Pitching Analysis – Lower Minors
Today, the CCO completes its off-season look at the Cubs’ minor league system.
After reviewing the pitching staffs for Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee, High-A Myrtle Beach, and Low-A South Bend, it’s time for the pitching prospects in the lower minor leagues.
Lower Minors Starters and Relievers
Moving to the Short Season-A Eugene Emeralds for the 2015 season, Oscar De La Cruz became one of the most dominant pitchers in the Northwest League. The 20-year old had a WHIP of 1.00, which led the league while his 73 strikeouts were second, and his ERA of 2.84 ranked third in the league. After an outing on Aug. 26 when De La Cruz struck out 13 batters, he was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week. The Cubs’ organization also named De La Cruz its Pitcher of the Month for August. De La Cruz is said to have a fastball/curve combination reminiscent of Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
Considered a work in progress prior to last season, Justin Steele proved to be a quick study. The 20-year old was able to get control of his slider, curve, and changeup to go along with his low-90s fastball, to become a force in the Northwest League. If it had not been for a short stint on the disabled list in the middle of the season, the lefty would have been third in the league with his 2.66 ERA. Steele was able to bounce back with Short Season –A Eugene and went 3-1 with a 1.30 WHIP that included 38 strikeouts in 40.2 innings (10 starts).
Coming off Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the Cubs in 2014, Dylan Cease showed he was physically sound and the sky was the limit. Easing his way back in with the AZL Cubs in the Rookie League, the soon to be 20-year old (December 28) was only 1-2 in 11 appearances (eight starts), but had a 2.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts in 24 innings. Cease has a fastball in the mid-90s that was clocked in triple digits in Arizona. Cease’s changeup is his best secondary pitch, as his curve will need refinement. Cease should have no problems skipping Short Season-A and moving directly to Low-A South Bend. Cease also should be the highest rated pitching prospect for the Cubs when those lists start coming out prior to the 2016 season.
While he did not have a bad season, more was expected out of Carson Sands in 2015. The Opening Day starter for the Eugene Emeralds in Short Season-A, the 20-year old went 3-4 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 41 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. The left-hander never seemed comfortable as the staff leader, and it is not certain how he felt about De La Cruz and Steele moving ahead of him. According to scouting reports, Sands has a low-90s fastball that touches 94-95 mph, a solid curve and a good feel for his changeup.
The 2015 draft provided several high end pitching prospects that might skip Low-A South Bend and move directly to High–A Myrtle Beach for the 2016 season. The first of these was eighth round pick Preston Morrison. The side-arming 22-year old was no match for the Northwest League, as he was 1-1 in nine appearances (four starts) with a 0.81 ERA, 0.806 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. Morrison has a high-80s sinking fastball, a Frisbee slider, and a changeup. Seventeenth round selection Casey Bloomquist was equally as dominant, with a 2.29 ERA, 0.763 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts in 19.2 innings, although he finished at 0-2 in eight appearances (four starts). A sinkerball pitcher, the 21-year old Bloomquist has a low-90s fastball. Just behind those two was lefty 13th rounder Kyle Twomey. The soon to be 22-year old (December 29) out of USC appeared in 10 games (six starts) for Eugene and was 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts in 23 innings. Twomey has a low-90s fastball along with a slider, curve, and changeup. In the mix, but with less success, is fifth round pick Ryan Kellogg. Another 6-foot-5 left-hander, Kellogg had 10 appearances (nine starts) for Eugene and was 0-1 with a 4.98 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and 14 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. The 21 year old has a low-90s fastball, a curve, and a changeup.
Twenty-year old Jose Paulino appears to be a talent that is still trying to find his way as a pitcher. The left-hander has an amazing 230 strikeouts in 220 career innings, but also sports a career ERA of 4.13 and WHIP of 1.30. Last season for Short Season-A Eugene, Paulino went 4-6 in 12 appearances (six starts) with a 4.42 ERA and 1.45 WHIP that included 57 strikeouts in 55 innings.
After having trouble adjusting to the United States the previous season, Adbert Alzolay showed a lot of promise in 2015. Due to the strict pitch counts the Cubs use with their young pitching prospects, the 20-year old Alzolay was very effective as a piggyback starter. Alzolay made 12 appearances (three starts) and was 6-2 with a 2.04 ERA, 0.830 WHIP, and had 49 strikeouts in 53 innings. It is not certain as to what role Alzolay will have moving forward.
Also showing some promise was 24-year old Jae-Hoon Ha. The former outfielder was trying his hand at pitching and did surprisingly well. In 16 games, Ha went 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts in 27 innings.
It was mainly bullpen-by-committee for the Emeralds, with Pedro Araujo and Greyfer Eregua seeing the bulk of the action. The 21-year old Araujo is a hard thrower that went only 0-2 with one save in 21 appearances. But Araujo posted a 2.68 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 70 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. For that, Araujo was named a Northwest League All-Star. Also 21 years old, Eregua likewise had a less than stellar record of 0-3 with two saves. However, Eregua had a 2.47 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. Working his way back from arm surgery two years ago, Trey Masek also chipped in some innings for Eugene in the bullpen. The 23-year old former fifth round pick had no record in 14 appearances with two saves, a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 17 strikeouts in 16.1 innings.
