Position Analysis – Low-A Pitchers
The position analysis series continues today and shifts to the South Bend Cubs. After viewing the possible pitching staffs for Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee and High-A Myrtle Beach, we now look at the prospects at Low-A South Bend.
With South Bend being fed by a pitching staff that nearly led the Northwest League in every category, the future looks rather rosy for fans in Northwest Indiana.
Low-A Starters and Relievers
Probably the Cubs’ most anticipated pitching prospect since Kerry Wood almost 20 years ago, Dylan Cease is ready to enter his first full professional season. The 21-year old eased his way back onto the mound this past year, averaging less than four innings per appearance with Short Season-A Eugene. However, Cease was very effective in those appearances, going 2-0 in 12 starts with a 2.22 ERA, 1.164 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 44.2 innings. Cease has a fastball in the upper-90s that has been clocked in triple digits at times. Observers now feel that Cease’s curveball is his second best offering, and has the ability to be a plus-pitch. Cease also has a changeup, and his overall command is improving. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Cease did have to miss some time with forearm stiffness this past season. If he is able to continue to hold up, the Cubs have a top of the rotation starter in Cease.
Giving South Bend a potent one-two punch at the top of the rotation, lefty Manuel Rondon was the Pitcher of the Year in the Northwest League. While falling just short of qualifying for the league lead in several categories, the 21-year old tied for second in victories and had one of the league’s best ERAs. Rondon was 6-1 with a 1.10 ERA, 1.256 WHIP and had 49 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. A mid-90s fastball, a solid breaking pitch, and a more aggressive approach, are what turned Rondon from an average pitcher to a big time prospect. Rondon now trusts his stuff, and his tenacity on the mound has translated into positive results.
Signing in late June, 2016 fourth round pick Tyson Miller should be ready to join the South Bend rotation in spring. The 21-year old didn’t see the field until about a month later, debuting in late July for the AZL Cubs. After two appearances, Miller joined Short Season-A Eugene for six more appearances, including four starts. Altogether, Miller went 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.221 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. A groundball pitcher, Miller throws a low-90s fastball that has reached 96 mph. Miller also has a low-80s slider and a changeup that needs work.
Another pitcher recovering from arm surgery, Erling Moreno continues to make a successful comeback. The 19-year old looks as if he can make the jump to full-season ball just two years removed from surgery based on his performance this past season. Starting off in Arizona with the Rookie League, Moreno proved that he was up to the challenge as posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.082 WHIP in six appearances (four starts). Moreno then moved up to Short Season-A Eugene where he was much better, with only a 0.90 ERA and 0.700 WHIP in six starts. All totaled, Moreno went 4-3 with a 1.88 ERA, 0.898 WHIP and had 55 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder has a low-90s fastball and an advanced change along with an inconsistent curve ball. Moreno is expected to get better the further removed he is from surgery.
After a promising first professional season, Justin Steele had a year he would probably just as soon forget. Playing for Low-A South Bend, the 21-year old was hit hard as he went 5-7 with 5.00 ERA, 1.707 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. As you can see, Steele has swing-and-miss stuff, but has yet to master some of the finer points. Along with his age, that is why it is generally considered that Steele would return to this level in 2017. Steele will have to be able to get control of is his slider, curve, and changeup to go along with his low-90s fastball in order to become a force in the Midwest League.
Solidly built, Pedro Silverio could not capitalize on his physical maturity last season. That is because the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was not able to establish consistent command. A main part of the pitching rotation for Short Season-A Eugene, Silverio was 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA, 1.545 WHIP and had 46 strikeouts in 44 innings. It was expected for Silverio to eat a lot of innings, but inconsistent control led to several quick hooks. Silverio has added velocity and now has a mid-90s fastball to pair with a solid curve. No word on a third pitch, but Silverio needs to do a better job in controlling what he already has.
Although he started in every appearance for the Cubs since signing, it is not certain whether 2016 fifth round pick Bailey Clark will remain as a starter. Lack of command landed the 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander in the bullpen for Duke University, but Clark sports possibly the second best fastball in the system. The 22-year old has reached 99 mph and has a mid-80s slider. In four starts between the AZL Cubs and Short Season-A Eugene, Clark was 0-0 with a 1.54 ERA, 0.943 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. If Clark moves out of the rotation, he will be in a very spirited competition for Low-A South Bend’s closer role.
Another candidate for the rotation could be 2016 19th round selection Matt Swarmer. The 6-foot-5 right-hander out of Kutztown University has some filling out to do at 175 pounds. The 23-year olds best asset is command, as the Cubs hope to add onto his upper-80s fastball and low-80s slider. In eight appearances for the AZL Cubs (five starts), Swarmer was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.554 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.
The bullpen for South Bend will have a lot of options, beginning in middle relief with 2016 18th round pick Marc Huberman. The 22-year old has a low-90s fastball, slider, and changeup, but was involved in some trouble at USC. Spending the bulk of his time with Short Season-A Eugene after signing, the lefty was a combined 4-0 with a save, a 1.80 ERA, 1.250 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in 20 innings.
