Some of you may have heard that the Peoria Chiefs and the Kane County Cougars are going to play a game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, July 29. Just in case some of you have tickets or are thinking of attending tomorrow night's game, MLW provides you with a preview of what you should be looking for on and off the field.
In all seriousness, I'm very jealous that I'm half a continent away and am not going to be at this game. From all descriptions, the Cubs and the Chiefs are working together to make this the greatest minor league extravaganza ever staged. They're trying to combine the silliness and family fun aspects of a minor league ballpark with the hallowed tradition of Wrigley Field. My best guess is that the end result is going to be something very strange, very enjoyable and somewhat psychedelic.
As I've said many times before, most people who go to a minor league ballgame could care less about the teams or the score. Sure, there are baseball fanatics and local boosters who live and die with the fortunes of the team. But most of the audience is made up of families with children who want to get sick on ballpark food, teenagers with no where else to go on a summer evening and young couples on casual dates. That's not to say they're completely oblivious to the game. Pretty much everyone there likes to see a ball hit hard and they like to yell and cheer as loud as they can when something good happens. It's just that the play on the field is often secondary for these fans to the experience in the ballpark.
The Cubs and Chiefs are bringing that experience to Wrigley. First of all, both the Chiefs and the Cougars will be bringing along their mascots to lead cheers and entertain children in the stands. They're likely to be overshadowed, however, by two of the biggest draws in Minor League Baseball today: the ZOOperstars and Birdzerk. The ZOOperstars are costumed mascots that do set routines like the San Diego Chicken used to. They also have baseball-pun names: expect to see Harry Canary and Clammy Sosa doing comedy acts for the fans at Wrigley. Birdzerk is just more of the same.
On top of that, Wrigley will be hosting the type of contests that you see in the minors all the time: Musical chairs contests, dizzy bat races and stuff like that. (Although with 30k there instead of 3k, it's going to be a lot harder to get picked for something like that.) They'll probably try to get everyone to sing "YMCA" too.
Additionally, some players are going to be made available for autographs before the game and kids under 14 will be allowed to run the bases after the game is over. In a Wrigley Field tradition that's being imported to the minors, Dutchie Caray and Pete Vonachen will sing "Take Me Out to The Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch.
On top of all that, there's this manager for the Chiefs you may have heard of. On top of Ryne Sandberg making his return in uniform to Wrigley Field, he's going to be joined by special first and third base coaches, his former teammates Bob Dernier and Carmelo Martinez. Dernier and Martinez are not regular members of the Chiefs' staff. They're just here for Tuesday night's game. (Although as most of you now know, Martinez was managing the Chiefs while Sandberg was at the Cooperstown ceremonies.)
Some of you are probably saying "OK, what if I actually want to watch the ballgame?" Don't worry. You'll be able to. If you can shut out the distractions at a major league game, you'll be able to shut out those on Tuesday.
The Midwest League is considered a "Low-A" league, which means that it's four steps away from the majors. That means you're going to see a wide disparity in talent. Some guys are going to look great and others will have you wondering what they're doing in a uniform. Sometimes it will be the same guy on different plays! But expect to see several errors, both of commission and omission. Baseball sometimes looks effortless in the major leagues. It isn't. This is where major league ballplayers learn those things that become second nature to them.
So who on the Cubs should you be looking at? Some of this is just guessing, as I don't know if any suspensions are going to be handed down for the fight last week, and then who will take their place. I have heard rumors that Kerry Wood will make a rehab appearance in Tuesday's game.
Since I haven't seen anything lately about Josh Vitters, I'm not counting on him showing up for the game tomorrow night. If he does, he's clearly the best prospect on the field, for either Peoria or Kane County.
But there's been a lot of pixels spilled on this website over Vitters on this website, and I don't think he needs much of an introduction. (By the way, you should see his older brother Christian Vitters playing for Kane County.) But other players to watch for include:
Josh Harrison--Second base. If Vitters doesn't play, Harrison is probably the top prospect on the Chiefs right now. Harrison was a fifth round pick this past June out of Cincinnati. He's a short right-hander (listed 5'8") and a potential major league leadoff hitter. In Boise, he showed an ability to hit for average, draw a walk and hit a few doubles. His OBP in Boise was .462 before getting called up after Gian Gonzalez got injured last week. He's a fast guy who can steal a base too. Although his SB% in Boise wasn't very good, that's something he needs to work on in the Midwest League.
