The Cubs low-A affiliate is on the move for the second time in three years, moving from Kane County to South Bend, who changed their name from the Silver Hawks to the Cubs to celebrate the change.
Most of the players on this year's team played for Boise and/or Kane County last season. It's not as star-studded a lineup as the other three full-season minor league squads, but there are a few top prospects including one very promising young infielder.
So who is running the show here? The South Bend Cubs are managed by Jimmy Gonzalez, who managed for the first time in Mesa last year for the Cubs rookie ball team there. Hitting coach Jesus Feliciano and pitching coach Brian Lawrence both held the same jobs in Boise last season. Gonzalez brings Osmin Melendez as the assistant hitting coach along with him from last year's Mesa coaching staff.
Are there top prospects to watch? A few. The biggest one is Venezuelan infielder Gleyber Torres, who will be making his full season after having just turned 18 last December. Last season's second-round pick Jake Stinnett is also here in South Bend this season.
Who will pitch for the South Bend Cubs? The aforementioned Stinnett will be the ace of the Cubs staff. Ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America, Stinnett is a hard-thrower who can hit 97 mph and regularly sits 93 to 95. He also has a plus slider. Stinnett only made four starts last year after needing testicular surgery after a freak injury during pitcher's fielding practice in Mesa. But he's one of the rare players drafted after four years in college who is truly a good prospect. Because of his experience, he could move quickly through the system.
Joining Stinnett in the Cubs rotation is Trevor Clifton, the Cubs 23rd-ranked prospect by Baseball America. Clifton is a raw arm taken in the 12th round out of high school in 2013. He had a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts in Boise last year.
BA ranked James Norwood as the Cubs' 29th best prospect after he was taken in the seventh round in last summer's draft. He's another hard thrower who should be in the SB Cubs' rotation this summer. The Cubs got right-hander Erick Leal from the Diamondbacks for Tony Campana. His best pitch is his curve. Left-hander Tyler Ihirg had a 4.01 ERA last season between Boise, Kane County and Daytona.
Left-hander Jordan Minch was a 35th-round draft pick out of Purdue and is an Indiana native. Canadian right-hander Jasvir Rakkar pitched for four different teams in the Cubs system last season and had a 3.83 ERA while striking out 40 batters in 42.1 innings. James Farris, Francisco Carrillo and Ryan McNeil pitched in Boise last season whereas 26th round pick Zach Hedges was impressive in rookie ball last season with a 1.37 ERA and 23 strikeouts and only 2 walks in 19.2 innings.
Who are the catchers? Officially, there are only two catchers listed on the South Bend roster. One is the huge Cael Brockmeyer, who hit well for Kane County last season (.297/.366/.461 with 8 home runs in 57 games) but needs to work on his defense. Justin Marra makes Low-A after playing the last three years in Boise. He had a similar .279/.366/.461 line for the Hawks with 9 home runs in 58 games.
But most people will be keeping a close eye on Gioskar Amaya, who is still officially listed as an infielder but who is making the transition to catching this season. Amaya hit .279/.379/.369 with 4 home runs as a second baseman for Daytona last year. He moves down a level as he learns to work behind the plate.
Who are the infielders? The big name here is Torres, who will probably play shortstop for South Bend but whose major league future may be at second base. He's shown a lot of maturity both on and off the field for an 18-year-old. Torres hit .297/.386/.440 with 10 steals in 50 games between Mesa and Boise. Torres is a guy with a lot of upside and is likely to be the best reason to watch South Bend this summer.
Second baseman Chesny Young was a 14th-round draft pick last summer and impressed at three levels, including a 27-game stint in Kane County. Young hit .327 with a .348 OBP last year. Third baseman Jesse Hodges was one of the better power bats for Boise last summer with 7 home runs in 73 games. David Bote is also a third baseman, but he's played every position in the minor leagues except catcher. Yep, he even pitched one game. This is his third crack at the Midwest League. Last year's 16th round pick Jason Vosler joins South Bend after hitting .266 with a .361 OBP in Boise last year.
Who are the outfielders? Venezuelan Jeffrey Baez was the source of much mirth around here and on Twitter last season, when 13 times we could get Cubs fans all excited by saying "J. Baez homered!" Like the other Baez, Jeffrey has power but trouble making enough contact. But he does have the size and tools to be a slugging major league outfielder if he makes more consistent contact.
Right fielder Kevin Brown was strong in Boise last season, but struggled in Kane County so he'll stay in the Midwest League to start the season. Powerful Cuban Yasiel Balaguert is built like a linebacker, but also struggled in a full season in Kane County last year, so he'll try again this year.
Making his full-season debut, Rashad Crawford is another one of those athletic, raw talents. But he's a hard-worker who could put it all together one day and become a solid major league center fielder. Charcer Burks hit very well last season, posting a .311/.393/.409 line between Mesa and Boise. Trey Martin is a speedster and good defensive outfielder, but he didn't hit much in Kane County last season so he'll try again this year in South Bend.
When can I see them? The South Bend Cubs make their debut on Thursday at 7:05 at home against Bowling Green for a 3 game series. South Bend is a little over 90 minutes' drive from Chicago, so you could drive out there on a weekend and catch a game.
New friend of Bleed Cubbie Blue Darin Pritchett is the radio voice of the South Bend Cubs. Video of the games will be available on milb.tv, or you can always listen to the radio call at milb.com for free.