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Cubs minor leagues: Three up, three down and hard schedules

A look at who’s hot and who’s not in the Cubs farm system over the last week.

Delvin Zinn
Delvin Zinn playing for South Bend in 2019
Rikk Carlson

I’ve popped in very briefly recently on Fredricksburg Nationals and Kannapolis Cannonballers games. They are two of the teams that, in the new MiLB arrangement, have gotten off to horrible starts. As much as anyone wants to deny it, pitchers who are more polished, precise, and experienced tend to pitch better at any specific level than those without control or command. If a team loads up against teams with weaker talent, their statistics are generally going to be reflective of said lack of quality opposition. Per the Myrtle Beach Pelicans schedule, they’re scheduled to play neither the Cannonballers nor the Nationals this season. That’s likely a blessing in disguise.

It might be fun to have the statistics for the Pelicans get a boost from opposing an outclassed team. 16-2 wins tend to boost OPS numbers. However, I’d prefer the regulars to have many more at-bats against quality foes than charity cases. For sure, not all the pitchers on those teams are thoroughly outclassed, but some are. Ed Howard, Yeison Santana, and others have generally struggled against near-elite pitchers from Power Four college conferences. They’ve had some success against weaker foes. I’d prefer the competition stay as stiff as possible. Yeah, it’s frustrating to watch numbers languish, but hitting weaker pitching isn’t likely to help much.

Three up

1) Sergio Alcantara was an off-season addition by the Cubs off waivers from the Tigers, and is playing his first season of Triple-A Ball. I was somewhat ignoring Alcantara early, as I had been led to believe his bat wasn’t of value. As the third of 20 weeks of the minor-league season concludes, Alcantara has not only hit, but taken well to the lead-off spot. Through 16 games, he has 14 walks. He’s homered twice and has an OPS of .948. If “things” happen, Alcantara or catcher Taylor Gushue (OPS .915) could be usable at the top level. Patrick Wisdom had grand slams in successive games.

2) Years ago, my de facto way of describing player development was that a celestial game master would roll a twenty-sided die for each player in all the systems once a year to determine how much better (or worse, or injured) they are for that season. I’ve since realized the absurdity of that foolish idea. The dice rolls occur far more frequently than once per season.

A 20th Round pick in 2019, Darius Hill was an outfielder at West Virginia. His draft year OPS in the Big Twelve was .897. Nice enough, though for a senior, slipping to Round 20 seemed believable. As a first year pro, his average in Eugene was .306, but his OPS was only .708 over nearly 100 Northwest League plate appearances.

It was rather easy to be dismissive of Hill. Negligible power, leads to a guy getting at-bats he probably doesn’t seem to deserve. Because those of us who follow prospects have blinders on, as well. In the Pelicans’ first series, Hill (OPS of .844 over seven games for Myrtle Beach) was the best hitter on the team. Bumped two levels to Tennessee, his early results are surprisingly good for a guy who gave no reason to expect anything close to this. Hit in Double-A and you become a valid prospect. If he keeps this up, I’d be glad to admit underrating Hill terribly. His OPS in “the men’s league” is “only” .725, but that’s rather good in Double-A for someone considered an afterthought three weeks ago in Myrtle Beach.

3) Delvin Zinn is that guy who’s always been in the background. Drafted twice by the Cubs, they signed him the second time around in 2016. He’s always gotten good marks defensively, and he’s gotten positives for his positive outlook on things. The bat has trailed the glove through the years. This season, South Bend’s offense has run in place a bit, due to injuries, but Zinn has been far better than expected.

Two injuries to shortstops have put him there, and he’s responded. Not only has his defense remained stout, he’s 13 out of 13 stealing bases. His offense still isn’t Double-A ready, but he’ll stay in the mix for five starts a week, With the extra swings, he might figure it out.

4) I’m cheating this week by posting a fourth “up.” The Iowa Cubs bullpen has usually been amazing. One of the guys I wasn’t especially intrigued by at the start was Jake Jewell. An off-season minor-league addition, Jewell’s MLB numbers are ugly. He ranked well behind a handful of other relievers in Iowa on my interest meter.

A funny thing with Iowa is that I often hear their late-inning matchups more than other affiliates. Since the other games are often Eastern time starts, Iowa is my destination as the other games close. When Jewell, Adam Morgan, or Ryan Meisinger enter, I’m tuned in. When Jake Jewell tosses 95, and backs it up with a swing-and-miss change two pitches later, that’s more data to sort.

Is Jewell worth an MLB look? Not sure. However, if he gets a look later and performs well, he has 151 days of MLB experience. That could be a nice 28:1 pony crossing for a win.

Three down

1) Injuries are always a concern of mine, and this year no less. With Jason Adam injured with a rather serious ankle injury, a curious “Tom Ricketts is cheap” argument looms. It’s almost certain that Adam will be out for two months. As soon as the Cubs add a player from off the 40, they will need to make a roster move to create a spot (barring anything unforeseen). One way to create a 40-man spot would be to add Adam and incur the added cost of another player on said roster. Then, as the new player would take an “otherwise unavailable” spot, Adam could be bumped to the 60-day injured list.

Adam would make MLB money instead of Triple-A money, but by making that shift, the Cubs could incur a charge instead of losing a player. It isn’t my money, or my decision to make, but if Ricketts were to okay paying Adam MLB fees during his injury, it would be a very slight step in a positive direction, a direction of prioritizing talent over retained wealth.

2) With the Triple-A rotation in flux off of a potential injury to Joe Biagini on Saturday, who gets his rotation spot becomes a valid question. The I-Cubs have been more bullpen than rotation so far. Biagini, Cory Abbott, Kohl Stewart, Shelby Miller, Ben Holmes, and Alec Mills (the latter on rehab assignment) have started for Iowa. The most logical callup from Tennessee is Matt Swarmer, who has an ERA through four starts of 2.65, though at the moment Double-A players aren’t eligible for callup due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, South Bend doesn’t have anyone seemingly ready for Tennessee, yet. I loathe injuries.

3) Apparently, the placed runner was retired on a pickoff, or something. I don’t have a third complaint, so far. Which reminds me: In a Smokies game, the placed runner in the tenth inning made the last out in the 10th inning, and became the placed runner in the eleventh. I’m still not sure if that was the proper ruling.

Cubs pipeline games resume on Tuesday.