South Bend Cubs players will be able to relax here before and after games. (Photo courtesy of the South Bend Cubs)
At the conclusion of the minor league season, the dance begins. Player development contracts between major and minor league teams expire, often resulting in a frantic search for new partners.
This fall, the Cubs were the belle of the ball with three openings, all at the Single-A level. And it’s easy to see why, as the organization has one of the most widespread and devoted fan bases in all of sports.
“With the Cubs on WGN for all those years, every TV in America was able to pick up Cubs games,” said Director of Player Development Jaron Madison. “In almost every area of the country, you’ll find Cubs fans.”
The team chose two of its new affiliates for the usual reason: they offered better facilities. After striking a deal with the Short-Season Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs will now assign newly drafted players and young prospects to a state-of-the-art complex on the University of Oregon campus.
The Emeralds share PK Park with the school, which reinstated its baseball program in 2010. Set in the shadow of the Ducks’ football facility, Autzen Stadium, PK Park has all the latest training and clubhouse facilities big league organizations need.
“One area we don’t mess around with is player development,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “Our success will be impacted in large part by how we develop our young players and get them ready for the big league level.”
One of the tougher decisions the Cubs faced was moving the Low-A affiliate from Kane County, located just 40 miles down the road from Wrigley Field, to South Bend, Indiana. Madison said the organization was satisfied with the Kane County partnership and was ready to re-up, but South Bend impressed Cubs executives with a list of improvements, including upgrades to the turf, video room and clubhouse at Four Winds Field, and the construction of a new strength-and-conditioning facility. The team even rebranded itself, changing its name from the South Bend Silver Hawks to the Cubs.
“The owner there was committed to wowing the Cubs and really making us a part of their community,” Madison said. “They went all out with the presentation [and] with all the upgrades they were willing to make.”
As for the change to High-A Myrtle Beach, the organization wasn’t necessarily swayed by facilities. It was more about the weather. Cubs fans who have climbed atop the third-base bleachers at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida, know they can get a great view of the marina and downtown area. They also get a good look at advancing storm fronts blowing in.
In the last three seasons, the Daytona Cubs have suffered 33 rainouts, second most in the Florida State League to Lakeland’s 34.
“It puts a lot of strain on the players to have to play rescheduled games on their days off and back-to-back doubleheaders,” Madison said. “It’s no fault of anyone in Daytona. When Myrtle Beach became available, we knew we’d get more consistency with the weather and more getting our games in on time.”
The decision to move ended a fruitful 22-year relationship with Daytona that culminated in back-to-back years of record attendance at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. It was easily one of the longest affiliations in professional baseball.
But player development isn’t about looking back. It’s about the future, and Madison likes where his prospects will be headed for at least the next several years.
It was a quiet day Tuesday in the Caribbean, as only the Dominican League was in action. Both Frank Batista and Junior Lake had solid performances in their respective team’s victories. Here are some notes from yesterday’s games in the Dominican:
- RHP Frank Batista surrendered one run in 3.1 innings to pick up his first postseason victory in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ win over the Toros del Este. He struck out four as the Aguilas improved to 6-8 in the playoffs.
- CF Junior Lake finished with two hits, including a double, as the Estrellas de Oriente defeated the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday. Lake went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored as the second-place Estrellas picked up a game on the postseason-leading Gigantes in the Dominican playoffs.
Javier Baez had a pair of hits, and Christian Villanueva drove in a run as Caribbean postseason play continued Monday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- SS Javier Baez recorded a pair of hits, drove in a run and scored a run in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s 5-4 win over the Criollos de Caguas. Santurce remains in first place in the round robin postseason, sitting at 6-2.
- 3B Christian Villanueva went hitless, but drove in a run on a sacrifice fly as the Yaquis de Obregon tied the semifinal series against the Charros de Jalisco 1-1 with a win Monday. Villanueva finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
- 3B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-3, but the Navegantes del Magallanes picked up a win over the Aguilas del Zulia. Magallanes sits at 5-3, a game out of first place in the postseason round robin.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz picked up a loss, surrendering three earned runs on three hits, as the Tiburones de La Guaira fell to the Tigres de Aragua. La Guaira is now 3-5.
