The last few weeks have been rife with promotions. The most notable, of course, have come at the big-league level, with Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras, and Carl Edwards Jr. getting called up to the somewhat short-handed Cubs. But players have been bouncing up levels all across the minors, too, so let’s get caught up on the new teams of some of our favorite prospects.
Iowa Cubs (Triple-A) (35-38)
Jeimer Candelario is the biggest name to move up to Iowa, and the switch-hitting third baseman has made a great first impression over his first few weeks. In his first 56 at-bats, he’s batting .357/.471/.661 with two homers and almost as many walks (10) as strikeouts (13). Candelario made a great impression in Spring Training, but then struggled out of the gate at Double-A, largely due to a deflated BABIP. He’s hitting at Iowa, though, and he’s someone I wouldn’t be surprised to see on some midseason top prospects lists.
Mark Zagunis also moved up to Iowa recently. He might boast the best approach at the plate of any Cubs’ prospect, and that is saying something. His on-base percentage for his entire minor league career is .408, and his walk rate is over 15 percent. Early results at Iowa are solid as well: he is slashing .308/.387/.523 through 65 at-bats. The question on Zagunis is whether he’ll have enough power to hold down a corner outfield spot, so that’s something to keep an eye on for the 23-year-old in Iowa.
David Bote is also getting a chance in Iowa—he is a 2012 draft pick who has OPSed .695 across 1,195 minor league at-bats. He’ll play a backup role in Iowa, where he has eight hits and a homer in his first 22 at-bats.
Rob Zastryzny, second-rounder in 2013, has also been at Iowa for six starts now. He’s struggled a bit—he’s got a 5.29 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 34 innings of work in Des Moines. The 24-year-old is getting to the point where he’s going to have to sink or swim, so keep an eye on his starts throughout this season.
And Corey Black, the return in the Alfonso Soriano trade of 2013, is getting his first crack at Iowa as a reliever. Through six innings of work he’s got a 3.00 ERA, eight strikeouts, and one walk. Controlling walks will be the major factor in whether he gets a shot in a major league bullpen.
I also want to check in on old friend Matt Murton, who is putting up big stats at Iowa right now. He’s slashing .333/.362/.417, comparable to what he did in Japan over the last several years. The power is a little lacking, but it always has been with Murton, who is still fun to root for at age 34.
Armando Rivero is a reliever who Cubs fans have had an eye on for several years at Triple-A. He’s once again putting up strong stats: 2.52 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 47 Ks to 20 BBs in 35.2 IP this year. He is 28, but I still think he’s going to get a chance in a major league bullpen at some point—he’s got the stuff to make it work, all he needs is the chance.
Tennessee Smokies (Double-A) (29-44)
The Smokies got a lot more interesting this week when 2015 first-round pick Ian Happ was promoted to Kodak, TN from Myrtle Beach. In 240 at-bats at High-A, the consistent Happ slashed .296/.410/.475 with seven homers and 10 stolen bases. He is 5-for-8 in his first three games of Double-A action in Tennessee, including this opposite-field homer:
The other exciting new addition to the Smokies’ roster is the 41-year-old Joe Nathan, who is starting a rehab assignment in Double-A this week after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. So far, the former All-Star reliever has pitched two innings with three strikeouts and one run (a home run) allowed. If he is healthy, he could be an MLB bullpen piece down the stretch.
Jacob Hanneman was a third-round draft pick in 2013, and many saw lots of physical potential in the player who took several years off from baseball to fulfull a mission trip. He is now 25, but producing some intriguing numbers at Double-A. He’s got 24 stolen bases on the year (he’s been caught six times), and he is producing some power—he’s hit four home runs in the last ten games. His line stands at an underwhelming .240/.318/.424 on the year, but his tools are still interesting enough for him to be a guy to watch.
Taiwanese-born Jen-Ho Tseng has now made four starts since returning from the DL, and in those four starts he has dropped his season ERA from 5.12 to 2.98. The international signee made big waves with his excellent performance two years ago at Single-A, and he is still only 21. He is still very much a potential big league starter.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A) (37-36)
Ian Rice, 22, did not come into the season as someone to watch, but he OPSed 1.004 in 126 at-bats at South Bend, and he was promoted to Myrtle Beach this past week. The 29th-round draft pick signed last year out of Houston, and has so far put up some very intriguing numbers, especially for a catcher. If he can keep hitting, he’s worth keeping an eye on as a legitimate catching prospect.
Gleyber Torres is OPSing .762 in High-A as a 19-year-old, which is very exciting. He now has eight home runs, too, which is a marked increase over last year’s power production.
The story at Myrtle Beach continues to be the strong starting pitching—Trevor Clifton, Erich Leal, Zach Hedges, and Jake Stinnett have all been very solid. Clifton is a pitching prospect to watch—he now holds a 2.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings.
