The all-star breaks are coming to a close and the second half for three of the Cubs affiliates begins on Thursday. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Cubs have been very aggressive this season in promoting prospects at every level.
Albert Almora, Willson Contreras and Gerardo Concepcion had their big league debuts. Corey Black, Rob Zastryzny, Jeimer Candelario, and Mark Zagunis made the jump from Tennessee to AAA. These moves have caused a flurry of activity in the lower levels but Class A top prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees have stayed put, for now.
Starting pitching is a whole different ball game. In recent years, the Cubs have essentially left their young starters in the leagues they began the season. All of them are on an innings limit and when they hit that, their season is over. A few pitchers like Ryan Williams and Brad Markey had mid-season success at a higher level but both of those promotions were dictated by injuries.
For those of you not familiar with the Cubs minor leagues, every player has a development plan which is discussed prior to the season. It details what the player needs to do to get better and what boxes he needs to check off before he advances. So when you look at a player’s offensive stats and wonder why he’s not being promoted, its likely because they aren’t worried about his bat as much as they are his defense or other aspects of the game.
Not to down play the promotions and its what the player is working towards but I haven’t heard too many big leaguers talk about how getting promoted to High A in the middle of the summer turned their career around. It a long grinding year and the first full-season for some of the these prospects. Being able to get into a rhythm of going to the park every day and playing winning baseball with your teammates that you started spring training with is a good thing.
Fans tend to take the human element out of a promotion. The kid has to pack up his things, head to a new place, find a place to live, and face tougher competition. The Cubs do a great job of making the transition an easy one but its still part of the process the player has to deal with, and another box to check off in the learning process.
Here’s a recap of the action on the field as well as some thoughts on Tennessee, Myrtle Beach and South Bend for the second half.
Pacific Coast League—AAA—Iowa 3, Nashville (A’s) 2
Jake Buchanan fanned seven over six strong innings as the I-Cubs took the opener.
Hitting Recap: C David Freitas (.282) had two hits, scored once and plated a run to lead the offense. 3B Jeimer Candelario (.333) went 2-for-4 with a double while DH Matt Murton (.319) and SS Munenori Kawasaki (.253) both had RBI.
Pitching Chart: Jake Buchanan threw 92 pitches, 56 for strikes, over six innings for the win. The right-hander held the Sounds to one run on three hits and four walks with seven strikeouts. He had a game score of 66. RH Felix Pena gave up a run over two frames for his 4th hold and Joel Peralta worked a 1-2-3 9th for his first save as a Cub.
Smokies had Wednesday off and look to rebound in the second half but will have a uphill battle with their current roster. Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Gerardo Concepcion and a few other have been promoted to Iowa and in the case of Concepcion, all the way to Wrigley.
The starting rotation remains intact but Tennessee needs to see more consistency out of top pitching prospect Duane Underwood. Paul Blackburn is still throwing the ball well and Brad Markey, Tyler Skulina, and Jen-Ho Tseng give the Smokies a rotation that’s won championships before.
Its not like outfielder Billy McKinney had a bad first half but his .256/.354/.322 slash in below his career averages and his slugging is at an all-time low. McKinney and the Cubs say he’s fully recovered from the broken knee cap that ended last season and hopefully his power numbers and his average rise the final two months. After playing a different position every day last year in Myrtle Beach, Chesny Young has settled into second base and proved last year’s Carolina League batting title was no fluke, hitting .291/.378/.362 in 66 games.
Smokies News: Tyler Skulina (3-5, 4.48 ERA) gets the start on Thursday night as the Smokies host Pensacola to kick-off the second half.
Carolina League—High A—Myrtle Beach
Pelicans return to the diamond on Thursday night as they host Carolina. No starter has been announced.
Myrtle Beach is in a good spot to reach the playoffs in the second half as they hold a seven-game lead over Carolina for the best overall record of a team not named Salem, the first-half champs. Myrtle Beach leads the Carolina League with a team ERA of 3.45 and a 1.28 WHIP, and the starting rotation of Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, Zach Hedges, Erick Leal, Jeremy Null and Jonathan Martinez will be tough to beat in the second half.
Myrtle Beach’s offense is led by two of the Cubs top prospects—SS Gleyber Torres (.252/.335/.420) and 2B Ian Happ (.296/.410/.475). Happ, the Cubs first-round pick last year, may not be in Myrtle Beach much longer but the Cubs may want him to continue to work on his defense with Chesny Young in AA.
Midwest League—Low A—South Bend
The first-half champs return to action on Thursday night in Dayton but the baseball world is still buzzing over the antics of Eloy Jimenez at the all-star game on Tuesday night. Jimenez earned MVP honors with a towering three-run homer in the top of the 9th. South Bend fans are no strangers to the heroics of the 19-year-old that’s hitting .341/.379/.535 and leads the league in OPS.
The biggest surprise in South Bend in the first half was last year’s 29th round pick Ian Rice, who leads the team with nine homers. Throw in a slash of .306/.404/.589 in 38 games and 27 knocked in and he’s been a tough out in the middle of the order.
Northwest League—Short-Season—Eugene 8, HIllsboro (D-Backs) 1
Eugene won is second straight series with a 13-hit attack.
