MLR: First and Second


First or second. That’s the position every team in the minors finds itself in as we head into the heart of the summer. Iowa, despite their recent struggles, and Peoria are in second, and Tennessee and Daytona are fighting out for Best Cubs Farm Team honors (right now my vote is still with Tennessee, but put that in very light pencil and keep the eraser handy). With the draft just weeks away and short-season Boise getting ready to start play, I think we should be seeing some player movement soon, particularly in the lower minors.

This week’s Minor League Report with a full analysis of all the Cubs’ farm teams is after the break..

Iowa Cubs (16-21) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 2nd place
The pitching has fallen apart in Iowa. Iowa won just two games this past week, and it isn’t because of the offense. In six games the Cubs gave up at least eight runs. No offense can overcome that, but the Iowa one is certainly trying. They lost games in which they scored as many as nine runs. This week Iowa finishes a series in Reno and then comes home for Tucson and Las Vegas. Still in second place, Iowa isn’t out of contention yet, but if they don’t get the pitching turned around in a hurry, that could change by the end of the month.

Not one of Iowa’s starting pitchers has good numbers, though the numbers are touch misleading in a few cases. Ramon Ortiz, the veteran, looks to be the best of the bunch with a 3.76 ERA, but he is giving up well over one hit per inning. Austin Bibens-Dirkx is giving up right at a hit per inning, but is walking a few too many. His strikeouts (32 in 32 innings) help keep his WHIP down to 1.32. Even Jay Jackson, who has been reliable in the past, is struggling. Scott Moore is the lone truly bright spot for the pitching. He has done well as the primary closer, and could be in Chicago as soon as the Cubs need another lefty reliever.

Tennessee Smokies (22-15) Southern League (AA) North: 1st place
The Smokies went 4-3 in the past week to hold their one game lead in first place. Starting on the 19th they will be home for a ten game stand against Mobile and Mississippi, but they have three more in Chattanooga first. The Smokies are a little banged up right now, with Brett Jackson on the DL with a finger injury, and pitchers Kyle Smit and Trey McNutt missing time as well.

Trey McNutt has an ERA of 2.29, but has missed some starts as he fights blisters. He left his last start after just two innings despite pitching well. So long as his problem is just blisters, it should be manageable. Meanwhile, reliever Marco Carrillo is very quietly having a very nice year. With a batting average against of just .155 on the season, this right hander could be Iowa before much longer. The same could be said of David Cales, Kevin Rhoderick, and Jeffrey Beliveau.

When Brett Jackson was placed on the DL, Nelson Perez got his first tase of Double A. I’m not sure he even noticed. After hitting .391 for Daytona, in his first four games with the Smokies he is hitting .385. Speaking of promotions, I’m not sure how much longer the Cubs can let DJ LeMahieu stay in Tennessee. In his last ten games he has hit .475 with 6 multi-hit games and 12 RBIs. He is now 8th in the league in total bases, and all of the guys above him play at conventional power positions. LeMahieu is a second baseman. If the Cubs are convinced LeMahieu can stay in that position defensively, Darwin Barney may have a fight on his hands. If not, LeMahieu can play third, though he does not quite have corner infield power.

Daytona Cubs (25-11) Florida State League (High A) North: 1st place
Daytona lost their winning streak this week, and wound up going just 3-3 on the week. For Daytona, that’s a pretty rough week. Most of that was on the road in Jupiter. They hit the road again later in the week after finishing up a homestand with Ft. Myers.

Take everything I’ve written about the Cubs’ lack of left handed starting pitching in the minors, and forget all about it. The lefties are here alright, but they’re just hanging out in the low minors. Jeffrey Lorrick, for instance, has been converted into a starter for Daytona and is off to a good start. In his first three starts he has a ERA of 2.63 as a starter, and a BAA of .264. Both of those numbers will probably come down as his secondary pitches improve. That’s still not as impressive as Zach Rosscup’s .227 BAA as a starter.

Nelson Perez was just first of several Daytona Cubs who could be looking for promotions. David Macias, a switch hitting infielder, is hitting .364 and would probably be back in Tennessee already if there was room for him. If LeMahieu goes up to Iowa soon, I would expect Macias to take his place. Jae-Hoon Ha and Evan Crawford are continuing to play well. Justin Bour, the powerful left handed first baseman, is doing his best Prince Fielder impression. He has a .607 SLG and 10 home runs. He also has four errors.

Peoria Chiefs (20-17) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 2nd place (tie)
After a 4-3 week, the Chiefs find themselves in a three way tie for second place. They come home on Tuesday and will be home for the next nine games. Tickets in Peoria are only $10, and there are almost always empty seats. This would be a great time Cubs fans to see some of the best talent in the farm system up close.

One of the oddest lines in the entire Cub farm system belongs to Eric Jokisch. He leads Peoria with five wins, but he is a reliever. His numbers are good, with an ERA of 2.84 and a WHIP of 1.21, but despite that 5 wins is a lot for a reliever who has appeared in just 9 games. To make it yet stranger, he leads the team in innings pitched. The answer to all of these riddles is Hayden Simpson. Simpson is still recovering his strength and stamina from his bout with mono last winter. As a result, he is on a hard pitch count. When Simpson goes out, regardless of the inning, Jokisch comes in. While Simpson’s numbers aren’t great, the Chiefs are in nearly every game he pitches. He would have had a few wins under his belt already if his pitch count hadn’t removed him before he collected five innings. The beneficiary of this is Eric Jokisch, who is a pretty good pitcher in his own right.

Pierre LePage has fallen into a bit of slump recently, and how he comes out of it will give us a better idea how ready he is for a promotion. I wouldn’t be surprised to see LePage and Matt Szczur sent to Daytona in a few weeks, and Micah Gibbs should not be too far behind. Austin Kirk, with a WHIP of 0.87 in seven starts, could be justified in eyeing Tennessee.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for the Minor League Line of the Week.