I’ve said this before, but I believe in covering the minor leagues with an optimistic bent. I think following prospects is, in part, an exercise in hope, and I think that’s worth embracing. But I’ll be honest: last night was a bit of a breaking point. It was the worst night on the farm of a season that has been, at best, really difficult.
Iowa and Tennessee both dropped their seventh game in a row. South Bend was no-hit (despite scoring a run). Myrtle Beach lost both games of a doubleheader. From a wins and losses standpoint, it was rough.
And while I’ll always find some optimistic spin, as you’ll see below, I think it’s time to step back and acknowledge the difficulty that the player development department is facing right now. Of our preseason top 16 Cubs prospects, just five are currently playing baseball: Brennen Davis, Ryan Jensen, Chase Strumpf, Cory Abbott, Christopher Morel. And of the full preseason top 40? Just 13 are in action. My word.
The farm system has had some breakouts (though the largest, D.J. Herz, had easily the worst outing of his career last night), but generally speaking, they’ve occurred from guys way further down the prospect list than you’d otherwise hope for.
What I’m saying is, if I step back and embrace reality for a moment, I have to report that things have gone backwards on the farm this year so far. There’s ample time to switch this narrative – we’re barely a month into the minor league seasons – and for me it doesn’t happen in the win-loss column, but in getting guys healthy and on the field again.
Let’s hit quickly on the best from that tough day in the minors …
Four Stars of Cub Farm, 6/10
4. Nice doubleheader work by Ezequiel Pagan, Matt Mervis and Yohendrick Pinango
3. Chris Morel. Last 13 G: 11 BB v 8 K.
2. Six Iowa hitters with 2 hits! Gushue 💣, Romine/Strange-Gordon on fire, but bested by one man:
1. Michael Hermosillo. 🔥🔥🔥
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 11, 2021
Four: Pagan, Mervis, Pinango
With a short roster in Low-A, a lot of guys ended up playing both games of the doubleheader last night, and these three had really nice performances. Good to see Matt Mervis, who entered the night hitting .165/.303/.253 despite one of the best outcomes by this metric, get some hits to drop with a 3-for-5, two-walk night.
But the story in Myrtle Beach continues to be the comfort that Yohendrick Pinango has against much older competition. I’d point out that in his last 13 games, Pinango has just four strikeouts in 55 plate appearances, and in his last 18 games, he’s hitting .319/.397/.507. Last night in watching a couple of his at-bats, I was appreciating how elite Pinango’s hand-eye coordination seems to be. His swing is a bit unique, with a bit of sideways (almost like hitting a slice shot in tennis) motion to it, but he’s one of those guys with a knack for the barrel.
Note: Oversight by me to not include Ryan Reynolds in the Five Stars last night. Nice bomb, Deadpool.
Three: Christopher Morel
There’s something really significant happening in Morel’s plate approach right now that needs attention. In his last 13 games, Morel has matched his walk total from each of the entire 2018 (54 games) and 2019 (73 games) seasons. Should we report a body snatching? After 17 games to start the year in Double-A, Morel had two walks and 22 strikeouts. You’ll see in the above tweet what he’s done in the last two weeks, 11 walks and eight strikeouts.
It’s also worth saying that during these two weeks, Morel has played five different positions, while mostly being locked into the shortstop position opened by an Andy Weber injury. I’ll need to go back and watch the video on how he might grade at different spots, but I know he has the arm and lateral athleticism to work anywhere.
The season numbers are still really rough for Morel, .193/.275/.368, but if we go deeper than the top-line, we’ll see a .217 BABIP despite a career-best line drive rate. Add in the demonstrated ability to grind through a slump with a modified plate approach, and I think you come away feeling optimistic here.
Chris Morel is FIRED UP pic.twitter.com/d0HIyM9Ktm
— Itsacon (@thats_so_cub) June 11, 2021
Two and One: Red-Hot Iowa Hitters, Namely Michael Hermosillo
Injured during minor league Spring Training in April, Michael Hermosillo’s season is just six games old at Triple-A Iowa, but he’s quickly established himself as the team’s best hitter (now that Patrick Wisdom is the best hitter on a different team). Since joining Iowa he’s 9-for-20 with five walks and four extra-base hits, with his best work coming in the last two games.
Michael Hermosillo. Grand slam. pic.twitter.com/X8QEwAzFRm
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) June 10, 2021
Hermosillo found himself in the top spot both Wednesday and Thursday in Five Stars by reaching base in every single plate appearance. Wednesday’s 2-for-2, two-walk showing was highlighted by a mammoth grand slam out of the Principal Park stadium. Last night he reached five more times with Iowa playing on the bright lights of the Marquee Sports Network, showing a really mature ability to take what the Columbus pitching staff was willing to give him.
The Chicago outfield is now healthy, so Hermosillo missed round one to contribute at the top level due to that injury, but he’s doing his best to make sure that the next opening goes to him.
Credit to the Cubs front office for some great work in minor league free agency this winter, as guys like Wisdom, Sergio Alcantara and now Hermosillo are really the stories of the minor league season so far. For better or worse.