It might be time to stop waiting for Dillon Maples to break out: he now has a 7.71 ERA in just seven innings on the year as a reliever. Control issues and injuries have held him back for years now, and he is now 24.
South Bend Cubs (Low-A) (44-28)
South Bend was the only Cubs affiliate to clinch a playoff spot with a first half division title, so you can look forward to them playing deep into September.
Much of their success has come from the bat of Eloy Jimenez, who will (rightly) be shooting up prospect lists across the majors this season. The 19-year-old hulk is now slashing an absurd .337/.376/.548 on the season. With the refinements that are expected to come with age, that line translates to a top outfield prospect in the entire league, not just the Cubs system. They won’t rush him, but he could potentially be promoted to High-A at some point this summer, where he would join fellow 19-year-old international signee Gleyber Torres. The waves keep coming.
Fellow outfielders Eddy Julio Martinez and Donnie Dewees, however, are struggling. Martinez’s OPS is just .661 in his first season stateside, and Dewees (last year’s second-round pick) is hitting only .125 in his past ten games. Each has the tools to move up in the system, but you would hope that each is able to successfully move past Single-A sooner rather than later.
I want to introduce two relatively obscure pitchers that are having success in South Bend. Righty Preston Morrison was the Cubs’ eighth-round pick last year, and he currently holds a 2.97 ERA in 12 starts for the Cubs. He’s also shown the ability to miss some bats: he has 59 strikeouts on the year. And 17th-round pick last year, Casey Bloomquist, has moved into a starting role with style recently—he has four consecutive starts in which he has allowed no more than one run. His ERA sits at 2.26 on the year, and his WHIP is a sterling 0.85 in 59.2 innings. Just another couple of names to keep your eyes on over the next few months.
Eugene Emeralds (Short Season A) (6-3)
The Eugene Emeralds kicked off their season last week, which means we have a whole new batch of prospects to observe over the next few months. Here are four that I have identified as the most intriguing to start the season:
Wladimir Galindo, 19, is a third base prospect playing his first stateside ball outside of Arizona. He is originally from Venezuela, where for the Venezuala Cubs he posted intriguing power numbers at the age of 17. He also hit .358 for the Arizona Cubs last year. He makes another intriguing young international player to watch if his power develops from the right side. So far he is hitting .250/.294/.438 in 32 at-bats.
D.J. Wilson is a 5’8″ speedster in centerfield, who the Cubs took in the fourth round last year and signed overslot with a 1.3 million dollar bonus. Many scouts like his contact ability and his speed—and he is only 19. The dream is that he will develop into the type of player who we will call “gritty” when we mean “good.” As an (unlikely) best-case scenario, think Adam Eaton/Ben Revere.
The biggest name prospect at Eugene is Dylan Cease, who has started two games with very solid results so far. In eight innings, he has a 2.25 ERA, nine strikeouts, and one walk. The Cubs are limiting the innings on Cease, who has electric stuff but a history of arm problems. If he succeeds early here, though, don’t be surprised if he finishes the season in South Bend.
Lefty Illinois-native Bryan Hudson is also a pitcher to watch. He was the Cubs third-round pick a year ago, and stands a menacing 6’8″ tall at age 19. The stuff is projectable, and so far he has thrown ten innings and allowed only one run in Eugene. (In a very small sample) He is producing an incredible amount of groundballs: his groundout to flyout ration is 4.13 in his young minors career. He could turn into a very viable starting pitching prospect if he starts to miss more bats.
BP Top 10 Updates (season-to-date performance at current level)
1. Gleyber Torres, SS, High-A – 261 AB, .257 AVG, .762 OPS, 32 BB, 65 K, 8 HR
2. Willson Contreras, C, MLB – 24 AB, .348 AVG, 1.247 OPS, 4 BB, 6 K, 3 HR
3. Ian Happ, 2B, AA – 8 AB, .625 AVG, 1.792 OPS, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR
4. Billy McKinney, OF, AA – 175 AB, .253 AVG, .674 OPS, 33 BB, 49 K, 1 HR
5. Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, Low-A – 241 AB, .232 AVG, .661 OPS, 25 BB, 57 K, 6 HR
6. Dylan Cease, P, Short Season A – 8 IP, 2.25 ERA, .179, 0.75 WHIP, 1 BB, 9 K
7. Albert Almora, OF, MLB – 45 AB, .267 AVG, .676 OPS, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR
8. Duane Underwood Jr., P, AA – 49.2 IP, 5.44 ERA, .296 AVG, 1.75 WHIP, 27 BB, 42 K
Underwood has consistently struggled against AA hitting this year.
9. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Low-A – 270 AB, .337 AVG, .924 OPS, 17 BB, 64 K, 10 HR
The home run total doesn’t count this All-Star game-tying dinger, which Jimenez reportedly called before his at-bat:
10. Carl Edwards, Jr., P, MLB – 2.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, .182 AVG, 0.75 WHIP, 0 BB, 4 K