Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Pinango homers; Maldonado extends hit streak to 10; Surprising starting pitching performances; Roster moves abound

Yohendrick Pinango (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

MLB

Rookie Performers

Sergio Alcantara (.216/.305/.510), Rafael Ortega (.214/.283/.381), and Patrick Wisdom (.284/.346/.716) all contributed key hits. While Alcantara and Wisdom are striking out and experiencing more down games than they did when they first arrived, they are still hitting the ball hard when they do make contact. Ortega has come through with a pinch hit in each of his last 3 appearances and is 5-for-his-last-13 overall with a double and homer. It cannot be overstated how important their contributions have been to keeping the Cubs in contention while suffering through so many injuries.

Backup catcher is still a gaping hole which the depth from Iowa has not been able to plug. The Cubs need to find a better solution sooner rather than later to prevent overworking Willson Contreras in the summer heat.

AAA

Iowa PPD

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

The Cubs made a series of roster moves throughout the organization during Monday’s off day. The best news to come out was that Alfonso Rivas was activated from the IL and is set to make his 2021 debut once Iowa can get a game in between rainstorms. Rivas was acquired from the A’s last offseason in exchange for Tony Kemp, but due to the pandemic last season and his injury this spring, he has yet to make his official organizational debut in a game. A 4th rounder from 2018 (when Dan Kantrovitz was in Oakland), Rivas shot up through their system, getting his feet wet by hitting .285/.397/.383 in short season ball after the draft, then following it up by hitting .283/.383/.408 in High-A during 2019 before receiving a bump all the way to AAA where he hit .406/.441/.625 in 8 games to close out the season.

Rivas lacks the power of a prototypical 1B (10 HR and .411 SLG in 183 career games), but he makes contact, gets on base, and is a smooth fielder. He gives the Cubs another option to diversify their lineup in the future. I wouldn’t call him a potential Anthony Rizzo replacement, but Rivas has the ability to come off the bench as a left handed pinch hitter and make occasional starts at 1B and maybe even LF (although he’s never had an extended trial out there).

Cory Abbott and Kyle Ryan returned from Chicago.

The I-Cubs also received lefty Ryan Lawlor from Tennessee and shortstop Edwin Figuera from Mesa. Both are former Indy ball players signed by the Cubs, Lawlor in 2018 and Figuera just last week.

Lawlor was a former 8th rounder by the Braves whose career was stalled by injuries in 2016-17. The Cubs signed him midway through 2018 and he made a few fill in starts for South Bend during the 2nd half. A move to the pen in 2019 unlocked further potential, as his 4 seam and hard curveball combo proved overwhelming for Low-A and eventually High-A hitters (85 K in 55.1 IP) but the Cubs inexplicably never challenged him against AA batters in the 2nd half, maybe the most confusing developmental choice the team made that season. After missing time early this year, he was sent to Tennessee once healthy and proceeded to punch out 15 more batters in 10.1 innings. At 27 years old and a MiLB free agent after the season, the time is now to determine if Lawlor has what it takes against advanced hitters.

Figuera was an IFA signing by the Cards in 2014 who had some success at the plate in short season leagues and then in his first taste at Low-A in the second half of 2018. He struggled upon his return to the MWL in 2019, and then was among the Minor Leaguers let go by the Cardinals after the pandemic hit last spring. The Cubs signed the 23-year old from the York Revolution on June 19th. I doubt he is ready for AAA, but the I-Cubs needed a middle infield body with Sergio Alcantara in Chicago and veteran Andrew Romine heading to the IL. I would assume Figuera will head down to South Bend or Tennessee once the more experienced players return.

Middle infielder Andrew Romine and reliever Dakota Mekkes were added to the IL.

Utility man Jacob Olson was sent down to South Bend to make room for Rivas.

AA

Tennessee 2, Mississippi 0

Game Recap

Christopher Morel scored on a wild pitch in the top of the 1st, and thanks to a surprising effort by starter Luis Lugo and the Smokies pen, it was all the offense Tennessee would require to secure the win. It has been a very rough season for Lugo, but his five shutout innings were a breathe of fresh air for a Tennessee staff which has struggled of late. Juan Gamez, Dakota Chalmers (in his Cubs organization debut), and Wyatt Short kept the shutout going. Manny Rodriguez nailed down the 9th for his 4th save.

