Here’s an odd midseason note: The Cubs have 70 games remaining. There are four NL teams they have not played at all: Giants, Marlins, Phillies and Nationals. Of those 70 games, 25 will be against those four teams, and another 12 will be against the Reds — that’s more than half of the remaining schedule against just five teams.
Get used to seeing those clubs as we’ll see a lot of them starting Friday, when the Cubs open a series against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Also, the Cubs won’t play the Brewers or Cardinals — at all — after the last week of August.
Now, on to my grades for Cubs players for the first half. Warning: A lot of this won’t be pretty. And I’ve written more than 3,000 words here. Thanks for your patience.
Willson Contreras: A
Willson did everything he was asked and is having the best year of his career, despite yet another one of those nagging hamstring injuries. His overall numbers are good (.821 OPS) despite a horrendous July so far (4-for-44, 17 strikeouts).
Will he be a Cub two weeks from now? Most say no, but... I’d say Jed Hoyer needs to be overwhelmed with an offer before dealing the best catcher in the league, and he certainly can be part of that “Next Great Cubs Team” if they extend him.
Fun fact: Of Willson’s 13 home runs this year, seven have been hit in the first inning and none after the fifth.
Alfonso Rivas: C+
He got off to a horrific start and was sent to Triple-A Iowa, recalled when Frank Schwindel went on the injured list. Since that recall he’s been hitting better: .294/.338/.353 but that SLG isn’t really going to play at first base for the long term.
He does play good defense, though, which Schwindel doesn’t.
Nico Hoerner: A-
Many questioned whether Nico could handle shortstop on an everyday basis in the big leagues. He’s silenced most of the doubters.
As was the case last year, he missed time with an injury, this one a freak, when he collided with umpire Dan Iassogna in San Diego [VIDEO].
In 48 games since returning from that injury: .326/.370/.438 (58-for-178) with seven doubles, two triples and three home runs. That’ll play, if he can keep it up.
Patrick Wisdom: B-
I struggled with this grade. You might find it too high, and maybe it is, a bit. Wisdom, who was very good defensively in 2021, has regressed this year. But one thing he has done well: Cut down on the strikeouts.
April/May: 68 strikeouts in 180 PA (37.8 percent)
June/July: 56 strikeouts in 179 PA (31.2 percent)
He’s still leading MLB in total strikeouts, but if he can solidify that defense, keep hitting home runs, post about an .800 OPS (currently .757), keep the K rate to around 30 percent (it was over 40 percent last year) and hit home runs, that’s a useful MLB player. Mark Reynolds might be a good comp, and Reynolds hit 298 MLB homers in a 13-year career.
And some Wisdom home runs go a long, long way [VIDEO].
That one, as we noted here earlier this month, went around 440 feet (not the 401 feet Statcast claimed).
Ian Happ: A
Happ made the All-Star team for the first time, seems to have finally found a home in left field, and has been consistently good all year. Like Wisdom, he can be a part of that “Next Great Cubs Team” if he keeps producing like this. He turns 28 next month. It’s possible he might be traded, but I think the Cubs should keep him.
Christopher Morel: A
An absolute breath of fresh air on a team that needed one. Squint and you can see some of the young Javy Báez in Morel, who will take chances he probably shouldn’t and then seems to learn from them. Could he use more minor-league time? Maybe, but why bother in a lost season? Just let him play in the major leagues. He’s a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
Let’s re-watch the home run he hit in his first MLB at-bat May 17 [VIDEO].
Now is when I remind you that Morel has hit for an .814 OPS with 23 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, in only nine weeks in the major leagues.
Seiya Suzuki: B-
He started out hot and was named NL Player of the Week in the second week of the season. After the Cubs’ 21-0 win over the Pirates April 23, he was hitting .372/.517/.721 (16-for-43) with four home runs.
Of course, no one can keep up a pace like that, but Suzuki’s next month was bad: .188/.248/.302 (18-for-96) with 34 strikeouts. Then he got hurt and missed five weeks.
