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Cubs Prospects: Three up, three down

Time to take a quick look at some minor leaguers who have impressed and some that haven’t as we’re about one-third of the way through the minor league season.

Aramis Ademan
Aramis Ademan
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

The minor leagues are about one-third of the way through the season already, so it’s a good time to take a look at some prospects who have done well so far and some that need to pick up their game.

These six players aren’t necessarily the ones that have increased or hurt their stock the most. I’d argue that despite his injury, Nico Hoerner has helped himself more than anyone. But most of you probably know that already. So here are some that you might have missed.

Three Up

  1. Myrtle Beach Pelicans shortstop Aramis Ademan

You probably know Ademan’s story coming into this season. He was arguably the Cubs top prospect after the 2017 season and was aggressively promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach to start the season. Ademan struggled pretty much all season in 2018. While he was aggressively promoted and was very young for the level, it was concerning how poorly he played and especially how he got progressively worse as the season went on.

This year has been much better for Ademan. Although he’s only hitting .244, Ademan has a .375 OBP thanks to 23 walks. He’s also hit three triples and three home runs already in 2018. Both numbers are equal to the number he hit all of last season in those two categories. Ademan also has four doubles for a .403 slugging percentage. While it’s just my impression, he looks more confident on defense this year too.

Ademan still isn’t back to where he was after the 2017 season, but at least he looks back on track for a major league future.

2. Tennessee Smokies right-handed pitcher Tyson Miller

Miller got a little roughed up on Thursday night, but his first eight starts of the year were terrific as he gave up two or fewer runs in all of them. Miller has taken a big step forward in control as he’s only walked ten batters over 50 23 innings this year. Even if you want to attribute the .199 batting average against him to an unsustainably-low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), the improved control indicated that at least some of his career-low 2.13 ERA is real. He’s also cut his home run ratio significantly, despite moving from pitching-friendly Myrtle Beach to hitter-friendly Smokies Park.

3. South Bend Cubs outfielder Nelson Velazquez

Velazquez was in a similar boat to Ademan. He was considered a top ten Cubs prospect after being drafted in the fifth round in 2017 and hitting eight home runs in 32 games in rookie ball. But then he got a chance to go to South Bend in May of 2018 and he was just overmatched in all areas of the game. Velazquez was much better after a mid-season demotion to Eugene, but he had to prove that he could master the Midwest League in 2019.

So far, he’s doing pretty well, hitting .293 with 11 doubles in 40 games. He only has one triple and one home run, but South Bend as a team only has 15 home runs. Something seems to be going on at Four Winds Field. He’s also playing a lot of center field in South Bend and he doesn’t look bad there at all.

The one concerning part is that he strikes out too much, but his K% is actually down slightly from last year.

Three Down

  1. Myrtle Beach Pelicans right-hander Alex Lange

It’s hard to sugarcoat how bad Lange’s 2019 season has been so far. Despite repeating High-A (even though he didn’t pitch poorly last year), Lange has gotten hammered repeatedly for the Pelicans. In only one of his eight starts has he allowed fewer than three runs. His record on the season is 1-7 with a 9.71 ERA. His walk numbers have doubled.

When the Cubs drafted Lange in the first round in 2017, some scouts thought that Lange was destined for the bullpen. While I don’t think it’s time to move Lange to the pen just yet, we may be moving in that direction sooner than we had hoped.

2. Tennessee Smokies left-hander Justin Steele

I hate to be critical of Steele because he’s still less than a year away from returning from Tommy John surgery. So these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, they’re bad numbers after he put up some good numbers in the second half last year when he first returned.

Steele has an 0-4 record with a 9.33 ERA over six starts. He’s only managed 18⅓ innings in those six starts. I’d be more willing to chalk that up to the Cubs limiting his innings after surgery if he hadn’t been regularly going five and six innings at the end of last season. Steele has shown some control issues with nine walks in those 18⅓ innings. At least he’s struck out 18.

3. Iowa Cubs infielder Trent Giambrone

The Cubs took a fairly anodyne minor league infielder named David Bote and turned him into a solid major leaguer with some adjustments to his swing. After their program succeeded once, it was natural to assume they could do it again and they tried to make similar adjustments with Giambrone. Last year, it looked like it worked and Giambrone made several top 20 prospect lists this past winter.

Unfortunately, Giambrone has struggled in Triple-A. Sure, he has seven home runs in just 150 at-bats already, but home runs have been pretty cheap in the Pacific Coast League this year for reasons that have been discussed ad nauseam. But Giambrone’s walks are down and his strikeouts are way up. He’s hitting just .220 with a .295 on-base percentage. At least he has six steals in seven attempts.