Among the draft choices, hard throwing Craig Brooks was the most successful. The 23-year old seventh rounder was 2-0 with two saves in ten appearances. Brooks also had a 3.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Twenty-one year old 15th round selection Scott Effross also had a good run with the Emeralds, picking up two saves and posting a 1.26 ERA, 0.977 WHIP, and 11 strikeouts in 14.1 innings (seven appearances). Somewhere in the middle was 19th round selection Kyle Miller. The 22-year old was 1-1in eight appearances with a 3.94 ERA, 1.438 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts in 16 innings. Having a harder time were Tyler Peitzmeier, Jared Cheek, John Williamson, and Heath Dwyer. Peitzmeier, a 22-year old lefty selected in the ninth round, was 2-3 with a save in 12 appearances, with a 5.94 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 16 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. Twenty-first round selection Cheek tied for second on the Emeralds in games finished. In nine appearances, the 23-year old had two saves, a 7.84 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, and nine strikeouts in 10.1 innings. Chosen in the 23rd round, Williamson, a 23-year old lefty, was 0-1 in seven appearances with a 12.38 ERA, 2.375 WHIP, and seven strikeouts in eight innings. An undrafted free agent, 22-year old left-hander Dwyer split his time between Short Season-A Eugene and the Arizona Rookie League. Combined, Dwyer had one save, a 3.43 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts in 21 innings.
Below the Class A level, the Cubs have a lot of intriguing prospects. Here are some of the highlights, starting with 2015 third round selection Bryan Hudson. At an imposing 6-foot-8, 220-pounds, the 18-year old lefty was brought along slowly by the Cubs after signing. Hudson did not make his professional debut until mid August and made only five appearances. Although Hudson had no record, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings. Currently a two-pitch pitcher with a low-90s fastball and breaking ball, Hudson also has a changeup that needs a lot of work. While the Cubs do not want to rush Hudson, a good spring means that starting the year at Low-A South Bend is not out of the question.
Figuring to be somewhere between Short Season-A Eugene and Low-A South Bend should be 19-year old Austyn Willis. A big kid at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Willis led the AZL Cubs with nine starts and 11 overall appearances. Willis did well in his second professional season, going 3-3 in with a 3.45 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. Willis has a fastball clocked in the high-80s to low-90s, and a sharp slider. Willis’ velocity expected to go up as he matures.
Leading the AZL Cubs in innings pitched was dynamic 20-year old Jesus Camargo. A product of the Cubs’ intensified scouting efforts in Mexico, Camargo dominates despite measuring at 5-foot-11, 170-pounds. In 11 games (seven starts), Camargo was 3-1with a 3.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 57 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. It appears that control is still an issue with Camargo, as he hit eight batters.
Tied with Willis and Camargo in appearances, 20-year old Jesus Castillo remains a work in progress. Playing for the AZL Cubs, Castillo appeared in 11 games and was 1-2 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.78 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. This is a regression for Castillo, as it appears that the Cubs are transitioning him from starter to a reliever, possibly a closer. 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.
Also tied will 11 appearances was 20-year old left-hander Carlos A. Rodriguez. The soft tossing Rodriguez led the AZL Cubs in victories, going 4-1 with a 4.21 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. The 5-foot-11, 178-pounder has an upper-80s fastball that he commands well, along with an advanced changeup and a curve he can throw for strikes.
Transitioning from position player to pitcher, Mark Malave opened some eyes. Making 13 appearances between the AZL Cubs and Short Season-A Eugene, the 20-year old was 1-2 with a 2.89 ERA, 0.964 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts in 18.2 innings in his first season on the hill. Malave needs time to develop his secondary pitches, so seeing him repeat 2015 in Eugene would not be a surprise.
A high profile international signing in 2014, Erling Moreno is on his way to a successful comeback. Pitching only 11.1 innings last season before needing arm surgery, the 18-year old made three appearances in his first step toward recovery. Moreno’s fastball is already back to the low- to mid-90s range, and he has the arm slot for a good curveball.
Sneaking his way into the conversation of the Cubs’ top prospects toward the end of last season was 20-year old Junior Marte. Marte dominated in the Dominican Summer League with a 1.46 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Moved up to the AZL Cubs for two appearances, Marte was a combined 4-1 in 13 games (11 starts). Marte had a 1.38 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP, and 74 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. Marte has the same body type as Jesus Camargo, along with the same control issues.
Another pitcher with intriguing potential is 21-year old Pedro Silverio. Like Marte, Silverio split his time between the DSL and the Rookie league, going 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts in 41 innings. However, unlike Camargo and Marte, Silverio has the look of an innings-eating starter at 6-foot-2, 210-pounds.
The DSL produced several other interesting prospects, including starter Andri Rodon, lefties Wander Cabrera and Pablo Ochoa, and closer Aneuris Rosario. Twenty-year old Rondon was 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 67 strikeouts in 56 innings (12 starts). Cabrera turned 18 last month (November 8) just three weeks before he was dealt to the Rockies for LHP Rex Brothers. Cabrera was 4-3 with a 2.34 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. Just 17 years old, Ochoa went 3-6 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and had 41 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. Second in the DSL with 11 saves, the 20-year old Rosario was 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts in 22.1 innings.
In Venezuela, the Cubs had a pair of 21 year olds that could be helpful somewhere in the system. Starter Jesus Arias was 2-3 with a 2.55 ERA, 1.245 WHIP, and a team-high 39 strikeouts in 53 innings. Closer Juan Rengifo was second in the VSL with 11 saves. Rengifo went 4-4 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.920 WHIP, and 31 strikeouts in 45.2 innings.
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 be 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. Popular features such as ‘Bubble Busters’ and our groundbreaking and prescient ‘Five Players to Watch’ series will also return. Our fan poll selecting the minors leaguers you will like the CCO to follow during the 2016 season will also be starting soon. As Spring Training winds down, the Down on the Farm Report will provide a comprehensive preview of the Cubs’ minor leagues. Until then, this is Tom U signing off.
Cubs Minor League Position Analysis
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center 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