One of my favorite parts of keeping tabs on the minor league side is when there’s a performance that announces a prospect has taken a step forward. It happened last night in the Eugene Emeralds third game, in the top of the sixth inning. Jeremiah Estrada entered the game to begin his piggyback appearance against the heart of the Hillsboro Hops order.
Estrada, 20, was the Cubs’ pricey 6th round pick in the 2017 draft, who missed all of 2018 with an elbow issue. We have been eagerly waiting on his return for a long time, and he did not disappoint.
Estrada began the first hitter with a fastball middle-out for a called strike. Then a fastball on the up-and-in corner of the strike zone for a swing and miss. Then a fastball in a similar spot, just a little higher, got a whiff for his first strikeout since September 2, 2017.
The next batter, a lefty, fared no better: 95 mph fastball drew a swing and miss, then a called strike at the outside corner, then a tailing mid 90s fastball for his second K. Batter three, same story. Fastball whiff, fastball called strike, fastball with lots of late life for another strikeout.
Three up, three down, nine pitches, nine fastballs, nine strikes. Pure dominance.
Estrada finished the game for the Emeralds, running into a pair of trouble in the seventh before similar dominance in the eighth and ninth. In total: 4 innings, 2 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), one walk and 7 strikeouts. Estrada mixed in his offspeed more in his second time through the order, flashing a curveball and change-up, both of which need some work but show hints of promise. The change was the better of the two in this outing, but I’m not sure that will be the case moving forward.
What matters right now is that, despite a lost season in 2018 due to arm soreness, Estrada is again healthy and throwing darts. There is a nice foundation here for the Cubs to build a pitching prospect around going forward. Always fun to witness.
A few other minor league notes as I catch up from a chilly Wisconsin lake house weekend:
- Danny Hultzen, the former tip-top prospect who was out of baseball, and whose mysterious live BP’s in Arizona have drawn my frequent interest in these parts, made his 2019 debut yesterday. I was not only a bit surprised he jumped straight from Extended Spring Training all the way to Triple-A Iowa, I was surprised he entered the game in the eighth inning of a 1-0 affair. Hultzen’s command wasn’t great – nerves, perhaps? – but he did show velocity in the mid 90s (top 97) behind a more short-arm delivery than I remember. He got a lefty to pop out, struck out a righty on offspeed, and then was pulled after hitting a lefty on the hand (or knob of the bat, your mileage may vary). The outing lacked the dramatic dominance that Estrada showed in Oregon, but it did provide confirmation that this is an arm (and story) to keep an eye on.
- It’s All-Star Game season in the full-season minors, as South Bend, Myrtle Beach and Tennessee are all on break. Those games will be on Tuesday, and I’ll breakdown which Cubs you’ll see tomorrow. The Cubs were nice enough to scratch Cory Abbott from his start yesterday to ensure he’s able to pitch in the Southern League game.
- The All-Star Break also means the books are closed on the first half standings, which wasn’t particularly good for Cubs affiliates. The Tennessee Smokies were 33-36 in the first half, in fourth place in the North Division. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans were awful at 21-46; I imagine they’re quite happy to turn the page. And while the South Bend Cubs hung in the race for a while, their 37-31 record was not enough for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, which doesn’t award playoff berths by half, the Iowa Cubs cling to their division lead with a 38-32 record. Iowa won’t reach the All-Star break for another three weeks.
- In updating Brett’s post on the draft picks, I’d point out the Cubs were able to sign fifth-round pick Josh Burgmann out of Washington for $93,200 below slot value, giving them more savings after going above-slot on D.J. Herz, Tyler Schaffler and (hopefully officially soon) Ethan Hearn. The Cubs need to get some combination of Chase Strumpf, Michael McAvene or Wyatt Hendrie for about 50K underslot to be back on track for their bonus pool to accommodate all top ten picks. I doubt the Cubs will have much, if any, money left for above-slot on the Rounds 11-40 guys.
- The Arizona League will debut tonight, and Arizona Phil shared those rosters on Saturday. I want to let those games play out to see who’s actually healthy and participating before really breaking down the rosters, but I’m excited for the AZL Cubs 1 middle infield, which will be a job share amongst Luis Verdugo, Fabian Pertuz and Pedro Martinez. The AZL Cubs 2 will be very interesting on the mound, as 2018 bonus babies Richard Gallardo and Joel Machado both made that squad. More on these teams as they begin to take shape.
- [Brett, intro’ing a Bryan tweet: This is really an otherworldly performance for a 2018 high school draft pick, who played multiple sports, who needed to add weight, and needed to significantly revamp his swing. Frankly, I expected multiple years of struggle.]:
Brennen Davis enters Midwest League All-Star Break having played 21 games for @SBCubs.
In 82 PA: 338 AVG / 444 OBP / 544 SLG, 456 wOBA (185 wRC+), 11 BB (13.4%) and 13 K (15.9%).
Incredible stretch. Don’t be surprised if, in trade talks, Cubs value Davis as their top prospect.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 17, 2019