Congratulations to both the Kane County Cougars and the Iowa Cubs as they reached milestone wins of 60 and 50 respectively on Friday night.
The accolades continue to pour in for the Kane County pitching staff. Fresh off of having Juan Carlos Paniagua named organizational Pitcher of the Month. Duane Underwood was named Midwest League Pitcher of the Week. Paniagua and Underwood join Daury Torrez (MWL POTW June 23) and Paul Blackburn (May organizational POTM), while Tyler Skulina was the winning pitcher in a no-hitter. And while he hasn’t won any awards yet, Jen-Ho Tseng has a 3-0 record with a 2.93 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and 54 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.
According to Kevin Druley of the Kane County Chronicle, Cougars OF Yasiel Balaguert has a stress fracture in his foot, but can still hit and throw in practice. Balaguert is on the disabled list and is targeted to come off in early August. The injury has had a side benefit for fellow OF Kevin Brown. Languishing in the rookie league after being drafted in the 22nd round last season, Brown has been mashing pitching at three different levels (Boise, Kane County, and Tennessee) and is hitting .302/.370/.531/.902 with three homers and 19 RBI in 25 games.
The pitching rich Cougars could be a help to the Daytona Cubs, whose staff is second to last in ERA and third from last in WHIP in the Florida State League. Skulina, Paniagua, and Blackburn could be a boost to the rotation that would include LHP Rob Zastryzny and RHP Felix Pena. The advancement of Paniagua may be of significant importance, as it could be the next step in his career. Cast in a starter role in order to get much needed innings, Paniagua could be shifted to what many feel he is best suited for, closer. The organization recently promoted Daytona closer LHP Andrew McKirahan to Tennessee, and left the position in the untested hands of Zack Godley and Tyler Bremer. The presence of Skulina and Blackburn could push somewhat dubious starters RHP Justin Amlung and LHP Nathan Dorris back to the bullpen and further strengthen the staff.
The Kane County staff would be little affected by the promotion of three pitchers with 19-year old Tseng being a no-hitter waiting to happen, the ‘easy heat’ of 20-year old Underwood, and 21-year old Torrez leading the Midwest League with nine wins. The lynchpin to any possible promotions could be 22-year old Dillon Maples, who is seeing action with the AZL Cubs after dealing with a rib injury. The fifth starter spot could be filled internally, with RHP Zak Hermans and LHP Michael Heesch and LHP Gerardo Concepcion being considered.
The presence of OF Billy McKinney has given Daytona a glut of left-handed hitters, with seven of 12 position players batting from that side, along with switch-hitter Zeke DeVoss. However, Tennessee could stand to use some left-handed hitting, with only Charles Cutler and Pin-Chieh Chen on the active roster. Bijan Rademacher has worked himself out of a recent slump and is batting .278 with two home runs and 10 RBI in his last ten games after posting All-Star numbers in the first half of the season. Promoting shortstop Marco Hernandez, who leads the D-Cubs with a .291 average and has hit .372/.378/.512/.889 with two doubles, two triples, and four stolen bases in his last ten games, could also be helpful. But finding Hernandez playing time with Stephen Bruno, Addison Russell, and Christian Villanueva in the infield may be a problem.
Although it is only 16 games into their season, you get the feeling that the Cubs have something special happening in the Arizona Rookie League. The AZL Cubs have been receiving excellent performances from shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Charcer Burks, as well and encouraging beginnings from outfielder Eloy Jimenez, infielder Andrew Ely, and third base man Kevonte Mitchell. Among the most surprising has been catcher/first baseman Alberto Mineo. Signed from the Italian League as a 16-year old in 2010, the now 19-year old is batting .360 with five RBI in seven games. Pitching is led by RHP Jefferson Mejia, who tops the team with a 0.73 ERA and 15 strikeouts. Right handed draftees Jordan Brink, Tanner Griggs, and Zach Hedges along with lefties Carson Sands and Tommy Thorpe have all had successful professional debuts.