I'm going to try to do a weekly column here on MiLB. I've been following them on BCB for a little over a year now and loving the work Josh and Tim do with that. Part of what I've been doing for about a year now is not only going to the boxscores at each level, but clicking through at least one hitter and one pitcher and trying to look over their profile and learn a little bit about them. I've started tracking my click throughs and what I'm going to do is talk about one hitter and one pitcher at each level.
Now I'm calling this Prospect Watch, but I have to say that just because a guy caught my eye two or three times during the week does not mean they are a Prospect or even that they will some day play at the next level up. I've been doing this trying to teach myself more about who is in the system and what they've done in the past so that maybe I'm a little more familiar with their chances of reaching the next level(s) are.
My final word of background is that I don't watch any MiLB games and I don't listen to them either. I only know what I've been able to learn via boxscores and the various websites out there that I've read things about these guys. So there is no eye or even ear test. With that, here is what I was looking at this week.
Christian Villanueva - 3B - 23 Years Old in June. Christian is as most of you know, one of the players that the Cubs received in the Ryan Dempster trade. Christian is in AAA for the first time. Christian has moved through the minors at a 1 year per level pace and if that continues would potentially arrive in Chicago next year. As those of you who have followed the minor leagues this year have known, Christian has gotten off to a very slow start this year. On the season, he sports a 211/280/356 slash line. Defensively Christian has made 3 errors in 25 games, and has the highest fielding percentage he's had since he was in A+ ball, so he hasn't taken his slow start into the field. Christian finishes the week on a mini-4 game hitting streak, though he's also struck once in each of those 4 games and has actually struck out at least once in 7 straight games and in 9 of his last 10. Hopefully the mini hit streak is a sign that Christian is turning the corner a little and figuring things out. At any rate, barring injury my guess at this point is that Christian is not going to see Wrigley Field action this season.
Eric Jokisch - SP - 25 Years Old in August. Eric is a pitcher the Cubs drafted out of college in 2010(Northwestern). Eric is in his 5th year in the system and he spent parts of 3 of those seasons in AA. He is in AAA for the first time. Eric is off to a decent start this season in AAA with a 3.65 ERA over 6 starts. Eric is averaging over 6 innings per start. Eric did have one awful start this year allowing 7 of the 15 ER (21 R overall) in that one start. To his credit, even in that start Eric went 5 innings. Interestingly, Eric is left handed but has so far this year performed better against right handed hitters than left. Eric's staple is control as he sports an impressive 30/5 K/BB ratio. Eric has been hittable though, with over a hit an inning allowed. Eric is having a decent but not great season. I suspect Eric too will spend all season in Iowa and maybe have an outside chance at replacing Chris Rusin as the shuttle guy next year, coming up for a spot start or long relief appearance.
Rafael Lopez - C - 26 Years Old (turns 27 after the season). Rafeal is a catcher the Cubs drafted out of college in 2011 (Florida State). Rafael is in his 4th year in the system and this is his second time through AA. Rafael appears to have maybe figured things out in the off season if the first month plus of the season is to be believed. Rafael has a 310/456/521 line to start the season in 24 games. Also impressive, Rafael sports a 52% CS ratio so far. Rafael caught my eye this week, because he's been even hotter than he's been overall with a line of 400/538/633. One other great stat to see in the early going for Rafael is that he has drawn 19 BB on the season and only has 13 K. So he appears to have a pretty good command over the strike zone. Rafael has shown an ability to take a walk at every level so far. I'd like to see Rafael continue his great start to the season for a little while in TN, but if he does keep it up, he's a player who I hope will see some time in AAA before season's end. Rafael is obviously starting to get older to still be in the minors, but maybe the light is going on and he can at least be a backup catcher in the bigs for a few seasons.
Corey Black - P - 23 Years Old in August. Corey was drafted out of college (Faulkner) in the 4th round by the Yankees in 2012. He of course came to the Cubs in the Soriano trade last year. Corey is in AA for the first time this year. Corey moved quickly through the Yankees system as a college graduate, pitching in Rookie, A- and A in '12 and then moving on to A+ in '13. Corey has made 6 appearances and 5 starts this year and has a 3.54 ERA. In Corey's 5 starts, he averages just over 5 innings per start. Corey has been very difficult to hit, allowing only 14 hits across 28 innings of work. He also has 25 K, so he definitely induces a lot of swing and miss. Corey's biggest problem so far is that he's also walked 18 so far. Corey will definitely need to work on his control during his stay in TN. That could be especially important, because the knock on Corey has been that he's got a small frame (5'11" and 175 listing). High pitch counts could derail Corey's ability to be an effective starting pitcher. I'd expect that Corey will spend the whole season in AA, but he does look to be on track to see AAA next year and if all goes well Corey could be a part of the big league team in '16.
