Daily Minors Recap: Underwood sharp as McKinney hits walk-off HR (VIdeo); McKinney interview; Alcantara HRs

A little late as I was watching the Blackhawks last night.  In between that and a disappointing Cubs finale, I did get a chance to see Myrtle Beach, Duane Underwood, and Billy McKinney.  We also have video from the crew @PelicansBaseball and an interview with Billy McKinney via Chasing the Dream, who also supplied the photo above.

Meanwhile at Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara could be nearing a call-up for a couple of different reasons (see below) and the Tennessee Smokies outfield, perhaps the best defensively at any level in the Cubs organization, flashed some leather again today. ICYMI it yesterday, Jacob Hannemann fooled the umpire with a catch against the wall...

Today it was Bijan Rademacher, which you will see in the Smokies portion of the recap.

Iowa 4 - Nasville 1

    • A lot of familiar names on the mound today starting with Tsuyoshi Wada who had his second strong outing in a row since his session with Chris Bosio, going 5.2 innings and allowing just a solo HR.  He walked 2 and struck out 6.  Wada tends to live high in zone and has been prone to the occasional HR, but he also gets some swings and misses up there with a fastball that tops out around 92-93, but usually sits high 89-91.
    • Gonzales Germen retired all 4 batters he faced, 2 via strikeout and moved to -30.  He has yet to allow an earned run at Iowa.
    • At 27 years with average stuff, and a rather maxed out 5'11" frame, Blake Cooper isn't your classic pitching prospect, but in the tradition of Frank Batista, he just gets people out.  He worked a perfect inning of his own with one strikeout to lower his ERA to 1.84 on the year.
    • Brian Schlitter continued the streak, working a perfect 9th, striking out 2 to earn his first save at Iowa.
    • Arismendy Alcantara has shown a few signs of being his old self lately but I think the Cubs will try to be patient and get him those 500 AAA PAs.  The good news?  He currently has 434 of them over the past two years.  Alcantara did what he does best, showing a little plate discipline (walk), speed (his 2nd SB of the year), and surprising power (his 4th HR).  He drove in two and scored a run.

    • Veterans Jonathan Mota and Mike Baxter each went 2 for 4 with a runs scored.  Both have had strong season with Mota hitting .315 and playing just about every position but catcher and CF.  Baxter is hitting .314 with a .415 OBP.

Pensacola 5 -Tennessee 4

  • Corey Black had some command issues today, walking 4 batters in 5 innings, allowing 3 runs.  It seems to me Black has cleaned up his delivery as I haven't seen him overthrow all that much this year, but he continues to struggle to harness his mid 90s (in short spurts and early in games) fastball and hard slider.  He's almost certainly destined for the bullpen where he can let loose and the lack of plus command isn't quite as big an issue.  Black has a respectable 3.82 ERA and has allowed hitters to bat just .213 while striking out 30 in 30.2 innings.  The only blemish is the 15 walks.
  • Pitcher wins, losses, and saves don't always tells us about his performance.  Fernando Cruz pitched 3 innings of one-hit baseball, walking none and striking out 4 without allowing an earned run.  However, that unearned run was costly as it tied the game and Cruz was charged with a blown save.  He did, however, create some of his own issues in the 6th with a hit batsmen and a wild pitch that brought the run home.
  • Stephen Perakslis allowed 3 hits in just 2/3 of anning to take the walk-off loss.
  • Not much offense for the Smokies despite the 4 runs.  Albert Almora (.310/.342/.352) went 1 for 4 with a run scored but committed a rare error in the field, his first of the year.  Kyle Schwarber (.329/.450/.608) also had a hit and a run scored.
  • Three of those runs were driven home on a bases-loaded double by Bijan Rademacher, who also made the great catch below.  But the one blemish to an otherwise great game was the error in the 6th that eventually scored the tying run.

Rademacher's sliding catch...

