Only in the minors: last night in Double-A, in the seventh inning of a 13-1 game, the Tennessee Smokies had their pitcher and catcher trade places.
The game – which was meant to be the first of a doubleheader – started as Caleb Kilian’s debut in the Cubs organization, which began with a strikeout, groundout, walk and single before a long rain came down. It knocked Kilian out of the game after just 13 pitches, and got into the Smokies bullpen a good five innings before they’d intended.
After three relief appearances, the Smokies were down 9-1 and decided to turn things over to the position players. Jake Washer, called up that day to be the Smokies new back-up catcher, made his Double-A debut on the mound. He was lit up, but eventually got a strikeout, after which Tennessee pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea decided to have Washer switch places with the then-catcher, Tyler Payne.
Tyler ran into the dugout to get the catcher’s gear, Jake hurried off the mound to go get it on. And Payne grabbed a quick two outs on 10 pitches. Only in the minors.
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs…
Before getting into those five, I want to point out other prospects in new places that showed up in box scores yesterday…
• Organizational debuts in High-A for Anderson Espinoza (3 good IP) and Alexander Vizcaino (0.2 not-so-good). Espinoza logged four strikeouts, two on fastballs down the middle, one on his slider and one on his curveball. More breaking balls than changeups in this one is notable. Vizcaino gave up a home run on a 3-0 cookie fastball to the first batter he faced. Early count command was a big issue, but I will say the curveball looked good. He was pulled after 23 pitches.
• Ethan Roberts in AAA: Been calling for that promotion for awhile for the short, spin-happy right-hander. In his debut Roberts was mostly 93-94 mph with a 83-84 mph breaking ball. He allowed his inherited runner to score off a bloop single on one of those curveballs and then induced four groundouts (with one error on a pop fly in between).
• Also in AAA was Levi Jordan, who has played just 32 games above the Low-A level, but can fill in at every infield position and showed surprising pop (5 HR!) when healthy with the Smokies this year.
• Nelson Velazquez was given the bump up to Double-A, meaning the Smokies had a really fun outfield yesterday in Nelly, Brennen Davis and Chris Morel. Velazquez logged an RBI single that was one of only two Smokies hits for the day.
Five: Yonathan Perlaza and Ethan Hearn
Shouts to Perlaza who has a 12-game hitting streak going during which he’s hitting .378/.420/.711. It has taken his season-long wRC+ to 106, and at 22 years old he’s right about the average age of hitters in that league. The Cubs really believed that Perlaza would bust his power out this season, and were okay moving him out of the infield dirt with that in mind. Noteworthy, though, that Perlaza has eight home runs as a left-handed hitter with a 221 OPS point platoon split favoring that side. One of those switch-hitters that you wonder: is switch-hitting the right choice?
Hearn since June 24: .244/.333/.487, 119 wRC+, 9.9 BB%, 38.5 K%. He’s a good prospect if he can cut the strikeout rate to 20-25%, but man, it’s a long way down from 40 to 25.
Four: Tyler Suellentrop and Danis Correa
In his second of five strikeouts over two innings last night, Correa perfectly elevated a fastball at 99 mph. The hitter, of course, had no chance. Because Correa is in Low-A, and he’s doing things that simply have no business being in Low-A. In his last 10 games: 16 IP, 5 H, 1.13 ERA, 7 BB, 28 K. Promote this man.
My fear is that Correa is so far from the Majors and so inexperienced that, of course, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to put Correa on the 40-man roster this winter. But I could also see some kid in a baseball operations department at some bottom-feeding organization falling in love with Correa around Rule 5 Draft time. Because you’re talking about 97-100 mph from a low release height, with flashes of plus from both the curveball and slider.
Three: Alfonso Rivas and Abiatal Avelino
Rivas played both games of the doubleheader last night, ending the night 2-for-4 with three walks. It was good to see, as Rivas has been fighting a slump lately, slugging just .347 in the 16 games prior to the doubleheader. But the great thing about him is that even during slumps, Rivas stays contributing to winning baseball, as during that slump-stretch he had more walks (16) than strikeouts (13). I think the Cubs need to find a time in the next 3-4 weeks to get Rivas up and evaluate what he would look like a strong-side platoon option at either first base or left field next year. And how that compares to, say, what newly acquired Greg Deichmann offers you in left. They’re probably not primary solutions on good teams, but I think they’re really good back-up options with the potential for more.
Glad that Alfonso had a good night, as I was looking for a space to share Greg’s really good interview with him:
You want a dude that is ready to roll at first base in Chicago? Alfonso Rivas has a great hit tool (8.2% swinging-strike rate), arguably the best eye in the system (15.1% walk rate), and impressive defense around the bag thanks to his athleticism.https://t.co/ETccG6Tf6A
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) August 4, 2021
Two: Justin Steele
Brett touched on Steele in this morning’s Bullets so I won’t double-up too much, but I think the 80-pitch plateau is really important. There’s really no reason for Steele to need to top 80-90 pitches this year, even in the bigs, so he’s now properly stretched out. And the stuff is playing.
This is the Cubs best pitching prospect, in my humble opinion. The floor of the lights-out reliever we saw this year with the ceiling of a #2/3 starter.
(Oh, by the way, Steele’s 2-RBI single was the go-ahead hit in his fourth victory of the season.)
One: Matt Mervis
The only thing that was going to beat out Steele was an epic highlight on top of a big night. And Mervis provided that with an absolute missile to right field for his ninth home run of the season. He ended the Pelicans 4-3 win with three hits.
He’s old for the Low-A level (23), so I’m not making too much of this, but worth pointing out that Mervis over the last 28 games is at .233/.342/.485, good for a 123 wRC+, and it’s one of the most power-friendly swings in the system.
— Caleb Webb (@calebgwebb) August 5, 2021