Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …
Honorable Mention: Saves from Erich Uelmen and Alfredo Zarraga that I want to talk about. Uelmen struck out the side, showing the best changeups I’ve ever seen him throw on multiple occasions, and has really made his case for a big league showcase here soon. In his last dozen outings at AAA, Uelmen has allowed two earned runs in 18.2 innings, with just eight hits and 23 strikeouts. His success this year seems to be coming from a slightly lower release point, and locked-in command of his tight slider.
Zarraga is a new one that I wanted to highlight here, this save was just his third professional outing, and he’s looked very solid in Myrtle Beach so far. Zarraga, 21, looks on the mound a bit like how I imagine Manny Rodriguez looked when he was a high school freshman, but has shown velocity approaching the upper 90s out of an almost-sidearm slot. The delivery has some effort and violence to it, but the fastball-slider mix is very solid. Sleeper to remember.
Five: Nelson Maldonado
Maldonado finished May in a nasty 4-for-36 slump, with an uncharacteristic 12 strikeouts in 38 plate appearances. When the calendar flipped to June, Maldonado rediscovered his contact-heavy approach, and now has just four strikeouts in 51 June plate appearances. The keys for Maldonado are taking his walks and finding places to add pop, and he accomplished one of those last night:
Four: Jordan Wicks
Wicks has the worst batted ball luck of any Chicago Cubs minor league starter this year, but in the last two outings really is showing an ability to persevere and grind through those bad breaks. Don’t judge him strictly off the ERA. Wicks is absolutely showing enough to maintain his status as a no-doubt top 10 prospect in the organization.
Three: Fabian Pertuz and Josue Huma
Huma homered in his fifth game with Myrtle Beach; he was called up from Arizona, and then coincidentally walked into an everyday job when Reggie Preciado went down with a leg injury on the day Huma arrived.
Should this injury prove to be the end of Preciado’s season – and we do not know the details, so no assumptions yet! – he’ll finish it with a .212/.272/.314 batting line, let down most by the 9/59 BB/K ratio in 152 plate appearances.
Two: Javier Assad
This is the breakout that no one is talking about, and it’s really significant, because Assad is a minor league free agent at the end of the season. I have written about his steps forward a couple times this year, showing up in better shape, up to 96 mph, and featuring fantastic feel for a newer cutter that is already his best pitch.
Last night, Assad showed some good late diving action on his sinker, plus command on the cutter, and even threw some good swing-and-miss curveballs. There was a stretch in the middle innings where he struck out 8 of 11 batters. This guy has not been a strikeout pitcher in the past, and the ease he’s getting them this year really signals to me that this step forward is real.
I’m anticipating a Triple-A call-up for Assad soon – particularly as Ryan Jensen and Riley Thompson re-enter the Tennessee rotation – and it’s very possible that he finishes the year starting games in Chicago. I really think Assad would have a good case for a spot in the top 30 prospect list of the organization right now. Keep your eye on his ascent.
One: Luis Devers
Amazingly, this was the Pelicans third shutout in this series against Fredricksburg, as they’re 3-1 in the series so far despite being outscored 9-7. The Pelicans are now a minor-league best 43-18 for the year, but amazingly, they’re just two games up in the first half standings over a really good Charleston team. Their magic number to win the first half, and clinch a playoff spot in the process, is down to four.
But this might just have been their final game with the staff ace, Luis Devers. The Chicago Cubs Pitcher of May has continued the brilliance into June, tying a career-best with six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts. Since April 30, in nine starts: 45.1 IP, 31 H, 1.19 ERA, 8 BB, 50 K. Yep, it’s time for the next test.
The Fredricksburg lineup was made for Devers to succeed, loaded with left-handed hitters that just had no chance against his very-plus changeup. He does such a good job maintaining arm speed and intent with the pitch, and the thing just falls off the table at the hitter’s commit point.