The big story to follow on the pitching staff will be whether Jose Albertos can re-establish his release point and throw enough strikes. His stuff is still there so his issues really are mechanical/mental, which means they could turn around at any point, or they could linger all season. He continued to struggle in EXST, but he at least managed to go 4+ innings in his last outing despite several control hiccups. A pair of 19-year old lefties, Brailyn Marquez and Faustino Carrera, will join him in the rotation and figure to be two of the mainstays for the Emeralds throughout the season. The 6'4" Marquez strikes a more daunting silhouette on the mound than the 5'10" Carrera, and likely possess a greater ceiling, but Carrera is noted for his polish. Eury Ramos is a tall, projectable righty with plus arm strength (T97), who is a sleeper in the system. The team suffered a recent blow to their depth as last year's 5th round overslot selection Jeremiah Estrada suffered an elbow injury late in EXST, and at least for now have not left Mesa to join the roster.
The 2018 draft picks will likely get worked into piggyback roles as they work their way on to the roster. One of the Cubs three 2nd round picks, Paul Richan is a polished righty with solid stuff, that really came on as the collegiate season progressed. It will be interesting to see how they handle 4th rounder Ethan Roberts. Tennessee Tech leaned heavily on the 5'10" hurler in a utility role down the stretch, using him as both a starter and reliever. I wouldn't be shocked if the Cubs tightly control his innings or simply shut him down for the year. Both are the type of proven performers that can compete for jobs with Myrtle Beach out of spring training next year regardless of whether they get any pro experience this season.
Rotation: Jose Albertos, Brailyn Marquez, Faustino Carrera, Eury Ramos,
Injured: Jeremiah Estrada (elbow)
Draft Picks: Paul Richan (2nd), Ethan Roberts (4th), Zach Mort (8th), Derek Casey (9th)
Several of the relievers assigned to Eugene were part of the roster last season, including NWL All-Star closer Luis Aquino. He is far too old for this level and can't be considered a prospect at this point. Like the rotation, the bullpen figures to receive a boost from the incoming draft class. In addition to Roberts potentially working out of the pen, the team nabbed a couple of hard throwers with plus stuff in Riley Thompson (11th) and Cam Sanders (12th) that bear watching. The Cubs drafted a handful of collegiate closers on Day 3 and at least a couple should eventually filter up to the Emeralds.
RHRP: Luis Aquino, Jake Steffens, Jeffrey Passantino, Casey Ryan, Mitch Stophel, Stephen Ridings
LHRP: Eugenio Palma
Draft: Riley Thompson, Cam Sanders, Riley McCauley, Josh Sawyer (L), Luke Reindl, Layne Looney
The three lower full season affiliates all had stacked rotations entering April, well, Eugene is going to be the one affiliate to field an exciting, prospect filled lineup on an everyday basis. Slick fielding shortstop Luis Vazquez may be the best middle infield glove man in the system and he possesses offensive upside as he continues to physically mature. Early reports are that 1st round pick Nico Hoerner will also be assigned to Eugene, but I seriously doubt that happens, at least for any extended period of time. There is no one blocking either player in South Bend and it seems only a matter of time before one gets shipped there rather than sharing time with the Emeralds.
Second and third base present interesting log jams as well. Christopher Morel, who reportedly makes as much loud contact as anyone in the system has experience at SS, but most project his future to be at the hot corner. He'll be in the lineup on an everyday basis somewhere. Polished hitter Luis Diaz will start as the primary second baseman but figures to also see time at third. The Cubs drafted a couple of left handed infielders in the top ten rounds that should figure into the equation as well. Luke Reynolds was one of the top hitters in all of the NCAA, and at 23-years old, the Cubs figure to be aggressive with the left handed slugger. He could join Hoerner as a guy who only makes a brief appearance in the AZL/Eugene before moving up to South Bend. The more likely competition for Diaz will be 5th rounder Andy Weber. Like Reynolds he is a polished left handed hitter and he appears to have the athleticism and arm to handle both 2B and 3B.
Arizona Phil has talked up the potential of switch hitting catcher Jonathan Soto during extended spring training, calling him the Cubs 2nd best catching prospect behind Miguel Amaya. In a system with solid bat-first options like Victor Caratini and Ian Rice, a breakout performer in Jhonny Pereda and an athletic defender in P.J. Higgins that is high praise.
Last but not least, the outfield will also have an exciting array of talent on display on a daily basis. Nelson Velazquez received a taste of A ball the past few weeks but it appears the challenge was a bit too much, too soon for the toolsy but raw corner outfielder. The 19-year old has been transferred to Eugene where he can hopefully get back to showing off his power. Joining him will be former high bonus IFA signings Jonathan Sierra and Kwang-Min Kwon. Sierra and Kwon have struggled to translate plus raw power into game situations.
Third round pick Jimmy Herron may require elbow surgery after his college season ends. If the Cubs believe the issue will not require surgery then he should eventually work his way into the Emeralds lineup. The same goes for 7th round center fielder D.J. Artis. The diminutive Artis, who makes his strike zone even more minuscule thanks to a batting stance with pronounced crouch, should bring plenty of speed and on base ability. The team drafted a number of other collegiate outfielders lower in the draft that could factor in as well, especially if Herron is unable to participate.
2B Luis Diaz / Draft: Andy Weber (5th)
SS Luis Vazquez / Draft: Nico Hoerner (1st)
3B Christopher Morel / Ramsey Romano, Draft: Luke Reynolds (10th)
CF Nelson Velazquez / Draft: D.J. Artis (7th)
LF Jonathan Sierra / Draft: Jimmy Herron (3rd)
1B Gustavo Polanco / Draft: Tyler Durna (15th)
C Jonathan Soto / Cam Balego
RF Kwang-Min Kwon