rock shouldersBreakouts. Those magical seasons when otherwise pedestrian prospects suddenly turn the corner and step into the spotlight. We all want to see those seasons, and the Cubs need to see some. So, who are the best breakout candidates so far this season? We’ll get to that in a bit.

But first we have some teams doing the group version of a breakout. Daytona and Kane County have both forgotten how to lose and are starting to rapidly climb up the standings. If they can keep that up, and if Tennessee can keep playing like Tennessee, the Cubs could realistically be looking at three first place teams by the first of June. Iowa, unfortunately, will not be one of those three. Right now the Triple A Cubs would probably be happy to just get a game in. Mother Nature has not been kind to the Iowans lately.

Iowa Cubs : 9-16

The weather has made it difficult for the Cubs to get on the field, but despite that they have climbed out of the basement in their division. Iowa, still well under .500, now sits third in the division a full 2.5 games ahead of Milwaukee’s affiliate in Nashville. Despite their overall record, the Cubs are still in this race. They trail first place Memphis by just five games.

Tennessee Smokies : 15-12

Tennessee has stumbled a bit since being the first team in the league to reach 10 wins, but despite that rough patch this team is still in second place and just 2.5 games out of first.

Daytona Cubs : 16-12

Daytona certainly looks like a team that has shaken the early season hiccups and is off to the races. The Cubs have ridden a 6 game winning streak to second place in the division, one game back of Toronto’s Dunedin affiliate. There are a lot of good things happening in Daytona right now, but the starting pitching might be the most notable. The Daytona starting five have been consistently been turning out solid start after solid start throughout the hot streak.

Kane County Cougars : 13-13

Also led by some pretty good pitching, the Cougars put together a win streak of their own. This team has suddenly surged back to even and is poised to make a push up the division standings. The addition of Almora off the DL in the nearish future should only make them better.

Breakout Candidates

If you have been following the Minor League Daily this season, most of these names will likely be familiar to you. ┬áThis list is not exhaustive… it isn’t meant to be… but if you are looking for a few potential breakout guys to monitor, this is a good list with which to get started.

Rock Shoulders – 1B/OF. With the possible exception of Rock Shoulders, I don’t think anyone expected Shoulders to open the season like this. Through 107 plate appearances and while facing the toughest competition of his life Shoulders has lowered his K% to a career low 22.4%, raised his BB% to a career high 13.1%, and posted a slash line of .366/.449/.656. That line is probably unsustainable over the course of a season simply because Shoulders is not likely to continue to have a BABIP of .444 all year long, but the supporting BB% and K% strongly suggest that Shoulders is a prospect we do not want to over look altogether. I don’t think he is Top 10 material, at least not yet, but he certainly is no longer altogether forgettable.

Kyle Hendricks – SP. Hendricks did not draw the headlines when the Cubs picked him up at the 2012 trade deadline, but he is drawing them now. After flirting with a no hitter for Tennessee last week Hendricks is suddenly getting plenty of attention. His ERA through 26 IP is a strong 3.12, but his FIP is an even better 2.85. His K/9 of 7.96 is his highest since his days in short season ball as part of the Texas Rangers organization. The key to his success this season may be his 1.57 GO/AO ratio. Ground ball pitchers with strikeout capability are a nice asset to have in the farm system, and Hendricks fits that description perfectly.

Felix Pena – SP. Very few people were talking about Felix Pena prior to this season, but he is another who has started to etch his name onto the fan consciousness. His K/9 rate is not great (just 5.01), but his BB/9 of 1.54 offsets that to a fair degree. I suspect his numbers will regress somewhat over the course of the season, but even so Pena still looks like a quality bullpen arm in the making. The Cubs have a lot of those, but more depth in any department is never a bad thing.

Dustin Geiger – INF. Geiger has a powerful bat that could feature at any corner slot, but until this season he has not been able to harness that bat with any kind of consistent success. The promotion to High-A Daytona seems to agree with him, though. Geiger has raised his BB% to a career high 9.3%, lowered his K% to a career low 16.8%, and is cruising to the tune of a .319/.393/.457 line. Geiger was a raw but promising guy when the Cubs drafted him a few seasons back, and sometimes those guys do pan out if the team is patient. It is too early to say for sure that Geiger falls into that category, but he is certainly well on his way to joining it.

So what about other early season performers like Logan Watkins, Arismendy Alcantara, Matt Szczur, and John Andreoli? They are all having nice seasons, but all of them were featured in the Bleacher Nation Top 40. It is hard to say a guy is breaking out when he as already been recognized as one of the best prospects in the system. All of them are elevating their stock, though, and we will certainly be hearing more about them as the season progresses.

  • jim

    Another loss for baseballs most profitable team. Dont worry, felix pie will be here soon. And my lady friends luvd the hats!

  • Dynastyin2017

    I never put too much stock in minor league teams W-L record, but it would be fun to see how well Daytona would do when (if?) Baez and Soler get hot at the same time.

