Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

5 Cubs Prospects You Don’t Know About…But Should

Monday, May 30th, 2016

I’ve payed attention to the Cubs farm system for as long as I can remember. I’ve just enjoyed watching players, who have potential to make a difference in the future, develop into those players behind the scene. I always seem to latch on and find my favorites. Guys who tend to fly under the radar, but could still make some sort of name for themselves. Most never even sniff the cup of coffee they so desire, but it’s fun to watch them anyway.

This year I’ve identified eight guys that are not considered “top prospects” as far as the MiLB.com top 30 list for the Cubs that came out at the beginning of the season. When the list updates later this year, that may change, but for now none of the players listed below are on the list. As a result, these guys don’t get the publicity, but they are off to starts worth noticing.

1. Bijan Rademacher – LF

How Acquired: Drafted in the 13th round in 2012 out of Orange Coast College

Year Age AgeDif Lev PA 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2015 24 0.0 AA 433 19 4 4 47 67 60 .261 .379 .370 .748
2016 25 0.9 AA 128 5 0 5 20 28 17 .296 .453 .500 .953

Notes: As you can see, Rademacher is slightly older than the competition at his level by almost a year, and he is repeating the level after decent, but not eye popping numbers last year, but we’ve seen an increase in the power as he’s on pace to have more HR in a season than he’s had at any level so far, and he has increased the OBP well over just the increase in batting average.

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2. Ian Rice – C

How Acquired: Drafted in the 29th round in 2015 out of the University of Houston

Year Age AgeDif Lev PA 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2015 21 0.0 A- 193 8 0 2 19 26 34 .252 .375 .340 .715
2016 22 0.4 A 70 5 0 3 11 14 13 .370 .486 .630 1.115

Notes: The Cubs have lacked catcher depth for a little while now. With Miguel Montero probably nearing the end of his time with the Cubs and David Ross retiring at the end of the season, a guy like Ian Rice could find himself in a potential backup role behind someone like Willson Contreras, who most feel is the future backstop of this team. We’ve obviously got a long way before that, but Rice could move quickly, if he hits, considering he’s a college guy.

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3. Paul Blackburn – SP

How Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 draft out of High School

Year Age AgeDif Lev ERA GS IP HR WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2012 18 -2.5 Rk 3.48 6 20.2 2 1.452 10.0 0.9 3.0 5.7 1.86
2013 19 -2.4 A- 3.33 12 46.0 3 1.522 8.0 0.6 5.7 7.4 1.31
2014 20 -1.9 A 3.23 24 117.0 6 1.188 8.3 0.5 2.4 5.8 2.42
2015 21 -1.9 A+ 3.11 18 89.2 3 1.238 8.9 0.3 2.2 6.3 2.86
2016 22 -2.3 AA 1.62 10 61.0 2 0.967 6.6 0.3 2.1 4.7 2.29

Notes: For some reason, a guy that was picked in the 1st round, has played as a young player at every level he’s been at, and has shown he can be competitive, does not get the love he deserves. In my opinion, Blackburn is the most underrated player in this system and I think he can crack the big league staff in the next by 2018 at the latest, possibly even earlier. The knock on him is that he doesn’t strike hitters out, and we’ve seen that decline at each level he’s been at, but while strikeouts are a huge factor in success, so is the ability to get hitters out, and that’s what Blackburn has done. Note the strikeout to walk ratio increasing.

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4. Jeremy Null – SP

How Acquired: Drafted in the 15th round in 2014 out of Western Carolina University

Year Age AgeDif Lev ERA GS IP HR WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2014 20 -1.3 A–Rk 2.25 1 16.0 0 1.062 8.4 0.0 1.1 7.3 6.50
2015 21 -1.3 A-A+ 3.38 21 117.1 7 1.185 9.8 0.5 0.8 6.3 7.45
2016 22 -1.0 A+ 2.55 3 17.2 0 1.358 8.7 0.0 3.6 6.6 1.86

Notes: I’ll admit that I’m a little biased on this one. Null was drafted out of Western Carolina, which is where I graduated from, but he’s worth noting. Again, not a guy that is going to blow hitters away, but he doesn’t walk a lot of guys either. He got a late start this year as he had some issues getting stretched out and had to start the year in extended spring training getting loose and ready for work, but since returning to Myrtle Beach this year, he’s made three starts and has looked good.

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5. Gerardo Concepcion – RP

How Acquired: Signed out of Cuba in 2012

Year Age AgeDif Lev ERA GS IP HR WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 18 -6.7 Fgn 3.36 16 101.2 6 1.436 9.1 0.5 3.8 4.7 1.23
2012 20 -1.8 A 7.39 12 52.1 6 1.911 12.0 1.0 5.2 4.8 0.93
2013 21 0.6 Rk 0.00 2 3.2 0 1.364 2.5 0.0 9.8 4.9 0.50
2014 22 -0.1 A-A+-Rk 3.32 0 59.2 1 1.173 7.1 0.2 3.5 8.3 2.39
2015 23 -1.0 AA-A+ 6.90 0 44.1 4 2.053 11.0 0.8 7.5 7.9 1.05
2016 24 -1.3 AA-AAA 0.66 0 27.1 0 0.695 3.6 0.0 2.6 8.2 3.13

Notes: The Cubs signed Concepcion out of Cuba for $6 million over five years, so you can expect them to try to move him to the Majors at some point this season to know what they have. Up until this season, it appeared that the investment they made in Concepcion, albeit small, was not going to work out. After trying him as a starter, unsuccessfully, he’s pitched out of the bullpen and has been less than impressive. To be honest, had he not been a foreign guy they paid money to, I could have seen him get released after posting the numbers he did in 2015, but this year something has clicked. His 2016 numbers, which include time at Tennessee and now Iowa, have been a remarkable turn around. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but something seems to have clicked and fallen into place. He’s worth watching down the stretch this season to see if the Cubs give him a look.

