Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Happ explodes for 4 hits, 2 HRs, 4 RBI; Blackburn devours Biscuits; Underwood nears return

The Cubs got some good news when Duane Underwood put up an encouraging start, getting him one step closer to joining AA Tennessee.  The stars in full season play were Paul Blackburn and Ian Happ.

Iowa, Round Rock – PPD (Michael E.)

  • Heavy rains washed out yesterday’s matchup between Iowa and Round Rock (Rangers) and then caused a 34 minute rain delay at the start of tonight’s game. Once they got going the two teams were not able to complete the first inning as wet grounds, particularly the batters box, prohibited the game from continuing.

Tennessee 4, Montgomery 0 (Michael E.)

  • After be tagged for three hits and run in the first inning of his opening start of the season, Paul Blackburn has given up just eight hits since while compiling 17 straight shutout innings, including 7 tonight. He worked quickly with his over the top delivery, requiring just 86 pitches. The only two hits he allowed were a bunt single in the first and an infield single in the sixth. He did walk three batters on the night and was helped by his defense in extending the shutout streak.
  • Throwing 95-96 and flashing his wipeout slider, Corey Black issued a leadoff walk, before retiring the next three hitters in order.
  • An encouraging outing from Andury Acevedo who entered the game tied for the most walks issued in the Southern League with eight despite having thrown just 3.2 innings. He did fall behind and give up a single to the leadoff man before recovering and blowing away the final three batters. The Cubs signed the 25 year old right hander away from the Yankees organization to a major league deal in the offseason and it is easy to see what they like about him. He throws 97-98 with movement and mixes in a slider, although he appeared to go exclusively with the fastball in this outing. If he can harness his command he has the stuff to retire major league hitters.
  • Light hitting shortstop Carlos Penalver (2-3, 2B, 3 RBI, BB, CS) drove in three of the four Smokies runs on a two run double and an RBI single. He would reach on a walk in his third AB before being caught attempting to steal second. With two more runners on in the seventh he was robbed of a fourth RBI on a nice running catch by fleet Montgomery CF Braxton Lee.
  • He stayed hot at the plate, but RF Bijan Rademacher (1-2, 2 R, BB, HBP) also made some big plays defensively as he doubled off a runner at 1st base in the bottom of the first, and then preserved Blackburn’s shutout streak when he robbed a HR to the leadoff man in the 5th. A momentarily frightening moment occurred in the 7th when Rademacher was struck on the right wrist by a pitch, but he shook it off and stayed in the game.
  • Jacob Hanneman (1-4, BB, K, SB) extended his modest hitting streak to 4 games and also stole his 6th base, raising his average from .111 to .205 over that span.
  • Chesny Young (1-3, 2 BB, 2 SB) and Mark Zagunis (1-2, 2 BB) each reached base three times.

Myrtle Beach 6 – Winston Salem 4

  • LHP Tommy Thorpe rebounded to put up a solid outing, going 5.1 innings and allowing just one run.  He walked 2 and struck out 2 to improve to 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA on the year.  Thorpe throws a high 80s FB with a good curve and a change-up.
  • Bit of a tough outing for converted reliever Daury Tprrez, who made this game a close one when he allowed 5 hits and 3 runs (2 earned) in 1.2 innings, including back to back HRs in the 7th that knocked him out of the game
  • Dave Berg came in to put out the fire and earn his 2nd save.  He went 2 perfect innings, getting 5 of the 6 outs via groundout and the other one via strikeout.
  • Rashad Crawford continued his strong start.  He tripled down the RF line to lead off the game and then singled and scored later.  Crawford is off toa .333 start with 7 extra base hits (4 doubles, 2 triples, HR) in his first 11 games.  Crawford is one of our players to keep an eye on as he has filled out physically and added some raw power.  He can still fly and cover a lot of ground in CF.
  •  Gleyber Torres doubled and reached on a fielder’s choice  He would score both times.  Torres has been mired in a slump this season.
  • Ian Happ had himself a heck of a ballgame, going 4 for 4 and hitting a solo HR deep over the high wall in right center and then a 2-run shot the opposite way to drive in 4.  He also drove in a run with a line drive single.  stole a base and made a spectacular diving play on defense.  He may have driven the bus to and from the game too.  Happ is off to a solid start after a strong spring, hitting .313/.400/.537 to start the season.  He’s pretty good.
  • 3B Jason Vosler singled in the first run of the game ( a clutch two out hit, of course) and went 1 for 3 overall.
  • Charcer Burks doubled, walked, and scored a run.