He returned and has been hot again, batting .356/.396/.511 (16-for-45) with two home runs since July 4, which gives hope for the future.
And it’s always fun to check out his inside-the-park homer in Milwaukee [VIDEO].
Rafael Ortega: B-
He still can’t hit lefthanders at all (and basically doesn’t bat against them, just 19 PA this year), but since May 26: .263/.351/.412 (30-for-114) with six doubles, a triple, three home runs, four SB. That’s decent enough for a platoon outfielder.
He appears awkward at times in center field (including that awful dropped fly ball Saturday), but that bat is still useful against righthanded pitching. In fact, if the Cubs could get a decent prospect for him, they should trade him at the deadline — he’s 31 and not likely to be worth keeping around after this year.
I looked around for video of that dropped fly ball and didn’t find it, but while I was searching Twitter, this came up, which I found mildly amusing (check out the date):
Well, all of the drama is out of this one. NOLA LF Rafael Ortega loses a fly ball off the bat of Frank Schwindel. It drops for a double, ending Meyer's perfect game in the fifth. He retired 13 straight.— Tony Boone (@TonyGBoone) May 6, 2018
Yan Gomes: D+
I thought he’d be better than this, but with Willson Contreras serving as DH much of the time, Gomes has already started 33 games behind the plate and if Contreras is traded, he’ll be the main guy the rest of the year.
He’s still throwing out baserunners (7 of 23, 30 percent) but since June 14, his bat has been absent: .171/.188/.207 (14-for-82).
He’s under contract through 2023.
P.J. Higgins: C
There have been only four players in MLB history who have gone by the initials “P.J.” The other three combined to play in 55 MLB games. Higgins, who has now played in 42 MLB games, should surpass that total later this year.
Nelson Velázquez: Incomplete
I like this guy and have since I saw him tear up the Arizona Fall League last year, where he was named MVP. He still strikes out too much, but has prodigious power and a strong throwing arm and I’d like to see him get some more playing time after the inevitable selloff.
He showed off that arm Sunday and that’s worth another look [VIDEO].
David Bote: Incomplete
Another guy who missed a ton of time with an injury. Really, he probably should have just had the surgery on his shoulder last fall and been ready for Spring Training.
But he didn’t, and wasn’t.
He’s miscast as a first baseman; he could probably do it, but could have used a full spring camp to practice there.
The bat has come around, a bit, in a small sample size, and perhaps he’ll get more playing time in the second half.
Nick Madrigal: Incomplete
I have to keep reminding myself that this guy was a first-round draft pick (fourth overall in 2018). Other players picked after Madrigal in that round: Jonathan India, Nolan Gorman, Nico Hoerner and Shane McClanahan.
He just hasn’t stayed healthy, and his K rate is nearly double what it was last year with the White Sox (17 strikeouts in 215 PA with the Sox in 2021, 17 strikeouts in 115 PA this year with the Cubs). He’s got to hit to have value, he almost never walks and has no power.
I suppose this is likely another lost year for him. He is still just 25.
Jason Heyward: D-
Thanks for the memories.
Frank Schwindel: D+
Frank is a real likable guy and you can’t help but root for someone who was an 18th-round draft pick who hung around as long as he did to finally make the big leagues.
But his offense has suffered this year, not even close to what he hit in his two months’ worth of fine play in 2021, and defensively at first base he’s just bad. His defensive log shows no errors in 2022, but there have been several plays where a throw from another infielder was botched by Schwindel. This clearly shows the need for a good defender at first base.
I suspect the Cubs will bid farewell to Frank the Tank after this year. He was a fun story while the team was bad, but I don’t see him as part of a winning Cubs future. He’d probably do well in Japan, make good money and be a fan favorite. That’s what I would recommend for him.
He does give great faces, though.