Jeimer Candelario - 3B - 20 Years Old (21 after the season). Jeimer was an IFA of the Cubs in September of '10. Jeimer in his 4th year in the system has moved at a one year per level pace. Jeimer is another 3B prospect who's had a rough start to the season. Through his first 25 games at Daytona Jeimer has a slash line of 212/343/400. Jeimer has also made 9 errors already, compounding the difficult start at the plate. One positive for Jeimer has been his ability to take a walk. Jeimer has 16 walks, which has propped up his OPS during the rough start and he has only struck out 19 times in comparison. Jeimer caught my eye with 2 multi hit games this week and has hit safely in 4 of his last 5 games. Over his last 10 games, Jeimer has a 242/405/545 line with 2 HR, 9 BB and only 5 K. Hopefully Jeimer is getting his feet on the ground in A+ and continue his progression through the system.
Felix Pena - P - 24 Years Old (birthday was preseason). Felix started in the Cubs system back in '09. Since graduating from 2 seasons in the Domincan Summer League, Felix has moved through the system at one level per year. Felix is off to a great start to the season with a 1.29 ERA over his first 6 starts. Felix has averaged just under 6 innings per start. Felix has only allowed 20 hits in his 36 innings and only one of those hits left the yard. Felix has not yet shown much ability to strike out hitters with only 21 strike outs. He has only walked 12, so control has not been a problem. Felix will rely on his defense as he progresses through the system. Obviously, it's unlikely that Pena will be able to continue his very hot start to the season, but further I suspect he may have trouble as he moves further up in the system. I believe Felix' strike outs per nine innings is too low and has been decreasing as competition levels increase. I suspect that ultimately that will slow his ascension through the system.
Danny Lockhart - IF - 21 Years Old (Post Season birthday). Danny was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round of the '11 draft out of HS. Danny's dad is a scout in the Cubs system. Danny has played 2B, SS and 3B in the system, though only 2B and SS so far this year. ignoring a very brief appearance in rookie ball, Danny has moved through the system at one year per level, starting with a longer look at rookie ball in '12. Danny is off to a decent start at the plate with a 262/328/299 start to the season. Danny has made just 3 errors in 27 games at 2B and hasn't made an error yet at SS with limited action across 3 games there. Danny catches my eye with a hot streak that includes a 4 hit game on Sunday. Across his last 10 games, Danny has hit 343/410/429. Danny has only 3 SB on the season and so he doesn't really provide either power or speed. Danny will have to continue his good glove work and also his command of the strike zone (11 BB and 6K) if he's going to continue to progress through the system. Danny looks like a guy who has some chance of carving out a niche as a utility guy, though I'm just not sure he'll hit enough to reach the majors. But Danny is the type of guy I root for. I never wanted to stop playing and so I hope Danny's able to play on for several more years across the minors and maybe see the big leagues for his troubles.
Paul Blackburn - SP - 20 Years Old (Post Season birthday). As most of you will know, Paul was a supplemental first round pick of the Cubs in '12 out of high school, one of the first draft picks of the current front office. Paul made a few appearances in the rooking league that first year and is now in Kane County after spending all of last season in Boise. Paul has a 3.16 ERA over his first 6 starts and 31.1 innings of A ball. Just over 5 innings per appearance. Paul had a rough first start in which he allowed 4 of the 11 runs he's allowed this season. Since that game, Paul has lasted at least 5 innings in every start. Paul has 23 K so far against 6 BB, so control has not been an issue. Paul also hasn't developed much in the way of striking hitters out, though at 6.6K/9 Paul would be okay if that stat doesn't continue to drop as he moves through the levels. Paul has allowed just 2 HR on the season. Paul has pitched well enough that if he continues on a similar pace throughout the season, I'd expect to see him start next season in Daytona and continue on his upward trajectory.