Since 1988, the city of South Bend, Indiana has been in the empire business as a member of the Midwest League. First came the White Sox, then the Diamondbacks, and now the newest empire, the Chicago Cubs. Originally named the Silver Hawks after a Studebaker car model made in South Bend, the name changed with the affiliation with the Cubs in late 2014 and will remain so through at least 2018.
The team is owned by Andrew Berlin, of Berlin Packaging, who recently purchased a minority stake in the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after buying the South Bend franchise in 2011, Berlin signed a 20 year agreement with the city and made upgrades to Four Winds Field using his own money (this sounds familiar). In addition, Berlin built a state of the art performance center next to the stadium this winter to help aid in player development.
The Cast of Characters
Manager Jimmy Gonzalez is in his third year with the Cubs organization. In 2013, he was the hitting coach of the Rookie League team in Arizona. In 2014, he became the manager of the same club. As manager, Gonzalez sees his job this year as getting his players ready for the grind of a long season. He should know a thing or two about the grind of the minor leagues having spent 14 years as a minor leaguer, never reaching the majors.
Pitching Coach Brian Lawrence begins his second year as a pitching coach after manning the same position at short season Boise in 2014. The former major leaguer spent six season with the Mets and Padres. Hitting Coach Jesus Feliciano also moves to South Bend from Boise. He spent sixteen years as a minor league player including a short stint in the show with the Mets in 2010.
The Ones Who Knock
The strength of the South Bend Cubs in 2015 will be their starting pitching. Led by second round pick Jake Stinnett, the Cubs will be right-handed dominant and feature a variety of pitching styles. Stinnett and 19-year-old Trevor Clifton have the power aspect down while Erick Leal is Mr. Command. 6’7’ righty Jeremy Null comes over the top to provide hitters with a low 90s fastball on a steep downhill plane.
6’4” Ryan Williams out of East Carolina is a former-reliever-turned-starter and the results have been excellent. After three starts he is brandishing a 0.46 ERA and K/9 ration of 6.5. The mystery man is Zach Hedges out of Azusa Pacific. To date, his two first two starts were stellar and Friday night he gave up three runs in five innings. He has a lot of projection in his 6’4” 195 lb. frame and I have yet to see him on MiLB.TV. To date, Hedges has only walked one hitter all year. Combined, the starting staff is outstanding and has been a highlight of the team this year.
The six-man @SBCubs SP rotation (Stinnett, Null, Leal, Hedges, Clifton, Williams) has posted a 2.08 ERA in 90.2 innings pitched this season.
— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) April 26, 2015
They are the Danger
Cael Brockmeyer, a veteran of the 2014 championship Kane County Cougars, leads the array of bats in the South Bend Cubs lineup. The 6’5” right-handed C/1B surprisingly was assigned back to low-A ball due to the superfluous amount of catchers in the Cubs system. Kane County Veteran and 2014 draftee Chesny Young is another key cog in the Cubs offense. Young just oozes baseball when you see him live.
Gioskar Amaya returns to low A ball to convert to playing catcher. The former 2B earned All-Star honors in the Florida State League last year. Outfielder Trey Martin applies his impressive defensive skills in CF alongside a star of the 2014 Boise team, Jeffrey Baez, and returning outfielder, Cuban Yasiel Balaguert. 3B Jesse Hodges brings a bat with some pop and is currently tied with Brockmeyer as the team leader in RBIs with 12. Outfielders Charcer Barks and Rashad Crawford bring some speed and solid bats as well. Burks has been spectacular manning left field.
— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) April 15, 2015
The most notable prospect on the offensive side of the ball is 18 year old Gleyber Torres. Now ranked as one of the top ten prospects in the organization, the young shortstop is constantly making adjustments on a daily basis. The key for him will be to develop some consistency. This season, he has nights where he goes 3-4 with 2 RBIS followed by two nights of 0-4 with several strikeouts.
Currently, he is at .305 with a solid .414 OBP. In games I have seen, he looks smooth as can be making plays deep in the hole. He has a solid arm, but his bat will be the key to his development in a league where the average age is 21.
Currently the team is 10-10 but they have also blown six leads and could easily be 16-4. Going forward, developing bullpen arms like lefties Jordan Minch, Tommy Thorpe, and Tyler Ihrig need to improve alongside righties James Norwood, James Farris, and Francisco Carrillo. They have yet to find a groove collectively. New arrivals Ryan McNeil and David Garner should help as former closer Jasvir Rakkar was promoted to High A Myrtle Beach.
Capable of Being the Guy
Once the bullpen is settled down, this team — much like Kane County last year — is capable of going on a serious run with its starting pitching. I think you are going to love learning and reading about Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, and the giant Jeremy Null. However, as the seasons shakes out and promotions come and go, names like Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Kevonte Mitchell, and Eloy Jimenez could, and should, be filling up the weekly report. This could be a team loaded with top young prospects under 20 years old by the middle of summer. It is going to be one exciting summer for the newest part of the empire!