It was announced Sunday that Jen-Ho Tseng and D.J. Wilson had been named the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher and Player of the Month for July. Tseng had a 1.42 ERA at AAA Iowa to go along with 23 strikeouts in 25.1 IP. Wilson hit .284 with 7 home runs and 21 RBI between Mesa (rehab stint) and South Bend. With officially four weeks left in the MiLB season, it got me thinking: Who will be the Cubs MiLB Pitcher and Hitter of the Year?
When it comes to hitting, the winner is clear-cut: Victor Caratini. No one else is even in the discussion in my mind. He’s batting .350 with a .959 OPS, 10 homers, and 58 RBI. While his OBP is a bit less than Mark Zagunis’s, everything else is a cut above. Since his return to Iowa from Chicago, Caratini is hitting .600. This award is his, no question.
On the other hand, selecting the Pitcher of the Year is going to be a tough choice that will play out over the next month. I currently have six pitchers in the running, with five having a pretty good shot of staking a claim to it.
Michael Rucker has done it all this year in 84 innings. He’s been a reliever and a starter, working alternately as a closer, a setup man, and an ace. His 1.93 ERA is the lowest of the starters up for the award. His 95 K’s gives him a 9.21 K/9 rate. He’s only walked 16 all year, and I love to watch him pitch because he just throws strikes.
Jen-Ho Tseng has had a resurgent year by relying on good command of his pitches, which includes a low-90’s fastball and a plus curve and change. His 2.77 combined ERA between Iowa and Tennessee is impressive and he has 110 K’s in 120 IP.
Adbert Alzolay was my pick for breakout player of the first half. Now at AA, he has a combined 2.84 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee with 101 K’s in 107 IP. I like his energy, his pacing, and his 96-97 mph heater. He still needs to refine his secondaries going forward.
Duncan Robinson is a bit like Rucker in that he began the year as a reliever and morphed into a starter. He was a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted to Myrtle Beach from South Bend in July. On the year, he has a 2.13 ERA over 91 innings, but his 77 K’s aren’t quite enough to keep him in the discussion when compared with other candidates.
It has been a most impressive season for Justin Steele, who has been very steady all year. His 2.92 ERA is a testament to his approach and hard work after a rough season at South Bend in 2016. He has 82 K’s in 98.2 IP.
If you were to pick this award based on sheer domination, reliever Dakota Mekkes would win hands down. He dominated at South Bend and then again at Myrtle Beach, going almost three months without allowing an earned run. His ERA is a miniscule 0.76 to go along with 79 K’s in 59 IP and opponents are only hitting .152 against him. If not for 27 walks, I think Mekkes would be in Tennessee already.
WIth less than four weeks to go, I think Rucker is the odds-on favorite. However, I truly think the award should go to Mekkes. For the past few years, the Cubs have rewarded starters like Tseng, Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood. But Mekkes’ season has been one of pure domination across two levels.
All that said, I don’t think the Cubs will give that award to a reliever. I wish they would, though, I really wish they would.