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Cubs Minor League Update | Improved play but similar concerns in May



Jun 26, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; The cap and glove of Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) rest in the dugout against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar flipped from April to May, Mother Nature grudgingly gave up on her balky Spring and provided all of us with what can be considered “baseball weather.” But as the skies cleared and the temperatures soared, the mood remained rather pensive across the Cubs’ four full season affiliates. While performance improved, questions about quality remained.

The Low-A South Bend Cubs were not immune to this dichotomy, seeing wide fluctuations throughout the squad. The pitching staff generally improved, led by May Pitcher of the Month Cory Abbott, who went 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.19 WHIP for the month. Eric Uelmen (2-2, 2.16, 1.12) showed dramatic change from the start of the season, while Rollie Lacy (1-1, 3.38, 1.35) joined the rotation from the bullpen.

However, April mainstay Javier Assad took a bit of a nosedive (1-2, 3.91, 1.54) and phenom Jose Albertos fell apart so much he was demoted to extended spring training.

In the field, catcher Miguel Amaya continued his ascent to the top of the Cubs’ prospect chart by slashing .286/.366/.513 with nine homers and 33 RBI through June 12. Player development also seems to have found a home for Jared Young, as a move to left field along with time at first base was accompanied with a .292/.356/.509 line, including seven home runs and 36 RBI at the plate. But defense remains an issue, as the 84 errors by the S-Cubs is among the worst in the Midwest League.

Following a disastrous April, High-A Myrtle Beach went 14-14 in May led by Player of the Month Jhonny Pereda. Always known as a good defender, the 22-year-old has gone .288/.370/.401 with four home runs and a team-high 30 RBI at the plate. The offense also has a little lightning and thunder, as outfielder Connor Myers (.281/.336/.386) has 13 stolen bases while first baseman Tyler Alamo (.254/.299/.465) has gone deep eighttimes and driven in 27.

On the mound, Alex Lange (2-2, 3.12, 1.15) has been a rock for the Pelicans, fanning 24 in 26 innings. Meanwhile, fire-balling Bailey Clark has gone 1-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 32 Ks in 27.2 innings since a promotion from Low-A. Wyatt Short (2.81, four saves) and Tyler Peyton (1.52, five saves) have been an effective left/right combination in the back of the ‘pen.

Double-A Tennessee remains around the .500 mark as last month’s standout Jeffrey Báez has fallen from his lofty .411 average to a still-respectable .297/.367/.500 slash line with six home runs, 24 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. Left-handed hitter Jason Vosler (.234/.342/.490) currently leads the Cubs’ minor league system with 11 home runs and 40 RBI.

The biggest news about the Smokies pitching staff is that Trevor Clifton parlayed a 1-1 May with a 2.36 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts in 26.2 innings to a promotion to Triple-A Iowa. Clifton will be joined by reliever Dakota Mekkes, who saved three in four opportunities to raise his mark to eight for the season. The 6’7” Mekkes allowed his first two earned runs of the season, which raised his ERA to just 0.81 for the year with a 0.99 WHIP, while he has fanned 30 in 22.1 innings.

And then there are the Iowa Cubs. The team has bounced back from its abysmal start of the year, but they still have the worst record in the Pacific Coast League. Top position player prospects David Bote (.268/.345/.484, eight HR, 25 RBI) and Mark Zagunis (.255/.384/.335, three HR, 19 RBI) have seen time in the big leagues, but have plummeted from their lofty starts. Infielder Chesny Young shook off a bad beginning to bat .325/.361/.377 in May, but is having difficulty finding playing time behind Bote and 30-something infielders Ryan Court and Mike Freeman.

Top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay scuffled after a hot start, going 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in May before going on the disabled list with a lat strain. After lefty reliever Randy Rosario (0.47 ERA in 19.1 IP) was moved up to the parent club, the most consistent pitcher for the I-Cubs has been Duane Underwood Jr. The former second round pick (2012) had a 3-2 May, striking out 24 in 34.2 innings with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.

Born and raised on Chicago's Northwest side, attending Ladies' Day games with his mother and walking five miles to Wrigley Field with his brother has made Tom Usiak a Cubs fan for as long as he can remember. A social worker and former teacher, an early interest in player development was natural for Tom, as he remembers following the minor league careers of players such as Bill Caudill, Donnie Moore, Karl Pagel, Lee Smith, and Jim Tracy in the late 1970's. Know as "Tom U" across the internet, Tom is entering his eighth year covering the Cubs minor league system, writing for prestigious sites such as Chicago Cubs Online and Cubs Den. Over that period, Tom has published interviews with top prospects such as Aramis Ademan,Willson Contreras,Jeimer Candelario,Dylan Cease,Ian Happ,Eloy Jimenez,and Gleyber Torres. Tom also has a close working relationship with the front offices of all four of the Cubs' full season minor league teams. A guest on South Bend Cubs play-by-play man Darin Pritchett's radio show on WSBT radio for the fourth straight year, Tom has also written monthly articles for the South Bend Cubs' stadium program.

