Hi, as you’ve probably noticed my name is not David Blumberg. I’ll be taking care of today’s Young Cubs features as David has graciously allowed me to pilot this ship for today. I cover prospects for Baseball Prospectus, but I cut my chops covering the Cubs minor leaguers for quite a few outlets.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the players.
- Albert Almora – Double-A – 5-for-32, 2 HR, 3 BB, 6 SO
It’s been a time of reassessment for a few Cubs assets. Albert Almora has failed to adjust across two years now as his contact-oriented approach leads to few strikeouts, but it’s also leading to weak contact. It was more of the same this week for Almora, and he’s proving to be a good lesson in how we adjust our perceptions of a player based on how well they adjust from one level to the next. At the lower levels, the promise shines through even if the production is lacking in some areas. For Almora, the plus hit potential was present in the profile as he showcased a professional approach to the game and his at-bats were very mature. He hasn’t actualized the potential as he’s been challenged climbing the ladder, however and it’s blunting the once lofty projections on his hit tool. There’s still a major leaguer here but it’s one whose flaws will limit the future role.
- Kyle Schwarber – MLB
The Cubs are playing Schwarber more and more in left field, which is a good thing considering how rough he is behind the plate. At this point, a long-term future in the outfield is very much the most likely outcome here.
- Billy McKinney – Double-A – 10-for-30, 4 2B
McKinney has become a bit of a darling for Cubs fans as he just continues to hit and he’s posting some gaudy numbers. There’s a major leaguer here as well as the potential to be a solid contributor, but McKinney’s ultimate upside is somewhat limited by his likely defensive home: left field. There’s enough athleticism present in the profile to fake center field for a few games here and there, but McKinney is destined for a corner and the bat does have its holes, specifically with velocity on the inner half. He’s been incredible so far this year, but don’t get too carried away with the projections.
- Pierce Johnson – Double-A – 2 GS, 13.1 IP, 10 H, 4 RA, 5 BB, 15 SO
Johnson has flipped from hurt, to pitching and struggling with command. He has four pitches and they all flash average or better and the cutter can develop into something very special, but Johnson’s lack of innings are still hurting the command. There’s potential here, but he just has to pitch.
- Gleyber Torres – Low-A – 6-for-23, 1 XBH, 2 BB, 4 SO
The new hot shortstop in the Cubs system, Torres had a meek week with only one extra-base hit in 23 at-bats. His carrying tool is his hit tool and his actions at short lead to hopeful dreams that he can stick there in the long term.
- Dan Vogelbach – 7-Day DL
The Cubs will have to make a decision regarding a few guys, and should Vogelbach survive the trade deadline he will be a very interesting case. There are very few guys who earn prospect status with an almost pure DH label like Vogelbach has which is a testament to how well he can hit. They’ll have to add him to the 40-man this offseason or risk losing him to the MiLB Rule 5 draft (wow he’s been around a long time). Vogelbach’s injury messes with the Cubs ability to flip him in a deal, which would have been a best case scenario in my mind.
- Carson Sands – Short Season – 1 GS, 5 IP, 6 H, 3 RA, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO
Sands is more feel than stuff, which will be an important thing to keep in mind as he ascends the system. In the Midwest League, pitchers with a changeup and a feel for the craft will absolutely shred the league and put up some gaudy numbers (See Stephen Gonsalves, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Wei-Chieh Huang). Sands ultimately projects out to be a backend starter who can give a team quality innings.
- Jen-Ho Tseng – Double-A – 1 GS, 7 IP, 7 H, 3 RA, 1 BB, 4 SO
A rough ride to the beginning of the year was a sharp contrast to how well he handled the Midwest League in 2014. Tseng is a pitchability guy who can move the ball around and was working backwards as a 19-year-old. The stuff is adequate, but there’s little projection in the frame and he profiles as a backend starter. Those guys have value.
- Carl Edwards Jr. – Triple-A – 2 APP, 2.2 IP, 2 H, 4 RA, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO
Being a starter is a ridiculous tough task and not everyone with stuff can last for 30 starts. We all wanted “Carl Edwards Jr. – SP” to happen because of his story, and the Cubs gave him every opportunity to start. Alas, Edwards frame and command are two big factors working against him and so he will help the Cubs out in relief; whenever he gets that command thing down, that is.
- Duane Underwood Jr. – 7-Day DL
Underwood’s growth from 2013 to 2014 was a big deal, particularly towards the back half of last season when he found some command and started staying on top of his curveball. This season, Underwood’s developing changeup was a similarly big deal, until he got shut down with elbow inflammation in his right arm. He’s a work in progress and he’s made some impressive gains over the past two years. The injury is a setback, but don’t lose track of Underwood.
Javier Baez – Triple-A – 7-21, 2 HR, 2 BB, 4 SO
At time of writing Baez was still a Cub and not a Padre or something else. I was talking to a scout a few weeks ago during a rain delay and we got to the subject of how the game can slow down for players who have gotten a taste of MLB experience and are finding themselves back at a lower level. It becomes obvious who has MLB experience and who doesn’t when watching a minor-league game. For Baez, it’s clear that the game has slowed down considerably as he’s back to destroying Triple-A pitchers. What that means for future production in the bigs is up for debate. I remain skeptical about the player’s future production—even with the improved plate discipline—as it’s just different in the majors.
Arismendy Alcantara – Triple-A – 3-28, 1 BB, 2 SO
The power and speed are evident with Alcantara and it shines through in his line. His approach to at-bats still leaves a lot to be desired and it’s becoming increasingly clear that he will not find a role on the Cubs big-league team anytime soon.
Eugene Emeralds, Short Season-A, Northwest League: 2-1, 1st Place
South Bend Cubs, Low-A, Midwest League: 16-17, 3.5 GB of Western Michigan
Ian Happ is 4-for-14 early in his South Bend career as the team has lost three straight. Trevor Clifton’s command issues are still unresolved, and as mentioned above Torres has gone a bit cold.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans, High-A, Carolina League: 19-15, 2.5 GB of Winston-Salem
The Pelicans’ are a rare affiliate in that their main draw is the pitching staff. Underwood, Tseng and to a lesser extent Paul Blackburn all have their different draws.
Tennessee Smokies, Double-A, Southern League: 14-17, 8 GB of Birmingham
I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about how two Cubs affiliates trail two White Sox affiliates, but I’m not gonna make it.
Iowa Cubs, Triple-A, Pacific Coast League: 54-50, 8.5 GB of Oklahoma City
If you ever want to get a feel for how players feel in Triple-A, just look at this photo of Felipe Paulino.
Prospect to watch
Eloy Jimenez, 19, RF, Eugene Emeralds
There’s no such thing as an underground Cubs prospect, so instead of making a cute overture for Willson Contreras or Cael Brockmeyer let’s stick with a guy who can provide a big, loud tool. Power typically takes some time to manifest itself, especially with teenagers in foreign countries. Jimenez has a load of risk, typical for a profile like his, but there’s big power potential here and he’s someone to keep an eye on regardless.