Thoughts and Photos from the Instructional League: Position Players (plus an early peek at Thomas Hatch)

There are 60 or so photos here, mostly of players you may have heard about but not seen.  Right now they are all position players with one exception, the first pictures of top 2016 pick, 3rd round RHP Thomas Hatch (he’s toward the end).  So far the players have been running drills, so we don’t have too much to go on other than physical changes, some things that players are working on, and in a few cases, players who have stood out in either batting practice or fielding drills.

Pitchers are just starting and we’ll address them later in the fall, but I will note that Thomas Hatch stood out.  He has a polished delivery with a 3/4 arm slot that may add some deception.  He was able to keep hitters off balance consistently yesterday.

Keep in mind that these are quick snapshots based on early observations.  The players are all here to work on their game.  Some of them aren’t done growing yet.  All will need time, but these players are here for a reason — and that is that they have the talent and mindet to progress through the system and, hopefully, up to the majors.  They just have to keep grinding.

Positions here are loose as most players move around and play multiple spots..

Catchers

  • Miguel Amaya has garnered some attention for both his improvement as a catcher/hitter and for putting on some solid muscle weight.  One of the thing we noted last year was that he just wasn’t strong enough….yet.  But hey, he was just 16.  Judging by his impressive BP display, that certainly seems to have changed.  Amaya is already known for his polished defensive skills and sound swing, but he may be someone who puts up better extra base hit numbers next year in the AZL.  Amaya in some ways reminds me of Albert Almora in how he carries himself on the field.  He just looks and acts like he belongs.  There is leadership potential in the 17 year old.
  • With Willson Contreras in the majors and Victor Caratini not yet here for the AFL, PJ Higgins is the top catching prospect in camp as of this writing.   Higgins is a patient hitter with a line drive stroke.  Defensively, he is learning to receive but already shows one of the quickest releases in the organization, often posting sub 2 second pop times.  One official compared him to Marlins catcher JT Realmuto in terms of his physical skills.
  • We know Ian Rice can hit and this fall the focus is going to be on polishing him up behind the plate.  His bat could be a plus if he sticks at catcher.
  • Catcher Jhonny Pereda is the opposite.  He has been mostly known for his defense and his ability to work with pitchers behind the plate, but he has added some lean muscle weight and was starting to hit with some pop in the AZL and that has continued down here in batting practice.  He’s making some adjustments to utilize that added strength.
  • Will Remillard is trying to come back after his 2nd Tommy John surgery.  He is only taking BP and not participating in catching drills yet.  Before the injuries, many considered him the best defensive catcher in the minor league system.  You may remember he showed well with the bat in Kane County as well.
  • Carlos Diaz is an interesting story as an undrafted free agent.  He was considered a top draft prospect in high school and was taking the Javy Baez route from Puerto Rico to a high school in Florida.  Unfortunately, he had a bad season and did not get drafted at all.  The Cubs signed him and he did get some ABs in the AZL last year.  It seems the hands are quick enough though the swing needs work, but he seemed to be putting it together toward the end of the last session, squaring up and hitting some hard line drives.  What I like about Diaz is that he really seems to appreciate the 2nd chance.  You’ll see him front and center when coaches are holding group instruction.  He’s often the first to help out when drills are over and he just has a constant smile.  Can’t help but root for this underdog.
  • Like Ian Rice, 8th round pick  (and first position player taken by the Cubs) Michael Cruz‘s offense is ahead of his defense.   At the plate he is a disciplined LH hitter with some extra base pop.
  • Alberto Mineo is a bit older and he’ll be in advanced instructs when that starts next week.  Mineo has a chance to develop into a backup catcher.
  • Gustavo Polanco is a thickly built catcher with some good bat to ball skills at the plate.  The size leads you to believe he could develop power,
  • Sam Tidaback is a Plainfield, IL native and lifelong Cubs fan, so we have to root for him from the start.  Haven’t seen too much of him yet but the build suggests power potential and the one time I saw him in the AZL, he showed some leadership skills behind the plate.  Not a bad start for a catcher.

