LANSING, Michigan -- In the first inning of the South Bend Cubs' 6-4 loss to the Lansing Lugnuts Wednesday evening, left fielder Charcer Burks and center fielder Rashad Crawford converged on a routine fly ball to left-center. Crawford called Burks off the ball and it didn't look any different from any other fly ball you've ever seen that two outfielders could have both caught.
Except in this case, as Crawford was catching the ball, Burks crumpled to the ground, apparently injured. After sitting on the left-field turf for a while, examined by staff and surrounded by concerned teammates, Burks left the game. I still have no word on what this injury is or how serious it was.
Burks' teammates took a 2-0 lead by the top of the second on some sketchy defense and strong baserunning. They must have had a good scouting report on Lugnuts catcher Michael De La Cruz, because they ran wild on him all night, stealing three bases in the first two innings alone.
But SB Cubs starter Erick Leal (if the name sounds familiar, he is one of two young pitchers the Cubs got from the Diamondbacks for Tony Campana in February 2013) allowed six hard-hit singles in the second inning. The Lugnuts scored twice and the inning could have been worse, except right fielder Jeffrey Baez threw two runners out at the plate. Baez has a strong and accurate arm.
Leal pitched reasonably well for the remainder of his six-inning stint, allowing just one unearned run the rest of the way. The teams combined for six errors (yes, I realize it's the Midwest League, but some of these errors should have been avoidable), and you could tell just how young Gleyber Torres is by the error he made. It was ranging deep into the hole to grab a ground ball headed toward left field in the fourth inning -- but then he threw it away. Torres made up for it by turning a nice double play on the next batter. Torres has excellent range and looks fluid in the field, and as others have stated, you would never guess he's just 18 years old. Both physically and in terms of how he carries himself on the field, he appears much more mature. At the plate Torres went 1-for-5 with one strikeout, but he is clearly the best player on his team.
The SB Cubs entered the seventh inning with a 4-3 lead, but reliever Jordan Minch coughed it up in the seventh, as a Lugnuts double and single tied the game, and then Minch allowed the game-winning runs in the eighth. He slipped and fell trying to field a leadoff bunt, appearing to turn his ankle, but he stayed in the game after a few warmup pitches. He lost command at that point, issuing a walk, allowing a stolen base, and throwing a wild pitch. Minch, a 35th-round draft pick last year, doesn't appear to be much of a prospect.
That's really the case with most of this South Bend team, unlike the Kane County Cougars who I saw play in Lansing a year ago. Odd, too, that the Cubs went through an affiliation switch, yet their affiliate is in Lansing on the same three dates (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after the All-Star break) as they were in 2014. I was hoping to see this year's No. 1 pick, Ian Happ, play for South Bend, but he's yet to get the promotion from short-season Eugene. I suspect that'll be coming soon, though.
Torres, though, is the real deal. He is the youngest player on his team by more than a year and won't turn 19 until December. Whether he winds up at shortstop is still an open question, as it's very hard to translate performance four levels below the big leagues to major-league performance. But it's clear to me that he'll become a major-league player, likely a regular, perhaps a star.
Tonight, I'll be back watching these two teams play again. Last year's second-round pick, Jake Stinnett, is scheduled to start for South Bend.