Corey Black, the pitcher who came back in the Soriano deal, has a great fastball, some promising secondary offerings, and a bit of a control problem. He is not going to rank highly on the Cubs Top Prospects lists this winter, but he could check in on the lower half of many of them.
Speaking of prospect lists, Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com has updated his rankings, and the new list is certainly interesting reading. Whether you tend to agree with Mayo or not, he knows the minors as well as anyone. When someone like Mayo says the Cubs have five of the top sixty three prospects in all of baseball it is a very good thing. While we can quibble with some of his rankings, the takeaway remains the same. The Cubs have a very deep farm system that is completely loaded with high ceiling hitters with significant impact potential. That is a very good thing indeed. [Brett: More on Mayo's list later today.]
Also a good thing is the Mascot Mania contest. If you have not done so yet, you can vote here. The bears, cougars, and hawks who represent the Cubs on that ballot need your help.
Iowa Cubs : 51-57
The Cubs have hit a rough stretch at the beginning of their western road trip, and it has put them six games under .500 and one game out of first place. They stay out west until August 8. There will be about a month left in the season to make a final playoff push at that point, but only if they can avoid digging too deep of a hole. To put it simply, the Cubs badly need some road wins.
Tennessee Smokies : 21-13
They are holding on by just half a game, but the Smokies are still in first place. However, since the second place Birmingham team has already qualified for the postseason by winning the first half, I think if the Cubs finished second to Birmingham in the second half they would still be in the postseason. Regardless of those rules, though, beating the White Sox affiliate just makes things easier.
Daytona Cubs : 19-12-1
Daytona is riding high on a four game winning streak and are solidly in first place by three and a half games. Plenty of those wins have come on the road as well. In fact, Daytona has the highest road winning percentage in the North division.
Kane County Cougars : 9-24
It is far too late to result in any sort of playoff run, but Kane County has been playing a little better of late. Team record aside, this is one of the better offenses in the Midwest League and is still a very prospect-heavy lineup. If you are in the area and have not been out to see them yet, do yourself a favor and make that trip.
Boise Hawks : 2-3
The first half ended with Boise two games back of first place Salem-Keizer. The second half is now underway, and so far it finds the Hawks a game and a half back of first place Hillsboro. Technically that makes them in dead last, but this early in the half that is pretty much meaningless.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 0-1
The AZL Cubs are also just starting on the second half of their season. Their 13-15 record in the first half left them a stunning 9.5 games back of the AZL Giants, a team that somehow lost just 5 of 27 games. Arizona’s current 0-1 record, as with Boise, leaves them in last place, but it is a distinction that is essentially meaningless until more games have been played.
Final Month Stories to Watch
Believe it or not, we are just over a month away from the end of regular season minor league baseball. Odds are quite good we will have some postseason games to talk about, but that postseason begins in early September.
A lot has changed since the season started. Thanks to the draft, some breakouts, and a few good trades this is a deeper and better farm system than it was at the start of the year. The stories to watch have changed as well. In no particular order, here are a few things every Cubs fan will want to be monitoring as the minor league season draws to a close.
- Playoff Races
These matter. Professional athletes are competitive people; they want to win. Even if the giant stadiums, massive crowds, and long TV delays are not there to add to the pressure, the players themselves will still be under pressure to win down the stretch, get into the playoffs, and win once they are there. It would be a mistake to dismiss that experience as meaningless. It is not the same thing as the pressure these prospects will face when they are in a playoff push in Chicago, but it is the same sort of thing. Just like the minors should prepare their baseball skills for the majors, it should prepare them for the mental side of the game as well. Getting some minor league playoff experience is part of that. More farm teams in the postseason equals more prospects getting a taste of professional must-win situations. Long term, that should be a good thing for the Cubs.
- Strikeout Rates
Some strikeouts are unavoidable, but hitters who strike out at a high rate in the high minors do not have a high probability of success in the majors. A good rule-of-thumb line is 30%. Anyone striking out more than 30% of the time in Double A or higher is a player who needs to be viewed with caution.
Enter Javier Baez and Mike Olt. There is reason for optimism in both these cases, so much so in the case of Baez that I still have him ranked as the Cubs best overall prospect (at least for now), but the strikeout rate warning sign is real and it does most certainly bear watching. We would like to see both these hitters finish the season with a sustained stretch (100 PAs or more) of striking out well under the 30% line.
Further down in the system, Kris Bryant will start to gain some similar scrutiny. It is much too early to worry about his percentages, but not too early to start watching those percentages. Some thought he would be a high-strikeout guy when he was in college; now is our first opportunity to see how he might shape up as a professional. Given his age and talent level, I’d like to see him with a K rate under 20% in the Northwest League (once he has time to get adjusted, that is).
- Mid-Level Pitching
If the Cubs are going to succeed in 2014 or 2015, they will need some more pitching depth. Fortunately for the Cubs, that help is on the way. Keep an eye on High A and Double A pitching as this season closes. Those are the arms that most likely to be in a position to help the Cubs when they are in contention.
And there are quite a few pitchers to watch. Kyle Hendricks, thanks to his breakout 2013 campaign, leads the pack, but he is far from alone. Alberto Cabrera is in Triple A now, but still warrants mention here. Zach Rosscup and Tony Zych lead a very deep Tennessee bullpen that features several pitchers with Chicago potential.
Daytona starts off with Pierce Johnson, but C.J. Edwards is not too far behind him. Matt Loosen has pitched some electric games, but it is too early to say if he has turned the corner and upgraded his prospect stock. If he can maintain that success at Double A, though, he gives the Cubs another quality rotation option to consider. Ivan Pineyro has pitched his way into the picture for the Cubs as well.
- The Toolsy Ones
Arismendy Alcantara is yet another example of a prospect with great tools finally figuring out how to use those physical gifts to sustain success on the diamond. Alcantara’s breakout is well documented and has elevated his prospect stock significantly, but there could easily be another Alcantara lurking in the system somewhere. Dustin Geiger is enjoying a somewhat lower profile breakout season in Daytona, but lately Wes Darvill has started to show some significant progress of his own. Both those infielders deserve closer scrutiny over the remainder of the season.
As does Marco Hernandez in Kane County. The switch hitting shortstop has not done much with the bat in his professional career, at least not so far, but the tools are there. He could be a season or two away from being the next Alcantara himself.