Cubs Affiliate Year-End Review: Eugene Displayed Promising Young Arms, Fell Short of Repeat

After last season’s Northwest League championship, the Eugene Emeralds were riding high and hoping for a repeat. They had missed a playoff berth by by one game in the first half, but got the wild card as Hillsboro repeated as division champs in the second half. The Ems defeated Hillsboro in the divisional round but came up short in the championship, losing three games to one.

This was a brand new team made up of a lot of young 18-20-year-old kids when the season began. As such, the group needs to be judged on its own merits and really can’t be compared to that 54-22 championship team of 2016.

The key to the season was the addition of some 2017 draft picks. They solidified the bullpen and really had it locked down by the end of the year. Jake Steffens and Keegan Thompson proved dominant in their roles throughout August. Piggyback starters Jesus Camargo and Enrique de los Rios had moments of brilliance coming in for Cory Abbott, Alex Lange, and Brendon Little.

As for the offense, I’m not quite sure how to describe it other than to say it was inconsistent. That proved to be the Ems’ undoing in the playoffs as they only scored two runs in the final two games. Brandon Hughes, an outfielder from Michigan State, came on strong in July and faded a bit in August. Infielder Jared Young struggled in July and came on strong in August. Some players, like Jhonny Bethencourt, were up and down all season.

I was surprised to see catcher Michael Cruz skip Eugene to begin the year, but he finished back in short-season ball and supplied a lot of the power in short bursts this year. He showed a short, quick stroke to the ball that generates a lot of pop. Outfielder Zach Davis was another player who came from South Bend and who seemed to fit in more in Eugene then he did at the level above.

But in the end, the stars for me two 18-year-old kids. Pitcher Jose Albertos was mesmerizing to watch even when he didn’t have his good stuff. He wound up pitching 34.2 innings with a 2.86 ERA, striking out 42 with only 14 walks. Catcher Miguel Amaya hit over .300 in August and showed the ability to hit for some power. I could see plenty more of that in two or three years as he matures. Either way, he has a rifle attached to his right shoulder that he uses to perfection behind the plate.

For me, one of the highlights of the year was seeing Will Remillard rehab. He had missed the better part of three seasons after having two Tommy John surgeries, but looked to be fully healthy and ready for 2018. Remillard hit .474 in five regular season games and he appeared in four playoff games. He even threw out two runners in a single inning during a playoff game. I would guess he’ll open next season at Myrtle Beach or Tennessee.

Team Leaders

Avg – Michael Cruz – .282
HR – Michael Cruz – 8
RBI – Gustavo Polanco – 32
OBP – Austin Filiere – .392
SBs – Zach Davis – 23

ERA – Jesus Camargo – 2.39
Innings Pitched – Javier Assad – 66
WHIP – Jesus Camargo – 1.03
Ks – Jesus Camargo – 73
Saves – Luis Aquino – 8

Going to the Next Level

As with any short-season team, this one was filled with college pitchers. Those arms have been shut down for about six weeks before they arrive and they are normally limited to 2-3 innings starts after having pitched a full season already. This year’s class might be the most talented starting bunch the Cubs has selected. I really like what I saw of second round pick Abbott, fourth rounder Thompson, and seventh rounder Ricky Tyler Thomas.

It should be a battle royale at South Bend in 2018 just to see who the starting pitchers are. If I had to bet, I’m almost sure the Cubs are going to go with their three big investments of Albertos, Lange, and Little, along with Thompson and Abbott. The problem then is what to do with guys like Javier Assad, who showed this summer that he could be a power arm.

Someone will be held back in extended spring training for a bit as there are just not enough rotation spots. Jesus Camargo is one pitcher who, along with Lange, who might have an opportunity to skip South Bend in 2018.

One Name to Know for 2018

When looking at players who are coming to Eugene, the one that I cannot wait to see every night next summer is outfielder Nelson Velazquez, the Cubs’ 2017 fifth round pick from Puerto Rico. He clubbed six home runs and had 16 RBI in August alone to help Mesa get to the playoffs. He hit another two homers and had nine RBI in five postseason games.

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