The Cubs yesterday announced a section in the center field bleachers where fully vaccinated folks can sit all packed in like the baseball lord intended, so I jumped. I will finally be back at Wrigley Field next Thursday afternoon against the Nats. It is going to be wonderful and weird, and maybe less weird because I won’t have to worry about standing too close to anyone around me, or wonder whether anyone is gonna look at me crosseyed when I instinctively turn all around to high-five everyone around me when the Cubs plate a run.
Lotta minor league notes upcoming, not only because the big league Cubs were off yesterday, but also just because there are a number of things I wanted to touch on …
• Amid the many minor league signings this offseason, there was lefty Adam Morgan, a guy who probably would’ve landed a big league deal if not for arm surgery that was going to have him behind schedule to open the year (and, as always with arm surgeries, not necessarily a lock to continue being the solid reliever he’d been with the Phillies before his 2020 issues). He’s now healthy and pitching at Iowa, where he’s posted 3.1 scoreless innings so far with four Ks, one BB, and one hit allowed. As with most big league veterans on minor league deals, I suspect he’s got an opt-out in early June, so the Cubs will have just a couple more weeks to figure out what they want to do. He’s a big leaguer when healthy, but obviously we’ve already seen a guy like Pedro Strop squeezed out in that situation. I don’t know where the spot is right now for another lefty in this bullpen (also, Dan Winkler will return soon, plus Shelby Miller is on a rehab assignment), but Morgan might be the next guy up if there’s an injury or an opening.
• Through two Iowa starts, Cory Abbott – the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the year for his dominance at Double-A in 2019 – is now up to 16 strikeouts over 11.0 innings of work. I shouldn’t be surprised, as he led the org on that front in 2019, but it’s definitely encouraging to see he’s carrying it forward to the next level. Already on the 40-man, Abbott is a guy who could get fill-in starts this year at the big league level if necessary, but is more likely to compete for a rotation job next year.
• A single outing – big league or minor league – cannot change your thinking on a player. There are just too many reasons that, in the game of baseball, a night could be crazy (good or bad). But I do like to note the times when a single game comes as close as possible to changing your thinking, if only because it puts the topic more on your radar for further analysis. Such was the case last night with Cubs 2020 second rounder Burl Carraway, the relief-only prospect who was drafted much earlier than you typically would see a pure reliever with almost no college pitching experience taken (heck, that might be the earliest anyone who fits that particular profile has ever been taken). Not that it was a controversial pick: Carraway sported one of the two or three best fastballs in the entire draft (by the various metrics), AND one of the two or three best curveballs in the entire draft. The stuff was so good that the Cubs said his was the best arm in the draft, and they hadn’t seen a pitcher like him in over a decade. And he does it from a challenging arm angle from the left side, and he has plus makeup, and there were not necessarily huge control concerns like you might usually associate with a young relief-only guy who has that pitch set and unique mechanics.
• OK, so I’ve cleared my throat enough to point out the Carraway outing: five batters faced, five walks, two wild pitches, and just two strikes thrown. Out of pitchers at that time, the South Bend Cubs had to have catcher Caleb Knight come in to finish that inning (he got three straight outs, including a strikeout). I don’t know off-hand what the “wildest” outing I’ve ever seen in a box score is, but this might be it. Even at the nadir of Jose Albertos’s explosion of wildness, I’m not sure he ever had an outing like this. (Albertos, by the way, is still around, and is actually pitching really well in multi-inning relief at Myrtle Beach!)
• Because of Carraway’s background and stuff, and because of his limited college pitching experience, you especially give leeway before you worry about an outing like last night. Maybe it was something physical. Maybe he was working on a new grip. Maybe it’s a simple mechanical issue that snowballed on him because he’s young. So on and so on. He was almost exclusively missing arm-side and up (at least according to the pitch tracker – the game was not broadcast), which is could at least be suggestive of a release point issue, and that’s something that you just work on. One outing – even an eye-popper like that – doesn’t really change your thinking on a player. But it does tee it up that Carraway, young and inexperienced, probably still has a whole lot to work on.
• Maury Brown collected all of MLB’s national TV contracts for 2022-28 (now that the renewal with ESPN is in place for those years), and 2022 will represent a near 20% bump for the league, or about $260 million in additional annual dollars, or about $9 million in additional annual dollars per team. That doesn’t factor in the price tag that the league nets for the weekday games ESPN is forgoing in the new deal – Brown suggests it could add another $200+ million to the annual bump. So, in other words, each MLB team could see a $15+ million revenue bump from national TV deals starting in 2022.
• Corbin Burnes wound up breaking the record for consecutive strikeouts to begin a season without a walk, but then also concluded his run later in the game against the Cardinals yesterday:
Corbin Burnes has set the record for most strikeouts before first walk in a season, since mound moved to current distance in 1893 (54 and counting).
The previous record of 51 was held by Kenley Jansen, set in 2017. pic.twitter.com/N2joFwzDnc
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 13, 2021
After issuing a walk to Tommy Edman, Burnes' streak has been snapped at 58 strikeouts before issuing a walk.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 13, 2021
• If you were wondering, that is also now the record for longest walkless streak of strikeouts at any point in the season (passing Curt Schilling’s 56). But Gerrit Cole is currently on a streak of 53 this year, so he could break Burnes’ new record in his next start.
• This is hilarious:
Jesús Aguilar: Stealing Signs. pic.twitter.com/K4RenSHFz7
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 14, 2021
• Last chance to get in on this before we draw this afternoon: