I didn’t play soccer growing up, but my son is playing this spring (shout out to his Blue Ice Dragons), and I swear I’ve never had an experience quite like watching his first game. The agony! Of course, I’m familiar with how sports can break your heart, but nothing the Cubs have ever done to me quite matches what the post that blocked two of my dude’s shots did. Stupid post.
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs, which involved a win for all four affiliates.
Five Stars of Cub Farm, 5/19, System 🧹
5. Mass reliever lovefest. Namely: Morgan, ManRod, Burl, Nunez, Reid.
4. Chris Morel and Andy Weber.
3. Max Bain.
2. Sergio Alcantára.
1. Richard Gallardo.
Color tomorrow at BN.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) May 20, 2021
Five: Mass Reliever Lovefest
I don’t have time for full player-by-player breakdowns, but I’ll run through the guys that really helped their teams yesterday by level.
Iowa: 4.2 scoreless innings from a combination of Brad Wieck, Adam Morgan and Jason Adam. Morgan’s up to five scoreless innings with Iowa, which really makes me wonder when the opt-out date off his minor league contract might be.
Tennessee: Really nice job by Manny Rodriguez to get five outs across two innings with less than ideal circumstances.
South Bend: My tweet left off southpaw Brandon Hughes, who was brilliant in this one! He, Burl Carraway, and Eury Ramos kept Bain’s shutout in tact. Ramos up to 98 mph on the stadium gun in the closer role.
Myrtle Beach: Eduarniel Nunez was handed a no-hitter and kept it that way, and then Bailey Reid was really good (despite allowing a single). And then a nice job by Carlos Ocampo to come into a dirty inning and earn a save.
Four: Chris Morel and Andy Weber
Between May 9 and May 16, these two guys combined to go 3-for-46 with 20 strikeouts and one walk. Then both had decent games on May 18, suggesting maybe the slumps were over, before busting through with big Wednesdays. Weber reached base four times with a pair of doubles and walks, while Morel hit this hearty bomb:
Chris Morel’s bomb tonight. LF didn’t even turn around. pic.twitter.com/NaXlU52GsS
— Brad (@ballskwok) May 20, 2021
Both of these guys were given the assignment to skip High-A after spending 2019 on the South Bend Cubs, with both showing offensive progress during the shutdown. It was always going to be an up-and-down year for them at this advanced level, but nights like this make it seem like the player development department made the right choice.
Three: Max Bain
It’s funny to say this after five scoreless innings, but beware High-A Central hitters: he’s close. This outing was better than the box score even suggests, which was four hits and three walks scattered over five innings. I’d say that Bain here made some of his best pitches yet as a professional, drawing some really awkward swings along the way, particularly with a few plus-to-better curveballs. But the seven swings and misses were the lowest in his three starts, as the Dragons did a solid job not chasing two-strike pitches.
The fastball life was there, and he got out of the bits of trouble he ran into getting outs with in-zone fastballs. He induced nine ground balls, easily the highest over his three starts. I saw a handful of effective cutters, and one good changeup that I think will be more of a weapon as the season goes along.
As the sample grows here, Max is going to learn what are his most effective weapons in different scenarios and adjust accordingly. I think we’re going to get a good run here soon. The good news is that during this feeling-out process, where the control has come and went on an inning-to-inning level, he has a 3.55 ERA and 9.2 K/9.
Two: Sergio Alcantara
Take it away, Bert:
The interesting thing about Alcantara is that he's not that old (24), he comes with stellar infield defense, and he had progressed up to AA in 2019 (with near average offense) before a roster crunch got him (allowing Cubs to sign him before 2021). https://t.co/lzl6JpvbYz
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) May 19, 2021
That was a not a cheap home run (I love the simplicity of how he drops those hands), and in the small sample of 2021 so far, Alcantara looks SUPER comfortable against left-handed pitchers. We’re now up to 11 walks on the year, too, which I think is going to now lock him into the Iowa leadoff spot. It’s not difficult to squint and see a useful bench piece.
One: Richard Gallardo
Four hitless innings for my preseason #25 prospect. I mentioned in that write-up that Gallardo has added a good deal of weight since signing with the Cubs, and that was certainly evident yesterday.
My hope after first seeing the box score was that this outing would blow me away, but it wasn’t quite that. The Hillcats made outs on a lot of early count pitches which seemed to allow Gallardo to get into a groove. He was quick between pitches to get it and rip it, and he and Pablo Aliendo really seemed in sync on the gameplan.
That plan was mostly the fastball-slurve combination yesterday, and I thought the breaking ball feel got better as he went. I believe we’re just talking about a curveball here, but it has the horizontal movement of a slider while maintaining solid depth. The fastball command was a bit shaky, but I thought he could generally throw the two seamer for a strike when he needed to, and that pitch looked good.
There’s not another prospect in the system quite like Gallardo, and I’m still wrestling with my perception on his upside. I don’t love the delivery, I think he’ll need some pitch design work over the years, the body is changing rapidly, and yet there’s a foundation in pitchability that isn’t normal for a 19 year old. I find him super interesting, and I sure like writing about him after gems like this.