Sunday marked the end of the minor league season for the A-ball affiliates – High-A South Bend and Low-A Myrtle Beach – but Cubs fans are headed for some bonus baseball.
Both the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and South Bend Cubs find themselves in best-of-3 playoff series to win their divisional crown, which would move them into a league championship series if they move on. The Pelicans will travel to face the Charleston RiverDogs tomorrow night, while South Bend will host the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
I had a handful of thoughts this morning as I perused the final regular season numbers for Myrtle Beach and South Bend…
- I hope Jordan Nwogu ends up winning player of the month honors for September, because he deserves some recognition for the incredible run he’s been on. It’s not just the 1.130 OPS in the nine games this month, though, it’s the entire second half: .299/.373/.611 since the minors took a brief pause for the MLB All-Star Weekend. I’ll be asking questions if something changed with Nwogu, but I think it was a case of results catching up to an improved process all season long. Nwogu is one of the best in the organization at staying committed to his plate approach, and the Cubs swing changes since he was drafted have helped him elevate the ball more consistently. Nwogu finishes the season with the 19th-best High-A wRC+ (minimum 300 PA at the level).
- One particular point of excitement with Nwogu: in his final 13 games, stretching across 53 plate appearances, he struck out just three times. If he becomes above-average in the contact column, given the amount of damage he can inflict on a baseball, it’s going to get real interesting, real fast.
- I’m not sure people would be able to guess the Cubs farm system leader in On-Base Percentage in 2022 (min 300 PA). It’s B.J. Murray. The former 15th round pick finished the season on a hot streak of his own, with a season-ending slash line of .286/.410/.429 split pretty evenly between High- and Low-A. Murray is listed at 6-0, 205, Murray is a switch-hitting corner infielder and will turn 23 in the offseason. If you followed Five Stars this year, you’ll find occasional pleas for the Cubs to try Murray at second base, as I’m just not sure he’ll develop the requisite power to work as a corner infielder. Still, I do think the Cubs will help him utilize his strength at the plate better, and his swing decisions are among the best in the system. Fantastic year, and a really smart draft pick by the Kantrovitz Crew in 2021.
- Over at Baseball America, Geoff Pontes wrote about five pitchers with amazing fastballs, but relatively small followings. You’ll see my midseason #12 prospect written about on there, which is not a surprise with how many times Daniel Palencia touched triple-digits this season. The BA crew gets that good Trackman data, so this is particularly notable: “He gets above-average ride and run on his fastball with spin rates in the 2,300-2,400 rpm range, and a flatter vertical approach angle to the plate makes it hard for hitters to square up if they can time up his plus-plus velocity.” I think if the Cubs can play meaningful baseball down the stretch next season, we’ll see Palencia come up as a dynamic reliever to help, but given a pretty solid five-pitch mix, I’m still firmly considering him a starting pitcher.
- After a rough final regular season start, here is how Kohl Franklin’s regular season numbers finish up: 69.1 IP, 72 H, 6.88 ERA, 41 BB, 75 K. I’ll note that Franklin had the 10th-lowest LOB% in all of minor league baseball, which is the usually-regresses-to-mean statistic that reflects how often you strand runners on base. Out of the wind-up, Franklin held hitters to a .607 OPS, but out of the stretch, it ballooned to 1.072. I would expect there are both fluky and noteworthy reasons contributing to that giant gap, and you can bet the Cubs will explore if and why Franklin’s stuff might flatten out of the stretch. He’s still a top 30 prospect and good 2023 breakout candidate, even if I couldn’t quite make the argument that he should be added to the 40-man roster in November.
- Here’s a fun stat: left-handed reliever Riley Martin led all minor league pitchers who had eight starts or less in strikeouts this year. And Martin started just one game! A fantastic breaking ball mix is responsible for the 120 strikeouts in 82.2 innings, and Martin has surely done enough to put himself in the Double-A mix for next year. I’d bet the Cubs put Martin through another round of velocity training, trying to squeeze a little higher grade on the fastball, but this conversation happening at all suggests positive value on his $1,000 signing bonus has already been achieved.
- Haydn McGeary, the Cubs 15th round pick with video game numbers in college, has really helped the Pelicans down the stretch. He looks the part of his 6-foot-5 listing, but there should be additional muscle to add in the weight room. He impacts the ball with the force you’re looking for, and an all-fields approach helps him avoid some of the strikeouts that you’d expect from a guy with his profile. The Cubs will definitely work with McGeary to make some changes (simplifying pre-swing routine, using his legs more efficiently, perhaps even steepening the vertical bat angle), but there’s a fun foundation.
- One non-A-ball note. In my small preview on Hayden Wesneski’s debut, I wrote that recent outings were “leaving me some concern that a higher-than-average home run rate is his short-term destiny.” We saw this in the second outing, and I figured it was worth following up with some thoughts on how Wesneski’s development could fix these issues. And the good news: this is what we saw from Justin Steele last year!
- How did Steele fix his home run problems of 2021? Well we know he changed that fastball shape some, we know he worked on commanding down-and-in better, and also his raw stuff has just meaningfully improved. This is the path for Wesneski. His four seamer drifts a little too far into “dead zone” territory, he’ll sometimes throw middle-middle sliders just to get ahead, and his cutter and changeup still need consistency improvements. Little tweaks in each category are going to help, and I think the pitching staff being able to use Steele’s jump as a proxy will be really helpful.