Once again it's time to vote for the BCB Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for June! The rules are the same: it's not a vote for who the best prospect is, it's based on performance. You can still vote for anyone you want. I nominate one player from each team.
I've got to tell you, it was pretty brutal, in a good way, trying to decide who the nominees would be this month. As the weather warmed up, a lot of players began to hit this month. Players who got left off the ballot, but deserve special mention for having great months, include Logan Watkins, Jonathan Mota, Ronald Torreyes, John Andreoli, Zeke DeVoss, Wes Darvill, Reggie Golden, Kevin Encarnacion and Shawon Dunston.
The five nominees are:
Iowa Cubs third baseman Junior Lake: Lake didn't play his first game of the season until June 6, but he made up for lost time in a hurry, hitting .320/.361/.450 for the month with two home runs and 13 RBI in 26 games. Most impressive to me, he's only struck out 20 times in 100 ABs. I've always questioned his ability to make enough contact at higher levels, but a 20% K rate is in the "acceptable" range. Lake's offense is ahead of his defense at this point, but that's not unusual considering how much time he's missed. He also hasn't played shortstop yet this season--I think that ship has sailed. But he's showing enough stick to play third.
Tennessee Smokies center fielder Matt Szczur: Szczur has never developed the power that the Cubs hoped he would when they lured him away from football, but his on-base skills keep getting better and he's settling into a leadoff man role. This month he was especially effective at the top of the order, hitting .337/.417/.442 and scoring 13 runs in 25 games. He also chipped in 13 RBI. The only downside was that he was 4 for 8 in stolen bases.
Daytona Cubs shortstop Javier Baez: Did you hear he had four home runs in one game this month? That was impressive, but so were the nine total home runs and 28 RBI in 24 games in June. He walked nine times too, for all of you who were worried about that. His triple slash line was .300/.390/.678. He was even 5 for 5 stealing bases.
Kane County Cougars center fielder Albert Almora: Almora actually was in a slump the second half of the month, hitting only .182 after June 16. But before that date, Almora hit .411 in June, so his final line for the month of .310/.324/.460 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 23 games. On top of that, his defense in center field continues to impress. Even at 19 and with less than a year of professional experience, Almora is probably the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs system, and that includes the outfielders in the majors.
Boise Hawks left fielder Yasiel Balaguert: The 20 year old Cuban outfielder signed with the Cubs in December of 2011 for $400,000, and it looks like a good investment so far. Although he struggled in Peoria last year, he's done nothing but hit, and hit for power, in Boise this season. He's shown good plate discipline, walking ten times in 70 plate appearances. In only 14 games, Balaguert hit four home runs and had 22 RBI. He was named the Northwest League Player of the Week this past week. His final triple slash line for the month of June was .271/.371/.579.
Now on to today's games
The Iowa Cubs plucked the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals), 4-2. The win puts Iowa back over .500 at 43-42 and extends their lead over Memphis to three games in the division.
It was a solid start for Barret Loux, who allowed only one run over five innings. It didn't look like it was going to be, as Loux walked the first three batters of the game and allowed the one run in the first. But he only allowed two hits the rest of his time on the mound and he didn't walk another batter, although he did hit one. Loux also struck out six.
Eduardo Sanchez got the win after pitching a scoreless eighth inning. It was rough, as he allowed a single and a walk to the first two batters he faced. After a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with only one out, Sanchez intentionally walked the next batter and then got Memphis catcher Rob Johnson to ground into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. It was Sanchez's first win as a Cub.
Brian Schlitter has picked up where Blake Parker left off in Iowa and got his eighth save in as many tries. Schlitter allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth inning. He struck out two and didn't walk anyone.
Iowa won this game with a four-run eighth inning, highlighted by two two-run doubles. The first came from left fielder Anthony Giansanti in his first game in Triple-A. Giansanti was 1 for 2. The game winning hit came four batters later when first baseman Brad Nelson doubled home Giansanti and Donnie Murphy. Nelson was 1 for 3 with a walk.
The Tennessee Smokies got burned by the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays), 7-2.
Austin Kirk started and took the loss. Kirk pitched 5.2 innings and allowed six runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck out four.
Center fielder Matt Szczur was 2 for 5 with an RBI double in the eighth inning, scoring catcher Chad Noble. Noble was 2 for 4.
Is it August already? No? Well, it's still raining in Florida.
Kane County Cougars
The Kane County Cougars tasted the venom of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers), 4-3.
Starter Jose Rosario pitched seven innings and allowed three runs on six hits, including a huge two-run home run in the seventh inning. Rosario struck out two and walked two.
Justin Amlung pitched the bottom of the eighth and took the loss when he was touched for an unearned run. Amlung walked three batters, but two of those were intentional after an error by Gioskar Amaya put runners on second and third with no outs and a sacrifice fly scored the run and moved the runners up. Amlung did not allow a hit, nor did he strike anyone out in his inning of work.
Center fielder Albert Almora was 2 for 5 with a double and a run scored. Shortstop Marco Hernandez was 2 for 4 with an RBI and he scored a run as well.
The Boise Hawks calmed the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Giants), 3-2.
Starter James Pugliese pitched six innings and allowed only one run on five hits. He struck out one and didn't walk anyone.
Ethan Elias relieved Pugliese and blew the 2-1 lead when he allowed one run on two hits over two innings. But Boise retook the lead in the top of the ninth inning and Elias got his first Boise win. Elias walked one and struck out two.
Matt Iannazzo pitched the bottom of the ninth and collected his second save with a scoreless frame. He allowed a two-out single, but then picked the runner off first base to end the game. Iannazzo struck out the other two batters he faced.
Boise took the lead in the top of the ninth when center fielder Jacob Hannemann singled home second baseman Danny Lockhart with two outs. Hannemann was 2 for 5 and Lockhart was 3 for 4.