Lugo showed an ability to miss bats as a swingman for the Smokies in 2019, but that ability has eluded him thus far in 2021. He has now struck out seven batters across eight shutout innings over his last two appearances so maybe he has rediscovered his mojo.

Wyatt Short also seems to be getting back on track. A reliable ground ball specialist who could also miss a decent amount of bats, Short was lights out for Tennessee in the 2nd half of 2018 and again in the 1st half of 2019, before struggling in his first exposure to AAA to close out that season. Returning to AA this year, I expected him to thrive once again, but he’s been bitten by the home run bug throughout the year. He is beginning to generate some more groundballs of late, and yesterday all three outs he recorded were via strikeout so maybe he too can still salvage his season.

Since returning from a short IL stint, Manuel Rodriguez has allowed just two base runners over four innings while notching three saves. His fastball and power curve combo are still among the best in the system. If he can keep this up for another month he could receive his shot at AAA in the next round of promotions.

Top Performers

  • Luis Lugo: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K (W, 1-3, 7.30)
  • Wyatt Short: IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 3 K (7.00)
  • Manuel Rodriguez: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K (S, 4, 2.13)
  • Nelson Maldonado: 2-4, 2 2B, RBI (.284)
  • Christopher Morel: 1-4, 2B, R (.203)
  • Darius Hill: 1-3, BB (.307)
  • Grayson Byrd: 1-3, BB (.227)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

No one in the system is swinging a hotter bat than Nelson Maldonado (.284/.376/.432). He extended his hitting streak to 10 games (.429/.5001/.714). His 2 doubles brought his total to 7 over that span. The 24 year old 1B/DH lacks over the fence power, but few hitters in the system have his knack for putting the barrel on the ball. In some ways his at bats remind me of Matt Duffy. The difficulty in projecting Maldonado forward is that as a RHB who has only played professionally at 1B/DH (he did play some OF in college but Cubs have not tried him there) some power is almost a pre-requisite. Duffy gets away with it because he’s played multiple infield positions throughout his career.

Nelson Maldonado by Rikk Carlson

To replace Lawlor on the pitching staff, former 1st rounder Brendon Little was activated from the IL. Converted to a reliever, Little looked pretty solid in his opportunities with the Cubs during spring training. He held his velo well in the 92-94 range, his curve and changeup continued to flash, and his command and consistency was improved from when we last saw him as a starter. Rule 5 eligible in the offseason, the final 2/3 of this year will be big for Little, to show the Cubs (or any other team) he is worthy of a 40-man spot.

Jared Young began game action in EXST so his return is on the horizon.

High-A

Fort Wayne 7, South Bend 6

Game Recap

A great fill in start by sidearmer Matteo Bocchi went to waste despite the South Bend offense also posting a six-run 3rd inning. A struggling South Bend bullpen could not answer the call once again. The primary culprit last night was new arrival Tyler Suellentrop. He surrendered five runs in the 5th in his High-A debut. Despite some control issues with Myrtle Beach, Suellentrop was highly effective thanks to a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with some late cutting action and a pretty good breaking ball as well. He was not able to overcome the lack of command and control last night however as he walked five batters while recording just two outs.

The Cubs still had the lead after he exited though. Unfortunately, Samuel Reyes and Tanner Jesson-Dalton both allowed a run in their appearances as well. On the other hand, the Fort Wayne bullpen was lights out. The South Bend offense managed just one base runner over the final six innings.

Top Performers

  • Emilio Bocchi: 4 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K (3.09)
  • Delvin Zinn: 2-4, BB, 2 SB (27, 28)
  • Bradlee Beesley: 2-5, R, RBI, SB (10)
  • Edmond Americaan: 1-3, R, 2 RBI, HBP (.188)
  • Jake Slaughter: 1-4, R, 2 RBI, SB (6) (.219)
  • Josue Huma: 1-3, R, BB, SB (1) (.235)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Tyler Durna, one of the Cubs best hitters of late, hit the IL yesterday. In addition to Jacob Olson returning to South Bend after spending a month in Iowa, recent Indy ball signing Matt Warkentin was also summoned from Mesa to help replace Durna at 1B. The 6’6″ Warkentin was a two-way player but will focus solely on being a position player with the Cubs.

