided to wait to think about adding them to the list unless their name is Victor Mesa…and it’s not.
But if I did, there would be a few additions and a few subtractions. Jared Young has played himself into consideration for a spot while Eugene OF Fernando Kelli bears watching along with fellow teammate Jonathan Sierra. In addition, Chesny Young looks to be playing himself back into contention and Duncan Robinson is definitely an arm to watch as he is having big success at AA this year. Pitchers Rollie Lacy, Erich Uelmen, and Tyler Thomas are also worthy of consideration as well.
Who’s Hot at the Plate Right Now?
The second half just started ten days ago. Several players are busting it out of the gate. Zack Short of Tennessee is ripping the cover off the ball (.360+ with 3 HRs and 12 RBI) along with teammate Eddy Martinez (.333 with 2 HRs and 9 RBI). In Myrtle Beach, Andruw Monasterio over his last ten is lighting up a box score at close to .400. Roberto Caro (.400) of South Bend leads a parade of hitters in northern Indiana who are putting balls in play over their last ten games including Brandon Hughes (.289), Austin Filiere (.314), and Michael Cruz (.308). At AAA Iowa, Mark Zagunis is currently in the midst of one of his nicest streaks of the year after a rough May. Chesny Young also looks to have regained his stroke hitting .289 for the month (heading into last night’s game).
Around the System
While Tennessee and South Bend got off to decent starts in the second half, Myrtle Beach has not at 2-8. Their bats have pretty much gone silent except for Monasterio. Iowa is still finding who will be on the roster from day-to-day with the Cubs’ injury issues in Chicago. Eugene started out hot and then cooled off as the bats and pitching are struggling. The Ems have lost 7 in a row and are now at 5-10.
Meanwhile, down in Mesa, the Cubs Mesa 1 team looks to be doing well at 6-4 while the 2 team has some pitching issues at 4-6. Both teams in the DSL are at 9-15 and 10-15 respectively as they struggle at the plate and in the field. SS Fabian Pertuz is back after missing almost two weeks. He immediately hit when he got back on the lineup. He will be one to watch the next two months.
The June All-Star Team
I will put it out later today. Check back around 4:30-5 Central time.
Players of the Week
Card of the Week
By Todd Johnson
It’s getting to be the busy season here at Cubs Central. While next week will be all about the draft, and redoing the top 21 list, this weekend will be about wrapping up what happened in May in the Cubs’ system. Tomorrow, I will rank the top 10 cards I made for the month. For today, it’s all about recognizing the top performers in the Cubs system the last 31 days.
Surprisingly, only 7 prospects made both the May and April All-Star teams. That’s not a lot. And of those 6, only 2 hitters did, catchers Jhonny Pereda and Miguel Amaya. This is going to be an interesting year as players search to find some consistency at the plate and on the mound.
This month’s All-Star team came right down to the wire. Several pitching spots were in play throughout the course of the last two nights, including the Pitcher of the Month and Hitter of the Month.
I have been tracking the system on a month by month spreadsheet. One thing I noticed early in the month was the ascension of Pelican pitcher Casey Bloomquist as a setup man for Myrtle Beach. Like many arms in the system, Bloomquist has worked both as a starter and as a reliever. This year, he is thriving in his new role. All of his pitches are a little more polished this year. The cutter that he talked about two years ago with me, now is becoming a go-to pitch for him. Good for Casey!
So, without further adieu, here is this month’s all star team, once again in video form.
The June All-Star team will be a lot of fun to sort through. The Dominican Summer League begins play tomorrow.
Eugene and the two Mesa teams start on June 15th. Some names I look forward to seeing play in Eugene are OF Fernando Kelli, SS Luis Vazquez, and 3B Christopher Morel. Down in Mesa, pitcher Jesus Tejada is a must follow along with SS Luis Diaz and OF Carlos Pacheco, to name a few. It should be an exciting month of action.
By Todd Johnson
One good month does not a promotion make. Two months, … maybe.
So far, there has not been a lot of movement up and down in the Cubs’ system this year. However, Bailey Clark moving from South Bend to Myrtle Beach was one of domination at South Bend. But most other promotions that took place were related to injury.
In the next few weeks, there will be a lot of movement as the MLB Draft takes place and 20+ new Cubs begin their careers. In addition, the first half will come to a close. I don’t expect a lot of movement when it comes to hitters, but there should be plenty of pitching movement – especially when it comes to relievers. In addition, there could even be a few players released at the higher levels.
Look for the following players to get bumped up a level fairly soon.
