Cubs Affiliate Year-End Review: South Bend Displays Promising Young Core

Despite having the best won/loss record (75-64) of any Cubs affiliate this season, the South Bend Cubs were shut out of the playoffs. They played extremely well in April and May and again in late July and August, but June was a train wreck that derailed their playoff chances at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half.

Still, this team showed a lot of grit and resolve in getting back in the hunt in the second half before being eliminated on the second-to-last day of the season. It was an extremely young team with a lot of players who were 18-20 years old, which is well below league average.

The strength of this team was their hitting. They didn’t necessarily hit for power, but they could put guys on base and move them along from there. In the first half of the year, shortstop Zack Short’s OBP was over .400 and he led the Midwest League in walks. In the second half, outfielders Luis Ayala and DJ Wilson, along with infielder Andrew Monasterio, made the offense go. Along the way, Kevonte Mitchell flashed the potential to be a monster player in the future but lacked consistency throughout the year.

Another pleasant surprise was the play of infielder Austin Upshaw, who the Cubs drafted from Kennesaw State this summer. While he didn’t hit for much power, he showed an excellent approach and makeup as he hit over .290 in his pro debut.

Shortstop Aramis Ademan, one of the new top prospects in the Cubs’ system, arrived at South Bend in early August. He was fine defensively and put together some pretty good at-bats, but struggled to hit on a consistent basis at this level. I think he might be back in South Bend for a little bit to begin the 2018 campaign in order to get a little more seasoning.

Coming into the season, the SB Cubs’ core was made up of players from Eugene’s 54-22 Northwest League championship team. I thought their strength would be the starting pitching led by Dylan Cease, Manny Rondon, Jose Paulino, and Tyson Miller, but it didn’t work out like that. In fact, it was pretty much the exact opposite. Bryan Hudson did flash some potential as a long-term starter for the organization, though, displaying the ability to get groundball outs on a consistent basis.

Duncan Robinson, a 2016 draft pick out of Dartmouth, was also outstanding in May and June as a starter before his promotion to Myrtle Beach. With an ERA of under 2.00, Robinson made the Midwest League All-Star team after beginning the year as a reliever.

After Michael Rucker was promoted from the bullpen to Myrtle Beach, the Cubs struggled to get outs at the back end of games. When Jhon Romero and Mark Malave arrived from Eugene, not to mention the emergence of Tyler Peyton, the bullpen was stabilized.

Team Leaders

Hitting
Avg – Vimael Machin – .320
HR – Isaac Paredes/Kevonte Mitchell – 11
RBI – Vimael Machin – 70
OBP – Zach Short – .393
SB – Luis Ayala – 24

Pitching
ERA – Duncan Robinson – 2.11
Innings Pitched – Manny Rondon – 128.1
WHIP – Duncan Robinson – 1.03
K – Manny Rondon – 113
SV – Wyatt Short – 16

Going to the next level

Many of these South Bend Cubs leaders will open next season at high-A Myrtle Beach as they try to get to the next level at AA Tennessee. The players I most look forward to seeing with the Pelicans next year will be Mitchell and DJ Wilson, both of whom were picked out of high school. They’re closing in on that five-year window after being drafted, which is usually the time when prep selections really begin to put things together. I hope to see them become consistent hitters on a daily to weekly to monthly basis next year.

One South Bend Cub to know for 2018

Miguel Amaya is an 18-year-old catcher at Eugene with a rifle alarm and an emerging bat. He threw out almost 50 percent of baserunners this season and in August was one of the top hitters in the Cubs’ system. While he did hit three home runs for Eugene this year, his emphasis has been on squaring up the ball on a consistent basis rather than hammering the occasional home run. I look forward to watching him develop for 140 games next year.

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Todd Johnson

During the day, Todd teaches US and World History in a small town in northern Illinois. As a Cubs fan, his first baseball memories are of Ernie, Billy, and Fergie. Baseball cards, Strat-O-Matic, and fantasy baseball eventually followed. You can always find him on Twitter: @cubscentral08

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