Archive for the 'Cubs' Category

Top Catching Prospects

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

Myworld attempts to identify the top ten catching prospects in the minor leagues. This is my opinion based on numbers since we have not seen all of these players play. For the next couple weeks we’ll try to go around the diamond.

1. Adley Rutschman (Orioles) - The first pick in the 2019 draft. The last time the Orioles drafted a catcher in the first round (2007 fifth overall pick) his name was Matt Wieters. Matt has had a good career in the major leagues but when he was in college his bat was going to make him special. That bat never really showed up. Like Matt, Adley is a switch hitter and comes with the same two way press clippings, a powerful bat who can play the defensive game. He makes good contact, walking more than he struck out in college and has the potential to hit for power. He also has a strong arm that can control the running game. At 6′2″ he is solidly built but still agile enough behind the plate. In his professional debut he has walked (5) more than he has struck out (4), but his batting average is less than desired (.176). It is a small sample size of only 34 at bats and it comes after a heavy college season. Adley should get enough experience that he should play in the full season league next year.

2. Joey Bart (Giants) - A similar story for Bart who will eventually be called upon to replace Buster Posey, who has had a good career with the Giants. Like Wieters, Posey was a fifth overall pick (2008) but his offensive game has been better. At 32 years of age his catching shelf life is about to expire and Bart is poised to replace him. Joey was a first round pick in 2018 and was the second overall pick, coming out of the same college as Wieters (Georgia Tech). His first season in rookie ball he shined with 13 homeruns and a .364 average. Those are the kind of numbers we expected from Adley. Joey is also a two way player with a powerful arm to control the running game and a good bat to hit in the middle of the lineup. At 6′3″ he is also a big catcher but very agile behind the plate. For the 2019 season the Giants started him in the California League where his bat continues to shine (.270, 12 homeruns) with a .815 OPS. His speed and ability to make contact is not as strong as Adley but he should make an impact with the Giants by 2021.

3. Will Smith (Dodgers) - Will was a first round pick of the Dodgers in 2016. At the start of the season he wasn’t even considered the best catcher in the Dodgers system. After the way he has handled major league pitching this year (.326, 6 homeruns, 1.199 OPS) he may not be eligible as a rookie next year since he is now the Dodgers starting catcher in the middle of a playoff race. Based on his career minor league numbers (.236 average) the batting average should not stay at that level, but his power is real. He also has a strong arm and is showing good maturity with a veteran Dodger pitching staff in a playoff race. Keibert Ruiz will find it tough to wrest the catching job from Smith, but the Dodgers appear to be set at catching for the long term. This year Will did hit .269 with 20 homeruns in just 60 games at AAA, where the baseballs may have been a little juiced. For a power hitter he makes good contact.

4. Miguel Amaya (Cubs) - With Wilson Contreras behind the plate the Cubs are not in an immediate need to find a catcher. They found Miguel in Panama, where they signed him for $1.25 million in 2015. His defensive game at this point is above his offensive game, but his power began to show last year with 12 homeruns in his first exposure to the full season leagues. A promotion to the Carolina League for 2019 has seen some offensive struggles (.232) but he has shown some patience at the plate (.347 OBA) and continues to display his power (8 homeruns). His defensive game has improved to such a point that he may be one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. Despite his offensive struggles Miguel should see AA next year and Wilson should start looking in the rear view mirror at his next replacement.

5. Francisco Alvarez (Mets) - The Mets have had a number of promising catchers that have performed less than their expectation once they reached the major leagues. Francisco comes from the catching haven of Venezuela and signed in 2018 for $2.7 million. He did not play last year. At 17 years of age he still has some work to do on his defensive game. He has been pretty impressive with the bat in his first year hitting .462 with two homeruns in just 26 at bats. The Mets promoted him to Kingsport where he continues to rake with a .355 average with two more homeruns. His OPS sits at an impressive 1.073. At 5′11″ and 220 pounds Francisco is a bulky catcher. To stay agile behind the plate he will have to watch his weight. A promotion to the full season league next year is expected.

6. Keibert Ruiz (Dodgers) - Keibert was signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for $140,000. Will Smith has been a step ahead of him on the catching ladder. Keibert was signed for his defense, but his bat has been pretty impressive as well, with a .309 career average entering the 2019 season. The power may not be as great as Smith but he has a better ability to make contact and hit for a higher average. Both players have a strong defensive game. This year Keibert struggled a bit in AA, where he played last year (.254) but a promotion to AAA has seen him increase that average (.324). The Dodgers could leave Ruiz in AAA next year as insurance to an injury to Smith but at some point they will have to make a decision who their starting catcher is.

7. Ronaldo Hernandez (Rays) - Ronaldo was signed out of Colombia in 2014 for a bargain price of $225,000. No catcher on this list has a stronger arm than Hernandez. The other parts of his game still need some work. The Rays converted him to catcher after signing him so his experience is still limited behind the plate. Last year Ronaldo played his first year in a full season league and clubbed 21 homeruns. His career average entering the 2019 season is .306. Playing in the pitcher friendly Florida State League he is hitting .274 with 7 homeruns. His .413 slugging is about 70 points under his career minor league average. The Rays will show patience with him but he could be the Rays first home grown catcher in more than a decade.

8. Shea Langeliers (Braves) - Shea was a first round pick of the Braves in 2019, the ninth player selected in the draft. His defensive tools are supreme with an arm equal to Hernandez. He was considered the best defensive catcher in college baseball. His bat could be a question mark, but he did break an NCAA tournament record with 11 RBIs in one game. The Braves debuted him in Low A where he has struggled with the bat (.211). When you consider the Orioles have started Adley in the rookie leagues the immediate promotion of Shea to full season was an aggressive move. They may start him in Low A to begin the 2020 season but he could be up with the Braves very quickly.

