Jonathan Mota, Photo by Roger C. Hoover

If the best part of following the minors is getting to track the future of the Cubs, then the second best part would have to be catching glimpses of other prominent prospects as they wander in and out of the minor league schedule. One of the bigger names, and one that should be familiar to Obsessive Watch fans, was on the mound against Daytona on Monday night.

But every once in awhile, if you follow baseball closely enough, you’ll find remarkable dramas like the one that unfolded in Tennessee. One member of the Smokies not only had the best all around day we are likely to see this season, he may have had the best day of his career. No one could make up a script like this one.

AAA – Iowa Cubs. 8 – 11
The bad news is that the that the Iowa Cubs lost 6-2. The worse news is that the Cubs lost to the Memphis Cardinals.

Jay Jackson was less than impressive, lasting just five innings and allowing five of the Cardinals’ six runs. More notably, the recently promoted Frank Batista made his Triple A debut in this game. Batista pitched the eighth and ninth innings and seemed to have no problem with the more advanced hitters. He gave up two hits and struck out two. His season ERA, spanning both Double A and Triple A, remains at 0.00.

At the plate, Brett Jackson went 2 for 4 with a run scored and no strikeouts. He also stole a base. After a rough stretch in which he could not make contact, Jackson has now avoided striking out in five of his last six games. Anthony Rizzo stayed hot with two hits, including a double. Despite jumping out to a good start to the season, Josh Vitters has slumped badly. Over his last ten games he is hitting just .118/.167/.147. In that stretch he has two walks and six strikeouts. It will be interesting to see how well Vitters is able to make adjustments and get himself back on track. He has already shown progress at the plate by walking at a much higher rate this season than he ever has in his career.

AA – Tennesse Smokies. 10 – 9
Tennessee scored both early and late and came out with a 12 inning win, 5-4.

A double (Elliot Soto), a triple (Logan Watkins), and a home run (Jonathan Mota) led to three first inning runs. An Elliot Soto triple in the fifth led to a fourth run, and the Smokies’ pitching almost made it stand up. When Chattanooga tied the game it took until the bottom of the twelfth before Justin Bour was able to single home the winning run.

Dallas Beeler did not have his best game of the season, allowing four runs on eight hits in five and two thirds. Alberto Cabrera, Kevin Rhoderick, and Marcus Hatley kept the Lookouts off the board through the end of the eleventh. In the twelfth, apparently low on pitchers in the bullpen, the Smokies sent left fielder Jonathan Mota (he of the first inning home run) to the mound. He gave up a hit but was otherwise perfect, setting him up for his first win of the season.

If you stay around baseball long enough you’ll see about everything, but I can’t remember ever seeing a game in which the starting left fielder hit a home run and was the winning pitcher. To top the story off, Mota was playing just his twelfth game ever in left field; he’s a career infielder. Not only is he the hero on the mound and at the plate, he spent the first eleven innings playing out of position. Stories like that are what makes baseball great.

High A – Daytona Cubs. 5 – 12
Zach Cates had his best start of the season but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cubs’ winning streak alive. Daytona falls 7-2.

Cates went one inning in his first start, three and third in his second, and made it through four in his third. In those four innings he gave up three runs on six hits. Joseph Zeller allowed a run in three innings before Larry Suarez let the game get away in the final two.

Offensively, Daytona was remarkably efficient; their two runs came on just three hits. None of those hits came in the four innings worked by Lakeland starting pitcher Jacob Turner, the top prospect in the Tigers’ farm system and a pitcher frequently mentioned (wishfully) in the Matt Garza trade rumors.

Low A – Peoria Chiefs. 7 – 11
Peoria scratched out three runs on five hits, but that did not get the job done. The Chiefs lost 7-3.

Starter Jose Rosario was not good in his five innings of work (9H, 5R, 2BB, 2K), but the bullpen kept the game close until the ninth. Luis Liria and Bryce Shafer combined on three scoreless innings before Austin Reed had a two run hiccup in the ninth.

Zeke DeVoss, Paul Hoilman, and Taiwan Easterling accounted for the Chiefs’ three runs and Wes Darvill reached base three times on a hit and two walks. History was made (in a small way) on Monday as Oliver Zapata was finally held hitless. He did earn a walk and steal a base, his third.

  • CubFan Paul

    According to Cubs Den, BJax has just 1 strikeout in his last 29 at bats (7 games) steps

  • Brandon

    What a game last night in Tennessee!! It was cold (44 degrees), but I am sure glad we stayed until the end. Could not be happier for guys like Jonathan Mota and Nate Samson. Both have been manning 3B while Cerda has been on the DL. Both have played remarkabley well….especially on defense. Mota had been struggling with the bat, but his 1st inning HR seemed to spark the boys. Seeing him in LF last night was strange, but the departure of Ty Wright back to AAA and a much needed off day for Aducci put Jonathan in the lineup manning left field.

    Mota pitched an inning on the road earlier this season, and I was pretty excited to see what he could do on the mound as we went to the 12th (apparently, Buddy Bailey did not want guys like Weathers, Harman and Berlind) pitching on back to back days, so all of a sudden we needed a guy who could simply throw strikes. And that’s what Johnny-Mo did. he topped out at 76 MPH but he threw strikes.

