Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

Minor League Update: Lower levels shining

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

GET HAPP-Y

Cubs first round pick Ian Happ has really wasted no time at all since being drafted. He signed quickly (and under slot), joined the short season Eugene Emeralds in time for their opener on June 18, and already has 3 homeruns and 3 stolen bases in just 10 games there so far. Fellow 2015 draftee Donnie Dewees has also made his debut with Eugene, but he has appeared in just 2 games so far. The stay in Eugene could be a fairly short one for Happ, so  keep an eye out for a promotion to South Bend sometime in July. He has the potential to move very quickly through the system, so seeing him finish the season in high A Myrtle Beach would not surprise me. Happ has two years of college baseball under his belt, so that kind of quicky movement through the single A level is possible, and then longer stays in AA and AAA when the time comes. Either way, keep an eye on the Eugene box scores, and if you live in that area, go see a game soon.

TORRES STILL TEARING UP SOUTH BEND

Speaking of players who you should make a point to go see, 18 year old shortstop Gleyber Torres is doing everything he can to earn a promotion to Myrtle Beach from South Bend. If, like me, you live in the Chicago area, a trip around the lake to South Bend might be a good idea, so you can see this guy in person. If Happ gets promoted there soon, having both of these guys on the same team is probably going to force my hand, and I’ll be making a trip there to see a game. Torres has a .319/.385/.411 slash line so far, and has 10 stolen bases in his 65 games this season. Of his 79 hits, 11 are doubles and 2 are triples to go with 2 homeruns, so he hits for extra bases pretty nicely.

South Bend pitcher Jeremy Null has had a quality season so far as well, with a 2.33 ERA and 1.096 WHIP in 12 starts, in which the South Bend Cubs have gone 6-2. Null was named to the Midwest League All Star game, and was chosen as the MVP of the game, after striking out the side in the first inning during the all star game last Tuesday. (Be sure to check out the link, as there are several videos of his performance in that game. Worth watching.)

SCHWARBER IMPRESSIVE IN IOWA

Though I understand the planning behind Kyle Schwarber‘s brief promotion to the majors and then return to the farm system, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still wish there was a way to have kept him in the majors, but that’s probably short sighted. It’s hard watching the Cubs get swept in St. Louis, of all places, and not think about how a bat like Schwarber’s might have helped. Nonetheless, his long term development really hinges on learning to be a full time catcher, which is exactly why he’s in Iowa. Since joining the team a little over a week ago, Schwarber went right to work at the plate, with a homerun, a triple, and 2 doubles in just 6 games so far. He will undoubtedly return to the Cubs with roster expansion in September, but if he can do well enough behind the plate in Iowa, an earlier callup than that is a possibility.

TRADE MARKET

It would be overly speculative of me to really throw any names out there, but as the calendar rolls over into July tomorrow, keep an eye on the trade market. The Cubs are a contending team, and it is clear that the NL Central is never going to be easy on them this year, so some additions are definitely necessary. Because of that, some of these touted minor league prospects that we’ve fallen in love with might be leaving our system. Guys like Dan Vogelbach and Albert Almora come up in talks about acquring Cole Hamels, so be prepared for a steep price tag along those lines. Vogelbach seems like the most likely candidate to be moved, as he is major league ready at the plate, but his defense is sorely lacking (he’s a born DH, I suspect). The one position he does play serviceably, first base, is occupied for a long time to come by Anthony Rizzo. So, if I have to guess who is a part of a trade package first, it’s Vogelbach. He’s a great hitter, but I just don’t think we’ll ever see him do it in a Cubs uniform. If he can be a part of a trade that gets us into the playoffs this year, then I’m fine with that.

 

 

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Minor League Update: Olt and Ramirez rehabbing, Soler soon

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

REHAB ASSIGNMENTS:

After both made a stop in AA Tennessee, Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez moved up to AAA Iowa to continue their rehab. Olt went 1-2 in his first rehab start on Friday, and will be joining the Iowa Cubs today. The Cubs do not plan to rush his return to the big league club, as it is unclear where he will fit in with Kris Bryant currently firmly entrenched at third base. Ramirez had a very successful time in AA, and it is expected that he could return to the Cubs sooner than Olt.