9. Sam Huff (Rangers) - Sam was a seventh round pick in 2016 out of high school. Catchers drafted out of high school usually do not have the same success as catchers drafted out of college. At 6′4″ Sam is large for a catcher but his athleticism and strong arm keep him behind the plate. His large frame gives him exceptional power. Last year he hit 18 homeruns at Low A. The downside was a troubling 23/140 walk to whiff ratio. This could hurt him average wise as he sees more advanced pitching. The Rangers repeated him at Low A this year and after hitting .333 with 15 homeruns in just 30 games they quickly promoted him to High A. The homerun numbers have slowed (10 in 70 games) but the average still remains high (.278). He still continues to struggle to make contact (23/116 walk/whiff ratio in 101 games) so that will have to be monitored. His defense is strong enough that if he hits below .250 with 20 plus homeruns he should make it as a starter.

10. William Contreras (Braves) - The younger brother of Wilson. His offensive game is probably just above his defensive game at this point. He has a strong arm behind the plate, good athleticism and with more experience should be an upper level defender like his older brother. His offensive game has the same potential for power as his brother. Last year he hit 11 homeruns at Low A but failed to hit a homerun in his 83 at bats in the Florida State League. That is where he started his 2019 season and though his offensive numbers were not great (.263, 3 homeruns) he was still promoted to AA. William makes good contact and his power should improve as he matures. Expect him to be with the Braves sometime late next year as a September callup.

Top Prospects from Colombia

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Last year we included the top prospects in the “Best Prospects from South America” List. Five Colombian players were named on that list. One of them graduated to major league baseball (Jorge Alfaro) and is no longer considered a prospect. The four remaining reappear on the top prospects from Colombia list. Myworld was able to find ten players who we felt had enough skills to make it to the major leagues. Below are the top ten prospects from Colombia.

1. Ronaldo Hernandez C (Rays) - The Rays signed the infielder for $225,000 and then converted him to catcher. His biggest asset is his arm and the ability to hit for power. While the arm can control a running game he is still learning the other aspects of the game such as blocking the ball and framing the pitch that will get him to the major leagues. His defensive mechanics other than his arm would fall below average. On the offensive side, the bat showed it can hit for some power, crashing 21 homeruns last year and slugging .494 at Low A. This year he is trying to tackle High A in the Florida State League which is more of a pitcher’s park. He has five homeruns, but a much worse walk to whiff ratio (6/32), which could be a cause for concern. His batting average is still high (.287) but his OBA has dropped 20 points (.313). He is still a couple years from the major leagues.

2. Luis Patino RHP (Padres) - The Padres signed Patino back in 2016 for $130,000. At the time he was still a teenager lacking meat on his bones. He has picked up 40 pounds since that signing and his fastball velocity has gone up ten miles per hour, hitting the high 90s but sitting in the mid-90s. He also has an excellent slider that crosses the plate in the mid-80s. Finding an off speed pitch (curve or change) would make him effective as a starter. The one concern is his smallish frame, which at 6′0″ is death for right handed starters. Last year he dominated at Low A (2.16 ERA). This year a promotion to High A has not impacted his pitching, his ERA (2.92) and opposition average (.194) still showing he can dominate at that level. The Padres are flush with pitching prospects so there will be no rush to move him up the system. Expect him to make the major leagues sometime in 2020.

3. Luis Escobar (Pirates) - Luis signed back in 2013 for $150,000. He was signed as a third baseman but the Pirates moved him to the mound. He has bulked up another 60 pounds since his signing and his fastball now hits 97, but sits in the 93-95 mile per hour range. He has the secondary pitches to make it as a starter (curve and change) but he lacks the command to get them over the plate with any regularity. Last year he walked 59 hitters in 129 innings. That is almost a walk every other inning. This year he has walked 18 in 40 innings. Last year he got seven starts in AA (4.54 ERA). This year the Pirates have tried him out in the bullpen in High A, then skipping him to AAA where he has been used as a starter and reliever. His career opposition batting average entering the 2019 season was a pretty impressive .216. This year he has gotten it down to .150. The Pirates have had dome frustration as they have promoted their younger pitchers to the major leagues and achieved very little success. With every failure comes a greater opportunity for Escobar to show what he can do. Before the 2019 season ends he could start his career in the Pirates bullpen.

4. Meibrys Viloria C (Royals) - The Royals signed him back in 2013 for $460,000. In his first year stateside he shocked the minor league world in 2016 with a .376 average in rookie ball. The last two years he has been stuck at .260. Last year with the injury to Salvador Perez he got his major league opportunity, appearing in 10 games and hitting .259. That first year batting average appears to be a bit of an outlier. After getting off to a slow start in 2019 he has gotten his average up to .254. He is more noted for his defense and his strong arm that can control the running game than his bat. The Royals appear to have a top flight catcher (M.J. Melendez) ahead of him on the depth chart, which could cause a move to another organization if he wants to get playing time. He is currently in AA and should see some time in September, or earlier if an injury results in a promotion. At worst his solid defense would make him an excellent backup catcher.

5. Oscar Mercado OF (Indians) - Oscar was a second round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013, signing for $1.5 million. He was traded to the Indians last year for two lower level outfielders. Mercado moved from Colombia to the United States when he was eight years old, growing up in Florida and gaining a reputation as an excellent shortstop. He was moved to the outfield in 2017. There is not a lot of power in his game. Playing good defense and stealing bases will be his specialities. Last year he stole 37 bases in AAA, scoring 85 runs. The Indians are very weak in the outfield and that weakness led to a promotion to the major leagues this year. After hitting .294 in AAA Mercado continues to hit for the Indians with a .306 average. He has also shown some surprising pop with three homeruns in just 26 games. If this kind of production continues with the Indians he will graduate from prospect status and not appear on this list next year.

