The Cubs’ farm system had a very memorable 2013 season. Several players, even the ones not making headlines, showed a lot of improvement on the field. Three of the Cubs’ affiliates made the post-season and the Daytona Cubs were the last team standing for the third time in six seasons.
So with another year coming to an end, let’s take a look back at the top five moments in the Cubs’ minor league system from this past season.
5. “There’s a Skunk on the Field!”
That was the call from play-by-play man Wayne Randazzo and commentator Keaton Gillogly on August 9 in the bottom of the ninth in a 5-5 ballgame between Kane County and the Burlington Bees. The critter entered the playing field at Fifth Third Bank Stadium from the first base photographer’s well and frightened Bees’ first baseman Wade Hinkle as it headed toward second base.
But instead of taking a trip around the basepaths, the spunky little varmint made a right turn at second and headed toward centerfield. Cougars’ Director of Public Relations Shawn Touney and several members of the grounds crew, at a safe distance, pinned the rodent against the outfield wall and guided it to the now opened centerfield gate. And the skunk exited the field to thunderous applause. The total “skunk delay” was four minutes. There is no word from the Cougars as to whether this will now become an annual promotion.
4. Tennessee and Boise Make the Playoffs
When the Smokies lost their primary run producers first baseman Justin Bour and outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha early in 2013, it looked like it would be another long season in Tennessee. The Smokies put together a decent first half, just one game under .500, but they finished 9 ½ games behind the first place Birmingham Barons.
But things changed after the All-Star break. Justin Bour returned to the lineup and the offense received a boost with the additions of outfielder John Andreoli and shortstop Javier Baez. The additions of Baez and Andreoli turned a solid core of infielder Arismendy Alcantara, outfielders Rubi Silva and Matt Szczur, and third baseman Christian Villanueva into a potent line-up. The pitching staff also received some reinforcements with the additions of Matt Loosen and Dae-Eun Rhee as they took the spots of Alberto Cabrera and Kyle Hendricks after their promotions to Tennessee. Loosen and Rhee joined unsung heroes Eric Jokisch and closer Frank Batista to help post a 42-27 in the second half and the Smokies won the division title by nine games. In the division playoffs, Tennessee took Birmingham to the final game of the best-of-five series, but ended up losing three games to two.
Boise had a strong team all season, but needed a quirk in the playoff rules in order to make the post-season for the third straight year. The Hawks finished two games behind Salem-Keizer in the first half of the season, and four games behind the Volcanoes in the second half. Since Salem-Keizer won both halves and Boise had the next best overall record, they nosed out Hillsboro for the final playoff spot. A blend of mature players and prospects, Boise benefited from having Northwest League batting champ and Short-Season All-Star in outfielder Kevin Encarnacion, RBI champion Yasiel Balaguert, as well as first round draft pick Kris Bryant and pitchers Paul Blackburn and James Pugliese. Things looked promising for the Hawks as they swept Salem-Keizer in the first round behind the pitching of Blackburn and the hitting of Encarnacion, catcher Justin Marra, and second baseman Danny Lockhart. Boise also started off the finals well, as Dillon Maples shut out Vancouver 5-0. But as the series moved north of the border, the Hawks were forced to leave several players who had travel restrictions behind. The situation got so bad that manager Gary Van Tol was forced to use left-handed pitcher Sam Wilson as a centerfielder in game three of the series. The undermanned Boise squad lost both games, and the championship, to Vancouver.
3. A Big Night for Baez
Things weren’t looking up in Daytona on June 10 after the D-Cubs fell behind Fort Myers 1-0 in the top of the first inning. Lead-off hitter John Andreoli flied out to start the bottom half. But after a walk to Tim Saunders, Javier Baez homered to right center field to put Daytona ahead and begin a memorable night.
Leading 4-1 to start the third inning, Baez increased the margin by launching a solo home run to center. With the game 5-4 in the fifth inning, Andreoli walked and Saunders singled to bring up Baez. The shortstop then belted his third straight dinger … giving him a solo homer, two-run longball, and a three-run home run for the evening. Baez stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and smacked another solo shot. Baez hit four home runs, to three different fields, and drove in seven runs on the night.
