Final Record: 54-22 Regular Season, Northwest League Champions
Things could not have gone any better for the second year short-season Cubs affiliate. After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2015, this year’s squad went out and left no doubt that they were the team to beat all season long. When the playoffs came around, they did the same.
In the opening series against Hillsboro, the young Ems lost the opening game and stormed back to win games two and three behind the pitching of Pedro Silverio and Erling Moreno.
When the finals began, the Emeralds had home field advantage. In the first game at Everett, Dylan Cease went 4 scoreless and struck out six en route to a victory behind three solo homers from DJ Wilson, Yeiler Peguero and Chris Pieters. Game 2 saw Everett rough up Tyson Miller and Tyler Peitzmeier for 7 runs to even the series.
In a tight game three, NWL Pitcher of the Year Manny Rondon of Eugene worked around 6 hits and 2 walks to only allow one run over 5 innings. Kevonte Mitchell threw out a runner at the plate that would have tied the game in the 5th inning. In the bottom of the inning, a Yeiler Peguero single scored Robert Garcia to make it 2-1. The Ems’ bullpen of Duncan Robinson, Michael Knighton, and Wyatt Short shut down the Aqua Sox over the next 4 innings to preserve the victory and the championship.
While the Emeralds have only been a part of the Cubs organization, the team has been around since 1969 and had been in the midst of a 41-year championship drought. Here’s to hoping that success carries up the ladder.
The short-season affiliate got off to a fast start in June and never looked back. They won 15 games in a row in August and cruised to the second half title to complete the matching set with their first half title. Heading into the playoffs, they were easily the favorite to win the Northwest League.
This team was built on three things: starting pitching, a good bullpen, and defense. Manny Rondon and Jose Paulino anchored the staff in the first half, though the latter was absent during the title run after receiving a promotion to South Bend. He was replaced in the rotation by Bailey Clark, a recent draft pick out of Duke.
When the season began all eyes were on Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson. Cease did not disappoint until a forearm strain caused him to miss three starts. When he returned he was on a limited pitch count but was still exciting to watch. At times, he was breathtaking. I came away impressed by his curveball, which looked more and more fluid coming out of his hand as the season progressed. I still think he needs to work on his two-strike approach, as he tries to get hitters to chase out of the zone when he should staying in the zone and getting batters to try and hit his pitch. I think that would help keep his pitch counts down.
In the first half of the season, Matt Rose led the hit parade along with Chris Pieters. Rose would wind back up at South Bend in late July, but the three hitters who stole the show in the second half were Zack Short, DJ Wilson, and Trent Giambrone. Wladimir Galindo also had his moments as he led the team in home runs and RBI. He got off to a slow start but turned it on in July. 2017 could well be the Year of Galindo. At just 19, he’s still developing his power potential. Hitting 9 HR’s with 40 RBI in 66 games is a good start toward building a power profile.
One reliever I came away impressed with was Wyatt Short, the Cubs’ 13th round pick in 2016 draft out of the University of Mississippi. The young lefty he did not allow run all year long. In an organization that needs left-handed pitchers, Short became an instant commodity. Even in September and the playoffs, nothing came across the plate against him.
Looking Ahead to 2017
I am not quite sure what to expect for this team next year. Between fall instructs, spring training, and extended spring training, a lot of development can take place over nine months. I see C/1B Gustavo Polanco as a certainty to be at Eugene, entrenched in the middle of the lineup come next June. He hit in the .340’s most of the year in Mesa before a late season slump dropped him to .322.
The big name for 2017 might be Jose Albertos, a 17-year-old pitcher who spent most of 2016 on the DL but should be at fall instructs. He only made one start in which he struck out 7 in 4 innings before being put on the shelf for precautionary reasons. Albertos drew rave reviews in spring training and extended spring for the life on his pitches. When healthy, the youngster can top out in the upper 90’s.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
I was surprised 19-year-old Delvin Zinn signed after being drafted by the Cubs for a second time in 2016. He is extremely athletic and started playing well the last 10 games in August at Rookie League. I think with continued development over the next nine months, he should do well in 2017.
The usual crop of picks will flow in after the draft. In addition, some young international players could find their way to the Great Northwest from this year’s Dominican Summer League teams.
Looking back at the Emeralds’ historic season, I can’t help but think of how much fun it was to watch on a nightly basis. The prospects here should be prepared for the next level. What I love most about this team is the potential from a pitching standpoint, both starters and relievers. They play good defense and have a lot of team speed, but the offense has some things to work on. Then again, that’s what playing baseball at this level is all about.