Trying to Read a Waffle Iron
I talked with Cubs Organizational Hitting Instructor Dave Keller today, and he admitted that he was the guy in the tower yelling at Felix Pie (in Spanish) after Pie left the AZL Cubs game on Sunday, but that the conversation had to do with Pie verbally being given the hitting schedule for Monday at Fitch Park (which otherwise was an off day for the AZL Cubs), and that there was no animosity involved in the exchange.
I will say this about Coach Keller. Both Felix Pie and the AZL Cubs (as a team) have apparently responded very well to the hitting guru's presence at Fitch, as the Cubs hitters banged out 21 hits on Sunday and had another big day today, and Pie drilled a double, took a bases loaded walk, and hit a grand slam HR over the CF fence in the AZL Cubs 18-1 victory on Sunday, before returning to Iowa yesterday and going 2-4 with a two-run HR, a walk, and two runs scored in the I-Cubs 10-4 victory over Omaha.
Maybe Dave Keller should ask for a raise!
But Keller can't coach the pitchers, too, and contrary to some early reports in the "traditional" media that Rich Hill had been showing improvement since arriving at Fitch Park last week (I didn't see any), the fact is nothing appears to have changed (at least so far) as far as getting Hill out of his season-long funk.
Hill got the start yesterday at Peoria versus the AZL Padres and lasted just 1/3 of an inning before being removed from the game, with the following game log:
HBP, BB, BB, E5-RBI, BB-RBI, and 1B-RBI.
Today, Chris Huseby (who has been struggling to throw strikes since Minor League Camp in March) got the start for the AZL Cubs, and he also lasted just 1/3 of an inning before getting the hook, with the following game log:
HBP, HBP, WP, HBP, SF-RBI, BB.
That's right. Huseby hit the first three batters of the game (ding, dong, dang).
But Miguel Sierra came into the game in relief of Huseby with one out and the bases loaded, and immediately induced a DP grounder to end the inning.
The AZL Cubs then unloaded, scoring seven runs against the AZL Mariners, including a mammoth HR over the CF fence by 3B John Contreras, his third dinger of the young AZL season (today was game #9). The Cubs then hung-on for a 7-6 victory.
The 21-year old Contreras was born in New Jersey but grew up in the Dominican Republic, and he is the prototypical third-baseman (although he plays 1B, too). He has a heavy lower body and "Popeye" powerful forearms, just perfect for hitting bombs away
Besides Contreras's missile, the other offensive hero today was LF Jericho Jones (2008 20th round pick out of Louisiana Tech), who reached base three times on a single, a double, and a walk, stole a base, and scored two runs.
Best play of the day was a picture-perfect hit & run pulled off by the Cubs in the bottom of the 1st inning. With one out and the Cubs trailing 1-0, Bryan Jost at bat, and Starlin Castro on 1st base, Castro broke for 2nd. The second-baseman left his position to take the anticipated throw from the catcher, and Jost hammered a single right where the second-baseman had been stationed, sending Castro to 3rd base. Castro would later score on a FC ground out. That HAD to make Dave Keller happy.
Later that same inning, Nelson Perez absolutely CRUSHED a ball off the CF green metal hitting background 400+ feet from home plate, but was thrown out (albeit just barely) trying to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run. He did get an RBI out of it, though.
Today's game marked the pro debut of Cubs 2008 4th round draft pick Matt Cerda (Oceanside HS - Oceanside, CA). The 18-year old Cerda served as the DH and hit lead-off, going 0-2 with two walks before being removed for a pinch-runner in the bottom of the 8th.
Cerda played SS in HS, but the Cubs are moving him to catcher (with his consent). Actually, the young man is being moved BACK to catcher, because he was the starting catcher on the 2001 Oceanside LLWS team that went all the way to Williamsport.
AZL Cubs coach Danny Fatheree is mentoring Cerda in the art of catching. And the youngster couldn't ask for a better teacher.
In AZL Cubs roster news, 2008 24th round pick RHP David Cales (St. Xavier by way of UIC, the U. of Missouri, and Mt. Carmel HS) has arrived at Fitch Park, and he joined the other pitchers sitting in the grandstand about midway through today's game. I hope David is enjoying the 114 degree heat!
I don't know when Cales will get into a game, but it probably won't be too long because he was pitching for the Eau Claire Express in the Northwoods League (a collegiate "wood bat" league) up until the middle of last week, so his arm should be fairly close to "game ready" right now.
The AZL Cubs are still awaiting the arrival of 21st round pick SS Logan Watkins, who has agreed to a $600K bonus (that's a $500K signing bonus plus $100K in college tuition) to give up his chance to play college baseball at Wichita State. The left-handed hitting Watkins was a star baseball and football player at Goddard HS in Goddard, KS, and it took an offer of "2nd round money" from the Cubs to get him to turn pro.
With the signing of Cales and Watkins, the Cubs have inked 29 of their 51 2008 draft picks, including 24 of their first 27. The only three still unsigned among the Cubs top 27 picks (with August 15th the signing deadline) are 1st round pick RHP Andrew Cashner (TCU), 2nd round pick RHP Aaron Shafer (Wichita State), and 10th round pick RHP Alex Wilson (Texas A&M).
The Cubs will receive compensation picks in next year's Rule 4 Draft if they are unable to sign Cashner and/or Shafer (#20 overall if they don't sign Cashner, and/or #66 overall if the can't sign Shafer).
This might be old news but Hammel was on ESPN 1000 and said that he changed his diet and workout routine over the off season and tweaked his delivery so it'd be more repeatable so he'd have a better second half. So...some cause for optimism anyway.
CHILDERS: RHSP Dylan Cease and LHSP Bryan Hudson are probably the top two SP prospects in the organization right now.
LHSP Jose Paulino has electric stuff (91-94 MPH fastball with sinking action and a mid-80's slider), but he also has trouble commanding it.
RHP Jose Albertos (2015 IFA - Mexico - $1.5M bonus) just turned 17 in November, and his fastball already sits at 95-96. He also throws a curve and a change-up, and is fairly advanced for a kid his age.
AZBOBBOP: Most of 2016 draft picks will get assigned to either Eugene or AZL Cubs, but the Opening Day Eugune roster will probably be almost 100% from the Extended Spring Training squad roster (pending the arrival of draft picks).
I think I can probably tell you which pitchers and players at EXST are in contention for roster slots at Eugene and which are in contention for slots with the AZL Cubs - AS THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW - (listed alphabetically):
* bats or throws left
# bats both
Eloy Jimenez atop the leader board for minor-league home runs in the Cub system, with seven. Tied with Balaguert and Vogelbach, two 24-year-olds. Jimenez won't be 20 until late November. Leads the Midwest League in SLG and OPS. Maybe he'll get promoted to the Myrtle Beach squad that visits Woodbridge, VA, in June or Frederick, MD, in August.
Watched two Pelican games at Frederick the other week. Was most impressed by Stinnett and Happ. Happ may swing harder than Javier Baez, though more compactly. (Also got to see Brockmeyer hit a bomb.)
E-MAN: Jose Paniagua isn't a string-bean, but I wouldn't say he necessarily bulked-up during the 2015-16 off-season either, He led the DSL Cubs in HR and doubles in 2014, and he showed XBH power when he arrived in Mesa last year, leading the AZL Cubs in HR, doubles, and RBI in 2015. It's just that he has taken his HR power to a new level this year.
Paniagua displayed plus-HR power in Cactus League Minor League Spring Training games in March, and that got him a slot on the South Bend Opening Day roster. But he was sent to EXST after only six MWL games.
More on the Cub Way.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.