A Night to Remember in the Minors: Where Do They Go Next?

Last night was pure giddiness! Between the big league Cubs playing until 6:20, the standout performances by Duane Underwood and Trevor Clifton, the rattling of the sabres down in Tennessee by Almora, Hannemann, Schwarber, Vogelbach, and McKinney, and the impressive emergence of John Andreoli and some kid named Javy Baez, it was a glorious night to be a Cubs fan. Just glorious! It is very rare when the top prospects in the organization shine brightly together.

I started out watching South Bend’s Trevor Clifton in a pitching duel with Grant Holmes, a top prospect in the Dodger’s organization. Clifton was outstanding going 6 innings with 7 K’s while allowing only one run. His curve was sharp and his fastball was down in the zone in the low 90’s. He got out of trouble by pitching rather than overthrowing, which was great to see. In the process, Clifton lowered his ERA to 2.60 on the year, but Holmes bested him as the Cubs offense could not get one run across in a 1-0 loss.

At the same time, I had to flip back and forth with the Myrtle Beach game as Duane Underwood was just flat-out rocking the fastball. For five innings, the mighty righty staggered the Carolina Mudcats. He struck out three, had only three baserunners, and had seven weak groundball outs. It was a marvel to watch as Underwood was supported by 15 Pelican hits which lead to 7 runs.

That would be enough for most nights in most every other organization, but not the Cubs. In fact, the fun was just beginning. The Tennessee Smokies and their extra-potent lineup battled the Tampa Rays AA franchise, the Montgomery Biscuits, who are loaded with some nice talent in Boog Powell and SS Daniel Robertson. It was a quiet 2-1 game when all hell brook loose in the 7th and 8th innings.

Schwarber homered and Almora, Hannemann, Vogelbach, and McKinney each contributed to the attack as the Smokies scored seven runs in the 7th and 8th to defeat the Biscuits 9-4. At the same time as that game was heating up, so were the Iowa Cubs, led by Andreoli, Rubi Silva, and some kid named Baez. Christian Villanueva and Arsimendy Alcantara also added some ammunition in a four-run sixth.

So here’s what I thought about all night: only a few of these prospects will get promoted up a level this year. This week saw Billy McKinney advance to AA Tennessee and Chesny Young go from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. And as I watched these games and great performances, I wondered where these top prospects could go next, as most every affiliate in the system is loaded.

No outfielder is going to Tennessee soon with an that includes Almora, Hannemann, McKinney, and Bijan Rademacher. Maybe one of South Bend’s big three (Null, Clifton, and Williams) could sneak up to Myrtle Beach if Underwood is promoted to Tennessee. On the other hand, there could be plenty of movement to South Bend as half the team is hitting near or under .200 while the other half is above .300. But that’s it.

In order for a prospect to move up this year, he is going to have to demolish the competition at his current level. And that’s how it should be. Looking at who that might be is quite intriguing as the Cubs have several good prospects still in the minors even with Bryant and Russell moving up.

Who could be could be that dominant by the end of May to earn June promotions?

Iowa to Chicago

  1. Tsuyoshi Wada – A decision on his fate has to come today as his rehab is over.
  2. Javier Baez – hopefully we are seeing the new and improved Javy Baez and the one Maddon, Mallee, and Brian Harper have been working with all year to change his approach. In 2014, Baez did extremely well at Iowa for about a month, still he was only batting .260 when he was called up after a June in which he pummeled the competition. This year, after 16 games, he is hitting .311 and actually has 8 walks in a short time frame.

Tennessee to Iowa

  1. Kyle Schwarber – He has been killing it behind the plate throwing out base runners and killing baseballs at the plate. He could fit in Iowa without losing depth at the majors. However, the question is, “Are his receiving skills good enough for AAA?” We know the bat is ready.
  2. Dan Vogelbach – His .355 average is tops on the team and there is a spot in Iowa at first base he could slide right into. Unfortunately, the only roles he could play in the majors for the Cubs would be as a DH in interleague play and as a left-handed pinch hitter – which he could do very well.

Myrtle Beach to Tennessee

A 1.09 ERA - I'd say Duane Underwood is dealing it in 2015 - Photo by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach
A 1.09 ERA – I’d say Duane Underwood is dealing it in 2015 – Photo by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach
  1. Duane Underwood – 1.09 ERA. Enough said.
  2. Mark Zagunis – No place to put him in Tennessee outfield despite his .400+ OBP. Man, can this kid get on base!

South Bend to Myrtle Beach

  1. Jeremy Null – If/when Underwood goes to Tennessee, Null is the likely replacement.
  2. Gleyber Torres – He could slide in at SS ahead of Penalvar and right beside former teammate, Chesny Young. He has been pretty consistent the past three weeks hovering around a .330 batting average, but is that enough to get an 18 year old kid promoted?

Extended Spring Training/Eugene to South Bend

  1. Carson Sands – He might be the most ready (but not the most talented) of the 4 high school arms taken last summer (Sands, Steele, Willis, and Cease) to move up a level.
  2. Eloy Jimenez – He reached base four times yesterday and has been heating up the more he plays.
  3. Kevonte Mitchell – I cannot wait to see what this kid can do this summer. He had a great year in Arizona last summer after being drafted and the buzz is still electric this spring in Arizona.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of movement, and it isn’t. But there really is powerful momentum towards the majors and to those teams involved. I have no idea where to play Baez in the majors — second, left, or third — but it would be a blast trying to fill out a lineup card with a fully-functioning Javy Baez everyday behind Bryant and Soler and beside Russell and Castro. Giggity!

To think that Vogelbach and Schwarber would be one step away with their bats and that Javy Baez recaptured the magic would be amazing. Then there’s Underwood. To me, he has supplanted Carl Edwards, Jr. as the top arm in the system, and with a promotion, they could be on the same team.

However, I don’t think the Cubs are in any rush to move along the kids in South Bend or Myrtle Beach. One reason the Cubs’ system is so good is because they haven’t rushed them up the ladder. Billy McKinney went back to high-A ball this spring when everyone was positive he would start the year in Tennessee. His defense was not ready though. The players have to be ready by the Cubs’ standards, not those of fans and bloggers.

For me, it is fun watching these kids put up great games and learn night after night about approaching the game the right way, learning how to pitch out of trouble, developing that third pitch, and adjusting to being adjusted to when you see a team for a second time – an underrated aspect of minor league play.

There is plenty of time to get them to the majors. Clifton and Underwood are both only 20. Torres is only 18! There’s lots of time left to develop them the right way. Promotions will come when the player is ready and we will all know when that is. And with the redundancy in the system, it could take a while. In the meantime, it will be fun watching!


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