At the end of April the Cubs farm system was doing well in many ways, but there were some notable struggles at the top of the system that tended to restrain the bulk of the optimism. Javier Baez was struggling, for example, Jorge Soler was injured, and Dan Vogelbach was scuffling in Florida.
Fast forward to the end of May and the tone of conversation regarding the farm seems to be quite a bit more positive, but in a lot of ways not much has changed. Soler got into a few games, but he finished the month shut down with a hamstring issue. C.J. Edwards does not appear to have a structural problem, but he is still shut down with shoulder soreness. And while Albert Almora and Vogelbach have both heated up somewhat, Candelario is still struggling.
So why the new-found optimism?
His strikeouts are trending down, his power is trending up, and after a long dry spell the hits are coming in bunches. His swing looks much more refined than it did six weeks ago, and the effects of that improvement is showing up all over the stat sheet. Now that Baez has joined Bryant in enjoying minor league success, suddenly it is easier for many fans to believe that both players will have an impact in the middle of the Cubs order one day. Those daydreams of a lineup featuring Bryant, Rizzo, Castro, and Baez suddenly seem on the edge of being realized.
Meanwhile, as was the case in April, there is success to appreciate up and down the organization. Whether it is the pitching in Kane County or the offense in Tennessee, the future Cubs are playing a lot of really good baseball. Things are still rough in the majors, but help is on the way.
Iowa Cubs : 25-21
The Cubs are now just one game out of first place in the division despite being just one game over .500 at home.
The Cubs are playing at home through this weekend, but then they hit the road for five games in four days starting on Tuesday. That series will be in Memphis, home of barbecue, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and the Memphis Redbirds of the Cardinals organization. In other words, it would be great time for Baez to get even hotter and the Cubs to pull the sweep.
Tennessee Smokies : 25-23
The Smokies are also in second place in their division, trailing Huntsville by six and a half games.
Starting on Monday Tennessee has a great chance to close that gap as they visit northern Alabama for five games. Huntsville is an excellent home team and the Smokies have been slumping a little of late, so pulling the sweep could be quite the challenge. If the Double A Cubs can pull it off, though, we are set up for a great race heading into the final month of the first half of the season.
Daytona Cubs : 18-28
Daytona is second from last, and a very long way out of first.
The Cubs have been playing better of late, though, so the best news for them might be that the first half of the season sends soon. When that happens the records will reset to 0-0 and the Cubs will have a clean slate as they shoot for the spot in the playoffs by winning the second half of the season.
Kane County Cougars : 32-17
The Cougars are still in first place by four and a half games.
Kane County opens the new week at home against Peoria of the Cardinals organization, and then travel to Clinton for a midweek set. Peoria and Clinton are the second and third place teams in the division, so this stands to be a challenging week for the Low A affiliate.
Things are about to get busy in the minors, so here is a brief guide to the upcoming excitement.
June 5 – The first round of the draft will take place Thursday night. The Cubs pick fourth, and unlike last year we really have no idea what they are going to do. There are as many as seven players that are in play for the Cubs at this pick. Right now it appears likely that the Cubs will wind up with a high ceiling high school arm, a fast moving college arm, a polished college catcher who could help out fairly soon, or an upside gamble on a raw high school bat.
June 6 and 7 – The draft continues on Friday and Saturday through a full forty rounds. There are a lot of pitchers in this draft, and the Cubs are likely to keep drafting high ceiling, high quality arms through the early rounds. Regardless of what they do on Thursday, pitching will be the story for the Cubs on Friday.
June 20 and 21 – I visit Iowa. Ok, so that isn’t a major event in the grander scheme of things, but an opportunity to see those Iowa Cubs in person is an event worth remembering. There will likely be a pre or post game meet up somewhere near the stadium as well.
July 2 – The International Free Agent period begins. After this day the Cubs will be under restrictions regarding how much they can spend on any one player. Since they blew past their limit last year, they will not be able to spend more than a quarter million on any one signee. The Cubs may trade some of their funds as a result, or they may just load up on a lot of talent at the quarter million level. There are players signed for that amount or less every year who go on to great success; with some good scouting the Cubs could land a few of them.
July 18 – This is the deadline for draft picks to sign. Expect that all of the Cubs first ten picks will sign, and, after that, we will see. This is one of the rare cases in which it make some sense for a team, the Cubs in this case, to go slightly under slot at the top of the draft to add some flexibility later on. There will be lots of pitching talent on the board in the second and third round, including some with first round talent in less deep years, and even an extra half a million could make a big difference in who the Cubs are able to draft and sign.