Overview of the Cubs satellite roster in South Bend
The difficult circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic has called for the repurposing of the Cubs Class-A affiliate’s home in South Bend, Indiana.
A crop of the Cubs’ young and projectable talent have commenced workouts at Four Winds Field, site of the last season’s Midwest League All-Star festivities and home of the 2019 Midwest League Champion South Bend Cubs.
Below are 19 of the players who are present in South Bend, with links to profiles of players already covered in our weekly Minor League Monday series.
In addition to the players below, numerous others with big-league experience will also train in South Bend, including the newly signed Derek Dietrich and veteran catcher José Lobatón, who are both on minor-league deals. Click here for a full list of players on the South Bend roster.
Adam has had a winding road to the major leagues. The Royals drafted him in the 5th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and kept him in their system for three seasons before trading him to the Twins in 2014. Adam missed the entirety of 2015 and 2016 with stress fractures in his arm, and upon his return to the mound, he signed with the Padres before returning to the Royals in late 2017. The Royals then traded Adam again, this time to the Blue Jays early in 2019, who non-tendered Adam at the end of last season. The Cubs signed Adam to a minor league contract in January.
Adam’s repertoire has changed throughout his career, but during his stint in the major leagues last season, he featured a fastball, curveball and changeup. The league’s recent affinity for high-spin fastballs thrown up in the zone has made a player like Adam desirable. His four-seam fastball had the 15th-highest rotations per minute (RPM) last season among 756 pitchers, giving the Cubs two of the Top 15 four-seam fastball spin rate pitchers in baseball (Dillon Maples is the other). While Adam’s spin efficiency isn’t elite — a metric that helps us understand how much of a pitch’s spin imparts actual movement on the ball — the pitch still generated a .167 batting average and a .273 slugging percentage last season against major-league hitters.
Combine Adam’s fastball with a high-spin curveball which he changed to a spiked grip this spring and a changeup with a spin axis conducive to fade (see 0:21 in the video above) and Adam possesses a legitimate ability to retire both left- and right-handed hitters.
Adbert Alzolay – Prospect Profile
Alzolay is a 25-year-old homegrown arm with a hammer curve and developing changeup that will have no problem retiring major-league hitters. He is one of the only pitchers on the South Bend roster with a future as a starting pitcher, even if he makes a slight detour from that route with the oddity of this season’s structure.
While a pitcher like Adam succeeds with a high-spin four-seam fastball, Gámez excels with a ridiculous sinker. The Twins selected Gámez, North Dakota State University’s catcher for two seasons, in the 31st round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft. He stuck at catcher initially, but the Twins converted him to a pitcher full time starting in 2017.
Reports have pointed to Gámez’s 2019 in the Mexican League, where he threw 96-100 mph, as the reason for the Cubs interest and his eventual signing this offseason. Although he hasn’t had too much on-paper success in his three seasons out of college, his sinker has continually generated an eye-popping ground-ball rate. The pitch is reminiscent of the tailing movement Kyle Hendricks achieves on his sinker but with more velocity.
In 46 innings with Sultans de Monterrey of the Mexican League, Gámez generated grounders nearly 65% of the time. This would have been fourth among all qualified MLB relievers during the 2019, next to names like Zach Britton and Aaron Bummer. Players with stand-out skills or pitches are often intriguing enough to take a flier on, and Gámez is precisely that.
Brailyn Marquez – Prospect Profile
The left-handed fireballer who struck out 128 batters last season between Class-A and High-A heads to South Bend with more development on the horizon. His nearly full side-arm delivery creates an extremely difficult angle for hitters — especially left-handed — to pick up his pitches. Although he doesn’t turn 22 until January 2021, his timetable to a potential impact at the major league level may be slightly accelerated with the Cubs selecting him to receive reps with a crop of the team’s other top prospects.
Dakota Mekkes – Prospect Profile
Mekkes’ performance, specifically in his ability to strike out batters, is well documented dating back to his first professional pitches in 2016. Although his ERA jumped up last year, potentially due to the Triple-A level’s use of major league baseballs, he still managed to retire over a quarter of the batters he faced via strikeout. His polished slider and changeup suggest he shouldn’t have an issue with the three-batter minimum and matching up against right- and left-handed hitters.
Similar to Jason Adam, Rucker has an upright delivery and shortened arm action where he brings the ball up behind his head earlier in his delivery than most traditional pitchers. He has parlayed this deception into success at high levels of the minor leagues in each of the last two seasons. At Double-A Tennessee in 2018, he posted a sub-4.00 ERA in 132 innings as a starting pitcher. The Cubs converted him to a reliever last season and kept him at Double-A Tennessee, where he saw a notable 6.5% jump in his strikeout rate with his walk rate stable and a velocity jump that pushed him to top out at 97 mph. He still throws his starters repertoire out of the bullpen — fastball, slider, curveball and changeup — now with a refined focus on his fastball and slider.
A feature of Rucker’s game is his ability and track record working multiple innings through the minor leagues, a product of his recent history as a starting pitcher. 27 of his 37 appearances last season lasted t2 innings or longer and he walked 2 or more batters only six times. His success prompted the Orioles to select him during the 2019 Rule 5 Draft in December. But early in March, the Orioles returned Rucker to the Cubs, exercising an option teams have if they don’t expect to keep a Rule-5 pick on their major league roster for the entirety of the coming season. The Cubs were grateful to take Rucker back, as his inclusion in the team’s player pool suggests he could contribute in a pinch.
