Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, 4/12/22: Alcántara’s Game-Winner, Gems from Hodge and Gsellman, More

Let’s jump right in and break down how Wednesday went in the minors for the Cubs ….

Honorable Mention: It takes real restraint to not throw Brennen Davis and Ed Howard into Five Stars when they reach base three times, but I am that kind of fair and impartial judge. Davis singled and walked twice, though if I was going to include more Iowa Cubs, I’d have had to go with Greg Deichmann and P.J. Higgins, who each logged three hits …. Howard really has my attention with his start to the season, with just one strikeout in his first 17 plate appearances to start the year. Love manager Lance Rymel challenging him with the leadoff role during this series with Fort Wayne, and he responded yesterday with two walks and a single. Howard’s swing decisions have been much better — noticeably better — this year, and I can’t help but think it was partially due to his offseason work with Tim Anderson “learning how to hit.” Thanks, TA! …. Solid relief performances from these guys that just got squeezed out: James Bourque (he’s an oversight given that he qualified for #5), Dauris Valdez, Nick Padilla, and the entire Myrtle Beach Pelicans bullpen.

Speaking of Myrtle Beach, our main honorable mention goes to the Cubs organization debut for Pete Crow-Armstrong and the minor league full-season debut for Kevin Alcántara. PCA reached base three times in six plate appearances (HBP, walk, single), while Alcantara had this walk-off “single” in the 12th inning:

That goes down as at least a double in my book.

Five: Brandon Hughes and Jake Reindl

Reindl logged six strikeouts in two innings of work, which I’m happy with, as I was on the record noting him as a deep sleeper pick.

But the story here is Hughes, who logged his fourth career save in the Double-A Smokies 4-3 win. The left-handed Hughes struck out three right-handed hitters in a row in the ninth, and didn’t need much more than high heat to do it. He flashed a solid changeup, and the hitters generally didn’t offer at his sweeping slider, but Hughes was able to blow them away with the fastball. The Montgomery broadcast noted that one pitch was 99 mph, though I do have some doubts on that until we get further confirmation. If Hughes has the ability now to get the fastball to that number, he will be absolutely be a Major League pitcher before long.

Four: Chase Strumpf and Yonathan Perlaza

All the Smokies offense in the aforementioned win came via early inning longballs, a three-run shot in the first for Strumpf and a solo bomb from Perlaza in the second. Strumpf’s homer really showed off his increased strength, taking a solid low fastball and muscling it over the center field fence, despite inside-outing the ball a bit. Strumpf has more thump than he’s shown in past seasons, and if it shows up this year, he will be in the third base mix going forward.

Power will never be the question for Perlaza, and you just have to say wow after he turned on this pitch with really good bat speed and was able to keep it fair:

https://twitter.com/CubsCentral08/status/1514031618561912851

Three: Robert Gsellman

The 28-year-old minor league free agent signing pitched three perfect innings in the Iowa Cubs home opener yesterday. Gsellman seemed to be getting praise in Arizona this spring, despite disastrous performances in the actual Cactus League games, so I figured the Hottovy/Breslow team had him working on a few changes. The pitch mix looked like what Gsellman always has used yesterday, with sinkers and sliders dominating the pitch mix with a couple curveballs and changeups mixed in. The velocity was actually down – after averaging 93.9 mph with his sinker with the Mets last year, Gsellman was just 89-92 mph on the I-Cubs broadcast radar gun yesterday. However, I wonder if it was perhaps deliberate, as the slider velocity was the same as ever in the 88-90 mph range. Perhaps the Cubs are working with Gsellman on trading some velocity for more movement (and/or seam-shifted wake) with his sinker? Something I’ll be watching for in future I-Cubs games.

You figure Gsellman almost surely has a June 1 opt-out in his contract, so this is a big month for him to prove worthy of a Major League roster spot.

Two: Donnie Dewees

Just great to see the former Cubs second-round pick back on here, after missing 2021 with a torn ACL. So this was Dewees’ first home run since August 25, 2019, and he did it in a big spot.

One: Porter Hodge

I got a note from Pelicans broadcaster Sam Weiderhaft that the Pelicans 20 strikeouts last night were their most since joining the Cubs organization in 2015, and six of those came from starter Porter Hodge. I’ll admit that I didn’t pay enough attention to Hodge’s seven appearances last year with Myrtle Beach, but he was someone that jumped out as I was reviewing film for the honorable mention list for my offseason prospect rankings. Hodge, the team’s 13th round pick out of a Utah high school in 2019, has one of the better sliders in the organization. Hodge does a good job remaining on balance in his delivery despite a big 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, getting down the mound and releasing the ball lower than you’d expect for his height. The struggles last year in the Arizona Complex League came from too many hard hits off middle-third fastballs, so if the command improves and he can find a few more corners (and probably a bit more velocity), he’s a nice pick for a 2022 breakout guy.

written by

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

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