Otherwise, it looks as though Jorge Soler is about a week away from a rehab assignment himself, which is encouraging news. It will be good to see him in our outfield again very soon. It is sounding as though Soler will probably be back before the All Star break.

SCHWARBER BACK IN THE FARM:

I think you’d have to be under a rock to not be aware of what’s going on with Kyle Schwarber, but he is making his return to the Cubs’ farm system after a 6 game hiatus in the majors, which proved to be quite successful (.364, 1 HR, 6 RBI). He will very likely spend the rest of the minor league season in Iowa, barring something unforeseen with the major league club.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

The short season Eugene Emeralds started last week, and both Eloy Jimenez and 2015 first round draft pick Ian Happ are on the roster. Happ started the season off with a bang, hitting his first professional homerun on Saturday, in just the third game of the Emeralds’ season. Jimenez already has 5 RBI on the season.

Elsewhere, Mark Zagunis is putting together a very nice season in high A ball in Myrtle Beach. So far, his batting average is 40 points higher than what he hit in single A at Kane County last year, and he is showing power in his swing that wasn’t there in years past either. So far, Zagunis has 5 HR this season, compared to just 2 across 3 levels of the minors last year, both of which came in short season Boise.

And finally, if you weren’t already watching the box scores in South Bend for Gleyber Torres, it would be a good idea to start doing so. Torres, in spite of being just 18 and 3.5 years younger than the league average, has torn up single A pitching in his 61 games there so far. If not for his age, I’d expect him to move up to Myrtle Beach soon, but he might not, given the fact that he’s already at an advanced level for his experience as it is. Even still, he has clearly demonstrated that he can handle single A, so I would be interested to see what he can do at the high A level at some point this summer.

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Minor League Update: Happ signs, Ramirez returning soon?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Last night’s news that Kyle Schwarber is, at least temporarily, headed to the majors caused quite a stir in the farm system and will continue to do so when he moves from the majors back to AAA after Sunday’s game, which is what our front office has made clear will happen, regardless of his performance. The hope is that he gains some experience and a chance to face major league pitching before going to Iowa to work on his catching. Otherwise, there are a few other bright spots in the minor league system.

RAMIREZ BEGINNING REHAB:

Though technically not a minor leaguer, the news that Neil Ramirez is beginning his minor league rehab assingment in AA Tennessee is very encouraging. Our bullpen has looked very strong lately, but having him return would mean Brian Schlitter would be less necessary as the automatic call up when we need bullpen help. Ramirez is expected to make his first rehab appearance tomorrow while the Smokies are hosting the Mississippi Braves.

CUBS COME TO TERMS WITH HAPP:

In a pretty quick turnaround, the Cubs have already signed first round draft pick Ian Happ. They were able to sign him at a $3 million bonus, which is under slot and could mean more money for other picks as they work to sign them. This also means that he could start right away with the short season Eugene Emeralds as they start their season on Thursday. The hope is that Happ can move pretty quickly up through the levels of the minor league system on a trajectory similar to that of Kris Bryant. With that in mind, his stay in Eugene could be very short, so look for him in South Bend before too long.

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Cubs sign Soriano, pick Happ first in the draft

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

 

I resist the urge to devote 500 words to lamenting the loss of Javier Baez for 4-8 weeks (at least it wasn’t his wrist, everybody) and focus on something that’s a bit more encouraging, and that’s the addition of Rafael Soriano to the Cubs roster via a minor league deal yesterday. He signed for a base salary of $4.1 million with contract incentives that offer the possibility for him to earn quite a bit more. I appreciate the signing because it represents an effort to bolster a bullpen that has struggled pretty mightily at times during the 6th and 7th innings, particularly. Not only that, but there have been some rumblings that Hector Rondon may not have such a firm grasp on the closer’s role. So Soriano may be coming as a possible backup option in the closer’s role.

Soriano pitched last season for the Washington Nationals, earning 32 saves in 39 chances, but the second half of his season was pretty rough. He recently fired his agent (Scott Boras) because of the belief that Boras may have been a large part of the reason that he was unsigned this late into the season.

