With 3 of the 4 full season teams above .500 and 2 of them in first place, things have gotten off to a good start down on the farm. South Bend has been powered by great pitching, the Smokies have been powered by, well, power…from the likes of Vogelbach and Schwarber, and the I-Cubs are battling in spite of a constant shuffle of players because of injuries to their core players and the players on the major league roster.
It is a fun time to watch the Cubs affiliates, as well as the big league club, because there is legitimate major league caliber talent at every level. Between the talent of some very possible future Cubs and the fact that these teams all play competitive baseball day in and day out, it is a banner time to be a Cubs fan at all levels.
Logan Watkins (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Torn Achilles Tendon), Will Remillard (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Tommy John Surgery), Dallas Beeler (Extended Spring Training, Shoulder), Drake Britton (7 Day DL), Anthony Carter (7 Day DL), Eric Jokisch (7 Day DL), Barret Loux (7 Day DL), Yoanner Negrin (Elbow, 7 Day DL), Pierce Johnson (Extended Spring Training, Lat Strain), Rob Zastryzny (7 Day DL), Matt Brazis (7 Day DL), Juan Paniagua (7 Day DL), Erick Castillo (7 Day DL), Michael Heesch (7 Day DL), Andrew Ely (7 Day DL), Trevor Graham (7 Day DL), Shawon Dunston, Jr. (7 Day DL), Tyler Ihrig (7 Day DL), Ryan McNeil (7 Day DL), Tim Saunders (7 Day DL), James Norwood (7 Day DL)
South Bend Cubs: 14-13, 4th Place Midwest League Eastern Division
As far as introductions to full season play go, young SS Gleyber Torres has had as good a start to a career for an 18 year old as one could reasonably expect. His .333/.429/.411 is an outstanding start to his young career, which includes 3 doubles, 2 triples, and 14 walks vs. only 20 strikeouts. Although he has 6 errors in the early going, his start in the Midwest League has been a resounding success.
The trio of Jeremy Null, Ryan Williams, and Erick Leal have been outstanding to this point on the mound. They are, in order, the top three innings eaters for the South Bend Cubs, and Leal sports the highest ERA (2.45). Both Null and Williams are working with sub 1 ERAs, at 0.59 and 0.35, respectively. Between the three, they have allowed as many earned runs (10) as they have surrendered walks (10). And none of the three have allowed a home run, yet. Although the focus here was on these three, the entire South Bend staff has been remarkable. They are matching, pitch for pitch, the output of last year’s Midwest League Champion Kane County Cougars, which fares well for the Cubs’ affiliate having a chance to repeat as the king of the MWL.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans: 16-10, 1st Place Carolina League Southern Division
The second go at High A for Jeimer Candelario has been much more successful than the first run at it. At .263/.305/.364, the numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but he is not striking out very much (just 17 in 99 ABs) and he has shown some of his power with 10 doubles. He has yet to go yard, but considering how inconsistent he was at Daytona last summer, this early going has been a positive step in Candelario’s development.
At the end of games, Jasvir Rakkar has been doing a nice job of making sure wins aren’t escaping the gullet. Terrible jokes notwithstanding, Rakkar has been lights out with 4 saves and 6 games finished, allowing 1 earned in 10 innings over the course of 7 appearances. On a pitching staff that was so dominant at Kane County last year, Rakkar probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for his performance. Although he may not be a significant prospect, strong starts like he is off to deserve some space, especially when they come as part of a group of players who have done nothing but win over the course of the last season plus.
Tennessee Smokies: 15-11, 1st Place Southern League North
There isn’t much more that can be said about the way Dan Vogelbach and Kyle Schwarber have assaulted Southern League pitching. Voggy is at .358/.451/.568 and Schwarber is at .333/.458/.627. They’ve combined for 8 HRs, have driven in 33 between them, and (arguably) most impressive is that they each have a triple in the early going. Sincerely, an entire post could be written about the kind of work these guys have done this season early on. They’ve been impressive.
After an injury plagued season in 2014, Ivan Pineyro has come back with a strong start to 2015 with a 3.25 ERA over 27.2 innings. Most importantly, he’s made all 5 starts as the rotation cycles through. Acquired from the Nationals organization in return for Scott Hairston, Pineyro was an intriguing arm who lost some luster last year, mostly because he couldn’t get on the mound. Getting healthy is a step in the right direction. Carl Edwards, Jr. (formerly C.J. Edwards), appears to be adjusting to life in the bullpen, making scoreless appearances in 4 of his last 5 outings, spanning 8.2 innings. He has been efficient and he has been in the strike zone, especially over the last two calls. With the major league team battling injuries and some ineffectiveness in the pen, it is not yet out of the question that he makes a big league debut this year, although that would certainly come later on in the season.
Iowa Cubs: 12-14, 3rd Place Pacific Coast League American Northern Division
It’s only been 7 games, but it is great to see Javier Baez back on a baseball field. He is clearly still shaking off some of the rust after having to depart from the team late in spring training, but his .259/.310/.444 line is an encouraging start, considering how last season both started at Iowa and ended in Chicago. He has a home run and 2 doubles, but it is the 7 strike outs in 27 at bats that are most note worthy. Baez is a player who will always be strike out prone, but if he keeps the rate around 25%, his career can be what fans have been enamored with since he was drafted in 2011.
As a staff, the I-Cubs have been a tough group to gauge. Between major league call-ups, players sent back, and injuries, the I-Cubs don’t have a real standout player at this point. There are some encouraging areas (4th in PCL team ERA), some weak spots (allowed 4th most walks in PCL while striking out the second fewest), and some areas where the defense let them down (22 errors, leading to 16 unearned runs). Much of the unevenness of this group should subside, though, when players return from injury and when the major league team gets healthy enough to send the players who where expected to be in Iowa back to Iowa.