Five Players to Watch: Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Two weeks ago, the CCO began the three-part series that looks beyond the Top 20 prospect lists and explores other players in the Cubs organization that may have an impact on the Major League club.
The Five Players series has identified many players who have gone on to be considered top prospects and Major League players, 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 third 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.
David Berg, RHP
As the role of closer was developing on Major League staff’s in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, deception was a valued quality. Pitchers such as Gene Garber, Dan Quisenberry, Kent Tekulve, and the Cubs’ own Ted Abernathy were among the save leaders. The Cubs now have a throwback to that era in David Berg. The sixth round pick in the 2015 draft, Berg had a meteoric rise through the system. After signing, Berg pitched two games for Short Season-A Eugene before he was off to Myrtle Beach. Mark Johnson relied on Berg down the stretch, and in 16 appearances with the Pelicans, Berg was 1-1 with four saves and a 1.69 ERA. Altogether, Berg was 2-1 with five saves in 18 appearances, a 1.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. While the 22-year old has only a mid-to-upper 80s fastball, his sidearm delivery produces sinking movement. Add to that a “frisbee” slider and pinpoint control, and you have a pitcher that will be very tough on right-handed batters. Berg figures to be fooling hitters for Double-A Tennessee this season, but early success could continue his ascent to the majors.
David Garner, RHP
The Cubs have another pitcher with potential to take over the closer role in 23-year old David Garner. Drafted in the seventh round in 2013, Garner was a surprise promotion in the beginning of July, as he was only 2-0 with one save and a 5.33 ERA in 16 appearances for Low-A South Bend. But he was a different pitcher with Myrtle Beach, going 2-1 with two saves and a 2.37 ERA, also in 16 appearances. Garner was practically unhittable in the Carolina League playoffs and also went on to be very good in the Arizona Fall League. For the Year, Garner was 4-1 with three saves in 32 appearances. Garner had a 3.72 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 67 strikeouts in 55.2 innings. In the AFL, Garner made 10 appearances and was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts in 12 innings. Garner has a mid-90s fastball, along with a changeup and a very wicked slider. The biggest problem Garner has to this point is command of the strike zone. If Garner can show better control and stop leaving pitches up in the zone, he has the stuff to close out games. Like Berg, Garner should be on the staff of Double-A Tennessee to start the season.
Jacob Hannemann, OF
The Cubs have made a big investment in Jacob Hannemann, drafting him in the third round in 2013. However, Hannemann has not responded the way management had hoped. The front office has tried to push the 24-year old through the system quickly. Conversely, Hannemann’s career has gone in fits and starts. Hannemann only batted .254 at Low-A Kane County in 2014 when he was promoted to High-A Daytona, hitting .241 in 36 games. The Cubs then seemed a little trigger-happy last year when they promoted Hannemann from High-A Myrtle Beach to Double-A Tennessee after he hit .328 in 16 games. The lefty proceeded to bat .233 in 112 games for the Smokies to end up with a total of .244/.303/.366/.668 with 24 doubles, nine triples, six home runs, 45 RBI, and 24 stolen bases in 128 games. Hannemann is one of those players whose defensive statistics do not reflect his actual play. Turning in several highlight reel plays, Hannemann fielded a perfect 1.000 in center field and .997 over all outfield positions. However, most of that had to do with Hannemann’s incredible speed and athleticism as he overcame poor positioning, poor instincts, and poor technique. Hannemann also has below average arm strength. It would probably be best if the Cubs left Hannemann at the Double-A level to work on getting the most out his vast array of talents and end his herky-jerky advance through the system.
Mike O’Neill, OF
A couple of years ago, the acquisition of Mike O’Neill would have caused quite a buzz among Cubs’ fans. However, as the front office crafted the roster this off-season, you have to wonder whether there is even a place for O’Neill now. A long shot from the start, the 28-year old was drafted in the 31st round by St. Louis in 2010. As a member of the Cardinals’ organization, O’Neill was an on-base machine, with a career OBP of .412 in six minor league seasons. Add to that a yearly average of 27 stolen bases, and it would look like the lefty was an ideal leadoff hitter. But, that’s all you get from O’Neill, as he also averaged only 17 extra base hits a season along with 27 RBI. On top of that, the 5-foot-9 outfielder isn’t what you would call a defensive whiz as he would be relegated to playing a somewhat shaky left field. O’Neill split last year between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, batting a combined .289/.400./319/.719 with eight doubles, 24 RBI, and four stolen bases in 90 games. With better outfielders at the Triple-A level carrying over from last year, you have to wonder why the Cubs would make O’Neill a selection in the Rule 5 Draft. But if you look at it as the Cubs depriving their chief rival of one more weapon that can possibly be used against them, the move makes some sense.
Tyler Skulina, RHP
A pitcher that the Cubs are very high on, but who also has had some trouble staying on the field, is 2013 fourth round pick Tyler Skulina. Getting his feet wet with 24.2 innings between Short Season-A Boise and Low-A Kane County after signing, Skulina was primed for a big 2014. In some ways, Skulina did not disappoint as he hurled a no-hitter for the Cougars in May of that year. But the season on a whole was not as expected with Skulina posting a 4-9 record overall, with a 3.58 ERA and a trip to the disabled list. Skulina had a rough start to the 2015 season, but seemed to be rounding into form when he again went on the disabled list. Bouncing back, Skulina became one of the pitchers the Pelicans depended on down the stretch. Even with missing a big chunk of time, Skulina made 16 appearances (15 starts) and was 3-6 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. The 24-year old has a mid-90s fastball and a power slider, with a changeup that needs work. A big man at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, Skulina has the size you look for in a starter. However, his frame contributes to a breakdown in mechanics, which causes him to lose control of his pitches. That is why some scouts see Skulina as a reliever. It will be of some interest as to where Skulina lines up for Double-A Tennessee this year.
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 this season either in the comments, Twitter and/or on Facebook. The CCO will take the top 20 votegetters and run a special poll for the final month of Spring Training. The CCO will then track the progress of the top 10 players throughout the entire season. This past week, there was a change among the leaderboard. Right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease joined outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, shortstop Gleyber Torres, and infielder/outfielder Chesny Young 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.