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Honorable Mention

  • Zach Hedges (SP) – 2.35 ERA in 9 starts for Myrtle Beach
  • Jake Stinnett (SP) – 3.09 ERA in 8 starts for Myrtle Beach
  • Spencer Patton (RP) – 0.50 ERA in 18 innings with a 13.5 K/9 ratio for Iowa
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Catching up with the Arizona Fall League

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Though the season for the parent club ended on a sour note almost a week ago, that doesn’t mean that all Cubs related action has come to a halt. In fact, almost two weeks ago, the Arizona Fall League started its season, and there are several Cubs minor leaguers who are playing this fall. On October 13, the 2015 season started in Arizona, so there have been quite a few games already. While most of us were wrapped up in the Cubs’ postseason run, some of their future players were getting extra work in a league that many casual fans probably don’t know exists or at least know very little about. I’ll take a quick look at the basic structure of the league and its schedule, and then a brief look at each of the Cubs affiliated players who are down there this year.

The league

As I mentioned earlier, the season started on October 13, and it runs until the last regular season game on November 19. They have an all star game on Saturday, November 7, and the championship is on Saturday, November 21. There are 8 teams split across an East and a West division, with the teams in Salt River, Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale, Surprise, and Peoria. The team in Mesa plays at Sloan Park, and that is where the Cubs affiliated players are, along with other minor leaguers from the Angels, Marlins, A’s, and the Rays.

The Cubs have quite a few players in Mesa this fall, including a few prospects worth watching closely. Here’s a look at who they are:

The players

Pitchers

Corey Black

Originally a draftee of the Yankees, Black came to the Cubs system in 2013. This has been his fourth full season in the minors, and the 24 year old has spend the last two seasons with AA Tennessee. This year, he made quite a few more relief appearances than he did in 2014, and he ended up throwing just 86 innings for the Smokies. He does boast an excellent strikeout rate with 101 Ks in those 86 innings, but his 1.407 WHIP in 2015 is a little worrisome.

David Garner

Garner left Michigan State early to join the Cubs in 2013 after they drafted him in the 7th round. He was drafted out of high school by the Reds in 2010, but opted for college instead. He split his time between South Bend and Myrtle Beach this year, and actually did considerably better after moving up to Myrtle Beach. There, he had a 0.890 WHIP in 30.1 innings and 36 strikeouts to just 10 walks.

Pierce Johnson

Johnson was also drafted out of high school originally, but declined in order to go to Missouri State. The Cubs took him in the first round in 2012, and coming in to the 2015 season, he was ranked 83rd in the Baseball Prospectus top 100 list. Because of a back injury, he spent the first couple of months in extended spring training this year, but he was able to throw 95 innings in 16 starts for AA Tennessee this year. He looked great in that time, and maybe, just maybe, he could be that extra starting pitcher that the Cubs are looking for in 2016. Perhaps not right away, but I could see him brought up in the second half of the season.

Rob Zastryzny

Zastryzny had a pretty rough year in AA Tennessee, posting a 6.23 ERA in 14 starts. His WHIP was a troubling 1.731, and he gave up 77 hits in 60.2 innings. He’s not pitched particularly well in the Fall League so far either. On Saturday, he threw 5 innings in his start and gave up 6 hits and 2 runs. He did strike out 7, however.

Catchers

Cael Brockmeyer

Brockmeyer played in 4 minor league levels this year, going from single A South Bend all the way to AAA Iowa. His best performance came in Kane County last year, when he went .297 in 77 games there. He did play at the AAA level in 2013 also (for just 2 games), but spent all of 2014 in low A.

Willson Contreras

Contreras has been with the Cubs organization since 2009, when he was 17. Contreras spent all of 2015 in AA Tennessee, where he put up numbers that are worth your attention, especially when you consider that he spent the majority of them at catcher. In 521 plate appearances, he had an OPS of .891 and had 151 hits to just 62 strikeouts. He’s also spent the last two winters playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he’s gone up against guys at least 5 or 6 years older than he is, and he still hits extremely well.

Infielders

Jeimer Candelario

This 21 year old third baseman seems like he just might have a bright future. Another player who joined the Cubs system as a 17 year old, he split his time this year between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. Between the two stops, he had a combined OPS of .770 and hit 35 doubles, 4 triples, and 10 home runs. In 6 games in Arizona so far this fall, he’s hitting just a scant .478 and has 4 doubles and 3 home runs already.

Outfielders

Mark Zagunis

The Cubs took Zagunis in the 3rd round out of Virginia Tech last June, and he spent all of this year in Myrtle Beach. In 512 plate appearances there, he had an OPS of .818. He had 24 doubles and 5 triples. He’s had just 2 hits so far this fall, but he’s drawing walks like crazy. In 5 games, he’s already been walked 8 times, so while his batting average is .182 in the fall league so far, he has an OBP of .526. He drew 80 walks for Myrtle Beach this season (in 115 games). Just to give you some perspective, Kris Bryant drew 77 walks in 151 games for the Cubs this year.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

2008: The Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the top offensive player in each league, is presented to Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (.312, 29, 115) and Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.289, 27, 111). The honor was established in 1999 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Henry Aaron surpassing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record.

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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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