Five Stars of the Cubs Farm: Slaughter, Palencia, PCA, Young, Espinoza Lead Loaded Day

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Five Stars of the Cubs Farm: Slaughter, Palencia, PCA, Young, Espinoza Lead Loaded Day

Chicago Cubs

This is going to be one of the longer Five Stars I’ve ever written, as yesterday offered so much to talk about. While I’ll get into the individual performances below, a note that the farm squads also went 5-2 in the W-L column yesterday, with dang good pitching up and down the system. You love to see that.

Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …

Daniel Palencia header pic via Todd Johnson of Northside Bound

Five Honorable Mentions

  • Felix Stevens. I’ll admit, when I looked at the OPS column in the MiLB box score of last night’s game and saw Stevens number started with an eight, I was a little surprised. We know the guy has power for days, but I didn’t quite realize the success he’s had since an April injury: .270/.330/.539 in exactly 100 plate appearances. That’s a big ISO for that park.
  • Brandon Leibrandt. Shouts to the 29-year-old veteran for a four-inning, no-hit save last night for Iowa.
  • Moises Ballesteros. On base three more times last night, moving his season line to .333/.414/.608. As an 18-year-old catcher making his stateside debut. I’ll tell you a little secret between you and me: he’ll be on the midseason top 30 Cubs prospects list update.
  • Alfredo Zárraga. After striking out the side in order, Zárraga has now struck out 18 of the 34 hitters he’s faced in Low-A, which to remind, is his first professional assignment as a 21-year-old. He’s definitely interesting.
  • Jake Washer. His 2022 is a pretty good impression of the following guy over the last handful of weeks…

Five: Jake Slaughter

What a stunningly incredible month it has been for the 25-year-old corner infielder from Louisiana, who is demanding (and I’m happy to acquiesce!) that we take him absolutely serious as a capital-P prospect. Slaughter’s first inning home run — which was all the Smokies pitching staff needed — was his ELEVENTH home run in the last TWENTY-SEVEN games. That’s the same number he hit in two years at LSU, and three more than he hit in 217 minor league games entering this season. Bananas.

I went back and started to watch video on some extra-base hits, and I thought it was notable that Slaughter’s last four home runs all came on non-fastballs.

  1. Last night. See below. Fringy off speed pitch, Slaughter catches out in front and muscles for a pull-shot.
  2. June 26. Pulls a 2-0 changeup off a lefty.
  3. June 22. The walk-off slam, an 0-2 fringy slider out to left.
  4. June 18. Hits a slider straight out to center.

Four: Daniel Palencia

By the box score, this looks like a solid-but-unspectacular 4.2 inning start. But watching the video back, I’ll tell you that after three innings I wrote in my notes: “top 5 outing across whole system this year in raw stuff.” It was in that third inning that Palencia mixed in a handful of the best changeups I’ve ever seen him throw, and you can imagine how that went against guys that were waiting to dial up his 99-101 mph fastball (velocity readings forwarded by the Beloit announcer). He’s also throwing a good number of his revamped low 90s cutter and a handful of fringy mid 80s curveballs.

But Palencia’s stuff worsened in the fourth and fifth innings, as his ability to locate the changeup down into the dirt faded. Where he got bad BABIP luck a handful of times, his fourth inning was helped by a double play off a below-average curve. In the fifth, a home run on a hanging changeup hooked foul at the last minute.

Daniel Palencia header pic via Todd Johnson of Northside Bound

While Palencia can hold velocity exceptionally well, it’s the execution of the secondary stuff as he tires that will determine if he can break through and become a top 10 prospect in time. He absolutely possesses that upside.

Since May 6: 35.1 IP, 24 H, 2.80 ERA, 10 BB, 41 K, with numerous 101s to boot. Stock arrow pointing up.

Three: Pete Crow-Armstrong

There certainly doesn’t seem to be a lingering effect in PCA’s power tool from the hand injury that cost him two weeks, as he added his fifth and sixth triples of the season last night.

You can see them both below, where he’s home-to-third in about 11/12 seconds in both. Now that he has those monkeys off his back at High-A, I’d like to see PCA re-commit to his early season plate approach. Because it is noteworthy that in his last 19 games, which spans 83 plate appearances in about five weeks (with the IL stint mixed in), we’ve seen just two walks. Something to work on, and that’s okay.

Two: Jared Young

The offense was good last night, with a left-center home run that will surely catch the brass’ notice. Check it out here, but then let’s talk about his defense.

Since June 14, Young has started 12 games in the field: one at first base, eight at third base, and three (including last night) at second base. I applaud the Cubs for trying this out again, as you might recall that Young originally entered the organization as a second baseman out of Old Dominion. Giving him some run there, given the improvements of other first base prospects in the organization, is just good business.

Young was only called to make one play in the field last night, a fairly routine under-hand start to a 4-6-3 double play. But I did go back and watch every play he’s been involved with at second this year. I actually think the actions look decent, you can tell he has a history with the different angles and throws that second base requires. If I see a weakness, it’s in the first step/instincts defensively, which actually would profile to be a bigger weakness at third base (where he’s also seeing experimentation).

Young, 27 next month, is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season.

One: Tennessee’s No-No

Brett wrote this one up last night, and I want to be sure to give credit to catcher Bryce Windham, who becomes the second Smokies catcher this year to lead his staff to a no-hitter. Windham earned two of the 27 outs with his throwing arm, including one fantastic caught stealing on a breaking ball in the dirt.

A few notes on the four pitchers that got this one to the finish line:

  • Anderson Espinoza. He’d allowed at least four runs in each of his previous five Double-A starts, so this one was good to see. I think the story here was the slider usage, which is as high as I remember seeing it, and was enough to overcome pretty iffy fastball control. Pitching backwards might be his best path to sustainable success, and if he can have slider feel both into the strike zone and into the dirt, that’s pretty interesting.
  • Samuel Reyes. Continued the Espinoza gameplan of leaning on the breaking ball. One thing that stood out to me in this outing is that Reyes has really put on good pitching weight since joining the Cubs, as the lower half is noticeably thicker.
  • Bryan King. Has been scoreless in 12 of his 13 outings this year, and if you’re not familiar, this was a guy that jumped straight from Low-A to Double-A in late May. The sweepy slider has been death on hitters this year, and he commands it well.
  • Nick Padilla. How about that for your first game in two weeks? Padilla almost gave up the no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, when a 1-1 breaking ball was hit on a rope and about two feet foul. But a no-hitter needs that kind of luck, and hopefully Padilla is back and healthy and ready to keep building on a remarkable 2022 season.
  • A fun fact from Brett: TWO of the pitchers in the no-hitter – Reyes and Padilla – came to the Cubs in the same MINOR league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft!

Author: Bryan Smith

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