We’ve named our All-Star team from the Cubs minor league system, and now it is time to crown the Best of the Best: the season’s best pitcher, the season’s best hitter, and the best breakout season.
But first, another disclaimer. This is not a top prospects list. Trey McNutt is the Cubs top pitching prospect and everyone (including Boston) knows it. McNutt also had a rough year and is not going to win this award. We will be doing a Top Prospects list a little later in the winter, but this is not it. These are simply the two guys who had the best seasons, plus one guy who managed to elevate his stock to new heights.
Best Player – Bryan LaHair
Every now and then a minor league veteran takes that last but significant step forward and places himself back on the major league radar. By having what is quite possibly the best offensive season in the minors in 2011, LaHair has done exactly that. I’ll admit, I was skeptical early in the year that we were seeing anything more than a conventional AAAA player beating up on Pacific Coast League pitching, but now I am convinced that LaHair has earned another chance in the majors. He may not be an everyday outfielder (especially if the Cubs are also playing Soriano), but I think his defense at first is good enough to merit at least a hundred starts next season. Regardless of position, his power and patience made him 2011’s Best of the Best.
Best Pitcher – Eric Jokisch
Jokisch also began the season in relative obscurity. He was the second half of a Peoria pitching tag team headlined by Hayden Simpson. Jokisch was very effective in that role, so effective in fact that later in the season he moved into the starting rotation himself. Had that been the end of it, he would not have gotten this honor. Fortunately, the Cubs decided to challenge Jokisch with a late season promotion to Tennessee. He was just good in Double A as he was in Low A, and that moved him to the top of the list for our Best Pitcher in 2011.
Breakout Performance – Robert Whitenack
Had his elbow not required surgery just a few months into the season, Whitenack would not only be our Best Pitcher, he would probably be in high demand from Boston during the Epstein talks. Whitenack began the year ranked twelfth on Baseball America’s list… of the Cubs right handed starting pitching prospects. He quickly jumped into several overall Cubs’ Top Ten lists early in the season, and he only stopped climbing because of his injury. At some point next season Whitenack will resume his interrupted career not as just another minor league pitcher, but as one of the Cubs top prospects. That kind of a season makes him an easy choice for Breakout Performance of 2011.