The Cubs’ MiLB system in the first half was not all sunshine, puppy dogs, and rainbows. It was rough at times to watch as a fan, especially in April. Between the cold, the poor hitting, and uneven performances, very few prospects were excelling on the mound or at the plate. Six weeks doesn’t seem like a long period of time, but things in the Cubs’ system changed quite a bit in just a short temporal span. When yesterday rolled around, the 70-game first half of 2018 had several bright lights shining.
Miguel Amaya – At only 19, he is developing faster than first thought. Last year, his defense/arm was way ahead of his bat. This year, the bat and power are catching up quickly along with a solid approach. A .282 average with a .359 OBP heading into Sunday’s game showed some major improvement, but it was his nine HRs and 33 RBI that has entrenched him as a heart of the order bat for South Bend. His K rate is still over 20% but his walk rate is nearing 10%. He should stay in South Bend all year.
Jhonny Pereda – The 22-year-old catcher is another pleasant surprise. Pereda has shown a penchant for hitting for average (.285) this year and for not striking out (14.8%). With a wRC+ of 122, he is one of the best hitters in the system this year and has been an anchor on defense as well catching close to 30 percent of base stealers. In May, he was the Cubs MiLB Player of the Month. He will likely stay in Myrtle Beach all season.
Jared Young – I love to watch him hit! Whether it is a single, a walk, or a home run, he just puts the perfect touch on it. He never overswings, it is just smooth. He should be moving to Myrtle Beach later this week. Heading into Sunday’s game, he leads the system in RBI with 42 and was tied for fourth in HRs with eight, all while hitting .301 with a wRC+ of 143! Wow!
OMG!!! Pitching!!! – There are arms everywhere in the system and at every level, role, speed, and break. From Abbott to Clifton to Uelmen to Lange to Clark to Swarmer to Lange, the Cubs have several starting arms that are doing very well. Keegan Thompson and Rollie Lacy both pitched no-hitters for 7 innings, and Erich Uelmen has a 1.40 ERA in June and a 1.83 ERA since May 1. It’s exciting to watch the starters try and outduel each other on a nightly basis.
Dakota Mekkes is very close to being ready to go to Chicago. With an ERA on the year of 0.98, it is news when he allows a run. He was promoted to AAA after a 0.68 ERA at Tennessee at the end of May. If he can get his BB rate of over five per 9 innings down, he will find his way to Chicago very, very quickly. Coming into this year, some wondered if his deceptive delivery from his 6’7″ frame would work at AA and AAA. It excelled, actually.
Matt Swarmer – Scouts saw this coming. Players saw this coming. Fans did not. With his high leg kick, some added muscle, and a plus changeup, Swarmer put up a 2.47 ERA for Myrtle Beach in April and May. His fastball now sits 91-94 because of that muscle, and that has made his offspeed stuff play even bigger: his change fades a bit more and the curve is a bit tighter. He should be a fun watch at Tennessee in the second half.
David Bote – He is at the front of the line to head to Chicago anytime a player is needed now. A power bat with the ability play almost anywhere on the field makes that an easy choice. He’s on a 34 HR pace at Iowa if he played a full 140 game MiLB season. In just 45 games, he’s cranked out 11 HRs with an OPS of .921 and a wRC+ of 136.
Starting today, all nine of the Cubs minor league teams will officially be in action as the Arizona Rookie League begins. There should be a lot of things to watch for in the second half. Here are three things to keep an eye on.
1. Fernando Kelli – In his first two games for Eugene, the young 19-year-old speedster caused quite a scene every time he got on base. He stole three, caused an errant pickoff, and most importantly, caused lapses in judgment from the opposing defense which directly lead to Eugene runs. Oh, and he can hit for average, too.
2. Consistency – A 140 game season is quite the grind. It will be interesting to see if the pitchers named above continue to thrive and if the hitters can maintain their current levels of performance.
3. Draft Picks – Cubs fans will soon get a really good look at this year’s position players taken in the draft. While most eyes will be on first-round pick Nico Hoerner and 10th round pick Luke Reynolds, don’t sleep on some of the other position players taken. 1B Tyler Durna, 2B Andy Weber, C Hunter Taylor, SS Levi Jordan (who is in the CWS for Washington), and OF DJ Artis are a few names to watch once they begin play at Mesa and Eugene.
Lead photo of Jared Young by Rikk Carlson.