    Lost on the night was the stellar defense. Logan Watkins and Elliott Soto were sure handed (as always) but Nate Samson saved 2 runs late in the game with a diving stop in the 5.5 hole to end the inning, and in the top of the 12th, he made a leaping catch on a liner then fired to 1st base to end the inning with a double play that fired up the boys. We knew something special was about to happen. Nate Samson got the rally started in the bottom of the 12th with a 4 pitch walk. Mike Brenly bunted him over to 2nd and Justin Bour drove an oposite field shot to left and the Smokies were winners. WHAT A GAME!

    Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!!

    Smokies won the series, and play today to try and take (4 of 5…..again) from Chattanooga.

  • Steve

    Luke Blaize…. Is this a stage name??

  • ferrets_bueller

    Vitters had me quite excited with the early walks, but now he’s barely walking at all again. If you take out those first four games, his walk rate is just as horrible as it always was.

    • Luke

      It’s too early to read anything into the numbers one way or another.  We could argue that Vitters made some progress over the winter and in spring training, but that opposing pitchers have no adjusted to him and he needs to readjust to counter the pitchers.  Or we could argue that he just got lucky early in the season.  We’ll have a better idea after Vitters makes some adjustments and starts producing again.

      • Kyle

        The main thing is still that Vitters is yet again one of the youngest hitters in his league.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Another possibility is that Vitters is aware that his low walk rate (and his reputation for swinging on anything short of a pitchout) has caused his stock to plummet, particularly to the sorts of people who now run the Cubs.  He therefore might be taking lots of pitches to show “patience” and then hacking at pitches outside the strike-zone after he falls behind in the count.

        • Luke

          He’s not striking out any more than he usually does.  I think the most likely explanation is that he’s just gone into a bit of a slump.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Given his contact skills, I am not sure that I’d expect Vitters to K that much more often under this scenario.  However, given that most batters have a lower probability of hitting the ball well when they hit a pitch outside of the strikezone, I would expect this scenario to generate a lot of poorly hit balls, which in turn predicts a low average.

            Of course, it also is possible that Vitters has Soto-itis and his grounders & liners are just going at people.  10 games is only about 40 ABs, and just a few of those will nuke your average over such a short span.  They do “average out”: but over the course of weeks, not days.

  • Brett

    Sounds like Concepcion has been added to Peoria’s roster, and will start on Wednesday. Here’s hoping he tears it up against theoretically inferior competition.

    • Luke

      We’ll get a look at Yaniel Cabezas as well.  Cabezas (I think) was the catcher the Cubs signed out of Cuba at the same time they signed Rubi Silva prior to the 2011 season.

      • Brett

        Indeed he was.

  • Luke

    Minor League starting pitchers for today’s games:

    Iowa (12:05 CDT) – Travis Wood.

    Tennessee (11:30 AM ET) – Dae-Eun Rhee

    Daytona (6:30 ET) – Hayden Simpson

    Peoria (11:00 AM ET) – Kyler Burke

    That’s a lot of day baseball with some pretty good pitchers on the mound.  Remember, all online radio broadcasts for minor league games are free, and you find the link to the team you want here:

    • SecoconJose

      Just for the naive’, many fireballers “enhanced” themselves in high school
      in preparation of draft bonuses, then, cycled off as Pro’s. Look at many recent
      kids who got paid 2010/2011 busting 94mph and now can’t break a pane of glass.

      Everyone within the game knows who they are.

  • Chef

    Mostly unrelated, but what the hell is on Mota’s mouth in that picture?

    • Ferrets bueller

      Was wondering that myself.

  • Brandon

    Mota wears braces, and when he plays in the infield (as well as when he bats) he wears a mouthguard.

  • Brandon

    Dae-Eun Rhee had a rough outing today but is important to note that his defense did not help him out. Justing Bour had a “Bill Buckner” moment and let one go through the wickets and Mike Burgess misplayed a fly ball that should have been a 3rd out and unfortunately led to 2 runs. The early start today after a 12 inning game last night clearly did not agree with the players, and it took them a while to shake off the cob webs. A (4) run 8th inning cut the score to 7-5 and the smokies had the tying run at the plate in the form of Rebel Ridling in the 9th, but he popped out to CF. Smokies finished 3-2 on the homestand and head out to Jackson to face the 1st place Generals.

    Something to note….the bullpen looked very good again today and Scott Weismann arrived from Peoria after the game had already started and pitched very well in his AA debut in relief of Rhee. He even slapped a single through the 3-4 hole in his first AB. Weathers seems to have found his fastball again and looked good in an inning of relief.

    Finally, Jae-Hoon Ha appears to be heating up. He is going to RF with power, and that is great to see. Nate Samson looks very solid at 3B and seems to be involved in all things good for the Smokies lately. Logan Watkins is stinging the ball…but is runnign into bad luck. He looks very good at shortstop and 2B. The combination of Soto and Watkins is very steady.

  • Ryan G

    Burke was dominant today. 6 shutout innings, 3 hits( only one made it out of the infield) and only 1 walk with 4 strikeouts.