The Kane County Cougars rolled through the Midwest League last season and ended up the last team standing after a perfect 7-0 mark in the post-season that ended with a Midwest League Championship.
Mark Johnson, who is now the manager of High-A Myrtle Beach, led his team to a 91-49 record in the regular season. And Johnson was named the Midwest League Manager of the Year.
Kane County completed its impressive run with a 7-2 win over the Lake County Captains last September 17 and on Tuesday the players were rewarded with rings for their accomplishment more than six months ago.
Mark Johnson will be calling the shots this season for many of the same players he managed last year. And Johnson should again have one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
Minor League Baseball Pace-of-Game Rules
Minor League Baseball announced Tuesday rules and procedures aimed at improving pace of play in games at the Triple-A and Double-A levels. Included in the new rules, is the :20 pitch clock.
The rules are focused on time taken between innings and pitcher, and will limit the amount of time allowed during pitching changes. And umpires will continue to enforce rules prohibiting batters from leaving the batter’s box between pitches.
It’s unclear at this point what impact or affect the pitch clock will have on pitchers on rehab assignments. If Major League pitchers have to follow the same rules while on a rehab assignment, organizations may decide to have those pitchers rehab at Class-A affiliates.
Timers have been installed at all Triple-A and Double-A parks in plain view of umpires, players and fans to monitor the pace of play and determine when violations occur. The month of April will serve as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions. Beginning May 1, rules will be enforced as written. The regulations and penalties for non-compliance are listed below.
- Inning breaks will be two minutes, 25 seconds in duration. The first batter of an inning is encouraged to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with 20 seconds left on the inning break timer. The pitcher must begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position at any point within the last 20 seconds of the 2:25 break.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the last 20 seconds of the inning break, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 1-0 count.
- Beginning May 1, should the batter fail to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with five or more seconds remaining on the inning break timer, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 0-1 count.
- Umpires will have the authority to grant extra time between innings should special circumstances arise.
- The inning break timer will begin with the final out of the previous half-inning. For inning breaks during which God Bless America or any patriotic song is played in which all action in the ballpark stops (similar to the national anthem), the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song.
- The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game.
- In the event a pitching change occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).
- Umpires have the authority to reset the timer at their discretion.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the last 20 seconds of the pitching change break, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 1-0 count.
- Beginning May 1, should the batter fail to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with five or more seconds remaining on the pitching change timer, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 0-1 count.
20-Second Pitch Timer
- Pitchers will be allowed 20 seconds to begin their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position.
- The pitcher does not necessarily have to release the ball within 20 seconds, but must begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position to comply with the 20-second rule.
- For the first pitch of an at-bat, the timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
- The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up, or begins the motion to come to the set position.
- If the pitcher feints a pick off or steps off the rubber with runners on base, the timer shall reset and start again immediately.
- Umpires have the authority to stop the 20-second timer and order a reset.
- Following any event (e.g., pick-off play) that permits the batter to leave the batter’s box, the timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
- Following an umpire’s call of “time” or if the ball becomes dead and the batter remains at-bat, the timer shall start when the pitcher is on the pitcher’s plate and the batter is in the batter’s box, alert to the pitcher.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in 20 seconds, a ball will be awarded to the count on the batter.
Cubs System One of Six Most Productive in Baseball
The Cubs have the best system in baseball, according to most publications, entering this season. And according to Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the Cubs’ system has been one of the six most productive in the game over the last five years.
Callis and Mayo think the Nationals have been the best in the game at producing Major League talent. Callis pointed to the success of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Derek Norris as the reasons for the top ranking. Following the Nationals and rounding out the top five: Cardinals, Braves, Royals and Reds.
The Cubs checked in at No. 6 and “while the best is yet to come” the system has produced Arismendy Alcantara, Chris Archer, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo since the end of the 2009 season.
Addison Russell is one the best prospects in the game. Russell is a complete player that has excelled at the plate in the minor leagues while showing he should hit and hit for average in the big leagues.
Baseball Prospectus recently ranked the prospects with the best hit tools, and Addison Russell cracked its list.
According to Chris Crawford, Russell has “the best hands of any prospect in baseball, and they help him not only at shortstop but with the bat.” Russell hits the fastball well and can square “everything up” with “hard, loud contact with pitches anywhere in the zone.”
Russell would have been ranked higher on the list if his swing didn’t get long and at times he wasn’t too aggressive at the plate.
And Baseball Prospectus pointed out that Billy McKinney just missed making the list.
• Full Report from Baseball Prospectus
Future Power Ranking
The Cubs front office saw the direction the game was going and began stockpiling high-impact bats when building the system instead of drafting a trading for pitchers. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have assembled one of the best group of position player prospects many in the game have ever seen.
ESPN released its future power rankings earlier this month and the Cubs jumped up a spot to No. 3 overall behind the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs plan, to date, is working out very well according to Buster Olney. The team needs for players such as Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Addison Russell to produce at the Major League level. Olney thinks the Cubs will address the lack of starting pitching in the free agent market next off-season.
The Cubs scored an 80.9 out of a possible 100 points, more than six points ahead of the Washington Nationals.
ESPN Future Power Ranking Top 10: Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates, Mets, Yankees, White Sox and Royals.