The 2017 South Bend Cubs are riding high near first place in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League. Shortstop Zack Short’s move to the leadoff spot coincided with a nice 10-2 streak to surge into first place at one point. Starting pitcher Dylan Cease is drawing rave reviews and has been excellent in four of his five starts. Manager Jimmy Gonzalez is showing why he is one of the best developmental coaches in the game. Gonzalez teaches applying patience at the plate, playing fundamental defense, and attacking hitters down in the zone from pitchers.
Currently the Cubs were at 16-10 heading into Saturday’s game vs. Clinton. However, things were not always so good in South Bend.
Opening Weekend Woes
The hardest adjustment players have to make playing in South Bend is that April baseball seems like a winter sport. This year was no different the first weekend in West Michigan. It took them four games before they scored even one run. After losing those first three games, the Cubs steamrolled through the rest of the April schedule winning 15 of 21.
This team contains several players who can flat out hit. Zack Short has been playing a mixture of 2B, SS, and 2B. Yeiler Peguero, Jhonny Pereda, Vimael Machin, and Wladimir Galindo have been punishing the baseball as well as they are all over .300. Chris Pieters (.452 in his last ten) and Kevonte Mitchell (.375 with 2 HRs in his last ten) have joined the fray, too. Mitchell hit a ball over 500 feet this past week. Mitchell has been praised on the air by radio/TV announcer Darin Pritchett about Mitchell’s batting practice shots. I am hoping this is the year that Mitchell puts it together after repeating Eugene last year.
While most people, including myself, thought the starting pitching would be the ultimate strength of the team. It turns out that the bullpen has easily stole their thunder. Dakota Mekkes, Chad Hockin, Pedro Silverio, Wyatt Short, Marc Huberman, Michael Rucker, Kyle Miller, and Matt Swarmer make things tough for the Midwest League once a starter leaves the game. Rucker did not allow a run in April and Mekkes gave up 1. I have been most impressed with the improvement of Pedro Silverio who, as a starter at Eugene, had an ERA of 4.50 as a starter in 2016. This year, he’s struck out 25 in 16.1 IP in relief.
As for the starting pitcher, the Cubs minor league system reverted back to five man rotations this year instead of six. It has created a lot of competition throughout the organization.
Dylan Cease, the #1 starter for South Bend, excites the Internet and Twitter with every inning pitched. He was recently named the Cubs’ April Minor League Pitcher of the Month. He’s made 5 starts with 23.2 IP and he’s struck out 37. He still has some work to do on his changeup. He also has some work to do with efficiency as he’s only made it to the sixth inning once.
Manny Rondon, last year’s Northwest League Pitcher of the Year, struggled early with his breaking ball and his ERA is a high 5.01. Tyson Miller has had 4 good starts and two poor starts. Lefty Jose Paulino has been inconsistent and fellow lefty Bryan Hudson was roughed up in his first two starts but pitched much better in his third start on May 5. With the promotion of Kyle Miller to Myrtle Beach, the role of Duncan Robinson is that of a piggyback starter. He has been excellent putting his Dartmouth pedigree to use as he has posted a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 IP in April as a starter and longman.
Still Time to Breakout
18 year old shortstop Isaac Paredes and top prospect DJ Wilson both have struggled at this level. At times, they have flashed a big game or two, but then they disappear for stretches on offense. It’s just one month and moving up to playing a 140 game schedule is a tough task for young kid of 18-20 years old. They need to learn how to adapt to playing everyday and how pitchers are trying to get them out.
Putting It Altogether
Once the starting pitching is stabilized, I think this team is going to go on a run like it did last year in Eugene where they went 54-22. I think they are close. It’s a game of adjustments at this level. Some warmer temps will help just as much.