It was a long day at the ballpark today but it was well worth it. The Oakland A's AA and AAA camps came in for an intrasquad game against their Cubs counterparts, but the biggest congregation was there to see an intrasquad game that featured top prospects Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ, Dylan Cease, Justin Steele, Jake Stinnett, DJ Wilson, Eddy Julio Martinez, Donnie Dewees, and more.
It was Dylan Cease who had scouts buzzing today. One scout had him sitting at 98 and another had him consistently at 96-99 mph. The curve flashed plus today as Cease snapped off several nasty ones. The change was fringy but at this point, he looks like he has the makings of two plus pitches, so all he needs is to upgrade that change to average for it to be effective.
Nobody was worried about the early lack of pinpoint command. That will improve with time. The buzz was about how good his stuff is at this stage of his development, just 20 months from TJ surgery.
It's important to understand that results are not as important as process -- and progress right now. Everyone I talked to agreed that Cease is right where he needs to be -- if not ahead of schedule.
The Cubs challenged him by having him face a lineup of good, more experienced hitters like Torres, Happ, and Dewees. It was especially evident in Happ's AB, who got himself in a good hitting count, then basically spat on a very good Cease curve ball. It was a reminder that while Cease was impressive, stuff alone is not going to be enough against good, polished hitters. It was also a reminder of how good, polished a hitter Ian Happ really is. As talented as Cease, Steele, and other young pitchers were, it was Happ who controlled the ABs from start to finish every time he came to the plate. Torres also battled Cease and drew a full count walk. It was interesting to watch and a nice learning experience for the Cubs young pitcher.
Justin Steele threw in the low 90s and after struggling with the first couple of hitters, he seemed to get a feel, using his deceptively good FB to set up what was at times a very good curveball. Steele is fun to watch. He doesn't diddle around out there. He goes right after hitters. At least one person I spoke with thought he could eventually be the best of the bunch as far the Cubs young crop. That's pretty high praise.
Jake Stinnett started the game versus Cease and pitched pretty well. The FB was at 91-93 and topped out at 96. He threw hard and snapped off a few nice sliders, which were in the 83-84 range. That is certainly encouraging after last season's drop in velocity. (h/t @calikusiolek on this velocity as well as Marte's)
20 year old Junior Marte showed a live arm and good FB with late life that was in the 92-94 range. Strictly an arm speed guy with some effort, so he may profile more as a reliever. He also had the makings of a good slider, but he was pretty wild. Marte is an interesting arm who struck out 11.35 batters per 9 IP, mostly in the DSL (3 innings in the AZL) and held hitters to a .181 batting average, but he is going to have to clean up the delivery a bit and throw more strikes.
There were so many knowledgeable people around that I was just trying to soak in as much knowledge as I could. Won't talk about them all here all at once, but one player I asked about was Rashad Crawford and whether his physical maturation could lead to more power -- and the response was that he already has pretty big raw power, something I saw for myself just a couple of days ago in BP. And in case you're wondering, Crawford can still run. He easily swiped a base today and is still playing CF, where he has a chance to be a plus defender. I was reminded, though, that Crawford was drafted as a raw player and is still learning the game, so he is still working on the finer points, such as his approach at the plate. Still, I find him an intriguing player because of his athleticism, speed, and strength. A deep sleeper to put on your list, perhaps.
Speaking of sleepers, PJ Higgins again threw out a baserunner stealing and ripped a line drive into RF-CF for a single.
DJ Wilson showed his speed with an infield single and a bunt single in his first two ABs, though he was caught stealing on a close call (there was only one ump for that whole game).
On the other fields, Billy McKinney and Shawon Dunston, Jr, hit the ball well in the AA game and Dan Vogelbach hit a grand slam in the AAA game. I also found it interesting that it is the second time I saw Daury Torrez and the second time he came in late in the game, making me wonder if the Cubs are considering trying him as a late inning reliever. If not now, then maybe down the line.
Arizona Phil was scoring 3 games all at once. He was in the zone. When he gets that posted, we will link it here.
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