I was in Peoria last Thursday to watch the Chiefs play the Wisconsin TimberRattlers (Brewers). Wisconsin doesn't have any big name prospects, so I focused on three guys on the Chiefs. Starting pitcher Eric Jokisch, catcher Micah Gibbs, and Matt Szczur.
Eric Jokisch (21), LHP
Physical Description: A left-handed pitcher, Jokisch is listed at 6’2″ and 185 lbs. He has an athletic build and the possibility to get stronger if he adds bulk. It is a durable frame that should hold up over a full season.
Delivery: Jokisch has a clean delivery and repeats his mechanics well. After separating the ball from his glove, he drops his arm straight down behind his body. Although it looks a little funky, it does create some deception. It’s a delivery not unlike current Cubs starter Doug Davis. Davis separates his hands lower, near the waist, but other than that, it’s similar.
Repetoire: Jokisch uses a four pitch mix: fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. His fastball sits in the 83-87 MPH range with some arm-side run. When ahead in the count, he used a ~75 MPH slider or a slower (~67 MPH) curveball. When he threw them well, both the slider and curve had two-plane break — down and in to righties, away from lefties. He buried one slider in the dirt, low and away to a left-handed batter, to get one of only two K’s in the game. The changeup was rarely used during the game, but while warming up, he worked on it quite a bit. Jokisch’s control is OK as he inadvertently missed the strikezone only a few times. His command, on the other hand, needs work. Hitting the catcher’s glove was difficult for him.
Summary: Right now, Jokisch is nothing more than an organizational pitcher. He can fill in at the back of the rotation for teams in the lower minors, but he would be hit hard after reaching Double-A. If he adds 4-5 MPH on his fastball as he fills out, it would be a different story.
Micah Gibbs (22), C
Physical Description: Listed at 5'11" and 223 lbs, Gibbs is short and stocky with a thick lower half. He certainly looks the part of a catcher and he will have to be diligent with his offseason training to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Defense: Gibbs had a reputation as a good defensive catcher coming into the 2010 draft. His performance in this game indicates that he hasn't lost any of those skills. As a receiver, Gibbs framed pitches on the corners well and blocked everything in the dirt. His arm strength is mediocre, but it's deadly accurate and a quick release aids in controlling the running game. Gibbs gunned down three of four potential basestealers in the game. He even showed himself to be a quality fielder, drifting halfway to the pitchers mound to catch a cloud-scraping pop fly. No other infielders wanted any part of it.
Offense: Gibbs' most impressive offensive skill is his patience. Until he worked a two strike count, Gibbs rarely swung. The .410 OBP is evidence of that approach. After drawing a walk in his first at-bat, he punished a slider off the top of the right field wall. He may not be able to hit higher velocity pitches, though. His bat speed is unimpressive, slider speed. As far as baserunning goes, Gibbs runs like a catcher.
Summary: As a good defensive backstop with the ability to draw a walk, Gibbs should be able to find a job as a backup at the big league level. If he improves his bat speed and develops some usable power, though, a starting gig could be in his future.
Matt Szczur (21), OF
Physical Description: MILB.com has Szczur listed at 6’1″ and 195 lbs. That height seems generous by about two inches. He is certainly not two inches taller than Gibbs, who is listed at 5’11″. Szczur has a football player’s build, but he looks more like a running back than a wide receiver.
Defense: In 69 career minor league games, Szczur has played centerfield 57 times. Although he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, his range should allow him to stick in center long term. While shading to the left half of the outfield, Szczur ranged far into the right-centerfield gap to play a ball off the wall flawlessly, holding the runner to a double. There were only two other flyballs hit to center during the game. Szczur took quick routes to both and was camped under them with plenty of time to make the play.
Offense: At the plate, Szczur has a slightly open stance and uses solid bat speed and excellent pitch recognition to make contact at high rates. His career strikeout rate is only 11%. That contact ability combined with his speed — he almost beat out the groundball in the video below — should allow him to hit for high averages on a consistent basis. Szczur has already hit five homeruns this season, but he could afford to sellout for even more power. In his first at-bat, he worked a 3-1 count and then took a half-hearted swing on a pitch on the outer half of the plate, hitting a lazy flyball to centerfield. He could have crushed it if he was more aggressive in the hitter’s count.
Summary: Szczur’s ceiling is one of the highest in the Cubs organization. The key to reaching that ceiling is the development of his power. If he learns to be more aggressive on pitches in the strikezone and starts hitting for more power, he could be an all-star. Otherwise, he would still be an above-average regular who hits for high averages and plays solid defense in centerfield.