South Bend 9 – Bowling Green 3

  • LHP Carson Sands didn’t have great velo today but he battled for 5 innings, pitching to contact, including 6 GBs.  He also threw strikes,  walking just one. He also, struck out two and allowed 2 runs  Sands also throws a good curve and a developing change up.
  • John Williamson kept the lead in tact with 2 no hit innings.
  • 2B Sutton Whiting singled, walked, and scored 2 runs.  Whiting has been the leadoff man since joining South Bend and has done a good job of getting on base and providing speed on the bases.
  • C PJ Higgins doubled, singled, scored, and drove in 2 runs.  Higgins has impressed with his  skills behind the plate, including a 1.9 second pop time.  At the plate he hits line drives from gap to gap.  He is a deep sleeper to watch.
  • What did Donnie Dewees do today?  He singled, walked, stole a base and scored twice and drove in 2.  That’s what.  Dewees has been the Cubs hottest hitter this side of Willson Contreras.  He’s hitting a cool .405/.460/.690 with 8 extra base hits (4 doubles and 4 triples.
  • Eloy Jimenez doubled, walked, scored, and drove in a run.
  • Daniel Spingola went 3 for 5 and scored a run.
  • 3B Matt Rose has had a better season than the box scores would indicate.  He’s made some nice defensive plays at 3B and has made a lot of solid contact this year — only to see it go directly to an opponents glove.  This time he made sure nobody caught it, depositing over the LF wall for a 2 run HR.  He almost hit two, hitting a long, high fly down the LF line that would have easily cleared the wall but went foul.
  • Andrew Ely singled twice and scored while SS Bryant Flete singled, walked and scored a run.
  • 1B Tyler Alamo also singled and walked.  He is off to a strong start, hitting .389, though they are all singles.

EXST Cubs 4 – EXST Giants 2 (Box Score via AZ Phil, The Cub  Reporter)

  • Duane Underwood hit 95 mph several times in the first inning and pitched at 92-94 mph for all 5 innings.  The sustained velocity  over 5 innings is encouraging because it means Underwood is close to returning to league action, probably with the  Tennessee Smokies.  As far as the game went, the one thing that was missing was FB command early in the game.  Underwood left the ball up and the Giants crushed it repeatedly for line drives.  He improved as the game went on, keeping the FB down and gradually mixing in his curve and change, both of which have the chance to be plus pitches as well as his FB.  The CB was consistently in the 76-78 mph range while the mid 80s change showed some sink and tail.  After a troublesome first in which Underwood gave up 2 runs, he  proceeded to pitch 4 scoreless innings.  He did not walk a batter and struck out 4.
  • LHP Manual Rondon, acquired by the Cubs in exchange for C Rafael Lopez, had good velocity, sitting 92-93 and touching 94.  He also mixed in a curve and a change.  Most importantly for Rondon, he was attacking the strike zone.  He is a power pitcher but tends to nibble sometimes and gets himself into trouble.  Not today.  He mowed down the Giants for 3 perfect inniings with  5 of those 9 outs coming via strikeout.
  • The offensive star was 17 year old Isaac Paredes, who hit a hard triple down the RF line, scored 2 runs and drove in another.  Paredes is a rather thickly built SS who defends suprisingly well and shows extra base pop, bringing Jhonny Peralta to mind.
  • 2B Vimael Machin squared up all day and drove in two runs with a single and a sac fly to deep CF.


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  • Thanks for the recap. Love the stuff from Mesa, John. There's that Isaac Paredes guy again!

    I'd love to get your take (scouting report) on some relievers that we don't normally hear much about. What can you tell us about the stuff of David Garner (7th round, 2013), James Farris (9th round, 2014) and Craig Brooks (7th round, 2015)?

    Thanks, and what a great resource it is for us Denizens to have you in Mesa!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I went out to watch the Pelicans play Friday night against the Mudcats. Trevor Clifton started and pitched very well. His fastball was pretty much unhittable. Unfortunately the radar gun at the stadium was not working, so I can't tell you how fast they were trowing but from the nakes eye...Clifton was bringing it. The issue was his control of the CB. I kept saying to myself...just give him the gas Ricky. The Mudcats first run came when Clifton walked Dansby Swanson on curve balls that were going about 58 feet, Swanson then stole second, and went to third as the throw from Amaya went into CF. The next pitch was another curve that ended up at the backstop..and Swanson scored.

