Five Players to Watch: Low-A South Bend and Advanced-A Myrtle Beach

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.

 

 

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    Thanks again Tom. As much as I like reading about position players, I truly like to read about the pitchers who are percolating in our system. Not that we can forget position players, but our major leaguers are so young that we can plug in a few in case of injuries, but our major league pitcher (Lackey and Lester and Arrieta) are older so there will be openings and that's where the competition will be. It will be exciting to watch who ends up in the bigs in the next year or two or three.

  • You're welcome!

  • Thanks, Tom. Good read.

    I'm intrigued by some of the college arms the Cubs drafted last year. You picked Hockin and mentioned Bailey Clark and Dakota Mekkes. Each of those guys should be fun to follow and could easily jump up in prospect recognition. Ryan Kellogg is a solid choice to better establish himself as well.

    If we're looking at guys not on any top 20 lists who might find themselves moving up those lists next year (I'm assuming Erling Moreno & Wladimir Galindo are disqualified because they were somewhat hyped IFAs), I like (in no particular order):

    1. 3B/1B - Matt Rose (22)

    After a horrid start to the season in South Bend, he was sent down to Eugene for a month and apparently figured some things out because he really put it together in the 2nd half last season hitting .288/.375/.527 with 8 HRs in 146 ABs.

    2. SS - Zack Short (21)

    I like guys who can control the strike zone and Short showed he can do that walking 47 times against just 33 Ks in his first season as a pro. The next Chesny Young? Probably not, but maybe.

    3. C - PJ Higgins (23)

    John and others speak highly of how quickly he was able to take to catching after making the switch a year ago. He's another one who can control the strike zone walking 72 times versus 75 Ks. Athleticism and aptitude behind the plate, ability to control the strike and a hitting stroke capable of 30 doubles in his 1st full season of pro ball, I'll take it. Very interested to see how he does in Myrtle Beach this year.

    4. LHP - Manny Rondon (21)

    Rondon had a very good start to the 2016 season but finished even stronger. In 5 post all-star break starts, opponents hit just .218 against him while he struck out just under a batter per inning. He went 2-1 with a 0.36 ERA in 5 August starts to end the year.

    Thanks for letting me play along!

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I already really liked PJ Higgins. But in Zack Short I may have found my new "middle-infielder-who-can-hit-but-not-a-toolsy-guy" crush formerly held by Stephen Bruno.

    Thanks, Quedub

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I'm a Zach Short fan as well. Had one Cubs official drop a Brock Holt comp on him. Nice all-around, athletic, good IQ ballplayer who could find a multi-position role down the line.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, keep an eye on him in camp assignments. I have a feeling he will be with the Myrtle Beach squad.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Quedub, those are great players to follow! I picked both Higgins and Rose last year when I was writing on another site.

    Incidentally, I want to thank all the "denizens" for "getting" this series. In seasons past, there were always a few doofuses (or is it doofi?) who felt that I was knocking higher draft picks while promoting lower ones.

    The purpose is to provide information on more than the obvious players. The top prospects will get plenty of attention. These are just some other players that might break through. It makes for a better informed fan.

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    I would also like to add Thomas Hatch to ones to watch. He had a great college career and then was shut down by the Cubs. It seems he throws a great curve ball, movement is there and is the lower 90's. He may start in AA but I can see him doing well there and possibly being a player who could come up some time this year.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    If I understand it correctly Tom U is going for "under/off-the-radar" prospects. Thomas Hatch is possibly inelgible as an "on-the-radar" prospect. Though I may be misunderstanding it.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Hatch has been mentioned on more than one Cubs top 20 list this spring, so for the purposes of this discussion, he's out.

    But still quite intrigued to see what he can do in his first pro season.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I'm excited to see it too!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Joel and Quedub, that is right. These articles are for players that are not on the Top 20 lists. Hatch is being listed in the top 20, although I do not agree he belongs until he actually pitches as a professional.

    I am secretly hoping Hatch is named the opening day starter for South Bend. That way, Dylan Cease stands a good chance to start the home opener, which I will be attending.

  • Great read, Tom! Monasterio has my attention...I have an irrational excitement for switch-hitting shortstops. Hoping for a breakout.

    I think another breakout candidate is Charcer Burks. Any thoughts on him?

  • Quick note, I know that Monasterio is listed as a switch but he has batted only RH past two seasons.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He's a bum then. Haha! Thanks for the info!

  • That's my pick, too, Justin. Great minds. ;-)

    I mentioned him on another site last October as a guy I like to have jump in production along the lines of .280/.370/.420 in AA. I have a feeling he establishes himself as a solid 4th OFer type by the end of the season with an upside of a 2nd division starter.

  • Justin, all I can say on Burks is "tune in next week" (now, there's a tease!).

  • And if I forgot to say so, thanks!

  • What is Bailey Clark? Is he a starter (only 2) like he was last year in short season or is he a reliever?

  • In reply to Gator:

    That's the question this year will hopefully answer for us. The Cubs are proceeding with him as a starter until he proves otherwise.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    It makes watching the South Bend Cubs even more interesting.

  • I would like to thank all of the readers at Cubs Den for their positive comments and well constructed discussions.

    I have to confess, I was a little nervous about this article, especially the Kyle Miller segment. If this article had appeared on my previous site, I would have been ripped by several readers as being overly critical of the front office, championing "marginal' players, and called "clueless" for not bowing down to the opinions and ranking of national scouts.

    Once again, thank you all for showing your baseball acumen by understanding the purpose of these pieces. I think I am going to enjoy writing here for as long as John wants me to.

  • Tom - I think you are being overly critical of the front office and championing "marginal' players. I think you are clueless.

  • Just trying to make you feel at home.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    You are making me feel right at home! One of those doofuses (or is it doofi) was named Dave.

    However, I know it wasn't you. Even in your brief response, you appear to be far more intelligent than that other Dave.

  • When I see Kyle Miller mentioned I always think of Casey Bloomquist. Similar build, same draft year, drafted like 3 picks apart. Just curious Tom, what makes you prefer Miller to Bloomquist?

  • In reply to DirkDiggler:

    Both Miller and Bloomquist are promising pitchers, but I see them moving toward opposite ends of the pitching staff.

    Both could end up effective middle relievers, but I believe that Miller has a better chance at sticking as a starter. Bloomquist has been used all over, which is his greatest asset. Bloomquist can also be asked to close things out when your stopper needs a rest.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Thanks Tom!

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