Cubs

Pitching prospect Dakota Mekkes knows his time is coming with Cubs

Pitching prospect Dakota Mekkes knows his time is coming with Cubs

On the morning of Nov. 3, 2016, Dakota Mekkes reported for duty in Arizona.

This was only a few hours after the Cubs finally ended a 108-year championship drought, yet it was business as usual for Mekkes.

There was work to be done for the big right-hander. And hey, maybe that work would put him in position to be the one closing out the next World Series for the iconic franchise.

The Cubs chose Mekkes in the 10th round of the MLB Draft out of Michigan State a few months before they hoisted that elusive championship trophy and the 6-foot-7 pitcher was at a camp at the team's complex in Arizona for the World Series. He could feel the buzz around the backfields in Mesa, but that's the only aspect of the 2016 run that trickled down to Mekkes. He was still so far away at that point.

Mekkes pitched 20 innings for the Cubs' Rookie League in Arizona and short-season Eugene in 2016, but he's been on the fast track toward Chicago since then.

He went from Arizona to South Bend, Ind. (Class-A) to Myrtle Beach (Advanced Class-A) in 2017, going 8-2 with a ridiculous 0.98 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 73.1 innings. 

Mekkes continued his ascension in 2018, beginning the year with Double-A Tennessee before finishing in Triple-A Iowa. In total, he went 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 71 strikouets in 53.2 innings in the Cubs system last year.

"It was definitely a big jump going to Triple-A," Mekkes said. "The hitters were a lot better. There were a lot more guys with major-league time, so you kinda realize these are actually professional hitters and not just prospects anymore. I think for me, that was the biggest adjustment — going to Triple-A and learning how to get those guys and learn they don’t really chase as much as the other guys do. They have a lot better approaches."

Mekkes realized he had to be more fine with his pitches in Triple-A, understanding that professional hitters won't automatically chase everything and also learning that mistakes in the heart of the zone will get hammered more often than not. 

"You learn quick how to grow up and face the hitters that are at each level," he said. "You better yourself by facing better competition. It’s kinda weird, living in different places all throughout the year — Arizona to South Bend to Myrtle Beach all in one year. The living part of it is definitely difficult. But it’s still baseball. It’s the same everywhere — you’re still just playing a game. It’s still fun."

Mekkes doesn't figure to make the big-league bullpen out of camp, but he's definitely an arm to keep an eye on if the Cubs were to need some reinforcements from the minor leagues throughout the season:

Mekkes doesn't have eye-popping stuff, but he has a deceptive motion, with three-quarters arm slot that hides the ball behind his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame. He also gets good extension with his long arms, so even though he's not throwing in the upper-90s, the hitter perceives the velocity as quicker than it actually is. 

The 24-year-old has made the most of his time in big-league camp (1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 5 innings this spring), but he understands this is a club that has high expectations and a lot of veteran arms vying for bullpen spots.

"I try not to think about it," Mekkes said. "I figure for me, it’s just my performance will speak for itself. When the time comes, the time comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I can’t really control it too much other than what I do on the field. That’s just kinda how I treat it. I try not to think about it and just play baseball."

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Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start in spring training

Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start in spring training

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes and failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who has struggled immensely at the plate for the last season and a half.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit that he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

RELATED: David Ross is wasting no time with Cubs' rotation competition

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.