    Jordan Minch came on in relief and was being hit pretty good. They did not score against him, but it was not for a lack of trying...5 hits in 2.1 innings. Then James Farris began warming up. We were sitting right next to the bullpen, and were able to watch the relief pitchers. When Farris was warming up my girlfriend said..."he looks a lot better than that last guy...I mean all of his pitches are right where the catcher is putting his glove." She was right...he had pin point control during warmups, and then came into the game throwing strikes. He came in and threw one inning facing three batters and striking out 1. He was very impressive, but not sure how high his ceiling is going to be. Clifton on the other hand...if he gains control of the curve..watch out! He is going to be a pitcher to watch.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I swear when I first saw Paredes in Mesa I thought he was a catcher. He definitely does not look like a SS.

    Undersized, but Garner throws 92-95 but it gets on top of hitters quicker than the velo would suggest. He also flashes a slurvy breaking ball that generates some swings and misses when he commands it. He still has bouts of control issues, but he could certainly factor in as a middle reliever or setup guy down the road.

    Farris is intriguing as a 4 pitch reliever. He throws in the low 90s, can touch 94, and mixes in a hard slider, a get it over 12-6 curve and a good changeup that fades down and away to lefties that should help him control platoon splits against him.

    Brooks is another undersized, hard thrower (91-95). He also throws a hard slider in the mid to high 80s. I'm not sure if he throws both a slider and cutter or if he just changes his grip to get more of a sweeping action on it at times. He works quick and has some deception with a high leg kick which helps his stuff play up a bit.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Paredes kind of forces you to watch him. He's a good ballplayer.

    David Garner has a loose, athletic frame and a live arm. He throws easy heat that i have seen hit the mid 90s with regularity in the AFL. The easy delivery seems like it causes some natural deception as the ball explodes out of his hand and gets on hitters quickly, making the velo play up. The breaking ball is about 82-83 mph, which puts it in slurve territory, but it is a pretty good slurve, especially when he is ahead on the count, which is when he mostly throws it.

    James Farris is an atypical reliever who relies on movement on his fastball and throws a very good change. He has started and he knows how to pitch, so he is not just throwing up there. He will set hitters up. He can get it up into the low 90s in relief, perhaps even a tick or two higher at times.

    Craig Brooks is a dynamo. He's another live arm with some athleticism but he doesn't have the same kind of loose frame that Garner does. He can get it up into the mid 90s and he works aggressively and quickly, keeping hitters on their heels. Energetic, fearless power power pitcher who is probably maxed out physically, so I don't think he'll be a closer, but he can be a 7th inning type, perhaps.

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    John, it seems like the stars are starting to shine in the minors for the Cubs. I'm very encouraged by Underwood and Happ. I think you said that Happ is playing 2nd base now. I can see him being promoted some time this year to AA, and who knows where after that. I don't want to look to far into the future, but say in 2 year, if Happ is ready for the big club, would he play 2nd and still have Javy as a super utility or who would you play at 2nd? Russell and Javy would make a great defensive (and offensive) duo, so is Happ as good defensively as Javy is?
    Great news from up and down the organization, and now I can sleep easy. thanks.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Obviously not John, but for me all that "who will play what position 2 years from now stuff" will sort itself out. Trust me, I get excited and wonder about that stuff too, but it's way too early to be able to give an answer to that because so much could change. Javy could flame out or break out. He could be traded. He could take over in CF for Fowler next season.

    Happ has played a total of 12 games at High-A and 79 career minor league games. He's had some success and is coming off of a great game, but he's still quite rough around the edges at 2B defensively and strikes out way too much. On the other hand, he's just 21 years old, a year young for his league (which is typically a pitcher's league) and this front office (whom I trust a lot) saw fit to make him the 9th pick overall.

    Happ may always K too much like Javy but be worse defensively and not hit for as much power. He may develop over the next 2-3 seasons into a solid 2B and a much more disciplined hitter who can wait on a pitch to drive and increase his power numbers. It's just too early to even wonder about these things.

    Case in point. The Cubs sign Dexter Fowler. A good move in and of itself that improved the Cubs and allowed Heyward to move back to RF. A big debate breaks out over what happens to Schwarber and Soler. Then Kyle is out for the year, and Soler is your full time LFer.

