Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, April 9, 2022: So Much Dominant Pitching and a Game-Winning Dinger

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Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, April 9, 2022: So Much Dominant Pitching and a Game-Winning Dinger

Chicago Cubs

Yes, I do love homegrown shutouts as much as you might think I do. In particular, yesterday’s, given how much I’ve enjoyed hyping Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Scott Effross and Ethan Roberts during my time at BN.

If yesterday is any indication, we’re going to get more homegrown shutouts in the future, because the Cubs minor league pitchers brought it yesterday, too. How about the four affiliates combining for 59 strikeouts in 35 innings?! Let’s break it all down…

I’ll actually break the usual format here a bit and go with some bullet points for each classification of helpful player yesterday…

Hitters

•   Pablo Aliendo. I find the two walks more noteworthy than the two singles, given that Aliendo rocked a single-digit walk rate in his breakout season a year ago. Increased patience would be a boost for his stock.

•   Brennen Davis. He’s still just 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts in this series in Buffalo — that’s going to be a happy man when they board the plane tomorrow — but it all feels better after a Brennen Bomb. (We’ll discuss the strikeouts at some point here, I just want a longer sample size to draw from before weighing in.)

•   Jared Young and Trent Giambrone. There are a lot of infielders on the I-Cubs roster, and a slow start is going to mean less playing time for someone. Shouts to Giambrone for doing what he can to ensure it’s not him, as the 28-year-old now has 10 total bases in his 13 at-bats in 2022.

Relievers

As I looked into it, three really demanded their own bullets…

•   Erich Uelmen. Two innings, six strikeouts. You don’t want to overreact to a couple games, but Uelmen has impressed all three times he’s been on video this year (once in ST, twice now with Iowa). My instinct is that he’s lowered his release height a bit, and the changeup looks better, but it’s still a heavy lean on the sinker/slider mix that he’s always had. The execution has been really good, particularly the command on that slider. I’m still waiting for a longer track record, but I’ll now be doing it by watching every pitch he throws for awhile.

•   Blake Whitney. I saw Whitney pitch three good innings in a Triple-A Spring Training game inside Sloan Park two weeks back, and in his season debut, the versatile right-hander threw two perfect innings in a set-up role. Whitney throws a low 90s fastball with a short arm action, but really tunnels the breaking ball well off the fastball, and got loads of check swings in this one. His stuff isn’t as loud as the arms around him, necessarily, but he’s someone that the player development staff really trusts.

•   Jeremiah Estrada. Healthy and a reliever (closer!) now, I’m expecting a good year, and this 1-2-3 save was a good start. Needed just 13 pitches to complete the ninth, 12 of them fastballs, and five of those generating whiffs. Almost looked like an early-season Cayne Ueckert outing from a year ago.

Notes on others: Speaking of Ueckert, he was fine in his inning against three left-handed hitters, two of whom got decent wood on fastballs … Scott Kobos walked two batters in his save for Tennessee, but struck out the side otherwise … It was a shaky first outing for Max Bain, who’s getting stretched out still after a shortened spring, but he avoided disaster by inducing two double play grounders. Has played with the delivery some, which now looks more athletic and makes the 96 mph heat look easier than ever … Bradford Deppermann loaded the bases on a HBP-HBP-Single start to his inning, but then reached back and blew 94 past the next three hitters a whole lot of times … I’m really happy for Jose Albertos, who pitched two good innings in a 2-1 game, which is the kind of high-stress situation that was too much for him for a couple years there. The velocity doesn’t look to be what it once was, but Albertos is showing a lot of comfort with increased breaking ball usage, a 10-4 offering with hard, late bite … Interesting to see the Pelicans are using Frankie Scalzo Jr. as a piggyback while using Tyler Santana as a fireman reliever, the exact opposite as how I might expect it.

Starters

•   Caleb Kilian. His 53 pitches only created eight outs, but six of those were strikeouts and there was basically no hard contact allowed. In six different plate appearances, Kilian went six or more pitches with a batter, which led to the high pitch count. But only one time did that batter reach base (the lone walk allowed). The curveball looked really good, re-affirming the hope from the Arizona Fall League championship game that it had quickly blossomed into a plus pitch. I don’t think we saw any of the new changeup, and actually, Kilian wasn’t quite as sharp with his cutter as I’ve seen him in the past. But the two-seam and four-seam both looked good — it’s such easy velocity — and it didn’t feel like he was all that tested as it was. He’ll be ready soon, folks.

•   Ryan Jensen. Jensen fell down 2-0 to six of the 14 hitters he faced, and here was the outcome in those situations: walk, lineout, strikeout, flyout, strikeout, reach on error. Between some good BABIP luck and some good pitching behind in the count, Jensen escaped damage early, and then got hot late. I can’t get too specific on individual pitches, sadly, as the CF camera in Tennessee isn’t working for MiLB.tv yet. (Just putting that out there.)

•   D.J. Herz. It was like no time passed at all, with Herz generating the same ugly swings he did last year. I really think the biggest factor in those swings is the angle his pitches approach the plate from, it’s just nothing that hitters are used to. They’re late on down-the-middle fastballs in hitter’s counts, they’re helpless against the changeup. If this continues long, I hope the Cubs aggressively move Herz to a place with more advanced hitters; he needs the challenge.

•   Luke Little. This was my first non-highlight opportunity to watch Little, so let me give you the description: huge high-waisted build, stands on first base side of rubber, pitches entirely from stretch, delivery starts slow and then explodes on leg block, throws across body at 3/4 release point, falls off a bit towards third. You feel the velocity with him in a way that you don’t always with 98-99 mph anymore. Showed both a slider and curveball that have similar horizontal shapes, but enough velocity separation (8 mph) to make them distinct. Was comfortable throwing the slider in three-ball counts. Noteworthy that he only faced one left-handed hitter in the RiverDogs lineup — former ACC Player of the Year Bobby Seymour — and he wasted Seymour on three pitches (breaker-breaker-heat), with Seymour offering two check swings that might get him the sword emoji on Pitching Ninja. Lefties will truly have no chance against Little.



Author: Bryan Smith

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