Additionally, the Cubs picked 9th overall in Monday’s MLB draft and took infielder Ian Happ from the University of Cincinnati. He looks to be either at potential middle infielder (probably second base), or he could possibly play the outfield as well. In three seasons at Cincinnati, the switch hitter Happ has a career OPS of 1.015 and 25 HR in 163 total games.

In the second round, the Cubs took outfielder Donnie Dewees from the University of North Florida. In 128 career games there across 3 seasons, Dewees has hit 24 HRs to go with an overall OPS of 1.083. He also struck out a grand total of 42 times in 511 career at bats.

The Cubs took a left handed pitcher in the third round, Bryan Hudson of Alton High School in Illinois. He’s very big (6’7″, 215) and holds significant potential for a future with the Cubs at some point a few years from now. Coming out of high school, my bet would be that he’ll need some time to develop in the minor leagues, so we may not see him for a while. The first two picks stand a better chance of making an impact much sooner. You can take a look at the rest of the picks from this year’s draft here.

Finally, the short season Eugene Emeralds start their season in a little over a week, and it will be important (and fun) to keep an eye on Eloy Jimenez. He’s just 18, but the potential here is huge. At 6’4″, 205, he is a man-child, and can absolutely punish a ball.

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Minor League Update: Two to the ‘pen

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

 

I think we could all agree that the biggest weak spot for the 2015 Cubs so far has been the bullpen. Specifically, the 6th and 7th inning. While there’s no easy or quick fix for something like this, it is looking as though the front office is maneuvering a couple of our minor league pitching prospects to possibly step into this role sometime this season.

C.J. Edwards (now known as Carl Edwards, Jr)

I’m not sure what has motivated the desire in the name change, but either way, Edwards made the shift to the bullpen at the beginning of the season, and after a promotion to AAA Iowa on May 29, it appears as though the Cubs are readying him for a move to the bullpen at Wrigley this summer. At the beginning of the season, it was believed that Edwards was making this move as a “fast track” to the majors, and this still appears to be the case. His move to AAA has not been without difficulty (he was tagged for 2 runs and gave up 3 walks in one inning in his first outing), but I expect we might see him before 40 man roster expansion. The NL Wild Card race looks to be a tight one, so we may not be able to afford to lose too many games to poor bullpen performance.

Corey Black

This move happened much more recently, but also seems indicative of an eventual call up to the majors to work out of the bullpen. He made the move on Monday, and will stay with the Tennessee Smokies in AA for now. Black has had a fairly successful 2015 season so far, going 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 9 starts before moving to the bullpen. I’ll be intrigued to see what he can do in the bullpen, given his 53 strikeouts to just 19 walks in 46 innings as a starter.

In other news…

It looks like a Javier Baez shift to 3B might be in the works, and given the fact that Kris Bryant started in left field last night, it appears as though the Cubs are maneuvering to get Baez back to the big club. He has been absolutely killing it in Iowa, so the time seems right for a spark to the offense. Chris Coghlan will probably shift to being the 4th OF when this happens, but nothing is certain quite yet. There has also been some speculation that Kyle Schwarber could get a call up at some point this year to play in left, but it appears as though the Cubs plan to keep him behind the plate for now.

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Minor League Update: Not Long for the Minors

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

 

I have to admit that I probably have a bias in Javier Baez‘ favor much of the time, mostly because I want to see him succeed, and not just for the sake of the Cubs. That said, a successful Baez can only mean good things, whether it’s because he makes his return to the major league club (which raises interesting defensive questions), or because he’s a part of a trade. Either way, things look promising so far for an improved Baez, but let’s take a closer look:

2014 Baez:

434 PAs, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 34 BB, 130 Ks, .260, .833 OPS.

First, let me say that I would very, very happily take a Baez who can hit like that, especially as a middle infielder. His strikeout rate is still pretty high, but he’s hitting for average pretty well in spite of it and his power numbers are nothing to scoff at. Not to mention, he also stole 16 bases for Iowa last year.

