Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 09/09/13

The post-season continued for three of the Cubs’ affiliates and Monday will be a big day down on the farm. The Smokies forced a deciding game five by winning back-to-back games over the Barons on Saturday and Sunday. In the Northwest League, the Boise Hawks and the Vancouver Canadians square off for a ring on Monday night after splitting the first two games of the best of three series.

The D-Cubs dropped the third game of the FSL Championship series on Sunday and C.J. Edwards will take the hill in game four on Monday with Daytona leading the best of five series, two games to one. Daytona took a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning on Sunday but gave up a run in the eighth, the first run surrendered by D-Cubs’ pitching in 43 innings in the post-season. Play resumed in the eighth inning after a one hour, 33 minute rain delay and the Stone Crabs walked off the D-Cubs and sent the series to a fourth game.

With the conclusion of the minor league season, it is time to hand out a few post-season awards beginning with the Short-Season Player and Pitcher of the Years. Along with full playoff coverage of the Tennessee Smokies, Daytona Cubs and Boise Hawks, here is the latest from Down on the Farm.

Last year the CCO started naming separate pitchers and players of the year for short-season and full-season players in the Cubs’ system and we will continue that this year. Short-season players were defined by those who were assigned to Short Season-A Boise, the AZL Cubs, the Dominican Summer League, and players who were unable to begin the year with a full-season minor league team.

Short Season Player of the Year – Kris Bryant, 3B

As far as short season players go, Kris Bryant comes up on the short end as he only appeared in 36 games due to a lengthy contract negotiation. However, being the second overall pick brings a lot of expectations. Bryant delivered on those expectations, and then some.

A three-year starter at the University of San Diego after being a high school All-American, Bryant led the nation with 31 home runs in his junior season, batting .329 with 62 RBI. For that, Bryant won both the Dick Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best college baseball player. Drafted by the Cubs with the second overall pick, a prolonged negotiation kept Bryant from signing until July 12 and he missed the opening of both the rookie league and Short-Season A ball.

After not playing baseball since June 2, Bryant was sent to Arizona to shake off the rust in the rookie league. There seemed to be plenty of rust as Bryant managed only one hit and made three errors in two games. Nevertheless, Bryant was shipped off to Short-Season A Boise where he looked like a completely different player. Bryant blasted a home run in his second at bat and hit .354/.416/.692 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs and 16 RBI for a 1.108 OPS in 18 games as the Hawks went 10-8 over that span.

Bryant was then skipped to High–A Daytona rather than spending any time at Low-A Kane County. As in his debut with Boise, Bryant homered in his first game with the D-Cubs and went on to hit .333/.387/.719 with five doubles, one triple, five homers and 14 RBI for a 1.106 OPS in 16 games. For the regular season, Bryant was a composite .336/.390/.688/1.078 with 14 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 32 RBI. After booting three balls in rookie league, Bryant committed only three more errors the rest of the way and fielded .955 for Boise and .975 for Daytona. When asked about Bryant’s ability to stick at third base, Theo Epstein recently said that Bryant is solid at third base and has a chance to stay there, but has a lot of work to do, especially going to his left.

Bryant did have some competition for this award. Outfielder Kevin Encarnacion became the second straight Cubs prospect to lead the Northwest League in hitting. Encarnacion hit .355/.431/.566 with nine doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 30 RBI with a .997 OPS for Boise. Infielder/catcher Roney Alcala came within three home runs of winning the Venezuelan Summer League triple-crown as he hit .353/.386/.544/.930 with 15 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 49 RBI in 64 games.

Short-Season Co-Pitchers of the Year – RHP James Pugliese, RHP Corbin Hoffner, RHP Michael Hamann

In discussing the Short Season Pitcher of the Year award, three candidates were so close that we decided to give it to all three, and interestingly enough, the three pitchers served in three different roles this season … a starter, a middle reliever, and a closer.

James Pugliese just turned 21 years old on August 12. The Cubs selected Pugliese in the 18th round of the 2011 draft and he was 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP in 38 innings in rookie ball with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks. However, Short-Season A proved to be a challenge for Pugliese last season. Pugliese was 1-5 with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 60.1 innings with 51 strikeouts and 22 walks. A mechanical adjustment in the off-season meant Pugliese would start his season with the Boise Hawks. Pugliese took repeating the level in stride and the adjustments produced results. Pugliese lowered his ERA to 2.32, but more importantly he threw strikes. Pugliese managed more than a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio (59 strikeouts, 14 walks) in 76 innings with a 1.08 WHIP (55 hits, 16 earned runs allowed). Pugliese had the expected learning curve after he was promoted to Low-A Kane County late in August. Pugliese allowed 12 earned runs in 14 innings while striking out 12 and walking only two batters. The exposure should have Pugliese primed for a big season as the leader of the 2014 Cougars’ starting staff.