Javier Baez’s four home run feat was voted by the writers and the fans of MiLB.com the Minor League Game of the Year.
2. No Hitter, No Hitter, No Hitter
Prior to the 2013 season, the last minor league no-hitter for the Cubs came on the Fourth of July, 2011 when Austin Kirk turned the trick for the Peoria Chiefs. Fast forward almost two years to the day when Matt Loosen took the mound for Daytona on July 8. Loosen had been demoted to the D-Cubs a little more than a month earlier after starting the season late and struggling for Double-A Tennessee. Loosen was working with one of the best receivers in the system in catcher Yaniel Cabezas and benefited by his teammates scoring all seven of their runs in the first three innings, with the last two coming on a longball from Bijan Rademacher. All of the run support allowed Loosen to pound the strike zone and he ended up with a season high nine strikeouts and notched no-hitter with only 106 pitches.
It had been a hard luck season for Eric Jokisch up to the point when he made the start for Tennessee on August 6. Jokisch seemed to suffer from a lack of run support more than any other starter for the Smokies, and he was just coming off a stint on the disabled list. As with Matt Loosen’s no-hitter, the Smokies provided Jokisch with early run support and scored three in the first inning, one each in the second and third, three in the fourth, and two more runs in the fifth inning. Javier Baez was the big hitting star as he went 4-for-6 with two doubles and three RBI. Meanwhile, Jokisch held Jacksonville hitless as he struck out eight and walked four batters. The game was not without its drama, as great defensive plays by Christian Villanueva and Javier Baez for the first two outs in the ninth help preserve the nine-inning no-no.
In a season where weather played a big factor, it’s no surprise that the third no-hitter of the season was due in part to the foul weather experienced by Daytona. Facing Dunedin on August 27, the D-Cubs had to finish a suspended game from the previous night. That meant that the scheduled game, a completion of a game suspended on August 21, would be played as part of a doubleheader. As is custom in the minors doubleheaders are seven innings long. The game was originally started by Ben Wells, who held the Blue Jays hitless and a struck out a batter in one inning. When the game was resumed, lefty Kyler Burke picked up the next five innings. Burke struck out four and walked two batters. The final inning was pitched by Zach Cates, who struck out two of the three batters he faced. The only run came in the third inning after Dustin Geiger singled in Elliot Soto. Geiger and Soto were instrumental in keeping the no-hitter intact, as Soto and Geiger made a sensational play on a ball deflected by Cates for the second out in the seventh.
1. Florida State League Champions – The Daytona Cubs
In a twist on the common analogy, it was a tale of three seasons this year for the Daytona Cubs.
The first part of the season was on dominated by the superstars. The Opening Day roster for the D-Cubs not only contained top prospects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, but 2012 Northwest League batting champion Stephen Bruno and the CCO’s 2012 Short Season Player of the Year Tim Saunders. However, injuries robbed the team of Soler, Bruno, and Saunders, while Baez was promoted to Double-A Tennessee. Despite all the setbacks, Daytona finished the first half of the season in third place, two games out of first place.
Following the promotion of Baez, Daytona relied more on a team approach, seemingly with a different hero each night. The D-Cubs received production out of less visible players such as Ben Carhart, Pin-Chieh Chen, Wes Darvill, Dustin Geiger, Elliot Soto, and Yao-Lin Wang. They were able to keep the team’s head above water until reinforcements came in the promotions of Kris Bryant, Bijan Rademacher, and Dan Vogelbach.
The third incarnation of the D-Cubs came after 2012 first round pick Pierce Johnson was promoted, and trades brought Corey Black, C.J. Edwards, and Ivan Pineyro in to form the “Gang of Four” rotation that would dominate the playoffs. The quartet tossed 36 straight innings in the playoffs without allowing an earned run. Daytona cruised to the Florida State League Championship, as Edwards and Ryan Searle one-hit Charlotte in the deciding game four of the series.
Overall, it was truly a storybook year for the Daytona Cubs, as their fans saw:
- The CCO’s Minor League Player of the Year Javier Baez
- The MiLB pitcher of the Year C.J. Edwards
- The MiLB Minor League Game of the Year
- The 2013 First Round Draft Pick Kris Bryant
- Two No-hitters
- And Baseball America’s Minor League Team of the Year