Tyson Miller – Prospect Profile
Miller’s 2019 was a tale of two levels. At Double-A Tennessee he cruised to a 2.56 ERA in 88 innings. But after a promotion to Triple-A, the “rabbit” ball that took over the level ballooned both his home-run rate and ERA. He told The Athletic that the primary reason for his Triple-A struggles stemmed from missing his spots, which echoes analysts’ take on the matter. Miller’s addition to the 40-man roster last winter makes him a leading candidate to receive a promotion in the event the Cubs desire added bullpen depth of the multi-inning variety.
Cory Abbott – Prospect Profile
Abbott’s perfect game for Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in 2017 will be a tough career highlight for him top in the majors. His calling card is above-average command that he pairs with four average to above average offerings, the most devastating of which is a slider he refined in the Cape Cod League thanks to an LMU alumni and video of Noah Syndergaard’s slider.
Burl Carraway – A deeper dive on Burl
The Cubs selected Carraway 51st overall in the 2020 MLB Draft. Carraway is the only player from the Cubs’ 2020 class to be included on the South Bend roster. His premiere skill is a high-velocity fastball, which he honed over three seasons with Dallas Baptist University. A velocity uptick during the winter of 2018 saw his prospect stock sore when he returned to campus and started touching the upper 90s. He projects to move quickly through the Cubs’ farm system as the major league demand for high-velocity relievers grows.
The Cubs selected Megill in last December’s Rule 5 draft, which stipulates the team would have to keep the right-hander on their 26-man major league roster for the entirety of 2020 or return him to the Padres. In a two-part move to officially add Jason Kipnis to their 40-man roster, the Cubs sent cash considerations to the Padres to acquire Megill’s permanent rights and assigned him to South Bend’s camp. Megill is 6-foot-8, 235 pounds and has a track record of generating above-average strikeout rates all through the minor leagues with the Padres. In 50.1 innings at Triple-A last season, he posted a 3.46 FIP with a 32% strikeout rate thanks to a fastball that touches 96 mph.
Patterson earned two promotions last year with the Cubs, ascending from South Bend to Myrtle Beach to Tennessee in a matter of months. The 6-foot left-hander started last year in shorter relief appearances before routinely topping 4 innings at High-A and Double-A. His most impressive run came in 23.2 scoreless innings for Myrtle Beach where he stranded 95% of the runners that reached base against him and managed to strike out 27% of hitters he faced. His go-to combination is an elevated fastball and fall-off-the-table curveball which tunnel together well enough to support his low-to-mid 90s velocity.
Steele’s mix as a left-handed pitcher makes him an intriguing option to stick as a starter long term. He throws a fastball and curveball which both grade out as average to above-average pitches according to some analysts, and he mixes in a changeup and cutter to round out his repertoire. Although he has an injury history, his future is bright, as he is only 25 years old and the innings he did throw in 2019 are backed up by good peripherals despite lackluster results.
Like Steele, Thompson is another dark horse to stick as a starting pitcher long term. Although his fastball velocity sits below major league average at present, his breaking stuff has been good enough to earn success in the high levels of the minor leagues. He throws a slider, curveball and changeup, all of which can be average or better pitches at the major league level. This mix should allow him to survive with the three-batter minimum in the event he becomes a “swingman” bullpen piece or flourish as a starter in the event the Cubs choose to stretch him out into a starting pitcher.
Miguel Amaya – Prospect Profile
Amaya is one of five catchers in the Cubs’ 60-man player pool so far. With the three-man taxi squad that will travel with the major league club on road trips required to contain one catcher, the 21-year-old has a clearer path to playing time than some others on the South Bend roster. He possesses an above-average glove behind the plate and an advanced knowledge of the strike zone.
Christopher Morel – Prospect Profile
While prospects like Hoerner, Amaya and Brennen Davis are routinely mentioned as the strongest bats in the Cubs farm system, Morel’s breakout in 2019 has vaulted him into the conversation. His .284 average and .467 slugging percentage in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League are the reasons why. He primarily played third base after moving off shortstop, but his future offensive profile is promising enough to make an impact at the hot corner.
Brennen Davis – Prospect Profile
Davis has consistently generated buzz this offseason as he continues to bulk up and tap into his projectable game power. With each video circulating the internet, the hype around the Cubs most tooled-up prospect grows. A recent exploit of his came against the Cubs reigning minor league pitcher of the year, Cory Abbott. His short and compact right-handed swing will soon hammer fastballs onto Waveland. The future is bright for this 20-year-old outfielder.
Ian Miller – More on Ian Miller here
Miller has stolen over 240 bases in his minor league career with a .340 on-base percentage. That combination of skills at the major league level would make for unparalleled success compared to some of the most successful speedsters in the game. A versatile outfielder who converts his speed into great jumps off the bat, his tools could come in handy on a Cubs team that stole only 45 bases in 2019 (second lowest in baseball).
With Amaya the top catching prospect in the organization, Higgins success at numerous levels in the minors is often overshadowed. He slashed an impressive .291/.374/.521 for Triple-A Iowa and caught 50 games behind the plate combined between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee. Although he is 27 years old, his ability to play multiple positions — first and third base — makes him a useful utility man, especially during a period of time in baseball where versatility has become paramount.