Last week was the first of a series of three articles looking beyond the Top Twenty lists and exploring the other players in the Cubs organization that may have an impact on the major league club. The Five Players to Watch series has identified many players who have gone on to be considered top prospects and major league players later. In this, the second in a series of three articles, will be highlighting some of those players at the Low-A and Advanced-A levels.
The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.
Chad Hockin, RHP
A strategy that Player Development used at Advanced-A Myrtle Beach last year could be implemented at Low-A South Bend this season, with one of the possible beneficiaries being Chad Hockin.
Last season, the Cubs assigned three closers in James Farris, Ryan McNeil, and Jose Rosario to open the year with the Pelicans and rotated them in the role. The results were promotions for both Farris and Rosario, with McNeil leading the system in saves and getting an invite to the Arizona Fall League. The options will abound in Northwest Indiana, with right-handers Bailey Clark, Mark Malave, and Dakota Mekkes potentially joining Hockin and lefty Wyatt Short for a chance at sealing up victories for the SB Cubs.
For his part, the 22 year old will have to step up his game. Signing with the Cubs after being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, Hockin was assigned directly to Short Season-A Eugene. As a member of the Emeralds, Hockin was less than impressive, pitching 12 innings and posting a 6.00 ERA with a 1.500 WHIP. Hockin did strike out 14 batters, but also allowed 14 hits and eight earned runs.
That notwithstanding, Hockin has a mid-90’s fastball that has ticked up to 97 MPH along with possibly his best pitch, a hard-biting slider. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has a sturdy frame and with the stable surrounding him, has a chance to get off to a solid start to the season. The rest will be up to Hockin.
Ryan Kellogg, LHP
As the Cubs have tried to amass more pitching in the last three drafts, some of the high profile names selected have overshadowed lefty Ryan Kellogg. But the production Kellogg has had as a professional may soon remedy that.
Selected in the fifth round in 2015 out of Arizona State University, the native of Whitby, Ontario had a very successful first full professional season. As a member of the Low-A South Bend Cubs, Kellogg started 23of 24 games he saw action in. Kellogg was 9-7 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, and had 107 strikeouts in 130.2 innings. Kellogg’s ERA was good for sixth in the Midwest League, while he finished second in WHIP. The 23 year old really put things together in the second half of the season, going 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and limiting batters to a .218 average.
Kellogg features a low-90’s fastball to go along with a very good curve as well as a change-up. At 6-foot-6, Kellogg’s height makes his stuff look even better as he appears to be coming down on top of the hitter. With solid command and a good knowledge of how to sequence and set up his pitches, the 230-pounder has the potential to be a classic innings-eating back of the rotation starter.
Kyle Miller, RHP
An unrelated off-season move places 23 year old Kyle Miller in a position to watch for all Cubs fans. That move was the trade with Kansas City, in which the Cubs received RHP Alec Mills for OF Donnie Dewees. Both Mills and Miller were selected in similar rounds (Mills the twenty-second, Miller the nineteenth), are about the same size (Mills 6-foot-4, 190-pounds; Miller 6-foot-3, 185-pounds), and attended small southern schools (Mills at Tennessee-Martin, Miller at Florida Atlantic).
Both pitchers also throw similar stuff: Mills has a mid-90’s fastball with a change-up and curve, while Miller throws a mid-90’s fastball also with a solid curve and change. While Mills was drafted as a 20 year old in 2013, he also knocked around in the Royals system for a few years before showing some promise in 2015.
Miller was drafted in 2015 by the Cubs and experienced some success in his first full season last year, going 5-2 with .257 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 73.2 innings for Low-A South Bend. Miller split his 20 appearances almost evenly, starting nine games. What you have to like is that Miller’s WHIP in both of his roles remained somewhat constant, 1.084 starting and 1.090 as a reliever. Overall, Miller limited the hitters he faced to a .235 batting average.
The interesting angle is that if Miller continues to demonstrate a similar level of success this season, will the Cubs allow him to progress in the same fashion that the Royals did with Mills? And, if Miller does make that progress, is the front office willing to use him in the majors or in a comparable deal as Kansas City did with Mills?
Andruw Monasterio, INF
The midseason trade of shortstop Gleyber Torres last year left a gaping hole in the minor league depth chart at the position. But one player that can be bridging the gap between Addison Russell and Javier Baez in the majors and Top Twenty prospects Aramis Ademan and Isaac Paredes is Andruw Monasterio.
Signed by the Cubs out of Venezuela in 2014 where he spent time in the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League. Monasterio was advanced to the Arizona rookie league in 2015 where he hit .252 as an 18 year old.
Starting last season in extended spring training, Monasterio had a mercurial beginning in the Northwest League with Short Season-A Eugene. The RH hitter batted .375 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run with a .921 OPS in his first 11 games to claim Player of the Week honors. Monasterio played only six more games with the Emeralds before being moved up to Low-A South Bend. Life in the Midwest League was not as kind to Monasterio, as he went only .216/.270/.256/.526 with five doubles, a triple, 11 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 48 games before ending the season with an injury.
Moving forward, it seems as if a return to South Bend should be what is ahead for the 19 year old. His age and abbreviated appearance at the Low-A level seem to lend itself to further refinement. But one thing could propel Monasterio forward with a good spring is his defense. Committing only seven errors in 202 chances with South Bend, Monasterio shows excellent range to go along with a true arm.
Connor Myers, OF
Cubs’ fans, along with the rest of the baseball world, seem to enjoy seeing plucky underdogs make their way to the majors. This year, minor league watchers may have that type of player to root for as Connor Myers is set to begin his first full professional season.
Drafted in the twenty-seventh round last year, the product of Old Dominion University shot his way up the charts. After signing, Myers had a five game stint with the AZL Cubs in the rookie league, batting .211 before jetting up north to join Short Season-A Eugene. Myers lasted only ten games with the Emeralds, hitting .265 before getting the call to go to Low-A South Bend for the remainder of the season.
While Myers posted only a .211 batting average with the SB Cubs, those numbers were somewhat skewed by in 0-for-13 start. Following that adjustment, Myers went on to bat .248 including six doubles, three home runs, 11 RBI, and six stolen bases in 30 games. In addition, Myers hit .280 and scored seven of his 14 runs while batting lead-off.
However, it is on defense where the 23 year old makes his stock in trade. Myers has great instincts to go along with his speed and surprisingly strong arm. His willingness to “sell out” for a play has resulted in Myers making several highlight reel type grabs. His defensive ability, along with his improving offense, may be enough to warrant Myers starting the 2017 season with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.
Tags: Addison Russel, Alec Mills, Andruw Monasterio, Aramis Ademan, Bailey Clark, Chad Hockin, Connor Myers, Dakota Mekkes, Donnie Dewees, Gleyber Torres, Isaac Paredes, James Farris, Javier Baez, Jose Rosario, Kyle Miller, Mark Malave, Ryan Kellogg, Ryan McNeil, Tom U, Wyatt Short