Power-Hitting Prospects Headline Cubs Instructs as Things Wind Down in Mesa

Due to the absence of a minor league season, fans had little insight into what development was taking place. Unless a prospect posted videos on social media, it was a summer of discontent when it came to news. Even updates from the alternate site at South Bend were limited at best and offered next to nothing about how different players were progressing.

Things are looking up this fall, however, as plenty of information is coming out of fall instructs in Mesa. A great deal of that has come from Arizona Phil of The Cub Reporter, who publishes a short game summary and an unofficial box score along with mini-scouting reports from time to time. Tommy Meyers actually compiled all of those box scores into a handy-dandy spreadsheet if you’d like to peruse the stats.

Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline recently interviewed Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ director of player development, to get updates on how some of the prospects are progressing. If you prefer to do your reading with pictures, photographer Rich Biesterfeld has been showing off some of his images of the Cubs in action on Twitter. 

Here are a few key takeaways from what’s been going on at instructs with just a few days left.

1. Alfonso Rivas is probably better than we thought – Considering the level of pitchers he’s hitting against, Rivas is dominating in Arizona just like he should be. He’s also been spotted in the outfield, giving him a bit more versatility than just first base. After coming over in the Tony Kemp trade last winter, Rivas would’ve been at AA or AAA this year and might be the next guy up if the Cubs need a stick. The fact that he hits left-handed only helps.

2. Chase Strumpf is back – When I last saw a picture of Strumpf this spring, his entire left arm was in some sort of splint. He has shown no sign of any injury his fall, cranking a team-leading three homers in 11 games. He has been spotted playing some third base to increase his versatility. It’s hard to say how many levels Strumpf could have gone through in 2020, but I am hoping he starts out 2021 at Tennessee. That would put his powerful bat pretty close to Chicago.

3. Matt Mervis could be a steal. The undrafted free agent first baseman out of Duke is flashing power that the Cubs really don’t have a lot of in their system. I can’t wait to see what he does when minor league baseball actually resumes in 2021. Ideally, he should begin his career at Myrtle Beach.

4. Yonathan Perlaza – Signed in 2015 as an international free agent, Perlaza was originally thought to be on par with Aramis Ademan. Due to some injuries early in Perlaza’s career, he did not really get onto the field until 2018 when he had a good campaign in Mesa. He was great in Eugene last year, but struggled in just a month at South Bend. Short and stocky, Perlaza is in Mesa to be converted to an outfield role.

5. Jordan Nwogu is for real. The 2020 third round pick out of Michigan has shown a penchant for making baseballs go very far. I am not sure the Cubs have had a player who has shown this much raw power since Jorge Soler. He’s just pure muscles and that’s for now, but it’s fun to dream of what he could do once the Cubs fine tune his swing a little bit.

6. Bryan Hudson’s return – For the past two summers, the former groundball machine has been a ghost. He would appear every once in a while but he’s pretty much been on the shelf since 2017 with what Dorey revealed was a stress fracture in his back. Now healthy Hudson is looking good according to both Dorey and AZ Phil, including getting his fastball up to 95.

7 The rock star #1 pick. It’s been cool to see Jacob Wetzel, Bailey Reid, and Ben Leeper — all undrafted free agents — get some work in this fall, but the big name who draws everybody’s attention is first-round pick Ed Howard. So far, Howard has appeared in just three games, but the Cubs love his makeup, work ethic, and potential to put on muscle.

“I always knew he was a very gifted defender, but he wasn’t really strong the last time I saw him,” Dorey said. “I’m really surprised at how physical he is now. He’s strong in his shoulders and back and he’s really hitting the ball hard in BP, making good swing decisions.”

That’s pretty high praise for a 19-year-old kid. Look for Howard to start in low-A in 2021, whenever that might be.

Apologies for the general lack of info on pitchers, but the results from Mesa are not always indicative of development. Curves and sliders don’t break as much in the warm mountain/desert air, which also allows the ball to travel farther. If your’e looking for a sleeper, keep an eye on converted first baseman/outfield Jerrick Suiter.

Instructs will shut down in less than a week, at which point the Cubs will turn their focus to further developing their prospects over the winter and then assembling for 2021. Cubs Insider will be covering prospect lists all winter long, along with breaking down each position in the system starting in December.

When news breaks about the new minor league levels, leagues, and affiliates, we will cover that as well. And make sure you keep up with Greg Huss and Jimmy Nelligan on the Growing Cubs podcast every other week. However you prefer to consume your content, I’m pretty sure we will have minor league and prospect needs covered.

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