Myrtle Beach 2 - Salem 1

  • Duane Underwood was masterful with a fastball that touched 95 and a sharp-breaking curveball that he located well.  He was engaged in a pitcher's duel with Daniel McGrath, who took a no-hitter into the 6th, but it was Underwood who was far more impressive between the two.  He walked just one batter in 7 efficient innings but it was one mistake that cost him, leaving a pitch up that was crushed for a solo HR and ultimately gave Underwood a no-decision.  He is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA, but this may have been his best performance of the year based on stuff and command.
  • Juan Paniagua pitched 2 scoreless innings and was slinging 95 mph FBs, though he may add a few more ticks as the season goes on.  He also threw a change which was about 15 mph slower than the FB, which has helped keep hitters honest.  The 25 year old will likely work out of the pen in an effort to speed up his progress through the system.  He has pitched 5 innings this year without giving up a hit or a walk and striking out 7.  If he keeps this up, he should reach AA before midseason.
  • LHP Michael Heesch throws in the high 80s to low 90s, but at 6'5", 265 lbs LHP and natural plane -- and with a 3/4 motion that can make it difficult on lefties.  He pitched a scoreless innings, striking out one and earning the win.  He is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 8 innings, walking 3 and striking out 8.
  • The Pelicans drew 6 walks off starter McGrath but no hits until Jacob Rogers drove home the first run with a single up the middle to break up the no-no and the shutout in one fell swoop.
  • The Pelicans drew 10 walks in all and Billy McKinney drew 4 of them, but he saved his best for last, pulling a pitch on the inner half for a high fly in the corner that just barely cleared the RF wall for the walk-off HR in the 10th.  McKinney is hitting .313/.431/.518 with 4 HRs.  The Pelicans should enjoy him while they can.

We'll throw you a curveball on Support Cubs Blogs and do it right here on the minor league recaps today.  We'll highlight Scott Sypien (@CTD_Sypien) from  Chasing the Dream.  Scott does great interviews on his website of farmhands all-around baseball, including the Cubs.  He has also done an interview with Josh Conway and James Pugliese, among others.  Here is his interview with Billy McKinney with my favorite excerpt below...

My approach really depends on the scenario I am in whether it’s guys on base, the count i’m in, or how many outs there are. I try to do whatever I can to help my team win. If that means giving myself up i’ll do so. I just want to help the team get runs on the board and ultimately I want us to get the W at the end of the night.

That sounds a lot of what he have talked about recently in the series with the Cardinals.  He sure seems like a fit for what the Cubs want to do at the plate and yesterday's game was a great example of that.

Video highlights from Nathan Barnett, whom you should also follow @nathanbarnett....

  • Despite a dropped pop-up, Jeimer Candelario has shown great improvement on defense, making two brilliant plays on defense and playing very well all season

South Bend 3 - Bowling Green 2

  • Zach Hedges pitched 5 shutout innings walking 2 and striking out 4.  The 22 year old RHP was a 26th round draft pick last year and moved to 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA.
  • The middle relief staff pitched pretty well but it was a little tense as they gave up a couple of runs but did enough to hold the lead. 2012 3rd round pick Ryan McNeil allowed one run on two hits in 2 innings (no walks, 2 Ks) while LHP Jordan Minch gave up the second run on a hit and walk in 1.2 winnings.  James Farris came on with a runner on and got the last out of the game for his 3rd save.
  • The SB Cubs spread the offense around with everyone but Cael Brockmeyer getting one hit,  Brockmeyer had a game he'd like to forget, going 0 for 5 with 4 Ks.
  • The best offensive player was Charcer Burks who went 1 for 3 with 2 walks.  The one hit was a base-loaded single that gave the SB Cubs the lead that they would precariously hold over the next 8 innings.



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  • If McKinney gets promoted to Tennessee then who gets bumped up to Iowa. Seems the AA outfield is already jam packed!

  • In reply to good4you:

    Yeah, nice problem to have. But the I-Cubs use a lot of veterans like Adron Chambers. Bigger question may be whether there is room at Tennessee with Almora, Hannemann, Rademacher, and Chen. Chen is the least heralded but has most time at AA, so maybe hes' the guy to get the first call.

  • In reply to good4you:

    Chen could move up to AAA. He has the most experience and has an advanced approach. Rademacher could also handle it I think, but he would be better served getting at least a half of a season in AA.

