The Week Ahead in Cubs Minor League Baseball (April 21-27)

The Week Ahead in Cubs Minor League Baseball (April 21-27)

Through two and a half weeks of baseball, the Cubs minor league system hasn't done much to live up to its reputation as an all-hitting/little-pitching collection of ballplayers. No affiliate has managed to post an OPS over .663 yet (and outside of Tennessee, none is over .630), yet each team has been excellent on the mound. It's early, and the bats will absolutely warm up as season goes along, but the disparity between the offense and the pitching has been nothing short of extreme.

Luckily for the bats, they get to face the Brewers' farm teams across pretty much every level this week, so you can expect everyone to add about .100 points to their OPS this week (only sort of joking!).

AAA Iowa - 2 Games vs. Round Rock, 4 Games @ Colorado Springs

Iowa is coming off a rough three game losing streak in which they were outscored 19-2. The best pitching prospect on the roster, Kyle Hendricks, goes on Monday in an effort to stop the slide, and Our Lord and Savior Javier Baez rises from his short DL stint this week in hopes of providing a spark to a lineup that could use any help they can get right now.

What to Watch For

  • Kyle Hendricks, who is still looking to recapture some of the magic from 2013, takes the hill twice this week. Hendricks has an elevated ERA so far, but I wouldn't be worried just yet - his K%, BB%, and WHIP all look great. The start vs. Round Rock presents an opportunity to get his ERA back in line with his peripherals, but the start in Colorado Springs looks to be a pretty dangerous challenge for a pitcher with his stuff.
  • How will Javier Baez return from his ankle injury? He was struggling before he hit the DL, and ankle injuries can really linger for some. Here's hoping playing some DH will get him back in the swing of things.
  • Lost in the cloud of Baez's struggles and injury have been the struggles of everyone else in Iowa's lineup - BJax looks done, Arismendy Alcantara has struck out 17 times in just 62 PAs, and Christian Villanueva is the only "major" prospect with an OPS over .700 (and he's at just .733). The ICubs head to some hitter friendly environments this week - can they start scoring runs?

AA Tennessee - 3 Games @ Birmingham, 4 Games vs. Huntsville

Outside of Kris Bryant, the Smokies lineup has struggled mightily at the plate this season, but this isn't so surprising in the Southern League. The league is a pitcher's haven in most seasons, and at the moment no team has a collective ERA over 4.00. The Smokies hope their pitchers can keep up the great work, and given the relative weakness of the offenses they'll be facing, they should come out of the week looking even better.

What to Watch For

  • Kris Bryant has been positively insane this season - he's triple-slashing .294/.438/.608 with 4 homers - but that doesn't mean there's nothing he's working on at the moment. As mentioned in today's Baseball Prospectus Ten Pack, Bryant's swing is still long and exploitable. Bryant is going to need to show that he can close the holes in his swing to progress. He's facing two above-average pitching staffs this week, so it will be worth watching how he performs over the next 7 games.
  • The 2011 MLB draft is starting to shape up as one of the best in the history of the game, and the teams that missed out on top talent are looking increasingly inept for having done so. One such team is the Brewers, who took Taylor Jungmann with the 12th overall pick. That pick doesn't look great, but Jungmann is doing what he can to provide value to his organization, posting career-best whiff and walk rates this season. He'll likely face the Smokeis this week, so check him out on MiLB.tv when you can.

High-A Daytona - 3 Games vs. Clearwater, 4 Games vs. Brevard County

The Daytona Cubs have been brutal this season, and there's really no way to excuse them - a 3-13 record is certainly not what many of us were expecting out of last year's Kane County squad. Many of the best bats at the level have continued to struggle, and the starting rotation has been no better. They hope to turn things around this week against the Phillies' and Brewers' High-A squads.

What to Watch For

  • What is up with Dan Vogelbach? His High-A debut has seen him triple-slash .155/.234/.224 through 64 plate appearances, which is certainly less than what he's capable of doing. His peripherals suggest he's been getting quite unlucky so far, but since I haven't had a chance to see him I can't really say if the lack of production is luck-related or poor-contact related. It's likely a bit of both.
  • 2013 2nd rounder Rob Zastryzny has been equally unproductive so far, giving up 22 hits, 3 walks, and 9 earned runs through just 12 and a third this season. It's not time to worry yet, but that is an extremely ugly way to start the season. And it doesn't look like things will get much easier this week, because...
  • The Brevard County lineup is pretty solid. They've struggled so far, but there are a handful of legitimate prospects there, including centerfielder Tyrone Taylor (.258/.324/.468) who I liked quite a bit when I saw him in the Midwest League last season.

Class-A Kane County - 4 Games vs. Beloit, 3 Games vs. Wisconsin

The Cougars have been on a roll, and after sweeping the Dayton Dragons they find themselves at 6 games over .500 and atop the MWL West. The pitching has been fan-freakin-tastic so far, with the starting rotation looking like the strongest (by far) in the Midwest League. They get 7 games at home this week, so if you're in the Chicago area I highly suggest heading out to see the pitching staff.

What to Watch For

  • I may be missing something, but as far as I can tell, it looks like the Cougars have 6 starting pitchers on the roster. I have not yet seen how they plan on resolving this jam. My guess, though, is that if Juan Carlos Paniagua cannot right the ship very, very quickly, he'll be headed for a bullpen somewhere.
  • This weekend, depending on how things shake out with the rotation, the Cougars will throw either Underwood-Tseng or Tseng-Blackburn. This is appointment viewing, folks! Either tandem is worth seeing as soon as possible.
  • For all the talk of the pitching in Kane County, the offense has shown some serious potential as well - between Yasiel Balaguert, Carlos Penalver, and Jacob Hanneman, there is speed and excitement aplenty in the Cougars lineup.
  • I am reserving judgement on players until I see them in person, but I must say that Jacob Hanneman's contact rate is pretty worrisome. He's struck out 19 times in 59 plate appearances, which is simply unacceptable. I know he's likely still getting readjusted to the game after taking two seasons off before his 2013 college season, but the severity of his struggles so far have painted a picture of just how hard his road to success will be.

Promotion of the Week

This is one of the coolest promotions I think I've seen at a minor league park - the Daytona Cubs radio broadcast will be in the front row of the stadium this Sunday, and they will be welcoming fans to join the broadcast at certain times during the game! I don't think I've ever seen a promotion quite like that; I'd definitely be at the game trying to get my voice on the radio!

@TommyECook

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