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Cubs minor league stock watch

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Who’s up and who’s down at Memorial Day?

Adbert Alzolay
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

It seems unbelievable that we’ve gotten past Memorial Day already. By this point, the minor leagues have about 50 games under their belts and the “small-sample size” problem is starting to fade away. So I decided to do a “stock watch” update on the prospects in the minors. No player has completely changed his value in just 50 games, but by this point we can seen some trends emerge. Some players look like they’ve taken steps that will lead to a major league future while others seem lost.

What I’ve done here is to find one player on each minor league affiliate whose value is up and one whose value is down. No one’s future is carved in stone: These players still could slide back or step up to their previously established levels before the end of the year. But in each case, a trend is starting to emerge.

Iowa Cubs

Stock UP: Victor Caratini. Ian Happ’s stock is clearly up even more, but since he’s in Chicago, the honor goes to Caratini, who is tearing the cover off the ball in Iowa to a tune of .342/.384/.513 in 158 at-bats. Caratini’s putting the ball in play more this season, both his walks and strikeouts are down slightly, but the biggest thing is that he’s experienced a big power surge. He spent a lot of time this offseason working on pulling the ball more and it appears he’s much better at driving the ball for power.

Caratini still needs to work on his defense and opposing teams know that they can run on him. But a bat like that will find a place in the majors.

Stock DOWN: Jack Leathersich. The Cubs claimed Leathersich off of waivers in 2015 as he was coming off Tommy John surgery. His big curve and low-90s fastball with good movement has always gotten a lot of strikeouts, which is why the Cubs liked him. But his control this season has gone from bad to worse, walking 13 batters and hitting two more in 11⅔ innings. His ERA stands at 9.26, despite 16 strikeouts. The Cubs had hoped Leathersich would compete for a job as a lefty out of the pen. Instead, Brian Duensing seems to have locked down that spot and Leathersich is struggling to stay on the 40-man roster.

Tennessee Smokies

Stock UP: Jen-Ho Tseng. The changeup specialist Tseng is repeating Double-A, so there is a need to temper any excitement over his strong start to the season. But Tseng’s strikeouts are up and his walks are down and that is going to be a positive sign for any pitcher. Plus, the Taiwanese right-hander is still only 22, so he’s still young. The Cubs have him starting in Tennessee, but I suspect his future probably lies in the bullpen, which could lead to an even greater increase in strikeouts.

Trevor Clifton and Zach Hedges are also having strong seasons out of the Smokies rotation, but we expected that out of them. But the five-man rotation in Tennessee are all doing reasonably well, which is why they’re in first place.

Stock DOWN: Jacob Hannemann. It’s time to stop making excuses for Hannemann and accept that he’s a 26-year-old outfielder who is repeating Double-A and is striking out more than a third of the time he comes to the plate. He’s also hitting under the Mendoza line. On top of that, he only has one home run in 104 at-bats. He’s certainly a terrific athlete and an asset on defense, but I see little evidence that he’ll ever be able to hit major league pitching.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Stock UP: Adbert Alzolay. The hard-throwing, 22-year-old Venezuelan right-hander is having a breakout season in High-A with a 2.72 ERA in 10 starts. His peripheral stats are only up slightly and despite a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, Alzolay is “only” striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings. (That’s still a good number, but below what you’d expect to see out of someone with Alzolay’s fastball.) But Alzolay seems to have matured on the mound this year. Mound presence isn’t something to easily quantify, but Alzolay has worked on being more aggressive and that seems to have paid off. He’s also worked with mental skills coordinator Darnell McDonald and that seems to have worked out well too. As that article says, he’s found that mediation helps him. Combine that with an uptick in velocity and Alzolay has gone from an afterthought to a real prospect.

Stock DOWN: Eddy Martinez. Yes, Martinez was hyped beyond all reason before signing with the Giants Cubs, but I think we would be justified in expecting more than a .218/.271/.316 line in High-A out of Martinez. The five home runs are nice, but he’s only hit two doubles this season so he’s not exactly driving the ball with regularity. Martinez is still just 22 and has time to turn it around, but other teams are not going to be lining up to ask for Martinez at the trade deadline.

South Bend Cubs

Stock UP: Zack Short. Before this season, Short was one of those speedy-little-infielders-who-can-run-types that are pretty much a dime a dozen in the low minors. But Short has broken out as a real power hitter in South Bend and he’s tied for the team lead in home runs with five. He’s always been able to draw a walk, so adding power to his considerable on-base and speed skills could be the difference between him having a career bouncing between the majors and Triple-A and one where he’s a major league regular. So far this season, Short leads to Cubs in OPS with a .266/.429/.462 line. He even has 12 steals in 16 attempts to go with that.

I don’t know whether the computer “video-game” program that the Cubs have their players use is what has made the difference, but Short himself certainly believes it has helped him.

Stock DOWN: D.J. Wilson. In many ways, Wilson’s story is the same as Hannemann’s: a terrific athlete and defender in center field struggles to hit. But in Wilson’s case, he’s still only 20 so he has plenty of time to turn it around yet.

Wilson struggled badly to start 2016 as well and eventually made some adjustments that led to a terrific second half and some Cubs Top Ten prospects lists. But so far, he’s failed to build on that progress and his only hitting .206/.286/.357. He’s also striking out in over one-third of his plate appearances. He’s also currently on the disabled list.