Andrelton Simmons: D-
Simmons had a shoulder injury when he reported to spring camp. He was on a rehab assignment when suddenly he was back with the Cubs, and the shoulder has never seemed to be healthy all year — you can tell when he throws, and you can tell when he’s at bat. I was about to say “when he hits,” but this man cannot hit. Period. And now he’s back on the injured list with what’s likely an aggravation of the same shoulder issue.
This was a complete waste of $4 million, Jed Hoyer.
Keegan Thompson: B+
This might have been an A- except for the clunker he threw last Thursday against the Mets, where he just didn’t have command and walked pretty much everyone in sight — when he wasn’t getting hit hard.
Hopefully that’s a one-off; overall his numbers are solid (3.43 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 1.6 bWAR). He’s the Cubs’ No. 1 starter at the moment. That’s kinda scary, but Thompson might have the stuff to do it. Here’s hoping for a big second half, which will begin for Thompson next Monday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Justin Steele: B-
After a few rough outings early on, Steele has been very good recently. I hope he keeps up the good work in the second half. Especially good was his most recent start, in which he struggled for a couple of innings, then made adjustments and finished six competent innings against the Orioles. He will open the second half for the Cubs as the starter Friday in Philadelphia.
Drew Smyly: C
Smyly is basically having the same year he had in Atlanta in 2021, where he was a useful spare part pitcher for the World Series champions.
They could do worse than trading for him. I expect someone will before the deadline. This tweet, which I posted the other day, seems cogent:
Great work by Drew Smyly. Scouts surely saw what they were hoping for with that one.— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) July 17, 2022
Capable enough back-end starter, and you could see how his velocity can easily go up a notch if you're just asking for 3-9 outs out of the bullpen. Sean Marshall, Mike Montgomery-esque.
Kyle Hendricks: C-
Maybe that’s too high a ranking for Kyle, who has long been one of my favorite players. He’s been injured this year, and perhaps that has something to do with his second straight bad season. There were some gems thrown by Kyle this year. One can only hope that rest and treatment for the shoulder issue he’s had can bring him back close to his previous form.
Marcus Stroman: C-
Yet another player who missed tons of time with injuries, though he’s thrown well in his two starts since his return earlier this month.
Maybe in the second half he can figure out what’s going on with this home/road split:
Home: five starts, 7.94 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, six HR in 22⅔ innings
Away: six starts, 2.45 ERA, 0.909 WHIP, four HR in 30 innings
His first two starts of the second half will be on the road, in Philadelphia and San Francisco.
David Robertson: C+
Robertson was lights-out over his first 20 appearances (1.59 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 32 strikeouts in 22⅔ innings).
Then he spent some time on the COVID-19 list and since then? Three blown saves in eight chances and eight walks in 14⅔ innings.
I assume he won’t be a Cub two weeks from now.
Scott Effross: B+
If (and probably when) Robertson is traded, I would like to see Effross get some opportunities to close games. His funky sidearm/submarine motion is something a lot of hitters don’t see much, and he throws strikes. In 57 career MLB appearances he has faced 219 batters and walked 10, an excellent ratio, and struck out 67 (11 per nine innings). He’s currently leading MLB with 43 appearances.
Very good, so far, for a 15th-round draft pick.
Rowan Wick: F
I admit to having an irrational dislike for Wick, who I had hoped to see better things from. He’s got an option left — maybe send him to Iowa to see if he can fix things.
Brandon Hughes: C
Hughes, drafted as an outfielder and converted to pitching in 2019, has talent. He’s struck out 33 in 24⅔ innings — that’s good! He’s given up four home runs in those innings — that isn’t!
But I do think he could be part of that “Next Great Cubs Team” bullpen, especially since he’s lefthanded. I’d like to see him get more high-leverage reps in the second half.
Mychal Givens: B
Has pitched well, mostly, apart from a couple of outings where he couldn’t throw strikes. I assume he’s being shopped around, if anything can be acquired in return, do it.
Chris Martin: B-
As with Givens, If anything can be acquired in trade for Martin, do it.
