As the middle of the season is upon us, and some of the all-star breaks have concluded, it is moving time for players who have performed well in the first half. The Cubs’ system has seen a number of players promoted to new levels after their league’s all-star break and those players have had some time to get their feet wet at their next stop. All of those players’ performances come with sample size caveats, which is to say they’re all still adjusting.
Logan Watkins (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Torn Achilles Tendon), Will Remillard (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Tommy John Surgery), Austin Reed (60 Day DL, Tommy John Surgery), Marcelo Carreno (60 Day DL, Shoulder Surgery), Trey McNutt (60 Day DL, Shoulder), Jose Rosario (60 Day DL, Tommy John Surgery), Trey Masek (60 Day DL), Javier Baez (7 Day DL, Fractured Finger), Eric Jokisch (7 Day DL, Rib Cage), Anthony Carter (7 Day DL), Barret Loux (7 Day DL), Adron Chambers (7 Day DL), Michael Jensen (7 Day DL), Rob Zastryzny (7 Day DL), Matt Brazis (7 Day DL), Steven Perakslis (7 Day DL), Tyler Pearson (7 Day DL), Tyler Skulina (7 Day DL), Paul Blackburn (7 Day DL), Duane Underwood, Jr. (7 Day DL, Elbow Inflammation), Ben Carhart (7 Day DL), Shawon Dunston, Jr. (7 Day DL), James Norwood (7 Day DL)
Eugene Emeralds: 9-6, 1st Place Northwest League South Division
To this point, it’s been “so far, so good” for two of 2014’s over slot pitchers for the Emeralds. Justin Steele and Carson Sands have both made 3 starts. Steele has a 0.76 WHIP to go with a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings of work. Carson Sands has also been quite good, with a 0.81 WHIP and a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings. Sands has yet to walk a batter and has struck out 12 to this point. While all of the sample size bells and warnings apply to these guys, the strong starts sure do beat the alternative.
The Emeralds have hit 6 HRs as a team. This year’s top pick, OF Ian Happ, has 4 of them. The other 2 have been hit by 2013’s top International Free Agent, OF Eloy Jimenez. Happ, who is entirely too advanced for this level coming from college, is hitting .271/.419/.563 and should be making his way to South Bend pretty soon. Jimenez, who is only 18, is at .295/.358/.410. Happ is not going to be in the Northwest League much longer, but Jimenez may not see any time at a full season affiliate this summer, unless he really starts to show that the Northwest League isn’t doing him any developmental good.
South Bend Cubs: 4-4, 6th Place Midwest League Eastern Division
In what is becoming the weekly update, Gleyber Torres is continuing his strong first full season league assignment. His slash line is continuing to remain strong, even as sample size and regression should be taking hold, which says that he isn’t merely riding a hot start, but continuing to play well. He’s at .321/.387/.411, with a 9.7% walk rate and a 21.1% strike out rate. If we’re going to find something to complain about with the kid, he has 12 errors so far at short.
2011 14th round bonus baby, Dillon Maples has made his way to South Bend. In 4 injury plagued and disappointing years since his selection, Maples has not pitched about A ball, and this season has made just four appearances out of the bullpen between Eugene (3) and South Bend (1). In those outings, he’s allowed 10 runs (5 earned) in 6 innings. On the plus side, he has 8 strike outs to just 1 walk so far. For Maples, things have not gone as planned when he walked away from his commitment to the University of North Carolina to sign with the Cubs and he could be looking at being released before too long.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans: 2-5, 3rd Place Carolina League Southern Division
After the All-Star breaks ended, it became promotion season, with the Pelicans getting some new faces from South Bend. One of those was catcher, Cael Brockmeyer. After consistently good play the Midwest League, Brockmeyer has started getting his feet wet in high A. In 3 games (9 ABs), Brockmeyer is hitting .111/.111/.231. There is nothing to be gained by knowing those numbers, other than that’s where he is very early on after a well-deserved promotion.
Another well-deserved promotion went to Jeremy Null. He has made one start in high A and worked 5 innings, allowing 4 earned, including 2 HRs allowed. It was a rough debut, but again, it was only one start at a higher level for Null.
Tennessee Smokies: 4-2, 2nd Place Southern League North
Cubs fans have been told by this front office since they arrived that progress in development is not always linear. That brings us to Albert Almora. While Almora has made some positive strides in his hitting this season, he is still showing he has some work to do. He continues to show a wonderful ability to put the bat on the ball, but that ability is also, seemingly, the reason why he continues to have a low average. He is still swinging at about 32% of balls outside the strike zone, while making contact with those pitches about 76% of the time. That contact, though, is typically weak, leading to a nearly 10% infield fly rate and contributing to a low 18% line drive rate. Conversely, Almora makes contact 88.5% of the time in the zone. If this season shows anything, it is that changing an approach at the plate is a process, especially when the pitching is advanced enough to know they don’t have to throw strikes.
2014 10th round pick Ryan Williams started the year in South Bend. He dominated. He skipped Myrtle Beach. He’s still doing just fine. In 5 starts with the Smokies, he’s worked 27.1 innings, allowing 7 earned, walking 6, and striking out 20. As impressively, he hasn’t allowed a home run yet this season in 81 total innings. Thus far at AA, his ERA stands at 2.30 with a 2.52 FIP and a 1.06 WHIP. As this season wears on, the 6’4″, 220 pound righty from East Carolina is not showing any ill effects from skipping a level.
Iowa Cubs: 42-37, 2nd Place Pacific Coast League American Northern Division
After a strong 6 game stint with the big league club as a designated hitter, Kyle Schwarber is right back where he was expected to go. He seems to have taken to AAA just as well as he took his brief initial run at the MLB level. In 10 games, he’s hitting .306/.342/.556. He has been more strike out prone at AAA and MLB than he was at AA, which is not unexpected for a young player. His rate jumped to over 34% at both levels after being a strong 20% at AA. He is also not walking at the same prolific pace. He has only had 38 plate appearances at AAA and is showing the tools that made the Cubs select him and call him up. But, like any young player, needs polish at the plate to bring his entire game together…and that doesn’t factor in the work he needs behind the plate as a catcher.
As the sample grows for Carl Edwards, Jr. (C.J. Edwards) in AAA, the numbers start to look a little bit better. Although he has walked exactly one hitter in his last 7 outings (12 innings), he has only allowed 3 earned in that time, with all of his last 5 outings spanning 2 innings each. Overall at AAA, he has a 3.60 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 1.20 WHIP. The walk rate is still a bit high, but Edwards is showing the stuff that makes him an exciting arm that could be in the big league pen this season. Command is the key for this kid, because the stuff is there.