Tennessee to Iowa
Dakota Mekkes has been impressive since the beginning of the 2017 season. He has dominated three levels in the last 14 months. And the only reason to keep him in Tennessee would be to work on his walks. In 17.1 innings, he has walked 12. However, in the past, that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from promoting Carl Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Dillon Maples. Mekkes is ready for the next level and could be in Chicago fairly quickly this summer if needed.
Thomas Hatch has looked much better this year. He looks pretty comfortable on the mound and with what he’s throwing. What I like most is that he is gone deep in the games this year And with solid results as he’s posted a 3.06 ERA in 9 starts. His WHIP might be a little high, but I like his ability to get out of jams. He’s also pitched 89 pitches or more in 5 of his last 6 starts. That’s big fo him as the Cubs kept him on a short leash and a 5 inning limit in 2017. He gets bumped around every once in a while, but when you start breaking down his starts, he looks to be fairly consistent. He’s more of a candidate to go at the All-Star break then he is in the first week in June.
Myrtle Beach to Tennessee
Tyler Peyton has been an eye-opener for some at Myrtle Beach. I saw this coming last summer at South Bend as he was pretty dominant the last six weeks of the season. Part of me hopes he would get a chance to start, but as a reliever he is throwing 96 mph consistently out of the pen. Add in a killer ERA of 1.29, and he should find his way to Tennessee shortly after Dakota Mekkes heads to Iowa.
South Bend to Myrtle Beach
2017 second round pick Cory Abbott is missing a lot of bats in the Midwest league, 44 Ks in 36.1 IP. He should be on the first plane to South Carolina fairly quickly at the rate he is going. His slider and fastball command are just wiping out hitters as he has posted a 2.72 ERA in 7 starts. His WHIP is 1.06 and opponents are hitting only .206 against him.
On the Edge
The main problem in promoting prospects is that there is nowhere to go for many of them. For the following list of prospects, they still need some more time to simmer in their respective affiliates before being promoted. While they may not be promoted in the next two weeks, look for their names to be bumped up in late June at the end of the first half.
Tennessee: Zack Short, Charcer Burks, and Jeffrey Baez – All three would need a place to play. Right now, there are no spots in Iowa.
Myrtle Beach: Jhonny Pereda, Wyatt Short, Casey Bloomquist, Bailey Clark, Connor Myers, and Tyler Alamo – Bloomquist has been a nice surprise out of the pen this year, along with Short, while Alamo and Pereda are part of the logjam at first and catcher in the system. Bailey Clark has been a stud throwing between 95-97. He had a couple of adjustments to make at high A but looks to have righted the ship. If Baez and Burks go to Iowa, look for Connor Myers to head west to Tennessee.
South Bend: Tyler Thomas, Javier Assad, Rollie Lacy, and Austin Filiere – All four have shown flashes of potential and have put together some impressive performances along with some befuddling ones. The pitchers probably move before Filiere does.
It will be interesting to see how this shakes down in a couple of weeks both before and after the draft.
By Todd Johnson
The lack of hitting in the Cubs’ system in 2018 is a little disconcerting. Then again, that’s not a big surprise. Over the past two summers, the Cubs have drafted mostly pitchers. Position players, and, more specifically, college position players, have been few and far between in the draft in the top rounds. As a result, the Cubs do not have that elite type of hitting prospect dominating the system. The Cubs just don’t have the big bats they used to.
Some of the major prospects are struggling. Aramis Ademan is below .230 at Myrtle Beach. Nelson Velazquez is hovering around .200 while Mark Zagunis and David Bote were shuttling back and forth between Iowa and Chicago. As well, DJ Wilson has been injured most of the spring.
Then again, Jhonny Pereda and Jeffrey Baez haven’t stopped hitting all season. There are some other bats worth watching right now who are putting together a serious May at the plate.
1. Chesny Young seems to have found his stroke again. After hitting only .183 in April, Chesny looks like 2015 and 2016 Chesny that came to close to leading three leagues in hitting. In May so far, Young is hitting .333 with a .400 OBP. Last year, his average was up and down every month, Hopefully, he can maintain some consistency at AAA Iowa over the course of this summer. Right now, Chesny looks to be back to who he is and Manager Marty Pevey has moved Chesny into the 2 hole in Iowa’s lineup.
2. Charcer Burks, like Young, had a horrible April. Now that May is here, Burks, too, has been destroying the baseball to the tune of .344 with a .429 OBP and an OPS of .953. He has also been spotted playing more center than usual, too! Last year, he got off to a great start and sputtered in the second half. Hopefully, consistency every month is something he can sustain in 2018.
