When the big league Cubs struggle, minor league development always becomes just a bit more interesting. Nowadays, though, in the absence of the high-level, superstar prospects of years past, it can be a bit more difficult than it used to be to find the storylines and prospects to hone in on. It is for this purpose that we put out Young Cubs, our periodic high-level briefing on the Cubs’ minor league system. So without further ado, let’s take a whirl around the minors to catch up on the most notable performers.
Iowa Cubs (AAA) (26-38)
The Iowa Cubs’ pitching staff has struggled mightily, but there have been some promising offensive standouts. Right now, 23-year old catching prospect Victor Caratini has shone the brightest, and has had something of an offensive breakout in the first half of this season. He was the Cubs’ minor league Player of the Month for May, and he has continued his hot start into June, going 11-for-33 in the month so far. For the season as a whole, he’s slashing .342/.382/.515, good for a […gets out abacus…] .897 OPS. Caratini’s an excellent option as an emergency catcher, and he’s making a strong case that he should be more than an emergency catcher in the majors sometime soon. More and more, he looks like a very solid asset.
The other most interesting offensive performances are from left fielder Mark Zagunis (.246/.398/.454), long-time farmhand Bijan Rademacher (.255/.350/.416), and the somewhat recently optioned Jeimer Candelario (.265/.356/.508). Zagunis has a surprising nine home runs, which is more power than he’s shown in the past. Rademacher, 26, is acquitting himself well in his second season in Iowa and still seems like he will get a chance as a fourth outfielder for someone someday. Candelario has come back down to earth a bit since his incredibly hot start, and only has five hits so far in June. Still, he’s 23 and his overall approach and production are excellent; he’s a very valuable trade chip if nothing else.
There are few bright spots on the pitching side, but Seth Frankoff is one of them. Brought in as a minor-league signing this offseason, the 28-year-old has an ERA of 2.77 through 55.1 innings. The results seem legitimate, too: he has 59 strikeouts to only 15 walks over that time. Frankoff isn’t going to be a consistent MLB starter at this stage of his career, but the righty does seem like a legitimate depth option if another Cubs starter goes down.
Tennessee Smokies (AA) (35-26)
Tennessee lacks big-name prospects, but don’t tell the Smokies that. They are in the thick of the playoff hunt, and much of that is due to the underrated trio of Charcer Burks, Jason Vosler, and Ian Rice.
Burks, 22, was drafted in the ninth round in 2013 and hasn’t really looked back since then, producing solidly at every level he’s been at. This year still feels like a jump forward, though, because he’s doing it at Double-A and adding a little bit of power (five homers, .457 slugging) to his game. His .862 OPS leads the team. He’ll need power as an outfielder, but it’s getting harder and hard to ignore Burks as a legitimate prospect.
Vosler, seemingly out of nowhere, has 10 dingers this year out of his third base position. This is notable because, while he hit consistently at lower levels, he only hit three homers all of last year between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. At 23, he needs to keep showing the power to remain in the conversation, but now that he has, along with an .844 OPS, he becomes more interesting.
And Rice, primarily a catcher, has hit for an .833 OPS and 7 homers. As a 23-year-old catcher, that is interesting, even if it’s nothing more than that.
For my money, the most promising story in Tennessee, though is Trevor Clifton, who has pitched 60 and 2/3 innings with a 2.52 ERA. BP ranked him as the Cubs #4 prospect before the year, and he hasn’t disappointed. The righty has a reasonable K:B of over 2:1, and there is nothing to suggest that the 22-year-old’s success isn’t sustainable. He threw 119 innings with a 2.72 ERA last year, so this is now nearing 200 innings of very consistent performance at a young age. Right now, Clifton might be the best bet for a homegrown Cubs pitcher sticking in the rotation long-term.