6. Harold Ramirez OF (Marlins) - With the Pirates he was once a big time prospect. Signed way back in 2011 he got a bit heavy and out of shape and his prospect status suffered. The Pirates traded him in 2016 to the Blue Jays and the Blue Jays did not see anything in him and outrighted him last year. That is where the Marlins picked him up as a minor league free agent. He has resurrected his career, killing it in AAA with a .355 average and a .999 OPS. The Marlins promoted him and have been using him in centerfield, where they had hoped Luis Brinson would have been the answer. His success in the major leagues (.325) appears to indicate that he will be another player to graduate from the prospect list.

7. Jhon Torres OF (Cardinals) - Jhon was signed by the Indians in 2016 for $150,000. Ironic that he was one of the two outfielders the Indians traded to the Cardinals for Oscar Mercado. Could be the first trade where two Colombians were traded for each other. He did not make his state side debut until last year when he hit .397 in 17 games at the Gulf Coast League. At 6′4″ he can generate some power in his swing, hitting 8 homeruns last year in just 44 rookie league games. His arm is built to play right field. The Indians may be getting some good use out of Mercado now, but in the future they may regret trading Torres. The Cardinals have him playing Low A, where he has struggled in his 21 games (.167 average). When the rookie leagues begin he will probably be demoted there to get his bat working.

8. Jordan Diaz 3B (Athletics) - Jordan signed in 2016 for $275,000. Last year he played in the Arizona Rookie League where he showed a good ability to get on base (.371). He has the defensive tools to play third base. His power is currently restricted to the gaps. Whether his 5′10″ frame can generate more pop is open to question. Last year he hit his first and only professional homerun. In the New York Penn League he went deep early where in three games he is hitting .364. He is still a long way from the major leagues. A lot of developing needs to be done.

9. Santiago Florez RHP (Pirates) - Signed in 2016 for $150,000 Santiago has the height (6′5″) and the fastball (mid-90s) to get the Pirates excited. His curveball has some promise but there is no real third pitch yet and his command is suspect. Last year he walked 23 hitters in 43 innings and saw his innings limited because of a barking elbow. There is a lot of development to do. He will work on that in the 2019 season when the rookie level leagues begin.

10. Danis Correa RHP (Cubs) - We needed a tenth player but don’t know a lot about Danis other than his fastball has hit triple digits, but sits at the mid-90s. At 5′11″ his height goes against him as a right handed pitcher. Last year he only was able to pitch in two games of relief at the rookie level. The year before he pitched 40.2 innings. At 19 years of age the Cubs are possibly waiting for the rookie leagues to begin before they put Correa on the mound.

Second Major League Game Scheduled for London in 2020

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

This month Londoners will see the Yankees and Red Sox in a two game series (June 29-30). About this time next year (June 13-14) Londoners will see one of the top National League rivalries, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in a short two game series. This is the completion of the two year commitment major league baseball made to London to play two series there.

Cubs Take Series from Nationals

Monday, May 20th, 2019

The Cubs took advantage of the wildness of Jeremy Hellickson, who walked the first three hitters he faced and failed to find the plate in his three innings of work, putting the Nationals in a big hole in their 6-5 loss. The Cubs did not have to do too much to win this game, with Hellickson facing three ball counts on seven of the 16 hitters he faced and hitting a batter on an 0-2 count.

This was the eighth start for Hellickson. In his first start he threw six innings of shutout baseball. After that he has failed to finish six full innings. In his last three starts he has given up 14 runs in 12 innings. He has also walked 10 batters during that time. Too much nibbling with his curveball and changeup missing the strike zone. His pedestrian fastball does not make pitching behind in the count successful.

In the first inning he threw two strikes to the first three hitters. The Nationals were fortunate the Cubs only scored one run. Daniel Descalso grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. Anthony Rendon made a diving stop of a Javier Baez grounder to prevent the Cubs from having a big inning to get the first out.

In the second inning Hellickson did not walk a batter but he got behind in the count consistently. Jayson Heyward led off the inning with a single and Albert Almora Jr. started a perfect 3 for 3 day with a double down the left field line. Kyle Schwarber drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

Anthony Rizzo led off the third inning with a homerun. It was the only run they got, though Wilson Contreras doubled off the right field wall. Even though Hellickson batted in the bottom of the third he did not come out to pitch in the top of the fourth.

Kyle McGowin came on to make his first appearance as a National in the 2019 season. Almora started the inning with double down the third base line. He moved to third on a passed ball and scored on another Schwarber fly out. That put the Cubs ahead 4-0.

Kyle Hendricks was cruising. He had a perfect game after three and a no hitter after four. Kurt Suzuki blooped one into center for the first hit. Gerrardo Parra rammed a double down the right field line, but in his slide at second he went past the bag and was tagged out. The Nationals scored their first run on a grounder to second by Brian Dozier.

McGowin struggled in the sixth. Hayward lined a single into center and advanced to third on two wild pitches. Almora walked. Hendriks laid down a bunt. McGowin tried to do a glove flip to home, but the ball went nowhere and Heyward scored. Kris Bryant blooped a single just over the head of Dozier to score Almora to up the score to 6-1.

The Nationals failed to quit. In the home frame Anthony Rendon mashed a ball into the right field bleachers for a three run homer to close the lead to 6-4. Juan Soto followed with a double off the right field wall. A Parra single moved Soto to third and Parra advanced to second after Amora air mailed his throw over the catcher’s head and into the back stop. Brandon Kintzler got some revenge on the Nationals after his release last year, coming on to replace Hendricks and getting Brian Dozier to fly to left.

Howie Kendrick led off the seventh with a homerun off Kintzler. That closed the game to 6-5. Steve Cishek came on to get the last out of the seventh inning and shut out the Nationals the final two to close out the 6-5 win to pick up his fourth save.

Game Notes: Interesting strategy to bat Hellickson in the third and then not pitch him in the fourth. The Nationals bench is extremely shallow, as evidence by Adrian Sanchez pinch hitting in the eighth with the Nationals down by one. He struck out…Javier Baez hurt his heel in the third inning after fielding a grounder. He was later taken out of the game. He hopes to play Monday…Juan Soto struck out swinging in the second and struck out looking in the eighth. That gives him 43 whiffs in just 36 games. Last year he only struck out 99 times in 116 games. His exit velocity when he makes contact is similar to what it was last year so my world is not worried…My world loves grilled cheese sandwiches. We also have a fondness for crab. So the grilled cheese crab sandwich seemed perfect. It was not. The bread was too crunchy and the crab appeared tasteless. Not something I would repeat…Maddon dropped his protest on the delivery of Sean Doolittle.

Strasburg Tames Cubs

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

His fastball was not blistering, sitting in the low 90s, but where Stephen Strasburg excels is when his curveball and change are working. He also stayed ahead of the hitters, walking none and getting to a three ball count to just one hitter. Strasburg worked eight innings, retired the first nine in the order and pitched the Nationals to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.

It was a late arriving crowd. The attendance was announced at 37,582. It was a peppery blue and red mix with most of the blue sitting along the third base side and much of the red occupying the first base side. The Nationals dugout is along the first base side. In many areas of the stands the blue seemed to drown out the red.

The Nationals struck first in the second inning when Brian Dozier lifted a high fly ball into center field that eventually settled into the bleachers. When the weather gets warm the bat starts clicking for Dozier, at least that was true during his Minnesota Twins tenure.

The Nationals poured it on off Jon Lester in the third. Trea Turner led the inning off with a single. Adam Eaton laid a bunt down the third base line. David Bote barehanded it but threw it past Anthony Rizzo at first. Turner advanced to third but Eaton stayed at first. Eaton tried to steal second but the throw from Wilson Contreras got there way ahead of Eaton. He got into a run down before being tagged out, Turner wisely staying planted on third.

Anthony Rendon walked on a 3-2 pitch. Howie Kendrick lined a pitch down the third base line for a double to score Turner. Juan Soto followed grounding a double down the first base line scoring Rendon and Kendrick. Brian Dozier blooped a single into centerfield but Soto had to wait halfway and only advanced to third. The Nationals could not add any more damage as Yan Gomes flied to shallow left and Michael Taylor struck out to end the inning.

The Cubs scored a run in the fifth when Strasburg and Gomes appeared to get confused with their signals. Singles by Wilson Contreras and Addison Russell put runners on first and second with two out. Gomes had a ball pop out of his glove and trickle behind him to allow the runners to move up a base. The next pitch glanced off his glove and hit him in the face mask, ricocheting toward the Cubs dugout. Jayson Heyward scored but Russell was thrown out at home when Rendon was able to retrieve the ball and threw to a back pedaling Gomes, who tagged him out. It appeared Gomes was expecting a fastball and got a curve ball on the first pitch and the second pitch he was expecting a curve ball and got a fastball.

The Nationals got the run back in the bottom of the fifth. Anthony Rendon drove a pitch that nailed the centerfield fence for a double. Juan Soto drove him in lining a single past the second baseman into right field. That ended the day for Jon Lester.

The only big hit of the day Strasburg allowed was in the sixth when David Bote took his first pitch of that inning into the left field bullpen. It was the fourth and last hit Strasburg would allow in the game. He struck out seven and walked none. Five of the eight innings he retired the side in order and in one of the innings the baserunner was eliminated on a double play ground out.

The Nationals could have broken the game open in the eighth when they loaded the bases. Brad Brach came in and struck out Anthony Rendon to end the threat. That created the situation for the Nationals to bring in Sean Doolittle.

Joe Madden put on some theatrics, objecting to the toe tap in the delivery of Doolittle after his first pitch. He claimed the delivery of Doolittle was no different than Carl Edwards, who major league baseball had forced to revamp his toe tap. The Cubs claim this change in delivery has resulted in the Edward’s struggles this year (9.45 ERA). The umpires disagreed and Maddon protested the game. Doolittle was able to retire the side in order to seal the victory, not bothered by Madden’s attempt at getting in his head.

Game Notes: For most of the day Strasburg sat in the low 90s, hitting as high as 94. Normally he reaches 95/96 with his fastball but myworld did not see that. He struck out the side in the third and struck out three consecutive hitters between the seventh and eighth. So six of his seven whiffs came consecutively. He threw just 93 pitches in his eight innings and if not pinch hit for in the eighth may have completed the game. Strasburg has now pitched six or more innings in nine of his ten starts. He also only had one three ball count to a batter, the next to last hitter he faced in the eighth…Jon Lester came into this game with a 1.16 ERA. He could not last past the fifth, coming out of the game with more pitches thrown (98) than Strasburg threw in his eight innings. It was his first start this season where he gave up more than two runs…Myworld did not notice a lot of called third strikes on the National hitters. Trea Turner looked at a third strike in the fourth, one of the seven Nat whiffs…The Nationals have put Justin Miller on the disabled list and recalled Tanner Rainey. Tanner was acquired in the Tanner Roark trade with the Reds. He throws hard but has trouble finding the plate, though in his last seven relief appearances in the minor leagues he has struck out 18 and walked just one. Not finding the plate seems endemic to the Nationals bullpen. Tanner pitched briefly in the majors for the Reds last year and gave up 19 earned runs in seven innings for a 24.43 ERA. That appears to be the typical bullpen fodder the Nationals present.

Top Ten Mexican Prospects

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Only one player graduated from last year’s top ten. Victor Arano was myworld’s number 5 prospect from Mexico and he appeared in 60 games of relief for Philadelphia last year. We expect a couple players to graduate from this year’s list. A number of new faces to keep this list fresh.

1. Alex Verdugo OF (Dodgers) - Alex was born in Tucson but his dad is from south of the border. That was enough to qualify Alex for the Mexican national team. He probably should have made the list last year. A second round pick of the Dodgers in 2014 Alex is more of a gap hitter than over the fence power. The arm is strong enough for right field but he lacks the speed for center. He will hit for average but the homerun numbers could fall shy of 20. This could put him in the fourth outfielder category. The trade of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig opened up some outfield room for Verdugo this year. The average is there (.345) and his .635 slugging comes with three homeruns. That will be enough to graduate from this list after this year. The Dodgers outfield is crowded so playing time will be dependent on a productive bat.

