Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Farrell debuts with 5 scoreless as Iowa pitches shutout and Robel goes deep again; Ball and Weber making waves as Smokies sweep DH; Alcantara hits Grand Slam in Pelicans win

Andy Weber (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

AAA

Iowa 5, Omaha 0

Game Recap

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:

Top Performers

  • 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.

AA

Tennessee 4, Montgomery 3 (Game 1)

Tennessee 10, Montgomery 5 (Game 2)

Game Recap

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.

Chris Clarke earned the win his first start at the AA level in Game 2.

Top Performers

  • 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)

High-A

Fort Wayne 5, South Bend 0

Game Recap

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).

Top Performers

  • 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.

Low-A

Myrtle Beach 13, Charleston 4

Game Recap

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:

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.

Top Performers

  • 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.

Comments

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  • fb_avatar

    Thanks again for all the recaps and information Michael. I am very discouraged at hearing the extent of Howard's injury. He has been one player (along with PCA) that I have high hopes for and have been following him even before the draft.
    He is young and even if he misses the rest of this year he could still have a very productive career.
    This minor league system is winning! We haven't seen consistency in our system in almost a decade. It's fun reading about them--it much be fun writing about them too.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Ya, I'm worried. Howard was turning the corner at the plate and really an athlete. Major injuries often lower ceilings. I hope he doesn't need surgery. I'm worried about Davis as well. These are two of our top guys .

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yeah, heaven forbid we have to ride this out, waiting for Ricketts to operate as a major market franchise.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    As someone who had to stop playing baseball in high school after hurting my hip, and still have minor issues 25 years later, I'm wary of implications. But I also wasn't a millionaire athlete with access to the finest medical care in the world.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Hip injury sidelined papa bear Halas baseball career too. Ball and socket joints at any age do not heal the same.

  • In reply to Oldno7:

    sport medicine has improved a little since Halas hurt himself.

  • In reply to John57:

    Wonder if Bo Jackson agrees with you

  • In reply to Oldno7:

    I don't talk to Bo much but I would imagine he would agree that sport medicine has improved since Halas got hurt.

  • Thanks for highlighting Matt Mervis (.330/.374/.626). Those numbers look pretty good and you say he plays a solid 1B. Looks like a possible Rizzo replacement.

  • New statue for Fergie. My childhood hero's. Ernie, Ron, Billy & Fergie. They are why i am a lifelong Cubs fan. Damn you black cat!!!

  • Terrible headache today. I think it's from Sutcliffe do the color last night.

  • Just a couple of Cub notes this morning, it was cool watching Ortega go deep on his birthday. He stays professional and just goes about his business of playing the game. He doesn't try to show anybody up on the opposing team with too much celebrating. Second, I was pretty harsh criticising Contreras' receiving skills with Steele previously, so I want to note his improvement doing that the last game. To me, he was much more focused on that part. Maybe Willson just had had a bad came before. Anyway, he did did a really nice job receiving.

  • Great Day on Sunday for the entire Org. 5-0. Some of the hitting prospects are starting to adjust/heat up now. Matt Swarmer looks to be an interesting SP. I know his FB is not ideal but since middle of last season he has been putting up some decent starts in AAA.

  • In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    Looking at all of these young guys i think the Cubbies are going to have to try and trade some of these relievers and outfielders this off season. They are loaded with guys that need to be on the 40 man roster (rule 5). Even if we trade or release 10-15 veterans (I assume we will add 3-5 veterans in the off season) we still will be loaded.

  • I didn't realize Hoerner, is going to enter his first year of arbitration next season. Other players who will be in first year of arbitration for 2023 are Wick, Madrigal, Heuer, Wieck, & Mills.

    Since Hoerner had been drafted, he has been on the IL for his elbow, wrist, hamstring, forearm, oblique, & ankle.

  • It seems it is time for the Cubs to come to some decisions on the roster in Iowa. I’m not sure why position players like Deichmann, Giombrone, and Z Davis are still holding places on the roster.
    And when I look at the make up of the current Iowa pitching staff, along with the pitching in the lower levels that are throwing well, why do they bring in the likes of Luke Farrell? Cubs are going nowhere this year (I hope to be proven wrong), it’s time to move some of these guys along, now.

  • In reply to cubbustible:

    Cubs need that depth in Iowa because they are going to trade a large portion of their MLB roster during the season. They need guys like Farrell, Swarmer, Dermondy, Bourque, Stout, GOnsalves, Deichmann, Higgins, Hicks, Machado, Garcia as potential MLB fill ins in case some of the prospects get hurt or are just not ready to play in MLB in the 2nd half.
    You need guys like Giambrone, Crook, Z. Davis because you need to have bench guys in Iowa and don't want to sit an actual prospect.
    There will definitely be some attrition in Iowa. They released a couple of arms (McCarthy, Yardley) a couple of weeks ago, and have lost a couple more on waivers (Sampson, St. John). That type of siphoning figures to continue throughout the year. Much of the current Tennessee roster will be in Iowa for the second half, but for most of them it won't happen until the trades at the MLB level kick off and create a cascading effect.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Velazquez, Maldonado, Sanders, Hughes, Hudson were called up previously, and Morel is being called up to Iowa as well (with a stop off in Chicago this week while they wait for one or more of Frazier/Madrigal/Hoerner/Hermosillo to get healthy.
    Current Smokies Weber, Strumpf, Jordan, Hill, Espinoza, Assad, Ball, Ramos, Correa, Whitney, Jensen, Thompson will get called up at some point to finish the year in Iowa.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Hughes looked good. Encouraging start. I hope Norris will be fine, he was throwing pretty good lately, and could be a decent trade piece down the road.

  • Good write up - as usual Michael, Took me a couple of days to get around to reading it. :D

    Ball appears to have the offense working again - good to see this year. How's his defense - average or better than average? Obviously with Rivas and Schwindel manning 1B, and with Wisdom able to shift over there in a pinch, there's not much pressure to get him to Wrigley this season even with a big summer sell-off. It's not likely that any sell-off will include all of those guys.

  • fb_avatar

    As someone mentioned before, the Cubs organization was 5-0 the other day, and last week the entire minor league clubs went 20-5. That is dominant. This is reminiscent of 2012-4 when we could see the talent surge through the system. We now have more talented players down there than before. I don't know if we have any elite talent but the potential is there.
    I get more disappointed now when I can't see recaps of the minor league games (like on a Monday when none are playing) than the major league team. Now I look forward to seeing Seiya bat, but he's in an awful stretch that's lasted all of May. His defense is spectacular though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the GG conversation.

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