Five Players to Watch: Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
Last week, the CCO began the series that looks beyond the Top 20 Prospect lists and explores the other players in the Cubs organization that may have an impact on the Major League club. Over the years, the CCO has profiled players such as Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and Armando Rivero among others before they were recognized as top prospects.
This is the second of three articles highlighting some of the players not noted on off-season prospect lists. The players are listed in alphabetical order, and as they are presently listed on rosters. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily reflect where each player will start the season.
The Cubs have amassed a large collection of teenaged arms in their minor league system. The pitcher that has experienced the most success to date has been Trevor Clifton.
The Tennessee high school player was the 12th round selection in the 2013 draft, mainly due to his projectable 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame. As a senior for Heritage High School in Knoxville, TN, Clifton was 3-2 with a 3.35 ERA and 79 strikeouts against 21 walks. His fastball was in the low-90s, and was clocked in the upper-90s.
Clifton pitched a scant 10.1 innings in the rookie league after he signed, so his 2014 assignment with Short Season-A Boise was his first true professional exposure. Clifton did not disappoint, leading the Hawks rotation with 13 starts and finishing seventh in the Northwest League with a 3.69 ERA. For the season, Clifton went 4-2 with a 1.46 WHIP that included 54 strikeouts in 61 innings.
Along with his fastball, the 19-year old throws a mid-80s curve, a slider and a change-up. Clifton also has a lot of work to do with his mechanics in order to cut down on his free passes. It is believed that once Clifton has had time to work with pro coaches and his body matures and fills out, he has the stuff that project him to at least middle of the rotation material.
A prospect that has been making improvements every season, Danny Lockhart is on the verge of becoming a Top 20-type player.
The son of Cubs’ scout and former major league infielder Keith Lockhart was a 10th round pick in the 2011 draft. A high school player out of Dacula, GA, Lockhart only saw action in seven games in the Arizona Rookie League after signing. The 2012 season saw Lockhart return to the rookie league, but the results were less than impressive. Lockhart batted only .211/.302/.305/.607 with a home run, 20 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 45 games. Lockhart was primarily used at second base, but saw some brief action at both shortstop and third base.
When the 2013 season rolled around, Lockhart was assigned to Short Season-A Boise where he was mainly considered a back-up to shortstop Carlos Penalver and second baseman David Bote. But when converted outfielder Jose Dore was unable to play third adequately, and with first round pick Kris Bryant unsigned, Lockhart was pressed into service at third for the Hawks. Lockhart had a breakout season offensively in 2013, hitting .290/.346/.331/.676 with eight doubles, a triple, 23 RBI, and seven stolen bases in 67 games. When Bryant arrived, Lockhart moved over to second base and stayed there the rest of the season, fielding .968. Lockhart also got a brief two game look with Triple-A Iowa when they needed an infielder on a west coast trip.
Moving up to Low-A Kane County, the 21-year old spent some time on the disabled list in 2014. However, Lockhart maintained the offensive production he established the previous year, batting .292/.352/.373/.724 with four triples, 31 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 93 games. The lefty improved in the field as well to the tune of a .983 fielding percentage at second base. Lockhart also lined up 11 times at shortstop.
As far as the 2015 season, there have been concerns over the shortstop position at the High-A level. With 20-year old defensive whiz Penalver batting only .211 at Kane County last season, there has been talk that Lockhart might be at shortstop for Myrtle Beach, especially due to an overload of second basemen at that level.
A new acquisition for the system, Jonathan Martinez is a stealth prospect for most Cubs fans. An international free agent signing by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 as a 17-year old, Martinez did not qualify to be among the league leaders after pitching only 32.1 innings. Nevertheless, Martinez was impressive as he went 5-1 with a 1.67 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP that included 31 strikeouts.
The Dodgers felt comfortable enough with Martinez to advance him to the Arizona Rookie League in 2012. After going 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts in 59 innings, Martinez received two starts for the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League, an advanced rookie league typically populated with recently drafted college players. Martinez opened with Ogden in 2013 and held his own as one of the youngest players in the league, posting a 3-1 record and 4.96 ERA in six starts, earning a promotion to Low-A Great Lakes. In 15 appearances for the Loons, Martinez was 3-4 with a 3.51 ERA to finish the season 6-5 with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP that included 53 strikeouts in 99.1 innings.
