Position Analysis – Lower Minors
Today, the CCO completes its off-season look at the Cubs’ minor league system. After viewing the possible pitching staff for Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee, High-A Myrtle Beach, and Low-A South Bend, we now look at the prospects in the lower minor leagues.
Starters and Relievers – Lower Minors
As exciting as the pitching prospects are at Double-A Tennessee, High-A Myrtle Beach, and Low-A South Bend, the young pitchers beginning their careers in the low minors are sure to create quite a buzz next season. Predicting just who will end up where and in what role on a pitching staff at these levels is quite difficult. Players develop at different rates, and as a consequence can move around very quickly. Here then are some of the names to be looking for as the games begin next summer.
The first to grab one’s attention are a trio of teenage left-handers, Jose Paulino, Carson Sands, and Justin Steele.
Nineteen-year old Jose Paulino appears to be a talent that is still trying to find his way as a pitcher. Paulino has 173 strikeouts in 165 innings over his three-year career, but also sports a career ERA of 4.04 and WHIP of 1.26. Last season for the AZL Cubs, Paulino led the team in starts (7) and innings pitched (46.2) while being second in strikeouts (42). However, in his first season stateside, Paulino was 3-4 with a 5.98 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 12 appearances.
Another 19-year old, fourth round draft pick Carson Sands, had a sparkling pro debut. Appearing in nine games for the AZL Cubs, starting four and finishing one, Sands was 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP that included 20 strikeouts in 19 innings. According to scouting reports, Sands has a low-90s fastball that has reached the 94-95 mph range, a solid curve and a good feel for his change-up.
Turning 19 years old shortly after he was drafted in the fifth round, Justin Steele is more of a work in progress at this point. Scouts report that the only pitch he has good control of is his low-90s fastball, and that his slider, curve, and change-up are all still developing. The good news is that the Cubs feel that Steele’s stamina issues and mechanics are all correctable, but can possibly hold him back from opening with Short Season –A Eugene in 2015. Steele had some success in the rookie league after the draft and posted a 2.89 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP that included 25 strikeouts in 18.2 innings (nine appearances).
Another pitcher that recently turned 19 (December 28), Dylan Cease will have to show he is physically sound in order to get his career started in 2015. Selected in the sixth round, Cease was considered a first round talent until he lost most of his senior season in high school due to elbow problems. Cease had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the Cubs. Prior to his final season in high school, Cease had a fastball in the mid-90s that had touched 97 mph. Cease’s change-up is his best secondary pitch, as his curve will need refinement.
Another pitcher acquired in the Tony Campana deal with the Diamondbacks in 2013, 19-year old Jesus Castillo had a good first season in the United States. Playing for the AZL Cubs, Castillo appeared in 11 games and was 1-0 with a 2.67 ERA. Castillo also had a 1.45 WHIP with 23 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. Castillo has a low-to-mid 90s fastball with a change-up that is his second best pitch, as well as a curve in progress.
Other possible starting candidates come from both the Dominican and Venezuelan Leagues. Nineteen-year old left-hander Carlos A. Rodriguez actually had 13 appearances for the AZL Cubs in 2013, going 1-4 with a 6.97 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP (30 strikeouts in 31 innings). The 5-foot-11, 178 pounder returned to Venezuela this past season and was second in the league with a 1.23 ERA, third with 56 strikeouts, and fifth with a 0.99 WHIP as he went 0-3 in 58.1 innings. Rodriguez has an upper-80s fastball that he commands well, along with an advanced change-up and a curve he can throw for strikes.
Rodriguez’s teammate, 21-year old lefty Yapson Gomez led the Venezuelan League with a 0.81 WHIP and was 6-2 with a 1.51 ERA, but only had 37 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. Nineteen-year old Enrique De Los Rios led the V-Cubs with 14 starts and was among the league leaders in ERA (3.76), WHIP (1.24), and strikeouts (42), going 2-5 while completing 67 innings.
In the Dominican League, 20-year old Santiago Rodriguez tied for third in wins with an 8-1 record, eighth with 71 strikeouts, and was 12th with a 1.67 ERA as he also posted a 1.00 WHIP in 11 appearances (81 innings). Nineteen-year old Oscar De La Cruz also had an 8-1 record as he led the squad with 14 starts with a 1.00 WHIP. De La Cruz finished with a 1.80 ERA that included 64 strikeouts in 75 innings. Imposing 20-year old (6-foot-6, 204 pounds) Jose Morel was also impressive with a 5-1 record, but not as polished as his teammates. Morel put up only a 3.16 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while striking out 57 in 62.2 innings (13 starts).
