Cubs Prospect Notes: Ben Brown’s Dominance, Two Outcome Caissie, the Rising Razorbacks, More
Some minor league notes for your late afternoon perusing:
- Ben Brown has posted two scoreless outings to start his year, allowing just three hits against 13 strikeouts in nine innings. His 19-whiff start on Sunday was a showcase for his curveball, a tight 11-to-5 offering thrown at a velocity that few reach with that pitch. But the real impressive thing was the execution of the pitch, particularly his command at dropping it into the perfect part of the dirt with two strikes. I see Ben throwing his (revised) changeup a bit more often, and I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of cutter in the mix, but it’s hard to imagine the fastball/curveball not always ruling the roost. It’ll be a kind of Spencer Strider attack plan.
- One thing I’ve been thinking about: is Brown possibly the player in the minor leagues we’d most want to take the Big League Cubs next emergency start? It felt impossible before the year, as the rotation depth of Javier Assad, Adrian Sampson, and Caleb Kilian seemed like such a strength. But those players are all scuffling to varying degrees, and Brown is sitting there on the 40-man roster and red hot. If the day lined up right, I wouldn’t be scared to give him a shot.
- I’m far from the first person to point out that Owen Caissie is straddling a pretty ridiculous stat line right now: 192 wRC+ and 57.1% strikeout rate. You’ve heard of Three True Outcomes, but Caissie hasn’t walked much, instead settling into the Two Outcome approach so far: strikeout or a 100+ mph exit velo rocket. It appears the Cubs have done some good work in moving Caissie’s contact point a bit more out in front, which will force a lot more balls to be pulled in the air (something Caissie didn’t do enough in A-ball despite a skillset that would benefit from it). The drawback to this contact point change is a small-but-meaningful change in when a hitter is forced to commit to a pitch, and Owen’s eyes don’t yet have the muscle memory to adjust his swing decisions appropriately. I’d point that he’s seeing more pitches per PA than ever before, but it’s mostly leading to late-count situations where Caissie is facing the best breaking balls he’s seen yet as a professional. Adjustment to the adjustment is no doubt underway.
- It’s noteworthy that Caissie ranks (only) second in the system in BASH, a creation of Northside Bound’s Greg Huss, which is an all-in-one offensive statistic that adjusts for league, park and age. Instead, and this is exciting, it’s Cristian Hernandez that tops the list given a .350/.409/.600 batting line. This is a potentially massive development in the system, but also one I’m scared to even acknowledge until we have a larger sample. Everything looks quieter, Cristian has seemingly bought into not trying to do too much, and let’s just re-convene on the matter in May, okay?
- One nice surprise this year has been how fantastic three recent draft picks from the University of Arkansas have fared. Casey Opitz has been one of my most pleasant surprises so far this year; his swing decisions have been fantastic, and he’s hitting the ball with authority. Connor Noland has looked really good for South Bend, and he’s done something similar to what I said about Ben Brown above: dotting breaking balls in the dirt with two strikes. Has been very nice for those two to be working together again, I’m sure.
- I have to imagine that soon enough their old center fielder Christian Franklin will join them. I projected Franklin to High-A all offseason, but I can understand that the Cubs thought to give him a pseudo-rehab stint in Myrtle Beach first. Franklin has looked like he has the right blend of strength and speed coming back from injury, and it’s always impressive to me to see someone who can backspin a baseball in A-ball. Golfers out there will see the way he seemingly compresses the ball on this bomb:
- When I think about what relievers have impressed me the most in the early season, the lefties jump out. Anthony Kay and Brendon Little have both shown big league stuff in Iowa. Bailey Horn has just destroyed souls in Tennessee (strikeouts against 10 of 16 batters faced). And down in Low-A, I’ve really enjoyed the cut-fastball/curveball mix that Marino Santy has featured out of the bullpen.
- In looking through AZ Phil’s box scores from Extended Spring Training, it sounds like a trio of prospects will make their returns soon. Zac Leigh is close to rejoining the Tennessee bullpen, and he’s likely to head north with lefty DJ Herz. I expect Herz will probably sit in that 50-70 pitch range for his first few outings. Outfielder Ezequiel Pagan is about ready for a return, presumably heading to South Bend in the very near future.
- Please let the weather get nicer in Buffalo. The Iowa Cubs haven’t played since Friday – postponed AGAIN today – and we can’t be letting very specific people get cold right before their very hypothetical (and very necessary) call-ups.