  • Rcleven

    Watched Felix Pena last night. The kids got a lot to learn. It’s still early in his career but he will need to learn to add a pitch or two. Threw his fast ball at a consistent 91/93 with good movement(over powered hitters early). When he went to off speed (slider/curve 84/85) had trouble keeping it over the plate (hit one batter in the head).
    Was surprised to see him go seven. Was getting hit pretty hard at the end (couple of balls pulled foul that would have well over the wall if fair. Walked only one.

  • MikeW

    Pena isn’t gonna be a bullpen arm striking out 5 a game. I saw him earlier this year, wasn’t impressed.

  • Rcleven

    If I had to pick another early season hopeful for the Cougar team. I would have to pick Rademacher. Having a nice season with the bat with better than average D. Not a lot of power but hits the line drive with a nice approach.

    • Eternal Pessimist

      Sounds like Darwin Barney with less D. Not a lot to get excited about.

      • LouBrown

        If Darwin Barney hit .322 with a .410 OBP.

        • Eternal Pessimist

          …If Rademacher had that batting line with the Major league team instead of A level.

      • jt

        6′ 0″ 200 lb will be 22 y/o in June. Has worked mostly on the corner OF positions.
        Picture shows a thick neck which suggests a muscular frame.
        Sound more like Sweeney?
        Skimmed over him before. I’ll take notice now.

  • DaveY

    Most of the Cubs prospects that rise from obscurity with a big breakout season usually fall back to obscurity the next year. Brian Dopirak had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Cubs minor leaguer and what’s he doing now? Yes, I know Dopirak was a second round pick and not exactly an obscure prospect before his breakout but he sure fell into obscurity after it. Ronny Cedeno killed it at Iowa. Consistent production earning promotions while showing improvement is a better sign of a good prospect.

    • Kyle

      It’s more art than science, but a lot of time people need to learn to look beyond the superficial minor league numbers. A lot of these busts seem easy to see coming in hindsight.

      • Dynastyin2017

        If by “superficial minor league numbers” you mean anything under 500 AB’s (probably 1000 AB’s), you are right. That being said, we all like to see good numbers.

        • Kyle

          What I meant is that people look a little too much at the slash line and ERA.

          For hitters, I care more about things like age and K-rate.

          Two imaginary hitters at Daytona.

          One is 22 and is hitting 280/340/460 with 20% Ks
          Another is 21 and is hitting 260/330/420 with 10% Ks.

          I’m placing more faith in the second guy to be able to move up the ladder.

          • Dynastyin2017

            Don’t disagree with you. I was just pointing out that, no matter what stat we look at, we need larger sample sizes. I also agree that age/level is important, but it also can be misleading. Ex: Miguel Sano wont be 20 until July, Baez turned 20 in Dec, 2012, so when you compare on age only, Sano is far and away better than Baez. He may be, but also take into consideration that Sano has approx. 1100 PA’s to Baez’s 400, so it may not be as big as it seems.

      • Marc.N

        Have to agree here. Peripheral numbers often ignored like RS and 2Bs can tell a lot too, as well as BB.and K.numbers.

        For instance I called Baez’s struggles in High A before he was called up there due to his poor K:BB numbers in Peoria. Jae Hoon Ha is a guy who never wows but consistently presents balanced numbers across the board – suggesting a relatively safe bet to be a major leaguer of some kind.

    • Brett

      The breakout, you hope, is merely the first year of that sustained promotion and improvement track. The two things go largely hand in hand.

  • Marc.N

    Good read on one favorite two or three young bats in the system. Candelario has the approach I want to see, is a legit switch hitter with power and average potential, and there is.more talk of him staying at 3B in the long run this year.

    He does.not.turn twenty until November.

    • Kubphan82

      Candelario is one of my favs in the system. Not one I expect to break out, he seems to be an after thought because of players hyped aroun him. But his ability doesn’t fall to the wayside for me… He’ll start getting solid recognition soon and we’ll see how he handles that… I also think he’s cut from the Theo cloth of prospects…

      • http://Noclue Marc N.

        I am expecting his breakthrough season next year rather than this year. At 19 this is only his second full season. I do think he will be better than last year. His approach will have him more prepped than most for the upper minors, possibly.

  • Marc.N

    Oand nobody look at 19 year old Lindor’s High A batting line. You will get very irked with Baez. Bradley is in AA too and might be the best pitching prospect in the minors right now.

    Its a marathon and Baez has time. OTOH it looks like a good decision to take those two just before him.

  • CubsFaninMS

    Went to the Mississippi Braves/Tennessee Smokies game this afternoon. The temperature stayed around 58 degrees. That’s very cold for this time of the year down in MS. There’s not alot of good highlights to report in today’s game but here goes…

    – Ronald Torreyes – smashed a double to the left field wall; after bragging to a friend of mine that this guy has only struck out once this year… he struck out last night.. and two more times today. Still an impressive strike out ratio.

    – Kyle Hendricks – Hendricks was not on today. Five runs on somewhere around 7 or 8 hits in five innings.

    – Marcus Hatley had an impressive 6th and 7th, not allowing a run.

    – Trey McNutt had 2 or 3 hits off of him in the 8th and allowed one run

    Anyway, not much good news thrown in there as they didn’t score a run.