The Cubs need some offense and the Cubs have a couple of outfielders who are hitting the ball pretty well. One of them, Ryan Sweeney, could help this year. The other, Jorge Soler, is still a couple of years away.
They also need stronger pitching in their organization and today there were a couple of outstanding performances by a couple of Class A pitchers: PJ Francescon and Michael Heesch.
- Nick Struck is on the cusp of the majors and a good season may get him to Chicago by the second half. He did not get off to a good start today, however. The good news is that he didn't walk any hitters. The bad news is that he didn't miss enough bats. He allowed 8 hits and 4 runs and only struck out one batter.
- Casey Coleman and Jensen Lewis came on but couldn't keep the game within striking distance. Coleman went 2 innings and allowed 2 runs while Lewis allowed one run in his one inning of work. The Cubs are likely to need bullpen arms as the season progresses but no one in Iowa has distinguished himself so far.
- On offense it was pretty much Ryan Sweeney who had 2 of the Cubs 4 hits and accounted for one of their 3 runs with a solo HR. He has 5 hits in his first 6 ABs. He has also walked twice. The problem with Sweeney will be finding a place for him to play. That may not happen until the Cubs are able to deal David DeJesus or Alfonso Soriano.
- Brett Jackson contributed a hit and a run scored.
- Kyle Hendricks got the start today and had the Smokies in the ballgame for the first 4 innings. The big blow came in the 5th inning when Pensacola 1B Donald Lutz hit a 3 HR that proved to be just enough to seal the loss. Overall Hendricks went 5 innings allowed 8 hits, walked 2 and struck out 5.
- Whatever problems Iowa is having with their bullpen, the Smokies have been the complete opposite. Today they got scoreless work from Tony Zych (1.2 IP, 1 BB, 1 K) and A.J. Morris (1.1 IP, 1 BB, 1 K). They kept the Smokies close and the offense mounted a comeback that fell just short. The game ended with the tying run on 2nd and the go-ahead run on 1st.
- Matt Szczur continued his good start with a single and a walk in 5 PAs. He also scored a run.
- Outfield partner Jae-Hoon Ha also kept up his hot hitting with another hit to put him at .389 for the season. Ha also drew a walk.
- 1B Justin Bour is repeating the AA level despite a very productive season last year. It probably has to do more with the Cubs desire to have an experienced emergency 1B at Iowa than anything Bour did. One thing you'd like to see Bour do, however, is hit for more power. The 17 HRs, .172 ISO and .455 slugging percentage are not terrible numbers by any means, but you do want to see more from your 1B, especially when you consider he played most of the season as a physically mature 24 year old. Bour did have another productive day today, going 2-4 with a double and an RBI.
- P.J. Francescon was outstanding today. He pitched 5 scoreless innings and allowed just one hit and one walk. When Francescon is right, he pounds the lower part of the strike zone, getting lots of Ks and groundouts -- exactly what Cubs like to see from their pitchers. Francescon had 6 strikeouts and induced 6 groundball outs today.
- Yeiper Castillo was a minor acquisition for the Cubs this offseason. He has average command and stuff, sitting at 90-92 with his fastball and occasionally mixing in a curve and a change. Castillo pitched 2 scoreless innings, didn't walk a batter and struck out 3.
- The Cubs closed the game out with a couple of hard throwers, Luis Liria and Austin Reed. Liria works in the low 90s but can hit the mid 90s on occasion, though he can get wild at times. Reed was reaching 95-96 late last season and it appears the Cubs intend to use him as a late inning reliever, perhaps a closer like his brother with the White Sox.
- Zeke DeVoss continues to be an on-base machine. He got on base 3 times today with a single and two walks. Through 4 games he is hitting .333 and has gotten on base in half of his plate appearances.
- Javier Baez went 1 for 4 at the plate and scored a run. He also made 2 errors in the field, giving him 3 for the season.
- Jorge Soler hit his 2nd HR in as many days and went 2-4 overall with a walk, 2 runs scored, and 2 RBI. For the season he's hitting .438 and, like DeVoss, has a .500 OBP.
- Stephen Bruno had a couple more hits and a walk and is yet another good offensive player in this good Daytona lineup. Bruno seems to have no trouble with the FSL after skipping Kane County this year.
- John Andreoli is repeating the year but probably won't last the whole season in the FSL if he continues to get on base at this torrid pace. 2 more hits and 2 more walks today and has now reached base in 10 of his 18 plate appearances.
- C Micah Gibbs really had his struggles last year and has been passed up by former teammate Rafael Lopez. He is healthy this year and has hit the ball well so far (3 for 8 on the season). Today he hit a 2-run HR and drew a walk.
- Should we be worried that Kane County has not won a game? Not really. But we do want to see them play better -- and get better pitching. LHP Michael Heesch did his part and gave the Cubs a strong performance. Heesch is a big (6'5") local kid (Bartlett, IL) with a low 90s fastball and improving secondary pitches. He showed incredible control last year at Boise, walking just one batter in 23.2 innings. He doubled that amount today in 6.1 inning but only have up one hit and one run. He struck out 5. Unfortunately the Kane County offense didn't offer much support and he walked away with no-decision.
- Felix Pena picked up right where Heesch left off, pitching 5.2 coreless innings of relief, allowed 3 hits, one walk and struck out 5.
- Eddie Orozco came in last year after the draft and stabilized the Boise bullpen, eventually becoming their closer. Today was a different story, however, as he allowed 2 runs in the 13th inning to take the loss.
- Oliver Zapata took over for the injured Trey Martin in CF and continued to hit well. He had 2 more hits today and a walk. He's hitting .357 over the first 4 games.
- Rock Shoulders is off to a tremendous start this season. He's at .471 with 1 HR after a 2-3 day with a walk.
- Wilson Contreras, C, is also off to a great start. He went 1 for 3 and now has 5 hits in his first 10 ABs. He also drew his second walk, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. He only walked 11 times in 64 games last season.
Filed under: Daily Cubs Minors Recap