Good morning to everyone! Today is the final (for now) installment previewing the 2017 minor league season. Please note that the previews are based on current roster assignments and anticipated spring training success. All assignments, both as to position and level, are subject to change pending the completion of spring training.
Low-A – South Bend Cubs
A champion is coming to South Bend, as the core of the Short Season-A Eugene Emeralds, who won the Northwest League title in 2016, will comprise this season’s S-Cubs squad. Eugene dominated the rest of the league, finishing nine games in front of the next best overall record and winning both halves of the season. Their mastery was total, as the Emeralds were third in runs scored, second in defense, and first in pitching.
The members for the Eugene team will be a good starting point for manager Jimmy Gonzalez, who brought the South Bend Cubs to the Midwest league playoffs last season. One of the best assets Gonzalez has is his ability to manage a roster and put players in the best position to succeed. A former catcher, Gonzalez works closely with his pitchers, and has been instrumental in the development of top prospects such as Trevor Clifton, Oscar De La Cruz, Zach Hedges, Preston Morrison, Jose Paulino, and Ryan Williams. As a former first round draft pick, Gonzalez also understands some of the pressures that face his prospects, especially as they enter their first full season of professional baseball.
Starting Pitching – It is no surprise that pitching will be the center of focus for the South Bend Cubs, particularly the most anticipated pitching prospect since Kerry Wood, that being Dylan Cease. The Cubs are reported ready to unleash the 21 year old and his 100 MPH fastball two years removed from Tommy John surgery and following a successful stint with Short season-A Eugene. Following Cease appears to be the 2016 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year, lefty Manuel Rondon. The 22 year old fell just short of qualifying to be among the league leaders, but would have bested the eventual ERA champ by nearly two runs with his 1.10 ERA. In most systems, being a fourth round pick would out you in the running for the top of the rotation, but the best Tyson Miller can hope for is third for South Bend. Another 21 year old, Miller had mixed success in his debut as he is more of a control/contact pitcher than one who dominates the strike zone. Also coming back from Tommy John surgery, 20 year old Erling Moreno is still working to regain his velocity. Although Moreno wasn’t entirely recovered last season, he dominated in the Northwest League after being promoted from rookie ball. Slotting next in the rotation appears to be 2016 ninth round pick Duncan Robinson. Like fellow Dartmouth alum Kyle Hendricks, the 23 year old uses control rather than overpowering stuff, as his 6-foot-6 frame adds deception to his pitches. Currently, the last man for the rotation looks like Pedro Silverio. The 22 year old had modest numbers last season, but the Cubs seem to like his mid-90’s fastball and sturdy frame made for eating up innings.
Reportedly staying back in extended spring training for more work, Bailey Clark, Manuel Rodriguez, Matt Swarmer, and lefty Bryan Hudson are good enough to be the basis of a frontline Low-A starting rotation in most systems.
Relief Pitching – As impressive as the rotation appears to be, the bullpen can potentially be their equal. Contending for the closer role will be to opposites, 6-foot-7 Dakota Mekkes and 5-foot-8 Wyatt Short. The 22 year old Mekkes does not have the power you would expect from someone with his frame, but uses his leverage and length to make it seem like he is coming straight down on batters. Also 22 years old, lefty Short also is not overpowering but has pinpoint control and did not surrender an earned run in 15 innings last year. Others contending will be the experienced Mark Malave and Michael Knighton. In only 47.1 innings as a pitcher since converting from the infield, 22 year old Malave has already recorded 12 saves and 55 strikeouts. A Northwest League All-star last season, 22 year old Knighton has an interesting mid-90’s fastball. Sixth round draft pick Chad Hockin has the best pure speed among the relievers, with his fastball in the upper 90’s. The 22 year old did not have much success last season, and will have to show he can harness his ability before being given more responsibility.
There will also be plenty of options in middle relief with right-handers Michael Rucker and Tyler Peyton, along with southpaw Marc Huberman. Twenty-three year old Peyton saw no action after being selected in the twenty-ninth round by the Cubs, while 22 year old Rucker was above the competition in the rookie league, striking out 11 in 8.2 innings. At 23 years old, Huberman also put up good numbers in 20 innings between the AZL Cubs and Eugene.