Twenty-year old Corbin Hoffner (July 30) came to the Cubs organization in the 14th round of the 2012 draft. Hoffner showed a lot of promise while pitching only 12 innings in the rookie league last season. He struck out 13 batters, walked four and posted a 0.71 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP. Hoffner moved up to Boise this season and the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Hoffner proved to be a workhorse. Hoffner completed 46.2 innings in 16 relief appearances and the right-hander allowed only nine earned runs while striking out 42 and walking 13 (0.90 WHIP). Hoffner looks to join what appears to be a deep bullpen for Kane County next season, and may get first crack at being their closer.

After being selected in the 16th round of the 2012 draft out the University of Toledo, Michael Hamann’s 2012 season was over almost before it began. Michael Hamann struck out two in an inning of work for the AZL Cubs and was shipped off to Boise. Hamann struck out six and allowed seven earned runs in 10.2 innings. However, he suffered a severe ankle sprain and was shut down for the remainder of the season and most of the off-season. Hamann worked his way back slowly in 2013 and the 22-year old was back in Boise where he served as their closer and did not allow an earned run in 7.2 innings. Hamann struck out nine and recorded three saves in six games. Hamann was quickly promoted to Kane County due the Cougars need for a closer. Despite being with the Cougars for over two months, Hamann’s chances were limited due to Kane County’s inability to provide save opportunities. Hamann appeared in only 16 games and struck out 17 batters while walking seven in 21.2 innings (2.49 ERA, 1.20 WHIP). Hamann finished 15 games and picked up four saves. The right hander’s overall 1.84 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and better than 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio (26 strikeouts, eight walks) has him poised to compete for the closer role at High–A Daytona next season.

Thursday: The CCO’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year

Short-Season A – Boise Hawks

(W) For the second straight year, Boise advanced to the Northwest League title series after sweeping Salem-Keizer 11-7 on Wednesday. The Hawks used their league leading offense and deep pitching staff to outlast the Volcanoes. Kevin Encarnacion (3-for-5 with a RBI) led off the game with a single and advanced to third after Danny Lockhart (3-for-6 with a RBI) reached on an error. Jacob Rogers (1-for-1 with a RBI) drew a one out walk to load the bases, and a double by Justin Marra (2-for-5 with four RBI) plated both Encarnacion and Lockhart. After Salem-Keizer answered with three runs in the second, the Hawks flexed their offensive muscle in the third. Lockhart singled, Rogers walked, and both scored on Justin Marra’s second double of the game. A double by Rony Rodriguez (1-for-3 with a RBI) plated Marra, while a single by David Bote (2-for-4 with a RBI) drove in Rodriguez. Bote took second on the throw to the plate, stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly. Encarnacion started the fourth with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly. Boise capped their scoring in the fifth after Bote singled and Lance Rymel walked. Encarnacion drove in both Bote and Rymel with a single and then scored on a base hit by Lockhart.

Duane Underwood was as shaky as you would expect from a 19-year old starting his first playoff game. Underwood allowed three earned runs in 1.1 innings. Loiger Padron went 2.2 innings and gave up an earned run and struck out two batters. Corbin Hoffner followed with similar results and allowed an earned run in 2.2 innings but Hoffner struck out five in the process. Tyler Bremer allowed Salem-Keizer to creep back into the game as he surrendered two earned runs in 1.1 innings with three strikeouts. But veteran Eddie Orozco slammed the door with two strikeouts in the ninth to preserve the victory.

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(W) Boise moved to within a game of clinching the Northwest League championship on Friday as they shut out Vancouver 5-0. Dillon Maples worked out of several jams but was able to hold the Canadians scoreless for six innings while striking out seven batters. Matt Iannazzo, reassigned from Kane County, picked up two strikeouts in an inning of work. Zach Godley also fanned two as he worked 1.2 innings.

