Cubs Prospect Notes: Having Fun, Maldonado in the OF, Ball Balling, Leeper Re-Leaping, Estrada, Piñango, More

I know it’s not everyone’s bag, and I understand there are good and bad implications, but here’s the truth: the Cubs have not had a farm system this fun in a longgggg time (I thought of this, most recently, while watching the Tennessee Smokies throw a no-hitter). It’s been probably 8 years since I was this geeked to follow along nightly with all the storylines.

⇒ Speaking of fun down on the farm, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are owning their league, the South Bend Cubs have won eight in a row, and the Iowa Cubs won their fourth in a row today after walked it off last night:

⇒ Of significant note in that game last night: Nelson Maldonado played left field for the first time in his professional career. The historically bat-only prospect didn’t get much action out there, so there’s not a lot to review, but it’s pretty meaningful that the Cubs want to give him looks there even after he never played in the outfield in the lower minors. With Bryce Ball charging hard at first base at Double-A (and Matt Mervis behind him), and with Jared Young hitting so well with Iowa, I’m sure the Cubs are eager to figure out who can play outside of 1B/DH if necessary. Young can play a little corner outfield, and so can Alfonso Rivas in the big leagues if necessary. But mostly, these are bat-only guys and it’s kinda stacking up. If Maldonado wants any chance in the big leagues, he’ll have to keep raking, and he’ll have to be able to occasionally play in the field – maybe even the outfield. So I love that he got his first look out there.

⇒ If you missed the other big news in the Iowa outfield, it’s not great – Brennen Davis heads to the IL with those ongoing back issues (which apparently might date back to Spring Training).

⇒ Oh, but the mention of Bryce Ball reminds me to point out that he is crushing it at Double-A Tennessee now after a crystal clear change in his aggressiveness:

⇒ Ball, the trade return in the Joc Pederson deal, is a huge guy who can probably play passable first base (but that’s it), so he’ll really need to hit in order to carve out some kind of big league future. At 23, he’s on schedule at Double-A, so to speak, and he’s hitting .296/.350/.519 (131 wRC+) with great peripherals. You’d still like to see more ISO for his size and raw power, but if you watch him swing, it’s not necessarily a swing built for a lot of loft. He is Rule 5 eligible after this season, I would tentatively expect the Cubs to let him go unprotected – especially if he stays at Double-A all year. Pretty hard to imagine a big league team plucking him with that profile to leapfrog Triple-A. Not impossible, but hard to imagine. And the Cubs are going to have to make a LOT of hard decisions like that this fall.

⇒ Ben Leeper was the singular breakout relief prospect story of 2021, having been an undrafted signing in 2020 and then reaching Triple-A in his first pro season. But he had a tough go in Spring Training and in the early part of the regular season, and it’s nice to see him getting back on track:

⇒ Speaking of the upper-tier of relief prospects in the system, I think Jeremiah Estrada has cemented himself on that list this year:

⇒ A 2017 6th round scouting play out of high school, Estrada got into the Cubs’ system and immediately popped with the stuff. Unfortunately, the arm also popped. So he missed substantial time recovering from surgery, there was a pandemic in there, and then I believe dealing later with a setback or a separate issue(? I could be mistaken on that one, but he missed substantial time last year). So he’s now fully back and fully healthy, and High-A batters can do nothing with him – he’s allowed just five hits (one run) over his 11.0 innings, and he’s struck out 16. There is a load of wildness there to rein in (seven walks is a lot for 11.0 innings), but the 23-year-old has premium stuff and velocity. You kinda wish and hope he could get back to starting, but I’m not sure that will be in his future given the arm issues. He has had a few multi-inning appearances this year, though.

⇒ This guy is on another ridiculous homer binge:

⇒ The Cubs might have to give Garcia another look with all these injuries. He might strike out 50% of the time in the big leagues at this point, but heck, he could also have a week where he hits 10 homers.

⇒ Great read at Baseball America on outfield prospect Yohendrick Pinango, who just turned 20 and is already at High-A. Cubs VP of Player Development (aka Farm Director) Jared Banner was talking up Pinango’s raw power and big exit velocities, but we already know what he’s been working on: adding more loft. The guy has been a preternatural hitter from a young age with a line drive stroke and a ton of contact, but it features a lot of hard-hit groundballs. The Cubs want to unlock a little more loft – often the last thing to come for a hitter like Pinango. He’s currently hitting just .234/.301/.351 at South Bend, but the .290 BABIP seems really low for him, and his ISO is actually creeping up (.117 this year after .093 last year). All in all, good signs of development, again, especially for such a young player. He’s a month younger than Pete Crow-Armstrong, for example.

⇒ Speaking of PCA, who is a level below Pinango, this is fun:

⇒ Dakota Mekkes is back (relief prospect with a little bit of funk and velo, who has owned righties but struggled against lefties), as is Carlos Sepulveda (a glove-first infield prospect who has risen steadily and could have a big league bench future):

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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