Is it just a me thing, or has playing sports as an adult had an impact on the way you consume professional sports, too? On Monday, I had my best front-nine of the season at Cog Hill. And, like an idiot, on the tenth tee box I calculated the score and began to think “what if?” Well, you know what happened after that: immediate (and hilarious) meltdown.
Driving home, I was thinking what it must be like for a pitcher that cruises through the first nine batters and begins to wonder if certain things are possible. And then, boom, the second time through the order is an endless struggle. You see it a lot, in the minor leagues especially, and it’s just so much more human than I think we generally give credit for when we analyze box scores.
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs ….
Five Stars of Cub Farm, 9/14.
HM. Alcantara, Apostel, Caissie, MB and IA bullpens.
5. 💣 squad: Ballesteros, Espinoza, Slaughter
4. Tyler Santana
3 hits: Greg Deichmann and Bryce Windham.
2. One hitter by the ACL staff: Oquendo, Adam, Gonzalez, Remon.
1. Ol Brennen Two-Bomb
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) September 15, 2021
Honorable Mention: Owen Caissie reached base four times for the Pelicans yesterday, a single to center and three walks. The big Canadian outfielder now has a 110 wRC+ in 74 Low-A plate appearances, with a 19% walk rate that now matches the mark he’d posted in the Complex League. We haven’t seen the power during his 18 games with the Pelicans, but if you’re watching, you’ll note about three fly outs to the warning track. The strikeouts need to come down, and I’ll spend some time analyzing those in the offseason, but he’s an elite offensive prospect nonetheless … Kevin Alcantara and Shendrik Apostel both reached base in all three of their plate appearances last night in Arizona. Alcantara is now at .325/.406/.602 with the Cubs; simply too good for the level. Apostel, on the other hand, has had a disaster season between injuries and poor performance. But a good end of the season might be what he needs to ensure a minor league Spring Training try-out for a 2022 roster spot … Excelling in the Myrtle Beach bullpen last night: Carlos Ocampo, Sheldon Reed, and Frankie Scalzo Jr. Reed is an interesting story, an undrafted free agent signing that recently turned 24 years old, but wasn’t converted to pitching until 2018/2019. Reed has a low-to-mid 90s fastball with some solid life, and Cubs are betting that he has one more velocity jump left in him … Excelling in the Iowa bullpen: Ethan Roberts, Dakota Mekkes, Juan Gámez. That’s two good outings in a row for Roberts after his worst appearance of the season, which is just what the doctor ordered with a big 40-man decision coming in the months ahead.
Five: Ballesteros, Espinoza, Slaughter
The highlight here is the first professional home run from Moises Ballesteros, the 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher who received a seven figure bonus in January. Ballesteros had a rough August after a fantastic July, but he’s maintained an elite walk rate all season to keep himself productive. Power is definitely going to come as he grows stronger, though I think Cubs focus will be on refining his defensive skills in the next two seasons. I would guess that he splits catcher and DH duty with his countryman Ronnier Quintero in the ACL next year.
Four: Tyler Santana
In his great post-draft interview with Ivy Futures, Cubs scouting director Dan Kantrovitz talked about how the Cubs Day 3 strategy this year was built around the idea of taking calculated gambles, knowing that the undrafted free agent market would offer them solid collegiate prospects to fill rosters with. Tyler Santana, a 23-year-old from Jacksonville University, was one of their highest priority signings when he went undrafted in July. The right-hander has made seven appearances with South Bend now, and he’s made a real impression: 15 innings, 14 hits, 1.80 ERA, 7 walks, 17 strikeouts. His last two performances, both four innings and zero earned runs, came on lackluster MiLB TV feeds.
But here are my notes from his September 4 outing:
Short, filled-out, broad chest and strong trunk. Pitches exclusively out of stretch, slow tempo, high 3/4 release point. Lots of movement, both run and sink, on a two-seam fastball. Doesn’t seem like a ton of velocity. Big, sweeping 10-4 movement on a slider. Trusted it on a 3-1 count. Really pronates well on a solid changeup to lefties. Executes what he’s trying to do well. Double-A will be a big test.
Three: Greg Deichmann and Bryce Windham
Brett touched on Windham this morning, who has shown best-in-system bat-to-ball skills this year while bouncing primarily between catcher and second base. Windham is extremely athletic with fantastic hand-eye coordination, with his ceiling limited a bit by the diminutive size of his frame. He’s earned the chance to have regular at-bats in Double-A next year, and if he succeeds there, can make a really interesting case as a super utility bench player.
I wrote about Deichmann on Monday; he’s now reached base in 15 of his last 18 games. This one was particularly impressive, because all three of his hits came with two strikes. Deichmann has shown a fun two-strike approach this year, really choking up and shortening his swing. His game is this strange-but-fun amalgamation of a lot of different styles at this point, and the ability to succeed with different offensive identities does give me hope that he’ll develop into a productive big leaguer (even if just a fourth outfielder).
Two: The ACL Pitching Staff
A combined one-hitter from Johzan Oquendo, Jason Adam, Angel Gonzalez and Jorge Remon. Oquendo is a bit of a sleeper to keep an eye on, he received a $125,000 bonus in the 16th round out of Puerto Rico in 2019. and I remember being intrigued by the arm speed then. He’ll be in Myrtle Beach next season, probably in a piggybacking role of some sort.
One: Sir Brennen Davis
While there hasn’t been a huge change in the batted ball directions between 2019 and 2021 Brennen Davis, the difference we have seen was on display last night. When he goes pull side, the ball is simply going a lot farther than it did two seasons ago. Davis has really strong wrists, and does just such a good job of getting on plane with the pitch early. Last night he showed both the ability to sit back on a hung breaking ball and jumping out on a fastball catching too much of the plate. He’s going to punish mistakes at any level now.
He struck out twice last night, but the second one was a terrible call at the end of a really good at-bat, so I think you can toss that one out the window. Still, he’ll leave this season with a clear focus on how to reach the Majors next season: show more consistent contact skills while retaining the power breakout he’s displayed in 2021. I’m expecting a June arrival to Chicago, but if he can do that out of the gate next year, even late April/early May is a possibility.
(Side note: Davis passed Chris Morel last night in runs scored on the season to take the lead in that category for the entire farm system. He also passed Morel and Yonathan Perlaza in extra-base hits, where he ranks second behind Nelson Velazquez. The slugging percentage of .505 tops the system. I think he’s the safe bet for Minor League Player of the Year, but you have to respect Velazquez for making it a fun fight.)