Cubs Scorecard: Meet the Kids

Things that are not fun:

·       Drew Smyly exits after 49 pitches on Monday.

·       Seiya Suzuki placed on the 10-day IL.

·       Wade Miley went on the 15-day IL on Sunday

·       Jonathan Villar takes a trip to IL on Monday after a bizarre mouth accident while warming up.

·       Nick Madrigal, Sean Newcomb, Michael Rucker, Alec Mills, Jason Heyward, Yan Gomes, Michael Hermosillo, David Bote, and Ethan Roberts remain on the IL as well.

But what is fun is all the new prospects that the Cubs are calling up to see how they fare in the big leagues.  Like the past core (Baez, Contreras, Baez, Almora, etc.), many of these guys were drafted or brought into professional baseball by the Cubs. This could be a glimpse of the Cubs roster for the next run at the playoffs in a couple of years. Let’s meet a few of them and see how things are going so far.

Christopher Morel

The Cubs signed Morel in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic. A weird accident cut his arm and he didn’t debut until 2017. Interestingly, his brother Rafael is also in the Cubs system. Known for his athleticism, Morel plays anywhere on the field, but mostly the center field and middle infield. Though he made a brief appearance in the MLB in 2020, he has mostly been bouncing back and forth between AA and AAA.

In the minors, Morel hit as high as .284 with an OPS of .730. He showed some power in 2021 with 18 homeruns and 66 RBI’s.  Though he is sometime strikeout prone (134 strikeouts to 45 walks in 2021), he also displays some speed with 18 stolen bases last year.  But the story is about this year. In AA, he was slashing .306/.380/565 with 7 home runs and 5 doubles giving him an OPS of .945.

The Cubs promoted him and in 13 games he has been dynamite.  Leading off for the Cubs, he is slashing .286/.386/.489 with a .855 OPS.  That type of OBP is exactly what you want out of your leadoff man especially since the Cubs have not had a consistent lead-off man since Dexter Fowler.  He currently has a 10-game hitting streak and a 13 game on base streak. To go with 2 home runs, he has 5 stolen bases.

Nelson Velazquez

Velazquez is Morel’s best baseball friend, got promoted this weekend and played against the Brewers on Monday. Velazquez was originally drafted by the Cubs in 2017 out of PJ Education School in Puerto Rico. In 2021, he was the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Just this April, Morel and Velazquez were in the same lineup (batting 2 and 3) in Double AA Tennessee. When Morel went to the Cubs, Velazquez went to AAA.

Velazquez has been a power hitter in the minors. In 2021, he hit 20 home runs with 73 RBI’s. With a .270 average and an .829 OPS, he clearly demanded the Cubs attention. So far this year, he had a .253 average, but already hit 12 home runs and 9 doubles, leading to a .914 OPS. He played in both games of the double header with the Brewers in right field and went 1-3 in the first game and 1-4 in his second game. Velazquez starts his career with a 2-game hitting streak.

Matt Swarmer

At 28 years old, Swarmer took a much longer road to the Majors than Morel or Velazquez. Swarmer was a 19th round pick in 2016 coming out of Division II Kutztown University. At AAA in 2019, Swarmer finished with a 5.65 ERA and followed that up with a 5.22 ERA in 2021. But this season in Iowa, he has been on fire with a 2.08 ERA in 39 innings, 42 strikeouts to 14 walks, and a .95 WHIP.

Swarmer started on the mound and did not disappoint in his Wrigley Field and Cubs debut.  Swarmer threw an equal amount of 4-seamers and sliders.  He went six innings, six strikeouts, one walk, only one earned run (4 runs total on 2 errors). Though he gave up 2 home runs, he was very cool under pressure and typically stopped the bleeding when needed.

Anderson Espinoza

Espinoza isn’t an original Cubs draftee.  Instead, the Red Sox (who the Cubs get many good players from), drafted him in 2014 out of Venezuela and received a $1.8 million signing bonus.  He was a highly touted prospect, ranking 19 overall in 2016 and 21 in 2017. After two years with the Red Sox, he was traded to the Padres and quickly had Tommy John surgery in 2017…and then again in 2019. The result is that he didn’t play from late 2017 through 2021.  The Padres traded him to the Cubs last year and he so far has a 7.31 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 28 innings in AA.

Despite the numbers, the Cubs saw something they liked in Espinoza. When Smyly had to exit the second game early, the Cubs asked him to take on a long relief role in the second game of the Milwaukee double header on Monday. Not quite the same performance as Swarmer, but he had a solid outing – 4 innings, 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. 

Brandon Hughes

Brandon Hughes has been relieving for the Cubs since May 17. He was drafted by the Cubs in 2017, round 16, out of Michigan State. His minor league career has been stellar with a 1.96 ERA in 91 innings, 124 strikeouts to 31 walks, with a .92 WHIP.  In AAA this year, after 10 games and 16.2 innings pitched, he showed up with a 0.00 ERA and an astonishing 22 strikeouts.

In his debut against Pittsburgh, Hughes pitched 1.2 innings. After issuing a walk, he got 5 strikeouts in a row which is a Major League first in someone’s debut.  Overall, Hughes has pitched in 6 games with the Cubs, has a 3.00 ERA in 9 innings, 11 strikeouts, and a measly .67 WHIP.

This was a fun weekend a fun couple of weeks to see the exceptional talent in the Cubs Prospect pool. As expectations are quite low this year, fans got to see that there is a plan and path moving forward. 

Author

  • Larry Goldman

    Larry spends his nights and days watching, researching, and writing about sports in Chicago and the national conversation.

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