2015 Baez:

103 PAs, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 9 BB, 25 Ks, .311, .911 OPS.

The standout difference so far is the change in batting average and OPS, both much, much higher than what he did last season in AAA. The difference largely comes from the reduced rate of strikeouts. At this pace, he could have 30-40 fewer strikeouts than last year. That’s a huge change. Much of it is believed to be coming from the fact that his plate approach has changed from last year to this one. He’s crowding the plate (looks an awful lot like what Anthony Rizzo) and it has helped bring his strikeout rate down to 24% so far from the 30% of last year.

As things stand now with Baez, I think it boils down to three options:

  • Promote him in a few weeks and let him play 2B. This would require that Addison Russell moves over the shortstop (his natural position), but even trickier would be moving Starlin Castro to 3B. Castro has been vocal about the fact that he wants to remain a shortstop, but he mightb be agreeable to a defensive change. The trouble here is that it’s not a straightforward move, given that Castro has a whopping 5 games of experience at 3B that date back to rookie ball in 2008. So just moving him over isn’t as simple of an option as some might be tempted to think.
  • Keep him in Iowa and then trade him in late June/early July. If I had to choose, I think this is what is probably likely. He and Dan Vogelbach and probably not long for this organization.
  • Maybe a crazy idea, but perhaps Russell needs to spend some time back in Iowa. Injuries to Tommy La Stella and putrid performance from Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara forced Russell up probably before he was ready. It might not be the worst idea for Russell and Baez to trade places, at least temporarily.

 

 

Another player who might not be long for the farm system is Kyle Schwarber. He, too, brings some defensive questions, as it is hard to tell if he will stick at catcher or ultimately move to the outfield. The question is still unclear, but at the very least, a roster expansion call up in September is sounding very likely. Defensively, confidence in his ability to function as a catcher is growing, so perhaps we may see him as a left handed bat later this season who can spell the veterans behind home plate or in left field. Schwarber has been punishing AA pitching so far at a .305/.440/.595 clip to go with 10 HRs and 26 RBI. He has yet to see any time at AAA, but calling up a player from this level is not without precedent by any means.

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Minor League Update: The Next Great Prospect

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

In 2013, the Cubs were on the forefront of a strategy that pretty much every large market team in baseball has since copied: blowing past their international amateur free agent spending limit. While this greatly limited the Cubs’ ability to add similar prospects in 2014 and resulted in a significant taxes, it so meant the Cubs were able to acquire much of the best talent in that class. The Cubs added two of the best prospects in that class that season in shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Eloy Jimenez.

Torres in particular has excelled in the early phase of his professional baseball career. Before we get into Torres’s particulars, it’s worth noting the risk and reward of signing these young international free agents out of countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela: teams get to sign them at age 16. The advantage to this is that MLB teams get to put players in their farm systems with professional coaching at age 16. The disadvantage is that teams have to pay the best prospects a considerable sum of money when they’re still in the midst of puberty. If a team projects a lot of power from a 16 year old who just stops growing, odds are that prospect will be a bust.

Torres tore through rookie ball and the short season Northwest League last season. Torres playing in those two leagues as opposed to the one of the Cubs’ Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League teams as a 17 year old last season was already aggressive. This season, just four months after turning 18 (a.k.a. the age of a high school senior), Torres was sent to full season A ball in South Bend. He is nearly three and a half years younger than the average player in the Midwest League.

Despite the age gap, Torres is destroying Midwest League pitching this season, batting .349/.443/.434, good for a 168+ wRC+ (68% better overall offensive performance than league average). He is walking in 13.4% of his plate appearances, and striking out in only 17.5%. Plus, he’s a true shortstop with the realistic potential of being plus defensively, and has stolen 8 bases while being caught just once.

If Torres has one downside, it’s that he hasn’t shown much power this season, and projects to have average at best power in the Majors. However, the Midwest League is not only known to play as a pitcher’s league, but that can be especially true in the cold weather Aprils of a league entirely encompassed in the upper Midwest. Additionally, most players are not done growing, especially strength-wise, at age 18.

Even if Torres tops out as more of a double hitters offensively, though, a plus defensive shortstop who can get on base and then cause havoc once he’s there? Yes please.

