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  • Cubs Minor League Week in Review (4/18-23): Morel and Made Mash, Thompson Dazzles

    Seth Stohs

    The Cubs certainly have a handful of very interesting pitching prospects. There are just as many hitters who will play in the big leagues as well. As another week of six-game series is set to begin on Tuesday, let's take a look back at last week to see which minor leaguers have been playing well. Use the COMMENTS to discuss players and learn together about them. 

    Image courtesy of Greg Swiercz / USA TODAY NETWORK

    Cubs Video

    The Cubs are sitting in this place, behind the Brewers and the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, but they have played arguably better than expected. The exciting thing is that there are several players in Iowa ready to help when needed, and there are intriguing hitters and pitchers at every level of the system. There are some immensely talented, high-upside pitching prospects in the organization which obviously bodes well long-term. 

    It was a mixed bag in the Cubs minor leagues last week. As the four full-season affiliates set for their six-game week, let's take a look back and see which prospects are playing well. Some of the names, have shown up both weeks, and it will be fun to see which players show up most often throughout the season. 

    Triple-A Iowa Cubs
    Last Week: Home vs Omaha, 2-2 (games postponed Saturday and Sunday)
    Overall: 8-4
    Standings: 4th place in the International League
    What’s Next: Six games at Buffalo (6-8)

    Top Hitter: 3B Christopher Morel (24)
    For the second straight week, Christopher Morel is the choice for Iowa’s hitter of the week. He continues to provide power in the middle of the lineup. Should he be up with the Cubs? Probably. However, Patrick Wisdom is also currently producing a ton of power at the hot corner for the Cubs. The Cubs have some long-term commitments in the middle infield. Cody Bellinger is hoping for a comeback player of the year season. So, until a need arises, Morel sits in Des Moines (or wherever the Iowa Cubs are playing) with two choices. Fortunately, he appears to be making good choices and producing monster numbers that a front office can’t ignore.

    He wasn’t quite as dominant as the previous week, but in six games, he hit .250/.333/.667 (1.000) with a double and three home runs.

    Honorable Mentions
    OF Mike Tauchman (32) – 3 G, 3-for-9, .333/.538/.667 (1.205), with a homer and three RBI. He also had four walks.  
    IF Miles Mastrobuoni (27) – 6 G, 5-for-16, .313/.500/.563 (1.063), with two doubles and a triple. He also walked six times and stole a base.
    OF Nelson Velazquez (24) – 6 G, 6-for-22, .273/.360/.500 (.860), with two doubles and a home run. He had three walks and a stolen base.  

    Top 20 Prospects
    OF Brennen Davis (23)(#5 Prospect): 6 G, 9-for-24, .375/.400/.542 (.942) with a double, a homer, and three stolen bases.
    1B Matt Mervis (25)(#6 Prospect): 6 G, 7-for-25, .280/.308/.560 (.868) with a double, two homers, eight RBI, and a stolen base for good measure.

    Top Pitcher: RHP Riley Thompson (26)
    Riley Thompson had a terrific start last week for Iowa. He earned a win, but that doesn’t tell us anything. How about this. He threw five no-hit, shutout innings against the Royals top affiliate. He walked three, but he struck out nine batters in the game. In his three starts so far this season for the Cubs, he is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA and an impressive 0.77 WHIP. In 13 innings, he has given up five hits and five walks, but he also has 17 strikeouts.

    Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery just before the draft, Thompson was selected late by the Reds out of high school. He went to Louisville where he was drafted again in 2017 before signing as the 11th round pick of the Cubs in 2018. In 2019 at then-Low-A South Bend, he went 8-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 21 starts. He became one of the better pitching prospects in the organization, but then he didn’t pitch in 2020. And then shoulder soreness caused him to miss the 2021 season too. Last year, he returned to the mound at Double-A Tennessee. He went 2-5 with a 4.42 ERA over 19 starts. He had 64 strikeouts over 57 innings, but he also walked 32 batters. But his stuff was good and encouraging, and if he could gain any semblance of control, he has a chance to be a solid big-league pitcher.

    Honorable Mention
    RHP Chris Clarke (25): 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 5 K
    RHP Tyler Duffey (32): 2 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, 3 K  
    LHP Roenis Elias (34): 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA, 0.47 WHIP, 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 H, 1 HBP, 2 BB, 2 K.

    Other Top 20 Prospects
    RHP Caleb Kilian (25) (#16 Prospect): 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 5.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 4 K.

    Double-A Tennessee Smokies
    Last Week: At Montgomery, 2-4
    Overall: 4-5
    Standings: Tied for 5th place in the Southern League
    What’s Next: Hosting Chattanooga (6-3) for six games

    Top Hitter: SS Luis Vazquez (23)  
    In five games this week, Luis Vazquez went 11-for-19 and hit .579/.619/1.105 (1.724) with a double, three homers, and six RBI. The only thing that didn’t really go well for him was on the base paths where he had one steal in four attempts.

