Six different Iowa Cubs hit a home run yesterday, as the Iowa Cubs won 8-1 to move their record to 20-10. This gave the Iowa Cubs 39 home runs for the season. By contrast, D.J. Artis hit his first home run of the season in the South Bend Cubs 3-2 victory yesterday. It marked the South Bend Cubs eighth home run of the season.
In fact, if you put together the Low-A South Bend Cubs (8), the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans (14) and the Double-A Tennesee Smokies (16), they cumulatively have less long balls than the Iowa Cubs. Craziness.
Discovering this fact made me think it might be useful to try and add some context to the simple stat lines we normally give you. With a juiced ball in Triple-A, and the usual slow start for Midwest League hitters, the chasm in comparing minor league numbers is less apples-to-apples than ever before.
- The Triple-A Pacific Coast League has seen run scoring go insane. The league ERA entered Monday at 5.34, with seven teams sporting a team ERA above six. Some of that is due to the altitude seen in the western PCL ballparks – a part of the schedule that Iowa has yet to play. But a large part is surely the juiced ball, as the league 1.5 HR/9 is significantly higher than last year’s 1.0 mark (when the ball was different).
- This makes me think of Matt Swarmer. The 2018 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year had his third good start in a row yesterday. His season numbers are now: 32 IP, 29 H, 4.22 ERA, 12 BB, 33 K, 6 HR-A. Oddly, all six home runs have some against right-handed hitters, against whom he’d allowed just seven home runs from 2016-2018. Swarmer’s flyball tendencies are not a great fit for the PCL, and his HR/FB% luck has been quite bad. However, he’s also maintained a strikeout rate in the mid-20s, as his deception is proving it can still work at the upper levels. Don’t be shocked if he gets a 40-man roster spot, and potentially a spot start, in 2020.
Matt Swarmer, last 3 starts w/ Iowa: 17 IP, 12 H, 2.65 ERA, 4 BB, 21 K.
Yesterday was Swarmer’s first start of 2019, in the hitter-friendliest PCL, in which he didn’t allow a home run.
The 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year is finding his footing.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) May 6, 2019
- For a reminder that the shift towards Three True Outcomes is occurring not just in the big leagues, but across organized baseball, consider the BB% in the Double-A Southern League for the last four years: 8.6% in 2016, 9.1% in 2017, 9.2% in 2018 and all the way up to 10.0% this season. Plate approach is increasingly important to earn the promotion to the upper levels, and pitchers are finding themselves in deeper counts than ever.
- It’s through this lens that I’m so impressed with what Jhonny Pereda is doing this season. Among all qualified Southern League hitters, Pereda has the third-best walk rate at 17.4%. And among guys walking an eighth of the time or more, he’s the only one with fewer strikeouts than walks. Pereda’s plate approach is awesome, and that plus his good framing should make for a good back-up catcher some day. The problem he’s going to run into aiming higher than that is with his batted ball approach. Pereda’s slugging just .324 this season, a number nowhere near it should be when you consider all the muscle he’s added the last two seasons. He’s a big guy that in batting practice can really connect with the ball, but his 55.6 GB% is doing him no favors. Pereda looked headed in the right direction last year when he got it under fifty percent, and he’s going to have to head back down there for his hard offseason work to pay off.
- The High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans are second in the Carolina League in H/9 allowed and second in the league in errors. What this tells me: the Pelicans defensive infield is doing its pitchers no favors. Of all Carolina League pitchers with 10 innings pitched, the Pelicans have 4 of the bottom 14 in BABIP: Alex Lange (.519), Manny Rodriguez (.425), Ben Hecht (.400), Erling Moreno (.397). This signals that the regulars in the Pelicans infield – Luke Reynolds, Jhonny Bethencourt, Carlos Sepulveda, Aramis Ademan and Yeiler Peguero – all have work to do.
- The name I want to introduce you all to is Ben Hecht, a reliever for Myrtle Beach, who you see above has had very bad batted ball luck. However, where this has taken down the other players I’ve listed, Hecht has been Myrtle Beach’s best pitcher with a 1.26 ERA. The guy’s slider is simply better than the Carolina League, and he’s striking everybody out. He impressed in Spring Training.
Someone to watch this year: Ben Hecht. Last year at SB: 55.1 IP, 42 H, 4.23 ERA, 29 BB, 59 K. Killer vs RHH, not vs LHH. Killer slider. I saw FB this spring up to 94 with good spin. And then a very diff pitch at 90 (with low spin). Could have big yr in MB bullpen.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 22, 2019
- I’d note that Hecht’s final pitch yesterday, which provided his third strikeout in a row, was a high fastball at 95 mph. Check out his last five appearances: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 14 K. He turns 24 at the end of this month, so I hope the Cubs look for a reason to move him up to Tennessee and test his mettle against better hitters (while also providing him with better defense).
- As you might expect, the Low-A level Midwest League has the least advanced hitters in full-season baseball, especially in the cold early season. I found the Midwest League to have the highest average strikeout rate, and the highest median groundball rate of all the Cubs affiliated leagues. It’s a useful reminder that the player development ladder really does work; these guys learn to adjust to breaking balls, and to elevate pitches up in the zone.
- This all makes Tyler Durna’s weird season all the more interesting. The South Bend Cub first baseman has a very uninteresting .278/.330/.389 batting line. First, if that looks pretty poor, note that it’s good enough for a 109 wRC+ in the pitcher-friendly MWL. But even more noteworthy is the different path he’s taking to get there. Among qualified hitters, Durna has the league’s fifth-lowest K% at just 9.3%. He also has the fourth-lowest GB% at 27.2%. This is a guy showing more advancement than his broader numbers suggest, and considering his real strength is defense, I wouldn’t mind to see him help that Myrtle Beach defense in the second half.