My family popped down to Arizona for a quick Spring Break trip this past week, so I had to drop by the Cubs backfields for a few days to see the action at minor league Spring Training. It was a bit of a fool’s errand, as fans and media aren’t allowed anywhere particularly close, but boy was it good to see familiar faces and hear the crack of the bat again.
I was limited to watching Pitcher drills on Field 2, and watched two Field 6 sim games (and one live BP session) from outside the fence in the left field corner. It’s sad that it has come to this, but you won’t find a more anxious person for the 2021 minor league baseball season than me, so I’ll accept any rules that teams deem necessary to get that going without a hiccup.
I still came away with some notes from the experience, but wanted to be up front on how I arrived at them. They were from a distance!
⇒ While watching from the outfield is not ideal, one 4-inning sim game gave me so much appreciation for Cole Roederer. This guy’s energy is infectious, the loudest player on the field in encouraging his pitcher and infielders. Constantly talking to his other outfielders about how the batters were picking up pitches. Just clearly a guy that loves his day job. And on that same day, Roederer smacked a fastball a good 400+ feet to left-center for the only home run I saw during the trip. Get this kid to Opening Day.
⇒ While I wasn’t in a place to be seeing any detail on pitches, I can tell you the three pitching outings I saw that befuddled opposing hitters the most. Derek Casey (2018, 9th round) seemed to be mixing things up and got through his work really quickly. Max Bain (undrafted FA last year) closed out a game with controlled 97 mph fastballs and a curveball that I could see two-plane shape from 350 feet away. And on Monday, Chris Kachmar’s (2019, 28th round) slider seemed to get a ton of swing and miss. Photographer John Antanoff also told me that he could see Peyton Remy’s (2017, 17th round) curveball seriously buckling knees through his camera lenses.
⇒ Wouldn’t be a Bryan Smith in-person notes column without some #bodytalk: Eury Ramos has become a brick house since we last saw him in action, and apparently it’s translating:
I have a piece due to be published soon at BN on my observations from Arizona. One of them is that Eury Ramos looks like a completely different person, and it appears that work in the weight room has translated seamlessly to the mound https://t.co/1nD0va5Dg2 pic.twitter.com/3Gl5sy8iu0
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) April 15, 2021
⇒ DJ Herz, who looked every bit of 18 when the Cubs first drafted him in 2019 as an over slot in the 8th round, has filled in and has the look of a safety. On the other end of the spectrum, I was blown with how much weight Jose Albertos has lost.
⇒ I particularly love the third picture that Rich Biesterfeld shared in this tweet of the Cubs last two first-round pics in a sim game from Saturday:
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) April 11, 2021
⇒ It’s also a particularly fitting picture, because Howard helped get Jensen’s first out in that game with a really nice play ranging to his left (up the middle) and making a strong throw. His footwork is just so much more advanced than you’re used to seeing from a teenager. Defense in the action I saw was every bit as bad as you expect from the backfields in preseason, but Howard (and Zach Davis, who made a spectacular diving play in left field running towards the line) was the exception.
⇒ I did spot some guys that are relevant to the Major League team as well. Sergio Alcantara, an off-season waiver claim stash that missed big league Spring Training due to reported visa issues, started at shortstop and tripled in one of the sim games I saw. Robert Stock, another guy the Cubs retained after successfully passing him through waivers, pitched a clean inning in a different game. And Adam Morgan, who the Cubs signed knowing his season would have a delayed start, was on Field 2 performing in morning drills. While I didn’t see Rowan Wick or Trevor Kelley (who was conspicuously not part of big league Spring Training), I know they were both around the facility as well.
⇒ Big week for Cubs minor leaguers and a whole lot of new coaches:
529 days ago I was hired by the @Cubs . Today, I got to experience my first minor league spring training game in uniform for the very first time. As cool as it was, I’m sure it was much cooler for the players who have waited a long time to play a game for their org. LFG.
— Rachel Folden (@FoldenFastpitch) April 14, 2021
⇒ Lastly, I just want to shout out two Cubs draft picks who debuted this week. Brett highlighted Justin Steele in the Bullets on Tuesday, and his slider (a newer pitch I’ve tried to highlight often in the past year) was dynamite. Justin’s road has been so topsy-turvy with ill-timed injuries aplenty, I was just thrilled that he officially joined the big league ranks. I really think he could be an impact lefty out of the bullpen moving forward, and note that the arbitrator decision that yielded an extra option season for Adbert Alzolay did the same for Steele.
⇒ Like Steele, Alex Lange is someone that I always heard has a ridiculous work ethic, and that was what drove an aggressive ranking from me way back in my first ever prospect rankings here at BN. Lange is a different pitcher now than he was then – I see you, 97 mph – and it’s been fun to hear about his evolution in the name of reaching the bigs with the Tigers. Best of luck to those two good people.