Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Espinoza and Herz continue to impress; Sierra drives home four in debut; Miller continues success on rehab assignment

Jonathan Sierra (photo by Rikk Carlson)

AAA

St. Paul 2, Iowa 1

Game Recap

Shelby Miller continued to rehab from his lower back strain with another strong outing in Iowa. Coming off three no-hit innings in his first start last weekend (which kicked off the I-Cubs combined no-hitter), Miller allowed just one unearned run as he pitched into the 4th this time out. In 6.1 total innings with Iowa he’s allowed just the lone unearned run on 3 hits and 4 walks, while punching out 9. His fastball sat 92-96 and he snapped off several good breaking balls. Miller is out of options so look for him to rejoin the Chicago staff in the near future.

Ian Miller busted out of his early season slump with a three-hit performance, knocking in the I-Cubs lone run on the day on a 4th inning double. The speedster also notched his first stolen base on the year. The rest of the Iowa offense combined for just two hits.

Top Performers

  • Shelby Miller: 3.1 IP, 3 H, R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K (0.00)
  • Jake Jewell: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 2 K (1.59)
  • Adrian Sampson: 3 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, K (0.00)
  • Ian Miller: 3-4, 2B, RBI, SB (1) (.219)
  • Nick Martini: 1-3, 2B, R, BB (.200)
  • P.J. Higgins: 1-3, BB (.353)

AA

Rocket City 9, Tennessee 1

Game Recap

A rough end of the week continued for the Smokies (4-6) last night. They’ve now dropped four straight, with the offense contributing just two runs in the past three games. The defense (5 errors) and pitching hasn’t exactly helped the cause either (24 runs allowed).

Top Performers

  • Vance Vizcaino: 2-3, HR (1), R, RBI (.227)
  • Bailey Clark: 2 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 3 K (5.79)

Advanced A

Beloit 6, South Bend 5 (10 Innings)

Game Recap

Ryan Jensen lived off the velocity and movement of his fastball on a cool, wet evening in Beloit, allowing just one run over four innings, and handing off a 4-1 lead to the South Bend pen. A balk and an error helped the Cubs plate two runs in the 3rd and again in the 5th to build the advantage. South Bend also ran wild on the bases. D.J. Artis stole three bags, Cole Roederer one, and Delvin Zinn swiped his seventh on the year.

The offense would struggle the rest of the way however, and Beloit would chip away at the lead in the bottom of the 5th, and then even the score with two runs in the 7th off Alex Katz.

Top Performers

  • D.J. Artis: 1-2, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 SB (1, 2, 3) (.167)
  • Delvin Zinn: 1-3, 2B, R, RBI, BB, SB (7) (.242)
  • Cole Roederer: 1-4, R, RBI, BB, SB (2) (.176)
  • Yonathan Perlaza: 2-5 (.231)
  • Ryan Jensen: 4 IP, 3 H, R, BB< 4 K (6.43)

A

Myrtle Beach 5, Augusta 1 (Game 1)

Augusta 2, Myrtle Beach 1 – 8 innings (Game 2)

Prospect Profile

While many of the early headlines in the Cubs system have been dominated by velocity gains and improved athletes in the lower levels, the Cubs do still have some pitchers who fit the mold of “polished strike throwers” which the scouting staff targeted (or over-targeted) prior to a change in philosophy a few years back. One of those guys is Manuel Espinoza.

The Cubs signed Espinoza for $400K out of Mexico in 2017-18, and the then 18-year old posted a solid season in the AZL in 2019 (5-2, 2.49 ERA, 47 IP, 52 H, 13 ER, 9 BB, 37 K). Reports were Espinoza didn’t possesses great stuff, but he knew how to mix what he had, and most importantly knew how to command it. That’s pretty much all you need to do in the AZL, but as you move into full season ball, you need to start winning with stuff as well in order to succeed.

In his first couple of weeks with Myrtle Beach, Espinoza continues to rely on commanding his classic four pitch mix, but it looks like he may have gotten a little stronger since we saw him 18 months ago as well. He’s not overpowering, and doesn’t generate a ton of movement on any of his pitches, but… it works. He’s reminiscent of Javier Assad in that regard. I think Espinoza might possess a bit more ceiling than that though. It’s not out of the realm of possibility he develops along the lines of Cory Abbott. Espinoza isn’t as tall (only 5’11”) but if he can develop a go-to pitch like Abbott did with his cutter in his final year of college, I can see him continuing to succeed as he moves up the ladder.

Game Recaps

The Pelicans nearly pulled off the doubleheader sweep yesterday. In game one, Manny Espinoza worked five efficient innings, controlling the strike zone, and keeping the GreenJackets from ever threatening to overtake the early lead his offense granted him. He worked in, out, up and down in the zoen.

The Myrle Beach offense attacked the opposing starter with hits to the opposite field in the bottom of the 1st. Yohendrick Pinango laced a single to left to drive home the first run of the inning. Then with the bases loaded, the newest Pelican Jonathan Sierra rocketed another single to left to drive home two.

Sierra wasn’t done. He’d get another opportunity with two outs and two men in scoring position in the 3rd, and once again he’d knock them both in. Add in a walk later, and the former high bonus IFA signing had himself one heck of a 2021 debut. It’s been a struggle for Sierra throughout his career to tap into his plus raw power in games due to an inside out swing which would often lock up on him against inside pitches as well as make it difficult for him to adjust to off speed. At least in yesterday’s action his swing looked a little smoother, so maybe we can see some improvement from him this season if he can keep it going.

