MLR: You Can Smell The Playoffs


Today is the day. By midnight tonight, all 2011 draftees are going to sign have to have signed. Reports are inconsistent and many deals are unconfirmed, but right now it looks like the Cubs have locked up all of their top targets except for Shawon Dunston Jr. and Ricky Jacquez. Taylor Dugas is their highest draft pick (#8) that may not sign, but I wouldn’t rule him out just yet. All three of those guys could be in the Cubs organization by the 12:01 AM Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, we have five minor league teams to review.

Iowa Cubs (55-67) Pacific Coast League (AAA) North: 4th place
Iowa’s win streak was broken at six, and most of those wins came at home thanks to some good pitching. When Iowa hit the road, the good pitching apparently stayed home. Even with their road troubles, Iowa is finishing a down year in encouraging fashion. This is a team that has gotten much younger as the season progressed, but once that young talent gets accustomed to Triple A, they are consistently showing that they belong.

One of the strengths the Chicago Cubs have is a good, young bullpen. As Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, and James Russell have found their roles they have emerged as an effective unit. The next wave of young relievers have taken shape in Iowa and should be pushing for major league jobs next spring. Scott Maine headlines the Iowa trio, and along with fellow lefty John Gaub he has seen some major league time already. Blake Parker has been nearly as effective from the right side. Jay Jackson should probably be considered in the mix as well.

This new wave of talent opens some doors for the Cubs. They could try Samardzija in the starting rotation again, trade a young left handed reliever for something else they need, and still be confident that they have the depth to absorb two or three severe injuries to their bullpen.

Tennessee Smokies (27-23) Southern League (AA) North: 2nd place
The Smokies are going to be seeing a lot of Jacksonville and Chattanooga as they prepare for the postseason, and that’s a good thing. If the standings hold, Chattanooga will join the Smokies in the playoffs.

The best news to come out of Tennessee lately has been that Trey McNutt is pitching much better. When he came off a lengthy stay on the DL with rib injuries and some blisters, McNutt looked nothing like the potential ace and top pitching prospect that he is. The Cubs stayed patient with him, and his innings have gradually increased as his performance improved. The best thing for McNutt would simply be wrap up 2011 with a strong finish. We might see him in the Arizona Fall League, but we should not be be seeing him in Wrigley until the later half of next year, if then.

Daytona Cubs (24-24) Florida State League (High A) North: 4th place
Daytona has had more than its fair share of rain outs this week, but despite that they put together a three game winning streak. Since this is Daytona, that three game winning streak could explode into double digits in a hurry. The streakiest team in the system looks like they’ll be ready when the playoffs start in few weeks.

While the newer members of the Daytona Cubs, Greg Rohan and Abner Abreu, have been hitting very well, some of the other key pieces to the offense, like Justin Bour and Evan Crawford, are slumping. Emerging from a mid-summer slump just in time for the post season is Matthew Cerda. If the Cubs can get their offense firing on all cylinders before September, this team has an excellent chance of claiming the Florida State League title.

Peoria Chiefs (20-29) Midwest League (Low A) Western: 6th place
The Chiefs took two of three from Kane County on the road this past week. That’s a good sign for a very young team that has seen much of its roster turn over since the All-Star break. Then again, they turned around and dropped two straight at home.

Fans of the Chiefs are getting a small preview now of what next year’s team is likely to look like. I expect Dustin Geiger to start 2011 at third for Peoria, and I think the Opening Day rotation will feature Starling Peralta, Frank Del Valle, and Luis Liria. Taiwan Easterling will probably return, at least for a while, and he will likely be joined by Ben Klafczynski. The Chiefs are very young right now, but there is a lot of talent there that we could hear from in the future.

Boise Hawks (9-10) Northwest League (Short-Season A) East: 2nd place
Boise has a critical series coming up this weekend on the road at Spokane. If the season ended today, Spokane would beat Boise for the second half playoff slot by one game, despite being behind Boise in the second half standings. Boise still has a little work to do to catch Spokane in the overall standings, and there is no time like a head to head series to get the job done. If Boise can overcome their road woes, they could position themselves for a post season berth.

Reggie Golden is heating up for the Hawks, and he has the kind of bat that could carry this team into the playoffs. If his OPS for the rest of the season stays near the .941 he has put up in August so far, I have to feel good about the Hawk’s chances of being the third Cub farm team to qualify for the postseason.

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