First Base – While South Bend will shuffle players in and out of this position, as is custom for the Cubs minor league system, Chris Pieters will most likely see the bulk of the duty. Speedy and highly athletic, the 22 year old Pieters has the ability to start in the outfield. But Pieters is still behind in his learning curve as he spent his first three years in the system as a left-handed pitcher.
Second Base – This position will also probably see a lot of faces for South Bend, but will primarily manned by the switch-hitting Yeiler Peguero. Only 19 years old, Peguero is a solid player both offensively and defensively. Peguero also has the ability to play shortstop at an above average or better level. Although only 5-foot-8, Trent Giambrone packs a lot of punch in his small frame. Mostly a second baseman, the 23 year old has been taking a lot of reps at shortstop this spring and also played third and first base last season.
Shortstop – By the time this report is published, player development should have settled on two of the following three for a trip to South Bend: Andruw Monasterio, Isaac Paredes, and Zach Short. Nineteen year old Monasterio played only a scant 17 games at Short Season-A Eugene and was Northwest League Player of the Week before receiving a quick promotion to South Bend last season. Monasterio had some trouble adjusting to the Midwest League and was sidelined for the playoffs with an injury, clearing the way for 18 year old Paredes. Playing at nearly three years younger than the league average, Paredes batted .305 for the AZL Cubs and showed no sign of stopping this spring. Twenty-one year old Short appears to be a find for the Cubs in the seventeenth round. The front office likes his “gym-rat” personality and feels that Short can fill in at multiple positions.
Third Base – While the Cubs seem set for a long time at this position with MVP Kris Bryant and top prospect Jeimer Candelario, Wladimir Galindo seems to be another star in the making. The 20 year old Venezuelan has some of the best raw power in the entire system, but is a work in progress at third base. Because of his defensive shortcomings, Galindo may see time at first, with some of the middle infielders rotating over. The Cubs are also still carrying Adonis Paula. The 22 year old Paula has yet to distinguish himself at either the plate or in the field, but the Cubs must still see something in him. Paula has experience at third, first, shortstop, and outfield.
Catcher – If South Bend has one area in question, it would be their catching. Twenty-three year old Marcus Mastrobuoni and 24 year old Tyler Payne are considered fine receivers that have built a relationship with many of the pitching staff, but provide little in offense. Between the two, they caught all but eight games for Short Season-A Eugene and batted a combined .238 with each hitting three home runs and driving in 19. If the roster permits, the S-Cubs may also carry 20 year old Jhonny Pereda. Pereda had a breakthrough campaign offensively with the AZL Cubs last season, is considered on a developmental upswing defensively, and has experience at first base.
Outfield – While it may be overshadowed by its pitching staff, South Bend’s outfield is a speedy and athletic unit oozing with potential. At the top of the heap is centerfielder Darryl “DJ” Wilson. The 20 year old left-hander is dynamic both offensively and defensively, and if he can improve his plate disciple can become a game changing lead-off man. Should Wilson falter in either centerfield or lead-off, 23 year old right fielder Robert Garcia is more than capable in taking over. The switch-hitter was a Northwest League All-Star is a major threat with a career .384 OBP and 55 stolen bases. Not to be outdone, left fielder Kevonte Mitchell could be the most athletic of the squad. A former basketball star, 21 year old Mitchell is still scratching the surface of his potential and can be a breakout prospect. If the team carries a fourth outfielder, the spot appears to be going to speedster Luis Ayala. Twenty-one year old lefty Ayala has maintained his productivity since being signed in 2014, and is capable of making the jump from rookie ball
Tags: Adonis Paula, Andruw Monasterio, Bailey Clark, Bryan Hudson, Chad Hockin, Chris Pieters, Dakota Mekkes, DJ Wilson, Duncan Robinson, Dylan Cease, Erling Moreno, Isaac Paredes, Jeimer Candelario, Jhonny Pereda, Jimmy Gonzalez, Jose Paulino, Kevonte Mitchell, Kris Bryant, Luis Ayala, Manuel Rodriguez, Manuel Rondon, Marc Huberman, Marcus Mastrobuoni, Mark Malave, Matt, Matt Swarmer, Michael Knighton, Michael Rucker, Oscar De La Cruz, Pedro Silverio, Preston Morrison, Robert Garcia, Ryan Williams, Tom U, Trent Giambrone, Trevor Clifton, Tyler Payne, Tyler Peyton, Tyson Miller, Wladimir Galindo, Wyatt Short, Yeiler Peguero, Zach Hedges, Zach Short