For a couple of weeks, the Iowa Cubs and South Bend Cubs were a bit tough to listen to. Part of it was the quality of the opposition. Some of it was a few key pieces underperforming. However, it was never the announcers. The uneven patches seem to have cleared a bit, and the teams are all fun follows again. They won't win, or even come close, every night. However, most at-bats in the game are worthwhile from a long-term perspective time, and that's about all I can ask for.
The draft is coming up rather quickly. As I begin to put together my thoughts on who I'd like to see the Cubs draft, some of it is a proxy on what the system needs. If a team is loaded at first base in the lower minors (the Cubs aren't particularly), they don't have that much of a reason to spend early draft selections on first basemen from a need perspective. If value exists, then certainly. However, to draft a player from a big-name school on the second day, just to realize you don't have a place to play him, is not doing your homework. (There's always DH, but unless severe value is present, it's usually wise to have a place to play an early hitting selection.)
On the other hand, one of the nice things about the Myrtle Beach squad is that the hitters (and many of the pitchers) advanced as one from Kane County last season. With that in mind, if South Bend has a gaping hole likely in the second half, June ninth (the second day of the Rule 4 draft) is a good day to fill it. With Gleyber Torres likely moving up in June, shortstop would otherwise be largely vacant. A guy off the bench could fill it, but they wouldn't be the likely starter in the Carolina League next season. To that end, I would be about zero percent surprised if the Cubs use a third-to-sixth round pick to fill that spot for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
In the South Bend outfield, Charcer Burks and Rashad Crawford have been doing well enough so that they look good enough to advance next season. Things can change, and nothing is guaranteed, gifted, or assumed, but they don't appear to be a weakness for next season. The other two outfield slots have been, mainly, Jeffrey Baez and Yasiel Balaguert, who is repeating the level. After the May 21 game, Balaguert was hitting .200 on the nose, and Baez was at .191. With slugger-y outfielders aplenty in the draft, pegging a replacement, or at the very least, a challenger for either one wouldn't be the stupidest thing in history.
Around that time, two things happened. Justin Marra (a catcher, mostly) was returned to the Disabled List (sometimes healthy players are stowed on the DL in the minors until such time as they are needed to fill a spot), and Kevin Encarnacion was brought up from Mesa. Encarnacion was involved in a car wreck that cost him his entire 2014 season, Formerly a switch-hitter, he is a left-handed hitter only now. I had seen him some in Mesa, and hadn't thought he would be ready for full-season ball yet. Since his move up on May 27, Encarnacion has a couple of hits, and could be a piece for the future after all.
Balaguert had a hit on May 22 to raise his mark to .202, then a pair the next day upped it to .214. Two on the 24th made it .225, and two on the 25th made it .236. Two in the 26th made it .248, and three the next day pushed it to .265. Four on the 28th included a second-straight game with a homer, and he was suddenly up to .288. His two the next day included another homer, and a .295 mark.
Balaguert probably isn't this good at this level. If he keeps it up for another week, he belongs in Myrtle Beach pronto. However, the key to internal scouting isn't how he did this week or last month, but how good he will be in August, or next season. I can read his numbers, but current statistics are driving by using your rear-view mirror instead of your windshield. This is as relevant in major league relievers as in minor league outfielders.
As offense-first outfielders look to be a strength in next week's draft, selecting one or two in the first ten rounds sounds a wise idea anyway. Grabbing talent where available is usually preferable to desperately reaching for what isn't really there. However, Balaguert's hitting is one of the reasons the SB Cubs are a fun listen again.
Three Up/Three Down
Iowa outfielder Adron Chambers is hitting .161 over his last 10 games.
Tenessee's Ryan Dent is 3-for-25 over about two weeks.
South Bend's David Bote was 1-for-23 over a recent 11 day stretch.
Arismendy Alcantara is hitting .385 with three homers over his last ten games. Matt Szczur is raking at .424 over his last ten.
Over a recent five-game stretch, Kyle Schwarber started doing Kyle Schwarber-like things. He went 9-for-18 with five walks. I still have no idea of any position he will be average at on defense. That bat, though....
In his last ten outings, Smokies reliever P.J. Francescon has given up one earned run and saved four games over 11 1/3 innings, fanning 11.
Myrtle Beach is 20-6. On the road. That's kind of impressive. They grind out at bats, and have done rather well against ranked pitchers. They are getting very similar to last year's Kane County squad. The longer this team keeps winning without many major additions, the more likely the teams they are putting the sleeper hold on have more serious issues at the level than the Cubs do.
Myrtle Beach second baseman Chesny Young is hitting better at Advanced-A than he did in South Bend. Not only is he hitting .340 in his time in South Carolina, his OPS is .815. That is rather good production for a June of 2014 14th-round selection. He looks the part of a guy who can be a regular in 2016 in Tennessee, and the Pelicans divisional lead has given him a chance to learn the outfield on the fly.
The Pelicans pitching continues to improve. They have trimmed .12 off of their WHIP in the last week or so, and are closing on Wilmington for the WHIP lead in the Southern League. It isn't one or two players leading the surge. It's more of a team effort.
Always a solid glove man, Pelicans shortstop Carlos Penalver has hit .303 in his last ten games, driving in seven. When Torres head to Myrtle Beach after the break, Penalver can be the SS for the Smokies. Produce and advance, produce and advance.
Andrew Ely was a 32nd-round selection in 2014. He has taken over second base in South Bend, and was 12-for-29 heading into Sunday's double-header. That is after taking over for Young. No desperate need for second basemen.
Unless the choice provides value beyond the need.