I have always felt sorry for the Iowa Cubs. While winning is always the goal of every team, AAA gets the shaft. In reality, the main goal of any AAA affiliate is to get prospects ready for the major leagues. This year, eight players are close enough to The Show that they can smell it. Ryan Williams, Pierce Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jr., Spencer Patton, Willson Contreras, Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, Jr., and John Andreoli all can see Chicago looking down I-80. The problem is the Chicago Cubs will be the one to make the call.
So in the meantime, the prospects can do little other than prepare, play, and wait.
Record: 6-10 (as of April 25)
The Iowa Cubs lost their first four games of season. They weren’t even close to winning. The rotation’s ERA was over 16 and I began to wonder if they would even win one game before May. In game number five, they defeated the New Orleans Zephyrs 9-1 and removed that doubt.
Last Ten Games: 5-5
It wasn’t until April 22 that an Iowa Cubs starting pitcher (Ryan Williams) actually recorded a win. The starting pitching has been better since that first week, although two class-A pitchers made emergency starts in the past week due to a brief DL stint for Pierce Johnson and the release of Eric Jokisch. Tyler Ihrig and Michael Wagner filled in nicely as spot starters, and Johnson returned last week after getting hit by a line drive. He did very well in his return, going 5 innings with six K’s and only one walk.
As it stands now, the rotation looks to be Williams, Stephen Fife, Drew Ruczinski, Johnson, and a player to be named later. The Cubs have tried a bullpen day with reliever Scott Barnes stepping in, but he gave up five runs in two innings. Reliever Stephen Perakslis did fine on Saturday going 4.2 innings and allowing 2 runs. On Sunday, Houston Astros castoff Jake Buchanan gave up 7 ER in 4.1 innings. The recently acquired Giovanni Soto is being used strictly in relief.
Until Dallas Beeler returns, or a pitcher moves up from Tennessee, this team will be struggling without that fifth starter.
On the other hand, the bats seem to waking up. Ryan Kalish, John Andreoli, Juan Perez, and Kristopher Negron have been hot the past week. Early on, the only bats going were Willson Contreras, Dan Vogelbach, and Albert Almora.
Contreras is currently batting .373 with a .421 OBP and has been the most consistent player all season. Vogelbach is at .333 with a solid .423 OBP. Almora, who is heating up and just mashed a monster home run over the suites in left field at Principal Park, resides at .309 with six walks right now. Vogelbach has one HR and leads the team in RBIs with 11.
The starting pitching is in flux and we recognize a lot of the bats, but the real strength of this team is the bullpen. Theo Epstein went out and got a lot of pitchers this past winter to rebuild bullpen depth in the minors in case the Major League club needs it. Some have been released, a couple are injured, and few more are stashed in the lower parts of the system.
When the time comes, Iowa has the arms needed for the big leagues. And the best part is that only two members of the pen are the new arms Theo acquired this winter. The rest have come up through the system, which is an extremely positive sign.
The New Guys
Spencer Patton: 6 games, 0.00 ERA, 9 Ks, 2 saves
Jean Machi: 1.00 ERA with 9 Ks in 9 innings
Brandon Gomes: 7.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 9 Ks, but he does have 7 walks
Giovanni Soto: 2.25 in 4 innings since coming over from the Indians
The System Guys
Armando Rivero: 7.1 IP, 1.23 ERA, 7 Ks, finally looks in command
Felix Pena: 13 K’s in 9 innings, 1.00 ERA. He’s been a stud; got little run support as SP, nice to see transition to RP
Stephen Perakslis: 5.1 IP in relief with a 1.69 ERA; throws mid-90’s, usually doesn’t heat up until June; best first half start of his career as a Cub
Carl Edwards, Jr.: 3.86 ERA, 10 K’s in 8 innings, also 7 walks and a WHIP close to 2; has the stuff, but not the control yet
The team needs to solidify the fifth spot in the rotation. I don’t know how long Dallas Beeler will be out, and neither do the Cubs. I don’t think any corresponding moves will be made for another week. With Duane Underwood set to come off the DL soon at Tennessee, Brad Markey could move from AA Tennessee to AAA Iowa. The reason I say Markey, and not the hot Paul Blackburn, is the former’s age. At 24, he is what he is: a control and command type pitcher like Williams. Blackburn, at only 22, will be in Tennessee for a while to develop his curve into an out pitch. Markey could come in and start right away.
I think the lineup at AAA Iowa is excellent. Even Arismendy Alcantara is starting to show signs of going the other way this year. There are going to be no shortage of runs for this affiliate. I could easily see three of these hitters ending up in Chicago at some point for a few games this summer. And that bullpen could really make a difference as the season drags on and the Cubs look for ways to conserve innings for their big league rotation.