Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, 5/3/22: Cam Sanders Throws Five Hitless Innings Again

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Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, 5/3/22: Cam Sanders Throws Five Hitless Innings Again

Chicago Cubs

I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Cubs’ Makers Mark Barrel Room last night, and I want to say that former Bear Alex Brown also happened to be in there, and he was incredibly gracious with the people in that club. Shaking hands, taking pictures, telling stories, making people happy. It feels like the right week to point out dudes from that last great Bears team being good people.

Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs, which included a walk-off win in South Bend

Honorable Mention: Since I put Kilian and Herz in the tweet, I want to just mention them in this space. In his last outing, I wrote about how Caleb Kilian’s start seemed to be worse than it looked in a box score. Last night he got very similar results (4 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K), but I actually thought the outing was better than the box score. The lone earned run came when St. Paul first baseman Curtis Terry took a good mid 90s high fastball and clubbed an opposite field double with it. You tip your hat. Other than that, it was all soft contact for Kilian, who now has a ground ball rate of 65.3% according to FanGraphs. He was also really solid against left-handed hitters last night, using the curveball really successfully against them … You all saw how tough it was for the big league Cubs and Sox to play baseball with Chicago’s weather last night, and that should help inform how we view D.J. Herz’ line: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 4 K. Herz struggled to feel the baseball, but I’ll appreciate his development, because he was always able to collect himself just in time. I still think he’s just too good for the High-A level, but it might make sense to get him in a groove throwing strikes again before bumping him to Tennessee.

Five: Dixon Machado

Okay, last night I couldn’t decide which of the four players belonged in this space, but ultimately I think the right answer is Machado. The veteran shortstop is now hitting .299/.393/.338 for Iowa, with twelve walks and twelve strikeouts, and eight steals in nine attempts. We’ve seen enough of Machado in the Cubs organization to know that he’s the perfect depth to have on your Triple-A roster. I hate that he has the what-if’s that the 2019 season offered – leading to Nico’s MLB debut – but continue to love having him with Iowa.

Four: Cole Roederer

How exciting it was to wake up on Tuesday and quickly find out that the Pelicans were welcoming Cole Roederer onto their roster (oddly for the first time)? You see, in 2019, Roederer spent the entire season with the then-Low-A South Bend Cubs. Then, in 2021, he returned to South Bend, which had graduated to be a High-A affiliate during the pandemic break, but was injured after just 20 games. The 22-year-old ended up requiring Tommy John surgery, and 340 days since his last game, officially returned to professional baseball yesterday morning. The Low-A assignment with Myrtle Beach is just a rehab stint on the path back, and he won’t be there long if he keeps up days like yesterday, logging two hard-hit singles in four trips. Congrats, Cole.

Three: Luis Verdugo

Is Verdugo the living personification of the Cubs’ overall success in hitting player development over the last season-and-a-month? Some promise and hope, mostly unfulfilled in 2021 and out of the gate this year, and suddenly hot in the last two weeks? The 21-year-old seems to have officially outgrown shortstop (only 3B in 2022), and we’re not sure if the power will blossom to match his position change, but it’s great to see a talented player not seem over his head (.317/.388/.450, 140 wRC+). And in the system overall, it really does seem like things are starting to thaw out after a very slow start.

Two: Canario, Hill, and Mervis

Canario’s last 11 at High-A: 16-for-45 (.356 AVG), 3 walks (.408 OBP), 6 HR (.800 SLG).

Darius Hill is 20 games into his season at Double-A, where he has 10 multi-hit games against just 10 strikeouts, and on the days he shows a little pop, you wonder if he might figure out a way to be a big leaguer.

Matt Mervis’ last 9 at High-A: 14-for-36 (.389 AVG), 2 walks (.436 OBP), 4 HR (.806 SLG). Last night’s bomb, off a left-handed pitcher, tied the game in the bottom fo the 9th (South Bend won in extra innings). He now has more home runs off southpaws in 2022 than he had in the entire 2021 season.

One: Cam Sanders

It was almost exactly one year ago – 363 days to be exact – that I wrote about Cam Sanders throwing five no-hit innings to start his 2021 season. He accomplished the same feat on Tuesday, and looked really good doing it, allowing a launch angle above zero just one time against 16 batters (!). Michael Ernst at Cubs Den said that Sanders “looked as good as he ever has on the mound,” and I’d have to agree. The 25-year-old righty was clearly feeling good in Alabama last night, with the arm looking spectacularly loose, and laying down velocities ranging from 71 to 97 mph.

The exciting thing about this outing was that Sanders and catcher Bryce Windham stayed committed to using the whole arsenal all night. Sanders threw a ton of changeups (84-87 mph) to lefties, and even one or two to right-handed batters. He intelligently played his four- and two-seam fastballs (92-97 mph) off each other all night. The slow curve (71-75 mph) feel wasn’t there early, but he kept throwing the pitch and locked in later, getting two strikeouts with it later in the outing.

What I’ll be watching for in the future is the continued evolution of the slider, which has the makings of being the best of Sanders’ secondaries. Last night we saw two variations, one at 79-81 mph and one more in the mid 80s. In time, I suspect we’ll see those variations become one, confident offering, but I give Cam tons of credit for succeeding with the pitch while he still figures it out.

I want to end by showing you what right-handed hitters have done against Sanders this year: 2-for-38, 1 XBH, 4 BB, 3 HBP and 23 strikeouts. Des Moines is in his near future.

Author: Bryan Smith

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