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Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

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Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

Here is the start of our weekly look at the Cubs minor leagues. Every Tuesday we will recap how the top prospects fared over the previous seven days.

AAA Iowa Cubs

Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson may not have gotten off to the start he would have liked to in April, but he began to show signs of improvement in the first week of May. Jackson went 8-for-25 (.320) to kick off his May campaign. He also homered once and drove in four runs. His productive week caused his average to jump 12 points to .254. Jackson is not where he wants to be yet but with a few consistent weeks like this one he will start to give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reason to consider promoting him to the big leagues.

Unlike Jackson, Iowa Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo came out of the gates in a full sprint and he has yet to look back. Rizzo was named minor league player of the month by the organization. He hit .384 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in the month of April. The first week of May suggests that the law of averages may have come into play for Rizzo as his production has dropped slightly in the past few outings. This past week Rizzo went 6-for-24 (.250) with no home runs, 2RBIs, and eight strikeouts. The minor slide dropped Rizzos average from the astronomical .378 to a still outstanding .355. I really dont think there should be any concern surrounding Rizzo, his numbers are still great and his recall to the big leagues is a matter of time.

AA Tennessee Smokies

Right Hander Trey McNutt only had one appearance in the first week of May. He allowed five runs (two earned) on two hits in two and two-thirds innings. He was credited with the loss and his record fell to 0-2. Do not let McNutts single May appearance fool you, he still touts the second lowest ERA on the team (1.56), and he appeared unhittable last Thursday until an error and 1 bad pitch unraveled his outing in the third inning.

Highly acclaimed Dominican shortstop prospect Junior Lake made his Tennessee season debut on Sunday. In his first at bat Lake led off the game with a double and in his next plate appearance he tripled. Lake has only played in two games and is currently 3-for-8 (.375). Its much too early to jump to any conclusions but it is safe to say Junior Lake possesses a great deal of raw talent.

A Daytona Cubs

Top 5 Cubs prospect Matt Szczur was still trying to find a groove as of May 1, but things are beginning to click for the 22 year old center fielder. Szczur went 8 for 26 (.307) last week with an RBI moving his average to .256. One thing that has remained constant for the Cubs prospect is his base stealing ability. He has swiped 16 bags, three in the last week. Szczur could be a dangerous player if he couples some solid hitting with his already well-established speed.

Daytona right fielder Nelson Perez may have had the most impressive week in the Cubs organization. Perez started the month off 12 for 25 (.480) with 8 RBIs. His stellar average was given a boost by a 5-for 5 effort against the Jupiter Hammerheads on Saturday. Perezs hitting clinic included a two-run home run in the eighth. He leads the team in walks (19), home runs (5), batting average (.319), slugging percentage (.606), and OPS (1.037).

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings: Outside the top, no clear picture yet

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings: Outside the top, no clear picture yet

Last night's 43-40 game between the Patriots and Chiefs said more about the NFL than it did either team playing in it. 

Through the first seven weeks, there are pretty clearly three very good NFL teams: the Rams, the Pats, and the Chiefs. 

After that? Who knows. The Chargers look strong, but have looked strong for years -- and have what to show for it? After a good start, the Jaguars have looked actively terrible. The Steelers are rounding into form and yet still find themselves in third place. All three of the NFC East's contenders are sitting at .500 or barely better. 

How'd your probably-mediocre team do in our Power Rankings this week? 

Wait no longer! You can find out right here. 

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.