Prospect Notes: Martinez, Candelario, Contreras, Johnson, AFL Eyes-On, More

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Prospect Notes: Martinez, Candelario, Contreras, Johnson, AFL Eyes-On, More

Chicago Cubs

cubs azl spring training logoRemember when we lived and died with the Cubs prospects? There was a time when many of us followed the minors more closely than the majors. The Cubs have become so good, though, that our attention has swung back in the other direction. Still, the prospects remain, as they always will, an interesting and incredibly important part of the team. So here are some notes, news and items on various Cubs prospects …

  • Our friend Rian Watt gets things started with some good news about new Cubs outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez:

  • While we would expect him to get his Visa at some point, sooner is always a better than later (sometimes it can run into Spring Training). This is very good news because Martinez’s future remains very bright. He might play a very big role on the Cubs eventually, though almost certainly post-2016.
  • If you needed any more reasons to love Jeimer Candelario, other than how well he performed in AA Tennessee and the Arizona Fall League, check out this article from Carrie Muskat at Candelario comes across as a hard worker that is hungry to get to the major leagues.
  • Just as an aside, then-21-year old Jeimer Candelario slashed .291/.379/.462 with a walk rate (12.1%) larger than his strike out rate (11.5%) in 182 AA plate appearances last season.
  • Also in that piece, bonus Miguel Montero life lessons from when he spent time rehabbing with the Smokies last season. If you recall, several other players (like Willson Contreras) also enjoyed his time spent with Montero.
  • Keith Law did the chat thing, and among his thoughts he address Albert Almora’s improvements in the second half. In the first half of the season, Almora finished with a .659 OPS and .305 wOBA (.264 BABIP) in 257 plate appearances. In the second half of the season, Almora finished with an .817 OPS and .378 wOBA (.327 BABIP) in just under 200 plate appearances.
  • Unfortunately, Law doesn’t yet believe in those improvements, because of the increase in his BABIP and the newer, younger competition that he was likely facing after others were promoted. I think that there are several reasons why you should believe in his improvements, not to mention the fact that newer younger competition is just anecdotal until you actually dive into the specifics, but that is a conversation for another time.
  • Also in that chat, Law does not believe Pierce Johnson will end up as a starter in the major leagues, instead his future lies in the pen. Law cites his health issues and delivery as reasons why.
  • Jim Callis offered up a MLB Pipeline inbox and addressed a number of Cubs-related bits. Included in a discussion about Joey Gallo, Callis gives his thoughts on why, despite the many strike outs, Kris Bryant will be fine. Also, there is a nice discussion that compares and contrasts Addison Russell to Gleyber Torres.
  • Lastly, BN’er Dale (“Spriggs”) got a chance to catch some of the Arizona Fall League first-hand and provided some “eyes-on” analysis and commentary on a number of Cubs participants:

Jeimer Candelario
Jeimer looked great at the plate from both sides. As a left-handed hitter, he appeared to have more of an uppercut, power stroke. His lefty swing reminded me of Cano (you’d take that, right?). As a righty, he was more of a line drive hitter. Overall he just looked like a better hitter and more of a threat from the left side. Jeimer’s HR% was 3rd in the AFL, below only Gary Sanchez and Adam Walker (4 out his 5 were hit as a lefty).

At 3rd base, Jeimer looked a little below average to me. He didn’t show a strong arm (maybe average), but his throws were always accurate. I would rate his range and quickness below that of Bryant’s. If he played 3rd at Wrigley, from what I saw, it would be a defensive downgrade from Bryant, and I cannot imagine any other spot for him.

Willson Contreras
There didn’t seem to be a lot of questions about his bat, which was on display from day one. He was mashing before he went down [with the hamstring injury]. He showed both power and a great approach. I had seen the power before in Mesa over the last few years and knew that was a legit part of his game.

Behind the plate, Contreras seems like he has some work to do yet. This is where I have to be careful with the sample size thing of seeing him catch for only like 10 games. I watched this guy for a game or two and thought, “Yes!” Then the next game was filled with pass balls, bad throws, wild pitches, etc. He even stuck one in the batter’s ear on a throw to 3rd trying to catch a base stealer. A couple of different times in critical game situations, there were stolen bases where I do not even think he noticed the runner – and did not throw. Then he looks great for another stretch where he is alert and throwing well. So, I really don’t have any idea – other than to say – that to look so inconsistent, I think he still needs work, but some nice skills and defensive tools are clearly there. Also, he is obviously conscious of framing and it looks like he does pretty well in that department from where I sat. All in all, I am more excited about Contreras now than I was before the AFL.

Mark Zagunis
One thing the Fall League answered for sure, was that Zagunis could take a walk. He led the league in that department with 19, while only having around 67 plate appearances. The personal highlight for him though was probably his 9th inning (game winning) 3-run homer against Surprise. It was interesting to note, too, that Zuganis hit in the lead-off spot a couple games, and in one of those, he went 3 for 3 with 2 walks.

In the OF, I didn’t see a lot of action go his way, but I when it did he looked good overall. He played mostly RF, and showed a decent, accurate arm. Though not super fast, he is very athletic. He is an aggressive fielder and is not afraid to dive for the ball – where he made a couple great catches and at least one costly miss that cleared the bases.

Pierce Johnson
From the first time I saw Pierce pitch back in the AZ Rookie League, he looked very polished. He still looks poised and polished out there. The results were not good to start the AFL, but got better near the end.

Until the last couple weeks of the AFL, most of the games had pitching speeds posted and they were pretty accurate according to one scout I asked. Johnson was consistently around 93 for his first several games, mixing in mostly curves and change-ups, but all with little command. He was always falling behind and getting hit pretty hard. That all seemed to change in his last few outings. He was using his offspeed stuff much more effectively, and normally for his out pitch, but the main thing to me was that he had gained command of his fastball first.

Rob Zastryzny
Rob had more K’s (28) than IP (25), but maybe more impressive was his low walk total (only 6). He was consistently in the very low 90’s and did a great job keeping hitters off balance with his offspeed pitches. His problem was that he was really hurt by the long ball (as was Pierce Johnson).

Corey Black
Corey does throw pretty hard, topping out at around 96 or maybe 97. There remains though the problem of command and control. In the AFL he couldn’t locate his fastball or any of his offspeed stuff. In his brief 8+ innings of work, he walked 7 and K’d 6. Hard contact.

David Garner
David is a very lean, athletic, and energetic guy. After watching him pitch very well the last couple years in rookie ball and extended Spring Training, I was excited to see him in the AFL. His fastball is mid-90’s, topping out at 96 once or twice. He’s had control issues in the past and some were exhibited here, but overall he looked very good. 12 K’s in 12 IP with 7 BBs. He kept hitters off balance and other than a long HR, there was not much solid contact against him. I think we will see much more from him in the future.

Cael Brockmeyer
Cael was on the taxi squad until Contreras went down. He went on to catch 7 or 8 games after that and also played some 1st base. After watching him behind the plate, you are reminded of why there aren’t too many catchers of Cael’s size. Couldn’t root for a nicer guy though!

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami