There’s a whole lotta Cubs prospect goodness to get to this afternoon, so roll with me …
- Let’s start with two Cubs pitchers getting love this week from MLB Pipeline:
- Lefty starter Jordan Wicks is adjusting well to Double-A after a rough initial exposure, and righty reliever Ben Leeper seems to be rediscovering what helped him break out last year:
LHP: Jordan Wicks, Tennessee Smokies (Double-A)
Cubs No. 7
0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 K, 0.78 WHIP
The Southern League gave Wicks a rude welcome at the end of July. After posting a 3.65 ERA and 86 strikeouts against 17 walks in 66 2/3 innings for High-A South Bend to start the year, Wicks made the jump to Tennessee but got roughed up immediately. Over his first two starts for the Smokies, the lefty was charged with seven runs, all earned, on 10 hits in seven innings, taking losses to Biloxi and Birmingham. As the calendar turned, so did Wicks’ results. The Kansas State product was masterful in his first two appearances of August against Rocket City, starting with eight strikeouts across five innings to counter three hits and a walk on Tuesday. Five days later, Wicks was just about as good, only lasting four frames but striking out seven while allowing just two hits and two walks. The 22-year-old has now fanned 109 batters through 82 2/3 innings this season.
RP: Ben Leeper, Iowa Cubs (Triple-A)
Cubs No. 27
0-0, 1 SV, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 0.33 WHIP
Leeper’s season has been a series of ups and downs with the righty posting a 5.63 ERA in five April appearances, a 0.00 mark through seven games in May, a whopping 13.50 in five June appearances and then a 4.15 ERA in seven July contests. So far, August is off to the right kind of start. Leeper faced Toledo twice last week, first earning a save while dealing a pair of innings to wrap up the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday with four strikeouts against a walk. Four days later, Leeper pitched a perfect ninth in an Iowa loss, striking out two. Since his ERA hit 5.48 on July 1, Leeper has dropped that mark to 4.22 over his last eight outings, allowing just two earned runs in that span.
- Leeper, by the way, is still not Rule 5 eligible until after next season, so he may not get the bump to the big league bullpen until sometime during next season. A call up this year may not have been in the offing anyway, because although he’s been on a nice little hot streak, the numbers this year (4.22 ERA, 6.37 FIP) have not stood out. Personally, I’d want to know what’s up with the 2.81(!) HR/9. He’s given up 10 homers this year over 32.0 IP, and if that’s tied to something in his pitch execution, it would be a serious problem at the next level.
- How Yonathan Perlaza didn’t make the prospect team for the week, I have no idea. But he did get Southern League Player of the Week honors, because his numbers were just LOL:
- Sticking with Tennessee for a moment – er, well, moving on from Tennessee:
- Vazquez, who is only 22, is an excellent infield defender, but the bat hasn’t quite come along this year in the overall stats (which is why you don’t hear about him too much). However, over the last month and a half, Vazquez has hit enough to justify the challenge of Triple-A: .298/.339/.471/111 wRC+. I don’t *think* a team would take Vazquez in the Rule 5 Draft, but his glove does create the kind of floor where I suppose it’s possible. The Cubs likely want to see if the offensive improvements over the past month would carry over against better pitching, and then they can make a more informed 40-man decision in November. The reality is that the Cubs are simply going to have to role the dice on a lot of their prospects because so many fringe guys are Rule 5 eligible this year.
- Other promotions: reliever Eduarniel Nunez has gotten the bump to Tennessee after his heater at South Bend since mid-May. He’s taking the bullpen spot of hard-thrower Danis Correa, who is the latest relief prospect to reach Triple-A Iowa. Correa, 22, has the stuff to impress the non-scout eyeball test, but I’m not quite sure why the strikeouts haven’t been there this year. The ERA is sub-3, but the walk rate (13.0%) is bordering on egregious if you aren’t striking out 30+%. The good news is that, over the last month, the strikeout rate is indeed 33.9%, while the walk rate is 11.9%.
- Kiley McDaniel was on The Score and he dropped an interesting take on the state of the Cubs’ pitching development infrastructure: “There was obviously a question for the end of the Theo Epstein regime, the beginning of the Jed Hoyer regime, if they could develop pitching and sort of cross that line at where they could manufacture guys at the way where the Dodgers, the Yankees and the Guardians are able to. The answer so far seems to be maybe, possibly. There’s been some progress in that area.” Maybe? Possibly? Some progress? I’ll take it!
- Given that Pedro Ramirez (1) was the Cubs’ DSL player of the year last year, (2) is only 18, and (3) is making his stateside debut, we should probably be making a bigger deal out of his success this year:
- Overall, Ramirez is hitting .323/.386/.535/146 wRC+, 9.3% BB rate, 15.0% K rate, .213 ISO, .369 BABIP, 25.3%(!) line drive rate. That’s the 9th best wRC+ in the Arizona Complex League, for what it’s worth, and as Brad points out, the combination of power and no strikeouts is really something to watch.
- You may be wondering how/why a guy that young in the ACL, and who is raking like he is (with beautiful peripherals!), isn’t getting more attention nationally. I tend to think it’s because Ramirez was not a big-time bonus baby when he signed a couple years ago (so he wasn’t already on the national radar), and because he does not physically check a lot of the boxes. He’s a smaller guy (listed at 5’9″ for now), and he is probably limited to second base.
- Speaking of the ACL team, Reggie Preciado is back on the field there on a rehab assignment from his knee injury. All we can do is hope that the month-ish of corner-turning he was showing at Myrtle Beach earlier this year was not lost to the injury, and that when/if he returns to Myrtle Beach later this month, he hits the ground running.
- A set of updates on all 12 players the Cubs acquired at last year’s Trade Deadline, a year later:
- I cannot vouch for the analytics behind this system, but you can dig in over at the account and see how he projects future positional “regulars.” To the extent you credit the system, the Cubs have the most in the minors:
- The Angels are being unbelievably aggressive post-Draft, which will be interesting to follow:
By contrast, Cubs draftees are only just now starting to get assigned to complex ball (i.e., the level below Low-A).