Torres’s excellent play so far has likely already propelled him into midseason top 100 prospect lists, and he might be forcing a promotion to the High A Carolina League sooner rather than later. If he keeps this up, the Cubs will soon have a new top 25 middle infield prospect everyone is talking about.

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Minor League Update: The Retreads

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Early disclosure: after Memorial Day, I’m going to have to leave writing for VFTB for at least a few months while my family and I move to Seattle for me to start a new job. I hope to be settled enough to be back for the stretch run in September. However, with my imminent hiatus in mind, we’re going to spend the next few weeks of minor league updates looking at some of the more interesting players in the Cubs minor league system, including guys whose names you might start hearing soon and an updated top prospects list.

Today, though, we look at a host of players who aren’t technically prospects anymore because they’ve lost rookie eligibility. These are, for lack of a better term, the retreads: players who have already been up to the Show with the Cubs, but are now back in the minors. As a note, I am not including players on rehab assignments, so you won’t see the likes of Tsuyoshi Wada on this list. Also, Junior Lake’s promotion yesterday disqualifies him, although I expect to see Lake bounce between Chicago and Iowa a few times this season.

Javier Baez (SS) and Arismendy Alcantara (Utility): The two most obvious players on the list, and the two most “prospectish”, as they aren’t that many plates appearances beyond losing their rookie eligibility, are young, and are considered to have high ceilings. Baez and Alcantara will both get legitimate chances to become stars in the Big Leagues again, whether it’s with the Cubs or other teams. They’ve also primarily struggled with the same issue, strikeouts, albeit for different reasons.

Baez, who has not played at Iowa yet due to the death of his 21 year old sister Noely, has two issues at the plate: first, he does a poor job of recognizing pitches out of the pitcher’s hand. Second, he has a poor general plate approach, including a poor understanding of how pitchers are attacking him. It’s really unknown whether pitch recognition is a teachable skill as opposed to something hitters either do or do not pick up as they see more pitches and gain experience. Understanding how pitchers are attacking him, however, is just a matter of study, and Baez is currently falling for some of the oldest tricks in the book. Was Baez behind a fastball for strike one? Throw something offspeed that drops out of the zone next. He’ll almost always swing way in front of it. Baez’s ceiling is still sky high, but he’ll have to become a better student to come close to reaching it. Baez reported to extended spring training following his bereavement league at the end of last week, and should be joining the I-Cubs within a week or two.

I saw more of what looked like a mechanical problem in limited looks at Alcantara this season. Alcantara’s strikeout problems didn’t stretch into his minor league career the same way Baez’s did, although Alcantara did struggle with a high K rate after his call up last season (31%). After a strong winter league performance and spring training, however, I was hopeful that Alcantara would put those problems behind him and be more in the low to mid-20% range this season. While Alcantara did draw a lot of walks in his brief stint with the Cubs to start this season (15.6% walk rate), the strikeout rate spiked to just under 35% as well. My concern with mechanical problems is based upon seeing Alcantara swing through some fastballs in the zone that he had timed correctly. He also had a hellishly bad BABIP in the Majors this season (.133), so I do wonder if that ended up leading to Alcantara trying to cheat for power a bit, which led to more swing and miss, which led to higher strikeouts. If Alcantara can right the ship in Iowa, I’d expect him to see him back at Wrigley Field pretty quickly.

Blake Parker (RP): In the back half of 2013, Blake Parker was one of the best pitchers in the Cubs bullpen after posting a 2.72 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and 3.54 xFIP over 46.2 innings on the strength of an excellent 10.68 K/9 and solid, especially for a reliever, 2.91 BB/9. Last season despite a similar 10.29 K/9 and superior 1.29 BB/9, Parker’s ERA ballooned to 5.14 over 21 innings. As his solid peripherals would indicate, Parker’s FIP and xFIP were a far superior 3.28 and 3.12. A big part of the reason for the ERA spike was, of course, BABIP. After being right around leave average at .294 in 2013, hitters posted a very high .350 BABIP against Parker in 2013. That should come down, as most outliers do. My one concern with Parker is that he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, and there are some games in the summer at Wrigley where that’s just dangerous. Parker is currently on the minor league disabled list, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get another shot in middle relief in Chicago as the season wears on.

