Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Iowa blasts 4 homers; Tennessee flirts with a combined no-hitter; Carraway closes out SB's 2nd win

Cam Sanders (photo by Rikk Carlson)

AAA

Iowa 8, Indianapolis 3

Game Recap

A pair of early solo homers by right fielder Rafael Ortega (who made a good impression during Spring Training), and another by Nick Martini, put Iowa up by one heading into the late innings. But Indianapolis managed to do the same off Jake Jewell in the 8th to pull even.

The I-Cubs responded in a big way in the bottom half of the frame, however. Pinch hitter Taylor Gushue singled home a run to regain the lead. As the inning continued, Iowa managed to load the bases, and then Abiatal Avelino unloaded them:

Top Performers

  • Rafael Ortega: 2-4, 2 HR (1, 2), 2 R, 2 RBI, BB
  • Abiatal Avelino: 2-5, HR (1), R, 4 RBI
  • Nick Martini: 1-3, HR (1), 2 R, RBI, BB
  • Sergio Alcantara: 2-2, R, 2 BB, SB (1)
  • Ian Miller: 1-3, R, 2 BB,
  • Ben Holmes: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 2 K
  • Adam Morgan: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, K

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

It is still really early, but shortstop Sergio Alcantara has made a positive impression on me in the first two games. Visa issues kept him from competing for a MLB job in Spring Training, but the one-time top prospect in the Arizona and Detroit systems is still just 24-years old. He’s a smaller guy, so there is never going to be much power in his game, but as a switch hitter with a solid eye, its possible he can still carve out a bench role in the future.

The Cubs already have decent left-handed depth at the MLB level, and now former Phillies reliever Adam Morgan, who holds a 4.84 career ERA in 199 MLB games (36 starts), is throwing his hat in the ring as well. Morgan made his first appearance since minor elbow surgery last fall, throwing 1.1 shutout innings. After struggling as a starter when he first came up, Morgan found a niche in the Phillies pen during the 2018-19 seasons, pitching to a sub-4.00 ERA across 107 appearances, while striking out more than a batter per inning. The Cubs signed him this winter to a MiLB deal knowing he would not be ready until May at the earliest. With the way Rex Brothers and Justin Steele are throwing, however, Morgan may have a tough time breaking on to the MLB roster. Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck are also a 40-man roster.

Tonight’s I-Cubs game will be broadcast on Marquee for those who are interested. Iowa doesn’t have the most exciting roster among the affiliates, as it is mostly veteran laden, but that also means most guys have spent time in the Majors and so may be more familiar. A schedule of the 14 Iowa games slated for Marquee can be found here.

AA

Montgomery 3, Tennessee 1

Game Recap

This one was a heartbreaker.

Cam Sanders and three relievers combined to no-hit the Biscuits over the first 8 innings, as the Smokies took a 1-0 lead into the 9th. Closer Manny Rodriguez walked a pair of batters, but still managed to maintain the no-no and get the Biscuits down to their final strike… and then Rene Pinto took a pitch deep to centerfield. No more no-hitter, and no more lead.

Sanders will be a starter to watch this season. The son of former Cubs swingman Scott Sanders, Cam came to the Cubs as a 12th rounder in the 2018 draft and put together a strong 2019 season in South Bend, but my main concern which arose was his inability to hold velocity between innings and within starts. He’d vary between the mid-80s and mid-90s and it was just difficult to predict what you’d see from him.

Reports from this offseason indicated that Sanders was able to take a step forward since we last saw him, not only in terms of consistency, but also with a bump in his top velocity (95-98). At least through one start, those reports appear accurate. Sanders appeared to consistently work in the mid-90s and higher last night. He paired it with a good changeup and also froze some hitters with a big curveball. I’m going to be monitor how effective the curve is for him this season as it has a bit of a different shape than what we typically see from MLB starters.

Top Performers

  • Cam Sanders: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 7 K
  • Luis Lugo: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 2 K
  • Andy Weber: 2-4, RBI

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Interestingly, Christopher Morel‘s first start of the season came in CF and not 3B. I’m not surprised about Morel getting playing time there, as I’ve predicted for some time his future role is as a utility man capable of playing everywhere on the diamond except catcher, but I did expect the Morel to still get the majority of his time in 2021 at 3B because the Cubs have generally waited to groom guys at more than a position or two until they reach AAA. If this indicates an organizational change in strategy, it is one I believe is for the better. Morel also contributed a triple on offense.

Advanced A

South Bend 4, Quad Cities 3

Game Recap

A four-run 3rd inning was all the offense offense South Bend generated the entire night, but the pitching staff made it hold up. Chris Kachmar contributed a solid 3.2 innings in his first pro start, converted outfielder Brandon Hughes added 1.2 innings of shutout ball to earn the win, and then Burl Carraway nailed it down in the 9th.

