Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

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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2015 Cubs Minor League Preview

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Even with the excitement surrounding the young talent that is already on the major league roster, the Cubs minor league system is still generally agreed upon as the top ranked system in all of baseball. It can be a challenge keeping track of which player is at each level, especially as the season begins, but we’ll take a look at what each roster looks like at the start of the season:

Iowa Cubs – AAA

The roster that is most likely to experience early change (buy your tickets now if you want to see Kris Bryant play in Des Moines), but also the one with plenty of reasons to watch even after the end of this month.

Who to watch:

Bryant: Of course. And although he won’t be here long, look for him to get some time in LF in preparation for spending time there when he’s called up. That call up would happen, at the earliest, somewhere around April 17, but the Cubs have not given any indication as to when they plan to bring him up. That does give him time to play in the first to series with Iowa, but both are on the road, so if you live near Memphis or New Orleans, get tickets!

Javier Baez: Perhaps a surprise to see him in Iowa, but especially after a rough spring (.182/.237/.236, 21 Ks), it is necessary. It’s hard to predict how long he’ll stay in Iowa, but it’s expected that he’ll return to the majors at some point this summer. Look for him, of course, to work on reducing his K rate by focusing on pitch selection.

Addison Russell: He’s the one who is most likely of these three to spend all or most of the season in Iowa. Speculation is already abounding that he may one day force Castro out of the SS spot, whether it’s because Castro takes a different position or is traded, so the timing of Russell’s call up may hinge on Castro’s fate. Don’t be surprised if we see Russell with a similar fate to that of Bryant next spring. He’s young enough (21) that the Cubs can afford to wait on him for another year.

Opening Series:

The Iowa Cubs don’t play at home until April 17, but they’ll open their season against Memphis for a four game set starting tomorrow.

Tennessee Smokies – AA

Like the AAA brethren, the Smokies have a roster with plenty of reason to watch. This would be a team to follow very closely, as some of these guys are likely to make their debuts in the coming years (2016 is really going to be fun.).

Who to Watch:

Kyle Schwarber: The Cubs first rounder last year made a quick rise through the system (moved through 3 levels), and could continue doing the same, depending on what the Cubs want for him defensively. This could be a season that he spends entirely in AA to focus on being a full time catcher, or if the Cubs do explore other defensive options, he could move up more quickly. Either way, he hits like crazy (1.061 OPS, 18 HR overall last year)

C.J. Edwards: I’ve mentioned him before, but the biggest test for Edwards this season may be whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season. He has the potential to have an impact on the pitching staff at the major league level very soon, but injury problems have interfered so far. He made just 10 starts in AA last year, so he could be in Tennessee all season.

Dan Vogelbach: If ever there was a reason for me to want to embrace the DH in the NL, it’s this guy. He can absolutely mash, but given that he’s a first baseman and Anthony Rizzo has that spot pretty much locked down for the next several years, there’s really nowhere for Vogelbach to go at this point. The 2011 2nd rounder could be a valuable trade piece at some point, but there’s not specific expectation that that will happen at this point.

Note: Albert Almora will be in Tennessee as well, and is a worthy candidate for a bounce back year in 2015.

Opening Series:

The Tennessee Smokies begin their season with a 5 game series against Mississippi before coming home next Wednesday, April 15 to play 5 games against Pensacola.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans – A+

This is the first year that the Cubs’ High A affiliate is in Myrtle Beach, after ending their relationship with the Daytona franchise. The roster in Myrtle Beach is absolutely loaded with 9 highly ranked prospects starting the year there.

Who to Watch:

Billy McKinney: Acquired from Oakland last year when Jeff Samardzija was traded, McKinney is proving to be a solid outfielder. Oakland took him in the first round in the 2013 draft out of high school, and he’s put together some noteworthy numbers during his 2 seasons in the minor leagues (.283, 14 HR, 95 RBI in 181 games overall), and those averages are down slightly because of an adjustment to high A ball last year while he was in Stockton. Since joining the Cubs’ system, he’s hit significantly better.

