Farm Report Wrap-Up: Hawks turned talent, youth into postseason run

Albert Almora (Photo Courtesy of Alex Hernandez/USA Baseball)

Today we begin our tour around the Cubs farm system, taking a level-by-level look at performances the organization hopes to build on in 2013. First up, the Short-Season Class-A Boise Hawks.

When Albert Almora took batting practice earlier today at Wrigley Field, Theo Epstein commented to reporters that Boise “had a prospect at every position” by the end of the season.

One of those prospects was Almora, of course, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Almora played a strong center field for the Hawks and also hit for a .292/.292/.446 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in 65 plate appearances. That included seven doubles and a home run in his 19 hits. Before his mid-August promotion, he had hit for a .347/.363/.480 slash line in 80 plate appearances with the organization’s Rookie-level complex team.

Other names that are well known to watchful Cubs fans are catcher Willson Contreras, first basemen Dan Vogelbach and Rock Shoulders, second baseman Gioskar Amaya, shortstop Marco Hernandez, third baseman Jeimer Candelario and infielder/outfielder Stephen Bruno.

Don’t forget the pitching: Pierce Johnson and Tayler Scott were impressive in the rotation, while Michael Heesch formed a crucial part of the bullpen.

Final Records:

First Half / 13-25, third place, 8.0 GB

Second Half / 24-14, first place, 8.0 GA

Storylines: The Hawks won the Eastern Division’s second-half championship to make the postseason, despite being the Northwest League’s youngest team. They came back from a one-game deficit in their best-of-three series against the Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks) but couldn’t do the same against the Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays) in the championship series.

The team’s youth showed, both good and bad. The team recovered from a tough first half, particularly on the road, and presented a never-say-die attitude in several games. Coaches raved about the chemistry that developed in the clubhouse. They led the eight-team league in nearly every hitting category—average, slugging, doubles, triples and home runs. Their on-base percentage ranked second, largely because their walks (and strikeouts) ranked at or near the bottom of the league.

Boise’s pitching, on the other hand, didn’t match the offensive prowess. The Hawks ranked at the bottom of the league in ERA, and their defense often struggled, notably in the postseason. Errors bunched up on ground balls and throws—which is common at this level and for teams that young. It’s all about talent and development at this level, and the team shined in those areas.

MLB.com Rankings: Four players were on the team’s end-of-season top 20, according to prospect expert Jonathan Mayo.

2—Almora (No. 50 on MLB top 100)

10—Johnson

14—Vogelbach

17—Candelario

18—Amaya

Top Performances: Vogelbach (second round, 2011) showed why his bat earned him such a lofty draft position. He had a .322/.423/.608 line with 10 home runs, nine doubles and a triple in 168 plate appearances. Despite the power display, Vogelbach also struck out just 34 times while walking 23.

Bruno (seventh round, 2012) only trailed Vogelbach in the power department, hitting for a .361/.442/.496 line in 292 plate appearances. Bruno showed good speed, especially when getting underway, and the ability to play every position in the infield and outfield.

Amaya (international, 2010) plays on the right side of the infield, and he showed a bat that can make it there. He hit for a .298/.381/.496 line with six doubles, 12 triples and eight home runs in 317 plate appearances. He also had 33 walks to 65 strikeouts and 15 steals in 20 opportunities. Despite some mistakes, his defense was generally rangy and solid.

Candelario (international, 2011) started off on a tear for the Hawks, with four home runs in 15 June games. He hit just two more in his next 56 contests. The Dominican native was just 18 years old in a college-heavy league, and he more than held his own with a .281/.345/.396 line. Improving his defense at the hot corner will likely be a focus in the future.

Pierce Johnson (first/supplemental round, 2012) showed hard, ground-ball stuff in addition to a plus breaking ball, while working on a strict pitch count. He went six innings in the postseason, allowing two unearned runs on five hits and a walk while striking out eight. In the regular season, he allowed four earned runs in eight innings and racked up 12 strikeouts.

Tayler Scott (fifth round, 2011) showed good poise on the mound in his first full season and didn’t allow a single home run while leading the team with 71.1 innings.

Michael Heesch (eighth round, 2012) showed impeccable control and ability to command the ball around the zone, walking just one while striking out 19 in 23.2 innings. He had a 2.66 ERA in 12 relief appearances.

Notable: The Cubs renewed their affiliation with the Hawks earlier this week. The relationship extends back to 2001, and the organization, team and city are working to improve the facilities to enhance player development and the fan experience.

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