Angel Gonzalez – Picture via MiLB TV

One of the keys to Myrtle Beach’s success this year was that they put together an amazing rotation and a studly bullpen. For the second half, pitching coach Clayton Mortensen will have most of the starting rotation back but has lost most of the bullpen that he began the year with. Riley Martin, Jarod Wright, Adam Laskey, Sheldon Reed, Walker Powell, and Jake Reindl have all moved on to South Bend and Tyler Santana is not too far behind.

For Mortensen, he’s going to have to sort of rebuild a bullpen on the fly. He’s actually been doing it since May when the parade to Indiana began. Mortensen has been dealing with some very young arms at this advanced level. And almost immediately, there were four young arms that were put to work in the middle of a pennant race. It was either sink or swim for them. So far, everybody is swimming.

The Cubs took Johzan Oquendo in the 2019 draft. Coming out of high school in Puerto Rico, the concern was that he had not really faced advanced competition. He did not pitch at all that first summer after signing. Last year, he pitched in the Arizona Complex League and struggled with a 5.09 ERA in 23 innings, but he struck out 34. Oquendo does have a really live arm. He has good stuff and like most young pitchers, especially power pitchers, they have some issues with throwing the ball where they want it. And for Oquendo, he has stepped up as the season has gone along and is now called upon in late innings to seal the deal. Armed with a fastball in the mid to upper 90s and a nice cutter/slider, he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch in the second half.

Angel Hernandez is a 22-year-old left-hander who signed as an international free agent in the fall of 2020 and then debuted last year in Arizona. He has a little bit more pitchability than the other three here and, as a left-hander, he’s looked impressive as he can put the ball where he wants it and I really like the shape of his breaking ball.

For Alfredo Zarraga, he just signed as an international free agent in January. I don’t know how he went unsigned because he’s fantastic. Zarraga is probably going to take over the other closer role opposite Oquendo. I don’t know how a guy who can throw in the upper 90s just appears and then debuts professionally in Low-A. It’s insane to think that this guy was out there and then “Boom!” at the age of 21, he’s throwing darts and helping lead a team to the best record in Minor League Baseball. But when you watch him throw, you’re amazed at just how good he is.

For Angel Gonzalez, he signed as a non-drafted free agent from Puerto Rico shortly after the 2020 five round draft. He was all of 17 and now is just 19 and he looks like a bulldog in the making. I like that he throws hard and I like that he’s got a nice little breaking ball but he also attacks. You can see the athletic skills in the pitching arsenal. For Gonzalez, it took him a while to adjust but I think he’s got it now after two months. 

When manager Buddy Bailey goes to make a call to the pen here in the next 2 and 1/2 months, he’s going to have fun calling in one of these four. They’re all kind of interchangeable and they all gained  invaluable experience pitching in a pennant race the past month. For Mortensen, scheduling who’s going to throw on which day is going to be a challenge as I’m sure the Cubs will be bringing up more pitchers from Mesa, especially after the draft picks sign and the trade deadline. Mortensen’s got a tall order to get them ready for the playoffs in September. I don’t think he’s going to shy away from the issue and, based on their success in the first half, Clayton’s going to enjoy that challenge.