Jen-Ho Tseng: Tseng has been a topic of conversation here before, but he looks to be a high ceiling pitching prospect in a system that’s heavy on offensive talent. His experience in the minors isn’t extensive, but he had a very impressive year in Kane County last season (2.40 ERA, 0.867 WHIP, 85 Ks in 105 innings)

Duane Underwood: Another second rounder that the Cubs took out of high school in 2012, Underwood showed distinct improvement from 2013 to 2014, even while moving from low A Boise to A level ball in Kane County. He pitched twice as many innings, and still lowered cut his ERA practically in half (from 4.97 in 2013 to 2.50 in 2014).

Opening Series:

This is basically the team that won the Midwest League Championship while in Kane County last year, so they’ll be fun to watch. They open their season at home tomorrow with a 4 game series against Wilmington followed by 3 games against Salem.

South Bend Cubs – A

Formerly the Kane County affiliate, South Bend has a few spots of real talent, including a very young shortstop who provides ample reason for excitement. Four Winds Field has also been under construction this past offseason and it looks like a place worthy of a mini road trip if you live near northwest Indiana.

Who to Watch:

Gleyber Torres: The 18 year old shortstop spent most of his season in 2014 at the rookie ball level in Arizona, with just a 7 game appearance in low A Boise. But what a 7 games: an OPS of 1.254 and 11 hits in 28 at bats. Granted, the sample size is small, but the ceiling is very, very high here.

Jake Stinnett: The Cubs picked him in the 2nd round last year after he opted not to take the Pirates’ offer when they drafted him in the 29th round the year before. His rooked ball numbers were perhaps a little scary (don’t look, trust me on this), but when he made the move to low A Boise, he pitched like the Cubs are hoping he can: 0.789 WHIP, 7 Ks in 6 innings.

Gioskar Amaya: This 22 year old Venezuelan has been in the Cubs’ system since he was 17, and the Cubs have moved him somewhat slowly through their system, having him spend full seasons at Kane County in 2013 and Daytona in 2014. He looks to be a solid defender in the middle infield who will probably always hit pretty well, but offers some speed on the basepaths as well, with 73 stolen bases in his minor league career so far.

Opening Series:

The South Bend Cubs open a 3 game series at home tomorrow against Bowling Green. They’ll play Kane County this season, but at home, so there won’t be a chance to check these guys out in Chicagoland.

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Prospect Watch: C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

While the top of the Cubs’ farm system is loaded primarily with position players, and the majority of the most exciting Cubs’ pitching prospects will be in High A or below next season, the system does have a couple of legitimate starting rotation prospects who should pitch in Triple A Iowa as the season starts, and could contribute to the MLB team later this season: C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson.

C.J. Edwards (RHP, 23 years old)

2014 Stats

Tennessee (Double A): 10 GS, 48 IP, 2.44 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 8.63 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, .234 BABIP


Among Cubs pitching prospects in the upper levels of the Cubs’ farm system, C.J. Edwards has the highest ceiling. Edwards’ fastball sits 91-95 with solid movement, and he also throws a curveball that could be plus consistently with continued work to go along with an average change up. Two plus pitches and an average third pitch is solid middle of the rotation stuff, and if Edwards can get the change up to even a fringe plus pitch you’re looking at number 2 in a rotation type of stuff.

The big question with Edwards is his durability. He’s listed at 155 pounds, which means he weighs the same amount as me despite being five inches taller. And I do not exactly have a build you’d look at and say “that’s a MLB pitching prospect”. With Edwards, this isn’t a young Tim Lincecum who is throwing 180-plus innings a year with analysts saying the wheels are going to fall off because he’s too small to maintain this type of performance for more than a handful of seasons. Edwards has never thrown more than 116.1 innings in a professional season, which he did in 2013, and was limited to 68.2 innings (20.2 of which were rehabbing a shoulder injury that kept him out much of the season) in 2014.

This has led to a big disparity in prospect gurus rankings of Edwards. While both and Baseball America continue to view Edwards as a potential starter and rank him as a top 50 starter, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Keith Law see Edwards as a reliever only, and as such don’t have him in their top 100 lists.