Jovan Rosa--Third base. Rosa has the honor of being the last Cubs "draft and follow" player, which is a now-discontinued practice of drafting a player out of high school and then retaining their rights for one season while they attended community college. Still only 20 years old, Rosa has shown "doubles-power." It's an axiom of minor league scouting that young players who hit lots of doubles will turn those into home runs as they get older and fill out. While Rosa will draw an occasional walk, a big knock on him right now are his strikeouts. He'll need to make more contact to make the majors.
Rebel Ridling--First base. The Oklahoma State product was voted, along with Rocky Roquet and Jericho Jones, as the Cub prospects most likely to clean the cattle rustlers out of Dodge City. Seriously, the 25th round pick in this June's draft has shown tremendous power in less than two months as a professional. Between Boise and Peoria, Ridling has already hit seven home runs in only 136 ABs. The issue with Ridling is whether he'll make enough contact when not going deep to make the majors. Ridling is also pretty limited to first base, and first basemen in the minors need to hit a ton to get shots at the major leagues. Just ask Micah Hoffpauir. The fact that Ridling hits right-handed doesn't help his cause any.
Nate Samson--Shortstop. The 20 year old out of Ocala, Florida is having a nice season. Apparently Samson is English for "Theriot." He's a minor league version of The Riot. Any scouting on his defense would be greatly appreciated.
Jonathan Wyatt--Center field. Wyatt is one of my favorite prospects, although he turns 24 in September and he needs to make progress quickly to ever have a chance at the majors. He won a gold glove for his defense his senior season at the U of Georgia and has shown good OBP skills as a professional. Unfortunately, he kind of bombed out in Daytona earlier this season and while he's been dominating for Peoria, he's pretty old for this level. I still think he's got a chance to be a very good 4th outfielder in the major leagues.
Luis Bautista--Catcher/first base. Remember how I said that minor league first basemen need to hit a ton to have a chance to make the majors? Well, Bautista is hitting a ton. The brother of Pirate third baseman Jose Bautista, Luis is hitting .344 with a .394 OBP. He's got 11 home runs in 212 ABs for the Chiefs. He also doesn't strike out that much, so that's a big plus in his favor. The downside of Bautista is that he's not catching much, which indicates that his future is not behind the plate. He also turns 24 in September, so he's old for the level too. (In his case, he got a late start to his pro career as he was finishing his computer science degree at Florida International.)
As far as pitchers go, it's harder for me to know who is going to pitch. The pitcher most likely to pitch is Casey Coleman, who would be making his MWL debut after getting promoted from Boise. Coleman, a right-hander, was a 15th round pick this June out of Florida Gulf Coast University. He had a nice K/BB and K/IP ratio in Boise this year. The most interesting thing about Coleman for me is that when you pull up his page on MiLB.com, you get a picture of former Cub pitcher Joe Coleman.
Among the relievers, John Muller and Jon Mueller could pitch. That sounds confusing, but they're easy to tell apart. Muller is a 24 year-old right-handed reliever and Mueller, in contrast, is a 24 year-old right-handed reliever. (Seriously, Muller is the guy on the way up and Mueller is on the way down.)
The closer for the Chiefs is Steve Vento. I don't know much about Vento except he was a 23rd round pick last year and that while he's pitched well overall this season, he's struggled in his last three or four outings.
One last player I want to mention is releiver Jake Muyco. Muyco was a weak-hitting backup catcher for the Smokies earlier this season when he decided to give up catching and try to make the majors as a reliever. Since then Muyco has been pretty successful--he blew through Boise and in 14.1 innings at Peoria, he's got an ERA of 2.51 and has struck out nine and walked only one.
But while I have told this story before, I wanted to mention it again. When Muyco decided to give up catching, the Smokies pitching coach, Dennis Lewallyn went up the Jeff Samardzija and asked him "Jeff, you've got four [pitcher's] gloves, don't you?" Jeff just said "No, sorry. I only have three." Lewallyn said "Oh, OK. If you had four, I was going to ask you to give one to Jake to get him started. But if you only have three. . ." Samardzija interrupted Lewallyn to explain "Oh. I only have three because I already gave one to Jake."
So you just might get to see Jeff Samardzija's glove at Wrigley tomorrow night if you go. And I think that says a lot about the class of the newest Cub, too.
I don't want to do a lot on the Cougars, but the guy to watch there is Oakland's first round pick this season, Jemile Weeks. He's a speedy second baseman with good OBP skills and little to no power. And yes, he's the brother of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks.
To everyone going to the Chiefs game tomorrow night, have a great time and be sure to tell us what you think here!