What a week. Jason Heyward hits a walkoff grand slam. South Bend tosses a combined no-hitter. The four full-season affiliates swept to wins. Some good things happened with the Dominican affiliates. Another successful draft has been completed. And I fell asleep early. This column is about me unpacking from the draft and where the affiliates are now.
Tennessee has been “a bit over .500” much of the season. Much of their success has been pitching-based. Trevor Clifton pushed for an early-June promotion to Triple-A Iowa. Clifton, Duncan Robinson, Tom Hatch, Oscar De La Cruz, and Michael Rucker have combined to start all but one of their games. All have represented at the level. As with the other levels, the bullpen has been somewhat deep.
Myrtle Beach started the season quite slowly. Their pitching was usually acceptable, but the offense was very optional. The pitching has been sensational recently, as the team has rattled off 11 of 13 wins to get in the division discussion for the first-half crown. It’s unlikely they complete the reversal-of-fortune, but the pitching development is what matters.
The Pelicans have sent Matt Swarmer on to Double-A, which he seems ready for this time. The other principle starters have been Keegan Thompson, Tyson Miller, Brian Hudson, and Jose Paulino. Paulino and Hudson have struggled some, though Hudson has begun to right himself. Bailey Clark has the other two starts, and has done well.
Cory Abbott will take Swarmer’s spot. As with Tennessee, the bullpen has been an ensemble cast, more than a one- or two-man show. Most starting pitchers, most nights, in the pipeline, are worth tracking. When someone misfires too often, someone worthy takes their spot.
In South Bend, Javier Assad, Brendan Little, Rollie Lacy (who pitched the first seven innings of the no-hitter Wednesday night), Erich Uelmen, and Tyler Thomas continue the “pitching depth” theme in the Midwest League. Jesus Camargo looks to be the added starter in the six-man rotation.
Brian Glowicki, Enrique De Los Rios, Garrett Kelly, Jeff Passantonio, and others figure to keep the bullpen useful. You’d have to convince me the Cubs have ever had this much pitching depth in their pipeline.
Which leads to my look at the draft. I was a somewhat outspoken proponent of the Cubs adding more offense to the pipeline. With four of the first five choices being hitters, I was very satisfied. Eventually, the numbers evened out. Fans of the pipeline will have about 30 names to get used to. Quite a few of them might be initially spotted at locations that they ought to be able to find initial success.
For instance, in the fifth round, they added Virginia second baseman Andy Weber (pictured at the top of this post). Selected that early, and from a baseball school like Virginia, Weber is a logical to start in Eugene. He should be way too good for the Arizona League, so pencil him in as a fire-starter for the Emeralds.
Later, the Cubs added second baseman Clayton Daniel (Round 31) from Jacksonville State in Alabama. Daniel had an OPS of .840 (keyed by 22 doubles) in the Ohio Valley Conference for the Gamecocks. He walked 28 times, and struck out only ten times in approaching 300 plate trips.
With Weber in Eugene, Daniel projects to get regular at-bats for one of the Mesa squads. The Mesa teams will regularly face pitchers deemed not ready to venture off of the compound. Whether that means international arms adjusting to the states, four year senior arms being given a few innings before being shut down, or recent high school graduates, I’d bet on Daniel in many of those opportunities.
When it comes to recently drafted players, think of a stone path along a river. You can see the path, and it’s a bit straight-forward. You take the step in front of you, then the one after that, until finished. When assessing prospects, the question tends to be “when will we get to the last stone in the path?” Worry about the first step, then the one after. The Cubs have a few bats that look to be ready for their next step.
The Cubs drafted center fielders. This should be about as surprising as that Wednesday follows Tuesday. That isn’t a condemnation of Albert Almora or Ian Happ. The Cubs draft center fielders more than right fielders, and largely ignore left fielders. Because that’s how they draft. They will do the same, next year.
The Cubs drafted five center fielders, and six outfielders with no position specified. While other teams want to draft sluggers, the Cubs will mind the gloves. They have since 2012, and figure to well into the future. Which decreases the likelihood of one- or two-tool offensive threats, but helps the pitching.