Martinez was assigned to Low-A Great Lakes to begin the 2014 season, where he was named their Opening Day starter. Once again, Martinez was consistent in his performance, as he went 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 19 starts. Traded by the Dodgers in exchange for infielder Darwin Barney, Martinez moved from the East to the West Division of the Midwest League and joined Kane County for the rest of the season. Martinez’s combined 11 wins tied with Daury Torrez for second in the league, while he finished just ahead of Paul Blackburn with a 1.180 WHIP and just behind him with a 3.26 ERA. Martinez also had 106 strikeouts against only 21 walks in 129.2 innings.
Just 20 years old, Martinez has a mid-90s two-seam fastball along with a change-up and slider, as is said to be very good at changing speeds. Martinez should be part of what could be the best pitching staff in the minor leagues in 2015 with High-A Myrtle Beach.
A player that may become a fast-rising prospect at the second base position could be 22-year old Chesny Young. Drafted in the 14th round out of Mercer College in 2014, Young always displayed a solid approach at the plate. As a senior for Marist High School in Atlanta, GA, Young hit .424 with five home runs, 41 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. Young also made a big splash at Mercer, winning conference freshman of the year honors and conference player of the year as a sophomore. As a junior for the Bears, Young batted .348/.430/.456/.886 with 10 doubles, four home runs, 38 RBI, and three stolen bases in 53 games.
Coming to the Cubs’ organization, Young lit up the scoreboard after a two game warm-up in the rookie league. Assigned to Short-Season A Boise, Young hit .354 with nine RBI in 15 games before being bumped up to Low-A Kane County. The quick rise didn’t seem to faze Young, as he went out and batted .324 with another nine RBI in 27 games for the Cougars. All combined, Young went .327/.384/.409/.793 with nine doubles, two triples, 18 RBI and three stolen bases in 44 games.
The Cubs moved Young around in the field, playing him at second, third, and shortstop with the bulk of the duty at second base, fielding .987 in 32 games. Young was further evaluated by the organization in the Fall Instructional League. Presently, Young looks to be a good bet as the opening second baseman for High-A Myrtle Beach in 2015.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing prospects in the organization, Mark Zagunis has a lot of work to do before being considered a blue-chip type of player.
Zagunis was highly sought as a high school player from Holy Cross High School in Delran, NJ, accepting a scholarship to attend Virginia Tech University after batting .673 with 11 home runs, 44 RBI, and 25 stolen bases as a senior. During his time with the Hokies, Zagunis drew a lot of comparisons to Cubs’ first round pick Kyle Schwarber and was considered his main rival for the Johnny Bench award given to the best college catcher. For his career, Zagunis hit .338/.430/.495/.925 with 37 doubles, seven triples, 16 home runs, 124 RBI, and 52 stolen bases in 164 games for Virginia Tech.
Selected in the third round of the 2014 draft, the 21-year old proved to be more of a work in progress than the more polished Schwarber, both offensively and defensively. Zagunis was placed on a slower track, seeing a two-game warm-up in the Arizona rookie league before spending the bulk of the season with Short-Season A Boise. Zagunis hit .299 with two home runs and 27 RBI with the Hawks before getting a mid-August promotion to Low-A Kane County. For the season, Zagunis batted a combined .288/.420/.420/.840 with 16 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 32 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 57 games.
As a position player, Zagunis nearly divided his time evenly between the outfield, catching, and designated hitter. As an outfielder, Zagunis lacks the offensive output one would like to see from the position, and he would have a lot to learn a lot about pursuit angles as he fielded on .947 in both left and right field combined. Zagunis also lacks polish as a catcher, fielding a dismal .964 and only a 15% caught stealing rate.
Mark Zagunis attended the Fall Instructional League and the front office reports that they are satisfied with his progress at catcher. While he has a lot to work with, Zagunis still has a long way to go to prove he has what it takes at either position. Zagunis most likely will open the 2015 with High-A Myrtle Beach and share time at a crowded catching position while also seeing time in the outfield and at designated hitter.
Five Minor League Players to Watch
Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll has been completed, and the top 20 players nominated will be part of an online poll to reduce the number down to ten players. Please vote at the CCO home page in order to ensure that that your favorite player is followed by Down on the Farm for the 2015 season.
Race to Wrigley
For the third straight year, I will be competing in the Race to Wrigley 5K run on April 25, 2014. If anyone is interested in making a donation or joining the CCO team, please visit Race to Wrigley – Chicago Cubs Online to register. All proceeds go to Chicago Cubs Charities and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.