If you like winning, you loved this past week in the minors. While Tennessee has lost some close games and has fallen in the standings as a result, everyone else has put together some very nice winnings streaks. The Cubs organization now contains two first place teams (Iowa and Kane County), and Daytona has finally emerged as one of the hottest teams in the Florida State League.
The good news extends past team records as well. While we are still a little shy in the sample size department (and here is your blanket warning for all stats in this article), there are a number of players performing very well in the early part of the season. Whether you’re looking for prospects to help in Chicago or just great baseball in general, there is a lot to like in the Cubs organization right now.
Iowa Cubs : 13-9
The surging Iowa Cubs won five times last week are now in a first place tie with Oklahoma City in the American Northern division. Their record is still lopsided with more game at home (where they are 8-8) and more success on the road (5-1), but that should start to even out. For now, their 13 wins are tied for second most in the Pacific Coast League, and they have the fewest road losses.
They come home to play Omaha on Monday, and then hit the road for games in Nashville and New Orleans over the weekend and into next week.
Tennessee Smokies : 10-13
Tennessee’s current three game losing streak has dropped them into a tie for dead last in the North division. As one of the youngest teams in the League, it isn’t surprising to see the Smokies have some early season struggles, but I wouldn’t take their position in the standings as an indictment of the talent on this team. Not yet, anyway.
However, this is a bad time to be slumping. Their upcoming schedule is not an easy one. After wrapping up the current series with first place Huntsville on Monday, the Smokies head to Chattanooga for five, then come home for five against Birmingham, and immediately hit the road again for series in Jackson and Mississippi. After Tuesday they do not have another day off until May 20, and three quarters of those games are on the road.
Daytona Cubs : 8-14
The Daytona Cubs have woken up and are starting to climb up the standings. Winners of three in a row and five in the past week, Daytona is now out of the cellar. Unfortunately, they are still nine games behind first place Dunedin.
Currently the Cubs have just two home wins, but if they are going to make a run at the division in the first half, they are going to have to win a bunch of home games. Starting Thursday they will play twelve of fourteen games at home in historic Jackie Robinson Stadium. One interesting thing to note about The Jack is that it has a parking lot just behind pretty much the entire outfield wall. Dan Vogelbach has eight hits in his last three games and is about as hot as a hitter can be right now. Anyone visiting the stadium in the near future might want to keep that in mind when choosing where to park.
Kane County Cougars : 16-6
Kane County has ridden their current five game winning streak to a two game lead in the division and the best home record in the Midwest League. They are ten games over .500, lead Peoria by a pair, and have been all but unstoppable lately.
They hit the road for Cedar Rapids on Monday, but return home on Friday for series against Burlington and Wisconsin. Those three teams are in third, fourth and fifth place in the division right now. If the Cougars stay hot, they could just about turn the Western Division into a two team race by the middle of the month.
Off To Some Good Starts
Kris Bryant, 3B – Tennessee
He has a slugging percentage of .577, a walk rate of 15.7%, and it seems like I’m writing good things about this guy just about every day. Even his strikeout rate is down to 27%, a still high but tolerable rate given his ability to earn consistent walks. He should break the 100 plate appearance plateau this week, and that point we can officially begin the irrational excitement.
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B – Iowa
He only has two walks, but that’s not such a bad thing given the rest of his line. He is now hitting .301/.310/.554 for Iowa, and has performed almost equally well from both sides of the plate (he is a switch hitter). Last year he had a walk rate over 10%, so I’m not too concerned about that aspect of his game long term, particularly given that his strikeout rate is doing just fine. One of these days I hope to see his combination of power and speed atop the lineup in Chicago.
Kyle Hendricks, RHP – Iowa
Hendricks has not finished with a strikeouts per nine innings number over 7.71 since his first season a professional when he pitched out the bullpen in the Northwest League. He currently has a K/9 of 9.12. Not only that, through 30.2 innings he has yet to allow a home run and is piling up ground balls at a phenomenal GO/AO pace of 2.80. Among those with at least 20 innings pitched in the Pacific Coast League, his FIP of 2.77 places him fourth, and his K% of 26.0% ranks him ninth. If he stays healthy, there is no reason he shouldn’t be starting games in Wrigley sometime this summer.
Marco Hernandez, SS – Daytona
It was not that ago that Hernandez was better known for his glove than his bat, but now this switch* hitter has an early season line of .328/.375/.388 with a triple and two steals, and is emerging as a factor in the Daytona offense. He’ll likely remain a full season in Daytona, but if he keeps hitting like this throughout the season the Cubs could easily opt give him a shot in the Arizona Fall League in October.
*Last season he was listed as a switch hitter, but this year he is billed just as a left handed hitter. I’m not sure if the Cubs had him drop his right handed swing or if there is an error on the player listings, so for now I’ll keep him down a switch hitter.
Bijan Rademacher, OF – Daytona
For a time he was practically carrying the Daytona offense by himself, but he hasn’t stopped hitting now that the rest of the Cubs are firing up. His season line reads .365/.452/.540 with two home runs, a walk rate of 11.6%, and strikeout rate of 20.3%. Going back to last season he has now played in about sixty games at the High A level, and I’m not sure he needs many more. If he is still hitting like this in a couple of weeks, look for the Cubs to find a way to get him to Double A.
Carlos Penalver, SS – Kane County
The pool of infield prospects in the Cubs system is seemingly bottomless, and right now Penalver is working on moving up that depth chart in a hurry. Speed is a big part of his game, and his .291/.360/.367 line features six steals in six chances. In 72 games last season he stole just nine bases in twelve chances, so the uptick is a welcome improvement. This is just his first full trip into a full season league and he does not turn 20 until mid May, so I suspect the Cubs are content to let him develop in Low A all year.