Cubs Minor League Daily: How About That Pitching?

pierce johnson missouri stateFor a time pitchers up and down the organization seemed to be struggling. Lately, though, that has changed dramatically. Kyle Hendricks tossed an absolute gem the other night, and Zach Cates nearly matched him a day later. Yesterday the Cubs saw some quality pitching from every starter at every level in the organization. Matt Garza, rehabbing in Tennessee, might have had the worst outing of any of the starting pitchers in the farm system.

Development of the hitters is both fun to watch and vital for the organization, but what the Cubs need the most is for the pitching talent to take significant strides forward. We need more stretches of good outing upon good outing as this season progresses.

Scores From Yesterday

Iowa – The wind was blowing in, and the final score shows it. The Cubs lost 1-0.
Tennessee – Rains cut this one short, and the Smokies lost 3-0 in five.
Daytona – This was also a low scoring, well pitched game. Daytona came out on top 3-1.
Kane County – The bullpen let this one get into ten innings, but the offense was there to save the day. The Cougars won it in ten 5-4.

Performances of Note

  • [Iowa] Chris Rusin pitched a nice game despite taking the loss. He gave up six hits while striking out five over seven innings. The best part? No walks.
  • [Iowa] Logan Watkins had a double and a walk as part of his three hit game. To put that in context, the entire Iowa team, including Watkins, had just four hits. His season line now reads .279/.436/.465.
  • [Tennessee] The big story in this one was Matt Garza’s return to the mound. He gave up a two walks and a hit in 2.2 innings of work. That is pretty much meaningless, though. He felt good after throwing 42 pitches, and that is exactly what the Cubs wanted to hear. Hopefully he continues to feel good today.
  • [Daytona] Ben Wells pitched a very nice game for Daytona. The right hander allwed just three hits and a walk in seven innings while stricking out three. Eduardo Figueroa struck out three more in the final two frames.
  • [Daytona] Jorge Soler had one double, but Ben Carhart had two. Anthony Giansanti (playing second) also had two hits.
  • [Kane County] Pierce Johnson also pitched a pretty good game. Over 6.2 innings Johnson gave up just 4 hits and a walk while striking out four. Unfortunately Jeffry Antigua gave up the tying runs in the ninth before nailing things down for the win in tenth.
  • [Kane County] He only had one hit, but Daniel Vogelbach saved it for when it mattered most. His single in the tenth plated the game winners.
  • [Kane County] After a bit of a dry spell, Gioskar Amaya rebounded with a two hit game that included both a double and a walk.

Other News

  • My August journey to watch the Tennessee Smokies is coming into focus. Right now it looks like I’ll be at the Smokies games on August 12 and 13. If you are going to be in that part of the world in early August, keep those evenings open and make plans to stop by the ballpark. Unfortunately, though, this will be my only trip to a Cubs farm team this season. I had planned to visit Iowa and Kane County this year as well, but those plans were squeezed out by a combination of work and other events. Maybe next year.

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation. He can be found on Twitter as ltblaize.

64 responses to “Cubs Minor League Daily: How About That Pitching?”

  1. Dynastyin2017

    Watch out for Pierce Johnson. 1 bad inning so far this year. If he keeps this up, he should make it to Daytona by the end of May. How long has it been since a pitching prospect the Cubs drafted was a top 100 prospect? Prior?

    1. On the Farm

      Speaking of top 100 Pitching prospect how long has it been since the Cubs have had two in the top 100? (assuming Pierce cracks the list and the Cubs draft Appel/Gray)

      Wasn’t McNutt in the top 100 for a while there until he had his blister problems?

      1. Cedlandrum

        2007 Veal and Samardizija. 2010 both Jay Jackson and Cashner.

        1. Cedlandrum

          And then for like a minute in 2011 Archer and McNutt. Then of course Archer was traded.

  2. On the Farm

    What would it take for Johnson to get bumped to Daytona? I know he was a college arm (Mizzou State I think?). I would have to think he still spends a majority of his year in KC since he is still pretty young.