Mark Leiter Jr.: D-
Ate up a bunch of innings. This probably would have been an “F” except for the brilliant outing he had against the Red Sox when Alec Mills had to leave after eight pitches. He’s been sent to Iowa, but likely returns if/when other relievers are traded.
Matt Swarmer: D+
He’s got a devastating slider:
Matt Swarmer, Nasty Sliders. pic.twitter.com/BF6Yoqwz4u— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 4, 2022
Or, if you prefer, there’s this comparison:
Matt Swarmer vs. John Cleese/Ministry of Silly Walks, Leg Lift Mechanics. pic.twitter.com/9uMzvFtAaR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 4, 2022
The results have been better since he moved to the bullpen — a move really necessary because he’s really just a two-pitch pitcher — but he still walks too many guys. Fix that and he could be a useful multi-inning reliever. For now, he’ll work on that at Iowa.
Adrian Sampson: B
Sampson has been perfectly competent in seven appearances (five starts), eating up innings and generally keeping the Cubs in the game.
I usually don’t care for in-game interviews on TV broadcasts, but one the Marquee folks did with Sampson June 26 in St. Louis showed a real thoughtful guy who, in addition to joining in the play-by-play, gave a good account of how he’s worked to improve his game (the link opens a YouTube video that wasn’t embeddable here).
I like Sampson and well, sometimes guys figure things out a bit later than others.
Wade Miley: Incomplete
This was the perfect guy to take on for this year. His contract was affordable ($10 million), it cost no players to get him and if he had been healthy and productive, some contender would have traded for him.
But he wasn’t. He’s made only four starts this year. Two of them were really good, the other two... not so much. The injuries were just too much.
A few years from now, he’ll be one of those “That guy played for the Cubs?” trivia answers.
Daniel Norris: F
Last 10 appearances before he was finally, mercifully put on the injured list: 10.22 ERA, 1.784 WHIP, four home runs in 12⅓ innings. It didn’t get any better when he returned last week.
A lot of that was in garbage time, but seriously don’t they have position players now to do that? (Cubs position player pitching ERA: 24.75)
The Cubs finally designated him for assignment Sunday. This was another waste of money ($1.75 million) by Jed Hoyer. There were better pitchers available last offseason for less, as I noted in my article about Hoyer last month.
Michael Rucker: D-
Ate up a bunch of innings. There’s nothing special about this guy, who is 28. There are likely dozens of guys in the minor leagues who can do what he did. There’s really no reason for him to be a Cub after 2022.
Alec Mills: F
Got hurt, missed two months, came back, pitched badly, got hurt again.
This might be the end of the line for another feel-good story, a 22nd-round draft pick who once did this [VIDEO].
Again, thanks for the memories.
Anderson Espinoza: B
Many of you have looked at Espinoza’s unsightly 7.11 ERA in Double-A and said, “He’s not good.” And yet, he’s thrown well in three MLB outings this year. Yes, he’s walked nine in 9⅔ innings and has a very high FIP (7.15), but there is talent here. He’s a former Top 100 prospect recovering from two Tommy John surgeries. He’s still only 24. I’d like to see him get more opportunities.
Espinoza was acquired from the Padres in the Jake Marisnick deal last July. If they can get a few years out of him in the bullpen, that’s a fantastic trade.
Caleb Kilian: Incomplete
Highly-touted after his great performance in the Arizona Fall League championship game last year, Kilian was rushed into service due to several injuries. His MLB performance has been uneven at best, but I think he still has the stuff and makeup to be a quality MLB starting pitcher, maybe in 2023.
Here, have another look at that AFL performance [VIDEO].
Jesse Chavez, Narciso Crook, Jackson Frazier, Robert Gsellman, Michael Hermosillo, Conner Menez, Sean Newcomb, Ethan Roberts, Locke St. John, Eric Stout, Ildemaro Vargas and Jonathan Villar also played at least one game for the Cubs in the first half of 2022.
Give the Cubs a midseason grade.
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