The last time we saw Cory Abbott was on a AA field in 2019 as he wrapped up his Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year campaign (26 GS, 8-8, 3.01, 146.2 IP, 112 H, 49 ER, 52 BB, 166 K). He missed most of 2020 bothered by a shoulder injury so his time at the South Bend Alternate site was limited, and he was never able to put his name in the ring for a potential call up to Chicago. Now, he is back, and throwing a little harder (T94) and in possession of a reworked changeup to go with his good slider/cutter and curve. The I-Cubs will need a strong effort from him in the early going if they hope to contend in the PCL, because there is already robust traffic on the Des Moines-Chicago shuttle, and at least for now Keegan Thompson (who missed most of 2019, but was healthy in SB for 2020) is ahead of Abbott for rotation openings in Chicago.
There were some early bumps in the road for Abbott in his first AAA start. He left a two-strike fastball in a hittable location, and it got hammered (welcome to the PCL), his command also wavered a bit at times. Still, he battled, and managed to give Iowa six strong innings after settling in to keep his team in the game. Unfortunately, Iowa’s comeback bid ultimately fell just short.
- P.J. Higgins: 2-4, HR (1), R, 2 RBI
- Rafael Ortega: 2-4, 2B
- Cory Abbott: 6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 K ((L, 0-1, 4.50)
- Dakota Mekkes: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
Iowa reinforced its short-handed bench by adding infielders Scott McKeon (from South Bend) and Matt Burch (from EXST). Burch made his pro debut as a defensive replacement in the 8th. Trent Giambrone has been away on personal leave.
With the big club scheduled to open their next series this afternoon, Marquee will once again broadcast the Iowa game tonight.
With the Cubs keeping many of their top arms back in Mesa for precautionary reasons in what figures to be a long and patchwork season for pitching staffs at every level, the Smokies received a couple of Iowa veterans (Matt Swarmer and Wyatt Short) to open the year, and the pair combined to give up just one run and punch out eight over the first five innings.
Both guys are probably too good for AA, but their ceiling also likely falls short of Chicago. So, for the time being they’ll have to bide their time in Tennessee while they wait for another shot in AAA in the hopes of proving me (but far more importantly, the Cubs) wrong.
The Smokies offense came alive late in the game. Miguel Amaya, who had already doubled home a run in the first, knocked in Jared Young (returning to TN for a 3rd season) in the 6th. Andy Weber scored in the 7th on a Zach Davis single, and then drove in a run as part of a three-run 8th.
- Miguel Amaya: 3-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI
- Andy Weber: 2-4, 2B, R, RBI
- Christopher Morel: 1-3, R, RBI, BB
- Jared Young: 1-3, 2 R, HBP
- Zach Davis: 1-3, RBI
Quad Cities and South Bend traded runs all night. But it was the River Bandits who put together the biggest inning (a six-run 5th) which proved to be the difference.
The star of the Cubs system in the early going has undoubtedly been former 2nd rounder Chase Strumpf. The ability to hit pitches on the outer third with authority was the main concern I had about Strumpf in my viewings of him in 2019. Stronger, and with a commitment to using the entire field, Strumpf has consistently driven the ball in the air to the opposite field. His plate coverage and pitch recognition has been outstanding. He looks like a complete hitter, in total command of the strike zone. I’m a little surprised he was sent to High-A to open the season, but it is only a matter of time before Strumpf heads to AA, likely as part of the first wave of promotions.
In a sight you’ll need to get used to at the Minor League level this year, the Cubs used backup catcher Jake Washer in the 9th… in a one-run game. Most teams are only going to have so many pitchers available on any given day, so when they run out it will be up to position players to close out games, regardless of the score. Washer gave South Bend a scoreless inning.
- Chase Strumpf: 3-3, 2B, 4 R, RBI, BB
- Yonathan Perlaza: 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI, HBP
- Bryce Windham: 2-5, RBI, SB (1)
- Luis Vazquez: 2-4, R, BB
- D.J. Wilson: 1-2, R
- Eury Ramos: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 2 K
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
A Cubs prospect with some online buzz is starting pitcher Max Bain. He’s a huge guy, with an interesting back story (essentially he was an overweight and ineffective college player) who dove in head first to the new technologies and advances in velo training and pitch shaping. And he has now emerged as a guy in great shape, and capable of throwing upper-90s with interesting offspeed offerings. His first start yesterday was a mixed bag (3 IP, H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K), mostly due to issues with command/control, but the stuff is definitely intriguing. He’ll be a guy we’ll keep a close eye on in these pages throughout the season.
To help out on the Tennessee bench, infielder Reivaj Garcia was added from EXST. Garcia pinch ran for Cole Roederer (who exited after a HBP), and promptly stole a base, and scored a run.
This wasn’t much of a game, until it suddenly was.
It’s been a mostly rough go for a young Pelicans roster through three games (0-3), with some solid ABs and good innings sprinkled in among plenty of rough ones. This game really got off on the wrong foot when starter Scott Thoresen ran into massive control issues in the 2nd. An undrafted free agent signed after the abbreviated 5 round 2020 MLB Draft out of the University of Minnesota, Thoresen possesses a strong frame (6’3″ 210) and equally strong arm, but he is very raw, and a lack of control held him back in college. He’s more likely a potential pen arm than a starter, but the Cubs want to give him innings to work through his issues. Unfortunately, his mechanics broke down in the 2nd as his pitch count rose, culminating in four walks and three runs, before he exited with one out in the inning.
The game moved along for a while without the Pelicans showing much life, but after scoring twice in the 5th, they added another run in the 7th to keep the team in striking distance. Down three in the 9th, the Pelicans first two batters, Ryan Reynolds and Pablo Aliendo, reached. One out later Edmond Americaan drove in a run on a groundout, and then Darius Hill delivered a single to narrow the deficit to one and put the tying run on base, but Yeison Santana popped out to end the comeback.
- Ryan Reynolds: 2-3, 2B, 2 R, RBI, BB
- Luis Verdugo: 2-4, 2B, 2 R
- Darius Hill: 2-5, RBI
- Alex Katz: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K
- Austin Krzeminski: 2.2 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
The Cubs signed a couple of veteran Minor League arms (lefty Alex Katz, righty Austin Krzeminski) earlier this month to help reinforce a Pelicans staff in need of quality innings. Both made their debut in this game after Thoresen was knocked out in the 2nd. They combined to pitch 5 shutout innings (5 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K), which gave the Pelicans their comeback chance. Both guys are probably too polished for Low-A, but as I’ve reiterated, this season is going to be a grind for staffs at all levels, and you don’t want to overwork your pitching prospects, so having reliable vets like these is imperative.
Among the young hitters, 3B Luis Verdugo has put together the most consistent ABs through three games. He’s swinging at strikes, driving the ball when he gets the opportunity (2 doubles), and using the whole field. His swing in the AZL back in 2019 was pretty lengthy, but he looks more compact now and his bat head appears to stay in the zone for a while, so I expect better contact numbers from his this season. Verdugo is considered a good defender and he’s got 20 homer upside. I’ve considered him a fringe top 20 prospect in the system the past couple of years. If he can keep up his current approach, he’ll easily solidify himself as one of the top bats in the system.
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