I heard some push back about not including Nico Hoerner on my Arizona Fall League armchair roster. And I get it, we want the top prospects there, and I like the idea of him making up for the at-bats he lost from the first half broken wrist.
But there’s another strategy I like better. Again: this is just if you’re asking me.
First, I would have Hoerner head to Iowa on September 1, when the I-Cubs get decimated from September call-ups. He can finish the season there, including participating in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. He’s added versatility in the last two months, so he can fill-in at second base, shortstop or centerfield, whatever manager Marty Pevey needs. He’d probably be the fastest player on the roster, too.
When that season concludes, I would then have Hoerner apprentice with the big league team until the Cubs are done playing. This was an idea the Dodgers started last year with catcher Will Smith, who wasn’t formally added to the roster, but traveled with the team, was assigned a locker, saw the preparation at the Major League level.
To me, that experience would be more valuable than a second run in the AFL. Your mileage may vary. [Brett: For what it’s worth, I love it, especially as prep for a guy who could see significant innings in the big leagues as soon as 2020.]
Some other notes:
- Hoerner has been joined in Tennessee temporarily by Zack Short, who was ‘demoted’ from Iowa when the team added veterans Daniel Descalso, Ben Zobrist, and now David Bote. Short had started August in a 4-for-29 slump, and just couldn’t find consistent playing time to get into a groove. Hopefully he finds that these last two weeks in Tennessee, and then, like Nico, find himself back in Iowa when the veterans return to Chicago.
- What the Cubs do with Adbert Alzolay in September is a really interesting subplot for me. The Cubs have reinstalled Alzolay into the Iowa rotation coming off his biceps injury, and the results since returning are a mixed bag: 13 IP, 11 H, 4.85 ERA, 7 BB, 19 K, 4 HR-A. I wrote in his last start about a problem I see with his fastball when he throws it gloveside – it really tends to love drifting back to the middle of the plate. Will the Cubs begin transitioning him to the bullpen? Will they keep him starting through the conclusion of Iowa’s playoff run? I’d love to see him out of the bullpen for a while, but the Cubs have been so cautious with Alzolay in the past, I wonder if they’ll hesitate to do it right now.
- A name to keep an eye on: Luis Verdugo in the AZL. Verdugo received a $1.2 million bonus in 2017 out of Mexico, and I put him on a midseason prospect list after hearing some exciting things out of Extended Spring Training. When the AZL season began, Verdugo flatlined. Seventeen games into the season, his OPS stood at a paltry .454. The praise quieted, especially as guys like Pedro Martinez and Fabian Pertuz began to gain traction. However, in the last four weeks, Verdugo has been fantastic, hitting .333/.377/.419, showing the contact skills and athleticism that saw him touted in the first place. The Cubs will take it slow with the 18-year-old, keeping him in Extended Spring Training again next year, and ultimately having him spend next summer in Eugene.
- I was very pleased to see the Cubs decide to have second-round pick Chase Strumpf spend the rest of the season in South Bend, as he was promoted this weekend after posting a .855 OPS in 26 games with Eugene. Strumpf homered in his second Midwest League game, lining a 89 mph fastball just over the left field fence. I’m pretty bullish on Strumpf’s power potential, because while he never hit more than twelve home runs in a season at UCLA, he really seems to backspin the ball pretty naturally. A change here or there, and I can see a 20 home run guy ultimately.
- It’s not that I want to keep hammering the Triple-A-is-a-problem-right-now thing. But I want to point out that the idea of moving pitchers from Tennessee to Iowa is different now. The Tennessee bullpen has been a real fun thing to watch this year. In the first half, it was Craig Brooks and Wyatt Short dominating. Lately, we’ve seen Michael Rucker find his form, with these numbers since July 1: 28.1 IP, 21 H, 1.59 ERA, 5 BB, 32 K, 2 HR-A. Bailey Clark has a 1.25 ERA in that same timeframe. Ben Hecht just snapped a 7-inning scoreless streak, dating back to July, last night. Usually, you’d see these performances and start to contemplate their potential call-ups. But the hurdle to AAA now is so daunting, I think twice before I suggest it. Brooks and Short combined in Tennessee for a 1.37 ERA … and it’s a 7.39 ERA in 28 innings in Iowa so far.
- Had a small tweet thread about the first MiLB.tv start of the season for top 20 prospect Yovanny Cruz. The long and the short of it, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Cruz has increased velocity this year, up to 96, thanks to a lower body weight gain similar to Brailyn Marquez last year. However, unlike Marquez, I am seeing some ill effects from this one. Cruz seems far less athletic, and I even wonder if his arm speed has slowed. His slider looked really loopy, and with a limited pitch mix, it needs to be firmly plus. Not going to judge too much on one start, especially with good news in the velocity department, but it’s something I plan to inquire about this winter.
- Standings check-in: Iowa will soon clinch the American Northern division and a playoff spot in the PCL … Tennessee will not be playing past the regular season … Myrtle Beach is two games behind Fayetteville in the second half race, and I know the Cubs would love to have Brailyn Marquez pitch a playoff game … South Bend would currently make the playoffs as the second half Wild Card. They cling to a one-game lead currently … Eugene is one game behind Hillsboro in the South Division in the second half … AZL Cubs 2 would be tied with AZL Athletics Gold for a playoff spot if the season ended today. Playoff races!