Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Good night for pitching in the system. Assad and Devers excel, punch out 9 each; Wicks earns first win

Javier Assad (Photo by Stephanie Lynn

MLB

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Alfonso Rivas was a late scratch from the Iowa lineup last night, presumably because he is on his way to Chicago to replace Frank Schwindel. Schwindel’s back tighten up on him and was forced to leave yesterday’s game.

AAA

Iowa 5, Omaha 3

Game Recap

Matt Dermody has been the closest thing to a constant in the Iowa rotation throughout the season. Every other starter has either been riding the shuttle up to Chicago, on rehab assignment, promoted from Tennessee, DFA, released, or… you get it. But the Iowa native has either been in the rotation or performing as a piggyback for other starters all season.

He had a strong April (3.18), but his performance slipped in May (5.57), and then further over his first couple of appearances in June (9 R in just 4 IP). Last night though, he put together his best game of the season. The big lefty held Omaha scoreless over four one-hit innings, tying a season high with six K.

Dermody was followed by three relievers who each allowed one run, but Erich Uelmen slammed the door in the 9th to earn his fourth save. Uelmen has been one of the more pleasant surprises in Iowa this season.

There wasn’t much offense (just five hits), but it was enough. Nelson Maldonado homered for the second consecutive day. He appears to be finding his footing in AAA of late. Darius Hill has required no transition period since being promoted from Tennessee. He had himself yet another multi-hit game to raise his average to a cool .400.

The biggest hit though, was provided by David Bote. He resumed his rehab yesterday after having to cut short his previous attempt a couple weeks back due to dizziness. His two-run double was key in a big four-run 3rd which broke the game open.

Top Performers

  • Matt Dermody: 4 IP, H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K (5.48)
  • Wyatt Short: 2.1 IP, H, R, BB, 0 K (W, 1-0, 4.20)
  • Conner Menez: 1.1 IP, H, R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K (2.14)
  • Erich Uelmen: 1 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K (S, 4, 1.91)
  • Nelson Maldonado: 1-3, HR (3), R, RBI (.239)
  • David Bote: 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI (.191)
  • Darius Hill: 2-4 (.400)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

A few years ago, if you would have asked me to place odds on which of the Cubs farmhands would eventually fill the low-arm angle reliever slot in Chicago, Dakota Mekkes would have been the heavy favorite, with Erich Uelmen a strong runner-up. But Mekkes never progressed his command beyond borderline as he stalled out in Des Moines (and was recently placed on the Developmental List presumably in another effort to get him over the hump), and then of course Scott Effross ended up converting from a traditional arm slot to his current form and immediately took off and leap frogged all other options relatively quickly.

Meanwhile, Uelmen made a steady progression through the Cubs system as a starter, before making the inevitable conversion to relief midway through the 2021 season. He struggled badly in his first shot with Iowa in the 2nd half, and I’ll admit to having lost quite a bit of interest in tracking his progress, especially as Effross immediately excelled in Chicago. But Uelmen has responded this season. His time as a starter helped him hone and trust his changeup and breaking ball, and his first offseason/spring training as a full-time reliever no doubt helped him focus on how best to attack hitters without worrying about saving anything for the next time through the order.

His stuff looks crisp and he’s been very difficult to hit all season. Like Dermody in the rotation, Uelmen has pretty much been the one constant in the Iowa pen, but unlike Dermody, Uelmen has excelled pretty much from Opening Day. He’s even controlled LHB more so than RHB, always a concern when it comes to guys throwing from a lower arm slot). If there is one thing still holding him back it is control. Not dissimilar to Mekkes, Uelmen is issuing too many free passes (33 IP, 20 H, 12 R, 7 ER, 19 BB, 2 HBP, 38 K, 1.91 ERA). If he can make that final adjustment to control the strike zone the 26-year old former 4th round pick could make the leap onto the 40-man roster.