    1. Dynastyin2017

      Wouldn’t you want to move him when he shows the Midwest League is not a challenge? Some people believe AA is the equivalent to being a college senior (which is what Johnson would be).

      1. On the Farm

        I suppose I didn’t think that while he is young relatively speaking, but he is probably on the old side of A ball. I suppose an earlier promotion to Daytona wouldn’t be a bad idea if he is dominating, but I was just hoping to catch him pitching while he was still in the Midwest.. Oh well

        1. Dynastyin2017

          This is just speculation, but in the past, teams kind of do a mini-reset of their minor league rosters when the short-season team starts. This year Boise doesn’t start until mid-June.
          Hope that falls into your time frame.

          1. On the Farm

            Do the minor league teams operate on a 5 man rotation too? If so I counted it out and it looks like I am going to miss him on all of his weekend starts.

      2. AB

        Somebody wrote somewhere that he is on the same development path as Matt Barnes in the Red Sox system.

      3. Kyle

        AA being the equivalent of a college senior is way, way overshooting, imo.

        “Equivalent” is kind of tricky because the minor leagues are pretty smoothed out in terms of talent, but college ball is much more variable.

        I’d say major college baseball is roughly like short-season A, with a small number of players capable of handling more.

    2. Brett

      I’d say a mid-season promotion to Daytona is probably the fastest he’d go. Otherwise, I wouldn’t expect more than a month or so at Daytona – as you said, he’s still pretty young.

      (Of course, the Cubs know him better than I – and if he gets a faster promotion, then … awesome.)

      1. On the Farm

        Do Underwood and Blackburn have a shot at pitching at the A level this year, or are they pretty much going to set up shop in Bosie for their first year? (Obviously if they are tearing it up they will be promoted, but I am speaking in the hypothetical scenario they are performing average.)

        1. Brett

          I’ve had them penciled in at Boise only. Another stint at Rookie League isn’t out of the question, either.

  3. King Jeff

    Luke, I’ve been reading Arizona Phil’s game recaps and it looks like Blackburn and Underwood are both kind of getting knocked around in Arizona. Have you heard anything encouraging about either of them?

    1. Cedlandrum

      Underwood threw well yesterday.

    2. Spriggs

      Underwood looked good yesterday. He was throwing strikes!

      1. King Jeff

        That’s good to hear, his number up to yesterday’s game showed a guy who was getting hit a lot and missing spots.

        Since you watch a lot of the games, what is your opinion on Josh Conway. He was another TJ guy that may have been a 1st round pick last year otherwise, and it seems like they are pushing him to move to KC or Daytona pretty quickly.

      2. Dynastyin2017

        Spriggs, any sightings of Junior Lake? I know rib injuries pretty much stop everything, but it’s been awhile.

        1. Spriggs

          I have not had any Lake sightings. Almora is playing though, so I would expect a Kane County move pretty soon for him!

      3. Spriggs

        I think the Cubs picked 7 or 8 pitchers in a row starting with their second pick (Johnson) last year. I’ve seen them all pitch a few times or more in games, and I have to admit that Conway is the one I know the least about. I did see him throw a game a few days ago and he looked pretty good — I think he went either 5 or 6 innings, which surprised me, so they must have plans for him soon since he’s being stretched out.

  4. Zachary

    Pierce was dealing yesterday. He induces a lot of weak contact. He reminds md of Derek Lowe when he was with Boston. I’m also officially giving up on Brett Jackson. He still is striking out to much and gets overmatched to easily.

    1. On the Farm

      That’s why you don’t work for the front office. Obviously they still see value in Jackson…

      1. cubbie blue

        How is it “obvious” they still see value in him? My personal opinion is he gets packaged with garza (or somebody else) and traded this summer.

        1. Cubbie Blues

          If he can be traded that is value right there isn’t it?

          1. On The Farm

            “If he can be traded that is value right there isn’t it?”

