I don’t graduate until Sunday, so Albert Almora officially beat me out for our first big Young Cubs graduation of the year. It’s likely that Almora will spend more time in Triple-A at some point this year, but his year-to-date stats show that the promotion was well-deserved. He slashed .318/.335/.444 in Iowa, with three homers, 10 stolen bases, and a sterling 13 percent strikeout rate. He’s never going to walk much, but the contact skills are there, and they border on elite. And his defense, for its part, is indisputably elite, so it will be a pleasure to watch him put it on display every night in the bigs.
Iowa Cubs (Triple-A) (29-27)
The Iowa Cubs went on a nine-game winning streak and have won 10 of their last 11 overall. This has resulted in a first-place tie with Oklahoma City for the division lead.
Much of this winning has been due to the offensive explosion from catching phenom Willson Contreras. He is currently on a 14 game hitting streak and his crazy slash line now sits at .343/.436/.590 for the season. Our own Carlos Portocarrero took a deeper dive on Contreras yesterday: I encourage you to read his piece for more.
Dan Vogelbach continues to do what he does best. His OPS is sitting consistently above .900 (it’s at .938 right now) and he homered twice this past week to bring his total up to nine on the season.
Four bullpen arms have been lights out for Iowa all season: Spencer Patton (1.29 ERA, 34/8 K/BB), converted-starter Felix Pena (1.29 ERA/0.71 WHIP in 28 innings), lefty Gerardo Concepcion (2.31 ERA), and Carl Edwards Jr. (2.45 ERA, 31/13 K/BB). Any of these pitchers could potentially be useful to the major league bullpen at some point this year, so they are each worth keeping an eye on.
A cool moment: old friend Matt Murton hit his first Iowa home run this week. It is his first homer in the Cubs organization since 2008.
Also worth noting: Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis (both profiled at Tennessee, below) have been promoted to Triple-A, as of yesterday.
Tennessee Smokies (Double-A) (25-33)
The Smokies have spiraled to last place in their division, but there are some bright spots on this roster. Tennessee had no fewer than six players named to the Southern League All-Star team this past week, so let’s quickly run through each of them.
Paul Blackburn has been the ace of the Smokies’ staff this year, posting a 2.40 ERA through his first 71 innings. His ERA held steadily under 1.00 until early May, and he has shown a capacity to induce weak contact throughout the whole season. The red flag is that he only has 42 strikeouts this year, but his All-Star spot is certainly deserved.
Spring Training standout Jeimer Candelario is only hitting .219 with a .690 OPS, but he was still named an All-Star, and there are positive signs. He has a 13.3 percent walk rate and a promising 19 percent strikeout rate, which shows that his approach hasn’t been altered by his offensive struggles. He has 22 extra base hits on the year, showing his power hasn’t been sapped by a low batting average, either.
Victor Caratini has a .785 OPS, which will more than play behind the plate. The switch-hitting catcher was the return for Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell a few years ago, and continues to show the potential to be a major league backstop. Power is a major question with Caratini (just one homer this year), but his approach is excellent at the plate (.397 OBP).
24-year-old starter Brad Markey has a 2.41 ERA through 59 and 2/3 innings, consistently posting good results. His strikeout stuff is even less impressive than Blackburn’s, however: he only has 26 Ks on the season to 24 walks.
Chesny Young’s hot April (in which he hit over .400) propelled him to the All-Star team. His line is now down to a still solid, but more pedestrian .297/.390/.363, but if he can do that at the next few levels, he will be a very solid option at the keystone.
Outfielder Mark Zagunis has continued his offensive consistency for several years now, and nothing is different at Double-A. He leads the team with a .302 average, and has 30 walks to only 36 strikeouts on the season. He hasn’t shown much pop, though, and that can be a limiting factor for corner outfielders at the upper levels.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A) (32-26)
Myrtle Beach has a solid record on the year, but they still sit seven games back of first, and they nearing elimination for the first half title race. A trio of Pelicans starters was named to the Carolina League All-Star game this week, so I’ll run through them quickly as well.
Trevor Clifton has been the most impressive Pelican, and just received the Cubs minor league Pitcher of the Month award for May along with his All-Star bid. In 52 innings, he has put up a 2.08 ERA and a team-high 57 strikeouts. His K/BB ratio is fully 3.0, too—he has only 19 walks on the year. These are the types of peripheral stats that suggest success further on in the organization, so here’s hoping the 21-year-old righty can keep this up.