Edwards was quite good when he pitched in 2014, but 2015 will likely be a year for him to prove he can hold up to a starter’s workload, or a year where he’ll show his long term future is in the bullpen. If Edwards cannot start, I’d be curious if he could fit into a role similar to the role Dellin Betances filled with the Yankees in 2014: a high leverage, multi-inning reliever. But there would even be questions if Edwards could hold up to that workload. At worst, though, Edwards should slot in as a solid late inning reliever along with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Neil Ramirez by 2016.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa (Triple A)

Likely MLB Debut: Mid-2015 to early 2016

Pierce Johnson (RHP, 23 years old)

2014 Stats

Kane County (Single A): 2 GS, 11 IP, 2.45 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.55 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, .115 BABIP
Tennessee: 18 G, 17 GS, 91.2 IP, 2.55 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 8.93 K/9, 5.30 BB/9, .242 BABIP


When the Cubs picked Pierce Johnson with their sandwich pick they received in free agent compensation for Aramis Ramirez in 2012, many thought the Cubs could have gotten a steal. Johnson’s draft stock dropped from a mid-first round grade primarily due to a forearm strain in his final college season, combined with arm action that led scouts to believe more arm injuries could be in his future. The stuff, though, was considered solidly mid-rotation, and many thought the Missouri State product could be a fast riser.

Johnson hasn’t exactly been a disappointment, but he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations either. He’s generally pitched pretty well, but he hasn’t moved as quickly as hoped and the arm action remains troubling to some, both from health and control standpoints.

In regards to Johnson’s 2014 statistics in Double A, I do think he needs to be looked at pre-injury and post injury. Prior to hitting the DL with a hamstring injury in mid-May, Johnson put up a 4.39 ERA and posted a BB/9 rate of 8.10. When he returned, Johnson posted a 1.80 ERA and a 4.15 BB/9. That walk rate is still too high, but it’s at least not epically terrible and indicates to me that Johnson wasn’t right in his first stretch of 2014.

While Johnson doesn’t have quite the same durability questions as Edwards, this is a big year for him to prove that he deserves a spot in the Cubs’ long term rotation plans as well. To do so, he’ll have to stay healthy and limit walks in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa

Likely MLB Debut: Mid-2015 to mid-2016.

As a final note, the Cubs have another pitching prospect, Armando Rivero, in Iowa who could be a big time contributor to the bullpen. As a bullpen only guy, he’s not considered a big time prospect, but he could be the first guy up if one of Rondon/Strop/Ramirez/Grimm/Motte struggle or get hurt, and I’d suggest checking out his stat line on your website of choice.


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Prospect Watch: Addison Russell and Billy McKinney

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

The Cubs’ farm system was already arguably the strongest in baseball as July 2014 started. When the Cubs traded starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for the Oakland Athletics’ two best prospect, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney, that “arguably” part disappeared.

Addison Russell (SS, 21 years old):

2014 Stats:

Mesa (Rookie): 50 PAs, .196/.260/.348, 2 HRs, 6% BB rate, 26% K rate, .152 ISO, .226 BABIP, 66 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS
Stockton (High A): 18 PAs, .188/.278/.188,0 HRs, 11.1% BB rate, 33.3% K rate, .000 ISO, .300 BABIP, 31 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS
Midland (Double A): 57 PAs, .333/.439/.500,1 HR, 14% BB rate, 14 % K rate, .167 ISO, .385 BABIP, 173 wRC+, 3 SB, 2 CS
Tennessee (Double A): 205 PAs, .294/.332/.536, 4.4% BB rate, 17.1% K rate, .242 ISO, .305 BABIP, 141 wRC+, 2 SB, 2 CS


When the Cubs obtained Addison Russell, they gained one of the most difficult to acquire and valuable pieces in baseball: a top ten overall prospect. Russell fell to Oakland at the eleventh pick in the 2012 draft after he bulked up before his senior season of high school. Scouts who saw him that season saw 70 raw power, but also saw a guy who was unlikely to stick at shortstop. In response, Russell lost the weight  after the draft and quickly established himself as an at least average defensive shortstop, likely better, with plus arm strength.