Figuring somewhere between the starting rotation and the bullpen should be 18-year old Austyn Willis. A big kid at 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, Willis was selected in the 18th round of the 2014 draft. Reporting to the AZL Cubs, Willis did well for a player two and a half years younger than his competition. Willis was 0-1 in ten appearances with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP (nine strikeouts in 15 innings). A recruiting report of Willis stated that his fastball was clocked at 89 mph and that he had a sharp slider, with his velocity expected to increase as he matures.
Having trouble adjusting in his first time outside of Venezuela, Adbert Alzolay still has enough promise as a future starter. In his first professional season in 2013, Alzolay went 5-3 in 15 appearances (12 starts) with a 0.88 WHIP (61 strikeouts in 67 innings). However, last season the 19-year old was hit pretty well in the Arizona Rookie League. Alzolay made nine appearances (three starts) and was 2-5 with an 8.51 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP, but had 26 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Alzolay participated in the Fall Instructional League and may be better prepared to play next season.
Anchoring a bullpen could a pair of experienced arms in lefty Andin Diaz and right-hander Yomar Morel. After starting the season with the DSL Cubs, 22-year old Diaz pitched well in relief for the AZL Cubs. Diaz was 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP (25 strikeouts in 25 innings) in the rookie league. Twenty-one year old Morel broke extended Spring Training on Short Season-A Boise’s roster, but was returned to the AZL Cubs after being knocked around in the Northwest League. Morel regrouped in the rookie league and led the A-Cubs with three saves, and was 2-0 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP that included 22 strikeouts in 31.1 innings for the season.
A starter at Azusa Pacific, the Cubs put 22-year old Zach Hedges, the 26th round pick in last year’s draft, in the bullpen for the AZL Cubs. Hedges performed well, going 2-1 in 12 appearances with a 1.37 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP that included 23 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Another late round draft pick, 35th round selection Jordan Minch made the most of his limited appearances with the AZL Cubs. Minch had two saves in seven appearances with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP (14 strikeouts in 10.2 innings). Scouting reports have Minch with a low-90s fastball and a sweeping curve.
Middle relief should be provided by 11th round selection Jordan Brink, 12th pick Tanner Griggs, and 17th rounder Michael Knighton. Turning 22 years old before the 2015 season, Brink saw very limited action after signing, appearing in three games and tossing 2.2 innings. Coming into the draft, scouts felt that Brink projected better as a reliever than starter with his mid-90s fastball and power curve. Twenty-year old Griggs appeared in nine games in the Rookie League and was 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP (11 strikeouts in 15.2 innings). Griggs is considered a high energy pitcher whose go-to pitch is his slider. Griggs also has a low-to-mid 90s fastball along with a very raw change-up and curve. Like Brink, 20-year old Knighton did not see much action after signing, going 0-1 in five appearances with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP that included five strikeouts in eight innings.
Others that can figure in the bullpen are Jesus Arias, Jose Leindez, Eugenio Palma, Aneuris Rosario, and Deibi Torres. Twenty-one year old Arias led the VSL Cubs in saves with five as he was 2-1 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP (39 strikeouts in 40.1 innings). Finishing second to Arias in saves with two for the V-Cubs was 20-year old Leindez, who went 3-3 with a 3.28 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while fanning 22 in 35.2 innings. Eighteen-year old lefty Palma was encouraging in limited action, going 1-1 in 12 appearances with a 1.69 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP (18 strikeouts in 21.1 innings). Topping the DSL Cubs with 16 games finished, 19-year old Rosario was 1-5 with four saves and a 3.79 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP (34 strikeouts in 40.1 innings). Twenty-year old Torres appeared in 13 games and was 1-3 with three saves and a 4.83 ERA, a 1.71 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 31.2 innings.
Also in the mix for positions on the staff will be two pitchers that dealt with injuries last season, 21-year old Jose Zapata and 19-year old left-hander Frailin Figueroa.
Minor League Position Analysis
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Right Field
- Triple-A Iowa Pitching Staff
- Double-A Tennessee Pitching Staff
- High-A Myrtle Beach Pitching Staff
- Low-A South Bend Pitching Staff
This concludes the CCO’s look at the Cubs minor league system. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did bringing it to you. Down on the Farm will now begin its off-season schedule of weekly reports. Keep on the lookout for reports on the winter leagues all the way through the playoffs to the Caribbean World Series, as well as popular features such as “Bubble Busters” and our “Five Players to Watch” series. Our fan poll, selecting the minor leaguers you will like the CCO to follow throughout the 2015 season will also be starting soon. As Spring Training winds down, the minor league report will provide a comprehensive preview of the Cubs’ minor leagues.