On Saturday night, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clinched a playoff spot by winning the Southern Division of the Carolina League. They are the only Cubs’ affiliate to clinch a playoff berth this season. Tennessee, on the other hand, finished second in their division in the Southern League while South Bend finished last in their division in the Midwest League.
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) June 20, 2015
While winning is a nice byproduct of play in the minor leagues, it is not the most important aspect of the organization – player development is. One of the most interesting aspects of assigning top prospects a place to play in the Theo Epstein era the past three years is that during August those top prospects have wound up in playoff chases in Kane County, Tennessee, and Daytona. Kris Bryant, Pierce Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jr., Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, and Mark Zagunis all wound taking part in the postseason process and winning championships at Kane County and Daytona.
While player development is first and foremost, you have to wonder what role winning will play in roster decisions throughout the second half of the 2015 season. The two teams that should be most concerned are the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and the South Bend Cubs.
Director of Player Development Jaron Madison will try and give Myrtle Beach the best players possible for the playoffs. Somewhere down the road in the next month, three names are going to come up for promotion. Outfielder Mark Zagunis is ready to go to AA now – like, right after this week’s All-Star Game. Chesny Young and Duane Underwood are also ready and deserving of moving up a level, although they could use another month of seasoning. Their promotions might affect the chances of Myrtle Beach in the playoffs.
If winning is a part of development, three names initially come to mind – Gleyber Torres, Donnie Dewees, and Ian Happ. All three could transform and stabilize the Pelicans lineup and help in the playoffs. While Underwood’s leaving would alter the rotation, it would not be the end of the world. Johnathan Martinez and Tyler Skulina are having excellent years and could anchor the rotation in the playoffs. Promoting Jeremy Null from South Bend could add another option. If South Bend’s Jake Stinnett continues to pitch like he did on Thursday (6 innings, 1 H, 4 Ks), he could join them sooner than later.
But what do these moves do to South Bend’s chances? Is it all about Myrtle Beach winning at this point?
South Bend’s first half, aside from the ascension of Gleyber Torres, was nothing to write home about. They were an abominable 12-21 on the road and finished last in their division despite having a lot of talented players. The top half of the lineup is very solid and their starting pitchers just need to avoid the big inning. It is not going to take much to turn South Bend around.
South Bend also needs to learn to be consistent. Zach Hedges’ stats are one example. His monthly ERA splits of 3.00, 5.72, and 2.50 are the model of inconsistency. When I saw him in person, hitters were baffled by the movement and hit weak grounder after weak grounder in the early innings. He has the great slider and has late movement on his fastball, but it becomes a matter of him establishing his fastball in the early innings, which he did not do in May.
The same development problems can be seen in Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett. They both have great stuff and fastballs that explode near the plate. The problem is that their command of those wicked arsenals is not consistent early in games. For these two pitchers, it is about developing their skills and learning to control their battery of pitches in the first few innings.
Even with these challenges, a new blend of talent could benefit both teams greatly to help both of them win down the stretch and in the playoffs this year. With the plethora of experienced college arms the Cubs selected, both affiliates will get experienced relievers in David Berg, Craig Brooks, Jared Cheek, and Tyler Peitzmeier. Meanwhile starters Ryan Kellogg, Preston Morrison, Kyle Twomey, Casey Bloomquist, and Kyle Miller could bring their 3-4 years of college experience to help stabilize the pitching after promotions.
Outfielders Ian Happ and Donnie Dewees should move quickly through Eugene with their bats to help either team’s lineup. Both players get accolades for their skills and also their maturity, which could mean they end up in Myrtle Beach late this summer. Happ already has one homer in two games at Eugene this weekend but Dewees has yet to officially sign.
There could even be a surprise pick or two in this year’s class to help either team, just like Chesny Young and Zagunis did for Kane County in 2014. One breakout player could be Matt Rose of Georgia State, who gets raves for his plate discipline and he could be an anchor at 1B/3B for South Bend. Another breakout prospect might be OF Alex Bautista whose combination of speed and power could be a nice addition to an already speedy South Bend outfield.
Even though these teams are two separate entities, their fates this season really are tied to one another. Myrtle Beach will need some of South Bend’s talent in the second half to give the Pelicans the best chance to succeed in the playoffs while still providing those prospects with an appropriate level of competition against which to develop their skills. At first glance, South Bend gets the short straw. Then again, a new infusion of talent and college-experienced players might be just what South Bend needs. It should be interesting to find out. Hopefully, there will be more than one Cub affiliate in the playoffs come September.