Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

Cubs Planned Dominican Republic FacilityIn the Minor League Daily on Friday I wrote about the domino chain of pitching promotions that toppled through the farm system late last week. At the end of the chain was South Bend, a team that lost a pitcher (closer James Farris) but did not gain one.

They have now gained one, and it is a bit of a nice surprise. Dillon Maples, the prospect with great stuff and a history of control/health problems that the Cubs drafted injured in 2011, was promoted from Eugene to South Bend this weekend.

Maples still has some of the best pitch grades in the system, namely a fastball and a curve that have both been consistently rated fairly high, including some 65s. In both 2013 and 2014, though, he was unable to take advantage of those weapons due to a lack of control; in both seasons he finished with a BB/9 over 8.0. Through five innings and three appearances for Eugene this summer (sample size alert), though, his BB/9 is down to 1.8 and his K/9 sits at 14.4.

If Maples has solved his control problems, if he can continue to avoid the walks while letting his plus stuff wrack up strikeouts, he could emerge as a potent late inning reliever in a hurry. Given his history, though, caution is definitely is order. I would not give up on Maples altogether, not yet, but I will need to see this new found control hold up over a sustained stretch before I consider putting him back on the Bleacher Nation Top 40.

Standings Watch

Iowa : 39-35, 2nd place.

The Cubs are back in second with a half a game lead over Omaha, but they are still 9 behind Oklahoma City.

On July 3rd the Cubs wrap up their current home stand; then they hit the road for New Orleans and Omaha. Both series feature a doubleheader, so by the time the All-Star break rolls around on July 12 this team will probably be in need of a rest.

Tennessee : 2-0, 2nd place.

The Smokies have yet to lose a game in the second half of the season, but because of a rain out they are half a game behind Montgomery, the only other undefeated team in the league.

After a trip to Mobile to start the week, the Smokies will welcome Montgomery into their home park. It would be fun if that series opened with a battle of unbeaten teams… and if Tennessee was still without a loss at the end of it.

Myrtle Beach : 0-3, 4th place.

The Pelicans have yet to pick up a second half win, and as a result they are, for now, residing in the basement. I doubt they stay there for long.

This team hits the road for Winston-Salem to start the week, and then they come home to face Salem. By the way, all those games are on MiLBtv. If you haven’t yet taken the time to watch this team, particularly the pitching, this might be the week to make that happen.

South Bend : 3-0, 1st place.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have streaked to an undefeated start to the second half and a one game lead in the division. Going back to before the All-Star break this team has now won 5 straight.

This week they come home to face Lansing and Bowling Green. I would not be surprised if this week they receive some reinforcements as well. I’m thinking of Ian Happ in particular.

Eugene : 5-5, 1st place (tie)

This is more like it. A week after finding the Emeralds in the basement, the Cubs Short-Season A affiliate is in first place thanks to a four game winning streak.

Even better, this week they head to Hillsboro, the home of the Hops and team with which the Emeralds are tied. This is notable not only because it is a battle of first place teams, and not only because it is a battle of awesome mascots (sasquatchy-green-bear-thing vs some hops… like the beer ingredient), but because Hillsboro is hooked into If you want to see Eloy Jimenez in action (and you do), then plan to tune in at 10:00 PM ET on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Arizona : 3-2, 1st place

Thanks to a three game winning streak the AZL Cubs have given this organization three first place teams. The Cubs lead by percentage points over the Angels in the division, and trail just the Mariners and Royals by half a game for best record in the league.

This week the Cubs face that Mariner team as well as the A’s, Indians, and Diamondbacks.

Prospects In The Dominican

Given that the Cubs were operating under International Free Agent signing restrictions over this past year, I am pleasantly surprised that they appear to have some noteworthy young talent playing in the DSL. Keep in mind, though, that, as is nearly always the case with prospects in the Caribbean, we typically can’t do much more than scout the stat lines. It can be very misleading to rely on stats alone to evaluate players, but in this case we don’t have much choice.

One of the most interesting is 17 year old third baseman Rafael Mejia. This right handed hitter stands 6’1″, 195 lbs, and has already hit 4 home runs for the Cubs this year. His line reads .284/.427/.481, and that comes with 16 walks against 16 strikeouts. He even has 6 steals. Mejia does not turn 18 until December, and if he keeps producing like this I suspect his age 18 season will be spent in the United States, possibly with Eugene. This combination of power and patience is not common for a 17 year old at any level. That makes Mejia’s career one I look forward to following.

On the pitching side there is a 17 year old that stands out as well. Left hander Wander Cabrera (6’1″, 185 lbs) turns 18 in November and is keeping himself busy for now by piling up strikeouts. 21 of them in 17.1 innings, to be exact. He has allowed 7 walks, but that still leaves him with a healthy K/BB ratio of 2.57 and a WHIP of 1.21.

One of the older pitchers for this team, Luis Aquino, is putting up very strong numbers. Acquino pitched for the DSL Indians in 2012 and for one inning in 2013. He did not pitch at all last year, though, and is now in his first season for the Cubs at age 20 (he’ll be 21 in a few days). Over 13.1 innings he has allowed a total of 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 16. His batting average against is just .083 and his WHIP is an absurd 0.45. The age and unusual career path are certainly causes for concern, but there is no arguing with those results. Hopefully the Cubs can bring him stateside soon so he can be tested against some tougher competition.

Now in his second year in the DSL, 20 year old second baseman Franklin Tineo is putting up numbers comparable to Mejia. At 6’1″ and 176 lbs Tineo is not quite as big as Mejia, but he has the power to blast 3 homers of his own and has been every bit as patient at the plate. The line for this right handed hitter reads .200/.388/.440 with 16 walks and 11 strikeouts. He did not show this much power or discipline last year, but if he keeps this up it is possible that he could play himself into a trip to US for instructional ball or minor league camp next spring.

The only player on the Cubs with a higher OBP than Mejia is a 17 year old switch hitting shortstop named Yeiler Peguero. He is hitting an impressive .352/.472/.477 with 4 triples, 9 steals, 19 walks, and just 12 strikeouts. Like Mejia, this is a guy I am looking forward to following over the next few years.

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