It's Opening Weekend for the minor leagues!
It's a little embarrassing, and quite telling of where the Cubs' MLB roster is right now, but I'm almost as excited for the beginning of the MiLB season as I was for the Cubs vs. Pirates game on Monday.
There's something really...special about baseball at a minor league stadium, especially when elite talent is rolling through town. You're getting a sneak peek at some of the stars of tomorrow, and that often gives you the privilege of seeing guys absolutely dominate in stretches. If you see teams play a few times, you also have the chance to see guys make real progress - I saw Pierce Johnson improve markedly over the course of two and a half months last season. Getting to see the adjustments guys make as they develop is invaluable.
Beyond the talent on the field, there's a intimacy at minor league parks that is impossible to feel elsewhere. Last year I got the chance to watch a game in Beloit on one of the first beautiful spring nights with about 50 other people in the stadium. They didn't pump in any noise, so all that could be heard were the sounds of the game, birds chirping, and a small murmur from the crowd.
I strongly encourage all of you reading this to get out to your local minor league stadium this season. The views are great, the gimmicks are often quite fun, and there's real talent to be seen.
And if you're wondering how you'll remember to go see games - let me introduce you to one of the features Cubs Insider will be bringing you this season!
This is the weekly preview, which will run every Monday morning this season! Except for today, since the MiLB season starts on a Thursday.
The Week(end) Ahead
Only one Cubs affiliate, Iowa, plays at home this weekend, which is a little disappointing for fans in Tennessee, Daytona, and Chicago. There will be a home opener with all the fireworks and fun that make openers worth attending, but it's always just a bit more enjoyable when the best pitchers on the rosters are going at it.
(All probable starters are guesswork on my part, since the rotations haven't officially been announced yet. Sorry in advance for mistakes)
AAA Iowa - 4 Games vs. Memphis
This series is a preview of what hopefully becomes an enduring rivalry between two possible superstars: Oscar Taveras and Javier Baez. These two prospects boast some of the highest upsides in all of the minors, and will be playing on opposite sides of a hate-filled rivalry in the very near future. If that doesn't get you both super excited and a little afraid....
Beyond the two uber-prospects, both clubs boast a good amount of near-ready talent - the Iowa Cubs have an infield of Christian Villanueva and Arismendy Alcantara next to Baez, and the Memphis Redbirds will have 2012 1st rounder Stephen Piscotty patrolling the outfield alongside Taveras.
- Game 1: Chris Rusin (IOW) vs. Future 2.50 ERA Reliever (MEM)
- Game 2: Carlos Pimentel (IOW) vs. Future Expectation-Shattering 3rd Starter (MEM)
- Game 3: TBA
- Game 4: TBA
AA Tennessee - 4 Games @ Pensacola
The Tennessee Smokies are playing the Reds' AA affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, in a five game series between today and Monday. The Reds AA roster isn't great, but with elite SP prospect Robert Stephenson heading up the rotation and Yorman Rodriguez in the outfield, they're worth watching.
The Smokies roster, on the other hand, is loaded. Kris Bryant, CJ Edwards, Jorge Soler, Stephen Bruno, Corey Black, Ivan Pinyero, and many many others will begin their seasons in Tennessee. Almost everyone on the roster is worth heading to the ballpark to check out.
- Game 1: Dae-Eun Rhee vs. Mat Latos
- Game 2: TBA
- Game 3: TBA
- Game 4: TBA
- Game 5: TBA
edited: CJ Edwards is not making the opening night start for the Smokies, so I no longer know how the rest of the week is going to shape up for the Smokies' rotation.
High-A Daytona - 3 games @ Brevard County
The Brevard County Manatees are the Brewers' High-A affiliate, and their roster is dotted with a few prospects amongst a sea of uninteresting players. Tyrone Taylor was one of my favorite players in the MWL last season - he had a great series when I saw him, stinging baseballs left and right, running smooth routes on fly balls, and showing off an arm that was easy-plus. Victor Roache is on the roster as well, and he was my least favorite player in the MWL last season - I saw him before he went on his crazy-hot second half, and he looked positively lost at the plate.
The Daytona Cubs roster is pretty much the same one that generated a lot of excitement in Kane County last season - the infield boasts Dan Vogelbach, Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya, Rock Shoulders, and Marco Hernandez. Albert Almora will patrol centerfield, and Mauricio Rubio favorite Wilson Contreras will catch. I will not be guessing at a probable starters for this team, as I'm not sure how the rotation will fall into place. I assume Rob Z will be the staff ace, but after him it's a toss-up as to who pitches when.
Class A Kane County - 4 games @ Quad Cities
The Quad Cities River Bandits were one of the more fun teams to watch in the MWL last season, with Carlos Correa headlining a very prospect-heavy roster, but I fear they're just a little less intriguing this season. Michael Feliz is an intriguing arm, but, after him, the roster is quite thin.
The Kane County roster is significantly more interesting. The rotation of Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez, Juan Carlos Paniagua, and Jen-H0 Tseng is stacked, and the positional side of the roster has Yasiel Balaguert, Jacob Hanneman, and Shawon Dunston, Jr.
- Game 1: Paul Blackburn vs. Andrew Thurman
- Game 2: Tyler Skulina vs. Kent Emanuel
- Game 3: Daury Torrez vs. TBA
- Game 4: Juan Carlos Paniagua vs. TBA
Must Watch Game of Week:
While any game involving Javier Baez and Oscar Taveras is going to be a must-watch, I'm giving my vote to tonight's game (4/3) between Tennessee and Pensacola. This game features a very good pitching prospect in the Cubs' C.J. Edwards squaring off against one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Robert Stephenson, who pumps upper-90s gas like it's nothing. Stephenson may be the first true elite arm that Bryant and Soler have faced, and it's likely he's the best they'll see all season.
As commenter Rob Huff pointed out, this is not the matchup tonight! Latos is making a rehab start in Pensacola, and it appears Dae-Eun Rhee will be starting for the Smokies. I hope that means Edwards/Stephenson is being saved for tomorrow night, but I am not sure.
Promotion of the Week
Thursday begins the start of the Mug Club in Iowa, where members get their first beer free on Thursdays. FREE BEER!
Iowa will also be offering a Family Day special on Sunday, where fans will receive four tickets, four hot dogs, four drinks, and four hats for just $48. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.
Be sure to check back next Monday, and every Monday for that matter, to get a look at the matchups, MiLB.tv schedules, and promotions for each of the Cubs' affiliates.
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Filed under: Minor League News