Both teams were a little edgy going into a rematch of last year’s championship. Boise coach Bill Buckner as well as a player and coach from Vancouver were ejected. The bad blood started in the third inning after Carlos Penalver (1-for-3) led off with a triple and Lance Rymel (1-for-2 with a home run) was hit by a pitch. Northwest League batting champion Kevin Encarnacion was given a called third strike when he failed to return to the batter’s box upon the home plate umpire’s prompting. Buckner was ejected for arguing the call and Penalver scored on a groundout. It stayed 1-0 until the sixth inning when Yasiel Balaguert (1-for-4) singled with two out and Jacob Rogers was hit by a pitch. A single by Rony Rodriguez (3-for-4 with a RBI) scored Balaguert, while a double from David Bote (1-for-4 with two RBI) plated Rogers and Rodriguez. The Hawks added to their total in the seventh when Lance Rymel blasted a solo home run.

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(L) Boise dropped game two of the Northwest League championship 4-2 to Vancouver on Sunday.

The Hawks tied the game at one in the second inning after David Bote (1-for-3 with a RBI and a walk) reached with a two-out single and scored on a double from Jordan Hankins (2-for-4 with a double and a RBI). The Hawks’ pen could not keep the Canadians off the board. Corbin Hoffner gave up three runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout in 1.2 innings in relief of Paul Blackburn.

Boise cut the Canadians lead to 4-2 in the eighth after Jesse Hodges (1-for-2 with a double and a run scored) hit for Sam Wilson and doubled. Hodges advanced to third on a balk and scored on a Danny Lockhart (1-for-4 with a RBI) single. But after Rony Rodriguez and Justin Marra walked to load the bases, David Bote struck out swinging to end the inning.

Paul Blackburn started the game and gave up one run on three hits with one walk and nine strikeouts in five innings.

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Michael Wagner is scheduled to start Monday night’s game for the Hawks. And with the series tied at one, the winner of game three on Monday night is the Northwest League Champs.

High Class–A – Daytona Cubs

(W) Daytona flirted with closing out their divisional series in style on Wednesday as the D-Cubs shut out Dunedin 4-0. Daytona’s pitching staff came close to no-hitting the Blue Jays for the third time this season. C.J. Edwards struck out eight and allowed only one baserunner on a walk in five innings. Ryan Searle continued the dominance but gave up two hits in the ninth. Searle notched five strikeouts in four innings.

The scoring for Daytona started in the second after Kris Bryant (3-for-3 with two RBI) was hit by a pitch and scored on a double from Wes Darvill (2-for-4 with a RBI). Pin-Chieh Chen walked to lead off the third and advanced to third base on a throwing error on a single by Zeke DeVoss (1-for-3). Bryant drove in both runners with a double. Darvill singled with one out and scored on a double by Elliot Soto (1-for-4 with a RBI) in the fourth inning.

(W) The Daytona Cubs opened the Florida State League Championships on Thursday with the same dominance that they showed in the divisional series and beat Charlotte 5-0. Pierce Johnson continued the trend established by starters Corey Black and C.J. Edwards and struck out six of the Stone Crabs in five innings. Jeffrey Lorick picked up a strikeout through three innings. Zach Cates made the ninth interesting after he walked the bases loaded with two out before recording his second strikeout to end the ballgame.

Once again, the D-Cubs jumped out ahead early after Pin-Chieh Chen (2-for-5 with three RBI) singled to lead off the game, moved to third on a double by Zeke DeVoss (2-for-2), and scored on a groundout. Anthony Giansanti started the second inning with a double. Wes Darvill (1-for-4) reached on a dropped third strike and Elliot Soto walked. Chen then laced a double to left that cleared the bases. Daytona added a run in the fourth after DeVoss walked and scored on a double from Dustin Geiger (2-for-4 with two RBI).

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(W) Daytona moved to within a game of clinching the Florida State League championship on Saturday as they shut out Charlotte 2-0. Ivan Pineyro became the fourth straight Daytona starter to pitch five or more scoreless innings while striking out at least five batters. Pineyro fanned seven in seven innings. After a quick eighth inning, Frank Del Valle had some trouble setting down the side in the ninth. Del Valle allowed the tying runner to get in scoring position before working his way out of the jam for the save.

Saturday was a pitcher’s duel but the D-Cubs were able to scratch out a run in the first after Dustin Geiger (1-for-4) singled and scored on a double by Dan Vogelbach (1-for-3 with a RBI). Daytona added an insurance run in the seventh after Kris Bryant (1-for-4) led off with a double and scored on a double from Chadd Krist (2-for-3 with a RBI).