    Vazquez was the Cubs 14th round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico in 2017. He spent the next two seasons mostly in the rookie leagues. In 2019, he played at four different levels including 25 games in Double-A and 11 games at Triple-A. After the lost 2020 season, he played 23 games at South Bend and eight games at Tennessee. He was injured so he was able to get some extra at-bats late in the season Arizona Fall League. Last year in 86 games in Tennessee, he hit .237 with 24 extra base hits. He hit .179 in 27 games in Iowa. In 12 games this year with the Smokies, he is hitting .341/.362/.614 (.975) with three doubles and three home runs.   

    Honorable Mention
    OF Nelson Maldonado (26): 4 G, 5-for-16, .313/.389/.563 (.952) with a double, homer and two walks.  
    IF BJ Murray (23): 5 G, 5-for-15, .333/.545/.667 (1.212) with two doubles, a homer, and six walks.

    Top 20 Prospects
    OF Pete Crow-Armstrong (21)(#1 Prospect): 1 G, 2-for-4, .500/.600/1.250 (1.850) with a homer, a walk, and a stolen base. Unfortunately, he was caught a cold and should be back on the field Tuesday.
    OF Owen Caissie (20)(#8 prospect): 4 G, 3-for-11, .273/.500/.364 (.864), with a double and five walks.
    C/1B Miguel Amaya (22)(#19 prospect): 5 G, 5-for-13, .385/.529/1.000 (1.529), with two doubles, two homers, and two walks.  

    Top Pitcher: LHP Jordan Wicks (25)(#5 Prospect)  
    There were several really good choices for pitcher of the week in Tennessee, but the choice here is left-hander Jordan Wicks. He made one start, and he only had one mistake (not literally, but you know what I mean). In five innings, he gave up one run on one hit (a solo homer). He walked one and struck out six batters. Wicks has now made three starts this season. He is 0-0 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. In 11 1/3 innings, he has walked five and struck out 17 batters.

    Wicks grew up in Arkansas, and after high school, he went to Kansas State. He was a three-year starter for the Wildcats and had a strong showing in the Northwoods League in 2020. When the 2021 draft came, the Cubs were likely thrilled that the southpaw fell to them with the 21st overall pick. He signed quickly, and the Cubs aggressively pushed him to High-A South Bend for four starts at the end of the season. That’s where he began the 2022 season, but after 16 starts, he moved up to the Smokies for eight starts at the end of the season. Combined, he had 28 walks and 121 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings.  

    Honorable Mention
    RHP Hunter Bigge (25): 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 2.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 3 K.
    RHP Walker Powell (27): 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 4 K.
    RHP Cayne Ueckert (27): 2 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 2.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 3 K.

    Top 20 Prospects
    RHP Ben Brown (23) (#9 Prospect): 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 6.0 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 9 K.  
    RHP Daniel Palencia (23) (#10 Prospect): 1 G, 0-0, 9.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.0 IP, 2 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K.
    RHP Porter Hodge (22) (#13 Prospect): 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K.  

    High-A South Bend Cubs
    Last Week: Home vs Beloit, 3-3
    Overall: 6-3
    Standings: Tied for 1st place in the Midwest League
    What’s Next: Six games at Great Lakes (4-5)

    Top Hitter: SS Kevin Made (20)(#18 Prospect)
    On July 2, 2019, the Cubs signed Kevin Made from the Dominican Republic for a reported $1.5 million. As you know, there wasn’t a 2020 season, so he didn’t make his professional debut until 2021. The Cubs aggressively pushed him to Myrtle Beach in late May that year and he played 58 games. He began the 2022 season with the Pelicans where he hit .266/.354/.451 (.805) with 14 doubles and nine home runs. More important, he showed the ability to control the strike zone. He was promoted to South Bend where he hit .162 over the final 37 games of the season.

    That’s where he started this season, and like he did a year ago, he took the lessons from his late-season struggles at the level to make adjustments coming into this season. Last week, he played in five games. He hit .412/.565/.824 (1.389) with two doubles, a triple, and a home run. He walked five times with just four strikeouts. In 12 games this season, he is hitting .300/.440/.500 (.940).  Of note, he won’t turn 21 until mid-September.

    Honorable Mention
    IF Scott McKeon (25): 4 G, 5-for-14, .357/.438/.714 (1.152) with two doubles, a homer, a walk and a steal.
    1B Haydn McGeary (23): 6 G, 8-for-22, .364/.500/.455 (.955) with two doubles and six walks.  
    OF Brad Beesley (25): 6 G, 8-for-24, .333/.429/.625 (1.054) with two doubles, a triple, a homer, and four stolen bases.

    Top 20 Prospects
    OF Kevin Alcantara (20) (#3 Prospect): 5 G, 3-for-19, .158/.261/.158 (.419) with three walks.   