Pitching dominated game two.

In stark contrast to Manny Espinoza’s command and polished delivery, lefty D.J. Herz wins with above average stuff, and a high effort cross-fire delivery which adds deception and extension. I’m not certain he’ll be able to replicate his delivery consistently enough to remain a starter, but Herz is a good enough athlete to pull it off. Right now, there is still plenty of inconsistency with it though. It results in some spotty control (5 BB in 4.1 total IP in 2021), but when Herz is around the zone opposing hitters haven’t managed to do much against his stuff (just 1 H, 0 R against 7 K).

His low-to-mid-90s fastball has great life up in the zone (where he prefers to live). He compliments his heater with a 1-to-7 curve and I’ve heard potentially plus changeup (though we haven’t seen him use it this year in his two short outings). His arm will trail behind his body when his mechanics get out of whack, which leads to misses up and away to his arm side. It also results in pitches drifting over the heart of the plate when he tries to go in on RHBs. He’s getting away with it so far, but he’ll need to improve on that against more advanced righties. I’m also not sure how well his curve, which eats up lefties, will play against better righties. They get a much better look at the ball out of his hand.

Herz’s efforts, along with those of reliever Blake Whitney, where enough to hand the ball off to closer Bailey Reid with a 1-0 lead and six outs to get. Reid handled the 6th without incident, but appeared to tire midway through the 7th. He began walking batters and missing with pitches, and eventually Augusta pushed across a run. They’d score another off Jake Reindl in the 8th, which the Pelicans offense couldn’t match in the bottom of the frame.

Top Performers

  • Manuel Espinoza: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K (W, 1-1, 2.57)
  • Scott Kobos: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K (0.00)
  • D.J. Herz: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 3 K (0.00)
  • Blake Whitney: 2.2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, K (1.93)
  • Jonathan Sierra: 2-4, 4 RBI, 2 BB (.500)

Comments

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  • Mills hits IL with back strain.
    Cubs select contract of Tommy Nance from Iowa. He's been super impressive, throwing 95-97 with a high-80s slider. Had a good spring and has so far posted a line of: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 10 K in 3 games since MiLB season began.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Explains Mills not looking like Mills. Probably trying to play through it. Also explains why they left a spot open the 40 man.

  • Miller is only 30. I'll continue to hold out hope he can help the Cubs over the next few years. They have some interesting rotation possibilities moving forward. If Arrieta continues his trend that $10 mil club option for '22 looks pretty good. Adding an effective Miller to the mix at a fair price?

    Michael, any news on when Brennen Davis and Marquez will see game action? Thanks.

  • Michael, I haven't seen Higgin's handle enough pitchers to know. But to my eye Wolter's made some plays (game saving at the time) I have doubts Contreras makes.

    Could this be the reason he hasn't been given an opportunity yet?

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    Yes. It's exactly why. Wolters has started a ton of games in his career and has never been able to hit, even in Coors. He's gets those reps because he is an excellent handler of pitchers and an excellent athlete (a former IF like Higgins) for the position.

  • When are the cubs gonna get a lefty starter with a 92-93 fastball and a get me over curve? This Boyd kid is pretty good, even on righties.

  • Q was supposed to be that guy. That said Marquez with the upper 90's will do fine.....Hendricks has been REALLY good today.

    On a completely unrelated note I believe Happ is above the Mendoza line for the first time in '21. Let's hope Bote and JHey can join him sooner than later.

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    Correction. Happ is at .183. Who are these guys? Big test on tap with the Nats and Cards.

  • Good clean game today !
    Q.
    With Bryant, Baez, & Rizzo coming into free agency, its likely the Cubbies won't be able to sign all three. If the Cubs offer the qualifying offer and the players sign elsewhere, what is the current compensation package?

  • In reply to ronvet69:

    For the Cubs it is a draft pick after the Competitive balance round B, free picks small market teams get after the second round. In 2018 for Arrietta, & Davis Cubs received the 77th, & 78th pick in the draft for losing them.

    If the Cubs get aggressive and end up over the Cap, they would get a pick after the 4th round.

    I'm not sure how the expiring MLB/Player association-collective bargaining contract ending affects the potential compensation. I have read teams might end up with nothing, because so much is up in the air/unknown.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    Thank you . A lot of changes recently.

  • In reply to ronvet69:

    The front office has to decide on Rizzo, Bryant, & Baez is half a season, and a pick around the 75th in the draft worth more than what they could get in trade?

    My two cents is deal every free agent with value, & clean up the 40 man roster during this season. Then start spending money again.

    Cubs if they wanted to could get aggressive, & do something like trade Baez. Then sign a big name free agent SS, & get crazy & resign Baez too-play 2B, & bounce around the diamond. Then trade Nico in a package for a veteran.

    I think the Cubs have lots of options, and expect them to bounce back real quick, no reason why they cannot compete for the division next season while having a better future from this season sell-off.

  • Plesac made some interesting comments about the length of the lineup when Happ has it going. Can't argue with that.

    Which raises the question "How long is the leash with Williams"? He has 3 options. Can it really hurt to give Abbott a look?

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