Old friend Luke Farrell returned to Iowa and despite some early traffic managed to settle in and fire five shutout innings in his 2022 debut. Steady performer Eric Stout kept the momentum going with two shutout innings of his own, and then on came closer Ben Leeper.
It was a slow start to the season for Leeper, who was one of the best stories in the Cubs system last year, as he managed to make it to the cusp of the Majors in his first season of pro ball. But during the first couple of weeks of the season his fastball just wasn’t very crisp. We got used to seeing terrific late life on it last season which allowed its 94-95 mph to play up like a high-90s heater. Not only was the late life often missing, but he was missing his spots with the pitch more often as well. Those issues have evaporated over the past few weeks though. Leeper appears to be back to his dominant 2021 form. He recorded two K over two innings to record his 2nd save and complete the shutout for the I-Cubs.
A bunch of different players chipped in on offense in this one, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dixon Machado helped spark things with a 2-for-4 effort. He’s been a constant at the top of the order for Iowa this year. There hasn’t been much power output from him, but he’s been getting on base more consistently than anyone in their lineup and he even surprised everyone with a bunch of stolen bases the first couple of weeks of the season.
It also shouldn’t be a shock that we got another bomb off the bat of Robel García. Whenever he gets in a groove the power comes in bunches, and he has certainly found that form of late:
Three things are guaranteed in life:— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) May 12, 2022
-Robel Garcia hitting home runs
Ro-Bombs does it again to put us up 2-0 in the fourth. pic.twitter.com/6jD7XCQhyz
- Luke Farrell: 5 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K (W, 1-0, 2.57)
- Eric Stout: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K (2.60)
- Ben Leeper: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K (S, 2, 3.38)
- Robel García: 1-4, HR (7), R, RBI (.289)
- Narciso Crook: 2-3, 2B, R, RBI (.154)
- Erick Castillo: 2-3, R, RBI (.444)
- Dixon Machado: 2-4, 2B, R, RBI (.297)
- Jared Young: 1-3, 2B, RBI (.267)
- Nelson Velazquez: 1-3, R (.222)
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
A strained back had been keeping Brennen Davis out of the lineup over the past week. The club was hoping the injury would respond with a few days of rest, but with it still keeping him out of action, the club decided to place him on the IL until he is ready to play again.
The Cubs welcomed former hurler Luke Farrell back to the organization last month with a Minor League deal. He’s been getting stretched out in Mesa since, before making his Iowa debut yesterday afternoon. He looks pretty much like the same guy he was when we last saw him in Chicago and Iowa. Big guy, with a low-90s fastball that plays up because of the extension he generates thanks to his height, along with a pretty good breaking ball. He’s obviously not a long term answer but does provide the Cubs with yet another veteran capable of soaking up innings in Chicago whenever injuries and/or trades occur.
Dakota Mekkes has been activated off the IL. He too has been getting work in down in Mesa, and according to AZ Phil has looked back to his old self, which is fairly similar to Farrell (low-90s which plays up because of extension). The consistency of his secondary stuff and command of everything has been what has kept Mekkes from getting MLB opportunities in previous seasons. We’ll have to wait and see if there have been any gains since last we saw him.
The team also added utility man Carlos Sepulveda from EXST as infield depth while Ildemaro Vargas is in Chicago.
Tennessee 4, Montgomery 3 (Game 1)
Tennessee 10, Montgomery 5 (Game 2)
At 6’6″ and 240 pounds Bryce Ball is difficult to overlook. He created buzz in the Atlanta organization after he hit .329/.395/.628 in his first season in the low minors. Despite being just a 24th round pick he was invited to Spring Training with the big club the following year and there seemed to be a lot of momentum building about him as a prospect. The cancellation of the 2020 MiLB season brought that momentum to a halt however. When play resumed in 2021 the Braves sent Ball to High-A Rome but he did not take off the way they hoped (.206/.350/.394 in 54 games). He was a Top 20 prospect in the Braves system, but with the caveat that his value is tied almost exclusively to his bat and at the time the Braves came calling about Joc Pederson in trade Ball was just not hitting much. The Cubs no doubt saw an opportunity to buy low and so a straight up swap was enacted.
Ball was sent to South Bend where he proceeded to put up tepid results (.207/.351/.380) shockingly similar to those he posted in Rome. The good news was that Ball was demonstrating a good eye and pitch recognition at the plate. If anything though, he was too passive. This year we are seeing Ball take more aggressive hacks early in the count or when he gets ahead. And it is translating into better power numbers. He still hits the ball on the ground more than you would like for a power hitter and that means he’s also still hitting more doubles than homers, but the change in approach is a great first step. They can tweak his swing to improve launch angles later if necessary.
Yesterday Ball had a huge day. He went a paltry 1-for-3 in Game 1, but he exploded in Game 2 with six runs batted in on three hits, including his 11th double and 5th homer.
Ball’s run production overshadowed the efforts by Andy Weber somewhat, but the Smokies 2nd baseman kicked off the team’s scoring in Game 1 with an RBI double, and then ignited the team’s late three run rally with a leadoff walk. It was the first time in seven games that he failed to record multiple hits. In Game 2 Weber was right back at it though, adding three more hits including two more doubles, and also another walk. In all, he reached base six times in seven plate appearances across the two games.
Weber has long been a solid middle infielder in the org. He is best at 2B, but he is more than passable at SS as well. He isn’t a future big league starter, but as a versatile defender who swings from the left side he figures to get plenty of opportunity to carve out a utility role in the future.
