The minor league regular season ends on Monday. I am a little sad to see that, as it has been an extremely exciting year with several amazing moments from some up-and-coming Cubs prospects.
I had originally planned for this post to be a top 10 moments from the Cubs system for 2016. I thought I would be able to highlight key moments from the season to show what a wonderful year it was for many of the affiliates and prospects. As soon as I begin to compile this list, however, I realized I was in way over my head. Ten moments just weren’t going to do it. Even 15 events weren’t going to come close.
When it was all said and done, I could’ve narrowed the list down by a few, but I like the fact that there are so many great events this year. I think that really speaks to the strength and depth the Cubs have in the minor leagues.
Jesus Castillo 10 K’s
Even though he was traded a few weeks later, it was still impressive that a 19-year-old kid could accomplish such a feat. I was looking forward to watching him mature.
Trades of Torres, Crawford, McKinney, Vogelbach, Blackburn, and Castillo
Despite losing these prospects, the Cub system is still strong.
Aprils of Rademacher, Young, and Blackburn
Chesney Young hit .400, Bijan Rademacher almost did, and Paul Blackburn had an amazing ERA of 0.29 at AA. They were all impressive feats.
It did not take him long to get going and his year never stopped. His brief time in Chicago really showed some of the potential that he has as a ballplayer. I cannot wait to see what happens with him in 2017.
The decimation of Iowa’s pitching staff
When camp broke, Manager Marty Pevey had five starting pitchers. Within 10 days, he was down to only one. Somehow, Iowa managed to keep it together for a while despite losing so many starters.
The ascension of Zach Hedges
I was pretty excited to see Hedges get off to such a great start and to learn about how hard he worked in the offseason to improve his game. I was even more impressed when he went to AA and pitched lights-out there over the last six weeks of the season. He likely earned himself a promotion to AAA to start 2017.
He is a very exciting player who can go get the ball in the outfield and has very good speed on the base paths. His bat is still a little inconsistent, but I’m sure he’ll straighten that out next year as he will likely begin the year at Myrtle Beach.
Playing in snowstorms
It was really strange to turn on MiLB.TV in the first week of April and watch South Bend playing most of their games in the snow. I can’t imagine the California kids were too happy about that.
Tom Hatch’s complete game in the College World Series
Shortly after the Cubs drafted Hatch, he pitched an impressive complete game shutout to open the College World Series. I was extremely impressed and thought that he actually might be in the top three or four pitchers in the system before he even threw a pitch.
Ian Happ in June
For about three weeks in June, Ian Happ was the hottest hitter I’ve ever seen in the system. He hit .600 between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee over three weeks.
Preston Morrison’s Summer
Morrison was the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the month in June and he should’ve gotten it again in July. From May 1, when he moved to the third-base side of the rubber, through the end of the season, Morrison was the best pitcher in the Cub system. He dominated June and July with ERA’s under 1.00 both months. Since his promotion to Myrtle Beach, he has held his own with an ERA of 1.77 in 6 starts.
Eddy Martinez’s July
It was fun to interview Eddy Martinez right in the middle of his hot streak in June and July. His average increased by 70 points in a three-week span and has generally remained there.
Oscar de la Cruz returns
For a while there, I didn’t think I would ever see de la Cruz pitch this year after forearm and elbow trouble slowed him down in spring training. The velocity is not quite back yet and it may not return until next year, but the way he attacks the zone is quite impressive. His curveball is just plain nasty.
Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis
When these two were promoted to AAA Iowa, it was a lot of fun to watch them take off. It was sad to see Zagunis break a bone in his foot or he could be traveling to Chicago with Jeimer here in the next few days.
3 class-A teams making the playoffs
Most of the minor league playoffs begin next week. Having three A-level teams playing in the postseason sets a great tone and shows how strong the lower portions of the Cubs’ system is.
He had a dominating May and a resurgent August. It’s been a lot of fun to watch him develop his changeup into a plus pitch this year to go along with his plus curveball and mid-90’s fastball. There were many times I could not wait until 6 PM to watch him pitch.
His early success in April easily squashed any doubts of whether or not his 2015 season was for real.
Two weeks of Eloy Jimenez
In about a 10-game span in late May, Jimenez put on a home run-bashing spree that reminded me of Sammy Sosa back in the 90’s. It didn’t seem there was any pitch in that stretch that he did not hit hard, often for extra bases.
Dylan Cease’s third start
In August, Dylan Cease struck out 21 batters in just 17.2 innings. In his second start back from a forearm strain, he racked up 8 K’s in just 3.2 innings. The ball seemed to move easily out of his hand. Once he realizes he can get hitters out in the strike zone, he’s going to be deadly.
MiLB TV in Eugene
I really enjoyed the broadcasts late at night as the Emeralds didn’t have any competition in the system for viewing. Although the camera angle from right-center field was a bit different, it was a lot of fun to watch this team play every night at home.
The Futures Game
This is a game where a young man, Eloy Jimenez, went from just being a favorite of Cub fans to being a favorite throughout the minors. He cranked a 3-run home run in the 9th inning shortly after making an amazing catch in right field.
Eugene’s 15 wins in a row
Every night they showed up to win and every night for a two-week span they did exactly that, punctuated by some very dominant pitching.
Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena go to Colorado
The two have stayed on the 25-man roster so far and Zastryzny seems to be working his way into possibly having a full-time job with the Cubs in the bullpen next season. With Travis Wood being a free agent, it’s certainly a possibility.
Cardiac comebacks for South Bend
The Cubs had seven come-from-behind wins in the first half to help propel them to a division title.
DJ Wilson in August
I don’t think there’s been anything more exciting than watching Darryl Wilson play defense for Eugene and then turn around and play offense. The kid can just flat-out run.
Trent Giambrone and Zack Short shine
These two teammates for the Eugene Emeralds are expert hitmen. Short is an on-base machine and Giambrone hits for high average. They’ve also shown a little propensity for power that maybe the Cubs saw and could tap into as they mature. Since they were drafted and signed this summer, Giambrone and Short have helped Eugene dominate the Northwest League in the second half.
Bullpen arms galore in the draft…for this year
Most of the relievers selected in this year’s draft have been at Eugene for quite a while now and they are very impressive. The more they pitched, the better they got. I think next year in South Bend, the 2017 Cubs are going to be hard to score on in any inning between the starting pitchers and the relievers.
The Myrtle Beach run
As the season has gone on, Myrtle Beach just keeps getting stronger and stronger. While some of the pitching performances have been there all year, this team really took off after the trade of Gleyber Torres and Rashad Crawford. David Bote, Yasiel Balaguert, and Donnie Dewees have really taken over the middle of that lineup to drive in runs, something the Pelicans struggled to do in the first half.
I am pretty sure I am missing some highlights from Dan Vogelbach, Billy McKinney, and several other players in the system. That’s okay, though, it shows how deep the system really is. Hopefully, there be a few more highlight moments over the next two weeks with three teams remaining in the playoffs.