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Five Stars of the Cub Farm, 6/25: Namely the Nelsons, Plus Another Big Leeper Day

Chicago Cubs

Last night I participated in the second annual Prospects Live mock draft show on YouTube, which is always just a ton of fun. I teamed up with Greg Zumach from Ivy Futures this year, and we were in charge of the Cubs picks at 21 and 56. In the first round, we went with Will Bednar, the Mississippi State right-hander that has been absolutely showing out during the NCAA Tournament. Would instantly become the most sure-fire starting pitcher prospect in the system. In the second round we opted for a sleeper, James Triantos from a Virginia high school, who re-classified into this draft class last summer. Check out Triantos’ swing, which I’d call controlled aggression, with pretty elite lower body torque. And throw in that he’s an above-average runner and has thrown 96 off the mound. I recommend the whole show if you’re into draft season!

But back to the farm system, let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs.

One Day Old Thought: I didn’t write a Five Stars on Thursday’s results, which was another 0-4 day for the farm system, but I did want to point your attention to Derek Casey. The 25-year-old is ready for Double-A, I think, and the reason I think that is he struck out a career-high 11. I saw Casey fool hitters during a Spring Training start in Arizona, and I really think the stuff has ticked up since 2019 (he’s holding High-A left-handed hitters to a .213/.300/.313 batting line, with a 31.9 K%). He now leads the organization in CSW%. But it’s hard to take him seriously at his age at that level. So, promote him. And if you need someone to take his rotation spot…

Five: Joe Nahas

Absolutely looked the part during his first High-A outing, contributing four relief innings behind Ryan Jensen (who again started strong and then ran into middle innings trouble with left-handed hitters) and allowing just one run. Nahas has an extreme over-the-top release point with good breaking balls and a fastball that proved too good for High-A. I don’t know that he’s a starter long-term – I feel like that unique look is best served in 1 PA per hitter chunks – but he’s trained for it and the Cubs are an injury-heavy system in need of starters. If it means getting Casey to Double-A before the Trade Deadline, I think it’s a good showcase opportunity for everyone involved.

Four: Zinn, Warkentin, Martini

Baseball is a sport where these two very different hitters can hit two very different home runs.

Three: Ben Leeper

I was worried that my piece from this week would jinx Ben Leeper’s breakout month, but there’s no stopping Kimbrel Lite. Last night he was 95-98, topping 99 on the Iowa stadium gun, and about 88-91 on a disgusting slider. It was the best outing of the year for the Cubs’ best minor league reliever this year. He’s truly beating down the door of a Major League bullpen that doesn’t really need the help. I’m here for it.

(Shouts to Ryan Meisinger and Adam Morgan for their relief work, too. But you can see why it was overshadowed.)

Two: Nelson Maldonado

Hitting .355/.437/.581 in 19 June Double-A games, and I might remind you this is a guy that had less than 250 PA below that level since he was the Cubs 21st-round pick in 2019. There are two questions surrounding Maldonado’s future: 1) does he have enough power and 2) does he have a defensive home. Big questions, but the Cubs will work with Maldonado actively on both because he’s perhaps the most pure hitter in the system. Last night’s homer was just Maldonado’s fifth professionally, but I do think he can grow to be a guy in the 15-20 range.

Maldonado has never played the outfield in the Cubs organization after handling it in spot duty while at the University of Florida. I’d recommend they introduce left field, while continuing the semi-regular work at first base, and continue exploring how you can extract something from that hit tool.

One: Nelson Velazquez

Every time I feel like Nelly here has hit a slump, every time it feels like his numbers are drifting back to life, he does something like he did last night: two home runs and a walk. Velazquez has officially translated his “raw” power into “game” power, and he’s doing it against both breaking balls and fastballs. It’s a graduation into Plus for the most important offensive tool (power), and it’s definitely pushed Velazquez up a tier as a prospect for me. (Also of note: Velazquez had a fantastic outfield assist this week from right field.) But we’re still talking about 8 walks versus 53 strikeouts in 147 PA, with neither number checking in as acceptable for a serious prospect.

The Cubs don’t have many of this kind of prospect – raw and toolsy, powerful and swing-happy – so I’m happy to go on the continued ride of his development. Turn those tools into a Major Leaguer over these next couple years, Cubs hitting coaches.



Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.