With the minor leagues wrapping up the regular season last Monday, it was time to shift to post-season awards.
Three years ago, separate awards were established for players and pitchers who were outstanding in a short season. Short season players are defined by those that were assigned to Short Season-A Eugene, the AZL Cubs, the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues, and players who were unable to begin the year with a full-season minor league team.
The final two post-season minor league awards are for the Short-Season Player and Pitcher of the Year.
Short-Season Player of the Year – OF/1B Chris Pieters
While players change positions frequently during their development in the minor leagues, a position player moving to pitcher is usually a sign of desperation by an organization to get something out of a talent that just can’t seem to put things together. What is highly unheard of is a pitcher trying to salvage a career by becoming a position player. That is just what happened with The CCO’s Short Season Player of the Year Chris Pieters.
Signed in July of 2011 for a $350,000 bonus, the native of Curacao was assigned to the Fall Instructional League in order to work on his pitching repertoire, which included a mid-80s fastball. The lefty began his professional career as a 17-year old in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, going 2-5 in 14 appearances (six starts) with a 6.00 ERA, 2.24 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts in 33 innings. Pieters seasons in 2013 and 2014 actually were worse, posting ERA’s of 12.21 and 11.25 respectively.
So it was with some curiosity and much indifference when Pieters showed up in Spring Training for the 2015 season working out in the outfield and at first base. To say that Pieters took the change well would be a massive understatement. The athletic Pieters took the Dominican Summer League by storm, batting .311 with a .457 on-base percentage, which was good enough for third in the league. Pieters also swiped 25 bases, ninth best in the league. After 53 games, Pieters was promoted to the AZL Cubs of the rookie league, a moved delayed by visa problems. In nine games for the A-Cubs, Pieters batted .257 to give him a combined season slash line of .302/.432/.423 with 13 doubles, two triples, three home runs and a .855 OPS that included 39 RBI, and 25 stolen bases in 62 games.
The CCO turned to colleague John Arguello of Cubs Den, who had a chance to see Pieters up close in Arizona, for this scouting report:
“The thing that stands about Chris Pieters is his fluid athleticism. He takes long, graceful strides and grades out as an above average to plus runner. While that type of running style doesn’t always translate to big base stealing totals, he’ll eat up ground in the outfield and on the bases, especially from first to third base. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he’s long and lean with some room to fill out, but he already shows some gap power from the left side.”
“At the plate he has drawn one walk in the AZ Rookie League, but he is not hacking away up there. He does try to work counts and did pretty well drawing walks in the DSL. Though numbers in that league aren’t very predictive, it at least shows a willingness to be patient and wait for his pitch. I did not see him in the field but I understand he has picked it up rather quickly. In Arizona, he deferred to the more highly regarded D.J. Wilson in center field, but if given the opportunity, he certainly has the tools to stick there.”
“Pieters is a raw talent but seems more advanced as a position player than he was as a pitcher, where he basically had zero command of the strike zone. It’s an intriguing package of tools and athleticism, but Peters obviously needs some work. Time is on his side as he will begin next season as a 20-year old.”
Short Season Pitcher of the Year – RHP Oscar De La Cruz
It’s not the first time that The CCO’s Five Players to Watch series identified a player to garner awards, as this past pre-seasons series tabbed RHP Oscar De La Cruz, the CCO Short Season Pitcher of the year.
A robust teen at 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, the 19-year old right-hander was signed by the Cubs for the 2013 season, in which he was 1-0 with a 6.55 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings for the Cubs team in the Dominican Summer League. Returning to the DSL for the 2014 season, De La Cruz was given an increased workload, tossing 75 innings in 14 games. De La Cruz ended up tied for second in the league for victories with an 8-1 record. His other numbers were also impressive, as De La Cruz had a 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts against 19 walks.
Moving to the Short Season-A Eugene Emeralds for the 2015 season, De La Cruz became one of the most dominant pitchers of the Northwest League. With a WHIP of 1.00, De La Cruz led the league while his 73 strikeouts were second, with his ERA of 2.84 ranking third in the league. After an outing on Aug. 26 when De La Cruz struck out 13 batters, he was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week. The Cubs’ organization also named De La Cruz its Pitcher of the Month for August.
Emeralds play-by-play man Matt Dompe was kind enough to give Chicago Cubs Online some of his thoughts on De La Cruz:
“He was particularly dominant in his final home start on Aug. 26. He was a walk and a bad hop from being perfect over seven innings. He had his curveball working which was responsible for many of his career high 13 strikeouts.”
“With his size and fastball/curveball combo, I think a good comparison is a young Ubaldo Jimenez. De La Cruz doesn’t quite have the velocity that Jimenez had when he broke in with the Rockies, but at just 20 years of age there’s no reason he couldn’t add a couple of feet to his fastball before he gets to Wrigley.”
“Off the field Oscar is one of the nicest, most well liked players by teammates, fans and front office employees.”
This concludes our regular season coverage of the Chicago Cubs’ Minor League system for 2015. Thank you all once again for turning to Chicago Cubs Online for all of your minor league news. I’ll be back full coverage of the minor league playoffs, as well as off-season coverage beginning with the Arizona Fall League and the CCO’s annual position-by-position analysis of the Cubs’ minor leagues. Until then, this is Tom U., signing off.