The notebook filled up this weekend with things from around the Cubs farm system. Here’s eight bits that really caught my eye …
The best outing from Ryan Jensen in 2022 on Saturday.
The former first-round pick allowed just one hit over five innings, looking completely in control of his arsenal. What jumped out to me in this outing was how backwards Jensen was pitching, probably the most I’ve seen him do in the Cubs system, with sliders and cutters early in the counts opening up the high fastball later. It led to 13 swing-and-misses, tied for the second highest total he’s posted since being drafted.
You could just tell that Jensen was feeling good – there might have been a few looks the stadium gun when he won with good heat, and now we know why:
Double-A pitchers continue to fail against Alexander Canario and Yonathan Perlaza.
The friendliest competition of Hottest Hitter in the Cubs System continues with these two teammates, as yesterday we had both Canario hit a ball out of the stadium and Perlaza fall a mere single short of the cycle. I love that both Canario’s home runs this weekend were breaking balls, with one going over the right field fence and one (mistake pitch) sent out to left. Meanwhile, I think Perlaza is just the best at using the ground in the entire system, it just feels like he’s exploding up from the legs on every batted ball. Perhaps we just compare each Dude’s last 35 games:
Perlaza last 35: .307/.405/.714, 12 HR, 21 BB, 34 K in 163 PA.
Canario last 35: .320/.426/.704, 13 HR, 22 BB, 30 K in 148 PA.
I’m so fascinated which Iowa reliever is Next Man Up.
There are four relievers, each with different compelling arguments, on whom I’m eagerly awaiting roster decisions: Ben Leeper, Brendon Little, Jeremiah Estrada, and Nick Padilla.
Leeper has probably proven the most at the Triple-A level to be qualified as Ready – and he had his best outing of the season yesterday – but is in the same boat as Matt Mervis: he’s not Rule 5 eligible this offseason, so his call-up would eat up a spot from a different prospect all winter.
Estrada and Padilla are two guys that have risen up the ladder from High-A to Triple-A just in 2022, and both looked good on Saturday. Estrada was 95-97, while Padilla’s breaking balls have been drawing the funkiest swings all year. Padilla is a minor league free agent at season’s end; Estrada is Rule 5 eligible.
But what a call-up story Little would be, the former first rounder who has allowed one run and one walk since July started (13 IP). On Friday, Little was 94-95 with the fastball, 85-87 with the slider, drawing a swing on one that bounced before the plate, telling me he has the tunneling of the two in the best place it has been.
Luis Verdugo’s breakout has been more prodigious than I realized.
The beautiful home run on Friday caught my attention, but not as much as South Bend broadcaster Max Thoma alerting us that Verdugo is in the midst of a now-21 game on-base streak. While I was aware that Verdugo’s good summer had successfully shaken off the cobwebs of his early season slump, I was unaware of the degree that his plate approach has improved: 23 walks, 22 strikeouts in his last 43 games (174 PA). Verdugo has a combination of defensive ability, projection, bat speed and now approach that is really intriguing; he’s trending up (I think in the top 30 conversation now).
Two “new” guys that will be key to Myrtle Beach’s playoff chances: Parker Chavers and Gregori Montano.
When Alfredo Zarraga was promoted from Myrtle Beach to South Bend earlier this month, it just felt like the Pelicans bullpen had been stripped to the bones. But Montano is a good reminder that this isn’t your grandfather’s Cubs pitching development pipeline. Out with Zarraga’s interesting 5-foot-11 relief mix, and in with Montano featuring a similar combination. The 22-year-old right-hander has not allowed a run in 13 innings with Myrtle Beach so far, despite walking more than a batter an inning. Montano is all legs and comes at hitter’s out of a low 3/4 release point, featuring a fastball around 95 and a curveball that most of the time behaves like a slider. He’s interesting, but I’m also going to remember him as a candidate to go sidearm down the road.
Chavers was a preseason top 50 prospect for me with some breakout buzz behind him, but a preseason injury delayed his start by three months. While the body is lacking in physicality, I love how Chavers uses his hands in his swing, quiet and crisp. He could well be the Pelicans’ best player down the stretch; he was this weekend.
I can’t promise you that Javier Assad will be a dominant big leaguer, but I can tell you that I love watching him.
Avid Five Stars readers know that I have loved Assad’s step forward this season, and to see it now continuing in Triple-A is just really cool. When you think about it, how wild is it that the Cubs have a homegrown starter with upper level success (and command), touching 96 mph Friday, and he’s as under-discussed as Assad?
The potential minor league free agent has continued to strike out one batter per inning in Triple-A, pitching off his cutter so successfully all the time now. I might be the lone human that is out here calling for a 40-man spot for Assad, but when Steele and/or Thompson run into their innings limit here soon, it’s Assad that I want starting September games. (Brett: You’re not alone on Assad, Bryan!)
Any hint at a Jordan Nwogu breakout is worth investigating.
It feels like it’s been a real “ho hum” season for Nwogu in 2022, but it has also somehow felt like something special is trying real hard to bubble to the surface. Nwogu has cut the groundball rate by six percentage points this year, with that positive change not yet being reflected in his home run totals. Yesterday got him to double-digits on the year, with six of those homers coming in the last 18 games. For what it’s worth, Nwogu’s last 200 PA are pretty compelling: .253/.350/.506 with “just” 46 strikeouts. Nwogu’s play should have him a guaranteed everyday spot in Double-A next year, and if he becomes the next AA-breakout-outfielder, don’t be surprised.
Darius Hill is a special hitter; is that enough with a 40-man this crowded?
You can’t knock on the Major League door much harder than Darius Hill has been doing, posting his sixth multi-hit game of the month on Sunday. The former 20th round pick is up to a .340 batting average with Iowa since his Memorial Day promotion, with his strikeout rate only getting better as he moves up the ladder.
And while I find Darius’ unique skillset to be so fulfilling as a viewer, I find myself pushing back against people demanding for his call-up. The 40-man will have at least eight other outfielders without question in mid-November (when Brennen Davis and Kevin Alcántara are added), and that’s not including guys with more juice than Hill in Perlaza, Narciso Crook and Yohendrick Pinango. I like that Hill is left-handed, I like that he never strikes out, and I appreciate his all-3-spots defensive versatility. But he’s walked just twice since July 4 and the power will just never profile as above-average. He might wind up a guy you just have to roll the Rule 5 dice on, rather than squeezing someone else out.