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Chicago Cubs

The Cubs open the second half with a win



Jul 19, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Pedro Strop (46) pumps his fist against the St. Louis Cardinals after the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of their five-game series on Thursday night, rallying from an early deficit to win 9-6. In the first segment, I looked back on that game for a brief moment and previewed the pitching matchup in Friday’s game. In the second segment, Evan Altman of Cubs Insider joined me to talk more in depth about Thurdsay’s victory, the Cardinals, Jason Heyward, and several other pertinent topics.

In the final segment, we fielded a question from a listener — that we pretty loosely answered — and talked about a new addition to the bullpen. Welcome to Chicago, former Texas Rangers reliever Jesse Chavez!

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Chicago Cubs

Will the Cubs run out of gas by the playoffs?



Feb 27, 2018; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman David Bote (76) hits an RBI triple in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As the Cubs head out of the All-Star break, their fortunes for the 2018 season seem to be in good shape.

A late spurt just before the mid-season classic coupled with a sudden cold spell by their chief rivals have given the Cubs the best record in the National League by 2.5 games in the standings.

The Cubs also have one of the most favorable schedules down the stretch, with only 37 games remaining against opponents that currently have winning records. That’s tied for third-best among all NL teams with a winning record.

But there are concerns, and it starts with the schedule. Out of all the contending teams, the Cubs will have the most blistering pace in the last half of the season, having to play 69 games in only 74 days.

That starts tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a span where they will play 21 games in 20 days.

With only six scheduled days off until the end of the season, the Cubs are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the least amount among the 10 teams with winning records. By comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers will play only 64 games for the remainder of the season and will have 11 scheduled off days.

Of all the teams contending for the playoffs in the NL, the Philadelphia Phillies may have the easiest route with 67 games remaining, 33 against teams with winning records, and eight days off scheduled.

And although the Cardinals are experiencing troubles, they have the second-softest road with 68 games, 36 against winning opponents, and seven off days.

That kind of schedule will push many players on the Cubs roster up to or past their previous limits. Albert Almora, Javier Baéz, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber are all on pace to set career-highs in at-bats, while pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery, and Brandon Morrow will all be close to or surpass career-highs in either appearances or innings pitched.

At this point, no one can be sure just how their production will be affected as the season wears on.

During this string of three straight postseason appearances, the Cubs have used there deep minor league system to either bring relief to the major league roster, create a spark of energy, or provide extra help as part of a trade.

From 2015 through 2017, the Cubs have used on an average of 47 players a season, with an average of 31 making a significant contribution (defined as 25 or more games for a position player, and 15 or more appearances for a pitcher).

Up to this point, the Cubs have used 39 players, 25 with significant contributions.

The Cubs could be hoping that players such as David Bote, Victor Caratini, and James Norwood are ready to step up and provide that spark, but there seems to be no one behind them ready to contribute if those players do not.

There are some that may hold out hope that veteran Chris Coghlan can lend a hand, but a 33-year-old batting only .146 in Triple-A might not be able to flip the switch if given a chance to return to the majors.

Over the past three seasons, the Cubs have used a flurry of trades involving their minor league players to bolster their major league roster. Unfortunately, they received practically no additional developmental talent in return.

That, combined with a loss of draft picks in 2016 and international signing restrictions, has combined to deplete the Cubs’ minor league resources. While they have talented players such as catcher Miguel Amaya and pitchers Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson that may pique some interest, don’t expect teams to line up in order to deal the Cubs a potential difference maker for those players’ distant promise.

So as the trade deadline nears, keen interest should be had as to how the Cubs address this situation. Does the front office have the courage to deal a fairly significant major league player in order to supply reinforcements?

Will they try to scrape together something from their ramshackle minor league system and make the best of it?

Or will they stand pat and hope that injured players like Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish come back rejuvenated while their replacements hopefully continue to contribute at a high level?

If they aren’t careful, the Cubs could come out of the gate in the playoffs gasping rather than swinging.

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Chicago Cubs

Wait, could the Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom after all?



Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs are back in action today, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals and their new manager, Mike Shildt. Sean Sears and I previewed the game, which Sean will be attending as credentialed media for the first time. The game will feature Kyle Hendricks against Carlos Martinez. In the second segment, we looked at a piece Jesse Rogers wrote for ESPN that tried to pinpoint what a Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom might look like. Is it more favorable than we originally thought?

Given this new information, we came to the conclusion that the Cubs are definitely, 100% trading for deGrom. No question, done deal. In the final segment, we briefly discussed the results of a poll from the @LockedOnCubs Twitter account and I made puns relating to Brad Hand‘s name.

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