The Cubs’ new short season affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, starts play in less than a week with a June 18th start at Everett. There has not been a roster released for the Emeralds as of yet, but it shouldn’t be too far from coming out. The Cubs have a lot of interesting names who could be appearing in Eugene this season. The top of the list is the very young and very large Eloy Jimenez. It is also a sure bet that some of this week’s top draft picks at least make brief appearances in Oregon on their ways to full season affiliates in South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
Logan Watkins (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Torn Achilles Tendon), Will Remillard (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Tommy John Surgery), Trey McNutt (60 Day DL, Shoulder), Jose Rosario (60 Day DL, Tommy John Surgery), Javier Baez (7 Day DL, Fractured Finger), Anthony Carter (7 Day DL), Barret Loux (7 Day DL), Michael Jensen (7 Day DL), Rob Zastryzny (7 Day DL), Matt Brazis (7 Day DL), Anthony Giansanti (7 Day DL), Jeimer Candelario (7 Day DL), Tyler Pearson (Inactive), Erick Castillo (7 Day DL), Shawon Dunston, Jr. (7 Day DL, Right Arm), James Norwood (7 Day DL), Justin Marra (7 Day DL)
South Bend Cubs: 26-31, 7th Place Midwest League Eastern Division
It may seem as though Gleyber Torres has dominated this space over the first half of the season, and that is partially true. In fairness, this space is reserved for players who are doing really good things or are struggling unexpectedly. And Torres keeps doing really great things. As his sample size gets larger and larger, his numbers keep looking less like an early season tear and more like “dominating the level”. .315/.389/.386 is probably more than anyone envisioned for a kid who just turned 18. While his approach was lauded as being mature even when he signed as a 16 year old, a 10.4% walk rate is still a bit more than should have been expected for such a young kid in his first taste of full season minor league ball. Torres, at least at this early stage of his career, has been more than advertised and is continuing to prove he will be an interesting name to keep an eye as he moves forward in the system.
It has not been such a pretty picture for 2014 second round pick, Jake Stinnett. He has had his struggles all season long, which includes a DL stint in the middle of May. He has only pitched into the 6th inning once in his 9 starts, and is sporting a 6.10 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched. The obvious culprit is that he has been wild. He has not had an outing where he hasn’t walked anyone and has issued 27 free rides to date. Adding those 27 walks to 5 hit batters and 4 wild pitches gives a pretty good indication that Stinnett isn’t putting the ball where he wants to quite yet.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans: 35-24, 1st Place Carolina League Southern Division
Mark Zagunis may be in AA already if it weren’t for the list of players ahead of him in the organization. The catcher turned outfielder is batting .305/.439/.437, has a wRC+ of 158, has a walk rate (18%) that is 3.4 points higher than his strikeout rate (14.6%), and is showing nice extra base pop with 10 doubles, 3 triples, and 3 HRs. Last year’s third round pick out of Virginia Tech started his professional career in solid form in 2014 and that has carried over to 2015. If and when an opening in Tennessee’s outfield is made available, it would not be a surprise to see him head up to the next level.
Duane Underwood is continuing to light it up on the mound for the Pelicans. After his first 10 starts, the numbers are pretty nice. The 2.08 ERA stands out as something to smile about, although his 4.01 FIP says he may be getting helped by a bit of luck. It’s not much, though. He is not giving up a lot of hard contact and he has continued his trend of reducing his walks. The higher than desirable FIP, in part, stems from a drop in his strikeouts. He appears more aggressive this season, using his good stuff to be aggressive early in the count and have economical outings. This early season has been another step in the right direction for a player who is quickly becoming the best pitching prospect in the system.
Tennessee Smokies: 32-28, 2nd Place Southern League North.
Over the first half of the season, Albert Almora has done nothing to help put the shine back on his prospect status after a difficult 2014. But he has shown some signs of real progress. His 6.2% walk rate and 9.3% strike out rate both compare favorably to his best professional marks. The issue that Almora is continuing to have at age 21 is that he has such a strong ability to put the bat on the ball, that he continues to chase pitches that induce weak contact. When he learns to lay off of those pitches, his AA BABIP will come out of the mid .260s and move closer to the above .300 BABIPs he posted before his promotion to the Smokies in the middle of last year. He still plays wonderful CF defense, so if his bat gets anywhere near its potential, the Cubs will have found a player who can patrol CF for years to come.
There have been a couple of season debuts in AA over the last few days that are notable. Jacob Turner made a rehab start, working 4 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, 2 earned, striking out 4. Turner is on the MLB rehab trail, and with the struggles of the Cubs’ fifth starters this year, his healthy return could provide a high upside alternative to Travis Wood and Tsuyoshi Wada. Pierce Johnson also returned to Tennessee after rehabbing a lat strain in Arizona. He worked 3 scoreless, allowing 3 hits and a walk. For Johnson, the calculation is quite a bit different. If he stays healthy (which has been a concern for him early in his career), he may be able to break into the rotation in Iowa as this season comes to a close. He still has a world of potential…it’s being able to consistently get on the mound that has been a problem early on.
Iowa Cubs: 30-28, 2nd Place Pacific Coast League American Northern Division
After fracturing a finger, Javy Baez is going to be out of commission for the foreseeable future. That is unfortunate for a player who had turned it on and kept his foot on the gas. While that means Baez will not be playing in Chicago in the near future, it does open another door for the return of Arismendy Alcantara. Mendy, in his 46 games in Iowa, has posted a respectable .280.350/.505 with 8 HRs and 11 stolen bases. He will always be prone to striking out some, which is 24.3% K rate in Iowa shows (22.7% in 89 AAA games last year, for reference). Like Baez, though, Alcantara appears to have a better handle on what pitches he is looking for and is doing damage to them when they come. Quietly, he is making his way back down the road to Wrigley.
Since his promotion to Iowa, Carl Edwards, Jr (still weird to not call him C.J. Edwards) has made 3 appearances out of the pen, working a total of 4 innings. After what looked like some nerves in his first appearance, he’s settled down considerably and is letting his stuff play more. He’s only walk 1 in this 3 innings since his first time out in AAA and he’s getting strikeouts more regularly. Edwards, at this point, still figures to play a role in the MLB bullpen before the season ends, although with the addition of Rafael Soriano, he may not be on a track as fast as it was just a few days ago.