Russell missed much of the first half of the 2014 season with a hamstring injury, which is why he had stops in High A with the A’s and rookie ball after his trade to the Cubs. He showed the solid power and ability to hit for average that was expected following his return to Double A after the trade, although a higher walk rate would be more in line with his career numbers.

The most interesting question with Russell is what the Cubs will do with him when he’s ready? He’s arguably the best defensive shortstop above A Ball for the Cubs, with most scouts seeing him as a better shortstop right now than Starlin Castro. But, if the Cubs succeed this season, I think it would be unlikely that the Cubs would try to cause any issues by moving Castro off the position as long as he continues to be serviceable there. Russell could also replace Javier Baez at second base if Baez continues to strike out too much to get to his power, or he could move to third base if Bryant struggles there defensively, where Russell could bulk up and potentially reach bigger power numbers.

This could also mean that Russell’s MLB debut waits until 2016. In any case, once Russell debuts he is expected to be a mainstay in the Cubs’ infield for years to come.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot:  Triple A Iowa

MLB Debut:  Mid-2015 to early 2016

Billy McKinney (OF, 20 years old)

2014 Stats:

Stockton: 333 PAs, .241/.330/.400, 10 HRs, 10.8% BB rate, 17.4$% K rate, .159 ISO, .267 BABIP, 92 wRC+, 5 SB, 3 CS
Daytona (High A): 210 PAs, .301/.390/.432, 1 HR, 11.9% BB rate, 20.0% K rate, .131 ISO, .377 BABIPO, 136 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS


In many, if not most, systems, McKinney would be a top five prospect. Indeed, he was widely considered the A’s second best prospect prior to the July 4 trade after only Russell. In the Cubs’ incredibly deep system, on the other hand, McKinney is more a back end of the top ten type of prospect.

McKinney’s biggest issue is that he only has one plus tool. The good thing for him is that it’s his hit tool. Aside from that, however, McKinney is corner outfield only with limited power, meaning he might project better as a second division starter or fourth outfielder.

This is not to say there isn’t a lot to like about McKinney. There’s a ton to like about him, especially his work ethic. Every single tool of his is thought of higher by scouts today than it was when he was drafted, and that’s solely due to hard work and coachability. But with the Cubs’ stacked hitting prospects, the Cubs might get the most value out of someone like McKinney by trading him as he approaches MLB readiness, which could be as soon as this summer depending on how he performs in his Double A debut.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot:  Tennessee

Likely MLB Debut: Late 2016 to mid-2017.

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3 Cubs Prospects to Keep Your Eye On in 2015

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

By now, every serious Cubs fan is fully aware of the grand praise that our farm system has been receiving, particularly as system rankings and individual prospect rankings have been released over the last several weeks. In each, the Cubs and their players have been seen all over the top of those rankings. While it is certainly easy to get the most excited about Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and maybe even Javier Baez, we can’t miss some of the players who are a little farther away from making it to the majors. Here are three in particular that I think deserve our attention this season:

Albert Almora

Remember him? The 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft? You know, the guy who went from high school baseball to absolutely tearing up rookie ball before forcing a promotion to low A Boise all in the same season? Most guys are 20 or 21 in low A, but the brand new high school graduate was still able to hit .292 with 7 doubles and just 5 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances in his inaugural season in the minors. I had the opportunity to watch him in person several times the following season in Kane County, and he provides ample reason for excitement. There’s potential for a guy who can excel in hitting XBH (he had 17 doubles and 4 triples in 82 hits in 2013), and he has shown so far that he can keep his strikeouts down. As I outlined in a previous post here, the Cubs are a team that is probably going to strike out a lot in the coming years. So, while I would like it if he walked more, I’m happy with a guy who can keep his strikeouts down.