The highly touted 2nd rounder from last summer’s draft required nothing but fastballs to record a save in his pro debut. The Cubs love the high spin rates he generates on both his heater and his plus curveball. It appeared the velo on his fastball was in the mid-90s on this day, but he’s been known to work higher at Dallas Baptist. Carraway dominated up in the zone, generating whiffs and sky high popups as the opposing hitters couldn’t get on top of the pitch, thanks to the backspin and trajectory coming from his 6’0″ frame. Once he incorporates his knee buckling curve, watch out. Consistency and command will be the key to his development.

Top Performers

  • Chris Kachmar: 3.2 IP, 4 H, R, 0 ER, BB, 3 K
  • Brandon Hughes: 1.2 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 2 K (W, 1-0)
  • Burl Carraway: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K (S, 1)
  • Cole Roederer: 1-3, R, RBI, BB
  • Luis Vazquez: 1-3, R, BB
  • Delvin Zinn: 0-2, BB, 2 SB (2, 3)
  • Cam Balego: 0-2, RBI, BB, HBP

A

Charleston 8, Myrtle Beach 2

Game Recap

Not much to say about this one. A young Pelicans lineup was dominated by Cole Wilcox, a highly experienced college arm with some of the best stuff from the 2020 draft. Frankly, Wilcox has no business in Low-A and he should look good against inexperienced 18-20 year olds.

Top Performers

  • Luis Verdugo: 1-3, 2B, R
  • Grayson Byrd: 1-3, 2B

Comments

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  • I like the make up of the I-Cubs roster. There's a lot of MLB depth there. Injuries can happen in a hurry and in bunches (see WSox & Cubs recently).

    With the long absence of MiLB and so much focus on the current run of the '16 core it's been intriguing getting re-acquainted with the new prospects and progress of the others. Not to mention the MiLB re-alignment putting a new spin on things.

    To my eye there's more there than their middle of the pack ranking would indicate. Granted most are a few years away at best.

    Which brings me to the reality of the dreaded '22 FA class we all knew was coming. IMHO if their agents are seeking the $30+ mil annual contracts into their late 30's it's time to say thanks for the memories and wish them well. With few exceptions those are regretted sooner than later.

    It would be tough to take in the short term. Especially seeing the difference adding guys like Duffy and Hoerner to the lineup makes. But the alternative is $100+ mil a year tied up in multiple declining players. It's just bad math.

    The Cubs signed Duffy and Marisnick to bargain contracts. Marisnick has a mutual option for '22. Duffy has been a quality player when healthy. Marisnick is picking up where he left off with the Mets last year. Why they went with Almora and Pillar instead baffles me. Extend them both ASAP. Both are only 30 an in their prime years.

    If they can re-sign 1 or more of the core to fair contracts they won't end up eating most of great. Sans that I hope Jed does what needs to be done.

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    I really hate the idea of "breaking up the band" so to speak for that early few years of drafts that Theo got and built. I loved the fact that at one point there were five 1st round draft picks on the squad at the same time in Baez/Almora/Bryant/Schwarber/Happ and all generally contributing.

    Bryant is showing why - when he can stay healthy - he just might be a $30MM/year guy. But he's really only had a couple of healthy years. Reportedly Baez already turned down an extension offer that would have paid him over $150MM - I love watching him play but is he really going to be worth more than that kind of price-tag?

    Your point about having that much tied up for that many years is a cautionary note. Remember back in the early stages of Theo's rebuild when many folks who posted here (and elsewhere) wanted the Cubs to go big on the FA market and sign Pujols or Prince Fielder? Fielder landed that huge contract and only had like three decent seasons before having to retire. Pujols still had a good run with LAA - but was he worth in excess of $250MM for the last decade?

    As I said - I hate to see the 'band' break up, but it's not a good idea to lock in that kind of cash for a lot of years.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    It's tough to say out loud after such an encouraging sweep of the LAD. Granted they're not at their best but neither are the Cubs.

    3 to 5 year deals max. That in of itself may be deal breakers. Though the only thing I'm sure of is deals like Harper, Betts, Lindor and Trout got are kryptonite.

    Not a bad time to remember Trout is still stuck on 1 post season hit. And there's no sign that'll be changing anytime soon.

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    It's so good to see the minor league recaps Michael. It's been a long time. My question is about Brandon Hughes. I know he's a converted outfielder--how is that going? He has a nice line from last night. I'm also encouraged by Sanders and Carraway.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Hughes is okay. I think he can carve out a Minor League career as long as he wants to play. Lefties are always in demand. I don't think there is MLB ceiling there though.