Javier Baez had a nice day at the plate, and Junior Lake drove in a run in playoff action Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- SS Javier Baez went 1-for-3 with two walks despite his Cangrejeros de Santurce falling to the Gigantes de Carolina in postseason play. He added two runs scored as Santurce lost its second game of the postseason.
- CF Junior Lake had a hit and drove in a run as his Estrellas de Oriente picked up the win. He finished 1-for-5, and the Estrellas improved to 7-6 in postseason play.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz retired the lone batter he faced as the Tiburones de La Guaira secured a victory against the Aguilas del Zulia in postseason round robin play. La Guaira sits at 3-4 and 2.5 games out of first place.
- 3B Christian Villanueva finished 0-for-3 with a walk in the Yaquis de Obregon’s loss to the Charros de Jalisco in Game One of the league semifinals.
Junior Lake hit his first home run of the playoffs, and Christian Villanueva reached base on a double in Thursday’s postseason play. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean.
- LF Junior Lake hit a second-inning home run to give the Estrellas de Oriente its first run of the game in a 3-2 loss to the Toros del Este. He finished 1-for-4 as the Estrellas slipped to 4-6 in the postseason.
- 3B Christian Villanueva finished 1-3 with a double, but it was not enough as the Yaquis de Obregon were blanked by the Aguilas de Mexicali, who forced a Game Seven in the first round of playoff action.
- 3B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-3 with a walk but scored the Navegantes del Magallanes’ lone run in a 3-1 loss to the Tigres de Aragua. Magallanes sits in the middle of the round robin postseason standings with a 3-2 record.
Junior Lake reached base twice in Dominican postseason play, and Frank Batista pitched a scoreless inning of relief Wednesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- LF-CF Junior Lake went 1-for-4 with a walk as his Estrellas de Oriente club dipped below .500 with a loss to the Aguilas Cibaenas.
- RHP Frank Batista pitched a scoreless inning of relief for Cibaenas. He walked a batter and gave up a hit in the effort. The Aguilas improve to 4-5 and sit three games back in the round robin postseason format.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz recorded an out and was awarded a hold as the Tiburones de La Guaira held off the Aguilas del Zulia 2-1. It marks La Guaira’s first win of a young postseason.
- 2B Javier Baez went 0-for-4 for the Cangrejeros de Santurce in a 1-0 loss to the Gigantes de Carolina. It marks Santurce’s first loss of the postseason, dropping their playoff record to 4-1.
Christian Villanueva ripped another home run, and Javier Baez drove in a run in Caribbean postseason play Tuesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Winter League action:
- 3B Christian Villanueva hit his second homer of the postseason despite the Yaquis de Obregon falling to the Aguilas de Mexicali. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk. The Yaquis still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
- 2B Javier Baez recorded a single and drove in a run as the Congrejeros de Santurce picked up another win in round robin postseason play. He went 1-for-5 as Santurce remained perfect in the playoffs at 4-0.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched 0.2 scoreless innings of relief in the Tiburones de La Guaira’s loss to the Aguilas del Zulia. Ortiz surrendered one hit. La Guaira fell to 0-3 in the postseason.
With postseason play continuing, Jonathan Herrera boosted his club to a win in Caribbean play Monday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s winter league action:
- 3B Jonathan Herrera had a pair of hits and drew a walk in the Navegantes del Magallanes’ win over the Tiburones de La Guaira. He scored two runs in his team’s third postseason matchup in a round robin format. Magallanes is tied for first place with a 2-1 record.
- CF-LF Junior Lake went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run driven in as his Estrellas de Oriente side fell to the Gigantes del Cibao. Despite finishing the regular season with the best record, the Estrellas find themselves three games back in the round robin portion of the postseason with 10 games remaining.
- 3B Christian Villanueva went 0-for-4, but the Yaquis de Obregon edged out the Aguilas de Mexicali to take a 3-1 series lead (best of seven) in the first round of postseason play.
Jorge Soler is one of the Cubs top prospects by any measure. (Photo by Stephen Green)
When it comes to prospect rankings, there are several offensive weapons in the Cubs system that find themselves atop almost every list. Baseball America unveiled its 2015 Cubs Top 10 Prospects Monday, and sure enough, the familiar bats make up the top half.
