Record: 12-6 – 0.5 game out of 1st place
Last Ten Games: 8-2 – Won last six in a row
In the preseason preview, I spent the first three paragraphs bragging about South Bend’s pitching. So far, it appears that I got that prediction all wrong, though there’s still plenty of time to correct that. On the other hand, I at least got the first sentence right: “There’s never going to be a dull day in northern Indiana this summer.” With three come-from-behind wins in the first two weeks, the young Cubs have been putting on a hitting display every night and even coming back from as far as six runs back to win games.
The team leads the Midwest League with a .279 average and a .354 OBP thanks to nine players batting above .275, five of whom are hitting .300 or better. Catcher Ian Rice (who is currently injured) is hitting .400, Donnie Dewees leads the everyday players at .369, and Bryant Flete, Daniel Spingola, and Taylor Alamo are in the .300 club. Slugger Eloy Jimenez is hitting .290 and PJ Higgins is clocking along at a nice .291. Higgins also leads the team with 15 walks and has a .467 OBP.
The Cubs’ top international free agent from 2015, Eddy Julio Martinez, has shown bits of power, a good arm and some speed in center, but he has only drawn one walk. He has struck out 17 times in 68 at bats for a K-rate of 25 percent. Jimenez is a bit higher at 29 percent, but both those numbers will go down throughout the year as the young players realize how they are being pitched.
I really enjoy watching this team hit, but the Cubs do not have a lot of speed to really leverage the results. Donnie Dewees, likely the first player to move up a level, leads the team with six stolen bases and has put together a relatively dominant overall performance at the plate in April.
When it comes to winning and making a run in the playoffs, developing the starting pitching will be essential. Right now, the team ERA is 4.83 (15th out 16 teams). Luckily, the team’s bullpen, led by Greyfer Eregua, has been carrying the day. Only two starting pitchers, Adbert Alzolay at 3.12 and Ryan Kellogg at 2.35, have ERA’s under 6 at this point. With only three starts under their belts, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Kyle Twomey have some time to improve.
However, there are players waiting in the wings.
Kyle Miller arrived on Tuesday from extended spring training and Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson should be heading east soon. Other arms include Jose Paulino, Pedro Araujo, and at some point after his rehab is over, Oscar de la Cruz will be pounding the zone. The Cubs system is deep enough now that internal competition is going to play a major role at every level of the organization.
Stabilizing the starting staff will be the key going forward in May. The hurdles faced by Morrison, Sands, Steele, and Twomey, are common with most pitchers in low-A for the first time.
- Getting out of the first inning alive – On Sunday, Carson Sands struggled to get out of the first inning after walking the first four batters. He wound up allowing four runs, then settled down for a bit before giving up two more runs later.
- Fastball command – In the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs have emphasized command, even going so far as to have guys throw nothing but fastballs the first time through the lineup. I am not seeing that this year.
- Consistency – Justin Steele either seems to be very hit-or-miss. One game, he’s rolling, the next he’s given up 8 runs. It’s only been three games, so a strong fourth start would dramatically change his ERA. His last time out, he cut his ERA from 12+ to 8 after he gave up 2 earned runs in 5 innings.
- Avoiding the big inning – On Tuesday night, Preston Morrison was rolling along having only given up one run. He had a 4-1 lead. Next thing you know, it was a tie game. Kyle Twomey had similar stats in his last start – one run through four and next thing you know, Fort Wayne puts a 5-spot on the scoreboard.
Pitching in April is never easy. It’s cold, it’s wet, and a lot of these guys are adjusting to new surroundings. However, that’s no excuse. The Cubs management tends to view prospects in short increments of time after adjustments have been made. After all, one good month can turn around a whole season.
Most of the prospects that are struggling will have a month or month and a half to figure it out. Come the middle of June, there are usually changes made — promotions, maybe even some trades, and the draft — that will bring in some new players to challenge for spots or to replace inefficient ones.