Breakouts. 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.
If you have been following the Minor League Daily this season, most of these names will likely be familiar to you. This 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.