I have spent a couple days trying to think of the proper tone to strike in reviewing the farm system for the month of April. It was good to read Luke tweet a bunch of positives on Tuesday night, and Michael Ernst reviewed the performance of his top 20 prospects in positive fashion. There are some good takeaways, no doubt.
But at the same time, the theme to me was injuries, and that stinks. Zack Short and Nico Hoerner, hit by pitches near the hand and wrist, and both hit the Injured List. Adbert Alzolay is getting close to his Iowa debut, but still hasn’t gotten there. Erich Uelmen and Brendon Little haven’t pitched yet, and Keegan Thompson started just once. Justin Steele just twice. The injury bug has been a spectacular bummer, and has not helped my case that the farm system was undervalued this past winter.
This is life when you have a semblance of pitching depth, I guess. Let’s collectively knock on wood for a healthier May, please.
BN Minor League Player of April: Robel Garcia, IF, Tennessee
Stats: .346/.414/.731, 6 BB, 12 K in 58 PA (Read more about Garcia here)
Garcia, 26, was injured on Opening Day, missing 11 days with a minor injury. The fact that he’s still able to win this award – and lead the Southern League in RBI – speaks to the absurd hot streak he’s been on all month. Garcia was once an unexpected addition to the Tennessee roster, and now he’s creating questions about whether he should be promoted to Iowa. All from a guy who was playing in the Instructional League for the Italian National team seven months ago.
BN Minor League Pitcher of April: Tyson Miller, Tennessee
Stats: 19 IP, 10 H, 1.42 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 6 BB, 16 K, 0 HR-A
This award had to go to a Smokie, as their pitching staff created many of the system’s pitching highs for this month. Miller, 23, has been the most consistent, albeit with some potentially good luck peripherals, including a .196 BABIP and 0 HR/FB%. Still, it speaks to his spin rate and command that Double-A hitters struggled so significantly to square him up this month: his current 14.0 line drive percentage allowed would be the lowest of his career.
BN All-System Team, April
Catcher: P.J. Higgins, Tennessee. Stats: .312/.400/.468, 12 BB, 13 K, 90 PA. Doing an amazing job squaring the ball up; caught just three games this month, hopefully his performance earns more playing time there.
First Base: Tyler Durna, South Bend. Stats: .293/.338/.427, 5 BB, 5 K, 80 PA. That batting line is better than it appears when you league-adjust for what Midwest League hitters are doing on the whole, but it’s Durna’s contact ability (6.3 K%!) and defense that have stood out.
Second Base: Aramis Ademan, Myrtle Beach. Stats: .278/.426/.500, 12 BB, 16 K, 68 PA. Read more about Ademan from this week. I can’t scream from the rooftops enough what Ademan’s increased patience is doing for his game. Had to move him to second base (where he’s played twice) to get the next guy in.
Shortstop: Nico Hoerner, Tennessee. Stats: .293/.388/.483, 7 BB, 8 K, 67 PA. And one amazing inside-the-park home run. So many didn’t think Nico could be ready for Double-A, but he actually might just be better than that level, too.
Third Base: Robel Garcia, Tennessee.
Left Field: Donnie Dewees, Iowa. Stats: .293/.464/.488, 11 BB, 5 K, 56 PA. Acquired just before the season for a low-level reliever, Dewees didn’t seem to be a necessary addition, depth looked just fine (especially when Ian Happ moved down). But Dewees ability to make contact has really stuck out in Iowa; I can see him making a nice home in Des Moines the next few years.
Center Field: Nelson Velazquez, South Bend. Stats: .338/.361/.450, 3 BB, 20 K, 84 PA. I could make a case for Artis and Sierra with South Bend, too, but we have to give credit to Velazquez for coming back to SB and hitting the ball hard consistently, leading to a .450 BABIP.
Right Field: Johnny Field, Iowa. Stats: .288/.338/.616, 6 BB, 20 K, 80 PA. Call it a juiced ball, but give credit to Field for leaning into it with the best batted ball profile of his career. Cubs were able to snag Field, and then eventually sneak him through waivers this offseason, and it looks like time well spent.
Bench Names: Delvin Zinn, South Bend. Cam Balego, Myrtle Beach. Zach Davis, Myrtle Beach. Dixon Machado, Iowa.
Starting Pitcher: Tyson Miller, Tennessee.
Starting Pitcher: Riley Thompson, South Bend. Stats: 19 IP, 17 H, 1.42 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 5 BB, 16 K, 0 HR-A. The walk number is just so encouraging; kudos to the Cubs scouting team for seeing something in a high-upside arm and showing willingness to spend money on it. He won’t be in South Bend all season, I can tell you that.
Starting Pitcher: Cory Abbbott, Tennessee. Stats: 28.1 IP, 28 H, 2.86 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 5 BB, 28 K, 3 HR-A. Led the system in innings for the month, and drew a lot of consideration from me for top pitcher. I need to say it every time with Abbott: hitters don’t see him well. Read more about him here.
Starting Pitcher: Trevor Clifton, Iowa. Stats: 11.2 IP, 7 H, 0.00 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 9 BB, 16 K, 0 HR-A. Has been tried both in the rotation and bullpen, so he hasn’t really been stretched out yet. But he’s pitched so well, demands mention. Read more here.
Starting Pitcher: Cam Sanders, South Bend. Stats: 19 IP, 13 H, 1.89 ERA, 5.18 FIP, 13 BB, 11 K, 1 HR-A. Has pitched out of a lot of jams, and while the peripherals aren’t amazing, Sanders results have been. All in all, the transition from reliever-to-starter is going quite well.
Reliever of the Month: Jeff Passantino, South Bend. Stats: 17.2 IP, 16 H, 2.55 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 2 BB, 25 K, 2 HR-A. Near video game numbers in a piggybacking role in South Bend. Simply put, Passantino doesn’t really have any business still pitching in the Midwest League.
Other Reliever Names: Craig Brooks, Tennessee. Ben Hecht, Myrtle Beach. Jesus Camargo, Myrtle Beach. Rowan Wick, Iowa. Ryan Kellogg, Myrtle Beach. Riley McCauley, South Bend.
IOWA: 14-10, first place in the Northern Division. The I-Cubs lead by 1.5 games. Amazing: their team 4.55 ERA is actually fourth-best in the entire Pacific Coast League. Have been aided by a host of Major League talent contributors, of course.
TENNESSEE: 11-12, tied for 3rd in Northern Division. No team in the system has suffered more injuries, which has led to five losses in their last six games. The Smokies are just 3.5 games behind Montgomery in the division.
MYRTLE BEACH: 7-19, the worst record in the Carolina League, and the -62 run differential paints an even worse picture. The Pelicans are last in run scoring, second-worst in run prevention, and not a particularly good fielding team.
SOUTH BEND: 13-10, a half-game out of first place in the Eastern Division. The Cubs, especially on the offensive side, have played really good baseball lately.