By Todd Johnson
The second half of the minor-league season begins today. With Myrtle Beach already in the playoffs, Tennessee and South Bend will both be trying to get in after barely missing in the first half. Both of those teams will have to improve and infusion of talent could help. For the Iowa Cubs, they are going to need a lot to go right just to get back to .500. But then again, their main gig is to have players developed and ready to play in Chicago.
Iowa: 31-41 – Record is cumulative for the year (last place in Northern Division)
This team needs some starting pitching. They ranked 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Starter Zach Hedges joined Iowa a week ago, but they need one more arm in the rotation and maybe one or two in the pen. Dave Berg is turning out to be a pleasant surprise at this level. When it comes to hitting, who knew that Jake Hannemann would be profoundly better at AAA than at AA. He’s hitting .311 in 16 games. Expect to see Jen-Ho Tseng make it to Iowa after the All-Star Break. I don’t expect to see any promotions to Chicago except a bullpen arm like Zac Rosscup or Jack Leathersich.
Key Hitting Prospect: Victor Caratini – His bat has nothing left to accomplish in Iowa. It is all about his glove and arm the rest of the year.
Key Pitching Prospect: Jack Leathersich – After missing a year and a half, he looks to be in shape and ready to help out at the MLB level. In 6 June appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and has struck out 13 in 7.1 IP while opponents are only hitting .154 against him.
Tennessee: 36-33 First Half – 5.5 GB
This team had a nice stretch in May and then fell apart the past two weeks. They will be fine. I wonder how long Burks and Vosler stay at this level? They have been outstanding hitters along with Andrew Ely. Ian Rice has been streaky as has David Bote. But the key to their season is the bullpen. If Ryan McNeil gets it figured out, look out because Torrez and Pugliese have given up nothing in front of him all year and David Garner was having a good June. Dillon Maples and his MLB ready curveball have been excellent so far. Also, I am hoping that Jake Stinnett makes it back to pitch this year. If he does not, look for some starter from Myrtle Beach to move up to Tennessee soon.
Eloy Jimenez is coming…it is not a question of if, but when. He is being pitched around quite a bit in the Carolina League. I don’t expect this promotion to take long, though. When he does come, his bat will really change the lineup for those in front of him, and those behind, especially Jason Vosler.
Key Pitching Prospect: Trevor Clifton – Just 22, Clifton has gone a level a year. He had a good April and May and slumped a little in June. He should be back to normal after the break. He has been a stud in July and August the past two summers.
Key Hitting Prospect: Eloy – He better be.
Myrtle Beach: 43-27 First Half; Southern Division Champions
They won 20 out of 24 to close out the first half. All parts of the team clicked to make it happen – starting pitching, hitting, defense, and the bullpen. In the second half, Manager Buddy Bailey will surely have some roles to figure out as some players head to Tennessee and others come in from South Bend and the draft. Adbert Alzolay made a case to be promoted as he went deep into games most every night. It should be interesting to see who is on this roster come the first of July. Even then, this team will have plenty of starting pitching and a shut down bullpen to possibly win the second half title as well.
Key Hitting Prospect – Trent Giambrone – He is coming on strong. After barely hitting .220 in the first half, he is hitting almost .300 in June
Key Pitching Prospect – Thomas Hatch – He has yet to give up a run this month and looks to have his command and control down perfectly.
South Bend: 39-30 First Half – 1.5 GB of a Wild Card Spot
They were blowing the doors of teams in May and then they hit a wall. The 18-20 year-old hitters just looked tired at the end of late May and they began slumping at the worst possible time. Wladimir Galindo broke his leg and some key bullpen arms were promoted, not to mention Dylan Cease’s ankle injury. Still, there’s a lot of hope for the second half. They’re a very young team but they can hit. Zack Short seems an old man at 21. Duncan Robinson was a nice first half surprise along with Short, Vimael Machin, and Albert Mineo. I think several college picks could arrive to help the bullpen and to offset any losses for position players – remember the name Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State.
