Chicago Cubs Weekly Farm Report (5/17/21): Wild Comebacks, Promotions Galore, PJ Higgins is Ready

The honeymoon phase of minor league baseball’s return has already worn off. Now it’s time to get into the good stuff: Tuning in each night to see a new and unexpected player going off, a miraculous comeback for the ages, a minor league vet living out his dream, a wild and wacky mid-inning promotion. It’s why we love this level of baseball.

The second week of the season is in the books and each affiliate was able to squeeze all six games into their schedules. I have a feeling that isn’t going to be commonplace moving forward this year, so I’m glad we could enjoy it so early in the campaign.

News in the System

  • It’s only the second week of the season but the roster moves have come early and often. Injuries have been extremely prevalent in the early going, both in the form of season-enders (Jack Patterson, Ben Hecht) as well as bumps and bruises (Chase Strumpf, Cam Balego).
  • Tommy Nance might be the story of the year so far in the early going. He isn’t a “prospect” in the typical sense of the word, but the 30-year-old reliever got the call to the bigs on Sunday morning. Nance signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016 after playing a season in the independent Frontier League. After a season spent between four different affiliates in 2016, a missed season due to injury in 2017, and a big ol’ W as a part of a no-no in Iowa this year, he can now say he is a major leaguer.
  • Also promoted this week as a part of the chaos were upstart Cayne Ueckert (Double-A), scrappy leadoff man Darius Hill (Double-A), power-hitting Nelson Velazquez (High-A), and a trio of Low-A bats in Matt Mervis, Jacob Wetzel, and Jonathan Sierra.

Triple-A Iowa Cubs

  • Iowa went an even 3-3 this week, playing in St. Paul against the Saints. They scored a combined 26 runs in their three wins but could only muster five total runs in their three losing efforts.
  • The craziness for the I-Cubs came in their game on Sunday, when they went into the top of the 9th inning down 3-0 and came out of it with an 8-3 victory. They pushed across the runs by sending 12 men to the plate and collecting seven hits, including a bases-clearing double by Trayce Thompson.
  • The two catchers on the roster were the stars of the week on offense. Taylor Gushue homered and doubled while leading the team with nine RBI on his way to an OPS over 1.000.
  • P.J. Higgins might be the hottest player on the planet and should be doing these crazy things at the plate in Wrigley Field instead of with the I-Cubs. He slashed .409/.536/.545 thanks to as many walks as he had strikeouts to go along with a double and a triple.
  • Joe Biagini had a heck of an opening day start but looked even better in his second go-round. Five shutout innings without giving up a single hit is good, right?
  • Ryan Meisinger followed up his no-hitter performance from last week with some pretty solid outings this week. The big man logged three innings without giving up a run on one hit. He struck out seven men without walking one.
  • Now comes an extra-long homestand with two straight weeks for the Cubs in Principal Park against the Omaha Storm Chasers, followed by a rematch with the St. Paul Saints.

Double-A Tennessee Smokies

  • Tennessee started the week off hot with a 4-3 win against the Rocket City Trash Pandas, but things took a turn for the worse as they dropped their next five matchups.
  • The Sunday game was the biggest heartbreak by far. Down two runs in the top of the 8th inning, a Darius Hill double tied things up. Each team scored a lone run in the 10th inning to keep extras rolling and a whole lot of nothing ensued in innings eleven and twelve. The Smokies pushed across a run in the top of the 13th inning but were forced to turn to catcher Erick Castillo to try to get the save on the mound in the bottom half. A single scored one to tie things up and the game ended on a walk-off grand slam off a Panda bat.
  • It wasn’t a great offensive week for the Smokies, but the long ball was being shown off. Levi Jordan, Vance Vizcaino, and Tyler Payne all saw a couple of bombs sneak over the wall.
  • The aforementioned Hill was having a rough go of it in his first action in the upper minors this week, until he had himself a day on Sunday. He put up a 5-for-6 day at the plate that included a double and three RBI, adding a walk for good measure.
  • We saw a strange outing from Javier Assad, who started the game with seven straight strikeouts but ended up giving up back-to-back jacks and three total runs in three innings.
  • Ueckert continued to dominate at a new level, tallying five innings of relief with no runs on one hit while striking out seven and only walking one.
  • The Smokies head back home for a six-gamer with the Biloxi Shuckers.

High-A South Bend Cubs

  • It was a 2-4 week for South Bend on the road in Beloit. The Snappers are still in their old ballpark, one of the few places without an MiLB.TV feed, so I was without eyes on the action this week.
  • Jacob Olson was the guy at the plate this week, leading the system with four doubles in just 18 plate appearances.
  • Derek Casey bounced back big-time as he pumped in a ton of strikes on his way to five strong innings of two-hit ball. He struck out six batters and only walked one.
  • Fellow Cubs prospect writer Todd Johnson had feet on the ground in Beloit this week and said Ryan Jensen’s fastball is just too hot to handle for High-A hitters. The former first-rounder was popping the mitt to the tune of four strong innings in which he struck out four men, walked one, and gave up a run on three hits.

  • As much as it pains me, I have to report the noticeably bad news, too. Maybe he just couldn’t get settled in due to such a crappy clubhouse in Beloit, but Burl Carraway had a week nightmares are made of. We first saw him on Thursday when he failed to record an out but walked all five men he faced. He threw a total of 22 pitches, only two of which were strikes. He followed that up by striking out the side Sunday, but he still walked two and threw only nine strikes in his 22 total pitches.
  • South Bend begins a two-week homestand as the Dayton Dragons and the Fort Wayne TinCaps will travel to Four Winds Field over the next couple series.

Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans

  • It was a terrific week for the young Myrtle Beach squad, going 4-2 against the Augusta GreenJackets in their first action at home in South Carolina.
  • The Birds ended the week with a bang on Sunday. Down one run in the bottom of the 9th with two runners on base, big Matt Mervis strolled to the plate and promptly ended things with a three-run moonshot to right field.

  • The pitching staff led the way again this week, so it was really a matter of getting timely hitting. Edmond Americaan was your leader in the clubhouse with three extra-base hits: two doubles and a pimped-out homer.

  • Three starters performed really well this week, albeit in relatively short outings. Manny Espinoza had the longest of the outings with five strong innings, giving up a run on five hits.
  • Neither Sam Thoresen nor DJ Herz got through four innings, though both displayed advanced stuff on the mound. Thoresen fanned six and Herz struck out three.
  • The bullpen was electric again this week after a strong showing in Week 1. Blake Whitney, Scott Kobos, Joe Nahas, Jose Gonzalez, and Eduarniel Nunez combined for 17.2 innings, giving up no earned runs on eight hits while striking out 22 compared to just one walk.
  • The Pelicans hit the road for a two-week trip, starting off against the Cleveland-affiliated Lynchburg Hillcats. We could be seeing some serious reinforcements from Arizona hit the field for the Birds come Tuesday evening.
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