When last we left the minor league season, the South Bend Cubs snuck into the playoffs and then went 7-0 to bring home their first Midwest League title as a Cubs affiliate. Manager Buddy Bailey led a group of elite young talent that included Brennen Davis and Cole Roederer in the field and Riley Thompson, Cam Sanders, and former Cubs legend Kendall Graveman on the mound to a title.
A lot has changed in two years.
South Bend has moved up to High-A while Bailey went back to Myrtle Beach, which is now Low-A. The new SB Cubs manager is Michael Ryan, who was slated to be at Double-A Tennessee in 2020. He was previously a manager in the Pirates organization and presided over back-to-back league championships at Bradenton and Altoona in 2016 and 2017.
C -Bryce Wyndham, Jake Washer, Cam Balego
1B – Tyler Durna
2B – Chase Strumpf, Delvin Zinn
SS – Luis Vasquez
3B – Scott McKeon, Jacob Olsen
OF – Cole Roederer, Nelson Velasquez, DJ Wilson, Yonathan Perlaza
SP – Ryan Jensen, Max Bain, Peyton Remy, Derek Casey, and Chris Kachmar,
RP – Burl Carraway, Brandon Hughes, Ben Leeper, Tanner Jesson-Dalton, Graham Lawson, Garrett Kelly, and more
Held Back in Mesa for Now – Chris Clarke, Michael McAvene, Kohl Franklin, Josh Burgmann, and Hunter Bigge,
South Bend will feature Roederer, who learned a lot about his first full season in 2019. He’s been very honest about the toll 140 games, during which he lost 15-20 pounds and struggled mentally with the grind. But with a great support system in place, he made some changes in the second half of the year and those seemed to have carried over to 2021.
He has gained that weight back and added some muscle, but not too much to keep him from playing CF. Playing in mostly familiar ballparks in the Midwest should help him in 2021. He’s also been using the whole field this spring while keeping that beautiful swing.
Here is why everyone is so high on Cole Roederer. It is such a beautiful swing. pic.twitter.com/Q3eYmuGUx4
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) August 2, 2019
Fellow top 20 hitter Chase Strumpf’s plate approach and ability to do what is necessary in the moment is unparalled in the system. He should be just too good for this level and might be the first player to be promoted.
Chase Strumpf first pitch swinging exit velo of 100 pic.twitter.com/3l0T0PNGi9
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) August 18, 2019
As for the rest of the squad, I would also keep my eye on Tyler Durna at first base as a guy who could break out, along with Nelson Velasquez, who will provide most of the punch for the offense. I would not be surprised to see catchers Washer and Windham also provide some fireworks on offense. Washer hit a lot of home runs in college at East Carolina while Windham can play almost anywhere on the field in addition to his catching duties. DJ Wilson will be starting at high A for the 3rd straight year in what looks to be a do-or-die season for the former top prospect.
While the hitters should be fun to watch, the clear strength of this team is the starting pitching. From the opening day starter to the last man in the bullpen, the Cubs have acquired most of the pitchers on South Bend’s staff over the last two summers. Franklin, when healthy, and Jensen should headline the rotation, along with Remy, who might be the first guy to head up to Double-A Tennessee.
Clarke and McAvene will also be two fireballers in the rotation, along with Josh Burgmann and Peyton Remy. That is one smoking staff. Derek Casey was throwing in the upper 80s in 2019 and was seen pumping it up to the plate at 84 this spring in Arizona. If he breaks out this summer, that is going to really change the depth of the system. I would also not sleep on Chris Kachmar who has blossomed with pro instruction and training.
Chris Kachmar hitting 95 pic.twitter.com/26O3ieU70j
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) March 25, 2020
As for the bullpen, two lefties highlight the pen. One is Burl Carraway, the Cubs 2020 second round pick out of Dallas Baptist who has two plus pitches in an upper 90s heater and a hard biting curve. Brandon Hughes converted to pitching at the end of spring training in 2019. He debuted in the Arizona Rookie League that summer and tore through 3 levels that summer ending in South Bend as a part of the championship team. He’s back this year after training as a pitcher for a whole year. He was touching 96 this spring and I am excited to see how he has blossomed under Breslow’s new pitching infrastructure.
While there will be no playoffs this year, I would not be surprised to see this team have one of the best records in the new High-A Central League. The Cubs might be slow to promote players just based on a hot month, so they may have to show dominance over a long period of time. As such, my prediction for the first prospect to be promoted Sanders because he has actually faced more advanced competition.
Carraway should be the guy from the bullpen to start off the season strong to head to Tennessee.
I’m also expecting to see Ed Howard and Jordan Nwogu in the second half. While it may be a bit of a pipe dream, they could rake at Myrtle Beach and get moved up. If that happens, I’m going to have a pretty good time going to ball games in July and August.