MLR: Waiting For The Playoffs


Well, that was anti-climatic. The trade deadline came and went and all our favorite Cubs are still around. Unfortunately, all our not-so-favorite Cubs are still around.

But there are plenty of reasons to be long on the Cubs. Even without an influx of talent from trades, the Cubs have a solid farm system with several guys who should be quality, every day players in Chicago one day. Rumors point to the Cubs doing very well with regards to signing their draft picks, and there are some free agent possibilities both domestic and international that we could be excited about. As of now, I’m standing by my expectation that the 2012 Cubs will be about .500 and in the Wild Card conversation.

But don’t forget that we already have playoffs to look forward to in the Southern League and Florida State League, and that Boise and Arizona could join that list.

Iowa Cubs (47-62) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 4th place
The Iowa Cubs are allergic to road games. They spent the past week on the road, and have just two wins to show for it. Fortunately, they return home in the middle of this week. Iowa is effectively out of contention.

We saw several good starts from the Iowa rotation this week. Casey Coleman, Alberto Cabrera, Chris Rusin and Nicholas Struck all turned in good performances. Any one of those guys could compete for a slot in the Cubs rotation next season.

After a slow start, Brett Jackson looks to be warming up. His strikeouts are back down, his walks are up, and he showing off a little of his power as well. There is no room in Chicago for him now, but he looks like he’ll be ready as soon as a position appears. Marwin Gonzalez has been continuing to play well. Gonzalez is having his best season as a professional while playing in the highest levels of the minors. Don’t forget about this guy.

Tennessee Smokies (17-19) Southern League (AA) North: 3rd place
Ever so slowly, the new-look Smokies are coming around. With most of the juggernaut that surged to the first half title now playing in Iowa, the Smokies have not looked quite as good in the second half. The Smokies went .500 last week, despite being primarily on the road, and they did it with some pretty good pitching. We are about five weeks away from the playoffs in Tennessee.

The Cubs’ farm system has been justly criticized for failing to teach plate discipline. There are a lot of Cub prospects who seem reluctant to take a walk and freely swing themselves into trouble on a regular basis. I wonder if that is changing. Already this season we’ve seen flashes of patience from free swingers like Junior Lake and Michael Burgess, and now we can add Ty Wright to that list. With Iowa, his OBP was less than 20 points higher than his batting average. With Tennessee, it is 100 points higher. We’ll keep an eye on this, but it looks like a positive trend. If young future Cubs start learning patience more early in their career, it can only benefit the team in Chicago.

Daytona Cubs (18-19) Florida State League (High A) North: 4th place
Like Tennessee, the Daytona Cubs are a first half powerhouse who saw many of their key players promoted out of town. And like the Smokies, these Cubs are starting to get back to their winning ways. A 4-3 record in the past week is a good start. The FSL playoffs begin in about five weeks.

Good pitching is again the story. Jeffry Antigua and Casey Harman both turned in good starts, and the Cubs bullpen has mostly been getting the job done. Even after all of the promotions, I think Daytona may have the best pitching staff in the Cubs system. Boise might argue, but only Boise I think.

Abner Abreu, the newest Cub outfield prospect, has appeared in three games for Daytona now, and I have both good and bad news. The bad news is that he only has one hit and two strikeouts over his ten at bats. The good news is that he also has two walks. Abreu has a lot of power and a lot of speed. He has the potential not only to reach the majors, but to be very, very good when he does. So far, he has not been able to harness that potential at the plate. Until July of this year, he rarely walked and struck out a ton. That had to change if he was ever going to have success, and in July we started to see that change. It is too early to say if this new, more patient approach is for real or not. But there is no reason to write him off, either.

Peoria Chiefs (11-24) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 8th place
Peoria is another team that hates road games. Today is mercifully the last day of a very long road trip, a trip that has been a disaster for the Chiefs. Peoria is effectively out of contention.

I think the story of the year in Peoria will be how this team just ran out of gas. There are a number of players who played well early in the season but who have watched their stats gradually decline ever since. Take Pierre LePage, for instance. LePage is second baseman with promise in the mold of Darwin Barney. He hit about .300 in the first month of the season, but that number steadily declined. In July, he hit .182. Some of that could be conditioning since Peoria is the lowest full season league, but some of it is due to the hitters not adjusting as rapidly as the pitchers. For many key prospects, including Micah Gibbs, 2012 looks like it will be an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing campaign.

Boise Hawks (2-4) Northwest League (Short-Season A) East: 3rd place
Surprise! The first half of the Northwest League season is over, and we are a week into the second half. They don’t call it a short-season league for nothing. The Hawks did not qualify for the playoffs in the first half, but they are right the middle of things in the second half.

One 2011 draft pick we have not talked about much so far is catcher Rafael Lopez. With three home runs and nine RBIs this week, Lopez pushing hard for his second promotion of the season. Among the more encouraging aspects of Lopez’s game is his strikeout to walk ratio. It is fairly close to 1:1. That suggests he has a fairly advanced approach at the plate, and implies could advance quickly.

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