Another big pitcher, ninth round selection Duncan Robinson did not have as much early success. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound reliever out of Dartmouth went 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA, 1.574 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 20.1 innings with both the AZL Cubs and Short Season-A Eugene. With a low-90s fastball, a better than average slider, and a developing changeup, the 23-year old could also be considered for a spot in the rotation.
Off to an even more rough start to his career was 20th round pick Colton Freeman. The 23-year old lefty was hit hard in four appearances in Arizona, posting a 14.73 ERA, 2.455 WHIP and four strikeouts in 3.2 innings. Scouts have liked Freeman’s low-90s fastball, above average slider and athleticism.
Rounding out middle relief is a pair of 2015 draftees, M.T. Minacci and Tyler Peitzmeier. The 21-year old Minacci did some heavy lifting for Short Season-A Eugene, tossing 44.2 innings in 23 relief appearances with a 2-0 record, 4.03 ERA, 1.478 WHIP and 31 strikeouts. Demoted from Low-A South Bend in late July, left-hander Peitzmeier most likely will be back at that level next season. The 23-year old combined to go 3-2 with three saves, a 2.87 ERA, 1.221 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. Both relievers sport low-90s fastballs and change-ups.
Because of a four-pitch arsenal, 11th rounder Michael Rucker had both started and relieved at the colleges he attended, Gonzaga and Brigham Young. The 22-year old had some success in high leverage situations, going 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA in seven appearances (four games finished) between the AZL Cubs and Short Season-A Eugene. Rucker also had a 0.789 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. Rucker’s fastball peaks at 96 mph, while his slider, curve, and changeup are currently lacking.
The undersized Jed Carter had more mixed results in his debut, as the 21-year old also split time between Arizona and Eugene. With a low- to mid-90s fastball, splitter, and fringy slider, the 15th round selection was 3-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 1.655 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 9.2 innings.
A converted catcher, 23-year old Holden Cammack has a long way to go but has impressive arm strength. The 16th rounder had some mixed results in seven appearances for the AZL Cubs, going 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.571 WHIP and 12 strikeouts in seven innings.
Minor league veterans Yapson Gomez and Tanner Griggs will provide depth. Twenty-three year old lefty Gomez finally broke through in Arizona, going 3-1 in 15 appearances with a 2.47 ERA, 1.031 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. Coming back from a 50-game suspension, the 22-year old Griggs was 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA, 1.116 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 40.1 innings in appearances for both the AZL Cubs and South Bend Cubs.
The serious candidates start with 2016 sixth round pick Chad Hockin. The grandson of Hall-of Famer Harmon Killebrew came out of Cal-State Fullerton and now has probably the third best heater in the organization. The 22-year old’s fastball lights up the radar gun at 97 mph, and he pairs it with an upper-80s slider. Going directly to Short Season-A Eugene, Hockin showed his swing-and-miss stuff with 14 strikeouts in 12 innings, but posted a 6.00 ERA and 1.500 WHIP in 11 appearances. Some previous experience with both a curve and a change lead some to think a possible turn at starting could also be in the works for Hockin.
Coming at it from a very different perspective, 10th round selection Dakota Mekkes was one of the most successful closers in college baseball. Imposing at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, the 22-year old warmed up in Arizona for two games before going to Eugene. Mekkes also had 11 appearances, but was 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.800 WHIP and had 27 strikeouts in 20 innings. A deceptive delivery rather than stuff is what makes Mekkes successful, as he uses his height to hide his low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider. Player development will work with Mekkes to improve his velocity and better use his leverage.
After two seasons, little is still known about Michael Knighton other than he was effective in 2016. Selected in the seventeenth round in 2014, the 22-year old made the Northwest League All-Star game after going 2-0 with four saves, a 1.72 ERA, 1.009 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.
The most productive pitcher so far out of the 2016 draft was also the shortest, as 13th round Wyatt Short played a key role in Short Season-A Eugene’s Northwest League Championship. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound lefty made 15 appearances and was 1-0 with seven saves, a 0.00 ERA, 0.800 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 15 innings. The 22-year old has impeccable control and is able to spot his fastball which tops out at 94 mph, along with a low-80s slider and change that he can throw for strikes.
Transitioning from catcher, to infielder, to pitcher, Mark Malave led Eugene in saves and had a brief look at South Bend in 2016. Making a total of 24 appearances, the 22-year old today (Jan. 5) was 0-1 with nine saves, a 3.41 ERA, 1.345 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 29. Malave has a mid-90s fastball but needs time to develop his secondary pitches. Malave is gaining some valuable experience in Venezuela this winter.
Cubs Position Analysis Reports
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- Triple-A Starters and Relievers
- Double-A Starters and Relievers
- High-A Starters and Relievers