Minor League Baseball was last played in the Cubs organization on September 14, 2019. The South Bend Cubs won the championship that night. Earlier that day, the Big League Cubs had won by 13 runs, their largest margin of victory of the season. If the season had ended that day, the Cubs would have made the playoffs. All was, relatively speaking, well.
The big league Cubs, of course, didn’t make those playoffs. There’s no reason to rehash the 20 months that followed, other than to say the Cubs organization finds itself in a drastically different place than on that mid-September day. One eye is on the future now. And the other eye is, I don’t know, quivering?
Minor League Baseball, as a structure, also is drastically different now. Slashes have been made, new rules implemented, affiliates juggled, protocols in place. It’s run by Major League Baseball now, and while the company line is that changes have been player-friendly, we’re still throwing our hands up about player wages. “I forgot how brutal the minors were,” a player told me recently.
But the players embrace the grind, and it’s my admiration for that doggedness that often overwhelms my problems with the business itself. In 2021, you can bet the players aren’t taking their ability to play this game for granted, and in the Cubs organization, prospects have taken notice at the growing reality of opportunity ahead of them.
“You’re going to see one of the most cut-throat years in minor league baseball history this year,” Cole Roederer said during South Bend Media Day yesterday. And he’s exactly right. There’s going to be an urgency on the field this year that will make for must-see MiLB.tv. “…They just need to go out and compete with their friends and their teammates and redefine the heartbeat of our system,” Matt Dorey said in The Athletic’s fantastic minor league preview.
With a year of minor league baseball missed, this season is going to be disproportionately important to every organization. But for a Cubs organization that overhauled its player development staff and structure shortly before things shut down, the importance of this season feels disproportionately disproportionate.
Hope springs most eternal in the minor leagues, and the Cubs (and I) do believe this year will prove a big step forward for the farm system. But what’s different about 2021 is that the Cubs kind of need that big step forward to sell the fanbase on the next direction. It’s time to see this organization, as one holistic entity, under a microscope. And then, just maybe, its two eyes can again be focused in the same direction.
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) May 4, 2021
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— South Bend Cubs (@SBCubs) May 4, 2021
— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 4, 2021