The Eugene Emeralds Are About to Kick Off Their Season with a Roster Full of Intriguing Cubs Prospects

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The Eugene Emeralds Are About to Kick Off Their Season with a Roster Full of Intriguing Cubs Prospects

Chicago Cubs

The defending Northwest League champion Eugene Emeralds kicking off their 2019 season tomorrow night, as the short-season leagues get underway. The team announced their initial roster this weekend, which was later given a look by Phil at The Cub Reporter. There are, of course, no 2019 draft picks initially assigned to Eugene, but many will join shortly after signing and playing a few games in the Arizona Rookie League.

The initial intrigue of the Emeralds is surely found in the rotation, where we’ll see some above-slot names of drafts past. Jeremiah Estrada has thrown just 6.1 professional innings since being drafted and signed to a big bonus in 2017, but he’s healthy and ready to anchor the Ems rotation. He will be joined by 2018 fifth-round pick Kohl Franklin, as well as two of the harder-throwing starters in the organization: Eduarniel Nunez and Yunior Perez. There will be plenty of piggybacking in the Emeralds rotation, so whether Didier Vargas, Niels Stone, Chris Allen or Zach Mort is the fifth starter or a piggyback remains to be seen.

Prospect hounds will be very intrigued by the middle infield of this team, especially with 17-year-old Reivaj Garcia getting the aggressive assignment to Eugene. Garcia thrived in the AZL last year with good bat-to-ball skills and a .384 BABIP. I’ll be interested to see if he can maintain above-average balls in play success, and if he’s added any muscle since last year. A hint of power would go a long way.

At shortstop is Luis Vazquez, who has had a really interesting couple months. After Nico Hoerner and Clayton Daniel were injured in late April, the Cubs sent Vazquez from Extended Spring Training to Double-A at just age 19. He hit just .207/.253/.220 but showed elite defense and maturity beyond his years. Then, when Dixon Machado got injured in Iowa, the Cubs were even more aggressive, moving Vazquez to Triple-A. Vazquez did nice work there, hitting .241/.267/.448 in 11 games. Hopefully getting to work with upper-level hitting coaches will translate to increased offensive success for Vazquez, because he already has the glove to play anywhere. Heading back to short-season Low-A, for now, is the likely the developmental level he “belongs.”

Here’s a look at the first version of a roster that will take many shapes this summer. The Emeralds begin play Friday night.

Projected Lineup

  1. Fernando Kelli, LF
  2. Edmond Americaan, CF
  3. Rafael Mejia, 1B
  4. Yonathan Perlaza, 3B
  5. Jake Slaughter, DH
  6. Dalton Hurd, RF
  7. Jonathan Soto, C
  8. Luis Vazquez, SS
  9. Reivaj Garcia, 2B

Speedster Fernando Kelli is likely to retake his spot atop Eugene’s lineup. Despite some of professional baseball’s best speed, Kelli was just 28-for-41 (68.3%) on the basepaths last year, so I’m hoping further development helped his judgment on the bases. I also expect to see Edmond Americaan, who recently subbed in for South Bend while Cole Roederer was injured, near the top of the lineup.

Credit to Jonathan Soto for winning a camp battle for the catcher spot over Alexander Guerra and Henderson Perez; Soto is a small catcher with surprising pop. Rafael Mejia was a star in the AZL last year, with eight home runs in 39 games, so he’s the likeliest power source for the Emeralds.

Expect second-round pick Chase Strumpf to be here by early July, sharing time at second base with Reivaj Garcia and spending plenty of time at Designated Hitter. It will be interesting if they try Strumpf at another position, particularly left field, where I think would make for an interesting fit.

Projected Rotation

  1. Jeremiah Estrada, RHP
  2. Kohl Franklin, RHP
  3. Eduarniel Nunez, RHP
  4. Didier Vargas, LHP
  5. Yunior Perez, RHP
  6. Niels Stone, RHP

It will be Estrada and Franklin that draw a lot of the eyes early, as we get our first looks at those expensive arms, but don’t sleep on Nunez. He was up to 95 mph last year in the AZL, and his command improved as the season went along. If he can build on his final four starts from 2018 (19.1 IP, 14 H, 1.40 ERA, 4 BB, 20 K), look out. The most accomplished arm on the staff might be Didier Vargas, a 20-year-old Panamanian lefty, who doesn’t have big velocity but has a career 2.02 ERA in two pro seasons.

Unfortunately Yovanny Cruz is not part of this group, and the injury he suffered in Extended Spring Training will cost him regular season starters. We”ll effort to find out the specifics of Cruz’ injury, but a bummer of a blow for a guy who was on the cusp of becoming a top pitching prospect in the system.

I imagine we will see a handful of short starts from first-round pick Ryan Jensen and fifth-round pick Josh Burgmann as the summer rolls on, and those starts will draw plenty of intrigue.

Projected Bullpen

  • Maikel Aguiar, RHP
  • Chris Allen, LHP
  • Alfredo Colorado, RHP
  • Fauris Guerrero, RHP
  • Garrett Kelly, RHP
  • Riley McCauley, RHP
  • Ivan Medina, RHP
  • Zach Mort, RHP
  • Raidel Orta, RHP
  • Ruben Reyes, LHP
  • Casey Ryan, RHP
  • Jesus Tejada, RHP
  • Carlos Vega, RHP
  • Blake Whitney, RHP

Always amazing to see the sheer number of names a short-season ball manager has to juggle. The Cubs went above-slot to get JuCo lefty Chris Allen to sign in the 20th round last year, and he was really good in Arizona last summer. I have expected him to pop up in South Bend this spring, so I expect a lot of success from him in short-season ball. Ditto for Blake Whitney, the Cubs 24th round pick in 2018, who just turned 23, and literally strikes out people everywhere he goes.

Expect Fauris Guerrero to get the first look at closer, he’s a short right-hander with a mid 90s fastball and success in the levels beneath this one. It’s probably him or Garrett Kelly (overqualified for short-season duty) that has the bullpen’s livest arm. We could also see Carlos Vega, the Cubs 21st round pick a year ago, in late relief, as he had success in that role for Eugene a year ago. Of course, this is all until 3rd and 4th round picks Michael McAvene and Chris Clarke join the team and take those leveraged spots to begin their organizational development.

Projected Bench

  • Caleb Knight, C
  • Danny Zardon, C
  • Luis Diaz, IF
  • Yovanny Cuevas, OF
  • Brandon Vicens, OF

I will be honest, neither outfielder is on my radar at all, so this is a chance for both Cuevas and Vicens to make a name for themselves before the 2019 draftees arrive.

Luis Diaz would have a starting 2B job in a lot of organizations, but that’s just oddly one of the strengths of the Cubs farm. Diaz is raw and toolsy; it was his ability to fill-in at shortstop that gave him a spot on the bench.

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.