Final Team Report of 2016: Iowa Cubs Producing Prospects That Can Play in Chicago

Final Record: 67-76

The Iowa Cubs produced two players who became mainstays at Wrigley this summer. Carl Edwards Jr. and Willson Contreras proved they could learn and adapt at the MLB level and they have played key roles in crucial moments this season. Add in the fact that Albert Almora Jr. filled in nicely in Chicago while Rob Zastryzny, Spencer Patton, and Felix Pena have all played roles, and it was a productive season doing what a AAA team is supposed to do: produce players to help the big league club.

On the other hand, the season back in Des Moines was a devastating one for other reasons. After one week of the season, the team was down to one original starter in the pitching rotation. Manager Marty Pevey somehow kept the team afloat with a myriad of free agent starters. One was Jake Buchanan, who was recently called up when rosters expanded. Relievers Michael Wagner and Stephen Perakslis came up from Tennessee and made spot starts and the team trudged on as best it could.

A sad, though not at all unexpected, moment occurred when Dan Vogelbach was traded to the Mariners. At the time of the trade, Vogelbach lead the team in home runs and RBI with 18 and 64. In fact, he still leads the team in those two categories over a month after the deal. Albert Almora, Matt Murton, and John Andreoli spurred the offense on all season otherwise.

Jeimer Candelario was an excellent addition in late June. In 75 games, he slashed .333/.421/.545 (.967 OPS!) and hit 9 HR’s with 54 RBI. He got a cup of coffee earlier in the season and I believe he will be hard to send back down next spring.

Mark Zagunis did Mark Zagunis things (walks and home runs) before a toe injury ended his season just 50 games after being promoted to Iowa. He would wind up with 6 HR’s and 22 BB’s in his short tenure.

John Andreoli had an excellent second half of the season. From the leadoff spot, he hit .286 with 18 stolen bases and a .380 OBP. At 26, Andreoli’s time might be running out.

When it comes to pitching at Iowa, the term “hot mess” doesn’t even begin to describe what happened. To make a long story short, Ryan Williams missed most of the season with shoulder problems, Pierce Johnson was a disaster as a starter but seems to have figured out the bullpen pretty quickly, and new addition Jordan Pries might have something if he could be a little more consistent. Jose Rosario arrived after starting the season in Myrtle Beach and quickly solidified himself as the closer within a month.

The big question of the year was why Armando Rivero, who had a big season for the I-Cubs, did not get a sniff of Chicago. He struck out 105 in 67.2 IP and had a 2.13 ERA. I don’t know what more the Cubs want.

Shots at Chicago: Candelario, Almora, Rosario, Rivero

It is quite clear the above quartet should all have a chance to make the 25-man roster coming out of spring training. I don’t know if Almora, Candelario, and Rivero have anything left to learn in the minors. There is the small chance that one or more of them could be traded over the offseason too. For Almora, though, his future is directly tied to Dexter Fowler’s impending mutual option.

Looking Ahead to 2017

It is expected that only a handful of players from the Smokies will be arriving next year. Chesny Young and Victor Caratini will help on the offensive side. Young just won the Southern League batting crown with a .303 average and Caratini hit .291, his best season in the minors as a Cub. Caratini still has some work to do behind the plate.

As for pitching, Zach Hedges and Brad Markey should be joining the I-Cubs’ rotation. Hedges might have the upper hand on getting to Chicago first with his plus slider and improved fastball in the 93-94 mph range. I don’t think the fate of Jen-Ho Tseng has been decided either. He could start or he could relieve, but I think he is better suited for the bullpen in the long run. James Farris should have a good shot at making the opening day Iowa roster, and reliever Stephen Perakslis should also generate some help in the pen.

It is hard to judge Ryan Williams’ season just on a few starts. Take away his first outing, which was in a snowstorm, and he had a 2.21 ERA in 4 starts. However, without a properly functioning shoulder, there is not much Williams can do. If healthy, he could take his control and command arsenal to Chicago.

Duane Underwood and Ian Happ both had inconsistent years in 2016, but they’ve still got all kinds of potential and can hopefully get to Iowa by midseason.

Sleeper Prospect for 2017

Bijan Rademacher can play all three outfield spots well. He has a plus arm and has shown that he can hit at each level, given enough time to adapt. In 2016, he hit .286 in just a little over 20 games at Iowa. Expect more from him in 2017, including some power. I think he’s ready to bloom.

Overall, I think Iowa will have a lot of players brought in from the outside just like 2016. Minor league free agents and some Rule 5 picks should help to fill out the roster. Some long-term Cubs farmhands may find their careers ended and a few more will give it one last shot. If the pitching is stabilized, Iowa should do much better when it comes to their own success. Conversely, if they produce 4-5 prospects for the majors again in 2017, that, too, is a huge success.

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