I am not a fan of July. It is a scorching, humid month that is loved by electric companies and air conditioning repair people, but certainly not by me. I can be very happy without ever again having cause to ponder whether or not I could fry an egg on that sidewalk, or bake cookies inside the car. If humans finally learned a trick from the bears and started hibernating for a time, July is the month I would happily sleep right through.
But as bad the weather is in July, the baseball is good. July is the month when the most recent crop of draftees start to show us what they can do as professional players. Prospects playing well enough to advance rapidly have generally settled into their new level and are hopefully starting to produce as the month draws to close. Sample sizes from even the short season leagues are high enough that we can start to draw some meaningful conclusions from the numbers. As a minor league writer, July is a great month.
Or, to be more precise, July is a great month after it has happened and I have the data to sift through. That is what we will be doing in this edition of This Week In The Minors, sifting through the cumulative players stats from July and looking for some of the best lines from the month.
First, though, we have some playoff races to check on.
Iowa Cubs : 51-63
The Cubs are in free fall. Not only have they lost eight games in a row as I am writing this, they also feature the most road losses in the Pacific Coast League (41). They are now six games out of first place and a disappointing twelve games under .500. Barring a home winning streak even more stunning than this road slump, the Cubs may be out of it.
Tennessee Smokies : 24-17
The Smokies are still in first with a slim half game lead, but they have so far been unable to shake the Birmingham Barons. The rest of the division is lurking about five games out. Given that the Smokies have three straight series against sub-.500 teams coming up (@Jacksonville, Montgomery, Chattanooga), these next two weeks would be a great opportunity to stretch that lead out a little and start to put this division away.
Daytona Cubs : 22-14-1
The playoffs are in sight. Daytona is the last Cubs farm team to win a league championship; they stand a very good chance of getting a shot at winning another one. Their lead over the second place Yankees is up to 4.5 games. On top of that, the Cubs are the only team in the North division that is over .500. Daytona is tied for the league lead in road wins, has the fewest home losses, and is continuing to win no matter who the Cubs promote off that roster. This could be a fun September for fans by the beach.
Kane County Cougars : 14-26
All of the sudden Kane County has figured out how to win. They are 7-3 over their last ten games and now lurk just two games under .500 at home in the second half. They are so far out of playoff contention as to be reduced to little more than spoilers at this stage, but it is good to see this talented roster start producing wins. They are still in the basement for now, but it is easy to imagine them climbing up into the middle of the pack before the season ends.
Boise Hawks : 5-6
On the one hand, the Hawks are in last place in the division. On the other hand, they are one game out of first place. The South division of the Northwest League is a tight one, at least so far. Boise has the talent (particularly on the mound) to win this thing, but it will not be easy.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 3-4
Arizona is also in a tight division, lurking just two games back of the first place Giants. The AZL Cubs have already had some trouble winning on the road, though, and that does not bode well for their chances in the second half of their short season.
Great Lines of July
An OPS of .904 will draw attention at any level from any player, but even more so when it is coming from a second baseman. For July Amaya shrugged off his June struggles in a big way and posted a line of .319/.414/.489 with two triples, two home runs, and three steals. He walked eleven times against seventeen strikeouts in over a hundred trips to the plate. That is a good month for the twenty year old infielder.
Amaya’s OPS of .904 is nice, but Vogelbach’s .917 is nicer. With four home runs and an impressive strikeout to walk ratio of 12 to 17, Vogelbach dominated the month to the tune of a .330/.417/.500 line. That sort of production could propel him into Daytona before the end of the summer.
July was also the first month this season in which Vogelbach did not steal a base. Perhaps the rest of the league is catching on to the base running prowess of Vogelmach.
We can’t talk about slugging without mentioning Baez. Baez also joins the over.900 OPS club with a monthly figure of .917, but Baez managed that gaudy total despite batting just .228. Featuring an impressive 11 home runs for Tennessee , Baez finished the month with a Double A line of .228/.297/.620. He also finished with 34 strikeouts against 9 walks. I suspect that his disturbing strikeout rate is about to start dropping, just like it did in Daytona, and I would not be surprised if his SLG drops with it. That is not a bad thing, though. It can drop quite a ways from .620 and still be very, very good.
Masek gave up three runs in July, but all three were unearned. His ERA for the month, and for his season with Boise, remains at a tidy 0.00. Masek worked eleven innings across six games last month; he struck out fourteen in that span. On top of that, his GO/AO wound up at an outstanding 3.75. It looks very much like the Northwest League hitters are just not able to do much against Masek. That is somewhat expected because Masek is a college guy, but it is still very good to see.
We’ll finish this list off with Maples as much because of what this month means for his season as because of his success. The success is legitimate, though, with fifteen strikeouts over thirteen innings in four games. His ERA finished at 1.38 and his GO/AO landed at an also impressive 3.20.
Most importantly, though, he appears to have shaken the control issues that plagued him in Kane County before his demotion. I continue to suspect that those control issues were connected to a change in his mechanics. Likewise, I suspect his success in Boise means that he is getting comfortable with those changes and is having more success repeating his delivery. I would like to see him bounce back to Kane County and pitch well for a start or two; we’ll see if the Cubs allow him that chance.
There are, of course, more excellent July lines worthy of attention that are not listed. Cael Brockmeyer, for example, or Kyle Hendricks. Dustin Geiger would be a candidate, and so would Corbin Hoffner. And there are likely more besides those. Feel free to call out any other candidates in the comments. With eight teams (including the Dominican and Venezuelan squads) playing all month long, there are sure to be a handful more not listed here.