Cubs Minor League Notes: Alzolay Coming Back, De La Cruz, Iowa Wreckers, Much More

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Cubs Minor League Notes: Alzolay Coming Back, De La Cruz, Iowa Wreckers, Much More

Chicago Cubs

I was working on the Bullets when a flurry of minor league bits wove their way in, to the point where it was so much that it made more sense not to bury them at the bottom of the Bullets …

  • Oooooh, I like seeing tweets like this:

  • Alzolay, 24, broke out as the Cubs’ top pitching prospect heading into the 2018 season at AAA, was flashing high-end starter stuff in the early going, and then hurt his lat, ending his season after just eight starts. He healed up, and was ready to resume his development in 2019 … when he hurt his side in Spring Training. Without a need for him at the big league level any time soon, the Cubs took it VERY SLOWLY with his rehab and recovery in Arizona, but now it looks like he’s ready to go. The good news is that, because of the 2018 injury, it’s not like he was going to throw 180 innings in 2019 anyway. So now, he’s already had his arm kind of proactively managed, and if he shows big league stuff in the first few months he’s at Iowa, he can absolutely still be an option for the big league Cubs in the second half, either as a fill-in starter, or coming out of the bullpen. Either way, you can expect a healthy Alzolay to compete for a rotation spot as soon as Spring 2020.
  • Tommy Birch suggests Alzolay will first make an appearance at a lower-level stop for a rehab-type appearance. It’s not quite clear how quickly he could return to AAA Iowa. All part of the process.
  • The guy Alzolay supplanted as the top pitching prospect last year, by the way, is Jose Albertos, who got the yips, couldn’t throw strikes, and completely fell off the map last year. Well, for what it’s worth, he’s throwing tons of strikes right now at Extended Spring Training. Coming back from non-injury-related yips is not something I’m comfortable predicting in either direction, but I suppose we’ll see what happens when Albertos heads out to a league. His stuff is nearly unmatched in the system.
  • And speaking of former top Cubs pitching prospects who maybe possibly should be back on your radar: Oscar De La Cruz was dominant last night at AA Tennessee. The 24-year-old big righty missed the last half of a year’s worth of games thanks to a PED suspension, and he missed most of the two years before that with various injuries. Your hopes and expectations should be low, but if you’ve ever watched De La Cruz pitch, you know why he’s gotten so many chances – he simply looks the part. And he’s got a live, well-commanded fastball, and a wipeout curveball. He’s one of those guys you see pitching, and you immediately think, “Ooh, wait, who’s that guy?” He’s definitely at that point, though, when he’s going to have to stay healthy and break out at AA/AAA to remain in the mix for future starts/bullpen opportunities with the Cubs. He’ll have only two option years left after this season.
  • Back to Iowa for a moment: utility infielder Phillip Evans, formerly a Mets prospect whom the Cubs signed to a minor league deal, is another one of those guys doing things at AAA that I don’t know what to make of, in terms of potential big league impact. Firstly, he’s hitting .275/.448/.477, which is eye-popping in the middle there, but is still only a 139 wRC+ in the league. Don’t get me wrong, 39% better than league average is great – it’s just that it’s not so absurdly better than league average that you’d immediately presume a 26-year-old who has mostly been at AAA the last few years has finally figured it out. On the other hand, the guy is walking 20.3% of the time and striking out just 10.5% of the time – numbers that are both so absurdly good and so out of whack with what he’s done before that you do wonder if being in a new organization unlocked a little something different in his approach. On the other other other hand, though, tons of Iowa Cubs are sporting bizarrely impressive (and just bizarre) performances so far this year that you can’t help but wonder if maybe they’ve faced some really crummy pitching, which is skewing things a little. It’s been 143 plate appearances for Evans, though, and he is a guy who does come with a little bit of pedigree. Like I said, not sure what to think (or how he could find time at the big league level).
  • Speaking of the odd Iowa performances and wondering about the pitchers they’ve faced: the Cubs have five guys who’ve seen significant playing time and have as many or more walks than strikeouts. That’s great! But it’s also odd. Throw in the juiced ball, and I’m sure it’s going to be a significant challenge for folks to properly evaluate AAA performance this year.
  • … oh, but what the heck, might as well give some love to outfielder Donnie Dewees (the former Cubs prospect traded for Alec Mills, and then re-acquired this spring), whose 151 wRC+ is 9th best in the PCL right now, and who is one of those guys walking (12.5%) more than he’s striking out (8.7%). I saw a tweet from his mom suggesting that he got his eyes checked out before this season and new contacts, so, hey, maybe the literal halving of his strikeout rate is at least a little supportable? At 25, as a former 2nd round pick, and having tracked normally up through the farm system, Dewees remains a “prospect.”
  • Oh, but his 151 wRC+ is not best in the farm system this year – that still belongs to Robel Garcia, who is now Dewees teammate at Iowa after destroying AA. The 26-year-old infielder might be a legit prospect or he might not – he literally hasn’t played in affiliated ball in six years, and was last seen playing in Italy – but AAA is going to tell us a whole lot on that front.
  • The fifth best wRC+ on the farm belongs to low-A infielder Delvin Zinn, the Cubs’ 23rd rounder from 2016. Zinn, who turns 22 very soon, is hitting .308/.413/.397, and in the brutal Midwest League, that’s good for a whopping 144 wRC+. Not sure the .436 BABIP is going to last, though, and I’m not sure it’s yet even time to see him challenged at the next level, because his batted ball data (to the extent you can rely on it in A-ball) doesn’t scream that he’s a guy who is getting a huge BABIP because he’s wrecking the ball.
  • We’re coming up on three weeks of Nico-Hoerner-less baseball. The top Cubs prospect took a pitch off his wrist a few weeks ago, and, although there was no break, he’s been out ever since. Given how he was ripping the ball at AA in his first full professional season, this flukey injury sure does suck.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.