It is hard to believe it’s Monday already and that another week of the minor league season has passed. However, it was quite exciting as there seemed to be something big happening every night this week. Whether it was two dingers by Jared Young on Tuesday, a 17 run outburst by Myrtle Beach, a home run fest in Tennessee, a DJ Herz no hitter, a Pete Crow-Armstrong display of athleticism, or a South Bend come from behind winner, I was thoroughly entertained all week.
Three things I learned this week
1. As affiliates wrapped up their third turn through the rotations, we’re not seeing a big jump in pitch counts or innings from start to start. Most players are only going through small incremental changes. It looks like the Cubs are taking it very slow with Kohl Franklin and Riley Thompson in building them back up. Franklin got in two innings this week while Thompson was still at three.
2. Ed Howard and Fabian Pertuz both choke up on the bat now. I never noticed about Ed until this past week where he put together a nice streak and he seems to be a little bit quicker through the strike zone now.
3. I’m not a fan of how the new pitch clock rules are set up. I don’t have a problem with the pitch clock itself. I think it takes away human rain delays and mind games, and gets the action going. Right now the clock is too heavily skewed to the pitcher. At 14 seconds, that length of time is fine but having the hitter have to be ready at nine is pushing it a little bit too much. That means I have to sit there and wait for the pitcher to throw. Just set the clock at 14 and have the hitter be ready at five. That seems much more reasonable and we’re not waiting around forever for the hitter to get uncomfortable in the box.
Let’s see what went down with each of the affiliates this past week.
Affiliate Round Up
Iowa’s roster would best be described as pretty fluid right now. We saw Alfonso Rivas get sent down and then called back up. When the season began, the bats, outside of Brennen Davis, were pretty hot. They have pretty much cooled off except for Ildemaro Vargas and Dixon Machado. Robel Garcia looks to heating up again after a small slump. He cranked out 2 HRs yesterday. It’s looking more and more like the Cubs’ own prospects like PJ Higgins, Jared Young, Brennen Davis, Donnie Dewees, and Levi Jordan are getting a lot of experience but not every day except for Davis. Their production has been a bit uneven as a result. On the pitching side of things, Chicago is still relying heavily on Gsellman, Dermody, and Adrian Sampson for starting pitching depth. Seeing what Matt Swarmer does here in the next few weeks should be fun as Swarmer’s ERA is now down to 1.08 on the year. Once Caleb Kilian gets stretched out, that could change a few things and plans if he continues to pitch well. We will also get to see Brandon Hughes debut for Iowa next week as he was promoted there yesterday afternoon.
The Smokies became home run central this week as Nelson Velazquez, Chris Morel, Darius Hill, and Chase Strumpf went off. Velazquez had two home runs on Tuesday night, another one on Wednesday, and a final one on Saturday. So, it was at least a good week for him. We also got to see Riley Thompson come out and throw three shutout innings on Saturday night. That was fun as his rehab tour looks to be a hit. As well, Darius Hill had himself a day with a grand slam and for RBI.
South Bend 4-2
One of the things I wish I didn’t do when watching prospects is to focus on one or two players. When I do that, I miss other guys doing exceptional things. Over the past week, I began to realize that Luis Verdugo was beginning to improve at the plate as he started to string together good game after good game after good game. All of a sudden, he’s hitting .289 and moved into the respectability neighborhood. Manny Espinoza is another guy who has been a piggyback this year off of Daniel Palencia. Espinoza was outstanding. 2B Fabian Pertuz is a third who has been pretty steady this year .298 with a .
Myrtle Beach 5-1
The Pelicans got off to a rough start to the year but things have turned around fairly quickly. Buddy Bailey has a nice mix of some very young starting pitching and Pete Crow Armstrong is just an amazing player. He’s hitting .326 with an OBP of a ridiculous .463 and an OPS of 1.044, but he is walking at almost a 20% rate and he’s flashing his speed whenever he can. If you want to talk about someone moving up a top 100 prospect list, this is the kid. I’ve also really taken a shine to Tyler Schlaffer and Porter Hodge who both were taken in the 2019 draft out of high school. Along with DJ Herz, those three guys could be interesting arms for the Cubs here the next couple years as they continue to develop. Richard Gallardo (20) is the same age as them and he’s put together two good starts and one bad start this year. He needs to find some consistency. He’s had two very good outings and 1 poor one. We will will see what start number four brings shortly. This team is turning into something special!
