The John Arguello Awards continues today, as our panel of minor league reporters at Cubs Den now turn their attention to Minor League Pitchers of the Year.
The Cubs’ Minor League Pitchers of the Year: Duncan Robinson, RHP and Dakota Mekkes, RHP
For the second straight year, the abundance of pitching talent the Cubs have amassed in the minor league system has caused our panel to split the award. It also marks the second year in a row that relief pitcher Dakota Mekkes has been honored.
After going a combined 8-2 with 7 saves and a 0.98 ERA in 42 appearances last season, Mekkes picked up where he left off in beginning 2018 with Double-A Tennessee. “This was the first time I got to see Mekkes pitch, and he’s a heck of a competitor” said Tennessee coach Ben Carhart.
The 6’7” Mekkes was no match for Southern League hitters, racking up 8 saves and a 3-0 record to go with a 0.81 ERA, 0.985 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts in 22.1 innings for the Smokies. “Dakota Mekkes has that sneaky extension that makes him tough for batters to pick up” reports Tennessee broadcaster Mick Gillispie. “He is so good in the clutch and gets outs in big situations with the game on the line.”
It was more of the same for the 23-year old after an early June promotion to Triple-A Iowa. According to Des Moines Register correspondent Tommy Birch, “I'm not sure anyone saw this coming. His stuff isn't overpowering despite being a big guy. But it is deceptive and it plays really well. It's why he's been able to have such a rapid rise though the system.”
Once at the highest level, the Cubs’ player development wanted to see what else Mekkes could do. As a result, some of the numbers were not as good as previously seen, with his ERA “climbing” to 1.44 and WHIP to 1.372. “Mekkes has shown his versatility with 2 inning outings” states Iowa broadcaster Alex Cohen. “He has been getting stronger, and now his fastball has hit 95 MPH. Mekkes’ strikeout numbers are up as the season has gone on. He has been lights out at every level, and carried himself that way.”
In a similar vein, 24-year old Duncan Robinson had taken a back seat to some more high-profile pitching prospects, but 2018 was his time to shine.
Selected in the 9th round of the 2016 Draft, Robinson was in the shadow of top selections Thomas Hatch and Tyson Miller, along with successful later round selections Michael Rucker and Matt Swarmer. Yet, Robinson out-produced all of those pitchers last season, going 9-9 with a 2.21 ERA, 1.087 WHIP, and 96 strikeouts in 126 innings between Low-A South Bend and Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.
As the 2018 season began, it was the backseat again for Robinson as the focus turned to 2017 draftees Alex Lange, Cory Abbott, and Keegan Thompson along with some of the previously mentioned pitchers. And once again, Robinson was able to demonstrate his worth on the field.
Part of the reason for Robinson’s success is his preparation. “Duncan Robinson is a thinking man’s pitcher” says Gillispie. “He studies the game and can execute a scouting report game plan. He was better and better as the season progressed.”
Carhart agrees. “Duncan is an outstanding guy and very cerebral in everything. He busts his butt to be completely prepared every time he toes the rubber, and is always there for his teammates on and off the field.”
Robinson continued his high level of production with 111 strikeouts against only 22 walks, leading to a 1.255 WHIP, 3.31ERA, and a 7-4 record for Tennessee. That got Robinson a late season bump to Iowa.
“We only saw Robinson for two starts here, but were very impressed” said Cohen. “He has a plan on the mound, works quickly, makes hitters uneasy, and throws quality strikes. His fastball looks harder than it is, which is good thing. He seems like student of pitching.” Robinson was good enough in those two starts to push his season numbers to 8-4 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, and 119 strikeouts in 141.2 innings.
For a system that sometimes gets criticized for it pitching, there were plenty of great efforts this past season. The 24-year old Swarmer split time between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee and was 9-8 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.041 WHIP, and 135 strikeouts in 128 innings. Thompson, 23-years old, also pitched for both Tennessee and Myrtle Beach and had a 3.75 ERA and 1.179 WHIP as he struck out 110 in 124.2 innings and was 8-6. At just 22-years old for most of the season, Miller made the biggest improvement, striking out 122 in 122 innings and going 9-8 with a 3.54 ERA and 1.107 WHIP for the Pelicans. Starting the year in South Bend, the 22-year old Abbott climbed quickly to Myrtle Beach and was 8-6 with a 3.13 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, and 131 strikeouts in 115 innings overall.
Note: The author would like to thank Tennessee coach Ben Carhart, Iowa broadcaster Alex Cohen, Des Moines Register correspondent Tommy Birch, Tennessee broadcaster Mick Gillispie, and Dakota Mekkes along with Michael Ernst and Stephanie Lynn for contributing to this article.
Tags: Alex Cohen, Alex Lange, Ben Carhart, Cory Abbott, Dakota Mekkes, Duncan Robinson, Keegan Thompson, Matt Swarmer, Michael Ernst, Michael Rucker, Mick Gillispie, Stephanie Lynn, Thomas Hatch, Tom U, Tommy Birch, Tyson Miller