            This was my point as well. While he may not be a 5 tool player he used to be thought as, he still has three fairly good tools (Speed, Glove, and he has good power for a CF)

            1. Kyle

              Every time people start to wax philosophical on the virtues of Brett Jackson, I’m reminded of this scene:


      2. Zachary

        Remember this on the farm Theo and company seem to find value in everyone. They apparently see value in Ian Stewart. In three years Jackson will still be in AAA and finally tearing it up becoming the next Brian Bougasevic

        1. On The Farm

          Of course they saw value in Ian Stewart the other option was to let Lake (somedays he looks like an All-Star somedays he looks like a A ball player), Vitters (struggled in his debut, obviously needs more seasoning and is still 23), or Valbuena (lets face it, no one saw this kind of start from him) I would say there is value in a guy that has played 3B at the MLB level, even if he has been poor, our farm guys still need some more time to develop.

  5. Jacob

    Ernie Banks just said he doesn’t like the idea of the renovations of Wrigley, on SXM.

    1. Stinky Pete

      He also sounded a little off. He said something like. The Cubs have been around for exactly 100 years. Maybe he meant Wrigley but he came off as pretty confused.

      1. mak

        I’ve heard stories (not rumors, but actual stories) about Ernie starting to lose it in public appearances. So there’s that.

    2. TWC

      Golly, an old-timer Cubs fan is against the modernization of the facilities? I’m so very shocked.

    3. Spriggs

      He initially came out against the new spring training facility in AZ too. Someone quickly got to him and told him to change his tune or simply STFU. He changed his tune. He will do the same with this after someone sits down and explains things to him. You gotta love – or at least respect – where his heart his at though.

  6. On the Farm

    From what I can find Blackburn isn’t doing too bad in 20.2 IP he has been hit (23), but his K:BB is 13:7 and he is sporting a 3.48.

    Underwood’s stats on the other hand don’t fair as well. In 8.2 IP 7Hs, 6Rs,and a 7:6 K:BB.

  7. Brobots

    Luke…do you work for Bethesda?!

  8. JulioZuleta

    I’d like to see some of these strikeout totals go up. I’ll take the quality starts obviously, but Wells seems to strike out 2-4 guys per start.

  9. Brobots

    even BETTER! /nerdgasm

    1. Brobots

      you’re not, like, lookin’ for some more testers eh? eh?!

  10. Hack Wilson

    Anyone predictions on Logan Watkins? If BJax needs more time, could Watkins be a midseason call up for infield and outfield protection as a super sub or even a 2B/CF replacement should Barney or DDJ get traded?

    1. Dynastyin2017

      I don’t think they call Watkins up to play twice a week, but it sure seems he’s playing his way into a viable replacement if something happens to Barney.

  11. King Jeff

    I was reading that Vitters is done with his rehab assignment. Any idea when to expect him in Iowa?

    1. Spriggs

      Isn’t he already there? Sure would rather see him playing third there over Stewart.

      1. willis

        No kidding, I’d love to see them just kick Stewart.

  12. Hack Wilson

    Vitters wo 0-3 with a BB in last night’s Iowa Cubs game. Played in LF.

    1. King Jeff

      Nice, thanks.

  13. Hack Wilson

    I’m down on Vitters and Stewart. Junior Lake could sure brighten my spirits at 3B. Stewart, Vitters, and Lake at least that would be one more to kick around. I really hope Lake can return strong, but a broken rib might take longer than we hoped for.

    1. Spriggs

      Lake was off to a strong start this spring too. His injury really came at a bad time. Would have been great to see him carry that momentum into AA or AAA.

  14. willis

    Love seeing Pierce Johnson doing well. I think he moves to Daytona by the end of the month if he keeps this up.

    And Ben Wells…huge game.

  15. JBarnes

    Alright I’ve been a big supporter of Barney since he’s been here (some if it warranted, some of it not) but everyday I come on here I see Watkins getting on base multiple times a game…436 really? I love having Barney’s defense up the middle but is Watkins pushing a midseason trade of him? He wouldn’t bring back a “top prospect” but he could be a very interesting piece to a team with plenty of offense that needs help up the middle on defense… Detroit being the obvious option at the moment. I know I’m not the first to mention this but I may be on board with such a move considering Watkins ability to get on base and still play at the least average defense.