Key Hitting Prospect: Isaac Paredes – He is already hitting over .300 for June. It took a while, but I think he is beginning to live up to the faith the Cubs brass had in him skipping Eugene.
Key Pitching Prospect: Dylan Cease – He really needs innings and developing efficiency is the key to him strengthening that arm. Right now, he has 38.1 IP. He has about 13-14 starts left. Hopefully, he can get over 100 IP in this year. That would be great!
Overall, I don’t see a lot of promotions taking place this month. Maybe one starting pitcher/reliever per team and maybe one position player as well. I think most of the movement is going to come with draft picks. As a result, the lower levels will have the most impact, specifically South Bend and Eugene.
This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.
If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.
Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.
Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.
I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.
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.
By Todd Johnson
April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.
Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.
I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.
Let’s get right to this month’s list…
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)
For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.
The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.
By Todd Johnson
Lots of things have been happening this week. I spent most of the week in heart of Cardinal Country in Springfield, Illinois participating in Illinois History Day with my students. The big boys won three in a row against the Phillies. Rain destroyed schedules all over the minors. It seemed like there were only 1-2 games a day from which to pick the players of the day.
Today’s six picks is an amalgamation of six players who are on pace to be breakout candidates so far. Some I have profiled on this, Cubs Insider, or BP Wrigleyville.
1. Jason Vosler – He is second in homers in the organization to Ian Happ. He is only 1 behind and closing fast. Now at AA, Vosler is showing a knack for driven the ball in the gaps. I really like that he just plain barrels up the ball. Rather than trying to kill the ball, he just puts a good, quick swing on and the ball just leaves the yard. He also is hitting .291 with an OBP of .400 at AA. He is making himself a force to be dealt with by the Cubs organization.
2. Zack Short – I have profiled him on two sites and I love watching him work an a bat. He can coax a walk just as well as he can hit a home run or lay down a bunt.
3. Marc Huberman – The lefty reliever was moved up to Myrtle Beach today because he’s been outstanding out of the pen for South Bend. He struck 18 in 12.1 IP and only had one outing where he allowed any runs.
4. Kevonte Mitchell – I am putting together a piece on Kevonte’s season for BP Wrigleyville this Sunday. He has been amazing the past ten games hitting .375 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs. One of those home runs traveled an estimated 501 feet.
5. Dillon Maples – By jove, I think he’s got it. He throwing his curve with deadly precision now and pitching with a confidence unseen. It seems as if he has been around forever, but he is still only 24.
6. Craig Brooks is also putting together an amazing season at Myrtle Beach. His ERA is down to 0.55. I think he has adjusted to high A ball well. His first attempt last summer did not go well. This year, the flamethrower has 23 Ks in 16.1 IP.
I will be back on Sunday, unless I can sneak in a little prospect profile on Saturday morning or afternoon. I think I will do that. How does Craig Brooks sound?
By Todd Johnson
With two home runs on Tuesday night, Zack Short capped off a ten game span in which he’s hit .306 with 4 HRs, 12 RBIs, and an OBP of .419 mostly in the leadoff spot for South Bend. Short’s short burst helped propel South Bend into a three-way tie for first place on Wednesday morning.
It is getting to be that time of the baseball season where hitters are catching up to hitters. In early April, it is easier for the pitchers to get a jump on the hitters, especially in cold weather sectors like the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region that is the Midwest League. However, Cubs hitting prospects are hitting all over. While Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, and Victor Caratini busted out of the gate early in April, it has taken time for the rest of the Cubs top prospects to do some catching up.
Wladimir Galindo – Hitting .421 over his last ten games, Galindo’s breakout coincided with him being able to go the other way. I thought he might be pull happy to start the year. Instead, he is showing himself to be a complete hitter and is now entrenched in the number four spot for the first place Cubs. The power has yet to come, but it will.
Yeiler Peguero – He is on a .364 clip in his last ten games and also drove in nine runs in that span. He even cranked a home run and a double off the top of the fence in one game. I knew he could hit and could be an exciting player just based on his performance last year at Eugene. I did not know he could be this dependable.
