MLR: Into The Stretch


The postseason picture in the Cubs farm system is coming into focus now. Two teams are already assured of a playoff berth, and two teams are all but out of contention. The Cubs could still place three of their top five farm teams in the postseason if Boise can get back on track.

We are coming up on two important deadlines for the minor leagues. July 31 is of course the non-waiver trade deadline, and I think there will be a few players joining the Cubs farm system by the end of this month. August 15 is the deadline for draft picks to sign. With Gretzky in the books, I feel pretty confident that the Cubs can get most, if not all, of their top 13 picks locked up. That would give the Cubs a pretty good draft, but I really hope they can sign both Maples and Jacques well.

Iowa Cubs (45-57) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 4th place
Iowa had a chance to make a run that would put them in position to win a slot in the playoffs. They did not get it done. The Cubs lost six straight last week, finally earning a win on Sunday. With the Triple A season ending on September 5, I don’t see a way Iowa can recover. Now the focus in Iowa is exclusively on the young potential future Chicago Cubs.

About those future Cubs, the news gets better. Alberto Cabrera has strung together a few solid starts, and I think we can go ahead and pencil him into the 2012 spring training competition for the starting rotation. Add Nicholas Struck to that list as well. In four Iowa starts, Struck has performed well in three of them. If I had to give the award today, Struck is my Pitcher of the Year for the Cubs farm system.

Meanwhile, Ryan Flaherty and Brett Jackson are both slumping, and that could complicate any Cub plans to promote either of them on August 1. Welington Castillo, on the other hand, is starting heat up again. He has four home runs in his last five games.

Tennessee Smokies (14-16) Southern League (AA) North: 3rd place
Tennessee took three of five at home, and now sets out for Montgomery. The Smokies are already locked into the Southern League Playoffs and have seen quite a few roster changes in the past few weeks. This Tennessee team is very different from the team that ran away with the division in the first half of the season, and it is a team still learning how to win consistently.

Josh Vitters has been in a slump lately, but his season numbers remain solid, if severely lacking in the walks department. There is some good news regarding Trey McNutt. For the first time since he went on the DL two months ago, he made it through five innings. He has been sidelined as a result of blisters on his pitching hand and a collision, and he struggled mightily when he returned to the active roster. His arm is fine, so far as we know, and despite his season of misfortune, he still profiles as one of the top pitching prospects for the Cubs and could be their future ace. If he can finish this season strong, he might get a look in spring training next year.

Daytona Cubs (14-16) Florida State League (High A) North: 3rd place
Like Tennessee, Daytona is a playoff bound team that has seen many of its key players be promoted and has been unable to find a new winning formula. The Cubs dropped five of their last seven, but are still hanging around the division. Coming up next is a road trip to St. Lucie.

Michael Burgess is coming around. The Cubs got Burgess from the National for Gorzelanny, and he instantly became one of the best power hitters in the farm system. Unfortunately, he swung at everything, had no patience, and through the first half of this season appeared to be stalling in Daytona as a result. That is starting to change. He has drawn a walk in seven of his last ten games, and his OBP in the second half of the season is .080 higher than the first half. Not surprisingly, his batting average and slugging numbers have jumped as well. If Burgess can stay selective at the plate, the Cubs might have to change their future outfield plans.

Peoria Chiefs (10-19) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 7th place
Peoria is in the midst of a long road trip, and they lost four of the first five games. By the time they return home in August there could be some new members on this team. But then, just like the rest of the Cubs system, this team is not short on new faces. These Peoria Chiefs are very young and very inconsistent, but there is some great talent that we will be hearing more about.

Dustin Geiger has come up to play third base for the Chiefs, and Taiwan Easterling now patrols the outfield. Luis Liria, after pitching some nice games for Boise, has joined Starling Peralta and Frank Del Valle as a pitcher for Peoria.

Boise Hawks (17-20) Northwest League (Short-Season A) East: 3rd place
The Hawks snapped a six game losing streak this week, and now they try to repair the damage and get back to the top of the division. Most of those loses came on the road, but the Hawks are home now and will be until the middle of the week. If they can start winning their road games, they could run way with this division.

Yao-Lin Wang and Willengton Cruz continue to pitch very well. Either of them could have gone to Peoria in place of Liria, and still might. Ben Wells has not been too far behind them. Among the 2011 draft class, Zeke DeVoss has gotten off to a fantastic start and may not hang around much longer. Rafael Lopez has adjusted to Boise nicely, hitting .361 in his last ten games. Reggie Golden has not put up spectacular numbers, but he has drawn 20 walks to go with his 34 strike outs. That’s a good sign for a young hitter.

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