Thompson’s Ups, Rivas’s Issue, Swarmer’s Tipping, Palencia’s Upside, and Other Cubs Bullets

It’s NBA Draft Day! For those of you into the Chicago Bulls, make sure you’re following our coverage there. Could be a busy one, as the Bulls are reportedly very open for business on pick 18 (and Coby White?).

  • There is a playoff berth on the line tonight for the Cubs! Well, the Low-A Cubs affiliate anyway. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are a win – or a Charleston loss – away from clinching the first half championship, which nets them a spot in the postseason. Go Birds.
  • Keegan Thompson has now had the two best starts of his career back-to-back, and the fact that they came right after a multi-start hiccup is really encouraging. We know there will be ups and down as pitchers develop in the big leagues, and it’s good to note the ups just as much as the downs.
  • It’s nice to see the Cubs finally on the other side of a “oh wow it’s been a historically long time since this silly and embarrassing thing has happened” factoid:
  • Alfonso Rivas hit a grand slam last night, which is always fun, though it coming off of a position player certainly skews the evaluative value:
  • Since his return to the big leagues to replace Frank Schwindel (back), Rivas has put up great numbers in a small sample, but he’s still striking out over 30% of the time. It’s a real oddity for his career track record, but the league figured out last year into this year that he has serious trouble with breaking pitches. He’s whiffing on them a little more than last year, and he’s chasing them more often (and whiffing on virtually every breaking pitch he chases). And also, when he does make contact with breaking stuff, he more or less never makes good contact. He’s handling fastballs and changeups well enough, but if improvements don’t come against sliders in particular, he’s not going to survive in the big leagues.
  • To that point: this year, Rivas is the 7th worst hitter in all of baseball against sliders. That is bad, of course, but at least there is something very clear that needs to be worked on?
  • Ian Happ’s high school coach was at the game last night to see Happ homer again, and he had as high of praise as you can for a former player:
  • Happ is up to .291/.390/.480/141 wRC+ in his very All-Star-worthy campaign.
  • Well this makes a lot of sense given how fooled the batters looked in his first two starts and then how completely on him they looked the next few starts: the Cubs think Matt Swarmer has been tipping his pitches (Tribune). It sounds like it becomes more of a problem when he’s struggling with his mechanics and/or having a rough go of it already, because then the game speeds up and it’s a little easier to fall out of protecting against tipping. So, if you’re a little wild (which he has been), if you’re getting hit (which he has been), and if you have only two pitches (which he does), then it’s a recipe for a poor start to become a disaster very quickly. The Cubs and Swarmer are working on it.
  • Of course, even if he fixes this issue, it’s not going to solve any control problems or the limited pitch mix, but I’ll be curious to see if there is noticeable improvement in the contact quality in the weeks ahead. It’s been weird to see a guy like Swarmer get a lot of whiffs, but then also get absolutely wrecked when the batter makes contact (and not just on the fastball).
  • Oh, meanwhile, yes, the Cubs and Swarmer are also still working on a changeup as a third pitch, but it can be pretty hard to get one into playable shape when a guy is also just trying to stay afloat in the big leagues. My guess is if and when the rotation returns to full health and Swarmer heads back to Iowa for a bit, the Cubs will want him to more aggressively work on the changeup so they can evaluate it/him in advance of the offseason.
  • JAAAACKSSONNNNNNN:
  • I hope to get to some Cubs Prospect Notes soon, but just in case it isn’t soon enough, I didn’t want to fail to mention this ridiculousness:
  • Palencia, who came to the Cubs last summer in the Andrew Chafin trade, is a potential star. He hits triple digits with his fastball (and held that through five innings), his slider is nasty and touches 95(!) mph, and he’s pitching at High-A this year despite having only 31.1 innings of pro experience TOTAL before this season. The risks remain super high with any 22-year-old pitcher who is only at High-A, and Palencia still has a lot of developing to do, but he is among the handful who have true front-of-the-rotation upside. He was acquired as a pure scouting play in that deal, and it looks like the Cubs were right.
  • If you want to watch Jordan Wicks starting tonight, heads up:
  • The official USA collections for this year:
  • This is beautiful to watch:
  • Speaking of Clay Holmes, we talked yesterday about the organizations that are very good at improving big league pitchers after acquiring them (the Yankees were among the top four), and Holmes is a pretty extreme example. He went from mediocre reliever with the Pirates to super elite reliever with the Yankees basically overnight at the deadline last year. The Yankees helped him improve his already good sinker, dramatically improve his slider, and ditch his curveball. Clearly they had scouted him so well in advance that they knew exactly what they wanted to do. Keep working toward that, Chicago Cubs …
  • 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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