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(L) Daytona had a chance to wrap up the championship on Sunday but after a long rain delay in the eighth inning, the D-Cubs lost 3-2 on a walk-off single by Jonathan Quinonez off Zach Cates in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Charlotte Stone Crabs scored all three of their runs in the eighth and ninth innings after Corey Black tossed six-plus innings of shutout ball to start the game. Black allowed only one hit with two walks and two strikeouts. Jeffrey Lorick served up a solo homer to Jonathan Quinonez in the eighth, the first run allowed by D-Cubs’ pitching in 43 post-season innings.

Dan Vogelbach (1-for-4 with a RBI) and Chadd Krist (1-for-3 with a double and a RBI) drove in Daytona’s two runs and Kris Bryant (1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored) scored the second run on Krist’s double in the seventh. Pin-Chieh Chen (3-for-4 with a run scored) and Zeke DeVoss (1-for-2 with a walk) set the table but the D-Cubs went 1-for-5 with RISP in the loss.

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C.J. Edwards takes the ball on Monday night with the D-Cubs up 2-1 in the best of five championship series.

Double-A – Tennessee Smokies

(L) Tennessee came up short in their opening divisional playoff game on Thursday and lost 3-1 to Birmingham. Nick Struck was tapped to start the series and allowed three earned runs while striking out three in five innings. Yeiper Castillo, A.J. Morris and Tony Zych each contributed a scoreless inning. The Smokies’ only run came in the fifth inning, Rubi Silva (1-for-3 with a home run) launched a solo home run.

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(L) The Smokies placed themselves in a 0-2 hole when they lost 7-1 to Birmingham on Friday. Dae-Eun Rhee got the starting nod but was hampered by errors from Rafael Lopez and Javier Baez. Rhee allowed five runs (two earned) and struck out two batters in 4.1 innings. P.J. Francescon gave up another two earned runs in 2.1 innings. Hunter Cervenka and Armando Rivero each tossed 0.2 scoreless innings. Tennessee managed only a consolation run in the ninth when Rubi Silva singled and scored on a double by John Andreoli.

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(W) With their backs to the wall, Tennessee came out swinging on Saturday and defeated Birmingham 9-2. The Smokies jumped out to an early lead thanks to Javier Baez (2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI). Baez crushed a two-run homer in the first with Matt Szczur (2-for-4, RBI) on board. With the Smokies up 2-1, Tennessee got some breathing room in the fifth after John Andreoli (2-for-4, two RBI) doubled and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly. The Smokies broke the game open in the eighth when Szczur led off with a single and scored after one out base hits by Baez and Justin Bour (1-for-3 and RBI). A single by Christian Villanueva (2-for-4 with a RBI) drove in Baez. Rubi Silva was intentionally walked. Jonathan Mota was hit by a pitch to force in Bour, and a double from Andreoli cleared the bases.

Starter Eric Jokisch was up to the task of keeping the Barons in check. Jokisch allowed two earned runs and struck out four in 7.2 innings. Armando Rivero recorded the final out in the eighth, while Frank Batista worked around a hit and a walk in the ninth.

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(W) The Smokies forced a fifth and deciding game in the North Division Championship series with a 10-7 victory over the Birmingham Barons on Sunday afternoon. Sunday was a total team effort that went down to the last out.

The Smokies tied the game at two in the third inning on a two-run single by Arismendy Alcantara (2-for-5 with two RBI). Taylor Davis (2-for-4 with two doubles, two RBI and a run scored) and Matt Szczur (1-for-3 with a double, three RBI and a walk) scored on the play. The Smokies scored three runs in the fourth on a single by Jonathan Mota (2-for-3 with a triple, three RBI and three runs scored) and a two-run double by Matt Szczur.

After the Barons cut the Smokies lead to 5-4 in the sixth, the Smokies scored two in the sixth and three more in the bottom of the eighth. But the Barons scored three runs in the top of the ninth off of P.J. Francescon and Buddy Bailey had to summon Frank Batista to close it out with a runner on and the Smokies clinging to a three run lead. Batista retired Cody Puckett on a grounder to Javier Baez for the final out.

Rubi Silva (4-for-4 with three runs scored) and John Andreoli (0-for-2 with a walk, a sac bunt and a run scored) contributed to the victory while the big bats went hitless. Javier Baez (0-for-5) and Justin Bour (0-for-4) were a combined 0-for-9 on Sunday.

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News and Notes

The Chicago Cubs sent RHP Michael Bowden and OF Cole Gillespie outright to the Iowa Cubs; assigned LHP Matt Iannazzo to the Boise Hawks from the Kane County Cougars.

The Boise Hawks activated LHP Kyle Shepherd from the 7-Day disabled list.

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Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax