Every year in the minor leagues we see formerly highly touted prospects play their way right off the prospect charts. Sometimes it happens due to injury, but typically we see this occur when a player struggles mightily and consistently against a given level of competition. If a player can’t hit a Double A fastball, for example, he’s not getting past Double A no matter what his prospect ranking had been.

But sometimes we get it wrong. Every once in a while we come across a player who was all but written off… and justly so… but who manages to make the necessary changes and to re-inject his name back into the prospect conversation. It is rare for a player to make that sort of change, but it does happen.

And that brings me to Michael Burgess. Burgess was drafted by the Nationals and was traded to the Cubs in the Tom Gorzelanny deal. At the time, we knew he had plenty of power and the potential to develop more, but he had trouble making enough consistent contact to take advantage of that power. The Cubs sent him to Daytona in 2011, and he did show some progress there. While hitting a remarkable 20 HR, he dropped his K% to a very respectable 22.4%. Of course, that was also the fourth year he had spent in High A. His numbers were good, but there was no reason to be excited. When the Cubs’ Top Prospects lists came out after the 2011 season, Michael Burgess was scarcely to be found.

It gives me great pleasure, then, to welcome Mr. Burgess back to the prospect conversation. Through 56 games and 196 plate appearances, Burgess has struck out just 28 times. That is good for a K% of 14.4%, a career low. His previous low mark was 20.1% in 2010. His power numbers (5 HR, .407 SLG) are nothing to write home about, but for the time being that does not worry me. There has never been any question about this guy’s ability to slug, only his ability to make contact. He is now making contact at a better pace than he ever has in his career. I think it is only a matter of time before the power reappears as well.

He has a lot of work to do, but by cutting his K% that much while playing against the toughest competition of his life, he’s convinced me that he deserves a chance to make those additional improvements. He definitely has the time to improve. Despite spending parts of four seasons in High-A, he is only twenty three. According to the prospect calendar, he’s pretty much right on track.

Scores From Yesterday

Iowa – A bad day for starter Chris Rusin turned into a 9-1 Iowa loss.
Tennessee – Great pitching and timely hitting carried Tennessee to a 2-1 win and a winning record.
Daytona – Daytona had the day off for the All-Star game. The Cubs’ prospects played for the losing North Division. The final was 6-3.
Peoria – Rain suspended the Peoria game; it will be completed today at noon. At the time of the suspension, Peoria trailed 5-2, but they had the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth with one out and catcher Yaniel Cabezas due up.
Boise – An early lead did not last as the Boise Hawks lost their second straight game 7-4.

Performances of the Day

  • [Iowa] Thanks to Rusin’s struggles, Jay Jackson came in as a reliever. Sure enough, he pitched well (3.2 innings, 4H, 1R, 5K). He also had a hit in his one at bat.
  • [Iowa] Josh Vitters went 4 for 4 with a double, raising his June batting average to .281.
  • [Iowa] Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson each had a double in four at bats, but Jackson also struck out three times.
  • [Tennessee] Eric Jokisch gave up a single run on a solo homer, but otherwise was nearly flawless. In six innings he allowed just one run on four hits and one walk. He had no strikeouts. His Double A ERA is now a mere 1.42.
  • [Tennessee] Frank Batista struck out one in the ninth as he collected his tenth Double A save.
  • [Tennessee] Rebel Ridling picked a great time to hit his eighth home run. The solo shot came with two outs in the eighth inning to put the Smokies ahead for good.
  • [Tennessee] And who doesn’t love steals? Logan Watkins swiped his 13th base, and Junior Lake stole his 6th. Lake is stealing at a much slower pace than he was last season, and he is getting caught much more often as well. I wonder if the league is handling him more cautiously than in the past.
  • [Daytona] Austin Kirk only pitched one inning in the All-Star Game, but it was the first inning, and he put up a solid string of zeroes. On the biggest stage and against the best competition, he got the job done with fifteen pitches and two ground outs.
  • [Boise] Wilson Contreras and Rock Shoulders each launched their first home run of the season. Both players, particularly Shoulders, have the capacity to hit many, many more.
  • [Boise] Gioskar Amaya is a prospect well worth watching. He hit his first triple as a Hawk in this game.

Other Minor League Notes

  • The Iowa bullpen continues to impress. Jay Jackson (as a reliever), Jeff Beliveau, and Ryan Rowland-Smith combined to pitch five and two third innings in which they struck out seven and gave up just six hits and one walk. Particularly in the Pacific Coast league, that’s not bad at all. We see similar effectiveness out of the bullpens in the rest of the farm system. It is very believable to think that the Cubs could have an effective, home-grown bullpen as soon as next season.
  • Including Saturday’s game, the Tennessee Smokies have a record of 12-3 in the month of June and a winning record for the season. Finally, this team is playing exactly like I thought they would from the beginning of the year. They have a deep and talented pitching staff, and that pitching is starting to carry them.
  • In addition to Austin Kirk, the Cubs had three other prospects in the FSL All-Star Game on Saturday. Arismendy Alcantara came off the bench and struck out in one at bat. Nelson Perez started the game and went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk, and Greg Rohan was 0 for 4 with two strike outs.
  • Ricardo Marcano, one of the Cubs’ more highly touted prospects in the Domincan Summer League, is starting to heat up. His line now reads .306/.433/.429 with two doubles, two triples, and two stolen bases. He also has ten walks against just eight strikeouts in 59 trips to the plate. He is currently riding a nine game hitting streak that includes both of his triples and three multi-hit games. Marcano, a left handed hitting outfielder, will turn 18 in October.

Farm System Standings

AAAIowa Cubs : 29 – 41.
Pacific Coast League American Northern Division – Second Place: 15 Games Behind.

AATennessee Smokies : 35-34
Southern League North Division – Second Place (tie): 6.0 Game Behind.

High ADaytona Cubs : 29 -36
Florida State League North Division – Fourth Place : 12.5 Games Behind

Low APeoria Chiefs : 34 – 34
Midwest League Eastern Division – Third Place (tie) : 10 Games Behind

Short-Season ABoise Hawks : 0 – 2
Northwest League East Division – Second Place : 0.5 Games Behind

  • cjdubbya

    I think I like this new layout, Luke. Actually, scratch that. I do like it. I also really enjoy getting to read about the future on a daily basis – lends credence to the “there *is* light at the end of this deep, dark tunnel.

  • ColoCubFan

    I love the bullpen stats being compiled. It’s been awhile since the big league Cubs have had a solid bullpen from top to bottom.

  • fivetoolmike

    Great new update format. Thanks for writing this.

  • oswego chris

    I asked this the other day and then forgot to look back and see if you responded Luke…any idea on Batista’s velocity?…He looks to me to be a legit relief prospect…

    these are aweome man….thanks so much…

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    Luke great job! Like the new format! Keep up the good work!

  • Ralph

    Looks nice Luke.

  • Hack Wilson

    Great job with the Minor League updates. Brett Jackson’s strike out rate scares me.

  • oswego chris

    don’t count on Brett Jackson…of all the Cub prospects right now…I would say Javiar Baez is the safest bet…this would include Rizzo…just a hunch…

  • Ryan

    That rainstorm in Peoria was crazy! Took the little brother and the lady to the game yesterday. Great ballpark if you’re in the area. Concepcion looks like he still has a ways to go, giving up 2 in the first and 3 in the second. He didn’t have much help behind him though, as the infield looked a little shaky. He did settle down and pitched a 1-2-3 in the 3rd. All in all there looks to be a few prospects down in Peoria to be excited about. And, I’m going to join in with the new format love, it looks great Luke!

  • ShootTheGoat

    Vitters had a great night. I think that was the first time (that I remember) he was perfect at the plate. I think a night like that could be a great confidence booster and could propel him on another mini hot streak, so let’s see what he does this evening.

  • Stu

    Is there an example of a hitter with Jackson’s strikeout ratio at AAA turning it around? It seems to be a good predictor of success in the majors.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      I think they should leave Jackson down in AAA all year, unless he goes on Anthony Rizzo production run on a consistent basis for about a month. So far he hasn’t shown any reason to bring him up. He strikes out a TON!! If he was hitting bombs like Adam could on consistent basis enough to make up for the strikeout we’d let it pass but what to say if he’s not playing like a star down there that he can come up to the bigs and preform? He’ll just struggle against tougher pitching. He is not ready. Leave him down there for a year and get the extra additional year of control of him and let him actually learn how to hit.

  • Kyle

    Vitters’ 4-for-4 was nice. He was due for some BABIP luck (.287 going into last night, with his hitting style he should average closer to .320 in the long run). His double and one of the singles were solid line drives. Two of the singles were ground balls that were pretty hard hit and found holes. Like I said, he was due for a night where they all find holes.

    I doubt he’s ever going to find “it” and have the light turn on and suddenly justify the No. 3 pick status. But he’s been making incremental improvements.

    His defense still isn’t MLB-quality for 3b, but there are reports it’s gotten better and is getting closer. His BB rate still isn’t great, but at 6.2% at AAA is a clear improvement from 4.5% at AA last year. His 16.3% K-rate is pretty solid for a 22-year-old in his first taste of AAA, and his ISO if .176 is his best since A-ball.

    If he keeps working at it and getting a little better each year, he’ll find himself as a 25-year-old who can hit .280/320/400 in the majors while playing a slightly below-average 3b, and that would have some real value, especially in his cheap team-controlled years. I don’t think it’ll be with the Cubs, where he doesn’t fit their philosophy, but he’ll make a good fit for a small market team.

    Jackson? Same old story. If he can make an adjustment to the advanced breaking stuff he’s facing and get his K-rate down to an acceptably awful level, then he’s got a great future. He’s getting close to an entire year of AAA now and the adjustment hasn’t come, so I’m starting to get pessimistic, but it could still be there. If he can K at 25% in the majors, he can be an excellent contributor with his power, discipline and defense.

    But right now, he’s up to 32.9% in AAA, which translates to anything from 35% to maybe even 40% in the majors. He’s clearly got a hole in his swing, a big one, that AAA pitchers are finding and MLB pitchers will find a lot more often.

  • Jason “Thundermug”

    If the Cubs make a trade with the Dodgers w/ Dempster involved one kid that I would like to see the Cubs get is Shawn Tollison. He looks like an awesome reliever prospect who has struck out 34 guys in 22 innings in the minors this season while walking only 5 guys in those innings. ERA 2.82 Hits 16 BB 5 K 34 That is great stuff

  • PeteG

    Vitters needs to go to camp Colvin and develop some power.

    • PeteG

      Btw Colvin is on a tear right now!

    • Jimmy james

      Vitters did go this year, maybe last year too