2. Florencio Serrano RHP (Rangers) - The Cubs had originally signed him for $1.2 million but major league baseball voided the contract after a dispute with Mexico over the distribution of the bonus money. When major league baseball and Mexico came to an agreement the Rangers swooped in and signed Serrano for $850,000. Serrano was born in Texas but moved to Mexico after his freshman year in high school. He signed with the Mexican League team the Tijuana Toros. His fastball sits in the low 90s but has reached the mid-90s in try outs. He also has a decent slider and developing change. At 19 years of age he has time to develop his pitches. After pitching in extended spring training he will join one of the short season leagues.

3. Luis Urias 2B/SS (Padres) - He was supposed to start the season as the Padres shortstop but Fernando Tatis impressed so much in spring training that Urias was sent down while Tatis was kept to play shortstop. Luis was later called up to play second but struggled with the bat and was sent down. In the minor leagues Luis has no problem hitting for a high average. His struggles have come in the major leagues where hitting for an average above .200 has been a struggle. He has the defensive tools to play short but will probably fit better at second base, deferring to Tatis at short. The power is lacking and his legs do not carry enough speed to steal bases, so he needs to hit for average to make an impact. Expect him to be called up again by mid-season and at some point figure out major league pitching.

4. Isaac Paredes 2B/3B (Tigers) - The hit tool is impressive. Isaac was originally a shortstop but his lower half is a bit thick to have the range to play that position. This year the Tigers have moved him to third base where the power could be there to play the position. Last year he hit 15 homeruns. He tends to be a pull heavy hitter where most of his power is and as he rises up the minors the pitchers could become more savvy to that approach. How he responds to being pitched away could have an impact on his major league development. At worst he will become a solid utility player with the Tigers. At best he could be an offensive oriented second baseman or solid third baseman. He is currently playing in AA where last year he hit .321 in 150 at bats last year. He should hit for a high enough average and decent power to be a good major league contributor.

5. Luis Verdugo SS (Cubs) - The Cubs seem to do a pretty good job of mining prospects down in Mexico. They lost Serrano but they have three other prospects in the minor leagues who were discovered in Mexico. Verdugo may be the best, signed in 2017 for $1.2 million. He played on the Mexican National team as a 15 year old. The arm is there to play short but a lack of speed could limit his range for the position. His bat is solid with some potential for power, which could allow for a move to third base if his range is found lacking. Last year he struggled with a .193 average in the Arizona Rookie League. At 18 years old he is young enough to repeat at that level.

6. Andres Munoz RHP (Padres) - The Padres are the closest team to take advantage of the south of the border talent. Andres was signed by the Padres in 2015 for a $700,000 bonus. His fastball has gone from the low 90s as a 16 year old to touching triple digits now that he is 20. Last year he pitched 25 games in relief for the Padres and averaged 100 miles per hour with his fastball. Over his three year minor league career he has only had one start, but his whiffs per nine innings sit at 11.8. Command and the improvement on his slider would make him closer material. It is unusual to find a hard thrower out of Mexico, but Munoz fits the bill.

7. Jose Albertos RHP (Cubs) - The Cubs shelled out $1.5 million in 2015 to sign Jose. There is a lot of talent in his arm, with a fastball that can rise to the mid-90s but often falls to the low 90s. This resulted in a horrible year last year where he could not get anyone out. His ERA was in double digits, hitters whacked him at an over .300 average and his walks to whiff ratio hit an ugly 65/38 in just 30 innings. That is usually not the numbers for a prospect but he has shown the Cubs some good seasons. The 2019 season will be key to determine whether he stays a prospect or becomes a journeyman. Some time in extended spring to work on his delivery is best and perhaps a callup to Low A or wait until the short seasons starts before making his 2019 debut. At 20 years old he needs to start showing more consistency on the mound.

8. Reivaj Garcia SS (Cubs) - Garcia was signed in 2017 for $500,000. He doesn’t have the tools of Verdugo and lacks the power bat to fit at third base. The ability to make contact is there so if he can hit for a high average he could eventually move to second base. Last year in his minor league debut he hit .302, but only nine of his 52 hits went for extra bases. At 18 years of age coming into this season he will probably see another year of short season. As he matures the Cubs hope enough power develops to give him a shot at making it as a utility player.

9. Gerardo Carrillo RHP (Dodgers) - The Dodgers got a bargain with Carrillo, signing him for just $75,000 in 2016. Despite his lack of size (6′0″, 155) he throws the ball hard, hitting the mid 90s with his fastball. He also has the ability to find the plate and as pitchers in Mexico learn, uses a multitude of pitches to retire hitters. His change is probably his best pitch. Last year when promoted to Low A he put together a 1.65 ERA in nine starts, limiting hitters to a .200 average. He relies more on soft contact than swings and misses to retire hitters, but as he bulks up that could change.

10. Tirso Ornelas OF (Padres) - Tirso signed for $1.5 million in 2016. At 6′3″ he has the potential to hit for some pop, last year hitting eight homeruns in Low A. The speed is lacking but the arm is enough to allow him to play either corner. Once he learns to pull the ball more effectively the power numbers should improve. He makes good contact for a power hitter. As he grows he will have to watch his weight. A move to first base would lesson his value and require that he fulfill his power potential to make it to the major leagues. The big advantage he has is he hits lefthanded.