Robert Garcia – I first heard of him in Rookie League in Mesa when he hit .341 in the summer of 2015. Last year in Eugene, he was a bit overshadowed by some other prospects and only hit .283. This year, the 23 year -old switch hitter skipped South Bend and is holding his own in the Carolina League. In his last 10 games, he’s going along at .387 clip.
Charcer Burks – I love to watch Charcer Burks play. He is gold glover on defense and he is beginning to figure out the offensive side of the ball. He got a couple looks with the big league club in spring training and it appears he gained some confidence in that process. In addition to being a key cog in Myrtle Beach’s championship run, Burks is having his best season as a Cub. He’s currently hitting .292 with an OBP of .418 for Tennessee. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Burks’ play has helped Tennessee get off to a great start.
Trey Martin – He was off to an outstanding start in Tennessee before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Like Burks, Martin is an excellent defender and is also beginning to figure himself out at the plate. In just 8 games, he was hitting .320 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. I can’t wait to see him get back to playing.
Keep an Eye On
Jake Hannemann – He has always been a great defender and athlete, it is his bat that has always been lacking. I think he may have found it. He stayed behind at Extended Spring Training and gradually began to destroy the pitching there. I have never been that high on him just based on his lack of offensive production. Occasionally, there would be an outburst here or there, just not any sustained production. I think that changes this year. Now that he is on the 40 man roster, I think expectations changed from the Cubs, and more importantly, from himself. Look for good things from him in Tennessee.
By Todd Johnson
Some players just ooze baseball. From the way they tape their wrists to the way they get in the batter’s box and to the way they take infield, there’s just something about them that reeks of sweat, and dirt, Zack Short of the South Bend Cubs is one of those players. In the old days, he might be called a baseball rat. He could be the first one to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave at night. I don’t know if Short does that, but he comes across as a player who eats, lives, and breathes baseball.
Coming from a small school like Sacred Heart University, Short was not on the list of the top shortstops in the country after his junior year. The Cubs took a gamble on the young infielder and it looks to be paying off big dividends. The young South Bend Cubs, with the help of Short, have now surged into a tie for first place in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League.
Plays three positions
Has some pop in his small frame
Great eye and approach, works counts
Areas of Concern
Size, or lack thereof
What others say
Scout.com’s Mike Nester summed up Short’s college career well:
At Sacred Heart, he hit .324 as a freshman to earn Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors and led the NEC with nine homers and 33 walks as a sophomore. Short should battle for a starting spot at South Bend and will likely start the year in the MWL.
His junior year did not go well. His average slumped to .241 but his OBP was .352. He only hit 5 HRs and drove in 35 in 58 games. Still, the Cubs saw something in his approach they liked and selected him in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
He did spend some time (14 games) in Rookie League in Mesa. He hit .318 with an OBP of .500. After his promotion to Eugene, Short played mostly shortstop and helped lead Eugene to a Northwest League Championship. While he only hit .236, his OBP was an amazing .400. He had 1 HR in just 39 games.
I knew something was going to be a little different for Short in Spring Training. He spent a lot of time at 3B. I think he can play any position well as he has really good footwork on defense. So far this season, he’s played 3 games at 2B, 5 at 3B, and 4 at SS. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter where he plays as long as he plays.
After a rough cold opening weekend in 2017 where he went 0 for 9, Short’s average over his last ten games before Friday night was at .333. The team was swept in that opening series. Afterwards, Short was moved to the leadoff spot and the Cubs are 9-3 since. His ability to hit for average and get on base jump started the South Bend offense.
On a team with young kids, Short is providing leadership in the clubhouse and on the field. However, to me, his bat and approach are a potent combination. With a team made up of mostly 18-20 year old kids, Short can set the example on how to work counts to get to a specific pitch in a specific zone or to coax a walk.
At just 21, he is likely to spend all year at South Bend. I think he will continue to play multiple positions. Ideally, I see him more of a second baseman. However, playing three positions enhances his profile. I am interested to see if he can sustain a near .300 batting average over the course of the spring and into summer. On the other hand, his OBP will always be his calling card.