Jen-Ho Tseng, 22, has very similar numbers to Clifton, (2.54 ERA in 63.2 innings) and is the same age. He actually boasts a better K:BB ratio, 3.67:1. Because his stuff isn’t overpowering, he’s been overlooked at times since he was signed out of Taiwan at the age of 18, but he’s another of the early crop of pitchers who could one day take the mound at Wrigley.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A) (37-26)
Eloy Jimenez has been back for a month now, and, well, he’s back. He hit his sixth homer of the season on Sunday afternoon and leads all Cubs minor leagues (minimum 80 plate appearances) with a .940 OPS, which might go higher after press time. Hey, here’s an opposite field dinger now!
Jimenez is clearly the Cubs’ number one prospect in the minors at this point, and if there’s one guy you should be following, it’s him.
Andruw Monasterio is notable for (at least) two reasons: he is a shortstop, and he is 20 years old in High-A (he was actually 19 until two weeks ago). Through 71 plate appearances he has only a .503 OPS, but I encourage you to keep an eye on the Venezuelan who has worked his way up through the Cubs international program. The Cubs clearly think highly of him, and at this point, that’s about all we need.
The Cubs took lefty Justin Steele, now 21, out high school in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. At the time, they saw him as projectable lefty with excellent stuff, and after some struggles at High-A last year (a 5.00 ERA), he seems to finally be really rounding into form this year for the Pelicans. He has 50 strikeouts in 61 innings of 2.51 ERA pitching. His WHIP is still higher than ideal (1.393), based largely on too many walks (3.2 BB/9), but he’s another young starter to keep an eye on going forward through the system.
South Bend Cubs (Low-A) (37-24)
South Bend is playing very well, behind some very interesting young bats. Perhaps the most interesting is Wladimir Galindo, an international player from Venezuela who was picked up around the same time as the aforementioned Monasterio. Galindo has a .782 OPS and four homers, which are both good for third on the team and notable because Galindo is only 20. Galindo is already 6’3″, 210, and he’ll likely fill out more, which is why the Cubs are so high on him as a power threat in the future.
[Update: The Cubs placed Galindo on the 7-day DL with a potentially serious leg injury on Sunday. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.]
Duncan Robinson, 23, was a ninth-round draft pick out of Dartmouth last year, and though he barely knew Kyle Hendricks, he has a similar profile and has started following his path through the minors. He is old for the league, but he has a 1.36 ERA in 59 and 2/3 innings of work so far this year, so the Cubs have taken notice. Even more impressive is the 5.22 K/BB ratio, which explains why Robinson received the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Month award for May. It will be surprising if we don’t see him at High-A soon.
Dylan Cease returned from a leg injury to work two one-run, four-strikeout innings on Sunday. Here’s hoping he can find a way to stay on the mound consistently for the rest of the year.
Eugene Emeralds (Short Season A)
The Emeralds’ season hasn’t started yet, but we’ll update you when it does.
BP Top 10 Updates (season-to-date performance at current level)
1. Eloy Jimenez, OF, High-A – 84 PA, .296 AVG, .940 OPS, 12 BB, 12 K, 5 HR
2. Ian Happ, 2B/OF, MLB – 93 PA, .210 AVG, .793 OPS, 11 BB, 33 K, 5 HR
3. Albert Almora Jr., OF, MLB – 125 PA, .270 AVG, .714 OPS, 9 BB, 19 K, 3 HR
4. Trevor Clifton, SP, AA – 60.2 IP, 2.52 ERA, 7.4 H/9, 1.263 WHIP, 25 BB, 51 K
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, AAA – 208 PA, .265 AVG, .864 OPS, 24 BB, 45 K, 7 HR
6. Jose Albertos, P, AZL Rookie – n/a (No stats available yet)
7. Dylan Cease, P, Low-A – 34 IP, 2.65 ERA, 6.6 H/9, 1.265 WHIP, 18 BB, 54 K
8. Oscar De La Cruz, P, High-A – 47.1 IP, 2.97 ERA, 9.71H/9, 1.246 WHIP, 11 BB, 42 K
9. Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, High-A – 226 PA, .219 AVG, .598 OPS, 14 BB, 36 K, 7 HR
10. Thomas Hatch, P, High-A – 55.1 IP, 4.23 ERA, 8.6 H/9, 1.464 WHIP, 28 BB, 60 K