The South Bend Cubs also announced their preliminary 30-man roster on Friday morning, as new Cubs minor league manager Michael Ryan will lead the squad beginning at home on Tuesday night. The first thing that jumps out at me: there is a lot of 96+ MPH velocity here.
The velocity will be headlined in the rotation by 2019 first-round pick Ryan Jensen and darling of Cubs blogdom Max Bain. The bullpen will have it in spades with Burl Carraway and Brandon Hughes from the left side, Ben Leeper and Eury Ramos from the right side. And that won’t be it.
We’ll discuss the offensive side more below, but Cole Roederer makes his return to South Bend after spending the entire 2019 championship-winning season manning centerfield for the then-Low-A SBCubs. Tyler Durna, Delvin Zinn, Nelson Velazquez, Yonathan Perlaza, Derek Casey, Peyton Remy and Eury Ramos all also contributed to that title team.
1. Cole Roederer, CF (L)
2. Chase Strumpf, 2B (R)
3. Tyler Durna, 1B (L)
4. Nelson Velazquez, RF (R)
5. Yonathan Perlaza, LF (S)
6. Cam Balego, C/DH (R)
7. Bryce Windham, C (L)
8. Delvin Zinn, 3B (R)
9. Luis Vazquez, SS (R)
I love the idea of Roederer and Chase Strumpf, a pair of top 12 prospects, potentially batting 1-2 for these guys. I really hope they set it up that way. Strumpf seems the likeliest guy to hit his way to Double-A Tennessee quickly, as I noted on Wednesday.
Durna and Balego are two guys that I have to think were also in the Double-A mix, but Balego has been re-transitioned to catcher, which might slow his development a little bit. Delvin Zinn was also in High-A in 2019, but hit a bit of a wall there, so it makes sense to have him back at the level. Zinn played five positions in 2019, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see it tick up to six this year.
I think Luis Vazquez probably gets most of the shortstop starts here, where he’ll show off one of the best gloves in A-ball. One to keep an eye on: Yonathan Perlaza, a former bonus baby that was last seen in the infield, but the Cubs moved him to left field while talking behind the scenes about how good his bat has looked.
1. Ryan Jensen, RH
2. Max Bain, RH
3. Peyton Remy, RH
4. Derek Casey, RH
5. Chris Kachmar, RH
Jensen is the highest drafted guy on the team, and there are going to be a lot of eyes on his control this season. It was a bit of struggle during Spring Training, and you have to wonder if that long arm action makes repeating the delivery particularly difficult. I’m a big believer in Jensen’s stuff and athleticism, and I’ll bet that wins out in the long run, but you hope it doesn’t come with a lot of growing pains.
Bain and Remy were discussed in Wednesday’s piece, though it did look then like Remy might be in the Double-A rotation. He should prove better than this level quickly. As for Bain, check out this great video from the FanGraphs crew:
I saw Derek Casey when I was in Arizona, and while I was watching from 350 feet away, the swings from opposing hitters suggested he has taken a step forward. He’s 25 years old, however, so a breakout has to happen now. I also saw Chris Kachmar, who I heard might be stretched out, throw some nasty breaking balls.
Noteworthy who isn’t on this list: Kohl Franklin, Michael McAvene, Chris Clarke. Time will tell if any of them grabbed the surprising Double-A assignment or if instead they are delayed coming out of camp.
• Burl Carraway, LH
• Eury Ramos, RH
• Ben Leeper, RH
• Brandon Hughes, LH
• Matteo Bocchi, RH
• Tanner Jesson-Dalton, RH
• Garrett Kelly, RH
• Graham Lawson, RH
• Samuel Reyes, RH
• Cayne Ueckert, RH
One of the things I’ll be watching closely with this team is which of the Carraway-Ramos-Leeper trio proves better than the High-A level first. All three have been up north of 97 mph, with good breaking balls, and should absolutely be lights-out for South Bend.
Brandon Hughes, a former outfielder in the system, is now a lefty up at 96 mph. Cayne Ueckert, meanwhile, showed up on Eric Longenhagen’s list of guys he saw at that same velocity level yesterday. Two potential breakouts there.
Then, there are two good human stories in Matteo Bocchi and Garrett Kelly finding their way here for different reasons. Bocchi hails from Italy, and I remember a year ago he couldn’t make it out of the country to Spring Training. I saw him in Arizona, while Cole Roederer was talking from center field on how much his ball was moving (it’s a sidearm delivery). Garrett Kelly has bounced back from shoulder trouble and is again throwing 95 mph (and is one of the system’s good guys).
I’ll also note that Samuel Reyes was my favorite of the Cubs minor league Rule 5 picks, so I’m excited to see that quick scout validated with an Opening Day roster spot. He’s a small guy with a fastball that plays up above its velocity due to Vertical Approach Angle.
• Jake Washer, C, R
• Scott McKeon, IF, RH
• Jacob Olson, 1B/LF/RF, RH
• D.J. Wilson, OF, LH
The big name here is D.J. Wilson, the above-slot fourth-round pick in the 2015 Draft that has stalled out at the High-A level before.
Wilson is a minor league free agent at the end of the season, so this is probably his last opportunity for a breakout with the organization. He’s a small, quick kid with good defensive instincts and more pop than you’d expect, but his batting average has gone down in each of his professional seasons.
Don’t be shocked if Jake Washer proves to be the best of the three catchers here, as he’s the only one that’s been catching for longer than a couple years. Washer had a massive breakout for East Carolina University in 2019, and so we’ll see if that power translates over to wood bats two years later. McKeon was a priority undrafted free agent signing for the Cubs last summer out of Coastal Carolina, where he hit .344/.407/.500 in 2019-2020 with the Chanticleers.