Good Morning, and welcome to the show so far! Today, we look at two of the four full-season minor league squads as they complete their sixth week of play.
The end of May is one of the major landmarks in the minor league season, as organizations ready themselves for the upcoming MLB Draft and the beginning of the short-season leagues. It is a time when front offices begin to reshuffle rosters in anticipation of the personnel they will be gaining, along with the release of some players to create spaces.
The following is a team perspective of what has been happening both at Triple-A and Double-A and what to expect at the next landmark, somewhere between the end of June and the Fourth of July.
Triple-A Iowa Cubs
The Numbers: 15-20, last in the Pacific Coast League American Northern Division, 7.5 games behind division leader Colorado Springs (Brewers).
The Basics: Hitting- .262 average (10th), .338 OBP (7th tie), .408 slugging (9th), .746 OPS (9th), 61 doubles (11th), 8 triples (7th tie), 32 home runs (8th tie), 170 RBI (7th), 13 stolen bases (16th)
Pitching – 5.79 ERA (14th), 1.598 WHIP (15th), 221 runs allowed (14th), 245 strikeouts (15th), 126 walks (8th), 10 saves (2nd)
Defense - .970 fielding percentage (16th), 38 errors (16th), 19% caught stealing rate (14th)
The Good: So far this season, Iowa has had three players promoted to the big league squad that may be there for a while, RHP Eddie Butler along with INF Jeimer Candelario and INF/OF Ian Happ. While other players, such as RHP Felix Pena LHP and Rob Zastryzny, seem to be on the shuttle, for now it appears that the most likely call-ups will be position players. Catcher-first baseman Victor Caratini is tied for ninth in the PCL in hitting at .347 with a .9154 OPS, while INF/OF Chesny Young is batting .281 on the year in .405 in his last ten games. But other than the few individual performances, there’s not much to write home about. And while the defensive numbers look bad on paper, they are skewed by poor play at second base and in the outfield. Iowa has been getting good to outstanding defense at third base, shortstop, first base, and catcher.
The Bad: Apart from the aforementioned Butler and Pena, the pitching has been pretty terrible. To be fair, RHP Pierce Johnson is making a decent transition to the bullpen with a 3.21 ERA and four saves. Also, RHP Seth Frankoff with a 3.56 ERA and LHP Zac Rosscup at 3.09 haven’t been too bad. But the rest of the staff is, well, abysmal. The combined ERA of pitching veterans Aaron Brooks, Jake Buchanan, Dylan Floro, Jack Leathersich, Manny Parra, Williams Perez, Dave Rollins, and Miguel Mejia is 7.21. That is not very good for a group that has amassed over 11.5 years of major league service time and collectively is just shy of 28 years of age, nearly two years older than league average.
What to look for: Although the major league staff can use a boost in pitching, it doesn’t look like help will be coming from the veterans signed in the off-season. With the Cubs going pitching heavy in last year’s draft, the system is close to busting at the seams with pitching looking for an opportunity. Expect the front office to start slowly siphoning off the minor league vets and reshuffling pitching throughout the system, particularly if the pitching problems in “The Show” stabilize.
Double-A Tennessee Smokies
The Numbers: 22-15, the best record in the Southern League, first place in the SL North Division, one half game ahead of the Jackson Generals (Diamondbacks).
The Basics: Hitting- .252 average (3rd), .334 OBP (4th), .392 slugging (3rd), .726 OPS (3rd), 62 doubles (3rd), 7 triples (3rd tie), 28 home runs (4th), 143 RBI (5th), 18 stolen bases (9th)
Pitching – 3.46 ERA (6th), 1.186 WHIP (2nd tie), 124 runs allowed (2nd), 250 strikeouts (10th), 106 walks (1st), 7 saves (8th tie)
Defense - .983 fielding percentage (1st tie), 21 errors (1st), 35% caught stealing rate (4th)
The Good: After rumors of top prospects INF/OF Ian Happ and OF Eloy Jimenez possibly being assigned to Tennessee faded this spring and the Smokies started the season with only one Top 20 prospect (RHP Trevor Clifton), the team has demonstrated that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. With its team approach, the Smokies have been in almost every game season, with one phase picking up its performance when another is lacking on a particular day. Batting .295 with a .406 on-base percentage and six stolen bases, OF Charcer Burks may be the only legitimate lead-off prospect in the system. Third baseman Jason Vosler has been a revelation, as he is hitting .292, is fourth in the league in OPS (.944), tied for fourth in home runs (7), and tied for fourth in RBI (23). The top of the rotation of Clifton (3-1, 2.37 ERA, 1.237 WHIP, 35 strikeouts), Zach Hedges (5-2, 2.59 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 29 strikeouts), and Jen-Ho Tseng (3-1, 3.15 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 31 strikeouts) has been very promising. Middle relievers James Pugliese (3-2 with a save, 1.40 ERA, 0.879 WHIP, 17 strikeouts), Brad Markey (0-1with a save, 3.20 ERA, 1.272 WHIP, 20 strikeouts), and Daury Torrez (2-0 with a save, 0.51 ERA, 0.680 WHIP, 16 strikeouts) have been the backbone of the team.
The Bad: Without star power, Tennessee is vulnerable to the domino effect at times. For example, when a few players don’t hit in a game, the whole team has trouble hitting, and so on. After having a breakout season in 2016, RHP Ryan McNeil (1-1, 6.75 ERA and a stint on the DL) has struggled so far, leaving the Smokies without a reliable closer. However, Andury Acevedo (0-0 with two saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.625 WHIP, three strikeouts in eight innings) appears to be stepping up in that role.
What to look for: Tennessee has had only one promotion, RHP David Berg, so far this season. Expect more pitchers to move up, especially if the MLB Draft supplies the organization with more arms. While probably not considered top prospects, many players on the Smokies’ roster have to potential to be competent major league players. Look for some members to be a part of a trade if the front office decides to make a move.
Tags: Aaron Brooks, Andury Acevedo, Brad Markey, Charcer Burks, Chesny Young, Daury Torrez, Dave Rollins, David Berg, Dylan Floro, Eddie Butler, Eloy Jimenez, Felix Pena, Ian Happ, Jack Leathersich, Jake Buchanan, James Pugliese, Jason Vosler, Jeimer Candelario, Jen-Ho Tseng, Manny Parra, Miguel Mejia, Pierce Johnson, Rob Zastryzny, Ryan McNeil, Seth Frankoff, Tom U, Trevor Clifton, Victor Caratini, Williams Perez, Zac Rosscup, Zach Hedges