First Base

  • There are several players here but one guy who hasn’t played any 1B is Chris Pieters, who was the primary Eugene 1B in 2016.  Instead Pieters is in the outfield where the Cubs hope he can learn to take better reads and routes.  Frankly, he is behind the other OF’ers right now despite his speed, athleticism, and strong throwing arm.  The tools are there but he will need a lot of work to become a competent outfielder.  Pieters showed some promise as a hitter in his first full season.
  • Rafael Mejia is a big-bodied 18 year old with raw power, but a hitch in his swing makes him inconsistent when it comes to tapping it.  He’s looking to smooth out his swing and make more consistent hard contact,  He played 3B last year but made a ton of errors on throws.  If Mejia makes it, it will be on the strength of his HR power anyway, so 1B is a good fit.  He has worked hard at it this fall.
  • Jason Vosler has seen some time here and it seems the obvious goal here is to make him more versatile.  He’s a favorite of the coaching staff down here for his work ethic and baseball IQ.  He is not the kind of player who will wow you from a tools standpoint, he just always seems able to do what’s needed and get the job done out on the field.
  • He’s not the biggest 1B around but don’t tell that to Abraham Rodriguez‘s bat.  This 17 year old can flat out hit.  He squares up easily and has the hand speed to turn on pitches for some power.  He put on a show Friday and he was so impressive that I found myself saying “Wow” out loud.   AZL manager Carmelo Martinez (yes, the former Cub) raved about his bat and is looking forward to the talent he will have this year.  When asked if Rodriguez can be as good a hitter as he was, Martinez responded with an enthusiastic, “Oh yes.  Just give him some time.”  My guess is that he ends up in the OF, but wherever he plays, it’s his bat that’s his ticket.

Second Base

  • He’ll turn 20 in two days but Carlos Sepulveda is already polished with the bat and defensive fundamentals.   He is in some ways, the left-handed version of Stephen Bruno or Chesny Young, perhaps a bit undersized but he has the gift of being able to consistently barrel up the baseball.
  • Zack Short has seen some time here and some time at shortstop.  He has a lean, athletic build and has good all-around skills, including some of the best plate discipline in the system already.  He’s solid at the plate, on the bases, and in the field.  He seems to have reduced his leg kick a bit since I saw him in the AZL.   I think the Cubs got a bit of a steal drafting him in the 17th round.
  • Luis Diaz is a speedy, athletic 2B who seems to have lost some baby fat and looks a little leaner than he was at this time last year.  He’s slick in the field, showing good range and quick hands.
  • Yelier Peguero seems to have found a home at 2B after starting his career as a shortstop.  He’s a very good defender and instructor Tim Cossins was telling him he can win a gold glove someday.  He makes a ton of contact at the plate with a slash and dash style.
  • Delvin Zinn is a very good athlete with great range at 2B.  He doesn’t get the chance in drills but you can just visualize him making acrobatic plays.  He’s stronger than I thought he’d be and looks like he has the chance to provide some pop as a hitter, It’s easy to see why the Cubs drafted this kid twice. He’s a great fit for the organization both on and off the field.

Third Base

  • Christian Villanueva is back and looks like hasn’t missed a day on the field defensively.  He appears to have no lingering effects of the season ending injury he suffered in spring training.  At the plate, he continues to show some power.  It will be interesting to see what happens as the Cubs have Kris Bryant and Javier Baez at the MLB level and Jeimer Candelario tearing up AAA this past season.
  • Yonathan Perlaza has seen time at all 2B, SS, and 3B but defense isn’t his strong suit right now.  He has athleticism and arm strength but needs to develop softer hands.  At the plate, he is a dynamo with his quick hands and ability to use his lower half.  He has that nice sound off the bat and it looks like he is going to be an offensive minded infielder,  Perlaza also showed some improvement with his plate discipline in the DSL. The question is where he fits defensively.
  • Christopher Morel was part of last year’s IFA class but didn’t get to play because of an injury.  I have to admit I didn’t know much about him, but he was so thin that I figured he was a slick fielding SS.  Not so.  Morel has created some buzz with his surprising power, putting on the best BP show on the first day of instructs, impressing Jaron Madison as well as Cossins.  Cossins comped him to a young Starlin Castro.  I’ve often wondered what Castro could have become with the Cubs current development and instructional staff.  Maybe Morel will give us a a chance to find out.  Unlike Castro, however, Morel appears to be a third baseman from the start. He does show good defensive skills there.
  • We cannot forget about Wladimir Galindo, who really showed improvement at Eugene last year in terms of his plate discipline.   Galindo is strong as his body has filled out.  He will still chase and swing and miss, but when he connects he makes about the hardest contact you’ll see here.  In fact, Galindo launched one on the roof Friday, so maybe he will take the rooftop HR mantle from Eloy Jimenez.  Galindo works hard in the field and I think he can stick there as of now, but he may have enough bat to cover 1B or the corner OF if that becomes necessary.

