Minor League Preview – Low-A South Bend Cubs
Good morning to everyone at the CCO! Today is the next installment previewing the 2016 minor league season. Please note that the previews are based on current roster assignments and anticipated Spring Training success. All assignments, both as to position and level, are subject to change pending the completion of Spring Training.
Low-A – South Bend Cubs
For those who might be looking for the next minor league class to brighten the future for the Cubs, you may want to start with the South Bend Cubs. Manager Jimmy Gonzalez will be given a dynamic outfield, an experienced infield, and a pitching staff with the most potential that Cubs’ fans have seen in years. How all of that translates to wins and losses remains to be seen.
Infield – The linchpin for the squad is 2015 11th round pick Matt Rose. Moving back to third after playing first base last season due to an elbow injury, the 21-year has scouts intrigued with his power potential. Between Short Season-A Eugene and the SB Cubs last year, Rose was .271/.309/.392/.701 with eight doubles, four home runs and 37 RBI in 45 games. Moving across the diamond, first base should be occupied by the left/right combination of Blake Headley and Adonis Paula. Selected in the 20th round last year, Headley hit .230/.302/.293/.595 with 10 doubles, a triple and 19 RBI in 60 games with Eugene while also playing third base and shortstop. Signed in 2012, Paula has worked his way through the system and batted .261/.316/.382/.698 with nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and 19 RBI with the Emeralds, while also playing third base and short. The middle of the infield will belong to Andrew Ely and Vimael Machin, both coming to South Bend for a return engagement. Splitting time between Eugene and South Bend, the 23-year old Ely demonstrated that he can handle shortstop, but most likely will be at second as he hit .247/.303/.365/.668 with 22 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 29 RBI in 79 games. Machin spent some time at catcher in the Fall Instructional League, but probably will be seen all around the infield, primarily at short. The 22-year old also saw action with the Emeralds and the SB Cubs, hitting .179/.268/.221/.489 with six doubles and 10 RBI in 44 games. Able to play second, third, and the outfield, 23-year old Angelo Amendolare even saw time with Triple-A Iowa after signing out of the 27th round last year. Amendolare was an on-base machine, batting a combined .271/.388/.318/.706 with four doubles and 20 RBI in 30 games.
Outfield – The focus of attention for position players on South Bend will be the outfield, which is brimming with talent. Second round pick Donnie Dewees figures to be the Opening Day left fielder and leadoff man. The 22-year old lefty inked a deal with the Cubs and batted .266/.306/.376/.682 with 14 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 30 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 66 games for Eugene. Occupying the middle of the batting order and lining up in right field should be Eloy Jimenez. The 19-year old is considered a top 10 talent, as he hit .284/.328/.418/.746 with 10 doubles, seven home runs and 33 RBI in 57 games in the Northwest League. The front office is hoping big international signee Eddy Julio Martinez can begin his professional career in center for South Bend. The 21-year old Cuban national has been compared to former Braves All-Star Andruw Jones. If Martinez is not ready by the end of spring, the SB Cubs will be well supplied starting with Alex Bautista. Drafted in the 22nd round, the 22-year old was productive after signing, going .255/.309/.379/.689 with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs and 21 RBI in 46 games between the rookie league and Eugene. Lefty Danny Spingola was selected in the 24th round and played 12 games with South Bend, Eugene, and the rookie league hitting .314/.375/.543/.918 with four doubles, two triples, and seven RBI. Donnie Cimino was drafted in the 37th round and batted .217/.284/.233/.517 with a double and three RBI in 20 games, all with the AZL Cubs.
Catching – This position got a big talent boost when the organization moved P.J. Higgins back to catcher. The 22-year old played behind the plate, along with the infield, while in college. Higgins made his way to the fringes of some scouts’ top prospect lists after hitting .299/.351/.445/.797 with eight doubles, three triples, two home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases combined with both the AZL Cubs and the Emeralds. The Cubs are still very high on 20-year old Tyler Alamo. The primary catcher for the Eugene Emeralds in 2015, Alamo had his best year as a pro, batting .261/.338/.268/.606 with a double and 14 RBI in 41 games while improving behind the dish. Like many other catchers in the Cubs’ system, Alamo has been cross-trained at first base. Selected in the 29th round, 22-year old Ian Rice provides a veteran presence to guide a young pitching staff. Known as a good receiver, Rice hit .252/.375/.340/.715 with eight doubles, two home runs, and 19 RBI in 47 games for Eugene.
