Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

myrtle beach pelicans logoJust like that we are into August. The minor league season is in the final full month and in just a matter of weeks we will be watching Myrtle Beach (and hopefully a few other teams) in the playoffs. The Cubs have produced championship teams from their farm system in consecutive years (Daytona 2013, Kane County 2014); it would be a lot of fun if they could keep that streak alive.

And then, of course, we have that whole ‘Cubs are in contention’ and ‘major league playoff chase’ thing. If, you know, you find that sort of thing exciting.

I had a chance to see the ultimately playoff bound Pelicans in Frederick last night, and after a survey of the standings you can find some of my thoughts on a few of those Pelican players.

Standings Watch

Iowa : 57-50, 3rd place.

Now on a three game winning streak, the Cubs have pulled to within seven and a half games of the suddenly mortal Oklahoma City Dodgers. Omaha, in second place, chases Oklahoma City by four games. If Oklahoma City continues to come back to earth this division race could get interesting as the season winds through the final weeks. I don’t know if Iowa has enough games to make up that kind of ground by the end of the month, though.

Iowa plays in Colorado Springs through Tuesday, and then they come home for a five game set against Omaha.

Tennessee : 15-19, 3rd place.

Tennessee played .500 baseball this week, but they did not make up any ground on division leading Birmingham. They remain nine games back in the division.

If the Smokies are going to get back in this division hunt, this is the week to do it. Starting today, first place Birmingham is in Tennessee for five games. If the Smokies can sweep, as unlikely as that is, they’ll be in a position to make a run at the lead over the final weeks of the season.

Myrtle Beach : 21-16, 2nd place.

The Pelicans are moving back up the standings. Winners of the first half title, they now have the second best record in the league and trail Winston-Salem by just two and a half games in the division.

The Pelicans conclude a series in Frederick today, and then head back home to face Wilmington and Frederick. They will have six games against Winston-Salem in the later part of the month.

South Bend : 17-19, 6th place.

The Cubs had a rough week, and as a result have fallen from second place in the division down to sixth. This division is extremely close, though, and even from sixth place the Cubs are just four games back of leading Fort Wayne.

This week will be challenging. Kane County, the team with the winning percentage of .750, comes to town for three in the middle of the week. Clinton, a team as bad as Kane County is good, will arrive at the end of the week to help balance things out.

Eugene : 4-1, 1st place (tied)

The second half is underway, and the Eugene Emeralds are tied for the best record in the league and first place in the division with Salem-Keizer. The Emeralds also have the distinction of the only perfect road record (3-0) in the second half so far.

This week they have one more road game against Spokane, and then get three days off for the All-Star break. When games resume on Thursday, Eugene will be at home to face off against Salem-Keizer.

Arizona : 2-2, 1st place (tie)

The second half is underway in the Arizona Rookie League as well, and the Cubs find themselves in a very early tie atop the East division.

West Coast teams are the theme of the week for the AZL Cubs. They have games against the Giants, Padres, Dodgers, and Athletics coming up.

Pelican Watching

Brad Markey was the starting pitcher for Myrtle Beach, and it is easy to see how he has had success. He throws strikes, consistently pounds the bottom of the strike zone, and doesn’t make many mistakes. Which is good. Because when he does make mistakes, they tend to get hit pretty hard. There were several balls that Frederick squared up against Markey, but nearly all of them found gloves.

I don’t see Markey sticking in a rotation long term. That typically isn’t in the cards for smallish right handers who throw in the high-80s, but he does throw enough strikes and get enough weak grounders that I could see him carving out a bullpen future at the highest levels. His stuff needs some refinement yet, but I think the raw materials for a quality middle reliever are there.

Update: New information! Per the Pelican’s broadcast team, the Frederick stadium gun is way off. Markey was actually throwing in the low nineties last night, and spent much of the game hanging out around 92-93. That velocity does give him a better chance to stack as a starter moving up the system if he can improve his secondary pitches, but he will always have his smallish frame working against him. For now I really want to see what he can do in Double A, hopefully next year.

James Farris pitched most of the eighth inning, and he spent most of it in trouble due to some lapses by the defense. He did not get flustered, though, and continued to grind his way through what was actually a pretty good inning. I’m not sure he has the stuff to be a closer long term, but I would not be at all surprised to see him sitting in the Wrigley bullpen in some capacity in a few years.

By far the most impressive pitcher I saw was Dave Berg. He did not pitch much (just one out to end the eighth), but his submarine delivery was fluid, repeatable, and I cannot imagine it will be easy for hitters to pick up. Weak contact and whiffs are going to be his calling card as he moves up the system, and I would not be surprised if he moved up in a hurry. Make that ‘continued to move up in a hurry’; after all, he has already vaulted from college to High A in the span of a few months.

Cael Brockmeyer showed off his easy power with a long drive, but his defense at first base was not impressive. This guy is huge, and not just ‘for a catcher’ huge, but really just huge. And it looks to be mostly muscle as well. I did not get to see him catch, but all reports are that he has promise behind the plate. It will be the bat that finds him work on the field, though, and it looks like the bat is coming along nicely.  If his glove behind the plate is as good as advertised he should have a nice future.  If it isn’t, I’m not sure first base is a viable home.

Trey Martin made a couple very nice running catches in center, confirming yet again that he is probably the best defensive outfielder in the organization not named Almora. What I did not expect to see was his bat speed at the plate. He did swing at a few pitches that he would be better served to lay off, but I think those improvements to his approach and selectivity will come. He has the bat speed to catch up to anything, and a couple of times last night he squared the ball up well. He also dropped a great bunt towards first for a base hit late in the game, catching the Frederick defense completely off guard. This is definitely a guy to watch. He could break out in a big way one of these days.

Also impressive at the plate was Mark Zagunis. I like pretty much everything about his stance at the plate. The hands are low, near Rizzo low actually, there is little extraneous movement, and the bat looked like it carved a good plane through the zone. He has the strength to turn on inside pitches, and sufficient usable power to blast a bomb when given a mistake. After watching him up close, I am even more convinced that his bat is ready for a trip to Tennessee.

Carlos Penalver has not been filling up the stat sheet this year, but there is talent there. Defensively he looked like a young shortstop should look, nothing to worry about on that front for now. At the plate he varied between seeming to have no clue what to swing at, and actually putting together some nice at bats. Experience would probably do him about as much good as anything right now, and I would not be surprised to see him catch on with a Winter League team to gain some of that added experience.

Victor Caratini did not show me much at the plate (nothing bad, but nothing noteworthy either), but I liked what I saw from him behind the plate. I think good pitch framing is one of the toughest things to spot with the naked eye, and I am most definitely not a scout, but I am sure I saw several of those subtle twists and slight hand movements that mark the good framers. And I did not see a single Castillo style lunge-and-stab, either. He did have a third strike get by him that allowed a runner to reach, but he also had a couple very nice blocks in key situations that kept runners from advancing. In short, Caratini looks like a pretty good catcher. I can definitely see him having a future as as a major league backup, at worst.

And finally, I also had the pleasure of talking baseball for a few minutes with the Pelicans’ own Nathan Barnett. If you aren’t already, give this guy a follow. He also passed me the better info on Markey. Thanks!

My next minor league trip will be at the end of this month to see the Tennessee Smokies. I am not sure which dates yet, but I should have that nailed down in the next few days.

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