Preps Brennen Davis (Round 2) and Cole Roederer (Round 2a) figure to be among the main beneficiaries of adding another Arizona League team. They figure to start five or six games a week without taking key at-bats from other players. Duke Blue Devil Jimmy Herron will miss time for Tommy John surgery sooner or later. I’m not in the timeline loop.
DJ Artis from Liberty University should be the principle center fielder in Eugene, and figures to be the “one” of the Artis/Weber one-two. This could be fun. Artis walks like rabbits chew on green stuff for nourishment.
Puerto Rican pick Ezequiel Pagan (Round 13) begins his learning experience in Mesa, getting the level of at-bats he earns. St. John’s center fielder Jamie Galazin ( Round 22) will fit in somewhere, as will Seatlle University center fielder Dalton Hurd (Round 25), who I have no awareness of. Drew Wharton (Clemson/Round 30) and Chipola College’s Edmond Americaan (Round 35, who I saw on my computer a bit before the Division One season began) will get some chances in Mesa, as well, if he signs. Wharton’s pedigree might get him to Eugene, though.
As for the shortstops, the principle ones appear to be Nico Hoerner (Round 1/Stanford) and Levi Jordan (Round 29/University of Washington). Hoerner starts in Eugene, likely. Put him third after Artis and Weber, and Northwest League pitching staffs should be on notice from the start.
Which indicates Jordan might get to bash pitchers in Mesa. Which might make sense about as long as Hoerner stays in Eugene. By the way, the Emeralds were already set up the middle with Luis Vazquez, Luis Verdugo, and Christopher Morel. Hoerner and the rest weren’t filling vacancies up the middle. They strengthened already existing depth.
Third baseman Luke Reynolds from Southern Mississippi had as good of an offensive season in Conference USA as possible. He hit 15 homers, and his OPS approached 1.300. Plug him in behind Hoerner in Eugene, and a few pitchers may be best off bringing their A-Game. I think his bat might already be better than Austin Filiere’s.
The Cubs even selected a first baseman. The move somewhat shocked me. However, Tyler Durna from UC San Diego vacuums at first in a fashion similar to Anthony Rizzo in Chicago. He prevents hits and errors with similar style, and will help defensively wherever he begins.
The Cubs selected a college catcher from South Carolina, who is a regular in the college post-season. Without even looking, Hunter Taylor (Round 23) from the SEC’s Gamecocks will be solid defensively. The Cubs have been known to teach catchers how to hit better. Taylor Davis, Ian Rice, and others are precedent.
Which leads to the pitching. Ethan Roberts is torn between a starter and reliever, which seems to be a theme. The same applies for Riley Thompson (Louisville/Round 11), Cam Sanders (Round 12/Louisiana State), Riley McCauley (Michigan State/Round 14), and a few others.
However, the Cubs are starting to prove they can locate pitchers who can move up the ladder as starters. Paul Richan (San Diego/Round 2c), Derek Casey (Virginia/Round 9), and a handful of others will be contending for innings in a few weeks in short-season ball. and next April in Mesa.
Keep your eyes on the stone in front of you.
For those of us who scheme about the future, the draft is a dreamland. Players that nobody else will have claim over for at least three seasons are what makes the days sunnier. Pitchers with two or two-and-a-half offerings have another affiliate to work on their tertiary offerings with limited repercussions. Mystery draft choices like Pagan will get to see how ready they are.
While the majority will clamor for instant results, a multi-tiered pipeline is about constant improvement, and competition at every step. For too many years, too many spots on the field at too many levels seemed a bit uncultivated. With the conclusion of the draft in 2018, every spot on the diamond in the pipeline appears upgraded.
On the same night a ninth-inning grand slam by Jason Heyward put a monstrous-sized lump in the collective throats of the Milwaukee Brewers. The same night South Bend pitched a combined no-hitter. The same night the four full-season affiliates won their games. Even the Dominican sides, who both lost, had very good up-front pitching.
On July 2, the Cubs resume adding international talent, this time freed from restrictive individual-player spending limits. Things are going well in the Cubs universe, even though I missed much of the action last night. I had a very peaceful sleep. And the good things figure to continue.