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Get To Know The South Bend Cubs

The Cubs low-A team is looking to pick up where most of them left off in Eugene last year—with another title

Chris Pieters
John Arguello—

The minor league baseball season starts up again on Thursday night, and the South Bend Cubs will take the field against the West Michigan Whitecaps on the road. But on Saturday night, the sides will be reversed and the Cubs will host the Whitecaps in their home opener.

For many of you, this is going to be the Cubs minor league team that you have the best chance to see. Not only is South Bend a short drive from Chicago (well, I guess that depends on where in the Chicagoland area you live) but they also play on the road in Peoria on May 11-13 and in Beloit from July 22-24. Unfortunately, South Bend does not play at Kane County this season.

Who? The South Bend Cubs are the Cubs Class A Full Season team (usually called “Low-A”) in the Midwest League. This is the lowest full-season team in the minor league system and the bottom of the ladder until the Eugene Emeralds and the Mesa Cubs rookie ball team take the field in June.

For the third year in a row, the SB Cubs will be managed by Jimmy Gonzalez. Former Padres pitcher Brian Lawrence is in his second year as the pitching coach. Jeremy Farrell is the hitting coach and longtime Cubs minor leaguer Jonathan Mota is the assistant hitting coach.

The Pitchers: Most of this team played in short-season Eugene last season, which is terrific news for South Bend fans because that team won the Emeralds’ first undisputed Northwest League title since 1975. While there won’t be a prospect as highly-regarded as Eloy Jimenez last year or Gleyber Torres in 2015, there are plenty of strong prospects on the team.

The top prospect on the SB Cubs is the ace of their pitching staff, Dylan Cease, whom I ranked as the 4th-best prospect in the Cubs system this past winter. Cease and his 95-98 mph fastball will be pitching in full-season ball for the first time and the Cubs have promised to take the training wheels off, so to speak, as they have strictly limited Cease’s innings since he returned from his 2014 Tommy John surgery. Cease has only thrown 68 23 innings in his professional career. I don’t expect the Cubs to let him go wild, but he should exceed that number easily in 2016. He has the stuff to be an ace starter, but he’s going to have to prove that he can throw that blazing fastball and plus curve for strikes if he wants to live up to his potential.

Another starter making the slow trip back from TJ surgery is Colombian right-hander Erling Moreno. Moreno has shown very good control in 60-odd innings that he’s thrown since his return from surgery, although the velocity is just low-90s. He’s a guy who thrives on ground balls and not walking anyone although again, his biggest test this season will be how well he withstands the strain of all the added innings.

The rest of the starting rotation includes Tyson Miller, a slider specialist who was the Cubs 4th round pick last season; Manuel Rondon, who was 6-1 with a 1.10 ERA for Eugene last season and came over from the Angels in a 2015 trade; and last year’s 9th round pick Duncan Robinson, who went to Dartmouth and I do believe the Cubs have had some success with pitchers from Dartmouth.

There are some interesting pitchers to follow in the bullpen as well. Dakota Mekkes was the Cubs 10th round pick last year and has no business striking out as many people as he does with his mostly-average offerings. But his funky delivery creates a lot of deception and a lot of swings-and-misses.

Wyatt Short is a short (really, he’s 5’8”. That’s not a pun) left-hander who was taken in the 13th round last season and didn’t give up an earned run in 15 innings in Eugene (One unearned run). Short got the final out in the Northwest League Championship game, and he could find himself closing out games again.

Right-hander Chad Hockin is a power reliever with a fastball that can top out in the upper 90s, although it usually sits a bit below that. He’s also the grandson of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. His brother Grant is a minor leaguer in the Indians system, which must have made the World Series interesting around his family.

A pair of right-handed relievers, Kyle Miller and Jared Cheek, return from last year’s team.

The Outfield: There is a lot of athleticism in the outfield with D.J. Wilson and Kevonte Mitchell. Wilson was my 10th-ranked prospect. He’s a little left-handed speed demon who covers a lot of ground in center field and on the basepaths. He got off to a bad start last year, but he made some adjustments at the plate and finished with strong second half. I’ve seen him compared to Adam Eaton or Ben Revere.

Mitchell, on the other hand, is tall (6’4”) and was a well-regarded high school basketball player in Missouri before the Cubs drafted him in the 13th round in 2014. He’s also speedy (15 steals in 17 attempts last year) but will have to hit better this year (.243/.318/.378) and strike out less to get back on the prospect charts.

The other outfielders are Chris Pieters, who is from Curaçao, and Venezuelan Luis Ayala. Pieters a big (6’3”) left-hander who played more first base than left field last year and I’d expect him to play some there this year too. Ayala played in Mesa last summer and hit .283 with 19 steals.

The Infield: Two of my favorite sleeper prospects are in the South Bend infield. Eighteen-year old Mexican shortstop Isaac Paredes spent most of the season in rookie ball, but he did get to play the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs with South Bend. He was my 20th-ranked prospect this offseason. Paredes is young and he can hit. He might not stick at shortstop, but he can hit. He only has one career home run so far, but I expect that he’ll grow into some power as he gets older.

Venezuelan third baseman Wladimir Galindo was my 17th-ranked prospect this past winter. Galindo was second in the NWL last year with nine home runs and despite his big size, he’s surprisingly agile. I think he can stick at third but if he can’t, he probably has the power to play at a corner outfield position.

The shortstop is 2016 17th-round pick Zack Short, who only hit .236 in Eugene last year, but had a .401 OBP thanks to 33 walks with only 24 strikeouts. His double-play partner from Eugene, Yeiler Peguero, also makes the jump to low-A. Utility man Vimael Machin is back in South Bend from last season.

Catchers: Tyler Payne was the Cubs’ 30th round pick in 2015 and is making the jump from Eugene. Italian Alberto Mineo returns to South Bend from last season—his AB against Team Italy in an exhibition game was a highlight of the spring. (At least for me.) Venezuelan Jhonny Pereda makes the jump from Mesa this year.

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