I drove down to Nashville yesterday, which meant that I had to pass by the home of the South Bend Cubs (who were out of town playing the Midwest League championship) and enter the state of the Tennessee Smokies (… who were playing three hours away). I did a lousy job of getting out to see the Cubs affiliates this year, but I suppose that’s how it goes with two kids under eight. Trying to get out to see Brennen Davis’ Mesa Solar Sox next month, and certainly need to start work on my annual backfields Spring Training plans, but gosh, who knows.
Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs, where the Tennessee Smokies dropped their playoff opener, and the South Bend Cubs kept their series alive …
Honorable Mention: B.J. Murray is now 8-for-16 in the playoffs (with more walks than strikeouts), which follows a 17-game stretch to end the season where he hit .367/.465/.550. Could the Bahamian play his way to an Opening Day 2023 assignment in Tennessee? I’d love it to be at second base, but I’m probably beating a dead horse there, and should focus on the fun already-present skillset that we’re seeing recently … Just speaking truth here: Chase Strumpf had the 13th highest wRC+ of any qualified Double-A hitter in 2022 … Riley Martin and Jake Reindl have probably been the two most impressive South Bend pitchers in this postseason; if either is not available in tonight’s decisive final game, High-A is down a significant advantage. I want it on the record here: Reindl will be one of the Cubs best 15 relief options in 2023, no matter who they sign this offseason … John Hicks’ continues to prove in 2022 that his age 32 season saw no drop off, and he’s exactly the same Excellent Catcher Depth player that he’s been since 2017. The big league Cubs just didn’t have occasion to use him this year.
Five: Cole Roederer
Tennessee was down 7-0 in this one, their 2022 playoff opener, and then their hottest hitter tried his best to breathe some life into a tired team. Roederer’s 10th home run in 2022 – I’m counting this one, thank you – came against Ben Joyce, the triple-digit thrower drafted on Day Two this year. It was Cole’s sixth homer in his last 10 games, and shows the bat speed is now in a better spot than ever before. Roederer salvaging something out of 2022 in the season’s final month is the best story on the farm in September, bar none.
Four: Dalton Stambaugh
They were mop-up innings, but after rough appearances from Riley Thompson and Hunter Bigge, Stambaugh entered an ugly game yesterday and looked like the “adult” of the Tennessee pitching staff. Three scoreless innings, with six strikeouts, for the 25-year-old who has bounced between South Bend and Tennessee this season. I will note that Stambaugh’s previous appearance, on September 15, came in a spot start for Jordan Wicks, who seems to have been shut down following a fantastic final start on September 9. I know that Stambaugh’s ability to step into any role in 2022 has bought him a 2023 opportunity, where more high-strikeout appearances like his last two could potentially put him on the radar.
Three: Yonathan Perlaza
Inside the Cubs organization, the farm system personnel know whether Perlaza has accepted a successor contract to return to the organization (on a minor league deal) in 2023. This information makes talking about Perlaza, in the context of being a helpful prospect to the Cubs specifically, far more interesting. I’ll say that I think it’s very unlikely the Cubs add him to the 40-man roster and keep him blocked from minor league free agency, but I do think he’ll be at the top of the list of the most intriguing players in that market should he choose to enter it. The improvements from the right side, crouching lower and using the ground more successfully, has been one of many reasons for the 2022 step forward.
I just realized that, a bit by accident, I assigned three players in Five Stars for the team that lost last night, and only one for the squad that won…
Two: Pete Crow-Armstrong
A triple shy of the cycle for PCA, who hadn’t yet made a major impact in the Midwest League playoffs, but whose solo shot to right-center proved the game-saving insurance run in South Bend’s 4-3 win. I’m so happy that this South Bend run to the finals is going the full distance — the maximum six games that the two-round, best-of-3 format allows — as it’s really providing an opportunity for pressure-packed plate appearances for the likes of PCA, Owen Caissie, Jordan Nwogu and more of the South Bend studs. And I can’t say at this point that anything Crow-Armstrong does surprises me anymore, but confirmation that he’s a clutch performer on top of everything else just provides further assurance that he could be a factor for the 2023 Cubs.
One: Alexander Canario
First, we get the arms-extended slice job to right field. Second, we get the fringy breaking ball that Canario stays through, with the ball traveling a good 30 feet farther than you expect off the video fo the swing. And third, poor Omaha tries to throw a lefty at the minors’ best hot-and-cold hitter on a night where he’s already gone deep twice. You can guess how that one went. And now, it looks like the Cubs will have TWO hitters go from High-A to Triple-A during magical 35-HR seasons.
Canario returning to the field after an ankle injury to salvage something of his Triple-A stint is huge, and I suspect when the I-Cubs season ends, he’ll take his talents to Las Aguilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League. Canario versus Brennen versus Velazquez versus the open market in center field (and short-term questions against long-term ones) is one of the more fascinating conversations we’ll have this winter, I think. Gotta get that one right.