Affiliate Year End Review: Iowa Cubs Producing MLB-Ready Talent

Objective number one for the Iowa Cubs is always to develop players that will produce at the major-league level. This year, that meant sending Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, and Victor Caratini to Chicago. Mark Zagunis and Jeimer Candelario also saw some time on the 25-man roster. Several relievers — Felix Pena, Jack Leathersich, Dylan Floro, and Pierce Johnson in particular — got opportunities to play in Chicago, but none of them stuck.

When it comes to the performance at the AAA level, it was Caratini’s year. He just dominated AAA pitching and should be named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year in the next couple of weeks. In 83 games at Iowa, he hit .342 with a .393 OBP, 10 home runs, and 61 RBI. Happ did quite a bit of damage too, but was in Chicago for good by the middle of May.

Outfielder Bijan Rademacher also had a good season, hitting .344 in the second half to get up to .295 for the year. He is an interesting player as he can play all three outfield positions and has one of the best arms in the system.

Outside of Zagunis, Caratini, and Rademacher, it was a pretty disappointing year for most of the Iowa Cubs’ top hitting prospects. Chesny Young would hit .200 one month and .320 the next; he never could find a consistent groove all season. Jacob Hannemann (now with Seattle) came on like gangbusters when he was promoted but struggled mightily after he went around the league one time.

Meanwhile, catcher Taylor Davis was just pining for an opportunity to make it to Chicago and he got it September 4 when he was called up. The 27-year-old catcher had his best season in the minors in 2017, hitting .297 with a .357 OPB, 6 homers and 62 RBI.

When it comes to pitching, manager Marty Pevey once again had to piecemeal together a rotation made of spare parts, journeymen, AAAA pitchers, and some relievers to make it through the season. Luckily, the bullpen kept them in games most of the year. Once Butler returned from Chicago and Jen-Ho Tseng came from Tennessee, things begin to stabilize and the I-Cubs performed better.

I tend to think that most of the roster will be turned over in 2018. Two–thirds of the position players are journeymen and likely will re-up someplace else. Anywhere from five to seven position players should be coming from Tennessee to play in AAA next year.

Final Record 67-72

Team Leaders

Avg – Victor Caratini – .342
HR – John Andreoli – 14
RBI – Taylor Davis – 62
OBP – Mark Zagunis – .404
SBs – John Andreoli – 26

ERA – Jen-Ho Tseng – 1.80
Innings – Aaron Brooks – 145.2
WHIP – Jen-Ho Tseng – 1.13
Ks – Seth Frankoff – 113
Saves – Matt Carasiti – 21

Going to the Next Level

Outside of the Zagunis and Caratini, I don’t foresee any of the position players having a shot at the 25-man roster in the spring. Jen-Ho Tseng has a legitimate shot at the back end of the rotation depending upon what the Cubs do this offseason. You could throw Butler and Rob Zastryzny into that conversation as well, though I do not see all three of them on the roster. If they are, it means the Cubs had a pretty weak winter.

Relievers Matt Carasiti and Dillon Maples both have legitimate shots to make the bullpen in 2018. If Jack Leathersich clears waivers, he could, too.

One Iowa Cub to Know for 2018

Catcher Ian Rice will be the one to watch next year. He plays a premium position and he has a premium hitting skill: power. I don’t think he’s ready defensively, but he has a solid approach at the plate and a desire to learn and improve. I am looking forward to seeing his power game in the PCL, which is a noted hitter’s league. Rice’s stint in the Arizona Fall League later this fall could dictate how much value he has for the future and what he still needs to work on.

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