I’m not overstating it: last night had a 90 minute stretch that was unlike anything this system has seen since Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler were trading bombs in 2014. Brilliance was everywhere around the system, the majority of which was coming from big-time prospects. I have no choice but to increase the number of players to highlight for today, and today only.
And, every (stateside) affiliate won!
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …
Honorable Mention: Believe it or not, this could be even longer if I needed it to be. Also a good July 23 for: Levi Jordan (homered, heating up in Triple-A), Jake Washer (homered, 3 RBI, continues great season), Ismael Mena, Jeremiah Estrada, Chase Strumpf, Ezequiel Pagan, Bradlee Beesley, Darius Hill, Josue Huma, Michael McAvene.
Ten: Alexander Canario
The hottest hitter in the Cubs system. His July slash line is now .328/.480/.759 in 75 plate appearances; jaw-dropping stuff. The most important thing about his July isn’t the power explosion, but that after three walks last night, he now has 17 for the month (against just 12 strikeouts).
I promise to dig into the video soon to pinpoint what might have changed in his approach, because if he can sustain a walk rate above ten and K-rate below 30, we have to completely re-think the kind of player he can be. Another strong month and I’ll be advocating for a September look in Chicago. Remember, Canario is already on the 40-man roster.
Nine: Miguel Amaya and Bryce Ball
Hard to announce your return much better than Amaya has, with five hits in his first two games with Tennessee, including three for extra bases. Miggy has made some real swing changes since last year, starting with an outright open stance, as opposed to the closed-off crouch of his past. His hands start higher, and I believe his swing plane has steepened. I wonder if this wasn’t done to make it a little easier for Amaya to access his raw power, and if it was, you have to love the confidence boost that early good results will give him to keep with it.
Bonus Bryce Ball bomb:
Eight: Yonathan Perlaza
Joined Canario with three in the walks column and one in the homer column. Perlaza’s recent hot streak has his wRC+ now over 100 with the Smokies, which is a fantastic comeback after having the worst April in the whole system. Perlaza is since proving that last year’s breakout was real, and he’s actually shown a lot of growth: walking more, hitting fewer ground balls, more balanced from both sides as a switch-hitter. He’s a bit of an awkward fit defensively, and at 23 with a maxed-out frame, there’s not a ton of projection left, but he just keeps improving with his mental acuity at the plate.
Seven: Sean Newcomb
Last four appearances, where he’s been asked to get 7-12 outs in each: 12.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 16 K. The four-inning save last night was his longest appearance since August 5, 2020, when the Braves were still trying him as a starter. Could the Cubs be heading that direction, anticipating they might give him some starts in Chicago during the final six weeks? It’s a fun idea, now that he’s pitching again with a confident five-pitch arsenal. Whether it’s starting or long relief, I do expect him back on the 40-man roster once the slew of trades are complete.
Six: Pete Crow-Armstrong
PCA’s power breakout in 2022 has mostly been of the dead-pull variety, so nice to see the muscle in getting one over the left field fence yesterday.
In 18 games since his hand injury that definitely has not had a lingering effect: .296/.333/.593. My hope is that Pete is destined to play in the Arizona Fall League, and you just keep challenging that plate approach to be more than “see-ball, smack-ball,” … or he keeps proving that he’s talented enough that it just works.
Five: Kevin Alcántara
The Jaguar has been in a bit of a slump lately, with a .219 average in the five weeks preceding last night’s great one: 4-for-4 with a walk and sacrifice fly. About two weeks ago, Alcántara seems to have really focused on just making contact, with just four strikeouts in his last 40 plate appearances. So I’m going to credit some good coaching on helping Alcántara through his slump; it’s going to be so valuable that he’s been able to be on the field and healthy for the season’s first four months.
Four: Owen Caissie
Like Alcántara, ONKC had a productive trip to the plate in each appearance last night. I swear in watching his at-bats back, it feels like his bat speed is faster than it was early in the season. Lately it seems like he’s catching the ball a bit more out in front, pulling it with authority. This was the evolution in his game that we knew was coming.
On April 24, Caissie had a Golden Sombrero, lowering his season batting average to .111. South Bend manager Lance Rymel had Caissie miss the next three games, returning on April 29. Since then: .304/.385/.480.
Three: Caleb Kilian
Walked the first batter on four ugly pitches, and then snapped back to the 2021 version of himself (but with better stuff), retiring 15 of the next 16 he faced. Here’s the dirt on the eight strikeouts:
- Full count two seamer sinking into dirt
- Fastball in middle third for whiff
- Full count fastball in the zone for another whiff
- Well-executed low curveball
- Fastball on outside-corner for called strike 3 (98 mph)
- Goes cutter-curveball-curveball for the three strikes
- Another 98 mph fastball on outside-corner
- Dotted bottom gloveside corner with fastball
Kilian was able to throw a lot of fastballs in the zone and the Royals never made him pay. Definitely a start that signals why him being able to go 95-98 is so big versus the days where he might just be 92-95.
Two: Narciso Crook and Jacob Wetzel
The two “least prospecty” guys on the list, but mad respect for the two two-home-run games. Crook had been scuffling since his return to Iowa after the MLB debut, so hopefully this re-ignites the hot streak that led him to the call-up. With Nelson Velazquez ahead of him finding more comfort in the Majors, and Canario behind him on absolute fire, Crook needs big performances to maintain a grip on that 40-man spot.
Wetzel really hasn’t been much better in his return to Low-A than he was in 2021, so he’s fighting for an organizational spot at this point. The foundation is actually really solid: he’s in great shape, plays good corner outfield defense, can hit the ball far, takes his walks. It’s not added up to results, but I’d love them to give it one more go in 2023 to connect the dots, like he did last night.
One: Luis Devers
Normally, players get promoted to a new level and have a difficult time getting comfortable, perhaps not trusting themselves to challenge hitters like they should. Devers is no normal dude. The righty lives to attack, and he’s been unafraid to come at High-A hitters inside the zone. Last night he threw six no-hit innings on just 62 pitches; his tempo just keeps his opponents on their heels.
Last 12 appearances for Devers, across Low-A and High-A: 9-0, 57.2 IP, 41 H, 1.56 ERA, 7 BB, 59 K. The stuff was not particularly special last night, to be fair – the changeup was not diving into the dirt like when he’s at his best. Instead, it was a little bit of the BABIP gods smiling down, with tons of early-count sinkers finding gloves. The stuff needs another jump, but the mindset is exactly where it needs to be.