I don’t think the farm system is any more important today than it was yesterday, or a week ago, or a month ago. But it sure feels like it. In Major League times like this, I’m always grateful for any minor league distraction, and the good news is that yesterday offered plenty.
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs.
Five Stars of Cub Farm, 6/30. Kinda loaded!
HM: Howard & Pinango, Iowa pen, Tennessee 6 run inn.
5. Brennen Davis. 🌮
4. DJ Herz. Best since last week. 😂
3. Mike Hauschild. Best … in awhile!
2. Erich Uelmen. Best AA start yet.
1. Ethan Hearn. Best professional game. 🌮
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 1, 2021
Honorable Mention, in bullet form
• Ed Howard and Yohendrick Pinango both had two hits for Myrtle Beach. This marked Howard’s first multi-hit game since May 21. Pinango’s 2-for-4 outing, and particularly his eighth inning single, pushed him over the .300 batting average mark for the month of June (.302).
• The Iowa bullpen took the loss in Indianapolis, with both Justin Steele and Ryan Meisinger allowing an unearned run. But in between those things were two noteworthy events: 1) Manny Rodriguez’ first Triple-A outing (1 IP, 1 H, 1 K) and 2) another hitless inning for Ben Leeper. His updated Triple-A line: 10.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 18 K.
• Tennessee scored six runs in the sixth inning of their 7-2 victory and I wanted to briefly call out the people involved. After a Carlos Sepulveda walk and Brennen Davis reach-on-error, the following things happened with two outs: Jared Young (he’s back from injury) double, Chase Strumpf double, Tyler Payne single, Darius Hill walk, Christopher Morel double. Morel’s June is something we’re going to have to discuss more soon.
• Deep cut: I’ve been impressed with 22-year-old Carlos Ocampo’s work out of the Low-A Pelicans bullpen this year. His last four outings: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 13 K.
Five: Brennen Davis
When Brennen busted out of his Double-A slump on June 17, I reacted positively that he’d allowed himself to go pull-happy to do it. But he’s an opposite field hitter at his core, and after a few good days, Davis was back in a strikeout-heavy slump again. Last night we saw his first big smack to the right side since joining Tennessee, and Todd is exactly right on how to frame it: a great sign.
Brennen Davis oppo…That’s a great sign pic.twitter.com/9zbNuX8F12
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) July 1, 2021
Brennen’s June encompasses his entire Double-A stint to this point: .232/.351/.354. This is right on track as league average, despite never having faced a pitcher younger than him this season. This month wasn’t perfect (too many strikeouts), but for the first at a new level – with so little pro experience – it only re-affirmed his place atop the farm system in my mind.
Four: D.J. Herz
Down East hitters went 3-for-16 against Herz in five innings last night, and that .188 average represents the third highest one-game batting average that Herz has allowed this season. He’s ridiculous. Let’s look at the 8 strikeout pitches last night.
Vs RHH, 1-2 count, changeup, inside corner, looking
Vs RHH, full count, changeup, high-inside corner, looking
Vs LHH, 1-2 count, fastball, low-away corner, looking
Vs RHH, full count, changeup, top of zone, looking
Vs RHH, full count, fastball, high-inside, swinging
Vs LHH, full count, fastball, high and really inside, check-swing
Vs LHH, 1-2 count, fastball, low-away corner, looking
Vs RHH, full count, fastball, middle-up, swinging
Part of how we know Herz is better than this league: didn’t have great feel for the curveball last night and it didn’t matter one bit.
Three: Mike Hauschild
The 31-year-old was signed this month from the Atlantic League Lexington Legends and was downright fantastic in his third I-Cubs start yesterday afternoon in Indianapolis. It marks the first time that Hauschild threw six scoreless innings in affiliated pro ball since … August 2, 2018 against the Seattle Mariners.
A bunch of current Cubs connections in that game: the Mariners lineup featured three members of the 2021 Iowa Cubs (Dee Strange-Gordon, Andrew Romine, Cameron Maybin) while the two Blue Jays pitchers that followed Hauschild were Joe Biagini (currently with Iowa) and Ryan Tepera.
Two: Erich Uelmen
When I was reporting the Ben Leeper story a couple weeks ago, I talked to Tennessee pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea and mentioned I felt like Uelmen was close to turning a corner. He agreed, and noted that Uelmen had been working on finding the balance between his plus sinker and more high four-seam fastballs. Perhaps he found it last night, as Uelmen threw his first shutout start in 16 tries at the Double-A level.
I still believe in Uelmen’s future as a groundball-inducing reliever first and foremost, but with the Cubs short on healthy starting pitchers across the organization, I don’t see them committing to that transition in 2021. Perhaps that lengthened leash will allow Uelmen to prove something about his viability in this role.
One: Ethan Hearn
It’s been a really, really, really rough transition to full-season ball for Hearn this season, but last night was the best game of his career. A single, home run and walk, on base three times for the first time since the AZL in his debut season. Hearn is too talented to have the ridiculous .413 OPS that he had on June 22 … and things have been a little better the last week. But the contact rate (43.6 K%) does tell us of a hitter with too much swing and miss in his game. For him to work as a hitter, he’s going to have to balance it with more power, which made it really nice to see his first bomb of the year.
Ethan Hearn crushes this one to opposite field for his first home run of the season! 💪🏼
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) July 1, 2021
There’s an uphill path that Hearn has to take to be relevant as a prospect again, but all these numbers are still in their infancy, and I’m not calling it impossible. I have liked Hearn’s work behind the plate this season (Herz allowed the leadoff man to reach in the first and second last night, and Hearn threw both guys out during the next at-bat), and there’s thump in the bat, just need to find a way to have a more consistent plate approach.