I keep doing it. I keep forgetting the jinx powers of a blogger. Yesterday, I decided to post a Twitter thread scouting report on Matt Mervis a few minutes before the Tennessee Smokies doubleheader. It’s not like a 1-for-7 day is truly horrible, but when you’ve been a four-digit OPS guy all year, I think we can safely say the down day was my fault. (Okay, really I just brought that up to have you go check out that thread. Mervis is really interesting!)
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …
Honorable Mention: Jake Washer homered for South Bend after PCA, his tenth this season in just 40 games. It’s a breakout that I have been negligent to not talk about, moving his role from twice-a-week catcher to everyday C/1B/DH. The season line is up to .286/.354/.551, so it’s safe to say he’s guaranteeing himself a 2023 role, shortly before which he will turn 27. This breakout has little margin for error because of his age, but it’s fun nonetheless. I love when the minors work as a meritocracy.
Five: Ezequiel Pagan
The organization’s minor league player of the month in June, Pagan was responsible for three of the Pelicans runs in their 7-3 win. It really seems like the guy who is most mis-assigned in this entire system is Pagan, who is very clearly ready for South Bend, but just wouldn’t get consistent enough at-bats there to warrant the Cubs moving him (the South Bend outfield is *over* full of prospects who need to be playing every day). It’s arguably better he get 200 PA the rest of the season in Myrtle Beach than get 120 in South Bend, to see if this modest boost in power that we’ve seen is real.
Pagan just turned 22 this weekend, and hopefully the Cubs can find him a challenging winter ball assignment to further test his mettle. Last 50 games: .340/.415/.532, 8 HR / 10 SB, 19 BB, 24 K in 215 PA.
Four: Daniel Palencia and Javier Assad
Combined: 7 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 HR.
Palencia: Sat around 99 on the South Bend stadium gun, hitting 101 on the game’s fourth pitch. This was a lineup that Palencia could throw fastballs by, and he obliged, notching seven strikeouts in the game. The slutter continues to flash some good stuff, but the movement profile is still inconsistent.
Assad: Was 92-94, and really mixing in all six pitches. A couple of at-bats we saw Assad pitch completely off his 87 mph cutter and throw breaking balls off that. The home run came on a hanging slider, which is probably the pitch that most needs some Pitch Lab time. But he’s good and belongs in Triple-A. (Brett: Has Assad worked himself into the conversation of yet another Rule-5-eligible prospect who is going to have to be protected?)
Three: Jake Slaughter and Chase Strumpf
Great to see both guys leave the yard off breaking balls today. Slaughter’s last 40 games are absolutely ridiculous: .315/.425/.631, 13 HR / 15 SB, 22 BB, 40 K in 181 PA. He seems to generate leverage out of that low crouch batting stance so well, and I love that his walk rate is spiking as pitchers are giving him more respect (and secondary stuff). Slaughter, 25, is a breakout that breaks my brain a little bit; just nothing I saw coming. I think you just keep pushing him, and you see what challenge Triple-A has to offer him.
Strumpf has the prettier swing, and has been one of the more consistent hitters in the Cubs farm system this year, I swear every time I look up the OPS is just sitting in a spitting distance of 850 (league average is 753). Strumpf has been playing more second base since Slaughter came up, and what I’ve seen looks pretty solid. We have no real sign that the strikeouts will subside in his game – he just seems like a 30% guy – but I think he can be a positive regardless.
Two: South Bend Relievers
All four guys (referenced in the tweet) were really good, but I want to highlight Michael McAvene. Yesterday was McAvene’s seventh outing of the season and just his 14th in the Cubs organization three years after being drafted in the third round. McAvene had an elbow injury that didn’t require surgery in 2021, and came back with somewhat lackluster stuff at the end of the season, but it’s coming back.
McAvene’s outing could have been ugly yesterday, as he quickly hit the first two batters with sliders that didn’t slide. The next count went to three balls, and it seemed like we were headed for an ugly outing. But McAvene steadied the ship, striking out three consecutive batters, all on really plus sliders. The pitch is a bit slurvy in movement, but thrown with enough velocity that it tunnels the fastball successfully.
One: Pete Crow-Armstrong
Started the bottom half of the first inning off with a first-pitch home run off a fastball, which I have to imagine will be a thing we’ll see at Wrigley down the line. PCA’s steepened bat angle this year makes it so pretty when he can connect on those middle or low balls and just blast one out.
But more impressive to me than this at-bat was what PCA did in his next two. Both times, Pete quickly fell down 0-2, and then showed the skills that give him that plus hit tool. The first time, he watched two close breaking balls go by for balls before hitting a third breaker into right for a single. The second time he went and got another breaking ball for a single. Pete then notched his first walk of July in his final at-bat of of the day.
Since coming off the IL for the bone bruise in his hand: .316/.333/.544, 2 BB, 14 K in 60 PA.
Next weekend, we’ll get to see PCA play in the Futures Game, as the long prospect rep for the Cubs.