The bat has always lagged a bit though, no doubt affected somewhat by a series of nagging injuries which has forced him in and out of the lineup frequently. I’ve remained a believer though, and though I’ve never been able to put my finger on what he needed to do to get a little more out of his swing, I’ve always felt he was very close to figuring it out. He just needed to stay on the field. It’s still early, but early indications are he may have unlocked a new level of production. His average is now up to .365 and OBP to .413.
In 13 games since April 27th Andy Weber is hitting .440/.500/.560 (192 OPS+) for Tennessee.— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) May 13, 2022
Weber's been even better over his last 8 games:
.531/.571/.656 (238 RC+), recording 2+ hits in 7 times, and reaching base 2+ in every one of them.
Chris Clarke earned the win his first start at the AA level in Game 2.
- Bryce Ball: 4-7, 2B, HR (5), 2 R, 6 RBI (.313)
- Andy Weber: 4-5, 3 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB (.365)
- Luis Vazquez: 2-3, 2B, R, CS (2) (.200)
- Alexander Canario: 2-6, 3 R, RBI, BB (.286)
- Bryce Windham: 1-3, 2 RBI (.208)
- Christian Donahue: 1-3 (.167)
- Chris Clarke: 5 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K (W, 1-0, 5.40)
- Kyle Johnson: 1.1 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 0 K (W, 2-0, 2.31)
- Graham Lawson: IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB< K (S, 1, 7.36)
Fort Wayne snapped South Bend’s eight game win streak. One interesting note is that LHP Riley Martin got the start for South Bend. He’s been missing a ton of bats over 2-3 inning appearances with Myrtle Beach and South Bend to begin the year, so I am curious to see how the results look as he is stretched out further. Martin did struggle with his control yesterday though (4 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 K).
- Didier Vargas: 4.2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K (5.74)
- Matt Mervis: 2-4, 2B (.330)
- Jake Slaughter: 1-3, BB (.143)
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
The injury Ed Howard suffered while trying to avoid a collision at first base the other day did not look good, as he was unable to put any weight on his left leg while being helped off the field. Injury information is not always made public, and we may not get the full details, but according to reports in The Athletic and elsewhere Howard did suffer an injury to his hip which is feared to be significant, and potentially season ending. He’s undergoing further testing today in order to determine the extent of the damage.
The Cubs aggressively promoted the young SS last year and again this season. His bat lagged behind but he showed some positive signs over the second half of last year, and then after a slow start the first couple of weeks this year he was showing even further growth in terms of pitch recognition and swing decisions the past few weeks. It really did seem like he was on the verge of figuring some things out so the timing of this injury is even more disappointing.
With two more hits, including a double, Matt Mervis (.330/.374/.626) increased his OPS to a cool 1.000 on the season. He’s been really good for South Bend throughout the year, providing consistent good at bats with his power showing out far more than it ever did in Myrtle Beach, while playing solid defense at 1B on top of it all. Mervis has a hit in 16 of his last 17 games and has failed to reach base in just 5 of his 25 games this season.
Grayson Byrd joined the club from EXST and Jonathan Sierra was activated from the Developmental List to fill out the South Bend roster.
The Pelicans received contributions up and down their lineup yesterday, but it was a big opposite field blast by Kevin Alcantara and a couple of hard hit balls off the bat of Juan Mora which stood out.
The future is bright for young Kevin Alcantara. He’s already showing good power at a young age, in a pitcher’s league (and park), and his body is far from fully developed. Give this kid a few years to pack on another 20+ pounds of muscle and you could see some real fireworks. It isn’t easy to hit one out to RF in Myrtle Beach, but here Alcantara is going oppo with the bases loaded:
KEVIN !!!— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 13, 2022
Alcantara clears the bases!! pic.twitter.com/VXBLOhjbKd
The 22-year old Mora flew a bit under the radar last summer in the AZL despite some gaudy numbers (.351/.473/.581). He isn’t very big, and was a bit older than the main cast of prospects the Cubs had down there, and despite his success he was never given a shot in Myrtle Beach the way younger players like Owen Caissie were. I’m still not sure what to make of Mora in the field, but he packs a solid punch with his bat. He’s got a solid eye and hits hard line drives. It’s difficult for bat-first 2B to make it, but he’s at least someone to monitor as we see if his production is maintained the further up the ladder he goes. He doubled and homered yesterday to give you a taste of what he offers.
OPPOSITE DAY!— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 13, 2022
Juan Mora has his second home run of the season!
Birds extend the lead, 8-4, over the 'Dogs! pic.twitter.com/m1aplba2Ii
- Kevin Alcantara: 1-5, HR (3), R, 4 RBI (.250)
- Juan Mora: 2-4, 2B, HR (2), 3 R, 2 RBI, BB (.271)
- Pete Crow-Armstrong: 1-4, 3B, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB (.373)
- Kevin Made: 2-5, RBI (.323)
- Jacob Wetzel: 1-3, 2 R, BB (.196)
- Reginald Preciado: 1-3, 2 R, BB (.184)
- James Triantos: 1-4, R, 2 RBI, BB (.264)
- B.J. Murray Jr.: 1-4, R, BB (.306)
- Bryan King: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (S, 1, 0.00)
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
The Pelicans activated OF Jacob Wetzel and LHP Chase Watkins from the IL.
2,222 managerial wins.— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 13, 2022
34 minor league seasons.
That’s a lot of victory high five lines. pic.twitter.com/JQz4OFVle3
Filed under: Daily Cubs Minors Recap