Shortstop

  • Andruw Monasterio is an athletic player with very good range to his left.  The bat has been inconsistent and I’ve seen him work on incorporating the back side a bit more in his swing.  He hit well at Eugene and got himself promoted to South Bend, where at 18/19, he was among the youngest players there.  He’ll probably get another shot there next spring.  Good work ethic plus baseball athleticism give him a chance to keep improving.
  • Aramis Ademan is perhaps the best defender among a pretty good group of shortstops.  He’s a true SS.  In fact, I am not sure the Cubs have even played him anywhere else.  At the plate he has a mature approach along with a smooth stroke that produces line drives from gap to gap.  He can sell out for power but that is not his game right now.
  • Rafael Narea is another very good defender and has already seen time at SS, 3B, and 2B.  At the plate, he’s a patient hitter with a short quick, level swing that should allow him to make a lot of contact, but he likely won’t hit for power.
  • Isaac Paredes is the best hitter of the group, helped in part by an already mature frame at age 17.  He makes hard contact consistently.  In the field, he is not as quick as the other 3 but he has good instincts, is fundamentally sound, and has a strong arm.  It’ll be interesting to see if he outgrows SS but the Cubs are playing him there almost exclusively for now.

Outfield

  • Eddy Julio Martinez looks to have smoothed out his swing since I last saw him.  The jury is still out whether he can play CF, but he has gotten some reps there and has made some nice plays, including leaping and robbing a HR during drills.  One scout I spoke with in the summer believes he will develop power, but it will take time before it shows consistently in games.
  • Donnie Dewees is one of the most exciting players in the system with his speed and extra base hit ability.  He took to CF very quickly, outplaying Martinez there last spring to earn the job and push Martinez to RF.  His one weakness is his arm, but if he can continue to do everything else well, you can certainly live with it.
  • DJ Wilson is another exciting player.  Actually, explosive might be the better word.  He had a superb 2nd half at Eugene, showing a combination of speed and surprising pop for his size.  Wilson’s bat speed is impressive.  He’s not a slap and go type hitter by any means.  Defensively, his excellent speed and good instincts allow him to cover a ton of ground.  His arm as at least average and perhaps a tick above.
  • Connor Myers can flat go out and get it in CF, often showing a flair for the spectacular.  The questions surround his bat where he needs more balance.  He’s making some adjustments to help him  drive the ball more consistently He seemed to pick it up quickly and has already shown improvement.
  • Zach Davis is another good defender with excellent speed.  I saw him today and he was slapping at the ball early, a little like early Matt Szczur, but when I came back for a second look, he was getting better weight transfer and making much harder contact.
  • Luis Ayala was one of the more consistent hitters on the AZL squad.  He is a pretty polished player with athleticism.  Ayala runs extremely well and has a chance to stick in CF.p
  • Kwang-Min Kwon spent much of the summer re-tooling his swing and it has looked noticeably shorter this fall.  He’s a better athlete than you might think given his size, but he has trimmed down some as the Cubs try to develop him as an OFer first.  Right now he’s a little rough with his reads/routes.  1B is a fallback option, but he’ll have to show that BP power against live pitching for him to be viable there.
  • Jonathan Sierra has gotten in a lot of work on his swing already this fall.  When everything is in sync, he has as smooth a stroke as anyone here, but it looks like he’s trying to get more consistent with his swing.  The Cubs are hoping he can turn on pitches and tap into that raw power potential and he’s making some adjustments to keep him balanced and in good hitting position, The Cubs have a lot of success with players that have Sierra’s proifle, but it may take a bit of time before the adjustments feel natural to him.   He has a chance to be a power hitting RF who also puts up good OBPs.
  • Jose Gutierrez is one of two 17 year old switch-hitting CF’ers in camp.  He has a lean, athletic frame that looks like it has some room to add some muscle as he matures physically.  He runs well and already shows some pop at the plate.
  • Fernando Kelli is the other 17 year old switching CF’er.  He’s a speed based player who puts the ball in play but he has little to no power, though he is still very young.  He certainly needs to add strength but even if he does, I imagine speed and defense will always be his primary tools, which is kind of what you want from your CF’ers anyway,

We’ll cover the pitchers another time but it will take time for me to see them all, so it won’t be for at least 2-3 weeks.

Filed under: Photo Gallery, prospects

Comments

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  • John, can you provide the Cub fans in the Phoenix area what time the Instruct drills start each day. Also what time do the games start?

  • In reply to Cubs1935:

    Right now it's just drills. They start around 10:30 to 11:00 am. Games start on Monday and advanced instructs are here in Mesa on Monday and Friday.

  • Does D.J. Wilson have patience at the plate? If he can be, or already is, a high OBP guy, walks can turn into doubles. Very nice at the top of the order in 2019 / 2020.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    He's learning. Had a 7.3% walk rate last year, which is about average, but he had spurts where he was drawing a lot of walks, That's how it usually starts with young hitters. Willson Contreras is a good example of that.

  • Awesome, John! I like the amount of switch hitters we have developing. In fact, I've wondered if it would be beneficial to have the LH'd hitters give it a shot at a young age considering most LH'd hitters often struggle against lefties. I grew up doing it and, man, it was so much easier to see the ball from the oppo side. Thoughts?

