South Bend Cubs 2016 Preview – Loaded with Top-of-the-Line Talent

There’s never going to be a dull day in northern Indiana this summer. When I think of all the talent at all the Cubs’ affiliates, South Bend is likely to have the most high-end pitchers in the system. From the first inning through the ninth, every hitter facing a South Bend pitcher is going to have a problem in every at bat.

Pitchers Oscar De La Cruz, Carson Sands, and Justin Steele will be joined by several other arms trying to earn a starting rotation spot. They include: Kyle Twomey, Casey Bloomquist, Ryan Kellogg, Jose Paulino, Adbert Alzolay, Greyfer Eregua, Scott Effross, and Pedro Araujo. All have a chance to start, but all would be good in the bullpen as well.

In terms of position talent, the South Bend Cubs might have an unbelievable outfield with the power of Eloy Jimenez, the speed of Donnie Dewees, and the mixture of power and speed of Alex Bautista. It could be a breakout year for all three as they play their first full season of 144 games for the low-A affiliate. Jimenez is one of the Cubs’ top ten prospects and Dewees isn’t too far behind, ranking in the teens on most lists. That’s quite a potent outfield.

The Magical 2015 Season

In their first year as a Cubs affiliate, South Bend shattered their previous attendance record with 20 games to go. The people poured into Four Winds Field to see the Cubs’ low-A squad fight for a playoff spot in the second half. While the team fell just short of winning on the field, it captured the prestigious John H. Johnson President’s Award and was named Baseball Digest’s Team of the Year.

On the field, the Cubs’ number one prospect, Gleyber Torres, was the star of the team. He led the Cubs in hits, RBI’s, runs, doubles, total bases, and average. Pitcher Zach Hedges led in innings pitched while Trevor Clifton paced the team in strikeouts. Jeremy Null and Ryan Williams were both outstanding in their respective stints at South Bend, but Tommy Thorpe had the best ERA (3.08) of any starter who stayed with the team in the second half.

High Hopes 2016

Only a few players will be staying at South Bend to begin 2016. One is Matt Rose, who only saw action in 14 games but hit .308 with 1 HR and 10 RBI’s. He’s only 21, so there is no rush to move him along. I expect his tenure at South Bend will be short though, as he is too good a hitter.

While the outfield may be set, the infield is not. Last year at Eugene, Jose Paniagua started the year at first, Frandy Delarosa at second, Ho-Young Son at short, and Adonis Paula at third. Come the final week of the season, Blake Headley was at first, PJ Higgins at second, Andrew Ely at short, and Adonis Paula was at third. As you might imagine, it’s hard to tell who will be where this season at South Bend. Delarosa was traded to Texas in the offseason, while Ely could rejoin the crew he started last year with at Myrtle Beach. At 23, he’d be a little old for low-A.

If I was a betting man, it will likely be Rose at 1B, Higgins at 2B, Machin at SS, and Paulino at 3B. Then again, I could be dead wrong. The only ones I know for sure who will be in the infield are Rose and Higgins. Like Chesny Young, PJ Higgins is natural born hitter. Higgins has a bit more power though, and that allows him to play both second and third with ease. Last year at two levels, he hit .299 with 2 HR’s and 15 RBI’s, though he played just a month since he was the last draft pick to sign on July 17.

Once it warms up in South Bend, I think Dylan Cease will make his debut. Until mid-May comes around, he will likely be in extended spring training. I don’t think the Cubs will want to take a chance with his arm. Last year, like Josh Conway two years ago, Cease was on a 30-40 pitch count and 3 inning limit. This year, I think he will be limited to 60-70 pitches or 5 innings. It’ll probably be 2017 before the Cubs really let him loose.

This team is going to be loaded with pitching, both starters and relievers. The main question will be how to divide all the arms up between the rotation and the pen. I think three of those starters are set in Sands, Steele, and De La Cruz. For the other three spots, I’d have to go with Bloomquist and Twomey for sure. Ryan Kellogg is up in the air for me. A favorite of John Sickels, Kellogg could be a sleeper this year. Sickels said:

[…] one of my picks for a breakout candidate. Big guy (6-6, 230) with clean delivery, throws strikes with breaking ball and change-up, fastball velocity was not special in college. My guess is that the fastball MPH improves in pro ball and he emerges as another mid-rotation candidate.

When it comes to Eregua, Alzolay, Paulino, and Araujo, the future is still unclear. All four have great stuff and all pitched great in spurts out of the bullpen last year at Eugene. Araujo and Paulino have the height but not the weight to be full-time starters. Meanwhile, Eregua and Alzolay have brilliant repertoires but not the size to be starters. I think Alzolay might be the one to sneak into the rotation later as the year goes on.

The only real problem with this roster, and it’s a good one, is that it is too deep. Once the team heads north in early April, about 1/3 of these players will stay behind in Arizona in extended spring training and will likely be used as reserves in case of injury. Or they could just go to Eugene in early June. Here’s a look at a projected roster:

C: Tyler Alamo/Ian Rice

1B: Matt Rose/Joey Martarano/Jose Paniagua

2B: P. J. Higgins/Angelo Amendolare/Andrew Ely

SS: Ho-Young Son/Sutton Whiting/Vimael Machin

3B: Blake Headley/Adonis Paula

OF: Donnie Dewees/Ricardo Marcano/Eloy Jimenez/Alex Bautista

SP: Oscar de la Cruz (R), Carson Sands (L), Justin Steele (L), Jose Paulino (L), Adbert Alzolay (R), Ryan Kellogg (L), Kyle Twomey (L), Casey Bloomquist (R), Kyle Miller (R), Dylan Cease (R),

RP: Pedro Araujo (R), Trey Masek (R), Greyfer Eregua (R), Tyler Peitzmeier (L), Craig Brooks (R), Scott Frazier (R), Scott Effross (R), Heath Dwyer (L), Luis Hernandez (R), and Mark Malave (R).

Picks to break out

Adbert Alzolay – He had a very good K/9 ratio last year. He struck out 49 in 53 innings, or 8.13/9 innings.

Casey Bloomquist – An underrated sign out of Cal-SLO, he outdueled Dillon Tate in college and showed a great attitude while in Eugene in short starting stints – 2.29 ERA in 19 innings.

Tyler Alamo – I saw a picture of him on Instagram and it looks as though he has buffed up this offseason in the weight room. He will catch some, but will more than likely DH and play some first.

Alex Bautista – Love this kid. He has combination of speed and power and I will enjoy seeing what he can do over a full season.

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