For much of the season, the Iowa Cubs’ starting rotation has been decimated by injuries. Aaron Brooks went down in spring training. Stephen Fife made it two starts before he was laid low in early April. The Cubs let Eric Jokisch go after he struggled mightily. Pierce Johnson got hurt, then Ryan Williams met the DL. Only Drew Rucinski remained healthy.
To steady the ship, the Cubs brought in Jake Buchanan, who had been with the Astros organization. They also moved Tyler Ihrig and Michael Wagner up from the lower part of the system. Ihrig was released in short order, even after two good outings. The Cubs then brought in reliever Stephen Perakslis to fill a starting spot a few times and journeyman Alex Sanabia made four unspectacular starts (9+ ERA).
Things started to shift about two weeks ago when pitcher Rob Zastryzny was promoted from Tennessee. To date, he’s made two starts (3.75 ERA) and everything has started to stabilize. The I-Cubs have now won five in a row to move to .500 and a tie for first PCL’s American Northern division. Add in the fact that Aaron Brooks, Pierce Johnson and Dallas Beeler will likely be back by the middle of the month, and Ryan Williams a bit thereafter, and everything is coming up Milhouse now. You have to give credit to manager Marty Pevey, pitching coach Rod Nichols, and the players for persevering such a wacky six weeks..
Thankfully, two things helped the I-Cubs to stay the course.
- The bullpen currently has currently has four outstanding relievers in Spencer Patton, Felix Pena, Gerardo Concepcion, and Carl Edwards, Jr. All four had ERA’s under 1.75 until Wednesday night. Armando Rivero (2.92 ERA) and Jean Machi (3.46) both proved invaluable as well.
- A few guys who can knock the baseball around helped keep the Cubs close in the standings. Willson Contreras, Albert Almora, and Dan Vogelbach are three young prospects who have been lighting it up and leading the charge on offense. A resurgent Matt Murton has also been a steadying force.
Unlike the other minor leagues that have qualifications at both the halfway point and the end of the season, the Pacific Coast League does season-long playoffs. Being that the Cubs are now back to even, the summer looks promising. What I like most is that there is not going to be much turnover on the team. All the young prospects are going to spend the next few months in Des Moines.
Defensively, Almora has been ready for a couple of years. Offensively, he’s getting there, but he still needs to improve his walk rate. Contreras is on a home binge the past ten days. In that time, he has 6 home runs, 18 RBI, and is hitting .357. With David Ross leaving this fall and Miguel Montero in the last year on his current contract, we’ll see Contreras by next season at the latest.
Dan Vogelbach leads the team with 38 RBI, is tied for sixth in the PCL, and is hitting .318. He stays a Cub for the time being, but every trade offer begins with his bat.
Ryan Williams made 4 starts in April with an ERA under 2 before he went down. I still see him more as a reliever at the next level, though he’ll continue to start in Iowa. Carl Edwards, Jr. had a 0.87 ERA before a Wednesday night meltdown saw it rise to over 2.00. If didn’t have the propensity to walk hitters, which he didn’t in May, he would have been in Chicago to stay a long time ago.
Pierce Johnson’s first year at AAA is like his other years at other stops, in that he’s spent part of it injured. This spring training, Jake Arrieta took Johnson under his wing and the young pitcher raved about the experience. I would like to see what Johnson learned play out over a couple of months of starts. He has yet to pitch more than 120 innings in the minors in one season, so here’s to hoping he can stay healthy once he gets back.
All of these prospects, plus some other players, could help the big league club later this summer if needed. But with what has transpired the past six weeks, the worst of the season has to be over and the playoffs are miraculously in sight. It’s all good from here.