Here are Baseball America‘s best Cubs prospects and some of the more interesting comments:
1. Kris Bryant, 3B
The Cubs have a surplus of athletic infielders who can hit, and it’s conceivable either big league shortstops Baez and Starlin Castro or Double-A shortstop Addison Russell could wind up at third base, with Bryant shifting to the outfield. Bryant also could stay at third, where Luis Valbuena is keeping the hot corner warm in Chicago. Barring a poor start back Triple-A Iowa, Bryant should arrive on the North Side as soon as the Cubs deem it financially feasible. Bryant has the talent, confidence and makeup to be one of the game’s biggest stars. All he’s waiting for is the playing time.
2. Addison Russell, SS
Russell combines above-average athleticism with extremely quick hands and impressive strength to produce both plus hitting ability and power. He’s nearly impossible to beat with a fastball when he’s looking for it and stays back on offspeed stuff, trusting his fast hands and making plenty of high-impact contact. Defensively, Russell has the range and improved footwork to stay at shortstop.
3. Jorge Soler, OF
Kris Bryant hits more homers, but Soler’s create more buzz. His vicious bat speed, top-of-the-scale raw power and impressive feel for hitting make him a terror to pitchers. When locked in, he generates scorching line drives to all fields; some just don’t stop going until they’re over the fence. He’s coachable, takes quality at-bats and isn’t fazed by hitting with two strikes.
4. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
Schwarber has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He has a .300-hitting, 30-homer ceiling. A college catcher, Schwarber has leadership skills and solid-average arm strength, but his receiving was rudimentary as an amateur, frequently dropping to one knee to handle breaking balls. He has the tools to be a capable left fielder, having shown instincts for the position.
5. C.J. Edwards, RHP
At his best, Edwards delivers three above-average to plus pitches, with excellent body control leading to an easy, rhythmic delivery and strike-throwing ability. He’s very tough for hitters to square up due to late cutting action on his fastball, which generally sat 90-93 mph in August and in his Arizona Fall League stint. The late life on the pitch has allowed him to allow just two home runs in 237 career pro innings.
6. Billy McKinney, OF
The Cubs were stunned they were able to pry both Addison Russell and McKinney, the Athletics’ top two prospects, away in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade. Signed in 2013 for $1.8 million, McKinney jumped to high Class A for his first full season and hit better in the high Class A Florida State League after the trade than in the offense-first California League.
7. Albert Almora, OF
Almora has first-round tools, starting with a line-drive bat with present strength, fine hand-eye coordination, bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and average raw power. He was pitched backwards much of the season and struggled to adjust. He still employs a big leg kick and can get streaky, as evidenced by a .377/.395/.649 finishing kick with high Class A Daytona before his promotion. A bit more patience would go a long way to making him a big league regular considering Almora’s defense, which remains advanced.
8. Gleyber Torres, SS
A $1.7 million signee, Torres finished his U.S. pro debut by earning a promotion to short-season Boise before his 18th birthday. His maturity showed as he maintained his focus despite turmoil in his native Venezuela that prompted his family to come to the U.S.
9. Pierce Johnson, RHP
If Johnson puts it all together, he profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter with two plus pitches and potentially above-average control. Chicago’s 2014 ace, Jake Arrieta, had a similar (albeit more durable) career path, and Johnson’s stuff is worth the wait. He could pitch his way to Triple-A Iowa with a strong, healthy spring training.
10. Duane Underwood, RHP
No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system’s most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He’ll start 2015 with Chicago’s new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.
Christian Villanueva blasted a big postseason home run, and Frank Batista pitched well in relief Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- RHP Frank Batista pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. Batista did not allow an opponent to reach base and struck out three.
- RHP Starling Peralta struggled in relief, giving up two earned runs over 1.1 innings as the Estrellas de Oriente fell to the Toros del Este. He gave up one hit and one walk in the effort.
- LF Junior Lake went 0-for-3 with a walk for the Estrellas.
- 3B Christian Villanueva hit the eventual game-winning home run for the Yaquis de Obregon in their win over Aguilas de Mexicali. Trailing by a run with two on in the eighth inning, Villanueva launched his first homer of the postseason. He was 1-for-4 on the day.
- 2B Javier Baez went 1-for-4 with a run-scoring single in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s win over Criollos de Caguas.
- 3B Jonathan Herrera went 1-for-3 with a double as the Navegantes del Magallanes edged out the Caribes de Anzoategui 1-0.