  • It seems to be more commonly taught early in the Latin American countries. I agree it should be taught more. It's a useful skill.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John haven't even read the article yet just wanted to tell you how excited I am. These are the pieces that only you can do and that give me such joy

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Thanks, Eric!

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    Great read John. As I've said before, I love reading about our young players and follow them through the system. Sometimes that time isn't so long.
    thanks again, and how lucky you are to be their and see them too. Do you ever get a chance to talk to any of them?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks. I just wanted to give a general idea about these players, but as I often say, they all have a chance and they all need time to develop their skills.

    I do talk to them a little bit, Usually just hellos, sometimes just to ask if they're pitching or what field they'll be taking BP on. I got to practice my Spanish with Jose Gutierrez. Told him I was rusty but he said I spoke it very well, so I was glad to hear that :) I don't get to use it much anymore.

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    I also noticed that it seems the Cubs are drafting more players with speed and athleticism. Speed is not just stealing bases but helps defensively as well as offensively, and we've seen what problems it can cause with players like Villar for the Brewers and the whole outfield for the Pirates. Of course, saying that, they will be watching the Cubs during the playoffs, but I think a nice combination of speed and power and hitting ability is what the Cubs will have one day with these young players here. I have to remind myself that if it takes some of these players 4 years to make the majors Russell and Baez and Schwarbs and Bryant, etc will still be in their 20's. I forget sometimes how young we are at the ML level.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Yes. More good athletes than in past years.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    "I forget sometimes how young we are at the ML level."

    It really is rather amazing. 8 players (Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Contreras, Soler, Baez, Zastryzny and Almora) are all 24 or younger. And only Bryant, Soler and Zastryzny will be 25 by opening day next year.

    Another 8 players are between 28-25. Rondon, Grimm and Chapman are 28 (man, I hope they re-sign Chapman). Rizzo and Heyward are 27 (just turned about a month and a half ago), Montgomery's 27, Hendricks is 26 and Edwards is 25 (just turned 3 weeks ago).

    As John pointed out, the list of 17 year olds is long topped by Albertos, Paredes, Sierra, Ademan, Amaya, Marquez, Perlaza and Morel. And Kwon is 18.

    There's a nice list of 19 year olds in the system as well. Jimenez, Moreno, Wilson, Hudson, Monasterio and Galindo top that list.

    Then there's Cease and Sepulveda who are 20, and Clifton, De La Cruz, Paulino, Steele, Rondon and EJM who are 21. Candelario is just 22 in AAA, and Happ just turned 22 a month and a half ago.

    I'd say both the major and minor leagues are packed with youth. That's a good sign that Theo & Co. have a chance to fulfill their promise of a consistent contender built on talent developed from within the organization.

    The Cubs couldn't say that a few years ago.

  • I never been so informed on the farm system since you been writing about them. What a pleasure and I feel like I'm a expert on the Cubs farm. This article was tremendous. I will keep reading and hope you continue to do well. Take care and what a ride were in for.

  • In reply to rockyje:

    Thank you. Between the postseason, nstructs, and the fall league, we'll be very busy this fall!

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    Thanks for the overview, John. I'm sure we will be reading (and discussing) these guys a lot in the upcoming years.

    At this point with the MLB team stacked at virtually every position and most with obvious "heirs" in the minor leagues already I can't help but see some of these guys as future trade fodder. And from your descriptions it isn't hard to imagine them having value in that area in 2-4 years

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    You're welcome. As far as whether they're eventually traded, I try not think of them in that way. It sounds cliche but part of the reason I enjoy this time of year is watching them go through the journey of becoming a big leaguer. It's inevitable that some will do that for another team, though, so yes I can see some of these guys being packaged eventually. A few may break with the Cubs as we all know circumstances can change. Opportunities about in particular for the pitchers, who we will do on another day.

  • John, In the 60th pic, I notice that Yonathon Perlaza has a second left arm. Do you have an opinion on whether that helps or hurts him in the field?

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Ha! I didn't even notice that. They were running drills so someone is behind him. If it were Galindo, we'd probably see more of him because he is so much bigger than Perlaza. It's probably Rafael Narea.

  • Can't but help feel that you've provided an introduction to a handful of future everyday MLB ball players. When others ask "who?", we'll be able to answer. For that, I thank you!

    I love these inside looks John as it breeds reason for continued optimism in the long term direction of this truly wonderful organization while personalizing these young hopefuls. I wish all of these young men the best in the pursuit of their dreams. The story of Carols Diaz for some reason strikes a chord w/ me. Obviously he has a long way to go, but something tells me we'll be seeing and reading more about this guy in the years to come.

  • Thank you John for all of this information. All I can say is WOW! The lower levels of the farm system is loaded and this is just the positional players. :-)

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