Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, 4/6/23: The Return, PCA, Jensen, Morel, Davis, Velazquez, Mervis, More
Shorter one (by my standards) today, given that I sped through watching these after the BN event at HVAC in Wrigleyville. Great to meet some of you there, great to be with my BN colleagues for an evening, and great to return home and find good news from three of the Cubs’ top four prospects!
2023 – let’s go.
Honorable Mention: Two (familiar) Iowa relievers: Jeremiah Estrada and Manny Rodriguez. Estrada has had good results this year via stuff that is a little down from last year (we’ll keep monitoring that). Rodriguez, on the other hand, has shown electric stuff in two outings that is an immediate improvement on last season. The velocity has returned to the 97-99 range, some sliders back above 90, the four seam showing more ride, the sinker showing more run. Believe Iowa PBP man Alex Cohen when he says it’s the best he’s seen Manny, and let’s anticipate that his return to the 40-man roster is more a matter of “when” and not “if”.
FIVE: PELS PEN
The three here are Saul Gonzalez, Marino Santy, and Angel Gonzalez, who combined for this line in Myrtle Beach’s Opening Day 6-2 loss: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. For the uninitiated, I thought I might just introduce each player with the quickest one-game scouting report possible:
- Saul Gonzalez: Acquired for Mychal Givens, leaner than last year, gets into back leg, a bit of deception, over-the-top but still lower-than-expected release height.
- Marino Santy: Delivery modeled off Aroldis Chapman, with a body almost the opposite: short and diminutive. Nice cutter/curve mix.
- Angel Gonzalez: Was 98 and very rude above the zone to two hitters last night. Not a lot of nuance otherwise quite yet.
FOUR: PETE CROW-ARMSTRONG
Hits were hard to come by in the Smokies season debut, but PCA comes away responsible for two of the four. The first gets credit from his legs, with the home-to-first time somewhere in the 4.0-4.1 range, which is good for 65-or-so on the 20/80 scale for run times.
The second is a nice piece of hitting, and something you weren’t always seeing from his last year, when he was a little more liable to cheat and look to pull any and every fastball.
For completist sake, we’ll also note one walk and two strikeouts in this one, with the K’s coming via a 94 mph left-handed fastball and a lost at-bat where he had three whiffs against Alejandro Mateo.
PCA also just missed chasing down a ball in right-center that went as a ground rule double against our next prospect, missing the catch on a slide that was almost the day’s most significant highlight.
THREE: RYAN JENSEN
Admittedly, in hindsight, I should have had Ryan in the five spot here, given the line is just okay: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. But I watched this prior to posting Five Stars, and I really wanted to accentuate that Ryan was better than his line. His day was a series of opposite field singles, just-missed-highlights by his defense, and then succeeding in pressure-filled moments.
Jensen was 96-97 pretty often in this one, according to the broadcast, and was having success pitching off the sinker. He gets credit from me for never letting the wheels fall off, be it with runners on base or behind in the count, which has been a bugaboo in the past. The curveball looked better in this outing than I remember — something I’ll be monitoring in future outings.
(One defender that consistently helped Jensen: Chase Strumpf at second base. The ball kept finding him, and he showed good feet going to his left.)
TWO: CHRISTOPHER MOREL
This is pretty much a four-game achievement award, as Morel has been a revelation as Iowa’s leadoff hitter so far. In total he’s 7-for-17 with four extra-base hits and three walks in 21 plate appearances, seeing more pitches than he ever has in the past. In this one he logged three balls with exit velocities above 102 mph, and a double on the one ball-in-play that was below that. It’s been a loud few games to really just scream “DON’T MAKE UP YOUR MIND ON ME QUITE YET” to the people in the back.
ONE: IOWA’S PROSPECT SLUGGERS – NELLY, MASH, DAVIS
Brett and I lamented last night that, though we were having a great time, our evening in Wrigleyville meant we weren’t live-experiencing the slugfest in St. Paul. Because what we were catching up on from afar was great news: home runs from Nelson Velázquez, Matt Mervis, and Brennen Davis.
Velázquez has been a revelation in Iowa to begin the season; he’s 8-for-18 and hitting everything on the screws. Last night’s long ball to center was a bit wind-aided, but the exit velocities are supporting this early season success, with three more balls above 98 mph off his bat yesterday (peaking with a 108 mph single). Whether we’re saying in hindsight or you believed it before the year, I think it’s probably an okay time to admit that, yes, the Cubs front office made a mistake by not rostering Nelson while Seiya was hurt.
Mervis was just 1-for-6, but the one was a 112.6 mph grand slam missile off a 78 mph left-handed breaking ball. He’s started the year with nice work in the department of disproving he’s a platoon hitter.
Probably the best news was a really good night from Brennen Davis, who logs three hits including the 405-foot poke over the centerfield fence. We have to keep monitoring the strikeouts, but at least in this one he showed good adjustments in his second at-bats against two different pitchers. When Bailey Ober got him with a slider early, he came back with a hit against the fastball the second time. Then Brent Headrick got him with a well-placed fastball in the fifth, before Davis deposited a less-well-placed fastball over the fence in the seventh.