Despite a recent winning streak (hey, two in a row is a streak in these parts) and bragging rights over the best park in baseball celebrating it’s 100th birthday, now is not a bad time to divert our attention from the 7-13 Cubs and take a quick glance around the farm. Believe it or not, affiliates like the Iowa Cubs have already knocked out over 13% of their schedule. While short-season squads, such as Boise, don’t even kick off until June, we can take a look around the higher level organizations and see which Cubs prospects have gotten off to notable starts.
Iowa Cubs (10-9, 1.5 GB)
Fast Start: RHP Kyle Hendricks picked up right where he left off last year and is once again knocking on the door to the Bigs. Hendricks has maintained a WHIP of just over 1.00 through his first four starts while striking out a batter per inning. While wins are far, far from the best stat to quantify a pitcher’s success, Hendricks has picked up a ‘W’ in three of his four starts and has a 3.65 ERA as well. The cherry on top? Hendricks has yet to allow a home run.
Slow Start: Brett Jackson really, really needs to turn things around at this point. He has 17 strikeouts and just 3 walks to go with a .121 batting average. This, in all likelihood, is Jackson’s last chance to prove it in this organization and as much as we’d all like him to succeed as a Cub, he is quickly approaching ‘change of scenery’ status.
Of Note: Javier Baez has only played in 11 of Iowa’s 19 games due to a stint on the 7-day DL thanks to a sprained ankle. It’s tempting to call him a slow starter seeing his .184 average but considering his injury, the nasty April weather in Des Moines, and his incredible 2013 campaign let’s just chalk this up to small sample size and give the phenom some time to find a rhythm again.
Tennessee Smokies (10-10, 2 GB)
Fast Starts: Kris Bryant is scorching hot. As a polished collegiate product, it was expected that Bryant would move quickly through the system. That said, even his biggest fans have to be impressed with the success the powerful righty has shown at every step thus far. He is mashing double-A pitching to the tune of .303/.432/.561 with nearly half of his hits of the extra base variety. Bryant has even tacked on four stolen bases in 19 games, which is a nice surprise, though likely not a sustainable pace. While third base may not be Bryant’s long term landing spot at the highest level, his bat is going to carry him to Des Moines and (I’d bet) on to Chicago before the year is out, even if he moves to a corner outfield spot.
CJ Edwards, not unlike Kyle Hendricks, has already turned in four strong outings with impressive numbers. The slender righty has a 2.61 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a K/9 rate of just under 9.00. After winning Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, Edwards bandwagon is only growing as he continues attacking hitters at higher levels.
Slow Start: Tony Zych is expected to be a big league reliever before long but his numbers after seven appearances are rough. He has an ERA over 6.00 with a WHIP of 2.71, allowing 15 hits in just seven innings on the mound. Zych has plenty of time to turn it around but this isn’t the start that was expected for a potential fast-mover this year.
Of Note: Pierce Johnson’s debut was pushed back due to injury and his first start didn’t go great, allowing 3 ER in just 4 IP but Johnson struck out 5 and will be just fine moving forward.
Jorge Soler is another top Cubs prospect trying to come back form an early season hamstring issue. Soler doubled in his only AB of the season to this point but really needs to catch up on reps after a broken leg cost him games last year.
Daytona Cubs (5-14, 10 GB)
Fast Start: Marco Hernandez is a slick fielder who has a glove that might be good enough to get him to the Majors on it’s own. That’s why his .321 batting average is so exciting, even though it’s early in the year. He will never offer much power but for an up-the-middle defender, the development at the plate could make him a really intriguing piece that sneaks up on some people mesmerized but the upper-echelon prospects at the top of ranking lists.
Slow Starts: Dan Vogelbach is hitting .154 with just two extra-base hits after 18 games. The big first baseman has the potential to hit for both average and power, but hasn’t had good early returns in 2014.
On the other side of the diamond is the third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Candelario is another fun infield prospect who can be overlooked due to the stacked Chicago farm, but similarly to Vogelback, Jeimer is in an early season funk, hitting just .188 and committing eight errors at the hot corner.
Of Note: The ever-steady Albert Almora is barely 20 years old but is producing for high-A Daytona, hitting .271 in the early going. Almora could handle CF in Chicago tomorrow if the Cubs asked him to, as his preternatural ability to track down balls is nearly unrivaled and he has the swagger to match. Almora needs to continue to develop offensively but is doing everything he needs to in order to keep earning aggressive promotions, having a great shot at getting to double-A before reaching legal drinking age.
Kane County Cougars (13-6, 1st place in MWL Western Division)
Fast Start: Jen-Ho Tseng has received some high praise from Baseball Prospectus since the end of Spring Training and their positive reviews from Arizona seem to be holding true thus far in Kane County. Tseng has started three games, posting a 2.93 ERA thus far. The early highlight was when he fanned six in 5.1 innings, blanking the Bowling Green Hot Rods en route to a win.
Slow Start: Jacob Hannemann is fun to root for because he is a superb athlete who has serious impact speed. Hannemann, a two-sport athlete at BYU, didn’t have the polish that you see with a lot of collegiate prospects, but he does have intriguing upside. The outfielder was a third round draft pick in 2013, but is hitting just .212 so far for the Cougars. Though, the low batting average makes his eight stolen bases even more impressive.
Of Note: The Cubs are taking it slow with Duane Underwood, allowing him to throw just 8 total innings in two starts thus far, but the results from that small sample are encouraging. Underwood has fanned nine batters while allowing just one earned run. He is a long, long way off, but Underwood has the potential to be an impact arm in a system that could certainly stand to see some of their lottery ticket-type arms pan out in the long run.
While small sample size caveats apply, and things continue to look less than desirable at Wrigley, taking a quick glance at the farm gives us a chance to dream on the talent that will shape the future of the Cubs.