    Top Pitcher: RHP Brandon Birdsell (23)  
    Birdsell is no stranger to the MLB draft. Out of high school in Willis, Texas, he was drafted in the 39th round by the Astros. In 2021, after three seasons at Texas Tech, the Twins drafted him in the 11th round, offered him what they could, but he instead went back to Lubbock for his senior season. He went 9-3 with a 2.75 ERA over 15 starts. He had 106 strikeouts in 85 innings of work. The Cubs selected him in the fifth round of last year’s draft. He signed for a little below slot and then did not pitch for the rest of the summer, at least not in a formal game.

    Last week, Birdsell made his third start of the season (and of his career). He tossed four scoreless innings. He tossed four hitless innings. He walked one and struck out six batters. On the season, he is 0-0 with a 0.84 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. In 10 2/3 innings, he’s been charged with one run on two hits. He has six walks to go with 12 strikeouts.

    Honorable Mention
    RHP Brad Deppermann (27): 2 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 5 K.
    RHP Richard Gallardo (21): 1 GS, 1-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.

    Top 20 Prospects

    Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans  
    Last Week: 3-3 at Lynchburg
    Overall: 4-4
    Standings: Tied for 5th place in the Carolina League
    What’s Next: Six games at home versus Augusta (3-4)

    Top Hitter: C Moises Ballesteros (19) (#17 Prospect)
    Ballesteros is a catcher, but he is playing a game a week or so at first base and at DH to keep his bat in the lineup most nights. Last week, he played in four games. He went 5-for-14 and hit .357/.500/.429 (.929) with a double and four walks. He also had a stolen base. In 11 games this year, he is hitting .290/.417/.474 (.890) with a double and two home runs. He also has nine walks to go with seven strikeouts.

    In January of 2021, the Cubs signed Ballesteros out of Venezuela. He spent that summer in the Dominican Summer League. In 48 games, he hit .266/396/.390 (.785) with 10 doubles and three homers. Last year, he spent two months playing rookie league ball in Arizona. He then finished the season with 31 games in August and September with the Pelicans. Combined, he hit .257/.352/.461 (.813) with 12 doubles and 10 homers. With his youth and his ability to play solid defense behind the plate, he is an extremely exciting prospect.

    Honorable Mention
    Felix Stevens (23): 4 G, 3-for-11, .273/.500/.455 (.955), with a triple. He also reached via walk five times.   
    Miguel Pabon (22): 3 G, 3-for-10, .300/.417/.400 (.817) with a double and two walks.

    Top 20 Prospects
    OF Cristian Hernandez (19) (#11 Prospect): 5 G, 4-for-17, .235/.316/.353 (.669) with a triple.
    3B James Triantos (#15 Prospect): Did Not Play (knee surgery, possible return late May)  

    Top Pitcher: RHP Michael Arias (21)  
    Arias is certainly an interesting prospect. He signed with the Blue Jays back in July 2018 out of the Dominican Republic. He signed as a shortstop and yet never played a game in the organization. The Rays released him in May of 2020 as news broke that there would be no minor-league season. In January of 2021, the Cubs signed Arias, but they had a different idea. The Cubs put him on the mound, and from the sounds of it (it, being the wind-like sound of his fastball), he’s sitting in the upper-90s. He pitched in the DSL in 2021. In 2022, but pitched in eight games and 13 innings in Arizona before joining the Pelicans for two games late in the season.

    Last week, Arias made one start. He tossed four scoreless innings. He gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out eight batters. In his first appearance of the year, he gave up three runs on three hits and four walks in two innings. No surprise that he would struggle with consistency, but with an arm like his, you take your shot.

    Honorable Mention
    LHP Marino Santy (21): 1 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 5 K.
    RHP Erian Rodriguez (21): 1 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K.
    RHP Angel Gonzalez (20): 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 1.2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, 5 K.
    RHP Brody McCullough (23): 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 7 K.
    RHP Nick Hull (23): 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 7 K.
    RHP Kevin Valdez (21): 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K.

    Top 20 Prospects
    RHP Cade Horton (21): 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 4 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 3 BB, 7 K.

    Now is your opportunity to vote on the weekly Cubs minor league awards:

    Hitter of the Week
    Christopher Morel: 6 G, .250/.333/.667 (1.000) with a 2B, 3 HR.
    Luis Vazquez: 5 G, .579/.619/.1.105 (1.724) with 2B, 3 HR.
    Kevin Made: 5 G, .412/.565/.824 (1.389) with 2-2B, 3B, HR,
    Moises Ballesteros: 4 G, .357/.500/.429 (.929) with 2B.

    Pitcher of the Week
    RHP Riley Thompson: 1 GS, 5 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 3 BB, 9 K.
    LHP Jordan Wicks: 1 GS, 5 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 6 K.
    RHP Brandon Birdsell: 1 GS, 4 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 6 K.
    RHP Michael Arias: 1 GS, 4 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K.

    Feel free to ask questions and discuss the Cubs’ minor league affiliates and prospects in the COMMENTS below.

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