The polls are still open on the Minor League Player of the Year award and if you haven't voted, you still can. I do ask that you only vote once, however. You're on the honor system and this is not a take-home exam at Harvard.
I must admit the pitchers are a bit behind the hitters in the Cubs system this year, which is probably the first time one can say that in maybe six or seven years. Still, there were several good candidates from all of the top five minor league teams.
A reminder: the vote is intended to be a reward for performance, not for who the best prospect is. If that were the case, Arodys Vizcaino would be included in the vote, and he hasn't thrown a pitch for the Cubs yet.
The candidates are:
Left-handed starter Brooks Raley: Raley started the season in Double-A Tennessee, spent the summer in Iowa and finished up with the Cubs. The left-hander out of Texas A&M has befuddled hitters with his curve ball all year. His final record in 22 starts in the minors was only 6-10, but he was really a victim of non-support in Iowa, as evidenced by his 0-4 record in five starts in July, despite a 2.12 ERA. He made five starts in the majors: three of them were solid and two were disastrous, but he showed just enough to put him in the mix to win a starting job out of spring training next year. In the minors, he pitched 130.2 innings between Tennessee and Iowa with a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 98 and walked 40.
Right-handed starter Nick Struck: Struck was the ace for the Smokies all season long. Often underrated because he's a "short" (5'11") right-hander, Struck proved to be a durable workhorse as he threw 155.2 innings for Tennessee. He led the entire Cubs system with 14 wins against ten losses and sported a 3.18 ERA. He struck out 123 batters and walked 44. There's nothing really flashy about Struck, but he mixes in four pitches, keeps hitters off-balance and wins ballgames.
Left-handed starter Eric Jokisch: The Central Illinois native and Northwestern alum built upon a solid 2011 with an even better 2012. He started the season with Daytona and was promoted to Tennessee after nine starts. In Tennessee, he gave the Smokies a chance to win pretty much every time he took the mound. He allowed three or fewer runs in all 17 of his starts in Double-A. (He was shelled for nine runs in his one 5.2 inning relief appearance.) Another thing Jokisch did that always impresses me is he allowed only four unearned runs all season, which to me indicates a good mound make-up that doesn't rattle easily. Between Daytona and Tennessee, Jokisch pitched 159.1 innings and went 10-6 with a 3.11 ERA. He fanned 115 and walked 49.
Left-handed swingman Frank Del Valle: The Cuban Del Valle gets overlooked among all the higher profile Cuban signings the Cubs have made over the past few seasons, but he did sign for a reported $800,000. The 5'11" Del Valle may not be tall for a pitcher, but he throws hard. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he's been known to pump it up to 98 mph when he needs it. In 99.1 innings in Daytona, Del Valle went 5-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 15 starts and seven relief appearances. He struck out 84 and walked only 30 as he held opposing hitters to a .194 average. He does have fly ball tendencies and when he struggles, it's usually because of the long-ball.
Right-handed starter Michael Jensen: The Cubs signed Jensen away from a commitment to USC last season for $225,000, and so far they have to be pretty happy they did. Jensen combines a solid fastball with a nasty curve and good control. Last season for Peoria, Jensen made 26 starts and went 11-5 with a 3.47 ERA. In exactly 140 innings, Jensen struck out 115 and walked only 40. He also kept the ball down as he allowed only six home runs on the year. Surprisingly, he was much tougher on left-handers than righties last season. That's something to keep an eye next year to see if it holds up.
Right-hander Tayler Scott: The South African Scott was Boise's most consistent pitcher all season long. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, Scott made 15 starts and went 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA. Over 71.1 innings, he struck out 43 and walked only 29. He induced six double-plays and didn't allow a home run all season. Opposing hitters had a .245 batting average against Scott.