Pitching – Make no mistake, pitching is going to be in the forefront for South Bend, as the Cubs have assembled a squad that can rival, or even top, the staff scheduled to begin the 2016 season with Double-A Tennessee. That squad has twice finished first in team pitching, which has resulted in two league championships. It will be a contest all through Spring Training as to who will be the Opening Day starter for the SB Cubs, Oscar De La Cruz or lefty Justin Steele. Both are considered top 20 prospects, with De La Cruz battling for the designation as top overall pitching prospect. The 21-year old De La Cruz finished among all the top categories in pitching for the Northwest League in 2015, going 6-3 in 13 starts with a 2.84 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 73 innings. Steele is among the most improved pitchers reporting to Spring Training, as he appears to have increased his overall strength and stamina. In a season that was marred by a minor injury, Steele went 3-1 in 10 starts with a 2.66 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and had 38 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. Eugene’s Opening Day starter in 2015, left-hander Carson Sands had a little less success than his teammates. Set to turn 21 just prior to the season, Sands was 3-4 in 14 starts with a 3.92 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Two 2015 draft picks that seem to be on track for South Bend are Casey Bloomquist and left-hander Kyle Twomey. Selected in the 17th round, Bloomquist was one of the most immediately successful. The 22-year old was 0-2 in nine appearances (four starts), but had a 2.18 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 20.2 innings with both the AZL Cubs and Eugene. Twomey was part of a four pitcher effort in a no-hitter for the Eugene Emeralds. Chosen in the 30th round, the 22-year old was 1-1 in 10 appearances (six stats) and had a 2.35 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in 23 innings. With the Cubs preferring a six-man rotation in the low minors, Adbert Alzolay figures to get the early work in this role. Used as a piggyback starter by Eugene, the 21-year old went 6-2 in 12 appearances (three starts) with a 2.04 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 53 innings.
The bullpen for South Bend also appears deep with left-handers John Williamson, Tyler Peitzmeier, Heath Dwyer. Twenty-third round pick Williamson had some trouble adjusting to the pros, as he was 1-1 in 14 appearances with a 5.40 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 18 innings between the rookie league and the Emeralds. It was a mixed bag for ninth round selection Peitzmeier, who posted a 1.14 WHIP and had 16 strikeouts in 16.2 innings for Eugene, but also had a 2-3 record in 12 appearances and a 5.94 ERA. An undrafted free agent, Dwyer has the most potential of the three to be the left-handed closer as the 22-year old racked up 28 strikeouts in 21 innings for both the AZL Cubs and the Emeralds. But Dwyer also had a 3.86 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 12 appearances.
South Bend potentially has some really good looking right handed relievers beginning with 19th round draft pick Kyle Miller. The 22-year old went 1-1 in nine appearances, with a 3.71 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 12 strikeouts in 17 innings splitting his time in the rookie league and with Eugene. Twenty-three year old Jared Cheek is in the running for closer, as the seventh round selection was 2-0 with two saves in 10 appearances for Eugene. Cheek posted a 3.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and had 21 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Another closing candidate is Greyfer Eregua. The 22-year old fanned 45 in 43.2 innings and had a 0-3 record with two saves in 17 appearances, along with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. One of the top pitchers in the Northwest League, the Cubs have yet to decide whether Pedro Araujo will end up in the rotation or as a closer. The 22-year old’s70 strikeouts in 50.1innings was among the top totals in the league. Araujo went 0-1 with a save in 21 appearances (2.68 ERA, 1.03 WHIP).
What to Watch For: Good weather. Two years ago, the Cubs Low-A affiliate won the Midwest League title with a similarly constructed team. Mild spring weather allowed both the hitters and pitchers get off to a good start, and then the team just steamrolled its way through the season. Similar good fortune this year could be a key to success.
Minor League Previews
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season A-Ball
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Attention CCO Readers
The Chicago Cubs Online preliminary reader’s poll is underway. This season, the CCO will be posting the Top Prospect Watch in a separate article on Tuesdays. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the CCO to follow next season in the comment section, on Facebook and/or Twitter as this is the final week for nominations.
The CCO will take the top 20 vote getters and run in a special poll for the final two weeks of preseason. The CCO will track the progress of top 10 players throughout the entire season. This past week, right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease remained sole possession of first place. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only 10 will eventually be chosen. So from Aramis Ademan to Rob Zastryzny, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.