Wow, that was quick.
The first month of the MiLB season has nearly come to a close and there are only four left. For the 120 or so Cubs prospects who saw action in April, it was a mixed bag of performances. From AAA to low-A, one never knew what was going to happen on any given night. Some players had a great month and were consistent. Others got off to great start and petered out. Still more had a rough couple weeks and are turning it on.
Today. though, it is time to look back at April in a somewhat unconventional manner and hand out some awards for the first month of the season.
Making Me Look Good
Jared Young – South Bend
Austin Filliere – South Bend
Kevonte Mitchell – Myrtle Beach
Miguel Amaya – South Bend
Bailey Clark – South Bend
Cory Abbott – South Bend
Tyler Thomas – South Bend
Dakota Mekkes – Tennessee
Javier Assad – South Bend
Tyler Peyton – Myrtle Beach
Jhon Romero – Myrtle Beach
I thought all of these players would have good seasons, which is why they are being rewarded for bearing that out in the early going. Young is batting .406 heading and Filliere is at .310; Mitchell was over .300 heading into the weekend, dipped a bit after some rough at-bats. Amaya has three home runs to his credit and has shown off his golden arm while also displaying some improved blocking skills behind the plate. And that’s as a 19-year-old in a league where the average age is almost 22.
Bailey Clark was lights-out in a piggyback role, striking out over a batter an inning and flashing upper 90’s heat and a power curve. He’s headed to Myrtle Beach to see what he can do at the next level. Mekkes has yet to allow a run all month and has a WHIP of 0.96 from giving up only two hits. He did walk six, but that was in 8.2 innings. He won’t be long for Tennessee.
Abbott, Thomas, and Assad are improving with each start and have respective ERAs of 2.12, 1.42, and 0.95. What I like most is that they just throw strikes and challenge hitters; there’s no nibbling at all. In addition, they each appear to have outstanding out pitches. Abbott has a slider based on Noah Syndergaard’s grip that can be devastating. Assad has been pounding the zone with his low fastball and a wipeout curve while Thomas has a smooth deceptive delivery and just gets the ugliest swings on his plus changeup.
I Didn’t Know You Still Had it in You
Jeffery Baez will be awarded the Cubs Hitter of the Month award sometime next week by the big league club. It is not his first such honor, but it’s been a while. After a disappointing 2017 that saw him hit .217 for the year between nagging injuries, he’s back and in force. Coming out of the weekend, he is hitting .423 with three homers and 14 RBI. He has looked like the five tool player we saw in Boise, Kane County, and especially Myrtle Beach in 2016.
Trey Martin has a similar story to Baez; nagging injuries to his hamstrings slowed him down all last year. He would play for a month and then miss two or three weeks. Wash, rinse, repeat. A Gold Glove fielder, Martin has shown a tendency to improve at every level when he is healthy. He is off to a great start and is hitting .328 with a .413 OBP.
Mark Zagunis (.323), Taylor Davis (.339), and Bijan Rademacher (.319) are just hitting machines. All three have been doing very well for Iowa and have reached base at respective clips of .438, .407, and .387. It is a shame there are no spots for them in Chicago, as there is not much left for them to prove in Des Moines.
Give Me Another Month
Thomas Hatch, Adbert Alzolay, Duane Underwood, and Alex Lange have all flashed huge potential this month and now seem to be rounding into shape as pitchers with MLB futures. I have watched all but one of Hatch’s outings this spring and I really like what I am seeing. For the most part, he’s missing bats but he’s also walking two or three batters a game.
Alzolay has only two starts, one of which was fantastic and the other was not. I really like 2018 version of Underwood. He went five innings with as many strikeouts and just attacked, attacked, attacked. His ERA for the month is 3.00 and his 2.47 FIP is outstanding. Like Alzolay, Lange only has a few starts in between all the rainouts. He just needs a bigger body of work to flesh out what he can do.
If Not for One Inning
Trevor Clifton has an ERA of 3.96 over 25 innings and has looked good except for two starts when he ran out of gas at the end of each game. Take away the 1/3 of an inning where he gave up three against Mississippi and the 2/3 of inning where he gave up five runs against Jackson, and he’d have a 1.13 ERA over 24 innings. If you go back and look at his first two starts, he was no-hitting both teams and he just tuckered out.
Clifton told a Knoxville newspaper that he adjusted by doing more leg work in between starts. In his last three starts, he has put up a 1.80 ERA with nine strikeouts and opponents are only hitting .184 against him.
Jekyll and Hyde
In first two starts, Keegan Thompson gave up nine runs in 9.1 innings and looked very rough doing it. He did strike out seven, but gave up 14 hits. In his third and fourth starts, he did not give up a run in 10 innings of work while again striking out seven. The difference was he scattered just five hits. I really like his ability to just pitch, to just throw the ball over the plate or off the edge, and make hitters work. I don’t want to use the term Maddux-like, but Thompson really sets hitters up to get them out when he is in a groove.
Rafael Narea is not going to set any home run records with his small frame, but the young shortstop has been blistering singles and doubles for South Bend and is at .280 for the month. Myrtle Beach catcher Jhonny Perada was above .300 all month until after Friday night’s game. He has been an RBI machine with 12 for the month, which is second in the system for April.
Reliever Rollie Lacy looked very dominant at times as a piggyback starter at South Bend, including striking out seven in 3.1 innings in one outing. The Creighton product should either get a shot at starting soon or make his way to the Carolina League.
What to Look for in May
1. More data – Alzolay will get more work in and will improve as he adjusts to AAA. Dillon Maples, who got off to a bit of a rough start, is looking better and better each appearance and his ERA is now down to 3.00.
2. Improved dealth – I would love to see what Wladimir Galindo can do when healthy. He can flat-out punish a baseball.
3. Sunshine – Between the cold, the snow, and the rain, it was difficult for many players to get into any kind of rhythm at the plate or on the mound.
4. The plate – Jose Albertos had a disastrous month as he completely lacked fastball command. He has yet to find the plate regularly and pitch more than two innings in a start.
5. Steady improvement – I really like what Brendon Little is doing. He went from one inning with 30 pitches in his first start and slowly increased his workload to going five innings by the end of the month. His curve always looked good, he struggled to find the plate early with his fastball. I am excited to see how he looks at the end of May at the rate he is improving. Jason Vosler leads the system with 13 RBI, but is hitting .164 with a .313 OBP. I am not sure what is going on there. Zack Short is striking out 40 percent of the time, which is unsustainable. Austin Upshaw was hitting almost .100 but is turning it around this week going 5-for-11.