Let’s just cut to the chase: Aside from the Eugene Emeralds missing a playoff spot by one game, it was a brutal month for the Cubs MiLB system. Only the Emeralds and the DSL 1 Cubs (Dominican Summer League) had winning records.
Tennessee and Myrtle Beach both saw their offenses disappear for games at a time, South Bend’s bullpen imploded,Iowa was still struggling to find reliable starting pitching, and the Mesa Cubs had the second-worst record in the Arizona Rookie League. However, there is still hope all across the system.
Over the last month, the Cubs have traded away six prospects, including their top three. Hearing that and seeing them with no young players among the top 100 rankings, there’s a tendency to worry that the future is bleak for the farm system. But there are still plenty of prospects performing well and, in reality, I would give it only two years before the Cubs have several top-100 prospects again. More importantly, the system will produce some MLB talent very soon.
Sometimes, fans and evaluators get lost in the numbers in the minors. I do it myself from time to time. But when the legendary Branch Rickey dreamed up the minor leagues all those decades ago, the main objective was to create a player development system.
When I traveled to Beloit a couple weeks ago to catch the South Bend Cubs, I went specifically to check out Austin Upshaw, a recent draft pick (more on that soon). I also wanted to talk to Joe Martarano, the former Boise State linebacker, but did not get the chance. What I did not foresee was what it would be like to watch Kevonte Mitchell in person.
It’s not hyperbole when I tell you I was completely blown away by his skills, work ethic, and his pure size. Mitchell’s BP session was not home run derby and he was not trying to put on a show. Instead, every ball was ticketed up the middle or to the gaps. The process for him was to be a better hitter.
Watching Mitchell hit, you can tell he is picking up the ball much better than in previous years. He is able to recognize curveballs and fastballs and watch them into the catcher’s mitt. The ability to track a ball is essential for his growth as a hitter as he strives to be more consistent. He’s already had a couple of good months this year, including hitting .295 with an .803 OPS and a walk rate of over 10 percent July.
As strange as it sounds, I was actually most impressed watching Mitchell do soft toss drills. It’s not the sexiest activity, but he absolutely attacks the ball. I was floored by his aggressiveness and the sound of the ball off the bat.
For Mitchell, the future is all about the honing his skills and harnessing his athleticism. If you’re wondering why the Cubs have hung onto him after taking two years to get through Eugene, it’s because he is an amazing athlete. He can do more than just hit, too. In Monday night’s game against Bowling Green, I watched Mitchell nail a guy from left field with a perfect throw to the plate.
Although he is listed at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, that’s a measurement from when he was drafted out of Kennett (MO) High school in the 13th round of the 2014 draft. Now 21 years old, I would say he is closer to 6-foot-6 and a good two and a quarter on the scale. That, my friends, is an absolute beast. And if he can put everything together…*shudders*
The stats may not show it yet, but Kevonte Mitchell is a big-time prospect to watch. And I think that is going to be the norm for the next couple of years in the Cubs system. Stats don’t matter. Championships in the minors don’t matter. Development does. It’s an individual thing between the player and the ball. As it should be.