Hitting Recap: C Tyler Payne (.455) led the offense with three hits while leadoff hitter Robert Garcia (.250) singled, scored three times, drew two walks and swiped two bases. SS Andruw Monasterio (.296), Jose Paniagua (.214), and Wladimir Galindo (.250) all had two hits. DH Matt Rose (.250) knocked in a pair, including a RBI double in the 1st, and Paniagua finished with two RBI.
Pitching Chart: RH Pedro Silverio (1-0, 1.80 ERA) went five innings in his debut, allowing a run on three hits and four walks. The Dominican native fanned two and had a game score of 55. Alex Santana worked around three walks and a hit in two shutout frames, his second appearance. Jared Cheek and Tommy Nance both tossed a scoreless frame.
Emeralds Notes: Eugene returns to PK Park on Thursday night as Dylan Cease (0-0, 2.25 ERA) takes the mound for his second start.
Arizona Rookie League—Cubs 5, D-Backs 4
Jose Albertos was dominate in his pro debut and the Cubs survived a four-run 9th for the win.
Hitting Recap: Cubs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 2nd when DH Kevin Zamudio doubled, took third on a single from 3B Rafael Mejia and scored on a RBI groundout by 2B Edgar Rondon. Mejia doubled in the 5th, took third on a sac bunt from Rondon, and scored on a sacrifice fly to left from Ruben Reyes for a 2-0 lead. Jhonny Bethencourt manufactured a run in the 6th with a leadoff walk, took second on a wild pitch, stolen third and scored when the catcher’s throw ended up in left field. C Michael Cruz made his pro debut, going 1-for-3 with a RBI double in the 8th. Gustavo Polanco added a RBI single.
Pitching Chart: 17-year-old Jose Albertos made his pro debut on Wednesday night, recording seven strikeouts over four shutout innings. The Mexico native fanned two and gave up a single in his first pro inning. John Arguello of Cubs Den was at the game and reported that Albertos hit 96 on the gun in the first two innings. He issued a walk and had a game score of 67......LH Jack Leathersich made his Cubs debut after being claimed by waivers from the Cubs, released, and then re-signed as a free agent. The former Met had Tommy John surgery last summer and recorded 356 K in 201 minor league innings. He’s also appeared in 17 big league games. Leathersich fanned the first two hitters and got a ground out, retiring all three hitters he faced....Eugenio Palma continued the Cubs pitching dominance with two scoreless frames. The 19-year-old left-hander spent the last two years in VSL bullpen and was making his stateside debut. Tanner Griggs, who was suspended for 50 games to start the season after testing positive for amphetamines, made his season debut and retired all three hitters he faced in the 8th. The 9th was a different story. Two singles and two doubles plated three runs and after a walk, Luis Aquino relieved Griggs but gave up a RBI single before getting the final out for his first save.
Cubs Notes: Some of the core of young talent in Mesa was signed out of Mexico as part of the 2015 International class. Albertos inked a $1.5 million deal while Zamudio, 18, has been on the radar since he was named the top hitter of a 16-under tournament in Yuma in 2013. Ruben Reyes, 20, an all-star outfielder for Tijuana in the Northern League of Mexico, and infielder Isaac Paredes, who earned an $800,000 bonus, are making their pro debuts in Mesa along with RHP Javier Assad, 18, who commands a fastball in the low 90s.
Dominican Summer League—Cubs 1 (4), Pirates (3)
Cubs scored three times in the bottom of the 9th and won a walk-off single from Jose Jules.
Hitting Recap: With one out in the 9th and trailing 3-1, DH Jonathan Sierra (.239) and C Franklin Tineo (.167) singled, and 3B Orian Nunez (.227) doubled home a run. After the Pirates intentionally walked 1B Luis Hidalgo (.240) to load the bases, 2B Herson Perez (.231) was hit by a pitch to tie the game. A force play at the plate set the table for CF Jose Jules’ game winner to center. Hidalgo slugged his 4th homer in the last six games. SS Rafael Narea (.222) was 2-for-3 and Jules (.273) finished with two hits.
Pitching Chart: Riger Fernandez fanned six over five innings, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk. He recorded seven ground ball outs and had a game score of 57. Luis Silva blanked the Pirates for 1.2 frames and Moises Ramirez got the win with 2.1 scoreless innings.
Dominican Summer League—Cubs 2 (8), Mariners (6)
Cubs scored five times in the top of the 8th and hung on to beat the M’s.
Hitting Recap: Scouting reports on C Miguel Amaya lauded his defensive skills but the Panamanian didn’t get many high marks for his bat. The 17-year-old collected his third straight multi-hit game and upped his average to .311 with two hits and two RBI. 2B Fidel Mejia (.415) went 2-for-4 with a RBI and 3B Henrry Pedra (.250) knocked in a run. SS Aramis Ademan (.212) was on base three times with a single an two walks, scoring twice. LF Abraham Rodriguez (.283) was 0-for-4 , snapping his 11-game hitting streak.
Pitching Chart: Carlos Ocampo (0-1, 3.46 ERA) made his third start and fanned five over five innings. The Colombian native allowed a run on four hits and a walk. LH Andres Bonalde, 18, worked 3.2 innings but got charged with five runs on seven hits and a walk. Wilfre Delgado got the final out for the save in his professional debut.