This might’ve been the easiest week in a long time when it comes to picking the weekly awards. We have three clear cut favorites.
Nelson Velazquez ran away with the Hitter of the Week as he cranked out four home runs and hit .455 with an on base percentage of .615!!! What I love about him catching fire is it all seems so effortless. The swing just looks compact and easy and he’s not really trying to kill the ball, rather he’s trying to just square it up and that’s generating all the power he needs.
DJ Herz said he wanted to win back-to-back Pitcher of the Year awards and he is well on his way. This week, he threw a four no-hitter on Thursday and struck out 6 to earn the Pitcher of the Week. After three starts, he has a 0.82 ERA and I don’t see him in South Bend after the 1st of June, if not before. I might see him pitch on Thursday in the Quad Cities, but I think he is up Wednesday and I will be at home that night. I could see him up in Appleton next month, but I don’t expect to see him in South Bend in June nor the Quad Cities again later that month. Tennessee should be his new home if he can continue his dominant run.
Folk legend Riley Martin just dominated out of the bullpen with an amazing 10 K performance on Monday against Delmarva. He followed that up with 7 Ks in 3 innings on Sunday. As a result, he easily wins the Reliever of the Week award. Delmarva had no answer for his fastball-curve combo and I’m hoping I might get to see Martin tomorrow walking around Modern Woodman Park in Davenport. It’s wishful thinking, but it could happen.
Myrtle Beach is the Team of the Week as they put together a fantastic road trip that showed off their pitching skills as well as the burgeoning talents of Pete Crow-Armstrong, who, when it is all said and done, might be the best all-around prospect the Cubs have. That’s right, I said it. The kid just oozes talent.
I’m going to have to rely on the other three guys at North Side Bound this week to hold down the fort for Players of the Day while I am galivanting in the Quad Cities. Greg Huss will be doing the players of the day on Tuesday and Thursday this week and I’ll still have content every day, I just won’t be on Twitter very much as I will be driving back-and-forth between home and Davenport as well as seeing the games. It’s going to be a fun week despite the chilly temps in the air on Tuesday and Thursday. By Sunday, it should be nice and sunny which is perfect for taking pictures.
Is that how we’re going to look at Gallardo’s season? Arbitrarily tallying a binary good or poor starts? Will, or has, anyone else been held to these standards? It is interesting how much more this guy has to do to get less credit than more interactive prospects or the latest reliever/s to pick up some Ks over a couple innings. Dude’s doing what he needs to do to get out of that level, I might even go as far as saying he is *dominating* through 3 starts. 69% GBs, 15+% K-BB, BB rate 5+% better than league average (even better than last year), a comically low 14% flyball rate, 24% K rate (up 5% from last year as well), and once again among the system’s leaders in IP while being the youngest SP prospect in full season ball. The last start in particular was completely dominant – 8/1 GO:AO, 28% Ks, 42 strikes in 56 pitches, one walk, high whiff rate, etc. System’s most underrated prospect, overall not just pitchers but by alot among pitchers, and I’m not even sure it’s a contest off this start to the season…System’s most underrated prospect, overall and by alot among pitchers!
Crow-Armstrong’s come out as strong as hoped, another one who isn’t long for the level. I’m not sure how long he will be for the minors tbh, dynamic player and the ML team is dying for a player like him for years now (high contact LHH, CF defender, leadoff potential eventually). I like him as much as anyone to debut by 21-22 hopefully earlier, he’s shown a complete toolset
I’m liking Hodge and Devers as deep cuts in the system, may even think Hodge has starting potential…Espinoza’s showing some aptitude again plus versatility this year
Hoping to get down to MB this week, most likely, to catch Gallardo and Hodge this week…Maybe I missed it but did you make it to Delmarva? Fun series, nice park…It’s been some time since I got to a MiLB park, really enjoyed it
Oooooh and I mentioned this other day elsewhere…At least from what I’ve seen, Herz’s only good pitch is the changeup. I thought and/or was hoping it would be very competitive between he and WIcks for the org’s top LHSP prospect but Wicks by a country mile. I do really like Herz tho, liken him to Michael Lorenzen or CJ Wilson and do think there’s SP potential in there with big strength gains and more experience