    Can you imagine what the Cubs OF would look with Victorino/Szczur in LF, Heyward in CF and Soler in RF? Too much depth is always a great thing to have.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I know that it's really useless to wonder about things that far in advance--it's useless to worry about something a week from now, but when I was reading the recap, and being so late at night, I was thinking about that.
    Most players in the minors never get to the majors, and you're right about what can or will happen. Just the musings at around 1am in the morning. Thanks for making an intelligent answer to a wild musing.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    Great post, Quedub and I agree whole heartedly. "The problem will sort itself out." If we don't have a place for Happ on the MLB roster and do not get any sufficient trade offers we can stash him in the minors for YEARS at this point. To use another cliche, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Happ is never going to be the defender that Javy is. His strike outs also are not accompanied by the power potential Baez has. But he does walk more and if Happ can turn himself into a dependable second basemen he will put himself into the mix at the position. His competition will include more that Baez however. Tommy La Stella, Gleyber Torres, Chesny Young, Jason Vosler, Arismendy Alcantara may all have a say in the future in that position too.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Interesting random statistic: LaStella currently ranks 10th in MLB for average hitting exit velocity (96.04 mph). https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_leaderboard?year=2016&abs=10&player_type=batter

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Ahead of guys like Cargo, Miggy, & Big Papi. Who woulda thunk?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Happ is a good hitter. He'll strike out some but the quality of contact and good speed make me think he'll hit for a solid average. The defense is improving and it has been since day 1, ,when I didn't think he had much chance to stick there. But he works hard at it and I think there's a realistic chance he sticks there. The footwork has vastly improved, which is what you want to see. He made some errors early, but that was probably a factor of adjusting to game speed. That should continue to improve as well.

    As to what will happen, who knows? It could be Happ as the starting 2B and Javy as a Zobrist type player -- or maybe Baez starts and Happ rotates between 2B and the OF, maybe even 3B too, which he played a bit in college. Too early to tell and the Cubs have some time to let this play out.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Happ vs Baez strike outs.. Does happ swing and miss at the same types of pitched that Baez can't lay off of? I guess what I'm asking is if happ has better strike zone discipline vs Baez?

  • I'd like to second that, John. Your minor league scouting notes and recaps are better and more detailed than anything thats ever existed and the team of writers putting together the mlb recaps are thorough, clever, and bordering on artistic.
    You've really built something to be proud of here, John.

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Thanks, Eric. I appreciate the kind words. And the recaps and previews are the best out there. Exactly what I was hoping they would be.

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    Any chance Hanneman becomes an everyday player? His bat seems to be a liability but maybe that changes?

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    In reply to Brandon Halford:

    MLB everyday player.

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    Every guy has a chance, but he's got a long way to go and he turns 25 in 10 days. I'd say it's a very small chance. I'd say it's less than 50/50 he even sees the major leagues.

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    Hanneman has the tools. His speed is beginning to translate successfully on defense and on the basepaths. He has the strength to hit for some power, however he is just in the beginning stages of applying it in game situations as he still has a tendency to not incorporate his lower half in his swing, but when he does he can drive the ball into the gaps and has HR power to his pull field. He has so far cut his K rate significantly this season, so that is another good sign.

    He will be turning 25 this month, so time is working against him, but Hanneman has the double whammy of being both a 2 sport guy and taking 2 years off for a Mormon mission so given his lack of experience there really shouldn't be surprise or much concern over the fact he is still a raw athlete more so than ball player at this stage. He (and fans) can take comfort in the fact that Matt Szczur appears to finally be putting the pieces together in his age 27 season. Hanneman could very well follow a similar path.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    This is well said. I liked him since they drafted him, and just feel if there is a guy you can sit back and be patient with its a guy like him. Epstein really likes those athletic, dynamic CFers. From Ellsbury, Bradley and Betts with the Red Sox to Hanneman, Crawford and Wilson with the Cubs.

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    Hannemann is interesting. He may be the best athlete in the organization and he can really look good in drills, even BP, where he can hit the ball a long way. The in-game baseball skills haven't developed as quickly as they'd hoped. My guess is that if he makes it, it is more likely he makes it as a Matt Szczur type reserve.

  • Ho Hum, another perfect performance by the Pelican's David Berg. After 5 appearances, he now sports a 0.0 ERA, 0.47 WHIP, and 0 walks.

    Obviously still SSS, but I'm really intrigued with how high this guy can go.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I thought he was going to start the year in AA. Wouldn't surprise me if he gets there this season at or before the halfway point.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    What does SSS mean?

  • Small Sample Size

    Isn't that Ryan Theriot's nickname too? LOL.

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    Berg is pretty polished, everyone keeps saying he'll either make it pretty fast or he won't. He could be an early promotion.

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    Did a bug finally crawl up Corey Black's backside? I'm thinking that going on the waiver wire and having to resign with the Cubs may have finally got the message across that talent alone doesn't get you to the show. He seems to be on a bit of a mission so far. It's a small sample size but something happened to wake him up.

    Just my observation.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Hopefully he'll make some teams that could of picked him up regret not doing so.

  • Blackburn seems to be maturing into a good SP. Maybe in a couple more years he could be a BOR starter for the Cubs.

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