Fifteen Cubs prospects will play across three different minor league All-Star Games tonight. All three games will be available on MiLB.tv, and despite the exhibition nature of the games, you can bet opposing team scouts will be there to lengthen their reports on potential trade targets. The Cubs might not have had any playoff teams out of their Tennessee, Myrtle Beach and South Bend first half teams, but there were lots of fun and noteworthy performances that I feel are worth honoring.
Here’s who will be playing tonight.
Double-A Southern League All-Star Game, 6:35 CT
Participants: P.J. Higgins, Vimael Machin, Roberto Caro, Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, Wyatt Short. Non-Participant: Craig Brooks.
Cubs made two interesting decisions as it related to this All-Star Game. For Cory Abbott, they skipped his Sunday start, calling up Luis Lugo from Myrtle Beach to spot him. This will allow Abbott to throw tonight. However, with Smokies closer Craig Brooks, the decision was made to promote him to Triple-A Iowa ahead of the All-Star Game. Brooks struggled in his 2019 debut with Iowa last night. I’m genuinely looking forward to a more maxed out Abbott, to see if he can get extra bite on that cutter in a short stint.
For me, first and foremost, this game is an outlet to celebrate the first half that Tyson Miller had. For two consecutive seasons, Miller has come to camp having made his own improvements, which combined with Cubs instruction, has led to improvements in every area. He’s tenth in the Southern League in strikeouts, sixth in ERA, third in innings, and second in WHIP. Talk about earning your All-Star inning.
Not many around the system know about Wyatt Short, the Cubs 5-foot-8 lefty out of Ole Miss, but he’s dominated at every level. He closed out the first half with a 1.24 ERA and a 16-inning scoreless streak. He’s held lefties to a .125/.194/.125 batting line.
On the offensive side, good that our May Player of the Month Vimael Machin is getting love. He enters the break with a 10-game hitting streak that has actually decreased his overall on-base percentage. Machin seemed to take a step forward in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and has continued that success this year. Roberto Caro is another on-base machine who is currently second in the Southern League with 20 steals. Caro is a minor league free agent at the end of the year, but I really hope they retain him and continue his growth. Useful player. P.J. Higgins has slowed since an April that was the most powerful of his career, but he’s been a versatile and dependable bat for the Smokies.
Let’s also pour one out for Robel Garcia’s time with the Smokies. He’s still top 30 in the league in RBI even after long ago being promoted to AAA.
High-A Carolina League All-Star Game, 6:15 CT
Participants: Javier Assad, Jesus Camargo, Paul Richan, Tyler Payne.
The Pelicans really struggled in the first half, but I think the Carolina League did a nice job picking their four most consistent contributors. The leader of that pack is definitely Javier Assad, our May Player of the Month, who at age 21 has been so valuable for the Pels. He pitched just four days ago, but was pulled after 62 pitches, presumably opening him up to be available for an inning tonight.
For Paul Richan to reach the All-Star Game in his first pro season, after skipping the Midwest League, is a nice ode to a solid draft pick. Still, we will hope for more from his second half ERA than 4.40, which will necessitate his 10.5 H/9 to come down (which it should, based on his .354 BABIP). Richan’s 52/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio is absolutely All-Star worthy, and I suspect he’ll only keep improving as the season goes on. Jesus Camargo moved to a relief role this year, and his change-up has produced an awesome reverse platoon split, holding lefties to a .157/.254/.197 batting line.
Tyler Payne was a late addition to the roster, but I’m always down to recognize a minor league catcher for the too frequently thankless work they put in. Payne hit his way out of a pure back-up role in the first half, getting time at first base and DH when Miguel Amaya has catcher duties. Shouts to my guy for also pitching twice this year, walking away with four strikeouts in two innings!
Low-A Midwest League All-Star Game, South Bend, 6:35 CT
Participants: Brailyn Marquez, Jeff Passantino, Cam Sanders, Riley Thompson, Andy Weber.
A fun and different group of arms. But tonight, it will be the velocity of three guys that will be a lot of fun. Brailyn Marquez is the name that comes to mind in that regard, as he’s hit 100 this season already, and is one of the hardest-throwing lefties on the planet. Marquez had an up-and-down first half, as 20-year-olds do, but his 11.5 K/9 has been really encouraging. Riley Thompson has been South Bend’s most consistent starter, and he’s also probably the most likely to move to Myrtle Beach soon. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it happened after this game. Thompson has reportedly touched 100 in the past, though he’s sat more 93-95 this year, so it will be interesting where he gets to in one inning of work.
I’m also curious about that for Cam Sanders, who has seen his velocity rise, reportedly as high as 97 mph in a recent start. Sanders has had a consistently solid season from an ERA perspective, with the peripherals behind it swinging wildly. In six starts from May 1 to June 2, Sanders struck out 27 batters in 27.1 innings. In his other five starts, he’s struck out 12 in 24 innings. Strikeouts aren’t the be-all, end-all, but they will be important for a guy who is going to walk a fair amount of people. I’m really intrigued by Sanders arm, and I think he’s the guy who could be coached to get better and better.
Jeff Passantino is not going to light up radar guns tonight, but he’s a good bet to make hitters look silly. If you add up Passantino’s college and professional strikeout-to-walk numbers, it’s a rather goofy 426/60 in 430 innings.
Finally, Andy Weber started the season slowly in the freezing Midwest, but has heated up all while balancing a full-time assignment at shortstop. Since a rough first 16 games, Weber is hitting .295/.343/.432, which is good for an OPS 94 points above league average.