Five Stars of the Cubs Farm, 4/11/23: Mervis, Noland, Hernández, Ballesteros, Horn

This is something to watch, but I think I notice the tiniest change in Nelson Velázquez’ swing. Last year, as Velázquez brought his hands back right before launching his swing, they would drop a little bit. I mentioned in a postseason piece about his unexpected trouble with fastballs that the Cubs might play with steepening his plane. As I watch (and re-watch and re-watch and re-watch) Nelly’s beautiful grand slam last night, I do think I see the hands staying higher, which in turn allows him to better match the plane of high heaters.

Could be nothing — confirmation bias at work — and could be the Cubs hitting coaches accurately diagnosing a problem and finding a simple fix to combat it. His ceiling is absolutely one of an above-average big league regular (remember the company his 2021 AFL performance put him in), and any tangible improvements from last year will help.

Honorable Mention: I’m going to write about it more soon, but just want to put here that Nick Burdi was again up to 100 mph last night in Iowa. It was a really good use of the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, and he’s looking like someone destined for a look before too long here.

FIVE: Chris Kachmar and Bailey Horn

It was noteworthy that Kachmar made the Tennessee roster out of camp, as the team was comfortable giving him his first Double-A assignment after just 8.2 innings pitched (between High-A and ACL) last year. It’s the sign that the former Lipscomb product had a good camp. In this one, Kachmar struck out 6 of the 11 batters he faced in relief of Porter Hodge, mowing down a mostly left-handed Montgomery lineup on the back of his plus curveball. Kachmar spiked a handful non-competitively in front of home plate, but he also found the feel quickly time and again, locating well with two strikes to get the job done.

Bailey Horn came in relief, and in two appearances so far, looks a little better than this level. He struck out the side in order in the eighth mostly with fastballs, locating up-and-in to the left-handed hitters better than he usually does. The slider doesn’t look all the way dialed in yet, but he hasn’t needed to rely on it yet.

FOUR: Dom Nuñez and Moises Ballesteros

For the record, you can count me among those that think the Cubs’ current Major League set-up of employing three catchers as a little silly. And I say that to point out that it was a good night for Dom Nuñez, who will inherit the Cubs’ third catcher role (though he’ll be doing it from Iowa), if/when Luis Torrens eventually is forced off the MLB roster. Nuñez has shown some pop this year, but is striking out too much to leave you super comfortable about him as an MLB option.

Meanwhile, Ballesteros’ bat speed catching up to a pretty good fastball:

THREE: Cristian Hernández

This is not a home run for very many A-ball shortstops throughout the game, but the combination of bat speed and back spin are enough for the 19-year-old to send this one out to center:

We need a large sample of results before we can say much of anything about where he’s at right now, but good to know we’ll have a highlight or two to remind of the ceiling regardless.

TWO: Connor Noland

Very nice organizational debut for the ninth round pick jumping up to High-A: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K. The swing and miss came from fantastic execution of his two different-but-similar breaking balls: a slurvy curveball and a gyro slider. He can spot them into the dirt in a way that should lead to success at this level. We also saw decent movement on his two seamer and some fade on a changeup, so there’s a true starter mix here. If the fastball proves to have enough oomph, he’ll hop right onto the prospect radar.

ONE: Matt Mervis

If the book is out to bust Mervis inside with fastballs, it’s good for him to remind everyone that he’s just fine to feast on those, too. You can just envision how seamlessly a swing like that will fit with the Wrigley power alleys. I’ll note that this was Mervis’ first extra-base hit this year off a right-handed pitcher, but he did log his fourth against a left-handed pitcher later in the game with 106 mph opposite field double. And he put together his eighth walk of the season, showing a real step forward in swing decisions so far this year.

I’m still not yet beating the drum that the man needs to be in Wrigley, but it’s sure nice to know that he’s there and getting better for when the Cubs do need him.

written by

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.

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