Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including just about every blue-chip bat in the Cubs system.
Hitter(s) of the Night
The Cubs, Multiple Positions, Wrigleyville (All Levels): It’s a good time to be a Cubs prospect, and Thursday may have been the climax of the hype machine. It’s not going to be easy to tell Cubs fans to calm down after what happened last night.
In Triple-A, Javier Baez, who was making his regular season debut at second base in order to give himself and the organization more options for the future, continued his rise out of his early-season doldrums with a 2-for-4 night that included a double and a homer. Not to be outdone, his teammate Kris Bryant went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run of his own.
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Updates on Kyle Schwarber, Francisco Mejia, Lance McCullers Jr., and others.
Kyle Schwarber, C/LF, Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
I’ve seen the Cubs’ first round draft pick a few times at Low-A. At the plate he sets up in a low crouch with an open stance, his hands even with his shoulders and extended out away from his body. He has a simple load and takes a quick, efficient route to the ball and displays good swing plane for power. I didn’t see power in game but he barreled up a few pitches for hard line drives. His nose is always on the ball as he displays an advanced feel for tracking stuff. He spat on a few good changeups that lesser hitters would’ve swung over and he shows a solid understanding of the strike zone. Behind the plate, Schwarber sets up low in his crouch and stays quiet, creating a comfortable target for the pitcher. His framing skills could use some work, as he stabs at offerings. He has surprising mobility back there with good lateral movement on block attempts. I’ve noticed that he gets loose fundamentally late in games. He has an average arm and I did get a pop time in the 1.9 range but ultimately the catching skills are fringe and can improve. I don’t think the cost is worth delaying the bat. He’s a bat-first left fielder in my mind. —Mauricio Rubio
The Cubs bring up the first of their excellent prospects for a sip.
The Situation: Late Tuesday night the Cubs announced that second baseman Darwin Barney will be placed on paternity leave for two days, creating an opening at the major league level. With Emilio Bonifacio still on the disabled list the Cubs are giving Arismendy Alcantara (No. 18 prospect in the Baseball Prospectus midseason update) a two-day taste of major-league action as they’ve called him up from Triple-A Iowa to temporarily take Darwin Barney’s place.
The Astros call up the outfielder they stole from Philadelphia.
The Situation: On Sunday, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow indicated that Domingo Santana (the no. 8-ranked prospect in the system entering 2014) still had some developing to do in Triple-A. But with outfielder Dexter Fowler finding himself on the 15-day disabled list, the Astros have a need for an outfielder already on the 40-man roster. Checking off both of those prerequisites, Santana was summoned to the big leagues from Triple-A Oklahoma City and debuted with a three-strikeout, 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday.
Background: Santana, acquired by the previous regime in Houston, came to the Astros as the fourth and final piece of the trade that sent outfielder Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies. Santana didn’t become a member of the Astros organization until two weeks after the trade went down, having originally been listed as player to be named later. But it's still puzzling that the Astros were able to acquire Santana, who has been tapping into his raw power since entering pro ball as a 16-year-old. It might have been a mistake on Philadelphia’s part, and not in the figurative sense, if you believe this report (and not this denial).
Updating the fantasy stock of Chicago's best young hitting talents.
Kris Bryant was promoted to Triple-A Iowa, where he will likely play third base and hit in close proximity to the Cubs’ other talented and highly touted prospect Javier Baez.
Before the season started, the spring had created clever illusions about Baez, as Cubs fans and fantasy owners alike salivated at the possibility that each preseason laser beam to the outfield seats would draw him closer to major-league playing time in 2014. A deep slump to start the year popped those illusions, as those same fans and fantasy owners were left holding their heads in their hands and looking for a consolation that could only come after the high-risk proposition in Baez started solving the puzzle that is pitch sequencing.
Eyes on Ben Lively, Ryan Wright, and Matt Anderson, along with the Cubs' high-profile international signings from last summer.
Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
Broad shoulders, thick legs, muscular build; 6-foot-4, about 210; body to log innings; repeatable delivery; gets downhill well; hides the ball behind his torso and snaps it on the hitter with a quick arm; plenty of deception; three-quarters; fastball 88-92; runs it and cuts it; true ghostball; explodes on the hitter; if I didn’t have gun readings I’d guess 95-plus based on the swings; hitters weren’t comfortable all night; third time through the lineup was still pumping the fastball and jamming guys; gets 92 with runners on; amped up after striking out a batter to escape a jam; good control with it, pounded the zone for the most part (got squeezed) but the command was hit or miss; up the zone and challenged guys often; he won most battles, but going forward he needs the get the ball down.
Curveball 71-76; lacked bite early; loopy and hangs over the plate; tightened it up and it flashed late; much better around 74-76 mph, and had some two-plane break; dropped it in for some first-pitch strikes; scout said he had a hammer his last appearance, but didn’t see an above-average CB on this night ; SL 82-84 mph; sweepy break; not much bite; lengthened it with two strikes; used it vs. lefties and righties; commanded it well; better against righties; pounded the outside corner and just off the plate; CH around 85; some dive and tumble; thrown only a handful of times; used it right after his FB to keep the hitters off balance.
Raving about Eddie Butler, hesitating on Javier Baez, and updates on Henry Owens, Franchy Cordero, Kohl Stewart and others.
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Good days at the plate are pretty easy to identify. If you’re looking for the best game any hitter had in April, you can look at total bases (as in Ryan Braun’s three-homer game) or at hits (as in Charlie Blackmon’s 6-for-6 game) or at win probability added (as when Kyle Seager hit two homers, including a walk-off, for a one-game .906 WPA); or, simply RE24, which would lead you back to Blackmon, who produced more than five runs all by himself. Similarly, for pitchers, pretty easy: Andrew Cashner’s 9/1/0/0/2/11 was the month’s best game score, though you might opt for Jose Fernandez’s 8/3/0/0/0/14 for dominance or Julio Teheran’s 1-0 shutout for value.