James Russell (RP): In 2012, it looked like James Russell could be turning into an adequate Sean Marshall replacement as one of those rare left handed relievers without elite velocity who can get out both left and right handed hitters. In 2013 and 2014, however, Russell looked a lot more like a LOOGY than anything else. If either Phil Coke or Zac Rosscup go down, Russell could be the next man up as a lefty specialist out of the pen.

Matt Szczur (OF): Szczur has long been a fan favorite, based largely on an overly positive early ranking from Baseball America and the fact that he’s the sort of guy who goes through a painful medical procedure to help a complete stranger. He has also, however, been a guy whose upside has been limited by a slappy swing that leads to limited power. Following a power surge in spring training, there was some hope that he may have shown some real improvements. This far, though, it just looks like a small sample size aberration in the hitter friendly Cactus League. Through 36 plate appearances between MLB and Iowa, Szczur has just one extra base hit, a double. His athleticism and versatility, though, likely mean he’ll be up and down throughout the season depending on team needs and injuries.

Dallas Beeler (SP): Beeler performed yeoman’s work as an emergency starter last year for the planned double header and following the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trades, but that’s really all he is. If Wada and Turner are entrenched in the bullpen and the Cubs need a 26th man as a starter for the second game of a double header, he might grab a start or two, but that’s about it.

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Minor League Update

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

It’s been an eventful first week of the minor league season, with each level of the farm system experiencing some success. After their first 6 games, the Iowa Cubs are 3-2, the Tennessee Smokies are 3-2, and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and South Bend Cubs are both 3-3.

In Iowa:

Kris Bryant and Addison Russell have been the stars, surprising hopefully no one. Their game in New Orleans was postponed last night, but the series picks up again today. Bryant has done so far exactly what we’ve expected of him, hitting .381 with an OPS of 1.089 and 2 HR in just 21 at bats. It is likely that by this point next week, he’ll be with the major league club, so enjoy him while you can, Des Moines. Russell has excelled similarly, (.318, .833, 4 RBI in 22 at bats), leading to speculation that we may see him in the majors during mid-summer this year, though this may hinge on a possible trade of Starlin Castro or a position change for either Castro or Russell.

In Tennessee:

Dan Vogelbach has been the big story for the 3-2 Smokies, who start a 5 game series against Pensacola today. Vogelbach is putting up the kind of numbers that force the question of how long he’ll stay in AA, as well as whether or not he becomes a trade piece later this summer. He’s currently hitting a whopping .444 in his first 5 games, with 5 walks and 4 doubles. CJ Edwards made news when he was moved to the bullpen to start the year, and so far has just one appearance (2.1 innings, 2 Ks, 2 BBs, and 1 earned run), so it’s likely too early to tell how he’ll perform in this role.

In Myrtle Beach: 

I mentioned Mark Zagunis as a player to watch in a previous post, and so far he’s showing a fairly strong performance at the plate, with 6 hits in 21 AB, though his OPS is just .733. Jen-Ho Tseng had a solid outing in his first appearance yesterday, with 5 strikeouts in 5 innings and letting just 4 runners on base. The Pelicans conclude a series against Salem tonight before heading on the road for a 4 game set against Winston-Salem.

In South Bend:

The South Bend Cubs concluded a series against Dayton yesterday with a loss and will start a new series in Fort Wayne tonight. Gleyber Torres is hitting an impressive .348 through the first 6 games and has driven in 3 runs to go with 2 stolen bases. On the pitching staff, Ryan Williams has proven to be the most noteworthy thus far. He’s appeared in two games, once in relief and once as a starter, and has a ridiculous 0.250 WHIP so far and has 8 strikeouts in 8 innings.

All four teams are in action today, and while this is likely to be the last week that Bryant is in an Iowa Cubs uniform, he has plenty of opportunity to hit a few more Pacific Coast League homeruns. I’m looking forward to seeing more from some of our pitching prospects as they get more innings on the mound in the coming weeks.

 

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