With the season wearing on, the affiliates are starting to normalize. Players are starting to show some regression to their means, while others (like Dan Vogelbach and Kyle Schwarber) still have monster numbers fueled by early season video game-like performances. In general, all of the teams are playoff competitors and should remain that way through the end of the season. That is to say, while some early performances fueled some monster individual numbers, the teams are all pretty good…which is indicative of the talent that is pervasive from top to bottom in the system.
Logan Watkins (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Torn Achilles Tendon), Will Remillard (60 Day DL, Out for Season, Tommy John Surgery), Trey McNutt (60 Day DL, Shoulder), Anthony Carter (7 Day DL), Anthony Varvaro (Inactive), 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), Shawon Dunston, Jr. (7 Day DL, Right Arm),
South Bend Cubs: 17-17, 5th Place Midwest League Eastern Division
It is genuinely remarkable, that at 18, Gleyber Torres is leading the South Bend Cubs in batting average and on-base percentage. At his young age, he shows a solid approach, already drawing 17 walks, in addition to hitting for some extra base pop, with 5 doubles and 2 triples in the early going. His .339/.426/.415 with 18 RBIs and 8 stolen bases has been a really fun story in the Midwest League. If he continues to play at this level, he may justify an aggressive promotion to Myrtle Beach before season’s end.
Unlike Torres, 2014 2nd round draft pick, Jake Stinnett has had a tough go in his first full professional season. In his 6 starts, Stinnett has a 6.12 ERA in 25 innings, with a 2.00 WHIP. The struggles are being fueled by 21 walks allowed (against 20 strike outs), 4 hit batters, 4 wild pitches, a.352 batting average against, and a 5.32 FIP. While it is only 6 starts and is very early, this is not the start that Stinnett or the Cubs would have liked from the top picked pitcher in last year’s draft.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans: 20-12, 1st Place Carolina League Southern Division
.340/.432/.544, 4 HRs, 5 doubles, and 2 triples in 29 games for the Pelicans was finally enough to get Billy McKinney promoted to AA Tennessee. He continued the remarkable tear he’s been on since being acquired with Addison Russell and Dan Straily in the Jeff Samardzija trade with Oakland last season. As far as players still with the Pelicans, Mark Zagunis has showed his worthiness of being a 3rd round pick out of Virginia Tech last year. He’s at .294/.423/.420 and has drawn 25 walks, while only punching out 18 times. He is one of the types of hitters that the organization loves, working long and productive at-bats while being willing to take his walks.
Duane Underwood, Jr. is continuing to establish himself as, quite possibly, the best pitching prospect in the organization. Through 5 starts, spanning 28 innings, Underwood has allowed only 4 earned runs on 16 hits and 10 walks. WHIPs under 1 are really good and Underwood’s has stayed there though the first 5 outings. On the flip side, Jen-Ho Tseng hasn’t been as effective as he was last season. Like Underwood, it is a small sample of only 5 starts, but Tseng has a 5.14 ERA in 21 innings. He is not walking people, with only 7, but he is being hit regularly, surrendering 22.
Tennessee Smokies: 18-15, 2nd Place Southern League North
After a good start, Albert Almora has cooled off. His numbers aren’t bad, but he is still showing some of his youth against AA pitching at the moment. .275/.310/.308 aren’t terrible, but Almora has more power than his early .033 ISO has shown. Some positives include the 5.9% walk rate, which is the highest he’s had since his time with Kane County in 2013, and his 8.8% K rate, which is the the lowest he’s had since he was with Boise in 2012 after being drafted. For a player with such a low strike out rate, the hope would be that his BABIP would be higher than .294. All in all, Almora is still clearly a work in progress. His contact will play. But until he makes more hard contact on pitches he can drive, he will continue to hit weakly into outs. At only 21, this isn’t a reason for alarm, but definitely something worth keeping an eye on.
Because of his age (25), and because he’s been in the system since 2009, Felix Pena almost never gets mentioned. But last year in Daytona, Pena posted strong numbers, earning a trip to Tennessee at the end of the season. While he struggled a bit in 6 starts in a Smokies rotation that was littered with injuries, he has come back with a vengeance this season. In his first 6 outings this season, he’s posted a 2.29 ERA and 2.60 FIP in 35.1 innings pitched. And to this point, he has not yet allowed a home run. Pena isn’t a guy who will appear on top prospect lists, but if he continues to post numbers like he has thus far, he may find himself in AAA before season’s end.
Iowa Cubs: 17-17, 2nd Place Pacific Coast League American Northern Division
It’s only been 64 plate appearances so this is going to come with all of the small sample bells, whistles, and alarms…but Javier Baez is starting to get it going in Iowa. He’s at .281/.359/.421. More importantly, his walk rate is at 7.8%, which is where he was in Iowa last season, and his strike out rate is at 25%, which is as low has it’s been since 2013 when he was with Daytona. The .359 BABIP is as high as he’s seen since he was with Peoria in 2012. It is a small sample. But with everything Baez has been through… a call-up where he struggled with strike outs, a winter of changing his approach and some of his hitting mechanics, a troublesome spring where he didn’t make a ball club he was expected to make, the death of his sister, and restarting his 2015 season… this is as solid a place as Baez could be expected to be in. He needs more time in Iowa, but at 22 and with the play of Starlin Castro and Addison Russell in the major leagues, Baez has the luxury of time to figure it out before returning to the major league team.
On the pitching side of things, Armando Rivero hasn’t been the guy they probably expected him to be out of spring training with the I-Cubs this year, but some of his numbers are a touch misleading. On one hand, he’s walked a lot of batters, thrown a lot of pitches in many of his outings (limiting his availability out of the pen), and his ERA and FIP are both over 5. On the other hand, 3 of the 6 earned runs he’s allowed came in 1 game and in the others, he’s allowed 1 run in each, making it 9 scoreless relief appearances out of 13. And since April 23, he’s gotten his walks down, only surrendered 1 run and he has been more economical with his pitch counts. It’s been widely expected that the 27 year old would appear with the big league club at some point this year, and if he continues to pitch well, that is still a very strong possibility.