The Cubs have a system loaded with elite, high minors talent. This is not news. Any fan who hasn’t heard of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, or Addison Russell by now is a fan who just isn’t paying attention.
The Cubs also have a sizable wave of very good looking low minors talent. Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Billy McKinney, Eloy Jimenez, Jen-Ho Tseng, Gleyber Torres and more are lurking the A ball and Rookie level ranks, and many of them have already become household names.
But beyond those clusters of great talent, the Cubs also have a very deep farm system that is quite full of prospects who are well worth noting. In other organizations these guys might be the topic of daily speculation, but with the Cubs they are just getting lost in sea of Top 100 types and being overshadowed in the daily writeups by the brighter stars of the system.
This article is for them. For a few of them, anyway. Three, to be exact.
But first, we have some first place teams and playoff races to review.
Iowa Cubs : 54-46
As they head into the second half of the season, the Iowa Cubs are in first place by a comfortable two and a half games and hold the third best record in the entire Pacific Coast League. Their roster will be in flux much of the rest of the season as the Cubs make trades and promote prospects, but I do not expect that their offense will be significantly weakened. They should have enough to seize the division and claim a playoff spot.
After finishing off their series with Round Rock today, the Cubs come home for four against New Orleans followed by five (including two doubleheaders) against Memphis over the weekend.
Tennessee Smokies : 14-15
The Smokies are slumping a bit, and have slid back under .500 in the second half. Fortunately they are just two games out of first place and have plenty of time to right the ship.
A short road trip to Huntsville concludes today. The Smokies then head home for a series against Mississippi starting Monday. On Saturday they hit the road again, this time for Birmingham.
And when they come back from Birmingham on July 31 (and August 1) to play Pensacola, I will be will in attendance. Here’s hoping the Smokies sluggers fair better when I’m in town than their Iowa counterparts did.
Daytona Cubs : 16-11
The Daytona Cubs lead the division in wins and trail Brevard County for first place by just half a game. At 9-3, the Cubs are tied for the best road record in the division and are second in road wins league wide.
They hit the road for a series in Palm Beach starting today, but on Thursday return to The Jack for a long homestand against St. Lucie and Bradenton.
Kane County Cougars : 19-9
Kane County just keeps rolling along. They remain in first place with a two game lead over Peoria and a four game lead over anyone else. They have the best record in the league, the best road record in the the league, and are tied for the most home wins in the league.
The Cougars play at Great Lakes (and on MiLB.TV) today and tomorrow, and have a travel day on Tuesday. Wednesday opens a series at home against South Bend, but the big even this week starts on Saturday. That is when West Michigan, the best team in the other division, comes to town for a three game set. This weekend could easily be a preview of the Midwest League Championship Series.
Boise Hawks : 21-15
The Hawks are locked in a first place tie with the Hillsboro Hops, and the first half ends Monday. The tie breakers favor Hillsboro, though, so Boise will need to win the division outright to claim a playoff slot.
The Hawks continue a very successful homestand with games against Salem-Keizer today and tomorrow. On Tuesday they begin the second half on the road in Everett.
Arizona Cubs : 10-10
The Rookie Level Cubs now trail division leading Arizona by two and a half games. Time is running out on the first half the season, though, and the Cubs elimination number is now just two and a half.
This week features a lot of Western teams, including games against the Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, A’s, and Giants.
Other Prospects To Watch
Stephen Bruno, 2B. Tennessee Smokies.
A fantastic month of May (.346/.414/.641) injected Bruno into the prospect conversation for a time, but since then he has cooled off substantially. His season OBP of .348 remains promising, though, and it is supported by a fairly healthy strikeout rate (18.5%). If his defense holds up at second base (and I think it will), he has the earmarks of a major league potential second baseman, if a fairly light hitting one. Those guys can be valuable in the right situation.
But the Cubs organization is probably not the right situation. Bruno just doesn’t have the raw power to compete with Baez, the speed and bat to compete with Alcantara, or the overall skillset to compete with Russell. In a lot of other systems he’d be listed a possible second baseman or utility guy of the future, but with the Cubs I’m just not sure I see it.
Bruno has major league potential in the right situation and is a player we should be watching, but long term I think his future is in a different organization.
Bijan Rademacher, OF. Daytona Cubs.
His resume isn’t spectacular and his age (23 years old) is a little high for his league, but he checks off every other box:
- High walk rate? Check. 12.0% this year.
- Good power? Check. ISO of .145 in the Florida State League, and an SLG of .431.
- Good defense? Check. He can handle both corner outfield slots, and his arm is good enough that some teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher.
- Acceptable strikeout rate? Check. His is currently 20.9%.
Taken in 2012, he made it as high as Low A that year. Last season he split between Low A and High A, and so far this season he has played exclusively in High A. Promotion to Tennessee would not surprise me, though, as his .808 OPS is pretty good for the FSL.
Barring a major breakout, I think Rademacher is more likely a fourth or platoon outfielder in the majors, but as a left handed hitter he could be pretty valuable in that platoon role. He still needs some work on the base paths (four steals in ten tries this year), but the potential is there for Rademacher to emerge as a pretty decent moderate power / moderate speed guy for the Cubs one day.
But, like Bruno, he has a very crowded prospect chart in front of him that could result in his future finding him with another organization. Even if none of the Cubs overflow of infielders spill into the outfield, he still has to contend with at least four more potent bats that are ahead of him on the prospect charts. I think he has a fighting chance to buck the odds and establish a place for himself in the Cubs future, but he’ll need a very strong showing when he hits Double A for that chance to become a reality.
James Pugliese, RHP. Kane County Cougars.
Pugliese might be the best pitcher you’ve barely heard of. Pitching purely in relief this season at the age of twenty one, his numbers are just flat out impressive.
- ERA: 1.22
- K/9: 10.15
- BB/9: 1.83
- HR/9: 0.20
- K/BB: 5.56
- FIP: 2.34
The Cubs drafted Pugliese out of community college in 2011 at the age of eighteen and have been letting him slowly develop his way up the system ever since. This has been his breakout season, and it may very well stage him for a rapid ascent into the upper levels of the farm system next season.
This is also the first season in which the Cubs have not used him as a starter at all. If they opt to move him back into the rotation his progress may be slowed, but should he stay in the bullpen he could be factoring into the major league bullpen picture as soon as mid-2016 (assuming he continues to have success as he moves up the system, of course). When surveying the pitchers in the lower levels of the system, he is definitely not someone you want to overlook.