Let’s jump right in and break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …
But before we do that, I haven’t been able to write up Five Stars this week, and don’t want to let a few stray notes get too far away…
May 24 Five Stars: I’d have wanted to talk about Kevin Made, who maybe/probably/definitely should have been at the back end of my Top 10 prospects update a couple weeks ago. The things I didn’t love about Made’s swing in 2021 — it felt like he wasn’t engaging his lower body enough — are improving. And how about this: Made now has more walks in seventeen 2022 games than he had in fifty-eight 2021 games.
May 25 Five Stars: Luis Devers was really good this day, racking up strikeouts with his nasty firm changeup, and showing real improvements with the breaking ball. Last 5 starts: 24.1 IP, 14 H, 1.48 ERA, 7 BB, 27 K. Long story short, he’d be higher on a prospect list now than when he started the year. Also, I want to say this simply about Kevin Alcántara: I don’t think anyone in the system has impressed me more in 2022. Alcántara is hitting a lot of the same checkmarks this season that Brennen Davis did in 2019 en route to becoming my top prospect in the system.
Okay, onto yesterday’s action, with Honorable Mentions: new level debuts for Bailey Horn (Double-A) and Sheldon Reed (High-A), who both had scoreless appearances. Horn walked two in a scoreless inning, but he really got squeezed twice on the first walk, which would have ended the inning. He was 94-95 with the fastball and I just don’t think anyone in the system is in a better current place with their slider feel.
Sheldon Reed, who posted video game numbers in Myrtle Beach, was good for two scoreless innings in his South Bend debut. Reed features a short arm action with a bit of deception in the delivery, and achieves tons of plus life on a low 90s fastball. He showed both a curveball and slider yesterday, and both pitches can vary from below to above-average, and so I think the focus will really be there.
Four: All Those Home Runs
Let’s give an update on all eight mentioned there, and I’ve put a link on the names of those we have Twitter videos of their home runs for:
• John Hicks: Double short of cycle in Iowa’s extra-innings loss. Hicks has struggled this year (the 1-29 BB:K ratio is rough), but he also represents pretty much the entire upper level catching depth left now, so best he gets hot here.
• Yonathan Perlaza: An under-the-radar pick for Minor League Player of May, Perlaza is hitting .267/.397/.583 on the month, with just 15 strikeouts in 73 plate appearances.
• Luis Vázquez: I told you in March he was looking stronger than ever! Offensive numbers are not good, but he’s already topped his 2021 and 2019 single-season home run totals.
• Cole Roederer: Truly my favorite aesthetic home run swing in the system. Glad to have it back.
• Yohendrick Pinango: Fly ball rate is up from 24% last year to 36% this year, which is exactly the kind of trend we asked to see this offseason. I’ll admit I ranked Pinango too low this winter.
• Owen Caissie: Last 15 games: .346/.390/.655. Only two walks in 59 plate appearances during that stretch, which doesn’t worry me (I think encouraging hitters to swing often during hot streaks is a good idea), but that season-long number has definitely been a bit puzzling. But the good news is that the timing in his swing is in a really good place, after looking a little slow to start the year.
• Juan Mora: Has played his way into being a no-doubt regular, after starting the year in that bench/regular morass, and I think there’s definitely some pop in that bat to explore.
• BJ Murray: This says a lot given the strength of that team, but you could make the case that Murray has been the Pelicans best hitter for the month of May. Really nice blend of bat speed and strength, I think we’ll see him in South Bend for the second half. Deeper dive coming.
Three: Javier Assad
This five-scoreless start served as validation for the last time I wrote about Assad, which is to say he’s definitely taken a step forward and become a legitimate prospect. Assad is succeeding in a pretty similar way that Caleb Kilian does: pitching off a high 80s cutter to set up a mid 90s fastball. The emergence of this cutter, and his ability to also use it as a low 80s slider, is a transformational evolution for Assad, whose ERA is back under three (2.90) after a pair of mediocre starts that preceded this one. The overall stuff quality is closer to average than anything truly special, but given the jumps that have already happened, I wouldn’t want to bet against one more.
Two: Levi Jordan
Jordan wasn’t demoted from Iowa to Tennessee a month ago in the traditional sense, but as the youngest Iowa infielder, I’m sure the Cubs thought he’d be the most willing to go get regular plate appearances at a lower level. In doing so, Jordan has put the organization on notice that he’s a player to take seriously, and he’s someone that should now be promoted back to Iowa and walk right into everyday duty. During the lost pandemic season, Jordan made some swing changes, designed to take the solid exit velocities he would post and try to stretch them into home runs. He has 14 home runs in 101 games since minor league baseball resumed in 2021; he had 12 in 324 games in college and the low minors from 2015-2019. It’s a real breakout worth monitoring, particularly because Jordan is a steady utility infielder that I think can play every infield position in a solid way.
And I just have to share, because it’s a true laugh out loud stat: Jordan against lefties this year: 14-for-26 (.539 average), with three walks and five home runs against ONE strikeout in 29 plate appearances (.586 OBP / 1.308 SLG).
@levijordan_ is incredible!
9-0 Smokies pic.twitter.com/jaK88doM0H
— Ben Slotnick (@SlotnickBen) May 27, 2022
One: DJ Herz
Except for the results — five innings, one hit — this was a different kind of Herz yesterday. More economical, more willing to pitch in the strike zone, particularly getting a lot of soft outs with the breaking ball. Minus one really good one in the fifth, I wonder if the changeup feel just wasn’t there, as its usage felt lower to me.
These kind of outings should be particularly useful to Herz, as I think the only knock you could put on him during his career has been the inefficiency with which he gets outs. Herz has struggled to get through even five innings in the past, as he throws more pitches per batter than anyone else in the system. If yesterday tells him that he can get away with more get-me-over strikes, I think in the end it does nothing more increase the likelihood that he could ultimately end up a viable big league starter.
When I picture DJ Herz, this is exactly what plays in my mind pic.twitter.com/cruRjxcVVh
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) May 26, 2022