Chicago Cubs Farm System August Review: Abbott Whiffs 50, Maples, Higgins, Verdugo, Brailyn, More

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Chicago Cubs Farm System August Review: Abbott Whiffs 50, Maples, Higgins, Verdugo, Brailyn, More

Chicago Cubs

It’s funny how our brains inevitably place more importance on April and August performances, because they are the bookends to a minor league season. But they actually can matter disproportionately, as a big April can suggest offseason development and a big August can lend belief that something clicked developmentally over the course of the year.

For all of the players below, we’ll be left hoping that second one is the case, and their Augusts meant something extra about their larger upside. (The minor league season ended just two days into September this year, so this monthly review considers those two days as essentially part of August, and the numbers listed include those days.)

BN Minor League Player and Pitcher of August/Sep: Cory Abbott, SP, Tennessee

Stats: 36.2 IP,  13 H, 0.98 ERA, 9 BB, 50 K, 2 HR-A. (Read more about Abbott here)

Abbott will enter the scary Pacific Coast League in 2020 with a head full of steam, as he left no doubt in the final two months that he’d conquered the Double-A level. No, the .155 BABIP allowed over these six starts isn’t sustainable, but it was earned with a lot of lazy fly outs, and speaks to the poor contact that Abbott forces of his opponents. Abbott is someone that pitches with a ton of confidence, and he’s the most natural at tunneling that I’ve seen in this system in quite awhile.

BN Minor League Position Player of August/Sep: P.J. Higgins, C/1B/3B, Iowa

Stats: .329/.410/.557, 10 BB, 16 K in 84 PA.

Higgins has completely improbably become Iowa’s most consistent offensive player the past few weeks. Always a good contact hitter in the minors, the power game in the PCL has helped add another layer of effectiveness. Also worth noting that Higgins threw out an admirable 8-of-22 baserunners in the PCL after an even better 15-for-34 in Double-A. He’s made himself into a really interesting bench option who can catch and also play elsewhere.. Higgins is Rule 5 eligible this winter, so the Cubs need to do a little background work to see if he’s a threat to get poached by a different organization.

BN Reliever of the Month: Dillon Maples, RHP, Chicago/Iowa

Stats: 13.2 IP, 7 H, 1.32 ERA, 7 BB, 22 K, 2 HR-A. (Read more about Maples here)

All the damage that Maples allowed this month, the two solo home runs, came his lone MLB appearance of the second half, on August 10 in Cincinnati. In the minors, Maples was even more dominant, with a 0.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 12.1 IP. It looks like Dillon will pitch for Iowa in the playoffs, and then a decision will be made about if the bullpen needs he or James Norwood. He’s found a pitch mix that works (and it’s not just all-sliders anymore), and in August did have a six-appearance stretch with no walks that represented a personal best.

BN All-System Team, August/Sep

Catcher: P.J. Higgins, 26, Iowa. See above.

First Base: Luke Reynolds, 24, Myrtle Beach. Stats: .287/.368/.468, 12 BB, 28 K, 106 PA. A guy I tabbed as a potential breakout prospect, Reynolds fell flat on his face in the first half of the season. He was demoted down to South Bend, very effective in July, and then moved back to Myrtle Beach where he posted this 139 wRC+ for the final 26 games. My guess is the Cubs see Reynolds a bit as a proxy for what they lost when they traded Jason Vosler, and will continue to work on cultivating his power like they did so effectively with Vosler.

Second Base: Nico Hoerner, 22, Tennessee. Stats: .321/.378/.376, 10 BB, 9 K, 3 SB, 119 PA. Reached base in every game in August, with an 0-for-4 final day ending the run at 28 games. Hoerner bounced between second, center and short for the whole month, and brought a welcome consistency to the top of the order. The walk rate still isn’t where you’d like it to be, and the power wasn’t there, but you don’t want to tinker too much in a way that could threaten the elite, super elite, triple elite contact rate.

Shortstop: Luis Verdugo, 18, AZL Cubs 2. Stats: .395/.439/.697, 4 BB, 14 K, 5 SB, 82 PA. If someone else gives him the position player of the month award, you won’t see me arguing it one bit [Brett: Heh, after Bryan wrote this, the Cubs did just that.]. Verdugo put himself on the map in a big way this month, with five home runs on top of all the other things he does. This is the type of player that could be the #1 prospect in the system some day, and if it happens, we’ll point to the second half of the AZL season as the time the rocket was launched.

Third Base: Vimael Machin, 25, Tennessee/Iowa. Stats: .308/.422/.462, 21 BB, 20 K, 128 PA. Gosh do I love his season. Look at that freakin’ walk rate. As badly as I wanted Nico moved up to Triple-A for the playoff run, it’s hard to deny that Machin wasn’t the better choice when you look at their numbers. Plus, he’s the most versatile player in the system, as his eight-position September 1 will tell you.