AA

Pensacola 3, Tennessee 1

Game Recap

What a difference a year makes. Javier Assad appeared to be on the way to stalling out in the Cubs system in 2021, with a conversion to middle relief a strong possibility, but he’s been a whole new pitcher in 2022. Assad moved quickly through the system prior to the pandemic but was always bit on the periphery of true prospect status. He’s always shown pretty good command and a knack for getting the most out of his stuff, it just always appeared like the stuff was going to come up a bit short in the end.

Thanks to a nasty new cutter though, he has increased his K rate from below average to above average, cut his ERA from 5.32 in 2021 to 2.64 in 2022, and he has re-established himself as a legit starting pitcher prospect.

Assad left after punching out nine over six innings of work, with the game tied 1-1. He did have a couple recent outings with unusual control issues, but he obviously righted the ship in this one. It was also his 32nd and hopefully final start with Tennessee over the past two seasons. I really don’t see anything else he needs to do to earn a promotion to Iowa, especially since it appears Caleb Kilian will be in Chicago for a while and the I-Cubs need some rotation help.

The offense and bullpen would come up short in the late innings, but it was still a successful game when it comes to prospect development. The Smokies lone run came on a homer by Alexander Canario. It wasn’t a smooth transition to AA, but he’s been starting to heat up a bit, and I look for a potential 2nd half power breakout from him. He’s already hit 15 home runs this season to nearly match his previous career high already, and I think he spends the rest of the season in Tennessee even if he busts out, but there is a good chance Canario could finish the year with 35+ home runs if he gets hot.

With Seiya Suzuki signed in Chicago long term, Christopher Morel already making his case to stay, Nelson Velázquez likely to get his shot after the trade deadline, and Brennen Davis set to return from injury next season, it is difficult to envision where Alexander Canario fits in the grand scheme of things. Especially since another RH power hitting OF, Kevin Alcántara, appears like he could be a fast riser behind Canario as well. But that doesn’t mean the 22-year old can’t hit his way into their plans.

Top Performers

  • Javier Assad: 6 IP, 5 H, R, 0 BB, 9 K (2.64)
  • Alexander Canario: 2-4, HR (8), R, RBI (.224)
  • Jake Slaughter: 3-4, 2B (.362)
  • Yonathan Perlaza: 1-3, 2B (.230)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Everyone has a bad day sometimes. Matt Mervis has been on fire all season, and never skipped a beat when he was promoted to Tennessee, but he wore the Golden Sombrero yesterday.

High-A

South Bend 14, Quad Cities 7

Game Recap

South Bend put up 14 runs on the board despite only 10 hits, just two doubles, and no home runs. They did draw eight walks, but still… that’s some crazy sequencing, even if the free passes did cluster inside a couple of big innings. I mean, Jordan Nwogu drove in three runs without getting a hit.

The guy who deliver most of the big hits was Fabian Pertuz, who is getting fairly regular reps at SS since Ed Howard went down, giving him an unexpected opportunity to make a big impression this season. He got off to a hot start in April, but has been kind of up-and-down since. He went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs in this one though. There is some decent bat speed and pop in his bat, but his upside is likely as a bench player, so proving he can handle shortstop is important.

Jordan Wicks earned his first career win (he’s basically been on pretty strict pitch limits since turning pro, often preventing him from the chance to even throw 5 innings and qualify for a win). He got to throw 80 pitches yesterday and posted one of his best stat lines of the season with 6 K and no walks. The Cubs have made fairly significant changes to his pitch mix and breaking ball grip and I get the sense the first half of this season was all about easing him into things and letting him get comfortable with the new pitches and approach. I also get the sense that the Cubs are about to lengthen the leash from here on out. This might be the start of the breakout.

