In recent years, the “post-season” has meant only one thing to attentive Chicago Cubs fans: prospects playing baseball in leagues beyond the regular season minor leagues.
Generally, those post-season leagues take three forms: (1) the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, (2) international professional leagues like the Dominican Winter League, the Venezuelan Winter League, and the Puerto Rican Winter League, and (3) instructional ball.
I generally call that last one instructional “ball” rather than instructional “league” because it’s not quite a “league” in the sense you’ve come to understand it. Sure, there are games at points, and scores are kept, but the games are incidental to the development and learning process, rather than an end all their own. Indeed, my understanding is that instructional ball is almost like a post-season Spring Training, with a bunch of practice and instruction at the front-end, and then some scrimmage-like games at the back-end.
Instructional ball tends to feature the younger prospects in the system, and/or recent additions to the organization via the draft or IFA signings. Your most recent exposure to the concept could be from all the things you’ve been reading about 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber, and the work he’ll be doing in instructional ball to try and stick behind the plate for the long-term. Other catchers will work on their receiving skills, positional guys will work on baserunning and defense (and hitting, obviously), pitchers will work on mechanics/new pitches/etc.
Carrie Muskat writes that instructional ball is now underway in Mesa, Arizona at the Cubs’ facilities there, and features upwards of 60 Cubs prospects. This year’s iteration, Muskat says, will feature more instruction than organized games (which don’t begin until October 6). You can see her piece for a list of many of the prospects participating, but it’s a fair bet that if they are a medium-to-big name, at the lower levels of the system, and aren’t already headed to a different league, they’ll be there. That includes recent acquisitions Victor Caratini (acquired from the Braves in the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deal) and Billy McKinney (acquired from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal), who will likely get a dose of “Cubs Way” during their time in Arizona.
Hopefully we’ll get some word at some point on how guys are looking this Fall, especially Schwarber behind the plate.