Left Field: Robel Garcia, 26, Iowa. Stats: .280/.381/.561, 13 BB, 30 K, 97 PA. Robel was sent down to the minors, and immediately slumped, and I think it was fair to wonder if the magic has run dry. But Robel found himself, got hot, and hit numerous big home runs for Iowa in the month’s final two weeks.  Robel strikes me as the perfect I-80 shuttle guy, someone versatile enough to play multiple positions, someone who has a coin-flip chance of replacing your starters’ production for the two weeks he’s on the IL, but not someone as presently constructed who seems a viable everyday option. And that’s still a huge success.

Center Field: Edmond Americaan, 22, Eugene. Stats: .318/.387/.561, 7 BB, 27 K, 8 SB, 120 PA. As the Cubs 2018 draft ran into its final dollars, they chose to sign Americaan for above slot over a few other options on the board. Born in Curacao, Americaan was a little atypical of a normal draft pick: a little old for a junior college player, but more toolsy than most high school picks. He’s quicker twitch than 90% of players in this system, and the pop he showed in this last month lends an upside to his prospect status that didn’t seem there for me before.

Right Field: Kevonte Mitchell, 23, Myrtle Beach. Stats: .279/.357/.475, 6 BB, 23 K, 70 PA. We’ve come a long way since 2014 with Mitchell, who in his summer after being drafted, hit zero home runs and stole 19 bases. Since then, Mitchell’s body matured in a significant way. He’s big and strong, and the athleticism of his teenage years is largely lost. His raw power ranks among the highest in the system, but he’s among the most hot-and-cold players in the system. In three of the five months of the minor league season, his average was .182 or lower. The Double-A assignment next year is a huge leap in difficulty, but it will also be the best offensive environment he’s seen in years.

A Few More Names of Note: Miguel Amaya, c, Myrtle Beach; Clayton Daniel, 2b, South Bend; Fabian Pertuz, if, AZL Cubs; Phillip Evans, if, Iowa.

Starting Pitcher: Cory Abbott, 23, Tennessee. See above.

Starting Pitcher: Brailyn Marquez, 20, Myrtle Beach. Stats: 26.1 IP, 21 H, 1.71 ERA, 7 BB, 26 K, 1 HR-A. Those numbers mark his entire stint in High-A, and if I had to guess, that’s probably going to be the entirety of his High-A experience. Tennessee is definitely on the table for him next April, after some more Lab work in spring to continue the development of his offspeed stuff. While that work drew a lot of credit for his second half breakout, I remain steadfast in insisting the biggest thing was just upping his four-seam usage to the highest rates of his career.

Starting Pitcher: Jeffrey Passantino, 23, Myrtle Beach. Stats: 23 IP, 20 H, 1.96 ERA, 1 BB, 19 K, 2 HR-A. When Passantino arrived in Myrtle Beach in late July, with a rotation spot all his own, he walked five batters in his first two starts. It was like a cry for help or something. This is a guy who hadn’t walked five guys in the two-plus months before it, which had included stops at every single full-season affiliate. It was good to see Passantino settle back in to a groove in August, and continue to be the confoundingly-dominant guy we’ve grown to know. Again, he’s doing this mostly throwing every pitch between 75 and 85 mph. Very fun, especially when you consider that he was the very last draft pick in the 2017 draft.

Starting Pitcher: Zach Mort, 22, Eugene / South Bend. Stats: 32.2 IP, 20 H, 1.93 ERA, 11 BB, 20 K, 1 HR-A. Interesting season for the 2018 eighth-rounder, who the Cubs had in the South Bend bullpen until Eugene’s season started, and then moved him right into the Emeralds rotation. That conversion went mostly well, and certainly by the end of July he’d found a working formula. Mort isn’t likely to turn into a real Major League prospect, he’s 87-89 with the fastball with a solid curve, but he’s a useful, versatile low-level arm.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Swarmer, 25, Iowa. Stats: 34.1 IP, 41 H, 3.67 ERA, 8 BB, 36 K, 5 HR-A. I know those numbers don’t look like much, but that’s a pretty darn dominant month in the PCL. Swarmer went the first four starts of the month without allowing a home run, and then allowed four in his next outing against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Swarmer’s 5.65 season ERA looks so awful, but it’s just about league average, and he’s continued to show the ability to get strikeouts. There’s something here, it’s the Cubs responsibility to get him over the last developmental hump.

Three other starters that deserve mention: Michael McAvene, Chris Clarke, Richard Gallardo.

Other Reliever Months of Note: James Norwood, Iowa; Michael Rucker, Tennessee; Oscar de la Cruz, Tennessee; Manuel Rodriguez, Myrtle Beach; Brian Glowicki, South Bend (0.00 ERA!); Ryan Lawlor, Myrtle Beach; Brandon Hughes, Eugene/South Beach; Yunior Perez, Eugene. Watch out for that last gentleman. If you read reports of him at 100 mph closing games for South Bend next year, don’t be surprised.

Previous Monthly Reviews: April and May and June and July


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Author: Bryan Smith

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