Another month has come and gone, and that means it is time to review the farm system and hand out a few honors to some of the Cubs’ prospects.
Before we get started, there is one change in format from the April awards of which I should make note. In April I gave awards to the Hitter of the Month, Pitcher of the Month, Breakout Performance, and Biggest Surprise. All of those categories have returned.
But the fifth category has changed to Performance of the Month. In April I had this one labeled Player of the Month, but I think that is a little misleading. What I want to do with this honor is call attention to individuals who do something remarkable, even if it is only in a single game, and regardless of how the rest of their month went. Last time I gave the award to Anthony Rizzo for posting Babe Ruth like numbers in April, but he narrowly beat Jonathan Mota, who in the span of a week was the winning pitcher and hit the winning home run in games for Tennessee.
And so, with that detail out of the way, let’s get to it. The first one also happens to be the easiest.
Hitter Of The Month
There were some pretty good candidates for this one, but Anthony Rizzo clearly stood out over them all. Rizzo had a fantastic April, but he managed to be even better in May. If you remember, last month I was criticizing Rizzo because he had very lopsided split stats. That complaint no longer applies.
Currently, Rizzo is batting .327/.373/.636 off left handed pitching and a truly ridiculous .369/.438/.746 off right handed pitching. In both cases he has an OPS over 1.000. I have no criticisms left. He has just about turned Triple A games into his own form of batting practice.
In total, his line for the month of May read .326/.402/.758. He was down somewhat in both batting average and on base percentage, but he raised his slugging percentage so much his May OPS was actually higher than his April OPS. In all, he hit 9 doubles, 10 home runs, walked 11 times, and struck out 19 times all in just 95 at bats. And he stole a base.
There really is no one in the farm system that can compare with the season this guy is having. I’m not sure I have ever seen any prospect have a season that compares with what Rizzo is doing in Iowa. It’s crazy. It’s incredible. And it will be over soon. Iowa fans, enjoy him while he’s yours. I think he will be at Wrigley before June is over.
Pitcher of the Month
This was probably my hardest decision. P.J. Francescon was a very good candidate, and so were Austin Kirk, Kyler Burke, and Eric Jokisch, among others. In the end it came down to Rhoderick and Jokisch, both of whom have had some success in Tennessee. Jokisch has been pretty good since being promoted to Double A, but Rhoderick has been dominant all season long.
Kevin Rhoderick is a right handed reliever who has been nearly automatic all year. He has pitched in a number of roles in the late innings, often pitches more than one inning, and is extremely stingy with the runs. In the month of May he totaled twelve and two thirds innings in which he gave up just four hits and one run. And that run was unearned. That’s right, for the month of May, Rhoderick had an ERA of 0.00. He also had four saves (and now has six on the year) and nine strikeouts. In an entire month’s worth of work batters managed to hit just .098 off him.
And the more we dig into the numbers, the more there is to like. For the season his Ground Out / Air Out ratio is a very good 1.76. He is effective against both left and right handed hitters. He has pitched well with the bases empty and with runners in scoring position, in save situations and in non-save situations, at home and away. He has a season K/9 of 8.34, a K/BB of 2.63, and has allowed just one home run in over 22 innings of work.
I don’t think we’ll see Rhoderick in Wrigley in the near future, though a late season call up is not out of the question. I think he should get a crack at Iowa sometime in the second half of the season, if not sooner. If all goes well there, he should be in the competition for the Cubs’ bullpen in spring training next season.
In April, Alcantara was a toolsy but raw switch-hitting shortstop putting up an unimpressive OPS of .625 in Daytona. In May, that significantly changed.
Now he’s a toolsy and less raw shortstop moving up the prospect charts and opening eyes thanks to his very impressive May line of .368/.393/.500. While putting up those numbers he hit one home run, three triples, and stole ten bases in thirteen tries. The news is not all great, though. He has a season walk rate of just over 4%. On the other hand, his strikeout rate is currently a career low 17%. He very clearly has plenty of room to improve his game, but since he won’t turn 21 until October, he has plenty of time.
Like any young shortstop, his defense is very much a work in progress. I don’t know if he will be able to stay at the position long term. At 5’10”, I doubt he will develop the power needed to play third, but his bat would likely be fine at second base should it come to that. As a switch hitter with speed, he could also have a future off the bench in a utility role.
I expect that he will stay in Daytona for most of this season. He could be a candidate for the Arizona Fall League, but that might be a little premature. Regardless, if Alcantara can maintain his offensive progress through the rest of the season, I fully expect that he will be mentioned on several Top 25 Prospects lists this winter.
I hesitated to put Vitters in the Surprise category because, really, this is not that big of a surprise. We always knew he had the tools to hit like this. We knew he had been slowed by injuries throughout his minor league career. We knew that he had been pushed up the farm system a little faster than he probably should have been and that he has usually been one of the youngest players at his level. We knew, those of us who had not written him off as a bust, that this was coming.
And it still caught me by surprise when it arrived. Josh Vitters is either in the middle of a lengthy and improbable hot streak, or he has finally put it all together and turned his physical gifts into baseball gold. After a fairly pedestrian April, Vitters suddenly exploded in May with a seven home run, .884 OPS onslaught. His walk rate is higher than it has been since he played for Daytona in 2010. His strikeout rate, while somewhat elevated, is still well below 20%. He is consistently working counts, laying off bad pitches, fouling off tough pitches, and hammering the pitches he likes to the tune of a .550 SLG in May. In short, he’s starting to play like the guy the Cubs thought they were drafting way back in 2007.
I strongly suspect that what we are seeing is real. I suspect that he has finally shaken off the last effects of his wrist injury from two seasons back and is now able to show off his power. I think he can keep this up for most of the rest of the season. Regardless of whether he stays hot or goes back into a slump, I think we will see him in Chicago this Fall. He is on the 40-man roster, so there is no reason for the Cubs to not give him a quick taste of the majors. Unless he is traded in the meantime, he will arrive in camp next February as a serious candidate to be the Cubs’ starting third baseman.
Performance of the Month
This was by far the easiest choice of the month. Anytime a player goes on a franchise record setting 24 game hitting streak, that player deserves plenty of accolades. Hitting a baseball with a bat is often cited as the hardest thing to do in sports. Hitting a ball safely 24 games in a row is difficulty multiplied twenty four times over.
Hoilman’s remarkable streak ended early in May, but nothing else happened during the month to surpass that accomplishment … although Rizzo had a huge game for Iowa that came close. A twenty four game hitting streak would be a tough standard to beat in any month.
And there you have it. May is gone, June is underway, and the race is on to claim the next round of Bleacher Nation awards. Brett Jackson and Jose Rosario are the early leaders, but there is a lot of baseball to be played yet.