Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/6/21: Leeper, Higgins, The Luis V's, Amaya, Strumpf

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Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/6/21: Leeper, Higgins, The Luis V’s, Amaya, Strumpf

Chicago Cubs

Huge kudos to everyone at Marquee Sports Network involved in getting the Triple-A Iowa Cubs on the channel last night (and again this evening at 7pm CT!). The feed looked beautiful, broadcaster Alex Cohen was his usual fun-but-polished self, and they were still able to maintain the minor league charm. I think everyone enjoyed it except Marty Pevey, who was ejected five pitches into the game. I’m the type that’s going to keep saying “more, more” every time Marquee gives us a minor league cookie, but this was a fantastic start.

Let’s break down the day in the minors:

Others that received consideration: Yonathan Perlaza, Andy Weber, Matt Swarmer, Ryan Reynolds, Dakota Mekkes, Dakota Mekkes’ weight loss plan, and the recently signed grinding duo of Alex Katz and Austin Krzeminski.

Honorable Mention: Cory Abbott

6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 K. Cory didn’t deserve to take the L in his first Triple-A game, but I think the Cubs front office is going to come away pleased with this one. Abbott allowed one run in the first inning (thanks to an iffy call on a ball down the line), a two-run homer in the second and an unearned run in the fourth. The command was coming and going. Things could have fallen apart, but instead he retired 10 of the last 11 hitters he faced, and the strikeouts took off.

I hinted in my preseason prospect rankings that we might see more velocity from Abbott this year, and we did, showing 92-94 mph on the fastball (up from 88-92) and up to 87 mph with that really good slider/cutter.

Five: Ben Leeper

Undrafted out of Oklahoma State last summer, Leeper was one of the Cubs highest priorities in the undrafted free agent market. Then he was one of the pitchers the Cubs were most excited about at October instructs. After a solid spring, Leeper was set to start the year in High-A South Bend, but when a Tennessee pitcher showed up to Opening Day injured, the Cubs re-assigned Leeper to Double-A. He made his professional debut last night in a big spot: two outs in the 7th inning, the Smokies leading 2-1, inheriting runners on first and second.

Undrafted to immediately pitching at Double-A. That alone is impressive.

Leeper started his career with a walk, with nerves creating a release point issue on his mid-90s fastball (everything was up). He ran the next count full, induced a groundball to Andy Weber, but the slick-fielding shortstop booted the ball. Leeper had blown a save in his debut. Things could have gone off the rails then, but they didn’t. Catcher Erick Castillo (or the Tennessee coaching staff) switched to have Leeper pitch with his plus slider as his primary pitch, throwing the fastball as the change-of-pace. It worked, with a strikeout to end the seventh, and a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth. In the meantime, the Smokies re-took the lead, which means Leeper gets credit for the Win in his debut.

Four: P.J. Higgins

Hey, Marquee even brought the Super Camera!

Three: Luis Vazquez and Luis Verdugo

People understandably constantly confuse these two because of their ages, names, positions, and when they emerged in the consciousness of prospectors. And they’re not helping out by simultaneously having really solid games. Vazquez is the shortstop and leadoff man in High-A South Bend, Verdugo has been playing third base (deferring to Ed Howard, Yeison Santana and Josue Huma up the middle) and really the only guy taking good at-bats for Low-A Myrtle Beach. Together they combined for 4-for-8, a Vazquez walk and a Verdugo double.

Two: Miguel Amaya

Amaya had more than two hits just once in 2019 at High-A, and he’s already matched that total in 2021 at Double-A. Starting at DH last night, Amaya had two singles and a double. Let’s break down the night:

AB #1: first inning, 0-1 fastball, smoked down the LF line, RBI double

AB #2: fourth inning, 2-2 slow curve low, swinging strikeout

AB #3: sixth inning, 2-1 breaking ball, pulled between 3B and SS, RBI single

AB #4: eighth inning, 0-0 up-in fastball, pulled between 3B and SS, single

Amaya pulled the ball less in each of his first four professional seasons (2016-2019), and in my opinion, just got caught being a little too passive, a little too all-fields oriented (i.e., he made a lot of contact, but it wasn’t always good contact). Perhaps this game is a small sign that the Cubs have encouraged him to look to pull the ball more in 2021.

One: Chase Strumpf

Reached base and scored in all four at-bats, logged a sacrifice fly in the fifth plate appearance. Opposite to Amaya, Strumpf pushed everything he was pitched in this game to the opposite field, including his double:

The only blemish came defensively, where Strumpf was playing third base and dropped an infield pop-up that resulted in two runs scoring. I don’t think the play speaks to any flaw in Strumpf’s defensive game – which admittedly isn’t perfect, and the questions there are why the Cubs were able to get him in the second round in 2019 – it was just one of those things you get in A-ball. Where he won’t be for long.

It did help the Quad City River Bandits win in weird fashion: they scored nine runs on just four hits. Meanwhile, the South Bend Cubs ran out of pitchers in the ninth inning, when they were forced to use catcher Jake Washer on the mound in a 9-8 game. He went 1-2-3, because, baseball.

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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.