With the first month of the 2015 season over, here is an inside look at how the Cubs’ minor league teams are doing this year.
Iowa has done the best they can having to cope with both injuries and needs at the Major League level. While it wasn’t a shock to anyone that Kris Bryant is now in the majors, it was expected for INF Addison Russell to last past the Super 2 date in early- to mid-June. With INF Javier Baez back from his personal leave, the infield should be more dynamic with Christian Villanueva and Arismendy Alcantara joining Baez. Another boost can be expected in about four weeks as Mike Olt should be ready to resume baseball activities. The I-Cubs have been receiving good production out of INF/OF Mike Baxter, who is hitting .348 and has been solid defensively.
The Iowa rotation has been a shambles thanks to injuries to Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch, and Barret Loux. Beeler and Jokisch are presently working their way back into shape, but their absence has led to manager Marty Pevey to use Carlos Pimentel and Yoanner Negrin as spot starters more than he would probably liked. The lone consistent performer has been Donn Roach, who shrugged off a shaky Opening Night and has been effective with his sinkerball.
The bullpen has been somewhat of a disaster with Iowa losing Zac Rosscup and Gonzalez German to the majors and Blake Parker to injury. Lefties Drake Britton and Hunter Cervenka have been lit up by the opposition. Expected to be a part of the Major League pen soon, Armando Rivero just could not throw a strike early on, but seems to be getting better of late. Experienced relievers Brian Schlitter, along with lefties James Russell and Joe Ortiz are expected to get the bulk of the action.
The attention has been on the “Bash Brothers” Kyle Schwarber and Dan Vogelbach, and rightfully so. As of Saturday, Schwarber is hitting .362 with four home runs and 14 RBI while Vogelbach is batting .356 with three homers and 13 RBI. However, Tennessee’s broadcasters can’t seem to say enough good things about Bijan Rademacher. Rademacher is considered the smartest baseball player on the team and the most willing to do the little things to contribute. The Smokies are also getting great mileage out of a few forgotten prospects, Pin-Chieh Chen, Willson Contreras and Elliot Soto. Always considered top defenders, Chen and Soto have split the leadoff duties and batted .273 and .266 respectively. Contreras has surprised by hitting .333 with a homer and seven RBI while allowing Schwarber to ease into being a catcher.
Starting pitching was supposed to carry this team, but with two exceptions has been a disappointment. Pierce Johnson has yet to start his season due to a lat injury, and Rob Zastryzny is already on the disabled list with a foot injury. Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro have been inconsistent. The two surprises have been Frank Batista and Felix Pena. A converted closer, Batista has shown remarkable stamina, averaging a little over six innings a start. Batista is 2-0 with a 1.48 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP with 19 strikeouts. Pena is not far behind, also with a 2-0 record, an ERA of 1.46 and a 0.892 WHIP with 23 strikeouts.
The Smokies went into the season with no set closer, hoping that C.J. Edwards would seize the opportunity. But Edwards can’t seem to throw strikes, as he has a 4.66 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in only 9.2 innings. Tennessee has been getting good production in the pen from Michael Jensen and P.J. Francescon. Jensen is a reliable set-up man, with a 0.93 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 9.2 innings. An uncharacteristic closer, Francescon has not allowed an earned run and has picked up two saves in four chances.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
In the immortal words of Dennis Green, the Pelicans “are who we thought they were.” The former Midwest League Champions have had great starting pitching and have been offensively challenged. Duane Underwood came close to throwing a no-hitter, and has a 1.29 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 21 innings. Jonathan Martinez has been the next best starter, with a 2.12 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Both Daury Torrez and Jen-Ho Tseng have been effective, with ERA’s in the 3.00’s. The disappointments have been Paul Blackburn and Tyler Skulina, with ERA’s of 4.80 and 7.07 respectively.
Myrtle Beach has been searching for a closer since the promotions of Starling Peralta and Matt Brazis. Tayler Scott has done well since moving to the pen with a 2.08 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. A big surprise has been the lack of action for Juan Paniagua, who has pitched only three innings all season.
Catching has been a big hole for the Pelicans as Victor Caratini is hitting below .200 and Albert Mineo has only six plate appearances. Both could benefit from a step down in competition. There also is a serious lack of power, with Jacob Rogers having three of the team’s six home runs. An eye-opener has been Carlos Penalver. Always great defensively, Penalver is holding his own at the plate, batting .250 with nine RBI and four stolen bases.
South Bend Cubs
If South Bend can get of few of their flaws cleaned up the Cubs organization could have back-to-back Midwest League Champions. The SB Cubs could easily be 15-7 or better if not for the bullpen and some sloppy defense. South Bend is paying for not having anyone experienced in their pen outside of Francisco Carrillo. Carrillo is having a poor season, and almost everyone else is a converted starter adjusting to their new role. Of recent, David Garner has been pitching well, not allowing an earned run in 7.1 innings. Lefty Jordan Minch appears to have future as a set-up man. Ryan McNeil has looked good in limited opportunities, but is still being treated carefully in his second year back from Tommy John surgery.
South Bend looks like it will have a starting staff to rival last season’s Kane County Cougars. The biggest surprises have been Ryan Williams and Jeremy Null. Williams leads the league with a 0.49 ERA, while Null is third at 0.79. Williams is also second with a 0.61 WHIP. After rocky first starts, both Trevor Clifton and Erick Leal have settled down and displayed the control they are known for. Zach Hedges has held his own but Jake Stinnett has been a huge disappointment. Considered the most polished starter, Stinnett appears to be nibbling more than attacking batters, sporting a 6.60 ERA.
It seems as if the front office did South Bend a disservice by not providing them with an experienced first baseman. Most of Gleyber Torres’ six errors and Jesse Hodges’ five errors would have had different outcomes had there been someone who knew what they are doing at first base. Torres is clearly a superior talent, but his game is uneven. While batting .346, Torres has had some dry stretches and needs to realize he doesn’t need to make every play on defense. If you were voting on a system MVP for the first month, it would clearly be Cael Brockmeyer. The catcher is among the league leaders in hitting an RBI, and leads all of the MWL in extra base hits. Brockmeyer has also deftly handled a young and talented pitching staff. A close second on the team is Chesny Young. Young is leading the team and tied for fourth in the league with eight steals, is batting over .300, and has played well defensively at both second base and shortstop. Both Brockmeyer and Young are due (perhaps overdue) for a promotion.