Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/27/21: Hughes, Aliendo, Hill, Rucker, Amaya

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Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 5/27/21: Hughes, Aliendo, Hill, Rucker, Amaya

Chicago Cubs

I bought new golf clubs recently and yesterday had my first opportunity to take the new driver out to the range for a spin. The takeaway? Technology in sports are absurd. If the golf industry can straighten out my power draw (read: unintentional snap hook), then I’m pretty bullish on the long-term baseball implications for Bat Fitting. Though I might be singing a different tune when I lose a box worth of golf balls into the Pacific Ocean next week…

Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs.

Honorable Mention: Matteo Bocchi and Adrian Sampson

With Shelby Miller lost in the 40-man crunch, the Iowa Cubs don’t have five starters right now. Sampson, signed just weeks ago, stepped up and allowed just 1 run over 4.2 innings. Respect.

Bocchi, meanwhile, was asked to enter the South Bend game during a rainy first inning after Ryan Jensen was removed. The Cubs have a rule that if you’ve thrown 30 pitchers in an inning and aren’t yet out of it, you come out of the game. And Jensen had no feel pitching in the rain and cold last night, allowing three walks, a home run and two strikeouts. In came Bocchi, the Italian sidearmer, who ate 4.1 innings and allowed South Bend to get out of the game. (They lost it in a rain-shortened affair)

Also honorable mention: Bryce Windham, Abiatal Avelino, Chase Strumpf, Didier Vargas, Tyler Payne.

Five: Brandon Hughes and Eduarniel Nunez

Just wanted to give a spot to two relievers that have really impressed me lately.

Hughes, last 6: 8.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 15 K.

Nunez, last 4: 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K.

I want to spotlight Hughes, who I watched last night, the 25 year old that transitioned from outfielder to lefty reliever in 2019. Obviously a good athlete, Hughes is mostly throwing 93-95 mph fastballs out of a three-quarters arm slot. I think the upside here is that with the lower arm slot, Hughes fastball plays up due to a flat Vertical Approach Angle, giving hitters that effect of the pitch rising. When thrown up in the zone, High-A hitters have no chance lately. I wonder if Double-A hitters will. We’ll probably see soon.

Four: Pablo Aliendo and Flemin Bautista

Five of the Pelicans hits came from these two hitters, both of whom I wanted to shout out. Aliendo is an athletic catcher who is about to turn 20, who really impressed the organization at Instructs last year, and earned a job-share with Ethan Hearn this year for the Pelicans. After a a lot of struggles to start the year, Aliendo now has three consecutive multi-hit games.

Bautista has been fun to watch on video, as he popped up in the DSL last year (.932 OPS) but struggled in a late cup-of-coffee in the AZL. A 21-year-old switch-hitting second baseman, Bautista is pretty compact but capable of hitting the ball hard nonetheless. I like the simple swing from the left side, what jumps out to me are his quiet hands; in fact, I’m a little surprised he wasn’t a better contact hitter last year. We’ll see if he jumps more firmly on the prospect radar going forward.

Oh, also, while he went 0-for-4 in his professional debut last night, pretty cool to see the Cubs are happy enough with this particular prospect’s game to give him an even-maybe-temporary spot in Low-A:

Three: Darius Hill

This is getting to be a pretty regular occurrence, and I’ve seen some questions in the comments lately wondering about how I think about Hill as a prospect. So let’s focus there today, with Hill hitting .391/.451/.500 in his last ten.

Hill, 23, is well younger than the average 24.7 years of age of the Double-A South hitter. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, stronger than the usual hitter with his profile. A left-handed hitter, Hill has an open batting stance with a big leg kick (there’s a part during the load of his swing that I can see swing similarities to Ben Zobrist). Hill is up there to swing the bat and hit the baseball, and has a good feel for contact. It’s a tweener profile that leads to “fourth/fifth outfielder” projections, as neither power nor speed overwhelms. More walks – and he had two last night – would help create value when the BABIP falls. Hill is the type that has to prove it at every turn, sometimes more than once, which makes for an arduous path to the top level. But skipping a level and jumping right into massive success is going to help. For me I wouldn’t say he’s jumped into being a top 30 or 40 prospect or anything, but he’s raising enough eyebrows to make us all start to wonder if we’re wrong about that.

Two: Michael Rucker

Best relief performance on the Cubs farm this year? Seven up, seven down, six via strikeout. Certainly in the conversation.

The fun thing about this outing as I charted it this morning: Rucker is throwing five different pitches in a 36-pitch relief appearance here (42 CSW%). In order of usage:

Curveball. 10 pitches. 77-81 mph. Mostly a freeze-the-hitter pitch, but can flash some sharp break every so often. Good location feel.

Slider/Cutter. 10 pitches. These are, I think, two different iterations of the same pitch. Thrown hard and inside to left-handed hitters, it’s a cutter that can get up to 90 mph. Thrown gloveside to right-handed hitters, it’s a more generic one-plane slider in the 83-86 mph range.

Fastball. 9 pitches. 93 once. 3 94’s. 3 95’s. 2 96’s. Produced two strikeouts when located up-and-in.

Changeup. 7 pitches. After not throwing it much in the fifth and sixth innings, it became the primary secondary in the seventh. It was nasty, 90-92 mph but with extreme late run and sink. Even threw one to a RHH for his last K.

Last four appearances for Rucker: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 12 K. He’s held Triple-A left-handed hitters to a .301 OPS for the season, with the cutter rounding out that attack plan. Rucker absolutely belongs on the Major League map, though it’s a crowded mix this season, and there are a lot of similarities in style between Keegan Thompson and Rucker.

One: Miguel Amaya

In his first at-bat, Amaya went yard for the first time this season:

And then he followed it up with walks in his next three plate appearances. We talked about the recent surge in walks just yesterday, but I can’t talk about it enough: this kid has 17 walks against 15 strikeouts as a 22-year-old at Double-A (where the average pitcher age is nearly 25)! His swing decisions on high fastballs and pitches off the plate are just so advanced.

Amaya is currently hitting .242/.422/.355 with a 134 wRC+.

We did have a Casey At The Bat situation in the tenth inning with Miguel, however. After a Zach Davis single led to the Smokies having men on second and third with one out, the Chatanooga Lookouts opted to intentionally walk Darius Hill to load the bases for Miguel Amaya. And:

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

But there was no joy in ‘Nooga – mighty Miggy did strike out.

(Or something. The Smokies lost 8-7 in 10.)

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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.