Cubs Shake Their Bote to Victory at HoHoKam
David Bote reached base four times on two RBI doubles, a single, and a walk, and Shawon Dunston Jr tripled, singled, scored two runs, and drove-in another, leading the AZL Cubs to a 5-2 victory over the AZL Dodgers in Arizona League action tonight at HoHoKam Park in Mesa.
Cubs 1st round draft pick Albert Almora and Cuban mega-defector Jorge Soler went a combined 1-8, although Almora did collect an RBI on a ground ball single that ticked-off the glove of the shortstop.
Soler struck out twice (once swinging and once looking), and flied out twice.
The Dodgers have a high-profile Cuban defector playing for their AZL team, too, one Yasiel Puig.
Puig played RF tonight and reached base three times (two singles and a walk), but he also dropped a routine fly ball for a two-base error that allowed Almora to reach 2nd base safely in the bottom of the 1st.
Puig is hitting a rather robust 407/500/1.000 and is already tied for 9th in the AZL in HR (with four), despite having played in only eight games.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was at tonight's game, and so he got a chance to watch his $42M investment up close & personal.
RHP Paul Blackburn (Cubs 2012 Supplemental 1st round pick) got the start for the Cubs and labored through a two-inning 40-pitch outing, allowing two runs (both unearned) on four hits (all four singles) and a walk, with two strikeouts.
The most-impressive performance by a Cub pitcher tonight was the one turned-in by 20-year old RHP Dillon Maples, who (finally) displayed the velocity and command not seen previously, including three outings at AZ Instructs last fall (4.91 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, .231 OppBA, 3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP), or over the course of his two previous appearances in the AZL this season (3.38 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, .111 OppBA, 2.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 2 HBP, 2 WP).
But he was much better tonight, throwing two shutout innings (31 pitches - 20 strikes), allowing two singles and a HBP, while striking out three (two swinging). The big difference tonight was that he threw strikes (especially "strike one") and worked fast.
When he's right, Maples throws a 93 MPH fastball (with movement) and a hard-breaking nearly-unhittable curve, and he displayed both pitches tonight. If he can command his electric stuff (as he did tonight) and maybe develop a change-up, he could be a potential MLB "Top-of-the-Rotation" guy down the road.
Maples was a 14th round draft pick of the Cubs in June 2011 out of Pinecrest HS in Southern Pines, NC (he dropped to the 14th round only because of "signability" concerns), and he was signed by the Cubs right off the campus of the University of North Carolina last August (a top-notch place-kicker, Maples had signed an NLI with UNC to play both baseball and football, and he was attending the Tar Heels pre-season football camp when he made his decision to turn pro and sign with the Cubs).
The ace of the Under-18 Team USA squad while in HS, Maples received a $2.5M signing bonus (equivalent to "1st round money") from the Cubs.
After being shut-down with a sore arm midway through Instructs last year and not pitching at Minor League Camp or at Extended Spring Training this season while dealing with elbow/forearm issues, Maples finally appears to be moving forward.
The Defensive Gem of the Game was the very last play of the game.
With the Cubs up 5-2 with one out in the top of the 9th and with Dodger runners at 2nd and 3rd and the tying run at the plate, CF Albert Almora made a brilliant Willie Mays style catch, racing full-speed with his back to the infield and catching a towering fly ball basket-style just as he hit the CF Batter's Eye, before turning around 180 degrees and (without having time to measure the throw) firing a strike to 2nd base that doubled Alex Santana off base for the final out of the game.
A truly amazing play by the Cubs 2012 #1 draft pick.
There also was another roster gaffe by an AZL manager in tonight's game, this time by Cubs manager Bobby Mitchell.
Each AZL team has a 35-man roster, but only 30 players can be designated "active" for each game.
Unfortunately, one of the five AZL Cubs "inactive" guys (RHP Daniel Adrian) was brought into the game in the top of the 3rd, only to be waived off the field by the home plate umpire after he finished his warm-up tosses.
After a discussion around home plate between the umpires and the two managers, RHP Chad Martin was hurriedly brought into the game.
To his credit, AZL Dodgers manager Matt Martin agreed to let Chad Martin have as much time as he needed to get loose. The rival manager was within his rights to insist that the new pitcher be allowed just the maximum eight warm-up tosses, but I could hear him say that he didn't want anybody to get hurt just because of a technicality.
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.