MLR: Winning Everywhere


Who says winning isn’t contagious? After a couple of lackluster weeks on the farm, the Cubs minor league teams put together some good weeks while the Chicago team ran off seven straight. Tennessee and Daytona are re-finding their winning ways well ahead of the playoffs, and don’t count out the Hawks just yet. Even Peoria had a good week this week.

By the way, we are just seven days away from the deadline for teams to sign their 2011 draft picks. There rumors swirling that the Cubs are going to be spending a lot of money on a lot of players who fell in the draft due to sign-ability concerns, and that by the Tuesday morning the Cubs will be walking away with a very impressive haul of talent. Stay tuned.

Iowa Cubs (51-65) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 4th place
The Cubs came home and promptly won four of five games. Unfortunately, they have to hit the road again soon. This team is out of playoff contention, so the focus here is on the prospects.

Apparently Brett Jackson wants to play in Chicago. He had one of his best weeks as a professional, knocking in six runs with four home runs and a stolen base in just the past seven days. I think he’s ready. Unless the Cubs make a move, though, I don’t think he’ll be up until September.

We are still seeing some good quality pitching from Iowa as well. Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, Nicholas Struck, Alberto Cabrera, and Chris Rusin are all pitching well out of the starting rotation. In 2012, depth of starting pitching should not be an issue.

Tennessee Smokies (23-20) Southern League (AA) North: 2nd place
Tennessee is back. They have won eight of their last nine games and are threatening to win the division in the second half of the season just like they did the first half. The new-look Smokies have put together this streak on road as well as with home games, and they’ve done it like the first half Smokies did… pitching and offense.

Not surprisingly, Tennessee goes on a run about the same time Junior Lake returns to the lineup. Lake is similar to Starlin Castro, but with less patience and more power. If he can learn a better approach at the plate, he could be the Cubs third baseman for a long, long time. He is showing improvement in that department this season. Lake will be one the players to watch in 2012.

Of course, Josh Vitters is still at the hot corner and has been playing pretty well lately himself. He has an OPS of 1.068 in August. I still wish he’d take more walks, but even with that against him, we should be talking about his arrival in Wrigley sometime next season.

Daytona Cubs (21-22) Florida State League (High A) North: 4th place
Daytona only had a .500 week, but since they are Daytona, that did it in streaks. Right now the Cubs are on the road. They will be spending a lot of time on the road as they head into the playoffs.

Abner Abreu has adjusted well to Daytona. His OBP and OPS are up over what he was doing in the Indian’s system, and most encouraging is that his strike out to walk ratio is only 2 to 1. Every once in a while a toolsy type of player suddenly figures things out, and when they do they tend to jump up the rankings quickly. For example, look at Brandon Guyer last year. We don’t have enough time this year to get a read on who the real Abreu is, but don’t write that Fukudome trade off just yet. Let’s see how the kid handles a few months of Double A next year.

Peoria Chiefs (17-25) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 6th place
The Cheifs won six of seven this week and climbed two spots in the standings. Home games in Peoria are rapidly running out, and there is some very exciting young talent on this team that is well worth the drive for an Chicago-area Cub fan.

No sooner did Matthew Szczur move up to Daytona than did Taiwan Easterling arrive and start putting up Szczur-like numbers. Szczur walked more, and his OBP reflects that, but Easterling through 19 games has looked like a great find for the Cubs farm system. He will likely start in Peoria again next season.

Boise Hawks (6-6) Northwest League (Short-Season A) East: 2nd place
Boise piled up a few wins this week, but they mostly came at home. If the playoffs began today I think the Hawks would qualify, but they have no cushion and a long road trip coming up. If they don’t learn to win on the road, they aren’t likely to have a postseason.

Speaking of speedy players, between them Pin-Chieh Chen and Zeke DeVoss have 21 steals in a combined 58 games. They speed never slumps, so a farm system full of speed has to be a good thing for the Cubs down the road.

On the mound, Yao-Lin Wang and Willengton Cruz are both averaging a strikeout per inning. Not only does that bode well for both their futures, but I also want to highlight that both these players came from international signings. The Cubs have been very active in that market in recent years, particularly in Asia and the Dominican Republic, and the results of that investment will appear in Chicago. The lower levels of the Cubs farm system is a baseball United Nations, and that talent is starting to rise.

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