NL Central Predictions

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

1. Chicago Cubs

Strengths - Overall the lineup is strong, especially the infield. Kris Bryant should have a bounce back year, hampered by injuries the previous year. Anthony Rizzo had his fourth consecutive season of driving in 100 runs. Those two will man the corners. Up the middle Javier Baez will either play short or second, depending on the need. He put up MVP numbers last year. When Baez is at second Addison Russell will play short and when Baez is at short either David Bote or Ben Zobrist will play second. Lots of depth with lots of bats to choose from. Wilson Contreras had a down year at catcher last year but he should bounce back. If Yu Darvish can return to health the starting rotation is a formidable five with Jon Lester, Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendriks and Jose Quintana.

Weakness - The starting outfield is either short on offense or weak on defense. Albert Almora and Justin Heyward carry silent bats but the defense is gold glove caliber. Kyle Schwarber needs his bat to produce because his defense is subpar. The bullpen has depth but it could use a closer. Brandon Morrow has trouble staying healthy and a proven closer is absent if he is not available.

Prospects to Make an Impact - This is a veteran team so it will be tough for a rookie to break into the lineup. Two pitchers have a shot if injuries to the rotation happen. Adbert Alzolay started just 8 games in AAA until a lat injury ended his year. Give him a half year of AAA pitching and he should be ready. Duane Underwood Jr. was a second round pick in 2012. He got one start for the Cubs last year after seeing 20 AAA starts. His fastball is not what it used to be but it is serviceable in emergencies.

Predicted Finish - A solid rotation with an offense that has the ability to score runs will be too much for this division.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

Strengths - The Brewers will also score a lot of runs. The outfield is especially dangerous with MVP Christian Yelich leading the charge. Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun fill out center and left and Ben Gamels is depth if you should need a fourth outfielder.

Weakness - Not a big fan of their rotation. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes will bring youth and inconsistency. Both pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the Brewers last year. No real number one starters with Jhoulys Chacin, Freddy Peralta and Zach Davis filling out the rotation. All would be mid-rotation starters for playoff teams.

Prospects to Make an Impact - Keston Hiura is a batting title waiting to happen. Last year he hit .272 at AA with six homeruns. Mike Moustakas is playing out of position at second base. Corbin Burnes has won a spot in the rotation for the Brewers. Last year he pitched for them out of the bullpen. Mauricio Dubon was hitting .343 after 27 games at AAA until a knee injury ended his season. Another start like that and he could see a role as a utility player.

Predicted Finish - As the NL east adversaries beat each other up the Brewers should sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

Strengths - The Cardinals got some pop for first base when they picked up Paul Goldschmidt. He has hit 30 or more homeruns in four of his last six seasons and driven in 100 or more runs in three of his last six. Picking up Andrew Miller in free agency and using the oft injured Alex Reyes in the bullpen gives the Cardinals three pitchers with closer like stuff when you add in current closer Jordan Hicks. Carlos Martinez may also be used out of the bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. There will be lots of swings and misses in the late innings.

Weakness - The starting rotation lacks an ace. Jack Flaherty may turn into one before the season is complete. Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez looked like aces a couple years ago but now injuries could force them to be used out of the bullpen. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha started just 23 games last year, not enough starts to fill one rotation spot. No defense made more errors last year than the Cardinals. Giving teams four outs in an inning can be frustrating to a pitcher.

Prospects to Make an Impact - Alex Reyes will be used out of the bullpen to start the season and could be used out of the rotation later. He has been felled by drug suspensions and injuries. Tyler O’Neil appears to have won one of the corner outfield jobs. He has the power that should exceed 20 plus homeruns. He also has the ability to record 200 whiffs. With the injury of Carlos Martinez it appears Dakota Hudson will be in the starting rotation. He pitched 26 games in relief last year for the Cardinals, limiting the opposition to a .186 average. Genesis Cabrera is a hard throwing lefthander with a mid-90s fastball who could be used in the bullpen by mid-season. The Cardinals lack depth with lefties out of their bullpen. The Cardinals are stacked at corner outfield but Adolis Garcia slugged 22 homeruns out of AA last year. The brother of Adonis is 26 and ready for the major leagues, while packing enough corners he could be surplus his rookie year.

Predicted Finish - Doesn’t appear to be enough flash or depth to pull the Cardinals into the playoffs.

4. Cincinnati Reds

Strengths - The Scooter Gennett injury puts a big dent in what was a solid offensive infield. Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in baseball and will occupy first while Jose Peraza shifts to second. Last year Peraza increased his power numbers by close to 100 slugging points. Joey is the new human walk machine with OBAs north of .400. Eugenio Suarez homerun numbers keep on rising from 13 to 21 to 26 to 34 in the last four years. The Reds appear to be going with defensive minded Jose Iglesias at short as Peraza moves over to second. The Reds starting rotation was certainly juiced up with Sonny Gray, Tanner Rourke and Alex Wood. That is a change in pace from the young pitchers they trotted out last year.

Weakness - The outfield defense is certainly not a strength with Scott Schebler in center and Jessie Winker, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig fighting out for the corner spots. The catching could be offensively challenged with Tucker Barnhart the best of what they have for offense.

Prospects to make an Impact - Nick Senzel was going to get some more defensive experience in center. Now another injury may delay his call to the majors. The bat has the power to hit 30 plus homeruns. His original position of third base is occupied by Suarez. Jose Siri is a multi tooled outfielder who has the potential to hit 20 plus homers while stealing 20 plus bases.

Predicted Finish - Still a little too young to make the playoffs but they will make a run for it.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

Strengths - They have two catchers in Francisco Cervelli and Elais Diaz who could start for many of the other 29 teams. The outfield of Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson is one of the most talented in baseball, especially if you take into account the number of runs they erase because of their defense. They have one of the top closers in Felipe Vazquez.

Weakness - The middle infielders are two unproven players in Erik Gonzalez and Adam Frazier. Both may be better suited for utility roles. Adding to the offensive squalor along the infield there is uncertainty whether Jung Ho Kang can provide consistent offense at third. He hit a number of homeruns in spring training, but they were also most of his hits. Josh Bell is below average for a first baseman in pop. Back end of their rotation will be feasted upon by some of the more powerful offenses.

