I’ve had the dates circled on the calendar all year – August 10, 11, and 12. These are the dates that the South Bend Cubs would be in Beloit, Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from my house. It’s a little hard covering a team via MiLB.TV and radio every day. I need that up-close experience where I get to hear the ball hit the bat, hit the glove, feel the cool summer air shortly after sunset. I got all those things and more last night in Beloit.
The South Bend Cubs came into the game with a 21-22 record in the second half, six games out of first in the Midwest League’s Eastern division. Last night’s game was a little bit different than when I saw them in early June. Gone were Cael Brockmeyer, Brad Markey, David Garner, and Jason Vosler and in were Ian Happ and Matt Rose. I thought going in that I would be focusing solely on Happ and Rose. I did, but I also noticed some other little things along the way.
Jeffrey Baez of August is not the Jeffrey Baez of June. Last night he went 2 for 5, scored 2 runs, and stole 2 bases (wasn’t even close to getting caught). He looked at ease in the leadoff spot. He was patient at the plate, fouling off pitch after pitch until he got the one he liked to rip right up the middle. The old Baez was looking to hit a HR every time, but this version was just trying to get on base. That explains why his average has gone from .198 to .271 in a month.
Rashad Crawford can flat out run. He went 0 for 3 on the night, but he showed great range in center and I came away more impressed by his athleticism in person than by what I had seen on TV.
Erick Leal, who threw a nine-inning no hitter last week against Kane County that the Cubs lost in extra innings, was the starting pitcher. He looked good in the first inning but did not appear to be getting much movement on his fastball and was having some trouble locating it. His curveball looked very good and had a nice downward bite to it. However, hitters soon began looking only for the fastball and Leal gave up six runs in four innings, including two home runs.
The Cubs offense, on the other hand, had men on base all night but they just couldn’t string together enough hits. They scored five runs on eight hits, but only took one walk.
The two 2015 draftees I came to see, Happ and Rose, each went 1 for 4 with an RBI apiece and Happ had a stolen base. Happ was selected in the first round out of Cincinnati, and Rose in the 11th out of Georgia State. They were originally assigned to short season Eugene before being promoted to South Bend.
What I liked about Happ as a hitter is his balance. His feet have a solid foundation and he doesn’t overswing. Everything is measured and I love the movement of his hands through the zone, very quick to the ball. I took some video of him getting his RBI single. Notice the patience he has to sit on a pitch and how quick his hands move down, into, and through the zone. I think the Cubs got this draft pick right.
In the field, Happ had very few chances. Most of South Beloit’s hitters went into the gaps, down the line, or over his head and out of the stadium last night. However, I came away impressed with the his baserunning speed, which is very deceptive. As a baserunner, he got a great jump on his stolen base and was easily safe. The only thing that made it close was that he overslid the bag a bit.
When he scored his run, he took great angles on the basepaths and made what would appear to be a close play at the plate a run. I was amazed that Happ headed for home because the left fielder had the ball before Happ had even touched third. My wife and I thought for sure he would be out. It wasn’t even close despite a good throw.
Matt Rose, meanwhile, looked very good in the field. He played first base and made some nice stretches, and even had a nice save on an errant throw from David Bote. Rose was able to snag the ball to avoid it from careening down the rightfield line.
At the plate, Rose comes across as knowing what he is looking for. In just his second game with South Bend, he is showing a penchant for driving in runs and has three RBI through two games after previously leading short season Eugene in RBIs this summer. His swing looks good; he has a little leg kick as a timing mechanism that he might need to taper down as he moves up the system but for right now, it’s fine. Here’s some video of some cuts he took in one at-bat.
As usual, it’s hard to watch South Bend play and not come away impressed with Gleyber Torres. My wife, who went with me last night, remarked how “smooth” he does everything – hitting, running, catching, and throwing. I’d say she’s right. Here is Torres’ “long” 5th inning at bat which resulted in a single and an RBI.
It’s clear that this team has a lot of talent. From Torres to Happ to Rose to Crawford, Baez, and Charcer Burks, there are a lot of young talented players who are still developing. Even though the win-loss record is a little below .500, every night is exciting, and sometimes eye-opening, to watch them grow and change. I came away very impressed by Jeffrey Baez’s transformation and the hands and speed of Ian Happ. And that’s the thing I like about this level – you get to see the talent, but you also get to see the talent grow.
I hope to get more good looks at Ian Happ and Matt Rose again tonight.
However, the main reason I am heading back to Beloit tonight is to see top 30 prospect Trevor Clifton – someone I have been excited to see all year – pitch. He will be the focus of tomorrow’s profile post.