The promotions have been fast and furious over the past couple years, but things are different in Chicago now. The prospect line moving up through the Cubs system moves slower than in the past. Things seemed to grind to a halt at one point last year when it came to promotions. There were even some “reassignments” (read: demotions) that took place. The main reason for the changes is that the major league team is now locked, stocked, and ready to rock. The need for players at that level is gone, at least for now, and the minor leagues take on more of a developmental role.
This winter, promotions were way down. While most of the 2015 South Bend and Eugene rosters moved up, the higher levels only saw a trickle of prospects climbing the ladder. Here’s a quick look at some of the players who took another step toward The Show.
AA to AAA (7)
Ryan Williams, Pierce Johnson, Stephen Perakslis, Felix Pena, PJ Francescon, Willson Contreras, Dan Vogelbach, and Albert Almora
High-A to AA (11)
Paul Blackburn, Josh Conway, David Garner, Brad Markey, Tyler Skulina, Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood, Victor Caratini, Chesny Young, Carlos Penalver, and Mark Zagunis
In addition to these and the young men at the lower reaches of the organization, several longtime prospects were released over the course of spring training. If a prospect is to move forward in the organization, it has to be earned. And by earned, I mean he basically has to have dominated at a given level
We’re not even two months into the season, but a couple promotions have already taken place. Reliever Gerardo Concepcion moved from AA to AAA and reliever Dave Berg was moved up from high-A Myrtle Beach to AA Tennessee.
In less than a month, things will change when the Cubs select 38 more players to join the organization. Not all will be signed, though probably 15-20 of those draft picks will join the team this year.
In between now and the signings, several promotions should take place. There are 10 prospects who are having outstanding, even dominating, starts to the season: James Farris, Donnie Dewees, Eloy Jimenez, Trevor Clifton, Paul Blackburn, Jason Vosler, Brad Markey, Zach Hedges, and Jake Stinnett.
All have had worthy springs, but not all will need to change their address. Considering their age, stage of development, and other factors at the level ahead, only a few will get the call in the next month. Some may get promoted later, perhaps in late July or early August, to taste the playoffs at a different level. That’s been a common practice in the Theo Epstein era.
Staying put for now
He just turned 21 and is having the best month of his career (1.10 ERA in May). I think the Cubs will keep Clifton at Myrtle Beach for now. If he continues with a consistent curveball over the next month, however, he could move up later this year. I think he gets close to a full year at high-A. His fastball command has been excellent since last July, now it’s all about staying on top of the curve for him. In mid-July, his case will get revisited, especially if he continues his dominance.
He’s been at Myrtle Beach since last July. I thought he did well there last year showing a power stroke, and this year he’s hitting for average. Right now, there’s nowhere for him to go as he is blocked by Jeimer Candelario at AA Tennessee.
He is much improved this year after adding some velocity to his fastball to complement his slider, which is a plus pitch. He’s durable and goes deep into games, but still needs to develop some consistency. Hedges had a nice streak of quality starts before giving up 5 earned runs in 1.2 innings in his last start. I think he stays in Myrtle Beach, where he has a 2.95 ERA so far, and stays stretched out as a starter.
Right now, he is tearing up the Midwest League and shows no signs of slowing down. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .390 with 4 HR’s and 8 RBI. I think the Cubs will keep him down to work on his strikeout rate, which is close to 30%.
Moving up in June
He’s really come into his own this year. Much like Ryan Williams last year at Tennessee, Blackburn has been a ground-ball machine by commanding three pitches. Blackburn has shown his mettle since coming off the DL last July. Since then, he’s had an ERA of under 1.20 at Myrtle Beach and Tennessee in that span. That’s a pretty consistent span of dominance. Because of a shortage of quality pitchers at AAA, I think he could find himself packing for Des Moines in the near future.
After doing well as the closer last spring at South Bend, he struggled at Myrtle Beach the rest of the year. That’s not the case this year as he has a 1.27 ERA with 7 saves in 13 games. He also has 29 K’s in 21.1 innings. He’s ready to go to AA despite a blown save on Friday night.
He has done well as a starter this year at Tennessee. Because of his age and the need for quality starters at AAA, I think he moves up. The 24-year-old has a 2.59 ERA in seven starts. Like Williams and Blackburn, Markey attacks the strike zone through command and challenging hitters.
At 24, the 2014 second round pick is having his best start in his Cubs tenure. He has been throwing a little harder this year and has a 2.94 ERA in six starts and struck out 26 in 33.2 innings. At South Bend last August, Stinnett began to figure things out when he had a 2.84 ERA over his last 5 starts. This April, he picked up where he left off as he put up a 2.55 ERA in three April starts. I think as long as he is producing an ERA of 3 or under the next month, the Cubs are going to move him up in mid-June.
Not so sure yet, could go either way
In April, Donnie Dewees could easily have earned a promotion by hitting .345 with 16 RBI and 6 triples. In May, Dewees was dropped to the third spot in the order, where he’s hit .241 vs. .393 in the leadoff spot. I think he has to get back in the zone he was in earlier in the year. If I was a betting man, I’d say he stays in South Bend for a while. Like several others, his promotion gets revisited later in the summer.
There are several other prospects who are just now beginning to turn it on and could join the discussion next month. They include Gleyber Torres, Mark Zagunis, and Victor Caratini. It should be interesting to see who stays and who goes as the season progresses.