Prospects to Make an Impact - Mitch Keller is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Last year he struggled in 10 starts at AAA but he should make his major league debut by mid-season. There are no sure things at the middle infield positions which could open up opportunities for Kevin Kramer, Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman. None of the trio will put up better than average numbers.

Predicted Finish - They may not say they are rebuilding or tanking but they are.

Playoff Baseball - Time for the Non Superstars to Shine

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Expect the unexpected. When playoff baseball begins it is usually the non-superstar that steps into the spotlight. It happened last night in a five hour 13 inning marathon that saw the Rockies pull out the win over the Cubs 2-1.

Kyle Freeland pitched well for the Rockies. He did not give up a run in his 6.2 innings. Jon Lester matched him for the Cubs, allowing one run in his six innings. The first two RBIs of the game were driven in by Nolan Arenado for the Rockies and Javier Baez for the Cubs. All the mentioned players are having solid years and would be expected to contribute in the playoffs.

And then the game went into extra innings. It lasted an hour past midnight before Tony Wolters, who came into the game with a .170 batting average, delivered on a go ahead two out RBI single to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead. The Rockies had already used Wade Davis in the game, so they had to call on Scott Oberg to save the game. He had struck out the one batter he faced to end the 12th inning, living up to his vulture reputation where he was 8-1 during the regular season. He proceeded to strike out all three batters he faced in the 13th inning. Take that Wade Davis.

The Rockies have been in three cities in three days to play three games. They now get a day off before travelling to their fourth city to play the Milwaukee Brewers in a semi-final NL championship game.

Bote Haunts Nationals Again

Friday, September 7th, 2018

The last time David Bote batted against the Nationals he hit a walk off grand slam homerun in front of a national audience for Sunday night baseball. Forward to D.C. a couple weeks later and he enters as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the ninth. He gets another chance to beat the Nats batting in the tenth with a runner on second. He lines a pitch into right center just past the glove of Victor Robles for a double, driving in the go ahead run in the Cubs 6-4 win over the Nationals. Most of the baseball world has not heard of David Bote. Against the Nationals he is their nightmare.

Stephen Strasburg got the start for the Nationals. He was not sharp, throwing a lot of pitches with his velocity still sitting at 94. In the third he retired the first two hitters but became unhinged after that. Javier Baez touched him for a bloop single into left field. Anthony Rizzo beat the shift by lining a ball into right center past Wilmer Difo, who was playing in short right field. Because Baez was going on the pitch he scored easily, even though the Nationals cut the ball off before it reached the warning track. Ben Zobrist followed bouncing a single off the first base bag to score Rizzo to give the Cubs an early 2-0 lead.

The Nationals bounced back in the bottom of the fourth. Bryce Harper grounded a pitch past the first baseman into short right field. Javier Baez fielded the ball and threw to the pitcher covering first. The ball zipped past the pitcher putting Harper on and tacking an error to Baez. Anthony Rendon lined a pitch into right center for a triple, scoring Harper. With two outs Mark Reynolds drove a pitch over the left field bullpen to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead. All three runs off Kyle Hendricks were unearned, though that error against Baez was a tough call.

The lead did not last long. Ex-Nat Daniel Murphy drove a single into left field. Anthony Rizzo bounced a ground ball to third. Rendon made a back hand play of the ball, tried to make a sidearm/underhand throw to first and sailed it over the head of Reynolds. Murphy advanced to third where he would score on a Ben Zobrist fly ball.

In the bottom frame the Nationals re-captured the lead on a two out single by Trea Turner scoring Spencer Kieboom from third. Kieboom finished the day 3 for 3 to raise his average over .200. He was bunted to second by Stephen Strasburg and advanced to third on an Adam Eaton ground out.

With a 4-3 lead could the Nationals bullpen hold it? Justin Miller could not. He gave up a leadoff single to Kris Bryant in the eighth. Albert Almora followed with a single to center. Victor Robles made the throw to third, but it was too late to get Bryant and Almora advanced to second on the throw. Trea Turner made a nice back hand play on a ground ball hit by Wilson Contreras in the hole. He could not get Bryant out at home but his throw to second was able to nail Almora, who had strayed too far off second base.

With the score tied the Nationals had an opportunity to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. A Juan Soto double into the right field corner put runners on second and third with one out. Justin Wilson, a left handed pitcher came on to relieve right hander Cal Edwards and struck out Mark Reynolds, who is a killer against left handed pitching. That was a move going against the books. Another right hander Wilmer Difo flied to shallow left to end the inning.

The walk off man Ryan Zimmerman came up in the ninth and grounded to second. That brought the game to the tenth where the hard throwing Jimmy Cordero was called on to pitch. He was short of the task. Albert Almore and David Bote hit back to back doubles to score one and Taylor Davis tacked on an insurance run with a single to right.

Jesse Chavez came on to close out the game. The Nationals rallied on a Trea Turner walk and Anthony Rendon single to put runners on first and third with one out. The Nationals super rookie Juan Soto could not get the job done, striking out and Mark Reynolds lined out to center to end the game.

Game Notes: A sparse crowd for a Cub game. Daniel Murphy was given an ovation prior to the game but there were not a lot of Nationals fans at the park. As the game continued the seats filled, but it sounded like most of the seats were occupied by Cubs fans. The attendance was announced at 32,000. It would have been a sell out if the Nationals were still in the playoff hunt…Wilson Contreras seems to be wearing down. In past seasons injuries have given him a rest during the season. He hit three weak grounders and a shallow fly ball. There appears to be no juice left in his bat…Part of me wonders if Michael Taylor might have caught that line drive hit by Bote into right center. Taylor knows how to track down fly balls. Robles seemed to make an inefficient route when trying to catch the fly ball hit by Bote…Terrence Gore came in as a pinch runner and stole second base. He now has more steals (23) than major league plate appearances (15).