  • I'm just wondering, and you can write about what you want, but when did this blog become Future Cubs? No desire to write about a sub-500 team, the core of which will be gone in 2022?

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey Jack, you didn't ask me but I can answer that. This blog has long had a focus on the minors, amateur draft and international signings. Especially during the rebuild years. John was focused on it like a laser. Plenty of sites and media cover the MLB Cubs in detail.

    This is where you come to learn about the progress of guys years before the average fan ever hears of them. Cubs Den readers knew who Gleyber Torres was when he was 16.

    Hope you enjoy.

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    Okay jack, Bryce Windham is my dark horse to follow this year.

    972nd pick in the '19 draft out of Old Dominion. Not much on him other than AZL Rookie ball in '19. They sent to him to High A South Bend

    PA 147
    AVG .325
    OBP .459
    OPS .878
    BB 30
    SO 19

    The last 2 stats really got my attention. Let the Bryce Windham era begin. ;-)

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    Windham is a good athlete for a catcher. Like P.J. Higgins he will also be capable of filling a utility role. But also like Higgins at a similar age, Windham needs to get stronger. There isn't much juice in his bat right now. Higgins eventually filled out, but it took a year or two too long for him to keep "prospect" momentum. It will be important for Windham to get stronger on a quicker timeline than Higgins managed, otherwise he could find himself in a similar situation as a late-20s player with no MLB experience, where MLB experience is highly valued, and so he gets continually passed over.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Stumbled into him. I generally pay as much attention to 32nd round picks as most. But you never know. It's baseball and crazy things happen. And right now I'm all about looking for guys that can put the bat on the ball more often than not.

    He could be interesting to keep an eye on.

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    What I know is that Gleyber Torres is a Yankee, and hence I personally don't care.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack,

    It wasn't my intention for the blog to become exclusively about the Minors, but we've lost a ton of writers over the years, some to paying gigs. Contributing to Cubs Den has always been on a volunteer basis. When John retired he had the time and energy to devote to the Majors and the Minors. And an equal passion for both. I don't, unfortunately. At least not on a daily basis. Just doing the Daily Minors Recap takes about 2-3 hours of my day, everyday.

    A lot has changed since Cubs Den had its peak in 2016. At that point we had about 10 writers willing to contribute, and there were fewer blogs devoted to the Cubs. As the Cubs fortunes have declined, there have been fewer writers willing to contribute, but for the ones still willing they can do so in more places. Honestly, some of the young writers who 5 years ago might have gotten a start on Cubs Den went ahead and just started their own blog. Which is great.

    Online coverage of the Cubs has changed a great deal. When John started Cubs Den, there were few places to go to get quality coverage of the MLB club. In fact, it was actually beneficial from a knowledge and sanity perspective to actively avoid them. Now, there are several good resources. I'm more or less on my own here, and I wouldn't be able to match the coverage offered by other sites. Maybe that will change in the future.

    But one thing the online Cubs community hasn't caught up on is daily coverage of the Minors. It is one aspect of Cubs Den which is still unique, and from my perspective worth preserving. I think it was always the one thing John treasured most about the site as well.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Excellent points all Michael,

    When I first blundered into the Den back in 2011 or 2012 (I think) there was pretty much nowhere else to go to get background information on the Cubs - especially for those of us no longer living in the Midwest. The only alternative I could find was that cesspool of commenters on places like Yahoo's message boards. All insults and no insight in places like that.

    John set up a great community here - his own writing and research was great, but I think he built a great springboard for many other excellent writers and researchers, and that may be his biggest legacy. I still follow a set of the old crew who have moved onto other paying gigs and they still do great work.

    I greatly appreciate the Minor League recaps and information that you churn out. As you point out - that's something that is hard to get elsewhere. Cheers Sir!!

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks. I appreciate your discussion about your background and who Cubs Den can get to write about it. As implied in my comment about Gleyber Torres, I'm not horribly interested in minor leagers who become Yankees, Tigers, Royals, etc, and White Sox, but only after they become White Sox. Maybe it becomes more relevant when the Cubs have to restock next year, but Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ seem to be the only ones from their farm system.

  • In reply to jack:

    They (the Cubs farm system) does finally start to have home-grown and home-developed pitching reaching Wrigley though. Abbott, Stewart and Marquez are kind of waiting in the wings, and with Thompson, Alzolay, Steele & Maples all logging some innings for far for 2021.

    The position player shelf is a bit bare at AAA, but there are some good looking youngsters down further. But yeah - unless the Cubs sign up Bryant, Baez or Contreras to longer deals, it's pretty much going to be Nico and Happ with experience and from within the system. Higgins could be a useful player next year, but most of the rest of the Minor League talent isn't likely to be ready for 2022 IMO.

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