It’s time for the Minor League Report. The whole farm system has been playing like Chicago this week, and that’s not always a good thing. Robert Whitenack’s promotion continues to the big story, but Lou Montanez is making some noise in Iowa that could earn him a new job in Chicago. Meanwhile, key bats in the lower minors are heating up.
Iowa Cubs (12-11) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 2nd place
Iowa has come down with a case of the Chicagos and is playing .500 ball right now. A 3-3 week on the road in Memphis and Omaha leaves them in second place. Now the Cubs come home for an eight game home stand against Round Rock and New Orleans. Having Iowa at home for a slightly extended period could give the Chicago Cubs an opportunity to shuffle their pitching staff a bit. Jay Jackson, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, and Ramon Ortiz are all candidates to join the starting rotation, and Scott Maine is pitching well in the pen.
Former top draft pick Lou Montanez is putting up huge numbers for Iowa, and could soon start raising the question of an eventual promotion. In his lengthy career with the Cubs and Orioles, primarily in the minors, Montanez never fulfilled the promise he showed when the Cubs took in the first round. On the other hand, it is hard to look at his current numbers and see someone who should not be given a shot in Chicago. He’s hitting .432, slugging .704, and has an on base percentage of .489. In 81 at bats, he has struck out just 13 times to go with 9 walks. In 22 games he has wracked up 28 RBIs, 12 more than the second highest total on the team. With the Chicago Cubs needing someone to bat third and drive in runs, the idea of promoting Montanez could start to look awfully tempting. Is he just a AAAA player, too good for Triple A but not good enough for the big leagues? Or is he a very late bloomer, just now realizing the remarkable talent he has always had? It’s hard to say. He’s had good AAA campaigns before. But on the other hand, the Cubs do need an RBI guy to bat third. This should be a story to watch in the coming weeks.
Tennessee Smokies (15-9) Southern League (AA) North: 2nd place
Tennessee wrapped up their successful road trip and returned home to face Carolina, splitting the first four in that series. The Smokies are back in second place, but are continuing to play very well. They head to Mobile for five later this week.
Josh Vitters remains mired in his odd slump. He’s still making contact on a regular basis, with just 3 strikeouts in his last 32 at bats, but his average has dropped to just .228. The problem here is most likely not one of talent, but rather is one of patience. Similar to Starlin Castro, Vitters has the ability to put the bat on the ball almost at will, he just hasn’t learned to not attack the first pitch he sees and to wait for a pitch he can drive. I don’t think there is any reason to worry about him just yet. Meanwhile, Ryan Flaherty is playing all over the diamond and is making a strong case that he might be the left handed power bat off the bench the Cubs need. He’s slugging .643 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in over 24 games.
Daytona Cubs (16-8) Florida State League (High A) North: 1st place
Daytona lost their winning streak this week, but still went 3-3 despite dropping both halves of a Sunday doubleheader at home. They are now the only Cub farm team in first place. This week they take off for three in Tampa, followed by another of those weird 2/1 home/away series with Brevard County.
Daytona lost Robert Whitenack to Tennessee this week, but they still have plenty of talent. Nick Struck, Zach Rosscup, and Aaron Kurcz headline the starting rotation, and the bullpen is just as deep. Offensively, Jae-Hoon Ha continues to make a name for himself as a do-everything outfielder. After a slow start, Justin Bour is starting to heat up. Bour is a powerful lefty first baseman. He’s still got a couple of seasons before he could make it to Chicago, but it is encouraging that in Ridling and Bour the Cubs have two first basemen who are playing well.
Peoria Chiefs (12-11) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 4th place
Peoria wraps up a long road trip, but so far its been a good one, going 4-3 with two left to play. When they do make it home, they’ll be there for awhile. Between May 4 and May 26, the Chiefs play just three road games.
While Pierre LePage and Rubi Silva have cooled off a bit, Micah Gibbs and Greg Rohan have joined Arismendy Alcantara in heating up. Austin Kirk and Graham Hicks are pitching well out of the starting rotation. Hayden Simpson is wracking up the strikeouts (second on the team behind Kirk), but is still giving up too many hits. Opponents are hitting .326 off him. His strikeout to walk ratio is good, and he is striking out just under one batter per inning. Those numbers suggest a guy who has good stuff, but who is still learning to use it.
Be sure to check back on Wednesday for the Minor League Line of the Week.