Cubs System Sonogram Takes A Final Bite

Jason Zenda

Kane County finally had a good inning with me watching. It was fun.

One of the hokey things about minor league ball is when a 'corporate sponsor' wants to be 'out in front' for a night. It happened on Thursday night, the last night of my vacation (A vacation with four nights of baseball is a good one.) In the middle of the third inning, the game was delayed as both teams were inside the baselines for a celebration of, well, it had little to do with baseball. Up until that point, the Cougars hard hit balls were finding gloves. After the interruption, things got better. Wisconsin's third baseman wasn't amused, in the 6-2 Kane County win.

Tayler Scott will take a tumble this year in the Cubs prospect lists. Scott hasn't had a bad season, but quality players have been added en masse to levels above him. Suddenly, a righty starter with good control, but shaky strikeout numbers, isn't that much of a prospect. On Thursday, he was pitching to contact. Early on, some of them were finding gaps. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers) pushed across two runs on five hits in their first three trips to the plate. While only one was really well struck, a double by first baseman Walker Berberet, the two runs could have been enough to win on some days. Instead, it was all they would get.

After the delay for the on-field advert, the first hitter was Oliver Zapata. He hit the second pitch into the beer garden down the line in right field. The only other near-damage in the inning was thwarted by a solid catch in center field by Lance Roenicke (son of the Brewers manager). Most of tonight's action was in the bottom of the sixth, where the Timber Rattlers pitching cost them a chance at winning.

Jose Dore (an OF/1B/3B acquired from San Diego in the spring for presumed cash) hit one to the same vicinity that Zapata's went. With the game tied, and the top of the order coming up, the fun was just starting. Gioskar Amaya singled solidly to left, and (barely) reached second on an errant throw by starting pitcher Jorge Lopez. He aggressively took third on a ball in the dirt, also barely avoiding getting thrown out. With the infield in, Albert Almora beat the pulled in ifield with a solidly-hit one hopper that reached center, giving the Cougars the lead, and ending Lopez' night.

Usually, I like watching an outfielder play a double out of the left-field corner, where Dan Vogelbach sent the ball against the next pitcher. Then, I remembered, I won't get to see Albert Almora go first-to-home live many more times. Showing solid speed and awareness, he slid in beating the tag at home, making it 4-2. Jeimer Candelario singled Vogelbach to third, and Rock Shoulders cleared the bases with a double.

A few more thoughts on the game. The run by Wisconsin in the second was on a single to center. The runner on second was off, as he was confident it would fall for a hit, which it did. That said, Almora almost made the play, and almost recovered to throw the runner out at home, despite sprawling to try to make the catch. He has solid instincts. In the seventh, after singling on a knuckle-ball 2B, he tagged and moved up on a fly to deep center field. That one wasn't very close.

After Wisconsin scored in the second, there was a play that was a superfecta of ugly baseball. But it was funny. The runner took off, and had a horrible jump. The hitter swung at a pitch and missed it by as much as possible. The catcher threw a helium balloon to second base, but it arrived in time to retire the baserunner. As the umpire was punching out the baserunner, the runner pointed to the ball sitting near the base, as the infielder dropped the ball. Sad, but funny.

Armando Rivero was better than the Wisconsin hitters today. He struck out four in two innings, featuring a low-90s fastball and a nasty splitter. He also had a decent change, or had two speeds of splitter. After a slow start, and getting called out here for it, he looks to have figured out Low-A. He has been promoted to High-A Daytona.

And, thanks to the Cougars for my Albert Almora travel mug. It would look great with an autograph. Alas, I neglected to bring my Sharpie.

Three Up/Three Down

Three Down

After he dominated the Northwest League early, the loop seems to be catching up with Paul Blackburn. Part of it may be the better hitters advancing from the complex leagues. Whatever the reason, Blackburn has had three straight starts of three innings or less, with ERAs nine or over. He's in his first full year of pro ball, out of high school. Don't worry.

In his nine games with Iowa, Mike Olt has four hits, and two walks. Feel free to use panic medication here, or realize that sometimes, it takes a while to adjust to new co-workers and surroundings.

As the utility infielder in Kane County, 2013 18th-round pick Giuseppe Papaccio is hitting .212 for the Cougars. Over his last ten games, it has dipped to .184, with a .428 OPS. He does, however, have a very cool name.

Three Up

The Dominican Cubs are leading their division with some working margin. I usually highlight a pitcher, for whom I have no realistic scouting report, and today is no different. Born in June 1995, Frailin Figueroa is a 6-2 lefty. He has surrendered only 17 hits in more than 30 innings.

The Venezuelan League Cubs are approaching a post-season spot, and 3B Roney Alcala is a reason why. He has cranked his hitting up recently, beyond his seasonal .349 to a ten game hitting streak, with an OPS of 1.240. While there isn't a definitive translation on those stats to Boise numbers, Alcala turns 20 in February. He has nine homers,

Kyle Hendricks is sounding like he's earned a callup to Triple-A, but how has he done recently? His last 10 outings have been better than his season ERA of 1.85. Since June 8, his ERA is a microscopic 1.48, with 50 hits and 12 walks in 61 innings. While the jury isn't even being created yet (as opposed to the traditional 'jury being out') on his Cubs future, there is no rush. Whether he finishes in Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa, he figures to be improving his craft in Iowa next season. When he's probably ready for Wrigley (in about a year), he'll be there. The fans wanting to rush a pitcher are often the same one that want to dismiss him when he fails to reach their expectations.

With starting pitchers Hendricks and Alberto Cabrera getting moved up, someone needed to take their spots. One ends up being a curious call, and a member of the good half of the list. After being a solid reliever for the Daytona Cubs the last three years, Eduardo Figueroa was having a lousy year in 2013. In 38 innings, he had given up 24 earned runs. As a rain delay pushed a starter out of a game heading to the seventh, Figueroa took over for the seventh a bit over a week ago. He pitched six scoreless that night. The next time around, Figueroa got another start. He went five scoreless that night. He is unscored upon in his last fourteen innings.

Figueroa has been bumped to Double-A Tennessee, in part perhaps because he is a post-season free agent. At 24, I doubt he will earn a 40-man slot, but if the Cubs don't offer him a reason to stay (within five days of the end of the World Series), he could walk to any team he wants, with the Cubs getting no compensation. So, seeing how he does for a month in Double-A is a wise idea, hit or miss.

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