Zach Hedges has a 2.39 ERA in 60.1 innings. His strikeout numbers aren’t as impressive (only 38 so far this year), but he isn’t walking anybody either (only 13 free passes), which has held his WHIP down and kept runners off the bases for the first two months of the season. Hedges is 23, so if he gets the fast track, he might have a bullpen conversion in his future.
And 2014’s second-round pick Jake Stinnett rounds out the trio. He has a 4.15 ERA, with 40 Ks and 19 BBs in 52 innings. He was pitching better in May, but a rough outing on June 2nd (eight runs in five innings) hurt his bottom-line stats. It is good to see some progress, but Stinnett is 24, so he’ll have to start moving quickly through the system if he wants to remain a possible MLB starter.
Top prospect Gleyber Torres is also quietly having a very good month. He’s hit .333 over his last ten games, his OPS is now up to .786 (from .720 just two weeks ago) with a surprisingly high six home runs on the year. The power is a bit new for him, and it makes the already-exciting 19-year-old just that much more enticing as a shortstop prospect.
South Bend Cubs (Low-A) (35-22)
South Bend leads the West Michigan Whitecaps by one game for the first half title (which guarantees a playoff spot at the end of the season) with about two weeks to play. Six South Bend players were named to the Midwest League All-Star team.
Eloy Jimenez, the 19-year-old Dominican, is now slashing .318/.358/.509. These are extremely impressive contact and power stats for a player who is still so young.
Donnie Dewees was drafted out of college last year, and has some numbers that reflect that college-prospect polish. He has swiped 12 bases, walked 20 times to only 26 strikeouts, and has hit .280 with a .787 OPS. Altogether, these stats make him an interesting outfield prospect to keep an eye on as he moves through the system.
Andrew Ely, 23-year-old second baseman, was a 32nd round draft pick two years ago, and is slashing .295/.368/.398 on the year.
22-year-old Jesse Hodges got a nod at third base. He is slashing a very similar .294/.374/.376. Neither Ely nor Hodges are big time prospects, but the All-Star bid is sure to be exciting.
On the pitching side, big lefty Carson Sands makes for an exciting All-Star. The 4th round pick from 2014 was hyped out of high school as having some very projectable stuff, and it looks like he might be starting to put it together in A ball. He has a 3.30 ERA in 46 and 1/3 innings, and he has only allowed 37 hits. His K/BB rate isn’t great, however—it stands at 28/23. If he can reduce the walks and a little more swing-and-miss stuff, though, he is a prospect to keep an eye on.
Venezuela-born pitcher Adbert Alzolay, 21, has a very solid 1.06 WHIP through 48 innings this year, similarly a result of relatively few hits and some solid BABIP luck. His 3.72 ERA is solid if not spectacular, but this is an exciting step for a 21-year-old pitching prospect at any level.
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 (season-to-date performance)
1. Gleyber Torres, SS, High-A – 208 AB, .264 AVG, .786 OPS, 26 BB, 52 K, 6 HR
2. Willson Contreras, C, AAA – 178 AB, .343 AVG, 1.026 OPS, 27 BB, 27 K, 9 HR
We are almost halfway through the year, and Contreras still has as many walks as strikeouts.
3. Ian Happ, 2B, High-A – 201 AB, .279 AVG, .839 OPS, 43 BB, 59 K, 6 HR
Happ has an awesome 17.6 percent walk rate this year.
4. Billy McKinney, OF, AA – 175 AB, .246 AVG, .655 OPS, 26 BB, 41 K, 1 HR
The struggling McKinney hit his first homer of the year on May 31st against Jacksonville.
5. Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, Low-A – 192 AB, .214 AVG, .642 OPS, 20 BB, 46 K, 6 HR
Martinez continues to struggle at the plate, but he has shown better discipline of late, walking seven times over his past 10 games to only three strikeouts.
6. Dylan Cease, P, Arizona League – No stats available
7. Albert Almora, OF, MLB – 5 AB, .200 AVG, .400 OPS, 0 BB, 1 K, 0 HR
8. Duane Underwood Jr., P, AA – 35.2 IP, 5.30 ERA, .285 AVG, 1.74 WHIP, 21 BB, 31 K
Underwood is averaging more than half a walk per inning this year.
9. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Low-A – 214 AB, .318 AVG, .869 OPS, 14 BB, 56 K, 8 HR
10. Carl Edwards, Jr., P, AAA – 22 IP, 2.45 ERA, .152 AVG, 1.14 WHIP, 13 BB, 31 K
The longer Edwards keeps up the solid K/BB rate and a reasonable WHIP, the more he looks like a viable MLB bullpen option.