Top Performers

  • Jordan Wicks: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K (W, 1-3, 4.32)
  • Fabian Pertuz: 3-4, 2 R, 4 RBI, 2 SB (3, 4) (.241)
  • Yeison Santana: 1-4, 2 R, RBI, 2 BB (.319)
  • Caleb Knight: 2-4, 2 R, RBI, HBP (.258)
  • Jake Washer: 2-5, 2B, 2 R (.297)
  • Jordan Nwogu: 0-2, 3 RBI, SF, 2 BB, HBP, SB (6) (.250)
  • B.J. Murray, Jr.: 0-2, R, 2 RBI, SF, 3 BB (.111)
  • Pablo Aliendo: 1-4, 3 R, RBI, HBP (.213)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Michael McAvene made his 2022 debut. He walked a couple of guys. There was no CF camera yesterday so hard to say how he looked.

Low-A

Myrtle Beach 3, Fredericksburg 0

Game Recap

The offense gets most of the attention on a dominant Myrtle Beach team, especially since the lineup has been populated by so many of the orgs top prospects, but the Pelicans pitching has been just as big of a factor in contributing to their success. You don’t achieve the best record in Minor League Baseball without getting good pitching.

I’ve talked before about how the Pelicans have a lot of interesting arms but really really haven’t had a top pitching on their staff this year. Luke Little probably gets the most attention because he’s a huge lefty who throws upper-90s, but he most likely ends up a reliever due to his control. Richard Gallardo was given a high IFA signing bonus, definitely gets the most out of his stuff, and has consistently put up solid numbers, but the stuff is pretty much just solid-average across the board and it is difficult to project future leaps given he appears to have already filled out his frame (but if there is a future Javier Assad-like late leap in the org, Gallardo is a good bet). Porter Hodge remade his body and is throwing very well this year. The arrow is certainly pointing up with him, but his ceiling is likely as a BOR starter. Tyler Schlaffer falls into a similar category.

Luis Devers might be the one guy who emerges above all of the Pelicans starters though. He throws strikes, knows how to change speeds, and his offspeed stuff is pretty good (and most importantly he has a feel for commanding all of it). He doesn’t blow you away on the radar gun (mostly low-90s, touching mid-90s), but there’s movement, and of all the guys from this rotation he’s the one with the most room remaining for physical development so there may be more velo to come.

I’m still unsure when it comes to his mechanics. He short strides and falls on a stiff front leg before sort of slinging the ball. It is unusual, could be preventing him from throwing a little harder, and could lead to injury or control issues. But it could be one of those things that creates enough deception and timing issues for hitters that it is worth keeping. If he was showing a lack of command I’d be more inclined to mess with him, but that isn’t the case. He’s excelling right now, and if he can naturally gain some strength while maintaining health and command, the Cubs could end up with something here.

Last night was his finest pro performance and it lowered his ERA below 2.00. His changeup in particular was pretty nasty. Gallardo might be first in line for a mid-season promotion given he spent all of last year in Myrtle Beach, but Devers is making the case to jump him, or at the very least join him soon after.

Top Performers

  • Luis Devers: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K (W, 8-3, 1.95)
  • Aldfredo Zarraga: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K (S, 2, 2.25)
  • Josue Huma: 1-2, HR (1), 2 R, RBI (.250)
  • Juan Mora: 1-3, 2B, R (.267)
  • Ezequiel Pagan: 1-3, 2 RBI (.272)
  • Felix Stevens: 1-2, BB (.230)

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

ACL

Reds 5, Cubs 4

DSL

Cubs Blue 3, Cubs Red 0

Comments

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  • Thanks Michael. Lot of interesting thoughts and info you share here today. It would be nice to see Assad and Devers continue their recent success. And I hope Wicks also makes it up the ladder. Wicks seems to be intense and focused when he is just working out. I haven’t seen him actually pitch yet.
    A guy quietly having a nice year is Yeison Santana. To me he seemed to be more of a wild card, in the Yu deal. And he looked like he still has room to physically develop, but he’s putting up some decent numbers so far.

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    Thanks again Michael. I thoroughly enjoyed your take on the pitchers at MB. Maybe one day you could go through the pitchers at each level. We certainly need pitchers at the big league level, and difference makers would really help.

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