Hard throwing reliever Hunter Bigge has joined South Bend after opening the year in EXST. Bigge made some waves after being drafted in 2019. Coming from Harvard where he was a two-way player (middle infielder), Bigge increased his velo and sharpened his breaking ball once turned his focus full time to pitching as a professional. The 23-year old struck out 22 batters in 16 innings while allowing just 7 hits between the AZL and NWL in 2019. Hopefully, his presence can help stabilize the South Bend pen.

Low-A

Myrtle Beach 7, Columbia 6

Game Recap

I could talk all day about watching Yohendrick Pinango hit. The 19-year old is just a pure hitter. Using an open stance from the left side he gets a good long look at incoming pitches. His swing is geared towards driving the ball back up the middle or the opposite way and his plate coverage is terrific. Pinango can handle pitches in-and-out, as well as up-and-down in the zone. He often doesn’t try to do too much, but he is also capable of turning on a mistake on the inner half. He’s short but powerfully built and can do some damage when he gets into one.

That’s just what he did in the 3rd. With a lefty on the mound he drove a hanging breaker deep beyond the RF wall. The 3-2 lead he gave the Pelicans was short lived, but after reaching on singles in the 6th and again in the 7th, he came around to score both times. The first narrowed the Pelicans deficit to one run, and the second proved to be the game winner.

Top Performers

  • Yohendrick Pinango: 3-4, HR (3), 3 R, RBI, (.275)
  • Matt Mervis: 2-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI (.198)
  • Jacob Wetzel: 2-4, R, RBI (.253)
  • Ryan Reynolds: 1-4, 3B, R, BI (.241)
  • Jonathan Sierra: 1-3, BB (.247)
  • Jarod Wright: 1.2 IP, H, R, 0 ER, 2 BB, K (3.72)
  • Carlos Ocampo: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (S, 2, 4.41)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Yohendrick Pinango (.275/.329/.403) has now recorded multiple hits in 7 of his last 13 games. His season numbers don’t jumpp off the screen (105 wRC+) but need to be taken in the context of him being among the youngest players in the league. Pinango has not been overwhelmed in any way. He makes hard contact (16.1 K%), and although he’s pretty aggressive (just 6.8 BB%), with his ability to identify and adjust to pitches I can see that number improving as he gains experience.

The Pelicans added pitcher Jose Moreno and infielder Yeison Santana from Mesa.

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Comments

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  • Pinango does inspire hope, down the road. As you mentioned how young he is, he just turned 19 last month. Plus being a LH bat - I sure hope his development stays on course. Could be a lead off bat we’ve been missing, maybe in 3 more years. Him and Davis in the OF.

  • In reply to cubbustible:

    I am curious on what the Cubs are going to do with all these young relievers? (Ben Leeper is the next nasty dude). Can they help bring a top starter
    to chicago?

    I am now seeing how a bullpen can carry inconsistent starting pitching and hitting. It is really the only reason they are in first place.

    Last comment. I think the outfield (for the most part) needs to be Pederson-Marisnick-Bryant with Wisdom(duffy)-Baez-Hoerner-Rizzo manning the infield. That will be there best lineup (unless somehow heyward & happ get going).

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Agreed ! Nice article on Alfonso Rivas Michael . I know this will never happen, but I would like to see Alcantra and Baez reversed in the line-up.
    Why do scouting reports on some players say, well he doesn't have light tower power ? That's one of the dumbest statements said. If the Cubs had retained Nicolas Castellanos ( a doubles hitter ) they would be in better shape than where they are now !

  • In reply to ronvet69:

    Power matters.

    Castellanos actually does have considerable raw power at this point (he's grown much stronger since his prospect/early MLB career days), his swing is just more geared toward line drives. Castellanos no longer hits just doubles. He know hits home runs and doubles. He's averaged about 25 HRs per year his last 3 complete seasons and is on pace to surpass that so far this year. It is what has taken him from being a useful player to a borderline star (his defense still keeps him from being a top line player).

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    That is their best current alignment (assuming Hoerner returns healthy soon).
    I do think the Cubs can put together a package for a top starter which includes 1-2 of their relievers, but the main piece will still need to be a SP or position player.

    And yes, Leeper is the next pen arm on the horizon. We thought it would be Carraway from last year's draft/UDFA class, but Leeper has far exceeded all of them in terms of readiness. I still think Carraway has the better pure stuff, but his fastball control is far behind Leeper at this point.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Rowan Wick returning this season?

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    Latest updates on all the injured guys:
    https://www.mlb.com/cubs/news/cubs-injuries-and-roster-moves

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