  16. Stu

    Watkins is everything the Cubs should want in a leadoff hitter. The question probably in the minds of the FO is how much of a dropoff of defense from Barney.

    Barney has extra value now defensively based on the marginal defense of both Rizzo and Castro. Sveum even commented on how the defense calmed down once Barney was inserted back in the lineup.

    At some point the experiment with Jackson will have run its course. He is the hitter he will be and the other attributes of his game cannot outweigh the sheer volume of K’s. Maybe if he hit 40-50 HR’s.

    One thing I have not heard proposed for Jackson is for him to choke up more on the bat. I remember when I couldn’t hit a consistent golf ball, I decided to choke up on all of my clubs. Funny thing happened is that I can consistently hit straight shots now. Does that apply in baseball?

    1. Kyle

      Logan Watkins is very intriguing at this point, but he has a K problem almost as big as Jackson’s so far at AAA.

  17. Believe in 2015

    I agree that Watkins looks a bit superior compared to Barney when looking at batting performance. My two questions are, how is Watkins defense? And does Barney have good value in the market?

    1. X The Cubs Fan

      This Cubs regime is the ones that got a solid prospect for Jeff Bake, im sure they’ll get something.

  18. AA Correspondent

    Luke, glad to hear you are planning another trip to TN this year. Looking forward to seeing you (again).

    Sorry for the lack of posts regarding the AA team this season. I am still attending most of the home games, and am very high on our team this season.

    My reports are lacking because I started a new job in March and am still working through the expectation that I actually WORK while on company time. haha

    I hope to be able to regularly submit my observations of TN home games very soon.


  19. When the Music's Over

    For a team that needs a serious infusion of talent, it’s interesting to the Cubs baby so many of their prospects. I’m not saying it isn’t the right move, but interesting to see them practice so much patience with certain guys, such as Johnson. I wouldn’t have guessed a college junior to spend 3 or so years in the minor leagues (assuming they want him to get a full season in at AAA, which they have stated multiple times as a player development goal).

    Another person is Underwood. It has to be damn frustrating to draft a guy like that, and know that if all breaks right (and that’s a giant if), he’s not likely to make the major leagues until 7 or so years after you draft him in a conservative scenario (rookie ball, rookie ball, Boise, Peoria, Daytona, Tennessee, Iowa). It’s especially interesting when you look at it in terms of the front office contract length. Theo and crew could be out of town years before someone like Underwood is ready.

    I guess these timetables make you realize how truly special and rare players such as Felix, Trout, Haprer and Kershaw are.

    1. On the Farm

      Not sure I agree with your assessment, if Johnson continues his good start through May he could be in Daytona, or if he is mediocre he could still end up in Daytona by mid-June. I don’t ever recall the FO saying they wanted their pitchers to get a full season at AAA before they bring them to the bigs (All I have seen is that they want position players to get a full seasons worth of ABs at AAA). AA has always been the place where the good pitching prospects are, AAA they tend to get rocked (or at least get their stats inflated) especially in the PCL which is a hitters league.

      So guys like Underwood and Blackburn aren’t actually looking at 7 years until they get to the pros, they will get there when they show they are developmentally ready for the next step. The reason most end up doing two seasons of short season is because you still have to count the innings they just threw in HS, most of these guys haven’t thrown a ton of innings, so some of it is building arm strength at a professional level. There are more factors, but I think these are the key factors that stick out to me.

      1. When the Music's Over

        Yes, there are all sorts of exceptions across the major leagues. Wheeler is in AAA and is considered a top 3-5 pitcher in the minor leagues. On the other hand, Fernandez from Miami just made the jump from A+ to MLB.

        For Johnson, he was drafted last year, so call that 1/2 a year (not going by IP, rather by time spent since draft). This year, if he goes A-/A+, that’s another year. Next year, A+/AA, that’s another year. 2015, AA/AAA, that’s another year. We could be looking at longer than 3 years, but either way, that’s why I said about 3 years. I would have expected them to start him at Daytona this year. Kane County seemed very conservative.

        I thought the Cubs FO said they wanted to get players a full year at AAA, but could easily be wrong in that it’s just batters.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.