Making the post-season in the Midwest League isn't hard. Each division has eight teams. Half of them qualify for the playoffs. Here's how it works. If you finish in first or second in the season's first half (70 games scheduled in both halves), you are in. You can barely qualify, then go into free-fall. And you're still in. However, assuming those specs are too stringent, in the second half, you can qualify as well. All you need is to be among the top two teams of the six that whiffed in the first half. In other words, you could finish in third, or even fourth, in the second half, and it still be enough. Despite this low hurdle for qualification, this will be the first time a team of Cubs prospects has qualified in the Midwest League since Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson were in Peoria.
That time, in 2009, it took until the second half, when just enough pitching was paired with a good Low-A offense. Ryan Flaherty led the team with 20 HRs, Rebel Ridling drove in 97 runs, Kyler Burke OPS'd over .900, and Aaron Shafer led the team with 11 wins. Yeah, memory lane. Since then, I've started listening to minor league games regularly, started writing here under a by-line instead of FanPosts and FanShots only, and the parent club has become hideous. Far too often.
Part of the reason the parent club has become so very pedestrian can be explained by the names listed on the last Low-A post-season squad. Many of the guys on that team, as with any Low-A team, were pure and unadulterated MLB whiffs. Some (Junior Lake, Chris Archer, and Josh Harrison among them) have had decent careers, after a fashion. However, most will end up as historical asterisks if all you seek is MLB stars. This is how it is with every minor league team.
When Cubs fans look back on this squad that, effectively, boat-raced to a first-half crown, it will be the same. Pitchers that got hurt. Hitters that couldn't hit good MLB pitching. Or middling Double-A pitching. These things will happen. For every franchise in the league, in every single season.
The problem has largely been pitching since that run. There have been a few guys that had really good seasons. Trey McNutt had his season-on-the-rise. Robert Whitenack was good. Others qualified for the league's All-Star Game. However, the pitching depth tended to not be there. Which bubbles up. When the Low-A staff is about six-deep, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A have fewer good in-house options. And, unsurprisingly, that doesn't help the parent club.
The offense this season has been middling, but enough. This has been a pitching-dominant team. After finishing a distant 16th in WHIP last season, Kane County leads in ERA (3.06, with only one other team below 3.48), second in WHIP (1.24 to a first-place 1.23), and tied for first in games played with 57 (with one other team). They're tied for the league lead with six shutouts.
Obviously, this is a small step along the way. That 2009 Cubs Low-A team had little following it. This team figures to have more on the way. At some point in the last umpteen years, it would have been a wise thing for the Cubs to upgrade their facilities in the minors to top-end, add the necessaries to scouting and technology, and, yes, those added costs would have to come from somewhere -- probably parent club salaries.
it wasn't going to happen in the past. It just wasn't. The Tribune wasn't into the minor leagues thing since the Dallas Green days, and Sam Zell wasn't the type to invest long-term in something he considered a short-term hold. There was not going to be an earlier time for the Cubs to come out of the Dark Ages, and MLB owners decided now was the time to clamp down on "excessive" spending on rebuilding.
(An aside. As I look this week at Draft Cap levels, I notice the top cap spending limit is in the neighborhood of 2 WAR levels. If a team would right about now deal up three lousy drafts in four years (with lousy defined as under three WAR value total) someone would be publicly shamed online. The Cubs have routinely gotten very little from their drafts (Cue people pointing at outliers.) Thus developing your own talent should be expected. And not occasionally, but pretty much every single season.
That somebody hasn't been professionally skewered for the abuse they've put Cubs fans through (I'm not mentioning any names, as there are more guilty than imaginable) is pretty much unacceptable. And not simply on draft day, but in development and international stuff as well. There have been a few successes, but nowhere near as non-dysfunctional teams.)
These years obviously suck for Cubs fans. However, to an extent, this kind of thing had to happen sometime. Would it have been nice if the rules were different when it happened? So that grabbing a spare piece outfielder was easier in the off-season? Heck yeah. Would it have been nice if other teams weren't in lockstep with (over?)valuing draft picks? Uh huh.
These decisions could have been made earlier, to upgrade technology, facilities, and amateur acquisitions. They weren't. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is a joke now, but most MLB teams didn't want to change things while they were stealing the silly Cubs lunch money every June.
Looking to the future, you can argue it's bleak. I'm not the sandwich-board carrier these days for explaining dumb stuff the front office might be doing regarding fixing Wrigley, getting Mike Olt the right number of at bats, or who should be the second hitter in the lineup. That's for you to argue.
However, I'm glad that I'm upgraded in my technology to the point that I can listen to Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Daury Torrez, Tyler Skulina, Justin Amlung, and Jen-Ho Tseng throw strikes and get outs. While it's only Low-A Ball, it sure represents the future better than some of the teams I've listened to the past few years.
May good development be a commitment for the next six decades. Like, y'know, with all the other teams that have owners that understand contemporary baseball.
Three Up/Three Down
In the Daytona broadcast yesterday, Robbie Aaron said Daytona has been successful in five of their last 17 stolen base attempts. Gaaaaaaah.
Daytona Cubs pitcher Rob Zastryzny's season continues to be less-than-hoped-for. His ERA is 7.57, and his WHIP is 1.82.
Iowa's Ryan Kalish is hitting .176 since being optioned.
Since May 23, Tennessee's Rubi Silva has an OPS of .431.
Iowa's pitchers lead the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in WHIP at 1.21. They are third in ERA, and have issued the fewest walks in the league. That wasn't the case last year, when I monitored it more closely. They are one of two teams at 133 with fewer than 160 free passes issued.
Iowa third baseman Tennessee third baseman Kris Bryant is awaiting a phone call, and wondering how many points he will get from his flight from the Southern League to the PCL. In his last nine games, seven times he has registered a daily OPS of over one. He is one-of-three stealing in the stretch, so he has something to work on.
Since May 18 Willson Contreras is hitting .444. That isn't SLG or OPS, but batting average. The High-A Daytona catcher has an OPS of 1.071 in the span. After the draft, when things get less harried, one of the Kane County catchers will be moved up to Daytona. Contreras will still be there.
In May, Starling Peralta gave up 12 hits in over 20 innings, fanning 23.
In May, Kane County's James Pugliese has stepped into a leverage reliever role, allowing a run in 17 innings, fanning 21.
On Saturday, the DominiCubs (Don't care. It's what I call them.) opened their season with a 10-0 win over the Marlins. Roberto Caro had three hits, including two triples, and drove in three in the opener. I will continue to cover the Dominican and Venezuelan Cubs offsite, so that Josh doesn't have to. The big bits of news from the Dominican are that Eloy Jimenez will start in the DSL, and Erling Moreno is on the DSL Cubs roster as well.