Since I last wrote, Tennessee infielder Chesny Young was named the Southern League Player of the Month, slashing .402/.505/.524 with 11 steals in April. This high batting average is more than a blip—Young led the Carolina League in hitting last year, posting a .321 average with the Pelicans. The 23-year-old was a 14th round pick a few years ago, but he’s now a legitimate player to watch at the keystone as he continues to hit his way through the system. Chesny Young: another reason to keep an eye on the Cubs’ deep minor league system, even as the major league team continues to rack up wins.
Iowa Cubs (Triple-A) (16-15)
Dan Vogelbach was getting on base in April, but his power has shown up in May. He homered twice on Monday, bringing his season total to five, and dragging his slash line up to .337/.427/.535 on the year. Here is his second shot of the day, a sparkling example of his power to all fields:
It is hard to envision Vogelbach’s future with the big league Cubs, but that is not the case for catcher Willson Contreras, who is following up his breakout 2015 with an excellent first month of Triple-A. He has reached safely in 26 of his first 27 games, showing an excellent approach to pair with his excellent bat. He has walked 16 times to only 12 strikeouts on the season, and has already recorded two separate games with four (!) walks apiece, most recently last Wednesday. The only question now is how long his seasoning will last, and when he’ll get his opportunity.
Carl Edwards Jr. has been excellent out of the bullpen in 11 and 1/3 early season innings, posting a 2.38 ERA. He’s been even better over the past week, recording seven of ten outs with a strikeout, and allowing no walks or runs. His stuff is electric, so if he can continue to rein in the walks, he could have some upside in a major league bullpen soon.
Spencer Patton struggled in his only outing with Chicago, but he has yet to allow a run in 12 innings at Iowa. Last year’s breakout pitching prospect, Ryan Williams, went eight strong innings on Monday, allowing only one run and one walk to five strikeouts. He has a 3.86 ERA through 32 and 2/3 innings so far.
Pierce Johnson has had a rough start to the season (5.17 ERA), and he is currently on the 7-day DL with a lat strain.
Albert Almora has cooled off a bit after a hot start and has yet to walk or homer in May. He is still hitting .319 with a .795 OPS, however.
Tennessee Smokies (Double-A) (15-17)
Bijan Rademacher’s hot start has come to an abrupt end in May—he still has not recorded a hit since the calendar flipped. He continues to get on base, though—his OBP is .473, and he has almost twice as many walks (22) as strikeouts (13). There aren’t many players in the minors with these kinds of on-base skills, and the Cubs are lucky to have a few of them. Rademacher could see Iowa this year very easily if he starts to hit consistently again.
Starter Paul Blackburn (the Jake Arrieta of the Southern League) continues to get unbelievable results in the early season. So far, he has amassed a 0.24 ERA in 38 innings of work. The knock on Blackburn is that he has only struck out 19, but he’s also only allowed 25 hits, and good BABIP luck can only explain so much. He’s now tossed 17 consecutive scoreless innings, and 33 innings without an earned run. The 2012 compensatory pick has always been seen as having the potential of a solid back-end starter, and he seems to be nearing that potential.
Catcher Victor Caratini (who the Cubs acquired in the Emilio Bonifacio deadline deal in 2014) is getting on base at a .422 clip in the early going, and has 21 walks to 23 strikeouts. If the power comes around even a little bit (he has a .391 SLG), the Cubs will have another very viable prospect behind the plate.
2013 second-rounder Rob Zastrynsky has struggled (4.61 ERA overall), but he went seven strong innings of one-run ball on Monday.
Right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder soreness. Let’s hope there’s nothing too serious going on there.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A) (16-14)
Top prospect Gleyber Torres is turning things around in High-A. After hitting under .200 for all of April, he’s now hit .378 over his past ten days, with two home runs. He’s still striking out a bit more than you’d want, but he’s now walking enough to make up for it: his slash is .245/.339/.415 on the year. The 19-year-old has some deceptive pop, too. Here’s an example of his quick hands from last Wednesday:
Ian Happ has slowed down a bit, hitting only .231 in his last ten games. He still leads the team with an .874 OPS, however.
Jake Stinnett was hit hard in his start on Sunday, but he’s still got a 2.93 ERA through five starts on the young season.
Deeper prospects Cael Brockmeyer, Charcer Burks, Trey Martin, and Gioskar Amaya are all hitting under .200 and OPSing under .625 to start the season.
South Bend Cubs (Low-A) (18-12)
South Bend, record-wise, is off to the best start of any Cubs affiliate, sitting just a game and a half back of the Lake County Captains for the lead of the Eastern Midwest League.
31st-round pick Daniel Spingola, 23, leads South Bend with a .876 OPS, a pace he has maintained consistently so far this season. He has yet to homer, but he seems to have a good idea of the strike zone, and he seems to be making consistent contact. It is tough to be a 23-year-old at Single-A, though, and he’ll have to keep raking to keep any hope of a major league career alive.
19-year-old Eloy Jimenez has surprised me in the early going. He is now up to a .306 batting average, but he still only has one home run and a fairly pedestrian .441 slugging percentage on the early season. For somebody with Jimenez’s physical skills and young age, I’d usually expect the opposite: a low average with the occasional burst of impressive power. This is actually probably a good sign that he can turn into a well-rounded hitter with contact skills, but keep an eye on the power potential as the summer progresses.
After struggling early, big lefty Carson Sands put together back-to-back scoreless starts this week. There are always big ‘ifs’ with pitching prospects, but the 2014 fourth-rounder has a lot of upside if he ever grows into his potential. Here he is fanning Brewers’ prospect Jacob Gatewood last week:
Donnie Dewees has struggled in May, hitting only .189 over his last ten.
Eugene Emeralds (Short Season A)
The Emeralds don’t begin their season until June 17, but Eugene is often the place where we get our first look at new draft picks and international signees. We’ll cover them as soon as their season gets going this summer.
BP Top 10 Updates (last 10 games of performance)
1. Gleyber Torres, SS, High-A – 106 AB, .245 AVG, .754 OPS, 14 BB, 31 K, 3 HR
Torres’ OPS was .597 only ten days ago.
2. Willson Contreras, C, AAA – 98 AB, .347 AVG, .939 OPS, 16 BB, 12 K, 2 HR
Contreras has walked eight times (to four strikeouts) in May.
3. Ian Happ, 2B, High-A – 111 AB, .288 AVG, .874 OPS, 19 BB, 33 K, 4 HR
Happ now has five stolen bases without being caught.
4. Billy McKinney, OF, AA – 68 AB, .215 AVG, .578 OPS, 14 BB, 22 K, 0 HR
5. Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, Low-A – 105 AB, .250 AVG, .685 OPS, 5 BB, 26 K, 4 HR
Martinez has been turning it around, hitting .303 over his past ten games.
6. Dylan Cease, P, Arizona League – No stats available
Cease has been pitching for the Cubs in extended Spring Training.
7. Albert Almora, OF, AAA – 116 AB, .319 AVG, .795 OPS, 6 BB, 14 K, 3 HR
8. Duane Underwood Jr., P, AA – 14 IP, 3.86 ERA, .281 AVG, 1.50 WHIP, 5 BB, 11 K
9. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Low-A – 111 AB, .306 AVG, .778 OPS, 6 BB, 31 K, 1 HR
10. Carl Edwards, Jr., P, AAA – 11.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, .190 AVG, 1.32 WHIP, 7 BB, 18 K
Edwards was called up for the Cubs’ doubleheader on the 26th-man on Wednesday, but he’ll return to Iowa today.