The minor league playoffs got underway last night, and the Cubs organization went 1-1, with South Bend holding onto a 2-1 victory over Bowling Green, and Iowa dropping a 5-4 game in 11 innings.
In 2015, the Cubs began aggressively taken advantage of the rules for signing International Free Agents out of Mexico. Only 25% of a bonus was counted towards the team’s bonus pool, and that year the Cubs gave five players a much healthier bonus than they otherwise would have been able to give: Jose Albertos, Isaac Peredes, Javier Assad, Kevin Zamudio, and Faustino Carrera.
Last night, Carrera started Game 1 for the South Bend Cubs, and pitched a non-traditional gem to earn the playoff victory: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 K. The lack of strikeouts was a bit of a surprise for a guy who struck out 105 in 117 innings during the regular season, but Carrera started the game constantly pitching down in the count, before ultimately finding a groove in the middle innings.
Carrera is slight of build, with a 5-10, 165 lbs listing that seems legitimate and lacks projection. His fastball is just in the upper 80s, touching 90, and doesn’t seem likely to get much batter. The good news is that his out pitch is a nasty curveball that dives away from left-handed hitters. They hit just .196/.236/.270 against him, with an eye-popping 44-to-6 K/BB ratio in 156 PA. Carrera’s ultimate destination is likely as a lefty stopper out of the bullpen, though there will be no rush to move him there.
Next year, Carrera will move forward to Myrtle Beach as a starter, and assuming his low walk rate continues, I see no reason he won’t succeed in that pitching-friendly environment. It’d be fun to have him experiment with a fourth pitch, particularly aimed at retiring right-handed hitters with more effectiveness. To the Lab you go!
Providing the entirety of the offense last night were three former Day 3 draft selections: Clayton Daniel (31st round, 2018), Nelson Maldonado (21st round, 2019) and Jake Slaughter (18th round, 2018). Daniel has had the most interesting season, as he filled in admirably for an injured Nico Hoerner in Double-A before settling into a regular role in South Bend. He hit .305/.397/.402 across the two stops, with elite contact rates at both levels. There’s essentially no path to power there, and he’s not elite on the basepaths or defensively, so there’s not a ton of projection, but you can bookmark that Daniel will be a favorite of every minor league manager he plays for.
The most projectable of the three is probably Slaughter, who hit the game-winning triple on an inside-out swing that rolled to the right field corner. Slaughter has a power hitter build, but doesn’t walk enough and hasn’t tapped into his strength in games yet. Some thoughts on Maldonado, who has been South Bend’s most consistent hitter of late:
Mini scouting report on Nelson Maldonado, who has 2 of SB’s 3 hits tonight: mostly filled out build. Gets good bat speed, shows ability to foul off tough pitches. Would be an interesting catcher conversion if arm strength is there. Not enough physical projection for corners.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) September 5, 2019
Over in Triple-A, the I-Cubs fell down early when Colin Rea allowed a two-run home run in the first inning, but boy did he settle in after that. Rea went six innings, with only those two runs coming into score. The PCL Pitcher of the Year, Rea will be an interesting decision for Cubs brass. He’s a minor league free agent at season’s end, but if placed on the Cubs 40-man roster, will stay under their control. He has an option remaining, as well. Rea’s FIP was a point higher than his ERA, and his xFIP another half-point higher than that. Would the Cubs be comfortable inserting Rea into a spot start in 2020? My vote would be to retain him.
The Cubs climbed back with a couple of sacrifice flies in the middle innings, and the game stayed knotted at two until extra innings. James Norwood was really good, Dakota Mekkes pitched a dominant inning. And in the 11th, the offense broke through, with P.J. Higgins and Phillip Evans singles both coming into score thanks to a Round Rock error.
But then, Bad Dillon Maples showed up.
With a two-run lead, Maples got the leadoff hitter to line out. Then, the second hitter, Drew Ferguson, walked on a good at-bat. Maples looked fine, it was a good battle. The third hitter, Lorenzo Quintana, lazily flew out to center, and the I-Cubs were an out away.
Maples fell down 2-0 to the next hitter, and grooved two sliders down the middle, the second of which was hit up the middle for a single. The tying run was on base, and Taylor Davis came out for a mound visit. Here is what followed, as it took only seven more pitches to end the game:
Pitch 1: Vicious slider low and away, batter spits on it
Pitch 2: 97 mph fastball way up and way in
Pitch 3: Slider missed by multiple feet, way over the batter’s head, wild pitch, runners advance
Pitch 4: Slider, way in, ball 4. Bases loaded. Another mound visit.
Pitch 5: Slider grooved right down the middle, strike one.
Pitch 6: Slider in the dirt away, hops off Taylor Davis’ glove for a wild pitch, scoring one
Pitch 7: Grooved slider down the middle, singled to right field, game over.
There’s not a lot to say that isn’t re-hashing what we’ve said a million times about Maples. For a month, he can look really good. But the lack of an ability to throw a “good strike” is really problematic. We can say that he has a plus-plus slider, but it becomes below-average in a hurry when he has to throw it down the middle just to get a strike. You have to think this outing will stick in the heads of the front office when the Iowa season ends and they consider a potential September call-up. This was tough.