3. Yasiel Balaguert is a notoriously slow starter. He tends to turn it on in the second half. This year, Yasiel is not waiting until it warms up to get hot himself. He’s hitting .340 this month with 2 HRs and 9 RBI. In addition, he was named the player of the day twice just this week. he still needs to walk more as he’s only walked twice this month. Still, the burly 1B/OF can get hot for months at a time. It is good to see him go off so early.
4. Zack Short – This dude is just ripping it this month. In 15 games, he’s hit 4 homers and driven in 12 runs while hitting .286 with an OBP of .420 and an OPS of 1.027. He’s never been one to hit for that high of an average in his pro career, but the homers and OBP have always been outstanding and are consistent with past numbers. After an April where he hit just .183, he looks to be back on track. And, he should be moving up several prospect lists if he continues to maintain his performance.
5. Tyler Alamo – He is just killing it at 1B for Myrtle Beach. He seems like he has been around forever, but he is only 23 (deja vu line of 2018). In May, he’s raking it to the tune of a .378 average with 3 HRs. He has an amazing OPS of 1.142 that shows how hard he is hitting and driving the ball. I don’t know how much longer he will remain a Pelican. There’s not a lot left for him to prove in the Carolina League.
6. Austin Filiere – The 2017 draft pick out of MIT was excellent in April hitting .310 with a .403 OBP. In May, he’s been pretty good, too. For the month, he’s hitting .288 with a .408 OBP. He’s only put 3 HRs in the seats so far, but the weather will be heating up soon. Filiere is a little ahead of summer.
When the second half arrives, look for Fernando Kelli, Luis Hidalgo, Luis Vazquez, Luis Diaz, Alexander Guerra, and Jonathan Sierra to heat up for Eugene starting on June 15, now less than a month away. It should be an ongoing story of who can get it done at the plate this summer as well what hitters the Cubs take in the first few rounds of next month’s draft.
By Todd Johnson
It is good to see catcher Will Remillard back in action and playing all the way up at AA Tennessee. The former Midwest League All-Star missed 2.5 years due to two Tommy John surgeries. He saw his first action since 2014 last August doing some catching for the Eugene Emeralds. He spent most of this spring in extended spring training and he began playing last week in Tennessee.
His bat has acted like he never left and skipped high A baseball. Heading into Wednesday’s game, he was 5 for 11 (.455) in 3 games at AA and I am extremely happy to see him play. I love his catching skills and his leadership skills. He brings a lot of intensity to any team he is on.
In Other Injury News…
Manny Rondon made his debut last night in South Bend. He did so in relief giving up 1 unearned run and striking out 1 in 1.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Justin Steele, who was outstanding at Myrtle Beach last year before TJS in August, is back throwing after surgery.
Also, reliever Chad Hockin showed off his scar work from his Tommy John Surgery last month.
For some weird reason, I am also thinking about June when I plan on redoing my Top 21 prospect list. At the beginning of the year, I knew that players would move up and down the list this year depending on performance. The lack of elite talent and separation between the talent in the system would cause that movement as players heated up or cooled off.
There are a few prospects who are putting together nice seasons and could be promoted at the All-Star break in mid June.
Zack Short – After a poor July, he’s pounding the ball in May with a .698 slugging percentage and hitting above .300 this month with an OBP well over .500.
Jared Young – He did have a brief injury after hitting .400+ the first two weeks of the season. He struggled a bit after coming off the DL, but seems to have found his stroke the past four or five games.
Austin Filiere – The 2016 draft pick out of MIT hit for more power last year, but this year finds him hitting for a high average (.313)) and his usual .400+ OBP.
Duane Underwood was doing this best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation for a few starts and now looks to be using all his pitches in a variety of counts to keep a batter guessing. When he’s been on, he is is amazing. When he’s off, yeesh!
I really enjoy watching Keegan Thompson pitch. I like how he works hitters and uses all of the zone and throws a variety of pitches. He’s really been impressive in May with a 2.65 in 3 starts.
Matt Swarmer, Cory Abbott, Tyler Thomas, and Javier Assad have all been impressive in spurts, but I need more data on them. Of the four, Abbott could be the most consistent and he could sneak into the back end of the list. Although, Matt Swarmer’s K totals are amazing (42 in 32.1 IP).
I don’t know how it will all shake down, but there will be an even greater number of prospects this June to add into the Top 21 mix when Eugene, Mesa, and the Dominican begin play. Jeremiah Estrada is one player pitching I am looking forward to seeing along with Outfielder Fernando Kelli and Shortstop Luis Vazquez as well as the new draft picks.
I will be writing about Adbert Alzolay in anticipation of his supposed start on Saturday. The issue is whether I will be posting it in the Six Pack on Friday or its own post on Saturday.