Top Puerto Rican Prospects

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Compared to previous lists, last year’s Puerto Rican prospect list only graduated one player because of major league service time. Rio Ruiz got 150 at bats with the Braves, but a .193 batting average did not guarantee a return. Five players saw some major league time but not enough to lose their rookie status. Jorge Lopez got one major league appearance with the Brewers while Joe Jimenez pitched in 24 games for the Tigers, rewarding them with a 12.32 ERA. Jose Deleon got one appearance for the Rays. Tomas Nido saw a few games behind the plate for the Mets as did Victor Caratini see some plate action with the Cubs. That is six major leaguers from the top ten, but none of them with the potential impact of Carlos Correa, Joes Berrios, Francisco Lindor or Javier Baez, players who had appeared in previous lists. Below are the top ten prospects from Puerto Rico in the minor leagues.

1. Heliot Ramos OF (Giants) - Heliot has the tools to be a difference maker, something not seen from the list last year. He was a first round pick of the Giants in 2017. His power and speed, with a plus arm make him a potential five tool player. One cause for concern was his lack of patience in the Arizona Rookie League where he had a 10/48 walk to whiff ratio in 35 games. Those whiffs did not prevent him from hitting .348 with six homeruns and a 1.049 OPS. The Giants started his 2018 season in Low A where the cold weather in Salem has quieted his bat (.259 average, .397 slugging). When the weather warms up the bat should start producing.

2. Delvin Perez SS (Cardinals) - Perhaps the comparisons to Carlos Correa were unfair. A failed drug test also dropped his draft status. The Cardinals still made him a first round pick in 2016 but at the back end of the first round. It’s been two years and he has yet to clear the fence. He struggled last year in rookie ball hitting just above .200. A hit by pitch broke a bone in his hand and mercifully ended his season early. His defense is above average but if his bat doesn’t produce a utility role may be his best bet. Delvin could see a third year in the rookie leagues. He has yet to appear in a game in 2018.

3. Joe Jimenez RHP (Tigers) - With his mid-90s fastball Jimenez was being groomed to be the closer for the Tigers. A 12.32 ERA in 24 appearances with the opposition hitting him at a .356 pace tempered those expectations. Command has been a problem and major leaguers will take advantage. Joe made the Tigers roster to begin the 2018 season with promising results. He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, with the opposition hitting him at a .171 clip. That is quite a bit of improvement from his numbers last year. At this rate he should stick in the Tigers bullpen and graduate from this list.

4. Victor Caratini C (Cubs) - Caratini can hit, but Wilson Contreras is ahead of him behind the plate. A move to first is a possibility but the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo there. So Caratini will take his bats where he can get them, filling a utility role. His bat is much better than his glove. Last year at Iowa he hit .342 with 10 homeruns and a .558 slugging percentage. To start the season he will play as the back up to Contreras and Rizzo. The at bats will not be plentiful but it should be enough to lose his rookie status. Expect him to be a role player for his career.

5. Isan Diaz 2B/SS (Brewers) - Isan has not been able to replicate his .360 average from his rookie league season in 2015. Last year he struggled with a .222 average. The power is there with double digit homeruns all three seasons. His defense is not stellar so he needs to hit to get in the lineup. The Brewers have been playing him at short, but his best position is second base. Last year he committed 21 errors at the two positions in just 102 games, 14 of them at second base. The Brewers have started him at AA to begin the 2018 season and his .198 average would be a further decline of his batting average. His prospect status is fading.

6. Jorge Lopez RHP (Brewers) - The Brewers appear to be moving Lopez to the bullpen. A 6.81 ERA at AAA Colorado Springs in 2016 dropped his prospect status. His fastball may be better suited for the bullpen, with his curveball a quality second pitch. The key is being able to find the plate. His move to the bullpen last year saw him lower his ERA. This year he has returned to AAA where he has picked up two saves. At 25 years of age the Brewers may put him on the roller coaster, calling him up from AAA when they need an arm for the bullpen.

7. Jose Deleon RHP (Rays) - Drafted by the Dodgers they traded him to the Rays for Logan Forsyth. The Rays were hoping to use him in their rotation last year but injuries limited him to eight minor league starts. His mid-90s fastball from previous years had trouble reaching 90 last year which made has change less effective. He also had some issues finding the plate. The Rays were hoping to get some starts from him in 2018 but Tommy John surgery will end his season. The Rays will have to hope that his fastball will return when he is healthy for the 2019 season.

8. Tomas Nido C (Mets) - Nido is an above average defensive player with a strong arm good enough to gun down 45 percent of those runners attempting to steal against him in AA last year. There is some power in his bat when he connects but there is still too much lack of barrel of bat on ball contact. Last year he hit just .232 at Binghamton. The Mets have had some injuries behind the plate, with Travis d’Arnaud out for the year, giving Nido an opportunity to show what he can do. Currently he is hitting only .182 but his ability to play defense will give him more opportunities.

9. Edwin Rios 1B/3B (Dodgers) - At 6′3″ and 220 pounds Edwin has big time power that is not seen often in Puerto Rico. Last year he hit 24 homeruns between AA and AAA but with Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner ahead of him at first and third his opportunity for playing time with the Dodgers may be limited. He is much better defensively at first base, with below average skills at third base. Left field is a possibility but his speed is limited there. An injury to Justin Turner this year seemed like an opportunity for Rios, but he has started the season dinged up and has yet to appear in a game. The injuries were said to be minor but he has yet to appear in a game this year.

10. Nelson Velasquez OF (Cubs) - Nelson was a fifth round pick in 2017 by the Cubs, but he was the first position player they drafted. He showed some plus power in the rookie leagues with eight homeruns with the speed to steal five bases. His poor routes may prevent a centerfield option but the arm is powerful enough to fit in right. He still is quite raw as a player but shows great potential. The 2018 season has been spent in extended spring where he may need to wait for the rookie leagues to begin play in July.

2017 top Puerto Rican Prospects