So why has he fallen off of the radar? I think it’s almost entirely because he had a less than impressive 2014, at least by his own standards. More specifically, he struggled when he made the move to AA Tennessee. His batting average and OBP were lower than where he usually performs, but he continued to produce XBH at his usual rate and he was able to hit for power. His struggles after making the jump to AA last year may have been because of lingering injury issues (he missed large portions of 2013 due to various injuries), but they may also have been because he was playing at a level probably significantly above where he would usually be. I tend to pay close attention to the age of a player versus the average age of those around him while a guy is in the minors, and during his short stint in Tennessee last year, Almora was 4.5 years younger than the average. That may not be a significant spread when you’re in the majors, but it is for a guy who had just turned 20 as the season was starting.

So when he 2015 season begins, I think he’s an important player to keep an eye on, because if you remove his 36 games in AA last year, his minor leagues are genuinely impressive. Even with them included, he’s still at .294/.322/.424 in just over 200 games. His injury history is concerning, but I’d like to see him start in AA this year, and strive for a full season at that level. I don’t think there’s any reason that the organization needs to rush Almora, even though CF is a bit of a hole that I’d love to see him fill one day.

Mark Zagunis

Of course Kyle Schwarber is the catching prospect that has everyone’s attention these days, but I suspect that Zagunis is the one who stands a more likely chance to stick at catcher defensively, even though his time in the Cubs’ farm system so far has shown a pretty even split between C and OF. All signs seem to point to Schwarber moving to the outfield before he reaches the majors, and catcher is a position organizationally that looks a bit thin otherwise. So, considering what he can offer defensively, I think Zagunis is worth paying closer attention to this year. His minor league experience is very limited so far, but his performance across three levels just last season is noteworthy. The Cubs picked him out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the third round last year, and after a very brief (2 games) stint in rookie ball, he spend the bulk of 2014 in Boise. What stands out to me the most is the way he gets on base. He hits well, and hits for extra bases consistently, but he draws a lot of walks. Again, this will be important on a team that is probably going to strike out at a high rate for years to come.

I think he’s been overshadowed so far because his trajectory last season followed Schwarber’s pretty closely, so they were often playing at the same level at the same time, and while Schwarber is a first rounder out of a D1 school, Zagunis is a third rounder from a school most of us have never heard of. Schwarber will probably move through the ranks more quickly than Zagunis, which is fine, because I think it will provide him with the opportunity to play catcher with greater frequency.

For that reason, I’d like to see him start 2015 in South Bend. Though he spent part of last season at that level in Kane County, I think 4-6 weeks (or even more) at the beginning of this season in A ball will be a good thing. I’m guessing Schwarber will start 2015 at high A in Myrtle Beach, if not all the way to AA. That gives Zagunis the opportunity to continue to play catcher more regularly at both A and high A when he eventually moves up. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to see Zagunis cross three levels of the minor league system in 2015, but even if he doesn’t, I think he’s definitely a player to keep your eye on this year.

C.J. Edwards

He’s increasingly popping up on the radar (Baseball America and both have him in the top 100 prospects for 2015, and Baseball Prospectus had him in their top 100 in 2014), and I suspect that 2015 will be the year that he really breaks out. He projects to be a very reliable middle of the rotation starter, but one of the things that I find most intriguing about him is the number of strikeouts he elicits from the hitters he faces. At every level he’s seen so far, he’s averaged at least a strikeout per inning pitched, if not more. Along with that, he does an excellent job of keeping men off of the basepaths, with a WHIP that sits right around 1.00 at every level. In fact, his average across 3 seasons (237 innings) is .0975. I’m a big fan of pitchers who can strike people out and keep them off of the basepaths. That, combined with the fact that he is quite stingy with the HRs he allows (a whopping 2 during his time in the minors so far), leads me to think he’s worth more careful consideration this season.

Because he missed such a large portion of last season with a shoulder injury, I think he absolutely needs to start 2015 in Tennessee. He logged just 48 innings in AA last year because of the injury, so I’d like to see him start there to begin the season, but provided he can stay healthy of course, I think he can make his way to Iowa by the end of the season, and then eventually onto the 40 man roster by the start of 2016. In a farm system that is bursting with offensive strength, Edwards is a guy who has consistently put up good numbers so far, and I suspect he can do the same when he eventually pitches at Wrigley. But that probably doesn’t happen until next year.

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