“This may be the most dominant first 8 hitters we’ve seen all season.”
Zach Bigley, the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster, said this last night as Paul Richan recorded a strikeout to complete an 8-up, 8-down start to his sixteenth outing of the season. Richan finished the day with 6.2 innings pitched, four hits, an unearned run, one walk and six strikeouts. He was fantastic.
It struck me watching the start that I haven’t written much on Richan this year, and he simply deserves more attention. This is the system leader in FIP and xFIP, doing it in his first professional season, after being tasked with skipping Low-A South Bend entirely. Two years ago, when the system was completely bereft, this would be getting more attention. This season, I think because of the fatigue we have with this specific pitcher type, Richan is more under the radar. But his second half performance demands he be on our radar: 31.2 IP, 19 H, 2.27 ERA, 6 BB, 30 K, 3 HR-A.
What jumps out with Richan is the consistency of his execution. I think no pitcher in the system hits the catcher’s glove so consistently, and with all of his pitches no less. Richan throws a two- and four-seam fastball, usually sitting in that 92-93 range, and this season I definitely notice increased arm-side run on his fastball. He throws a lot of breaking balls, both a slider that tunnels off his fastball with horizontal movement, and a curveball with more vertical drop. While his change-up has lagged behind most of the year, it was pretty good yesterday, as he commanded it really successfully low-and-away to left-handed hitters.
Richan’s ability to pitch backwards is going to make the climb to the upper levels less steep, like Tyson Miller’s this season. If he’s going to throw so many breaking balls, he needs to hang a few less of them. I need to see him pitch on the inside half more. The high fastballs need to be higher. Little things like that, problems that big leaguers still have, are on my to-do list for Richan. But the big stuff isn’t. The Cubs do pretty well out of the University of San Diego, huh?
Some other minor league notes:
- One of the best parts about this time of year is watching the Cubs college pitching selections make their debuts in Eugene, giving us some video for the first time. First round pick Ryan Jensen made his home debut on Thursday, and I live tweeted it, while Michael Ernst gave us some video:
Ryan Jensen made his first televised MiLB appearance last night, and showed off his impressive arm strength, pumping 95-97 mph fastballs in with regularity. He punched out 2 in the 1st inning, both on FBs. He'd get better feel for his slider in the 2nd, and punch out 2 more. pic.twitter.com/ozzkmCfpdy
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) July 20, 2019
- Jensen has two elite qualities: arm speed and armside run on his fastball. Brett pointed out on Twitter that his arm action is unique and really long and loopy, and there’s an interesting discussion on there you can follow. While some see Jensen’s fastball/slider mix and jump to reliever really quickly, I’m not willing to go there for years, plural. He showed the ability to throw strikes and hold velocity deep into games this year, and I previously have written that I thought his change-up showed good potential. He’s talented enough to give him every chance to succeed as a starter. I’m on the record: I like the pick.
- The Cubs promoted P.J. Higgins from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa a little over a week ago on the heels of releasing Francisco Arcia. Higgins has had a nice start in Iowa, with a .231/.364/.500 line in 8 games, all while playing three positions. Higgins is Rule 5 eligible this year, and the Cubs will have some interesting decisions to make at catcher on their 40-man roster. Miguel Amaya will need a 40-man spot this November, and of course you have Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini. Jhonny Pereda will be a minor league free agent and Rule 5 eligible. Higgins is up for a spot. There’s Taylor Davis on the 40-man. Not everyone will get a spot; it will be interesting who the Cubs pick.
- Early in the year, I wrote about the unexpected breakouts of Robel Garcia, Dixon Machado and Cam Balego, at the time three “non-prospects”. Well, we know that Robel continued his ascent from there, and Machado has continued to have a career-best season in Iowa. But Balego is a guy still flying under the radar, in part because he’s 24 years old and still in High-A. Balego has been the Myrtle Beach Pelicans best hitter this season by a good margin, and after hitting 1 home run in his first 79 professional games between 2017 and 2018, has 10 home runs in 77 games this season. He’s been fantastic so far in the second half, hitting .299/.424/.479 with more walks (18) than strikeouts (15). Balego is a former 30th round pick from Mercyhurst College that has a guaranteed job waiting for him in Double-A next year. You know what kind of hitter he could ultimately be? How about a Ron Coomer?
- Don’t look now, but Zack Short is getting hot. After missing two months with a broken hand, Short is starting to use that juiced ball to tap into his power, with four home runs in his last 8 games. With yesterday’s blast, and his subsequent trip around the bases, I noticed some increased muscle, both in his lower half and his shoulders. My advice for the Cubs is to send Short to the Arizona Fall League, but just on the taxi squad, to work specifically on trying center filed (like Nico Hoerner is doing in Tennessee). Let’s see what he looks like out there, and give the Cubs a little more versatility for when they eventually add Short to the bench.
- Breakout performance happening in the AZL: Pedro Martinez (not that Pedro Martinez), an 18-year-old switch hitting middle infielder from Venezuela, is hitting .354/.426/.531 in his first stateside season. Martinez hit .310 in the DSL last summer, so he clearly has some bat-to-ball skills, and he’s shown a little pop and speed as well. Arizona Phil says Martinez is most comfortable at second base, though he’s playing more shortstop so far. An absolute sleeper to watch going forward. The competition for the South Bend shortstop job next year will be crowded.
- Down in the DSL, we had one of my favorite box score lines of the season from Jose Lopez, the 17-year-old outfielder who received the Cubs largest bonus in International Free Agency in 2018. Lopez went 0-for-0 with five walks and four steals. And it’s a pretty accurate representation of the player he’s been so far. In 19 games, Lopez is hitting .246/.482(!)/.386 with 12 steals in 19 attempts. He’ll be a fun one to watch develop.
- A note I meant to get to: when the Cubs signed undrafted hard-throwing right-hander Joe Nahas a week or so ago, they needed to access some of the $17,000 or so they had left in their bonus pool, because his $135,000 bonus exceeded the $125K limit. While not signing 10th rounder Wyatt Hendrie or 11th rounder Mack Chambers hurts, nice job by the Cubs to not let all their money go to waste and still find some talent.