Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/11/21: Mervis, Jordan, Payne, Ueckert, Nahas, Higgins, Biagini and More

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Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/11/21: Mervis, Jordan, Payne, Ueckert, Nahas, Higgins, Biagini and More

Chicago Cubs

The Rocket City Trash Pandas. This was the opponent of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies last night, hosting their first ever game as a franchise in Madison, Alabama. I love so much the Wikipedia explanation of their nickname:

The name is a reference to both the area’s association with the space industry, namely from Huntsville, and the determination and ingenuity of raccoons.

Ah yes, the perfect combination, space and raccoons. And yet, it captures the absolute absurdity of minor league baseball just perfectly. I think I’ll go get a shirt now.

Let’s break down the day in the minors:

Honorable Mention: Cam Sanders, Peyton Remy, Adam Laskey

Solid but unspectacular starts from all three of the guys on the bump below the Triple-A level last night. We profiled Sanders last week, mentioned Remy as a guy that has climbed some up prospect rankings, and recently did a Twitter scouting report on Laskey (who my eyes have liked better than his numbers suggest so far).

Five: Matt Mervis

The injuries were aplenty throughout the organization last week, and so it was a welcome sight to see Matt Mervis make his season debut for Low-A Myrtle Beach after missing the first series due to an injury suffered on the last day of Spring Training. Mervis, an undrafted free agent from Duke last draft season, is a guy with one of the most Present Power swings in the entire farm system.

Yesterday was his professional debut, and the Pelicans home opener, and Mervis made it a memorable one. The Pelicans were down 2-1 in the eighth inning of a well-pitched game. With one out and runners on second and third, the Augusta Greenjackets opted to intentionally walk young Yohendrick Pinango to pitch to Mervis with their side-arming reliever Benjamin Dum. Not smart. Mervis jumped on a first pitch fastball and lined it to the wall in right field, scoring all three on base.

The Pelicans offense has been overwhelmed this season thanks to their youth, but I have an inkling things might change now that their best hitter just arrived in town.

Four: Levi Jordan and Tyler Payne

Two guys doing their best to bust out of that “org guy” designation and earn more playing time with Double-A Tennessee. Home runs can only help the cause. Payne led the system in wRC+ in week one, and he continues the hot-hitting ways. Levi Jordan hit just .221/.289/.286 for Low-A in 2019, but showed enough in Spring Training to skip a level and earn a spot as the Smokies bench infielder. And now he’s matched that 2019 home run total.

And a shout out to Zach Davis, the Smokies Gold Glove caliber outfielder that had three hits in this one, but left the game with an injury. Stop the injuries, baseball gods.

Three: Smokies and Pelicans Relievers

Now this is a good combined line: 11.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 18 K. And more importantly, two wins and two saves. Let’s give each guy his own love:

Scott Effross, 2.2 IP, 3 K. Retired 8 in a row after giving up a bloop single to the first batter he faced. Now a sidearmer, Effross gets into a low crouch and must have the lowest release height in the system. With plus command, it’s an intriguing mix.

Cayne Ueckert, 2 IP, 3 K. Double-A debut, promoted after just two High-A games, one of which earned a heap of praise from me. Did get two outs from Miguel Amaya’s right arm, but I was impressed in this one with how Ueckert’s fastball life was sufficient even in fastball counts. I need to see more from off speed, I think the changeup showed better than slider in this one, but you’ll win me over if you can throw well-placed fastballs past guys in 3-2 counts.

Manny Rodriguez, 1 IP, 2 K. Was the Smokies choice to close out the game in extra innings with the runner on second rule. It’s a good pick with his ability to miss bats.

Jake Reindl, 0.2 IP, 1 K. Inherited two runners from Laskey and got out of the fourth clean, striking out the second batter he faced on three high fastballs. Has an arm slot a hair above sidearm and plays as taller than he is (just 6-foot-1) because his delivery is lots of arms and legs. He’s 24, Low-A might not be enough challenge.

Joe Nahas, 4 IP, 6 K. Almost earned a place on the Five Stars list all by himself. Strong and athletic, Nahas has a super over-the-top release point and just comes at you with high fastballs in the zone. He didn’t need much else, but did flash a cutter and changeup in the last inning of work that played. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s starting games in the summer. He was a big bonus undrafted signing a couple years ago.

Scott Kobos, 1 IP, 3 K. Loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, but got out of it with high or gloveside corner fastballs. This was a fun save to watch if only for Ethan Hearn’s reactions, as he was as colorfully excited as you’ll see a catcher get from a May victory. I’m all for it.

Two: P.J. Higgins and Company

This guy is raking:

As a team, the I-Cubs put up an 11 spot, with every starter except Andrew Romine recording at least one hit. More love for Higgins is gonna bleed into the next section.

One: Joe Biagini

I’m going to pool the Iowa Cubs battery here, as the whole squad combined on a win that was somehow more dominating than the 11-1 score suggests. After a team no-hitter on Sunday, Joe Biagini took the ball in this one and threw five no-hit innings in his second start of the year. The no-hitter went into the seventh and ended when Dakota Mekkes allowed a home run just over the left field fence.

There are four-pitch pitchers, and there is Biagini, who is truly liable to throw any of his fastball-curve-slider-change mix in any count. It seems like he was constantly shaking off Higgins, completely confident in his own attack plan. At 6-foot-5 with an over-the-top delivery, Biagini has an absurd groundball rate because he’s maximizing the downhill plane on a 93-94 mph fastball (a super steep vertical attack angle). The best secondary is probably an 84-87 mph slider that he commanded so well last night. And last night against left-handed hitters he’d tunnel the mid 80s changeup off the slider, giving them a similar velocity point with an entirely different break profile. And there’s always a big, slow low-to-mid 70s curveball to freeze hitters on.

What a fantastic start to the season for the soon-to-be 31 year old. Filling that 2019 Colin Rea spot perfectly.

This game was never in doubt, thanks to a ton of offense up and down the I-Cubs lineup. Higgins deserves special recognition as he reached base in all five plate appearances, totaling two walks, two singles, a double, three runs scored and two RBI. It was enough to surpass Rafael Ortega for the team OPS lead at 1.080, which has to put Higgins firmly on the Major League radar (especially given the injuries).

Other I-Cubs hitters deserving of recognition: Abiatal Avelino (3 R), Cameron Maybin (2 R, 2 RBI) and Taylor Gushue (4 RBI). And I also want to call out Robert Stock, who looked excellent in his two innings of relief work. He showed three pitches but it was the fastball that will leave the impression on the front office:

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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.