  • I'm very happy that Alcantara is doing well at AAA, but I will remain cautiously optimistic. Again, this is AAA which is night and day compared to the big leagues. He has such a tiny frame and that will hurt him IMO. I feel it's difficult for guys with slight frames to hit well at the highest level. There ARE players who have done it but players like Altuve are the exception.

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    In reply to INSaluki:

    I'm with you. He has really proven much, if anything, at the Major League level. And it isn't like he is dominating AAA. And if he is called up, where is he going to play? I'd keep him in Iowa. It is getting close to the time to start packaging together players like Alcantara and Baez -- guys who appear to be blocked in the Major League level, at least in starting -- and get some pitching. If you're a fan of Javy, I think you should be pulling for him to be traded. Let him go to a place where he can play short and second.

  • In reply to INSaluki:

    I'm mystified as to what a player's "frame" has to do with his hitting. I get that more bulk may equal more power, but I'm not seeing how pitch identification, swing mechanics and the rest relate to hitting ability. Alcantara has already demonstrated that he can hit for power - contact is his problem. How does his frame impact that?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Only thing I can think of other than power is durability and stamina. Smaller players sometimes wear down with everyday play -- and Alcantara has shown some of that in his career, especially early. He is also a quick twitch player built more for burst than long distance. I think the problem is solved if they use him off the bench and move him around, though.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for taking care of that one for me. : )

  • In reply to INSaluki:

    Ha! I thought that answered both of your (you and Cliff) questions :) In a way, you were both right on that one, imo.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Wasn't necessarily disputing - just trying to make it compute in my feeble brain...

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Oh, yeah, we're just throwing ideas out there. I mean, there is no way any of us really know the answer there, but just thinking through it a bit. Alcantara has a history of wearing down and was injured twice for half a season early in his pro career. I don't think he is fragile by any means. He is a strong kid, but his history makes you at least stop and think about whether he should be an everyday guy, especially at a physically demanding position. Then again, it could just be a matter of physical maturation. Who knows? No real right or wrong answer on this right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hmmmm. I'd think the smaller guys generally have greater stamina; they need and burn less energy.

  • In reply to TTP:

    For running a marathon that is definitely the case.

  • In reply to INSaluki:

    Difficult for small guys to hit well in the bigs, or be good starters due to lack of durability? You went beyond Alcantara and showed a dangerous bias. Little guys do face a bigger challenge. Most are light on power, so they have to shine in getting on base, base-running, defense. And some could wear down, either for full season or career length. But you never want to unfairly pigeonhole a small guy as a non-regular. That's precisely how an Altuve might not have had a fair chance to become a starter. Or D Gordon, K Wong, J Panik, D Pedroia, E Aybar, J Segura, J Iglesias, M Betts. Fox-Aparicio. Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, hundreds of others. It should come down to this. "This guy can really play baseball, and deserves to start for us." Little-guy bias can go way too far, and even keep a potentially great team from being great.

  • In reply to michaelc:

    Height bias can go too far but teams have to play the odds. The truth is that in the grand scheme smaller players are less likely to become regulars, especially starting pitchers. The average SP is over 6'2" and the average height for every position is 6 feet or higher -- except 2B/SS who average around 5'11. The odds that a player will be an MLBer drops off rather sharply around 5'9".. There are always exceptions to that rule, of course, so one should always keep an open mind -- but at the same time we should be realistic that a bigger player, all things being equal, is more likely to make it. MLB teams see exceptional talent at something less than 5'10", usually in the middle infield, and at that point talent overrides physicality to some degree if a player can play middle infield at the MLB level -- relatively speaking the ability to play middle infield at the MLB level is rare, so you'll get more leeway. Those positions require a certain amount of quickness which gives smaller players an advantage they don't necessarily have at other positions. There are exceptions at every position, of course, so we should always keep an open mind, but the rule is that taller players are just more likely to make it.

  • well if and when he gets called up.. he will have to stay up.. he has nothing else to prove in AAA.

