Five Players to Watch: Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
Last week, the CCO began the first of the series at looking beyond the Top 20 lists and exploring the other players in the Cubs organization that may have an impact on the Major League club. The Five Players series has identified many minor leaguers who have gone on to be considered top prospects and Major League players later, including Arismendy Alcantara, Jeffrey Baez, Trevor Clifton, Oscar De La Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Kyle Hendricks, Armando Rivero, Chesny Young and Mark Zagunis.
This is the second in a series of three articles highlighting some of those players. 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.
P.J. Higgins, INF
If you think you have seen a player like P.J. Higgins before, you are probably right, as the Cubs have drafted or acquired several similar players over the past few years. A junior at Old Dominion University, the Cubs selected Higgins in the 12th round in 2015. After playing second and third, along with catching, the Cubs used Higgins all over the infield after he signed. In 20 games at third, the 22-year old showed that he can pick it with a .982 average. Higgins also fielded .974 in 11 games at second and .913 playing five games at short. Higgins displayed very good bat control with a .299/.351/.445/.797 line that included eight doubles, three triples, two home runs and 15 RBI in 36 games between the Arizona Rookie League and Short Season-A Eugene. Higgins figures to start the season with Low-A South Bend. But with some success and some movement by others further up the chain, Higgins could be at High-A Myrtle Beach before the year is over.
Jeremy Null, RHP
With the attention focused on the meteoric rises of Ryan Williams and Brad Markey last season, it is easy to overlook the successful 2015 that Jeremy Null had. The 15th round pick in 2014 began the year at Low-A South Bend, and was both the starter and MVP of the Midwest League All-Star Game. Null had a 6-2 record with a 2.33 ERA in 65.2 innings for the Low-A South Bend Cubs. However, there was a bit of a reality check for Null when he was promoted to Myrtle Beach. The 22-year old was 2-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 10 appearances. Combined, Null went 8-5 in 22 appearances (21 starts), with a 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 82 strikeouts against 11 walks in 117.1 innings. The 6-foot-7 Null uses his height, his sinking fastball, and his slider to pound the bottom of the strike zone. For the upcoming season, Null most likely will return to Myrtle Beach and try to replicate his hot start of a year ago.
Matt Rose, 1B/3B
Just where Matt Rose ends up on the diamond remains to be seen. However, the results that have come in so far are interesting. Selected in the eleventh round in 2015 out of Georgia State University, Rose was listed as a third baseman. But after the 21-year old signed, he was placed directly onto Short Season-A Eugene’s roster, as a pitcher. Due to some arm trouble, Rose never pitched. Instead, Rose played mainly first base with both the Emeralds and later with Low-A South Bend, fielding .997 in 39 games. Rose also played six games at third base and was a perfect 1.000, demonstrating he had some ability at the hot corner. Through it all Rose displayed some clutch hitting, driving in 37 in 45 games with a .271/.309/.392/.701 batting line, including eight doubles and four home runs. Scouts believe that Rose was one of the better power hitters coming into last year’s draft. Rose should return to South Bend to start 2016, and hopefully settle into one position.
Tommy Thorpe, LHP
The story of Tommy Thorpe for 2015 is kind of an amalgam of the narratives for teammates Brad Markey and Jeremy Null. Similar to Markey, the former starter at the University of Oregon pitched out of the bullpen early for the South Bend Cubs. The left-hander struggled in 15 appearances, with a 1-4 record and 5.04 ERA. Moved back into the rotation, Thorpe thrived as he went 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 12 starts. Altogether, Thorpe was 5-7 with a 3.08 ERA, 1.412 WHIP, and 65 strikeouts in 96.1 innings. The 6-foot, 185-pound Thorpe also showed better command as a starter, with 44 strikeouts against only 27 walks in 66 innings. Like Null, the 23-year old is somewhat overlooked when compared to some of the high profile pitchers in the organization. Thorpe can throw his fastball in the upper-80s/low-90s range, with his curveball and change-up being considered as plus pitches. A probability for the Myrtle Beach staff this season, we shall see if he remains in the rotation or returns to the pen.
Jason Vosler, INF
A surprise promotion in 2015, Jason Vosler made the most out of his opportunity. Drafted in the 16th round in 2014 as a shortstop, Vosler was assigned to Low-A South Bend to start the 2015 season. With the SB Cubs, the 22-year old saw the bulk of his duty at third base, starting 38 games there. Vosler also saw seven games at second base and five each at first base and shortstop. The left-handed hitter batted .235 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 69 games before getting the call to join Myrtle Beach. The move sparked an improvement both offensively and defensively, as Vosler raised his fielding percentage to .943 at third base while hitting .244 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 38 games. Overall, Vosler hit .238/.323/.374/.697 with 18 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 40 RBI, and three stolen bases in 107 games. Vosler will probably return to the Pelicans and work more around the infield, with some possible reps in the outfield. With both his power potential and versatility, the Cubs may have a gem in the making with Vosler.
Attention CCO Readers
The Chicago Cubs Online preliminary reader’s poll is underway. This season, the CCO will be posting the Top Prospect Watch in a separate article on Tuesdays. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the CCO to follow next season. The CCO will then take the top 20 nominations and run in a special poll for the final month of Spring Training. The CCO will then track the progress of top 10 players throughout the entire season. This past week, Infielder/outfielder Chesny Young joined infielder/outfielder Ian Happ, outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, and shortstop Gleyber Torres in a tie for the lead. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only 10 will eventually be chosen. So from Aramis Ademan to Rob Zastryzny, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.