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    That is why I think they will wait until they know he's ready. One thing that can still improve is consistent contact, but he can't seem to balance that with his power. His swing becomes too tentative when he worries about contact. Would rather have him swing away and hopefully adapt as he gets more reps.

  • McKinney looks more stout than I remember from last year. No reason that he cannot play in the Cubs outfield before too long. I think that only thing holding Mendy back is Mendy. Once he knows he can perform in the show, he will be fine.

  • it took Rizzo some time to clean up his 2 strike approach.. I think some forget that now that he is an absolute stud.. he will have to fail and adjust up here.. not sure how much he can learn when being as succesful as he is down there.

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Rizzo needed work on more than his two strike approach when he arrived in the majors. He was so bad his first go round in the majors in SD that they went out and traded for a different 1B prospect and then shipped Rizzo to the Cubs. He then hit well against righties in his first half season with the Cubs but sttruggled against lefties. The struggles continued the next season, and his babip and two strike approach dipped against righties too leading to a tough all around season. It wasn't until last year that Rizzo put everything together.

    It is a long process with just about every player.

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    How long does extended spring trainig go? Or other Cubs related stuff? I got an internship in Flagstaff for most of the summer... have to figure out some things to do in my off time.

  • In reply to Jonathan Ley:

    Goes into June, don't know precise date, though.

  • I though Mendy had a weak series in Nashville. Thursday was his best game by far. Hope he is getting it all turned around. Wada never hit 90 by the stadium radar. I was told by a security guy they had ordered and received new equipment but now can't find it. Ha!

  • In reply to Missed Signal:

    Not surprised on Wada. Even on his best days he's 91-92 and he's getting older.

    Alcantara had been hitting well up until the first games of the series, dropped off a bit, but yesterday seemed to get back in the groove a little.

  • i think a Wrigley Faithful needs to make a Arismendy -O-Meter. Dunston had a hard time laying off bad pitches early in his career

  • John-

    What are your thoughts on Duane Underwood? It's exciting to see him off to a great start this season after last year in Kane County. Would you consider Underwood the best pitching prospect in the organization at the moment? I'm starting to believe he could have the potential to be a TOR type arm

  • In reply to Berko:

    It was close to begin with for me, but with Edwards now moved to the pen, Underwood is clearly the best guy to me. It really isn't even close. Everyone else in the system above SB is BOR or bullpen arms to me.

    I've only seen Stinnett twice, on video, so I can't really comment on him. I was impressed with the stuff though. He could make it interesting down the road.

  • In reply to Berko:

    On my current list Underwood is my top Cubs pitching prospect and in the top 5 overall -- maybe even top 3. We'll see where he lands mid-season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Is there a good chance he could crack some national top 100 lists as well?

  • Blake Parker was recently released. I never understood why he was consistently considered such a fringe or depth piece, even in the rough years. I thought of him as a very solid middle-reliever.

  • In reply to bzalisko:

    I've wondered the same thing. Only thing I can think of is that his fastball always seemed very straight to me, so maybe very little deception.

  • Good to see Panaigua putting himself back on the map. He was an afterthought during the spring but with all the RHRP casualties laying around he could leap frog a bunch of guys.

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    Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat 6m6 minutes ago

    #Cubs lineup Fowler cf Bryant 3b Rizzo 1b Montero c Soler rf Castro ss Coghlan lf Hammel p Russell 2b

    I really like Rizzo just after Bryant. If Fowler gets on then you're gonna want to throw more fastballs to Bryant in hopes to get ahead of the count and hope for a strikeout. If you just pitch him low and away, he will accept the walk. Then Rizzo comes up with 2 men on and no body out. That's a whole can of whoop ash you don't want to open.

    Now if we can get Soler to get back to his normal self then we can get him back in the 4th spot. And yes, I know he's shown signs of getting out of that funk with some sharply hit balls.

  • Totally agree, bocabobby. It will be good to see Bryant get more hittable pitches and start showing his power.

  • It looks like there's somewhat of a platoon system with V and Geiger and Contreras and Schwarber. This is the second time in a week that V and Scwarber haven't been in the lineup. Is there something happening in terms of promotions or trades? Or is this just trying to get Contreras and Geiger more playing time?

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